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Leisure Studies,
Vol. 24, No. 1, 81–98, January 2005
‘Race’, sport and leisure: lessons from
critical race theory
KEVIN HYLTON
Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education, Leeds Metropolitan University, Headingley Campus,
Leeds, LS6 3QS, UK
Taylor and Francis Ltd
RLST100190.sgm
(Received October 2003; revised March 2004; accepted September 2004)
[email protected]
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10.1080/02614360412331313494
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ABSTRACT This paper presents and explores critical race theory (CRT) as an ontological starting
point for the study of sport and leisure. CRT is based on five precepts outlined by Solorzano and
Yosso that centre ‘race’ and racism, social justice, plurivocality, transdisciplinarity and challenge
orthodoxies. There have been a number of recent criticisms and debates amongst leisure and
sports studies writers that challenge their general focus of study as narrow and myopic. The five
precepts have been fundamental to radical shifts in critical legal studies over the past fifteen years
and have significance for the development of critical sport and leisure theory. CRT and ‘race’ critical perspectives are drawn out, clarified and their mutual agendas focussed. It is argued here that
researchers and writers need urgently to centralize ‘race’ and racism as core factors in the study
of social relations in sport if Birrell’s optimism in the development of sport (and leisure) theory is
to be realised.
Introduction
This paper presents and explores critical race theory (CRT) as an ontological starting point for the study of sport and leisure. Research agendas dominated by what
could be viewed as an elitist Eurocentric social science are foci for part of this
transformation. The resultant outcome of using a CRT perspective is likely to lead
towards a resistance to a passive reproduction of the established practices, knowledge and resources, that make up the social conditions that marginalize ‘race’ as a
core factor in the way we manage and experience our sport and leisure. Mainstream
agendas and epistemologies are therefore simultaneously transformed (Birrell,
1989; Messner, 1992; Layder, 1994; Rowe, 1998; Collins, 2000). This paper
consists of three sections, concluding with a call to sport and leisure theorists and
policymakers to centralize ‘race’, racism, and race equality in their everyday
considerations. Section one contrasts CRT and ‘race’ critical theory and rationalises their mutual transformative social capacities. Solorzano and Yosso’s (2001)
five precepts of CRT are then outlined as a framework from which to consider an
emergent development in sport and leisure theorising. Section two maps out the
parallel developments of critical theory in sport and leisure sociology and the more
advanced critical legal studies experience, which gives an insight into what can be
ISSN 0261–4367 (print)/ISSN 1466–4496 (online)/05/010081–18 © 2005 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/02614360412331313494
82
K. Hylton
achieved when writers develop a critical ‘race’-centred approach. It further introduces a critical black ontology that has many supporters in the study of sport such
as Henderson (1988), Hemingway (1999) and Scraton (2001), although few active
in advancing theoretical frameworks in which to challenge dominant paradigms
and epistemologies in the study of sport or related areas such as Birrell (1989),
Anthias (1998) and McDonald and Birrell (1999). After sketching out these theoretical links the implications for the study of ‘race’ and racism in sport and leisure
are spelled out in section three. More importantly, critical race theory is advanced
as a worthy theoretical framework from which to interrogate issues of ‘race’, and
to refocus the theoretical lens onto anti-oppressive theory, race equality and related
areas in sport and leisure studies.
Birrell’s (1989) optimistic view of the sociology of sport as a field of study
moving purposefully to a more critical theoretical position is one worthy of further
consideration. Her argument that a black ontology would centre the experience of
black people, where before it had been at the margins of such work in sport and
leisure, has merit. This would ultimately result in the location of black people and
their relations being viewed in a different light. That is, as purposive actors in their
own ‘real worlds’ as opposed to passive ‘victims’ in increasingly pathologized
stories; similarly whiteness does not escape this theoretical lens. This is accomplished by ensuring the experiences of marginalized groups come through clearly
in the stories disseminated by and to research and policy communities. A critical
black theoretical standpoint challenges social scientists to (re)interpret the black
experience, racial formations and processes in the study of ‘race’ and race equality,
therefore generating a more liberating and emancipatory discourse. Collins (1990)
exemplified this debate when she accused white social science of struggling to
maintain the credibility of being the most appropriate viewpoint from which to
study ‘race’ and racism in society. However, the ‘race’ biased knowledge of white
social science would be far more difficult to maintain were emergent themes, ideas
and perspectives reflecting black experiences in sport evident (Goldberg, 1993;
Carrington,1998a; Gramann and Allison, 1999; Jones, 2002).
Authors such as Bulmer and Solomos (2004), Gunaratnam (2003), Coates
(2002), Twine and Warren (2000) and Stanfield II (1994) argue that researchers
and writers need to urgently centralize ‘race’ and racism(s) as core factors in the
study of wider social relations. Such actions improve and enhance the bodies of
knowledge pertinent to ‘race’, racialization and racial formations as they ‘challenge and transform’ epistemologies and ways of thinking about the world
(Gunaratnam, 2003). This has the effect of questioning everyday assumptions
about socially constructed groups that often become the foundation for myth and
folklore (e.g. identity, homogeneity). Stanfield II’s challenge is that we all should
establish new lines of inquiry whilst criticising traditional epistemologies, rather
than acquiescing to their hegemony.
Critical race theory and ‘race’ critical theory
The juxtapositioning here of CRT and ‘race’ critical perspectives is a practice that
Essed and Goldberg (2002) argue is not a regular enough occurrence in the social
sciences. They are critical of what they see as academic parochialism, that they
Race, sport and leisure
83
only see CRT applied to socio-legal issues. CRT is, however, a pragmatic perspective that engages a theoretical framework that has been applied as effectively to
education as freely as it has been rigorously applied to US law (Ladson-Billings,
1998; Parker, 1998). The unapologetic focus on ‘race’, racism and anti-subordination translates the best of what is seen as theory from late modernity whilst pragmatically sponsoring the anti-essentialism of post-structural and post-modern
ideals. According to Valdes et al. (2002):
the trick is to forge a potent theory and praxis through a critical and self-critical melding of
identity-conscious analysis, anti-essentialist politics, and anti-subordination principles.
(Valdes et al. 2002: 3.)
The agendas and foci of critical race theory and ‘race’ critical theory are complimentary, although they have been the subject of some conflation and misinterpretation even though there is more to unite than separate them. Seidman’s (2004)
analysis of critical race theory is one such example of the misplacing of ‘race’ critical theory and critical race theory labels as he juxtaposes the work of Asante,
West, hooks, and Appiah. Implicit in Seidman’s analysis is the notion that the use
of the term CRT can be used interchangeably with ‘race’ critical theory. One point
of departure for race critical theorists such as Appiah (1992) and CRT writers has
been the centring of ‘race’ that has left CRT writers open to accusations of being
essentialist or deterministic. This fundamental CRT standpoint on ‘race’ and
racism is a topic for re-examination by CRT writers and explored further in this
paper. Although many approaches are shared by both sets of writers in terms of
social justice and their challenges to orthodoxies, Seidman’s critique of CRT writers implies their explicit adoption of a CRT framework, which these writers have
not, even though the work of hooks, and West in particular have been instructive
in the development of critical ‘race’ perspectives in the USA. By not offering a
CRT framework from which to locate these theorists Seidman consequently
presents the views of ‘race’ critical theorists as critical race theorists.
Over the years ‘race’ critical theorists have, according to Goldberg (1993), and
later in his work with Essed (2002), been critical of CRT as its global impact has
been reduced due to (i) its primary focus over the 1980s and 1990s being with the
law (sic), and (ii) because they would like to see a more ‘generous…acknowledgement of the conceptual debt to the wider history of racial theorizing in the critical
tradition’ (Essed and Goldberg, 2002: 4). Goldberg (1993) was clear in his appreciation of CRT principles when he posited that:
In contrast to liberalism’s universalism and postmodernism’s communitarian particularism, a
[CRT] commitment against racism must seek to resist specific forms and expressions of exclusion, exploitation, and oppression, to transform particular racist social formations in the name
of general principles of social transformation. (Goldberg 1993: 214.)
However, in excluding the work of CRT writers such as Patricia Williams,
Lawrence Parker, Kimberle Crenshaw, Richard Delgado and Gloria LadsonBillings, Essed and Goldberg’s (2002) prospects of incorporating the best of ‘race’
critical writing over recent history became flawed when they responded to their
critical second point (above) by excluding CRT writers from their text ‘Race Critical Theories’. An opportunity was missed to draw together key forms of ‘race’
theorizing that would have allowed readers to see the overlap between these two
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complimentary theoretical areas, although the benefits are not ignored here. As an
umbrella concept ‘race’ critical theory embraces CRT; however CRT embraces
‘race’ critical theory only where some of the basic tenets outlined below are seriously considered. Finally in response to Seidman it can be concluded that CRT is
necessarily ‘race’ critical theory although the five precepts (outlined below) give
an indication that ‘race’ critical theory is not necessarily CRT.
The five precepts of critical race theory
This paper supports the principles that maintain a CRT perspective. A CRT
framework as outlined below acts as an umbrella for a range of views. The points
discussed here are presented as a foundation to approaching matters of ‘race’ in
sport and society. It engages constructively with anti-essentialist ideals and
significantly, rejects the canons and beliefs that have afflicted the work of some
writers such as those critiqued by Seidman, and Chong-Soon Lee, such as Appiah
(1992), who deny the efficacy of ‘race’ as a social category. It is useful at this
juncture to point out that CRT perspectives should be as fluid and dynamic as the
problems they attempt to tackle. Solorzano and Yosso (2001) illustrate this as
they offer a breakdown of five significant points that draw out the main ideas of
CRT. The first involves centralizing ‘race’ and racism at the same time as recognizing their connection with other forms of subordination and oppression
(Gordon et al., 1990; Ladson-Billings, 1998; Parker, 1998). For example, class
cannot be theorized in isolation from ‘race’, as Marxists might wish, as ‘race’
must be central to the theorizing of class relations from a CRT viewpoint
(Nebeker, 1998). Anthias (1998) has further argued that although there is some
recognition amongst writers and researchers that ‘race’ and ethnicity are significant, they have done little more than acknowledge this as they wander onto more
familiar theoretical terrain. Stanfield II (1993) also asks researchers to consider
less the question of methodology but more the notion of an epistemology that
gives a more accurate picture of the black experience in society. Back et al.
(2001) are keen to follow this advice as their investigations into racism in football
demonstrate the need for innovation and diversity in their methodologies to show
how racism is a:
Multiply inflected and changing discourse…this involves understanding how forms of inclusion and exclusion operate through the interplay of overt racist practice and implicit racialized
codings. (Back et al., 2001: 6.)
In the public sector, underlying the development of equal opportunities policies
since the 1950s, has been a worldview that draws its reasoning from a racialized,
race-biased discourse (Nanton, 1989). This discourse has as its basic principle an
oversimplified reductionist tenet that reinforces biological arguments, homogeneity and universalism (Harris, 2003). Gordon et al. (1990) give this process the label
‘communicentric’. In leisure policy this communicentrism, or marginalization of
‘race’ is manifest in the lexicon of policy makers who have promulgated a vocabulary that legitimates rather than challenges the notion of ‘race’, monolithic racial
identities and the black ‘other’ (Gilroy, 1987; Cross and Keith, 1993; Goldberg,
1993; Back et al., 1999; Thomas and Piccolo, 2000; LMU, 2003).
Race, sport and leisure
85
Second, CRT challenges traditional dominant ideologies around objectivity,
meritocracy, colour-blindness, race-neutrality and equal opportunity (Nebeker,
1998; Solorzano and Yosso, 2001; Gardiner and Welch, 2001). Nebeker’s (1998)
recommendation to those in education that a CRT perspective would allow a
powerful dismantling of colour-blind and ‘race’-neutral policies is an invitation
that could be easily extended to those who write and implement policy in sport and
leisure (see Lyons, 1991; Sports Council, 1994; LMU, 2003). The challenge to
mainstream writers and practitioners is that for too long they have hidden behind
these discourses as black people have waited, hoped and fought for change and
now it is time for the orthodoxies to be contested further and in a more sustained
way than they have been in the past. The implications for sport policy and practice
are immense although the reality is, as Nebeker (1998: 26) insightfully stated,
‘difficult to apply as it is based on addressing the concerns of people of colour, yet
people of colour do not comprise the popular majority of educators, administrators
or policymakers’. In addition a CRT lens turned upon the mainstream writing of
sport and leisure studies throws light upon a domain that traditionally reflects the
power and knowledge interests of white social science.
Solorzano and Yosso’s (2001) third tenet is that CRT has a clear commitment to
social justice that incorporates elements of liberation and transformation. A critical ontology ensures that where a writer/researcher is conscious of the crucial
social processes that structure his/her world they take those ideas forward as their
starting point. That is, where racism and the distribution of power and resources
disproportionately marginalize black people’s position in society, sport, local
government and any other major social structures, then they will ensure that those
issues stay at the centre of their investigations or lens, rather than at the comfortable rim. West’s (1989) starting point is that black consciousness should be a
focus for a challenge to Eurocentric, patriarchal (homophobic) agendas. So, for
example, as a critical black theorist he considered postmodernist debates not so
much for their emancipatory content but more to find out the context, actors and
location of these arguments as an opportunity to position black opposition to the
hierarchies of power.
It is this centralizing of the marginalized voice that is often tabled as a significant
contributory aspect of CRT and is the fourth principle outlined next by the two
writers. Storytelling and counter-storytelling methodologies are thus seen as ‘race’
centred research that can effectively voice the experiences of black people in a bid
to offer different or competing versions of the ‘truth’ that is often the prerogative
of white social scientists (Delgado, 1995). Henderson (1998) offered a postpositivist critical framework to be utilized by feminists, or writers with other social
agendas, to explore the meaning of leisure from the perspective of Other individuals in the social system (see Aitchison, 2000). That is, to centralize the experiences
of women or black people in such a way that any engagement with marginalized or
alienated groups becomes a political one. Authors therefore embrace the
researched, and researchers’ grounded values that are frowned upon in positivist
research. Henderson and others also support this as a major thrust of enlightened
meaningful research. A CRT viewpoint allows us to get a clearer understanding of
the major structures involved in the organization of leisure and sport, which is
crucial when racial-equality is the ultimate target. A focus on power processes,
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K. Hylton
white hegemony, racism and equality, account for some of the contemporary
concerns that have perplexed ‘race’ theorists and complicated the study of ‘race’,
at the same time as being consistently ignored by mainstream theorists.
The fifth element posited by Solorzano and Yosso (2001) is the transdisciplinary
nature of CRT. As much as CRT, sport and leisure studies are necessarily multidisciplinary. It is argued that they should not locate themselves in a narrow multidisciplinary straitjacket that might constrain them in explaining modern (or historical) phenomena (Coalter, 1998; Delgado and Stefancic, 2001). In their cultural
analysis of sport, McDonald and Birrell (1999) go as far as to describe this process
as ‘anti-disciplinary’. For want of a better term they attempt to emphasize the need
for writers to constantly engage in an intellectual challenge to broaden their theoretical and methodological frames. CRT draws on necessary critical epistemologies to ensure that their social justice agenda intersects to highlight related
oppressive processes or the ‘multidimensionality’ of oppression that affects
gender, social class, age or disability (Harris, 1999). Where this, albeit limited,
transdisciplinary stance has been employed in sport and leisure, the strengths of
critical ‘race’ analyses have been evident. Scraton’s (2001) argument that ‘race’
cannot be added to other sites or discourses of oppression in an additive fashion
draws this aspect of Solorzano and Yosso’s (2001) work into sharp relief. For
example, the challenge to interrogate phenomena such as whiteness and ‘race’ in
the historical and contemporary developments of sport and leisure, and how
processes within sport and society conspire to reinforce or liberate oppressions, is
one worth taking (Long and Hylton, 2002).
Limited work have been successful in realizing the potential of theorizing sport
phenomena through the strategic use of related critical arenas such as critical
cultural studies, sexuality, masculinity and feminist theory, class, ‘race’ critical
theory, history, politics, discourse analysis, post-structural, post-modern and postcolonial analyse …
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