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Racializing Criticality in Adult Education

Stephen Brookfield



Africentrism: A culturally grounded philosophical perspective that reflects the intellectual traditions of both
African and African American culture.

Racializing criticality: to examine how race intersect with those learning tasks of adulthood – challenging
ideology, overcoming alienation, contesting hegemony, and unmasking power – that are the focus of
critical theory.

Critical theory: A social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole, in contrast to
traditional theory oriented only to understanding or explaining it.

Critical adult education:

This article assumes that adult education theory is racialized; meaning it is viewed from a distinctive lens
of a certain racial group’s experience of the world. In the case of adult education, it is racialized by White
European Americans.

• Lucius T. Outlaw’s term - racialized

• Most frequent cited concepts that define this field of adult ed is by white men

• This valued unspoken norm of Whiteness is rarely commented on

• Invisible politics of race in adult ed.

• Non-White perspectives viewed as exotic, alien

• Makes initiatives attempting to widen field’s discourse as condescending, and patronizing

attempts to give voice to the margins-when voice cannot be given, only claimed. Lucius T.
Outlaw, Jr.
• Outlaw does not discredit European critical theory; he reinterprets for African Americans

• Part of effort of decentralization - “shifting the stated or implied center or voice of discourse away
from the previously unquestioned dominant, male, Eurocentric subject”(Hemphill, 2001, p.20)

David Hemphill

• Transformative Learning – Jack Mezirow – most celebrated and researched idea – The concept
of critically reflective practice, positioned as the conceptual core of the millennial Handbook of
Adult and Continuing Education, also grounded in focus on identifying power and
contesting hegemony.
• Outlaw and Cornel West, among other African American scholars, state that this critical theory as
represented by Marx, Gramsci, Marcuse, Fromm, Habermas, Foucault, and others mostly omits
racial analysis and “tacitly assumes that racism is rooted in the rise of modern capitalism”(West,
1993c, p. 262).

• Should be reframed in a racialized way

• Smith and Colin (2001) advocated that those who espouse a critically reflective

paradigm of adult ed. need to understand the presence and impact of racist practices in adult ed.

• Necessary to have a “true critically reflective practice” in the field of adult ed

• Need for critical, reflective, dialogue concerning the absence of discourses of race, gender,
sexual orientation, ageism, ableism, etc.

Theoretical Frameworks – Informing a Racialized Criticality

• Need to racialize criticality in adult ed in favor of African-Americans – two theoretical frameworks:

o Second generation critical theory – African-Ams. Intellectuals take the central component
of criticality articulated by the Frankfurt school – an awareness of the need for the
political struggle of class against class – and reframe this as the struggle against
systematic racism. We can use West’s and Outlaw’s work to examine how race intersect
with those learning tasks of adulthood – challenging ideology, overcoming alienation,
contesting hegemony, and unmasking power – that are the focus of critical theory.

o Africentrism – Africentric thought is held to be epistemologically distinctive, to comprise

ways of knowing, experiencing, perceiving, and meaning-making that stand apart from
the Eurocentric ideal of the monological self coming to truth through rational, self-directed
reflection (Asante, 1990, 1998a, 1998b).

• Process of naming and fighting in the realm of research and practice of adult ed.
by Colin and her coauthors.

• Similar to Outlaw and West, but represents different epistemology. Africentrism

not positioned or related to critical theory, rather exists on its own. Notions
derived from African, not European, epistemology.

• Brookfield (author) is white. Never claims to work as an Africentric adult

educator, but appreciates and learns from the epistemology

Scipio A.J. Colin III

Refocusing Critical Theory on the African American Lifeworld

• Outlaw development of hermeneutics of the African Am. lifeworld. Positions himself as a

philosopher of African descent who shares critical theory’s conception of philosophy as a tool for
social change. He must live as a philosopher to serve the emancipatory efforts of people of
African descent while realizing that this includes widespread a revolutionary change of the
American order
• Combination of Black nationalism and critical theory

• Both are necessary to clarify needs of African Am.

• Why is critical theory important? These are the basis of control and authority of Blacks and
reflection must made

• Also provides starting point to the liberation of blacks and others from domination.

• Analysis of racism with this fusion of Black Nationalism and critical theory, and how it may be

• Critical theory – racialized interpretation – How does this serve interest of blacks? Invasion by
the dynamics of racist ideology.

• Distorted by White supremacist ideology hampers blacks their understanding of their current
situation and future possibilities.

• Need to illuminate racial identity as a positive constituitive element, rather than shame or self-

• Use positive examples within lifeworld

• Outlaws commits to understand and communicate as wholly as possible in search of blacks’

distinct orientation

• Starting point – examining lived experiences of African Am. adults

• Use Outlaw’s elaboration can be used as a curricular outline

• Use of folktales, religious practices, political language and practice, music, etc.

• Will increase self-transparency – causing self-understanding which is necessary according to

Outlaw; will also unite the division amongst blacks

• This kind of critical reflection different from most adult education in this area b/c focusing on
uncovering distortions of racial ideology

• Helps in building identity and political purpose among blacks and remove racist attitudes

A Racialized Engagement With the Critical Tradition

• West endorses the idea of dismantling racist power structures

• Belief that to become a critically reflective adult requires an understanding of how hegemony and
political economy foreclose African Americans’ opportunities to realize their potential.

• Regarded Marx’s ideas as indispensable but not the features of African American oppression
• Marx omits an analysis of race as a separate dimension of oppression; didn’t understand the
complexity of culture (identity); how power tied to the “microphysics of a society”

• West calls for an analysis of the logic of White supremacy through a “micro-institutional analysis
of the mechanisms that promote and contest these logics in the everyday lives of people”

• Genealogical analysis of racist practices in everyday life

• Foucault helps illuminate how the power of racist ideology is manifested in everyday practices.

• West puts forward an Afro-American counter discourse, to the modern European racist discourse
which would preclude a revolutionary future for Blacks.

• West considers himself a Gramscian Marxist, b/c Gramsci places stress of historical specificity,
on concrete situations and circumstances

• Cornel West’s rap CD – Sketches of My Culture – (You may order songs here or
hear samples!)

• West states, in Keeping Faith (1993b), an organic intellectual as “a person who

stays attuned to the best of what the mainstream has to offer – its paradigms,
viewpoints and methods – yet maintains a grounding in affirming and enabling
sub-cultures of criticism” (p.27)

• Examples of such are: grass-roots groups, progressive assoc. intent on bringing social change
including groups of activists of color, feminists, lesbians and gays, Black churches, etc.

• Need of organic individuals to be compared and analyzed with adult educators. Many critical
adult educators create workforces that fuel the American economy to compete globally.

• Adult educators work to create oppositional spaces in company sponsored programs without
control. Being able to practice and teach freely does not exist in this realm.

• Adult educators should be allowed to bring in organic intellectuals, or themselves should use
critical theory to illuminate strategies and tactics to be used in a particular struggle or movement.

• The promotion of critical habits for purposes of insurgency stands as a major function of Afro-
American critical thought in reshaping African-Am history, new self-understanding, which
suggests guidelines for action in the present. How?

o One way is to conduct a genealogy of racist ideas and practices

o Another is to “provide a theoretical reconstruction and evaluation of Afro-American

responses to white supremacy” (West, 1982, p.23)

o A third is to explore the cultural roots and sensibilities of African Am.

o A fourth is “to present a dialogical encounter between Afro-American critical thought and
progressive Marxist social analysis”(p.23)

o Finally, West sees the task of African American critical thought being to disentangle and
interpret the African, European, and American elements in Black experience

The Africentric Paradigm as an Alternative Critical Discourse

• African American Pre-Conference of the Annual Adult Education Research Conference and
researchers such as Colin have generated a vigorous discourse around what constitutes an
African-centered interpretation of adult educational practices and learning concepts.

• Difficult to “make the invisible visible” (Smith and Colin, 2001, p. 65) because of continued

• White faculty and students belief in Eurocentric perspectives as dominant; others ignorant, having
one racial paradigm, and intellectually limited.

• African American professors sometimes regarded as secretaries and not listened to.

• Africentric Paradigm counters Outlaw and West. It is a discourse of criticality – grounded in the
traditions and cultures of the African continent

o Should dominate theorizing on behalf of African-Am.

o Critically reflective – focused on the furtherance of African Am. interests through the
understanding of African Am. experiences

o Sociohistorical context of African Ameripean/African Am. individuals lived – racism

o Sociocultural and educational goals in their fight against racism

o Swahili concept of nguzo saba stresses community, interdependence, & collective action

 Umoja (unity)

 Kujichagulia (self-determination)

 Ujima (collective work and responsibility)

 Ujamaa (cooperative economics)

 Nia (purpose)

 Kuumba (creativity)

 Imani (faith)

o Eurocentric perspectives of individualism, competition, and hierarchical forms of authority

and decision-making differed from above concept

• African American adult education programs must be “designed to counteract the sociocultural and
the socio-psychological effects of racism” (Colin and Guy, 1998, p. 47)

• Developed by ethnic or racial groups who have lived the experience of racism

• Must be outside the Eurocentric ideology

• According to Colin – Defining African Ameripean

o African – “denotes the primary genetic roots and land of origin” (2002, p. 62)
o Ameri – “reflects voluntary assimilation with various Native American tribal societies
(particularly Cherokee and Seminole)” (p. 62)

o pean – “reflects the forced assimilation with various European ethnic groups, particularly
the British, French, and Irish during the period of slavery in the United States” (p. 62)

• Despite such precision by Africentric scholarship, it is still forced to prove the validity of its
intellectual referents before its specific ideas can be engaged.

Conclusion: Are These Two Racialized Notions of Criticality Compatible?

• Africentric and critical theory notions of criticality are regarded by Africentric scholars as trains
running on parallel tracks, with no terminus or junction waiting in the distance.

• Some Eurocentric and Africentric values are alike and derived from critical theory, therefore share
the emphases of Africentric adult education, i.e. breaking down individualism and competition
while privileging collective cocreation of knowledge within collaborative groups.

• For critical theory, authority is viewed as residing in the collective, not the individual, and decision
making becomes a community process.

• There is a difference – Race as the central construct.

• Critical theory does not dismiss racism, but it is not its overarching theme.

• Marcus Garvey – Africentric

• Africentric is not ethnocentristic, but to present and preserve African/African Am/African-

Ameripean history and culture.

• Both seek to build critical practice of adult ed. in the interest of African Am.

• Very debatable whether these two notions with ever fuse in the future.