This term is a particular type of racism which refers to the devaluation of the cultures of minority groups. Minority cultures are considered to be flawed or inferior in some way, and progress is considered to have been achieved when minority groups embrace and become absorbed by the majority culture. The majority culture is regarded as the ‘norm’ and superior to all others.
This term is being used with increasing frequency to draw attention to the shift in focus of racist theories. Whereas earlier theories sought to explain and justify racist attitudes in scientific terms, cultural racism attempts the same thing in cultural terms. ‘Culture’ is in itself a complex term but has been defined as ‘the total range of social values, beliefs and behaviours of an identifiable group of people with a shared background and traditions which influence and characterise members of that group’s or society’s core outlooks and activities’ (www.antiracisttoolkit.org.uk). These might include aspects such as social customs, manners and behaviour, language, religious and moral beliefs and practices, aesthetic values and leisure activities.
Blaut (1992) explains that within cultural racist theory, ‘white’ is no longer the superior ‘race’ but rather European the superior culture. Non-Europeans are thereby defined as inferior in attained levels of achievement, and not in potential for achievement, thus distinguishing cultural racism from earlier forms of racism.
Cultural racism can often result when teaching materials are used inappropriately, when there is only exposure to the ‘majority’ culture, or when insufficient attention is paid to ensuring that pupils develop an accurate understanding of the contributions made by minority cultures.
There is a danger, however, in trying to address this through multicultural education if the approach is tokenistic Also Modood (1994) argues that multicultural education which confines culture to the private sphere (for example it’s alright to speak Punjabi at home but not school; it’s alright to practise your religion in the home or mosque but it’s not alright to wear the hijab), is inadequate and could reinforce cultural racism. Modood (ibid) also argues that an understanding of cultural racism is essential to understanding and opposing racism (p690).
Blaut, J. Prof (1992) 'The Theory of Cultural Racism', Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, 23, p 289-299.Available online at: mdcbowen.org/p2/rm/theory/blaut.htm
Modood, T. (1994) 'Political Blackness and British Asians'. Sociology. 28:4.