The topic of world history arose as a distinct field of academic study in the 1980s. Though comparative history also studies the history of multiple cultures and countries, world history searches for patterns that appear in all cultures on a global scale. Thematic approaches are used by world historians, with a focus on two key concepts: integration and difference.
But how does critical race theory (CRT) figure in world history?
Teaching world history
World history inevitably begins with a study of the first humans or members of the genus Homo, which, in Latin, means “human.” The earliest known humans included:
Homo habilis (“handy man”), who lived about 2.4 million to 1.4 million years ago in Eastern and Southern Africa
Homo rudolfensis (discovered in East Rudolph, Kenya), who lived about 1.9 million to 1.8 million years ago in Eastern Africa
Homo erectus (“upright man”), who lived about 1.89 million to 110,000 years ago and has been traced from Southern Africa all the way to what we know to be China and Indonesia
Once the class reaches the point where Homo sapiens sapiens or modern humans appear, students learn about the various civilizations that rose and fell through centuries.
Studies on civilizations — whether about life in Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, or among the Mayans, Incas, or Aztecs — show how dominant societies or groups persist at the expense of the (smaller or relatively powerless) minority. In most cases, the original ruling class or group is only broken down when a new, more aggressive or politically, militarily, and economically advanced group uses force to gain power.
The concept of race in world history
The term “race” was first employed in the English language in the late 16th century to classify or categorize human beings. Its original meaning was similar to other classification terminology, like type, sort, or kind.
Eventually, however, the word "race" was employed by the English to classify and rank the different people in the English colonies in the 18th century. There were the Europeans who considered themselves free people, Amerindians that were conquered by the English, and Africans who were forcibly uprooted from their lands to provide slave labour.
Physical disparities between conquered and enslaved peoples and Western and Northern Europeans were not the only reason for the creation of racial classifications.
For a long time, the English had distanced themselves from others and treated foreigners, such as the Irish, as alien (“others”). Their policies and practices in Ireland by the 17th century had created an image of the Irish as “savages” incapable of being civilized.
English plans to conquer the Irish, capture their lands, and utilize them as slave labour were mostly unsuccessful due to Irish opposition. This forced the English to look to the New World, and their treatment of the Irish set the tone for how they would approach the rest of the world.
As most of us already know, various European kingdoms, including the Dutch, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English, navigated the world and “discovered” new peoples and lands. These discoveries were immediately followed by the subjugation and exploitation of these peoples and their resources.
Looking at these past events through the lenses of racism, to the conquerors, the people they conquered were clearly inferior to them in every way: physically, intellectually, morally, and culturally.
CRT and world history
Critical race theory is a multidisciplinary intellectual and social movement of civil rights researchers and activists. CRT proponents, led by Harvard Law Professors Derrick Bell and Alan David Freeman of the University of Buffalo Law School, strive to study the intersection of race, society, and law in the United States, as well as criticize standard American liberal approaches to racial justice.
In studies of race, CRT is utilized in sociology to describe social, political, and legal institutions and power distribution. With CRT as a conceptual framework, social scientists have investigated racial bias in laws and institutions in the United States. Concluding that understanding CRT is essential to minimizing the negative effects towards minority groups in this country and should affect the way we teach history.
The 5 principles of CRT include the following:
Race is socially constructed and is not a biological concept.
Racism in the United States is normal, as it is an ordinary experience among people of colour.
Legal developments (or setbacks) for people of colour still serve the interests of dominant white groups.
People belonging to minority groups experience “differential racialization,” which attributes to them certain negative stereotypes that serve the needs or interests of whites.
The thesis of intersectionality or anti-essentialism means that no single individual can be exclusively identified by membership in a single group, as in the case of a Black businesswoman who is also a leader, Christian.
An important aspect of CRT is the idea that racism is a social construct, where an individual’s free agency, life chances, and opportunities are determined in part by which social class they belong to.
If we look at world history, we see how various groups who considered themselves the dominant or ruling class subjected peoples they perceived as inferior to acts of violence, injustice, and repression. This happened throughout history over and over again, whether it's the French and British colonizers in America and how they treated the natives, the Spanish invading parts of Asia, the Belgians in Central Africa, and so on.
Studying world history using the CRT perspective leads us to understand how the concept of race has been used by people to divide and demean others based on a falsehood, a perception (racism) that there are superior and inferior “races.”
But, in fact, we belong only to one race — the human race. This is something that needs to be ingrained in every one of us, beginning at home and in school.
Juneteenth and the Black experience in the U.S.
With the Juneteenth celebration this June 19 commemorating the emancipation of slaves and the end of the American Civil War, we are reminded of how far Black people in the U.S. have gone since the days of the slave trade. It’s a sad reminder that so many people had to suffer and die for later generations of Black Americans to be able to experience some semblance of freedom.
It also tells us how understanding Black history is an essential part of understanding World History, and our own history. CRT is a tool to accomplish just that; to clearly see the perspectives of others and how they affect the lives of millions of people still today. Unlike what Fox news reports, CRT does not propose all the folks in the dominant group are evil and that you should lose yourself and your identity to get behind a fad.
When CRT is taught alongside world history, it's a tool for understanding the many instances of war and subjugation over the centuries. More importantly, it highlights the value for us to continue working towards equality particularly in education and economic opportunity — however difficult tackling systemic racism may be.
Tough Convos finds ways to make these tools accessible and relevant to teams and companies like yours. We work to cultivate a more inclusive company culture and know that it begins with education. From students to leaders, developing critical thinking skills on race relations and gaining a deeper understanding of world history and important aspects of our culture will only help us achieve our DEI goals.
Give us a call today at 1(858) 876-8176 to learn more, book an initial call, or send us an email to let us know how we can help.