The Beloved Country

With new racism (nee cultural or neo racism) it is not even necessary to use the word race. In Etienne Balibar’s formulation, new racism is a form of racism which puts culture in the place where biology or nature once stood. Its aim is not to politically exclude or eliminate cultural differences but rather it seeks to manage and regulate them through “differential inclusion.”

In 1969 Enoch Powell,when asked by David Frost if he would admit to being a racialist responded, “It depends how you define the word “racialist”. If you mean being conscious of differences between men and nations, and from that, races, then we’re all racialist. However, if you mean a man who despises a human being because he belongs to another race, or a man who believes that one race is inherently superior to another in civilisation or capability of civilisation, then the answer is emphatically no” (Heffer p.504).

I do not talk about black and white. I would very much doubt if you can find a passage, you might find one, where I have used the terms black and white. I certainly have never talked about differences in quality. Never. Never. Never. (in Smithies and Fiddick 1969: 119, 122)

For Balibar, ‘The new racism is a racism of the era of “decolonization”, of the reversal of population movements between the old colonies and the old metropolises, and the division of humanity within a single political space” (p.24). It focuses not on biological heredity but ‘the insurmountability of cultural differences’, a racism which, at first sight, does not appear to posit the superiority of certain groups or peoples in relation to others but only the harmfulness of abolishing boundaries because of our incompatible life-styles and traditions. One is superior. One is inferior; prone to criminality and unrestrained sexuality. New racism’s solution is the establishment of apartheid-style boundaries. In its unguarded moments new racism often descends into its most extreme distillation of Powellian and Malthussian ‘commonsense’ musings on the dangers of unrestrained population growth of les autres which is the wish to repatriate all immigrants from British soil. As Powell put it,

I would have thought that a glance at the world would show how easily tensions leading to violence arise where there is a majority and a minority … with sharp differences, recognizable differences and mutual fears … when the numbers of the minority are small, then this danger hardly exists. It is as the numbers of the minority (which in some areas is the majority) rise, that the danger grows. Consequently the whole of this issue to me … is one of numbers (my emphasis).

This garbled rhetoric underpinned the ideological assault on the working class by Thatcherists in the 1980s through mobilising for political ends – the differences – Black youth’s criminality and promiscuous sexuality. The implication was that Afro-Caribbeans could never assimilate because of their inherent violence and irresponsible child breeding (read primitivity). This prejudice was used to begin the dismantlement of the welfare state which Nigel Farrage today, employing its circular logic, exercises when he blames migration because it fits a commonsense understanding that was brought into the foreground of white consciousness back then. Referencing Powell, he says, “The indigenous population found themselves made strangers in their own country, their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition”. He’s not referring to the past here when he cites Powell’s formulation but the present. It’s been proved wrong over and over again even in the midst of the most intense ideological assault on our minds blaming the Polish for the lack of housing, good schools and so on.

To this day it is used to normalise the burgeoning idea that legal rights and citizenship can be revoked for the entire group if an individual is judged to have acted in ways deemed hostile toward the UK. This covers a lot of ground: from Muslims preachers raging against Britain’s wars in the Middle East to despoilations of Romas accused of defecating on the doorsteps of Mayfair. The imagined community, this nation, has yet to grant full citizenship to colonial subjects who remain “second class citizens” no matter how many generations in. Quoting Powell:

The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still (Heffer )

New racism assumes that the dominant metropolitan culture is different from the culture of ethnic minorities who are understood in an essentialist and reified sense.

Not so long ago David Starkey, commenting on the Rochdale gang charged with sexually grooming young girls attributed their criminality to a culture belonging to “the foothills of the Punjab or wherever it is” by men who needed to be “inculcated in the British ways of doing things.” He tapped into stereotypical racist, sexist and patriarchal representations of Islam in Eurocentric thought; that of Muslim men abusing women which is then distilled by the EDL into demo chants of “Mohammed is a paedo”.

Starkey and the EDL echo decades old fears about national degeneration due to the deleterious effects of assimilation and miscegenation which is not peculiar to the right. You can find the same sentiments shimmering in Ken Loach’s film Spirit of ’45; a nostalgic reinvention of volkish nationalism under Labour rule or more starkly, in the Nazi German longing for the removal of undesirable Jews, the disabled, work-shy, gays and prostitutes in the Final Solution. All of them share a common story about nationhood and belonging to an imperial race.

Britain narrates this story to itself, the latter being spoken of in coded language and dog-whistles. A nation which glories in the defeat of Germany and Nazism yet in the shadows lurks the belief in white supremacy, so there’s really no contradiction in the far right raising Nazi salutes. And the left? They are just more coy about the roots of their own story of nationhood. As Cesaire said in his essay, Discourse on Colonialism, “At the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler. At the end of formal humanism and philosophic renunciation, there is Hitler.”

Starkey’s racism, infused by ideas which emerged out of the British empire, imagines his ‘other’ in the same stark oppositional terms as Enoch Powell. “British ways” are white and middle-class while the societies dwelling on the “foothills of the Punjab or wherever” are frozen in a state of complete otherness as inferior, rapacious, deviant and uncivilised. One culture is assumed to be universalist and progressive, while the other is branded irreversibly particularistic and primitive. One culture can claim for itself “uniquely individualised identities as a way of freeing themselves from the burdens of collective responsibility” so that a Hitler or a Breivik do not become the essentialised essence of whiteness but the others cannot claim such individuality, stigmatised as they are with, what Memmi calls, the “mark of the plural”. In Memmi’s words,

The colonized is never characterized in an individual manner [but] .. . entitled only to drown in an anonymous collectivity (‘They are this.’ ‘They are all the same.’). If a colonized servant does not come in one morning, the colonizer will not say that she is ill, or that she is cheating, or that she is tempted not to abide by an oppressive contract. … He will say, ‘You can’t count on them.’ … He refuses to consider personal, private occurrences in his maid’s life; that life in a specific sense does not interest him, and his maid does not exist as an individual (cited in Barla 2004: p2)

Hence, a tiny minority is held up as representative of all colonised subjects who are seen to be constantly in danger of reverting to primitivity. This is the logic of empire that Peter McClaren writes is still with us “bound to the fabric of our daily being-in-the-world, woven into our posture toward others, connected to the muscles of our eyes, dipped in the chemical relations that excite and calm us, structured into the language of our perceptions” (p.142). The logic of empire functions to disavow the excluded with a view to keeping immigrants in a state of permanent vulnerability and precarity allowing for their ruthless exploitation by capital [snitch culture/racist vans/police confiscating food parcels & sleeping bags – they too can so easily steal and they will when the cuts hit them/rounding up spivs/jailing/quotas/repatriation]. As Franco Barchiesi notes, the movement of resources from the provision of social services and welfare to police, juridical and miltitary spheres reflects the reorientation of society into tiers of inclusion and exclusion managed by the nation-state. Re-commodifying and privatising the commons has meant that enjoyment of social rights has come to rely on having a job. Jobs which are increasingly informalised and flexible. It is in low waged/low-skilled jobs – care, cleaning, farming – coincidentally, that immigrants from outside of the EU are finding employment (2004: 3-4).

The new racism explains reasons for poverty and unemployment among minorities as due to cultural values or norms we share and less to do with systemic disadvantages implying an inferiority in relation to the dominant culture and while avoiding attributing these to biological difference. Cultural racism, as an inferior form of logic, is “the process of reification existing within capitalist society which embeds men and women in the particular … subsuming them beneath a false generality (such as their membership of families, states or nations) – an ideological process which must take different forms at different times.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s