As a UK citizen, I suggest a compromise solution to Brexit: be in and out. Ie, stay in (promise reform of EU free movement of people to the UK, then get a remain result from a second referendum) but be the outsider.*
The 2004 neo-liberal experiment of allowing virtually unrestricted access to the UK of people from poor east European countries (pushed by then UK Labour premier Tony Blair) upset many locals. Boosted Euroscepticism led to the referendum, which was, in effect, the first public consultation on mass immigration. Result: split nation: loquatious liberals versus a taciturn precariat.
Offered a binary choice in 2016, I voted to remain – but was actually undecided. As a left-liberal who welcomes immigration, I nevertheless sympathise with the overlooked precariat – who have been wrongly dismissed by the metrocentric liberal establishment as ignorant provincial racists.
But it’s madness to abandon a good trading deal with our near neighbours in exchange for environment-destroying air and sea miles, and a sweetheart deal with corporate USA involving chlorinated chicken and a garage sale of the UK’s National Health System.
So, let’s stay in and, firstly, use the same EU rules as Germany and France have to restrict the “free movement” of people. (Mobility of cheap labour is no freedom.) Then vote for reforming the sh*t out of the corrupt, bloated, neo-lib EU gravy train. Then, with harmony and unity restored, we can resume our previous blissful sense of indifference.
*Update: the 2019 UK general election gave the Conservatives a large majority, so staying in was out. Harmony could now only be achieved by keeping as close as possible to the single market. Premier Boris Johnson, no Brexit idealogue (he flipped to Brexit in 2015 for reasons of personal advancement), might do that.
Although widespread resentment of unrestricted immigration from Eastern Europe was one of the main causes of the leave result in the UK’s 2016 EU referendum, EU officials, in their post-referendum negotiations with the UK, held blindly to the untouchable indivisibility of the four freedoms.
As shown in Lode Desmet‘s fascinating fly-on-the-wall documentary, Brexit: Behind Closed Doors (shown in the UK on BBC Four’s Storyville in May 2019), Verhofstadt, Brexit coordinator and chair of the Brexit steering group for the European parliament, pompously and melodramatically – if unconvincingly – lectured a 2018 UK parliamentary home affairs committee on the supposed sanctity of the free movement of people.
MEP Verhofstadt – who, unlike fellow EU Brexit officials Tusk, Juncker and Barnier, was at least elected – duly preached the 4F credo to the committee:
‘You cannot pick and choose one element out of this concept and say, “We like everything, services, goods, capital, but not people. We don’t like people. They cannot come. Our goods can go out, our capital can go out, services can go out, but not people”. That is not the single market…
‘Everybody on the continent understands that when you’re talking about the single market, it can not only be the freedom of movement of goods or services or capital, but that it also needs to be the freedom of movement of people…
‘There are some countries in the single market who are specialised in goods. So they have an advantage on the single market with their goods. Some countries are specialised in services. I think we are here in the centre, in the capital of a country that is specialised, that has a huge advantage in services…
‘Other countries have an advange in that single market, because of their work force. And if you want to take out one of these elements, you destroy the concept itself of the single market.’
Transcript of edited scene provided by Lode Desmet, and ammended according to official report
In other words, rich west European countries could export goods, services and capital. Poor east European countries could export cheap labour. Anyone who challenged this – as, say, a mutant version of the original notion of the free movement of people, typical of neoliberalism at its grubby worst – was threatening to destroy the very concept of the single market.
Verhofstadt did point out that the UK hadn’t bothered to use the restrictions available under EU rules for EU citizens immigrating with no jobs – the same restrictions that his home country of Belgium had applied. Similar restrictions have been used by Germany and France.
This was a good point, but made too late. Grassroots dissatisfaction with unrestricted immigration from poor east European countries was a main reason for the referendum’s leave result. It was also the main reason for the ‘red wall’-turned-blue Conservative victory in the 2019 UK general election.
The detail of Verhofstadt’s evidence to the home affairs committee (and earlier on the same day to the parliamentary Brexit committee) shows that he wielded statistics – as many UK liberals do – to loftily downplay the disturbing scale and effect of unrestricted immigration from Eastern Europe to the UK.
Verhofstadt’s blind post-enlargement loyalty to the principle of the free movement of people as an essential component of the single market was intellectually shoddy. Such obstructionism, based in condescension and wilful ignorance, showed the arrogance typical of EU Brexit negotiators.
Perhaps that arrogance was a defensive reaction to the Brexistential challenge. Stronger negotiation by UK premier Theresa May might have countered that, but she weakened her position by calling the 2017 snap general election and losing her majority.
If the EU negotiators had looked beyond their offended sensibilities, and had understood the scale of UK grassroots resentment of post-enlargement mass immigration, they might have offered to reform the free movement of people.
Assuming a general election would still have been needed to decide how Brexit would be completed, ‘Red wall‘ Labour leave voters might then have voted in 2019 for Labour’s proposed second referendum. Labour might have won, and the second referendum might have resulted in a decision to remain.
That’s four levels of ‘might’, admittedly, but it’s a plausible possibilty – and a lost opportunity.
In spite of his EU hauteur, I don’t blame Verhofstadt. Apart from his overblown free movement bombast at the committee hearing and his complicity in the EU’s high-handed negotiating stance, he came across in Desmet’s documentary as a likeable Anglophile and a decent politician who – like all concerned – was out of his depth.
I blame Tony Blair, the UK premier who led EU enlargement in 2004. Blair must have foreseen the mass immigration of cheap labour to the UK when he pushed for EU enlargement, but like the 1948 patrician government that facilitated postwar mass immigration, he didn’t consult the people and apparently had no concern for the social wellbeing of either the immigrant or the host community.
In both instances, if the host community had been consulted, had agreed that large-scale immigration was necessary and had been prepared for two-way cultural integration, there might have been a more welcoming atmosphere.
The referendum, caused by grassroots pressure, was a direct consequence of Blair’s EU enlargement project. It was, in effect, the first UK public consultation on mass immigration. The people expressed their dissatisfaction and that was fair enough – but the result has left us out in the cold.
In a 2004speech Blair said, ‘Enlargement will increase stability, security and prosperity‘. How wrong he was. He apparently realised how wrong he was and tried to make amends when, in 2017, he called on the EU to reform free movement to show leave voters ‘their concerns are better met without the damage Brexit will do’. His belated appeal was ignored.
As a left-liberal supporter of internationalism and free trade, I voted in 2016 to remain. I hoped that the UK could reform the corrupt, bloated, neoliberal and over-bureaucratic gravy-train the EU has become.
Instead, we faced the double-whammy dystopian prospect of exchanging free trade with our neighbours for a ‘trade deal’ with the US – allowing the UK Conservative party’s US billionaire friends to parasite the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) and send us their chlorinated chicken and drug-riddled beef.
Amazingly, even after Brexit many of the UK liberal elite still agreed with Verhofstadt in supporting the unrestricted post-enlargement free movement of people.
They should have learned their lesson: Blair’s neoliberal mobility of cheap labour was no freedom. It’s what brought us to this sorry state.
The UK’s working-class host community was just about coming to terms with postwar mass immigration from colonies and the Commonwealth when EU expansion into poor east European countries in 2004 led to the free movement of people morphing into almost unrestricted mass immigration of cheap labour (see below). Polls showed concern about immigration was a main reason for the referendum’s leave result.
As detailed below, mass immigration has always been imposed or facilitated by governments for economic reasons with no concern for the social wellbeing of the host or immigrant communities. This was one of the roots of the Rohingya crisis (addressed by my post Halo goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis).
The referendum was, in effect, the first public consultation on mass immigration to the UK since it began in the 1940s. The unexpected high turnout and leave result apparently released the trapped gas of resentment. The lofty dismissal of the issue by the liberal establishment didn’t help.
(Regarding that lofty dismissal and its political consequences, see my rolling blogpost, Brexit and free movement – the east European elephant. As a pro-immigration liberal internationalist, I voted to remain, despite the EU having become a corrupt, neo-liberal, over-bureaucratic gravy-train. But I sympathised with the overlooked precariat. They had genuine, non-racist concerns about the cultural and economic effects of post-enlargement free movement. I was concerned that Labour leave voters, dismissed by remainer Labour party leaders as ignorant provincial racists, would vote Conservative – which they did in 2019.)
The repressed racism released by the EU referendum resulted in a wave of increased racist hate crime, most worryingly amongst the educated young. People seemed to enjoy indulging in racist bullying. There was also an unpleasant surge in people talking smugly about ‘reverse racism’. Such comments showed ignorance of – or contempt for – the principle that racism is prejudice plus (institutional) power.
The far right was trying to surf the wave of post-referendum racism, but has never had much support in the UK. It was reasonable to suppose that when the Brexit dust settled and the UK controlled its own immigration, the racist wave would recede, the far right would crawl back under its stone, and the UK would phlegmatically resume its slow progress towards ending racism.
White/All Lives Matter – Black Lives Matter’s racist shadow
WLM: alt-right bollocks | BLM: idea beats quirks
The global 2020 Black Lives Matter movement made a big dent in the white western culture of racism, but ‘alt-right’ white supremacists pushed back with a cunning slogan, ‘White Lives Matter’ and its sneakier version, ‘All Lives Matter’.
Some history: in the US, many unarmed black people have been killed by white police officers, security guards and vigilantes. Those killings, widely seen as racist murders, have often gone unpunished.
In 2012, 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a mixed-ethnicity neighbourhood watch coordinator for the gated community where he temporarily lived.
Martin, visiting a resident with his father, was returning from a nearby convenience store when Zimmerman apparently thought he looked suspicious and challenged him. An altercation ensued, and Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest.
The perceived message given by the killings of unarmed black people and the indifferent response of the authorities was that black lives didn’t matter. Hence the slogan: Black Lives (do) Matter.
In 2015, a far-right racist counter-slogan emerged: ‘White/All Lives Matter’. Of course white lives mattered – of course all lives mattered – but no one had given the message that white – or all – lives didn’t matter.
Unmasked, ‘White/All Lives Matter’ was a brutal white-supremacist message: black lives don’t matter – the racist murder of black people is fine.
After the killing in 2020 of unarmed George Floyd by a white police officer, Black Lives Matter became the focus of a massive worldwide protest against racism.
The far right pushed back again. Here in the UK racists posted White Lives Matter messages on social media.
Many more white people posted the sneakier ‘All Lives Matter’ slogan. Some ‘All Lives’ posters were clearly racist. Some may have wanted to counter BLM’s sanctimony. Many probably didn’t realise there was a brutal racist message behind the innocuous-sounding slogan.
By such means, the far right kept trying to stir racist hatred. Fortunately, they’ve never had much support for their swivel-eyed nonsense in the phlegmatic, pragmatic UK. (Enoch Powell was wrong.)
‘All Lives Matter’ posts have since disappeared from mainstream UK social media. Perhaps people realised by posting that slogan they’d be associated with the racist far right.
In June 2020, in a clear and high-profile instance of hate crime, a plane towed a ‘White Lives Matter’ banner over a match at top UK football club Manchester City.
I asked the chief constable why. I got a dusty reply. Why don’t you ask him as well, dear Reader? (In 1999, Lancashire’s then police chief said, ‘Lancashire’s police force is institutionally racist’.)
The ‘Black Lives Matter’ slogan and it’s racist shadow now have a lower profile – as does the international campaign.
The BLM organisation has had troubles which may or may not be terminal (7) but the idea of the Black Lives Matter movement has the momentum to carry on – and white allyship, whilst understandably controversial, is thriving.
I like to think the smart-arse trolls of the racist ‘White Lives Matter’ far right have no future – only stale memories, sick fantasies and a short crawl back into their hole.
Recently in my workplace I overheard some jokey chat about ‘gingers’. It wasn’t directed at a particular person but I felt uneasy, as I always do when this casual prejudice happens. It felt like a form of racism.
Prejudice against red-haired people, known as gingerism, apparently exists only in England. It’s always framed as jokey banter and is often heard in the workplace or the pub.
If anyone objects, they’re likely to be chided: ‘It’s just a bit of fun. Can’t you take a joke?’ But is it a harmless joke? Or is it actually racism seeking an ‘acceptable’ form?
In the 1950s and 60s, racist comments were commonplace in the workplace and the pub, but now they’re unacceptable in public. Perhaps ‘harmless’ jokes about red-haired people or about the Welsh, (another similarly mocked group) constitute a new outlet for the redundant but dangerous and destructive anti-stranger instinct upon which racism is apparently built.
A UK Guardian article on the subject downplayed the idea of gingerism as racism, pointing out that people with red hair clearly don’t suffer the same devastating personal and institutional discrimination as people with black or brown skin.
However, the Guardian article suggested an interesting explanation for gingerism: English anti-Celtism, and – more specifically – anti-Irish feeling.
In the 1950s, London boarding-house signs supposedly said, ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’. (See below.) This seems to be apocryphal, but it illustrates a real prejudice.
English red-haired people bravely (Brave!) try to reappropriate the word ‘ginger’ – as US blacks have reappropriated the N-word. But the bullying ‘jokes’ continue regardless.
Neanderthal humans had red hair. Having lived in Europe for over 100,000 years, they were apparently wiped out 35,000 years ago by immigrating early modern humans. (Early modern humans emigrated everywhere – they’re the ancestors of all humans.)
Perhaps ‘jokey’ bullying of red-haired people and colonialist anti-Irish sentiments are echoes of that ancient hostility.
(As well as killing Neanderthals, early humans interbred with them. Most Europeans and Asians have 1-4% Neanderthal DNA. However, red hair in modern humans isn’t inherited from Neanderthals – apparently it’s a different gene.)
Decolonise it – the dark side of the Enlightenment
Kant was a c*nt
In this post, I praise the Enlightenment, the European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries led by philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, Newton, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.
The Enlightenment emphasised reason. I’d looked up to it as a way out of superstition, ignorance and oppression, and as the foundation of modern liberal democracy.
However, the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed the part played by Enlightenment philosophers in justifying the slave trade and slavery by coming up with the idea of white supremacy.
I didn’t know, for instance, Immanuel Kant said, ‘humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites’. To be fair, he later recanted (re-Kanted?) but the damage was done.
Before changing his mind, Kant expounded at length from his Königsberg coffee-shop about the failings of the various ‘races’ as compared with the perfect whites. He babbled authoritatively about the qualities of different African ‘races’ in terms of their suitability as slaves.
Such ‘philosophy’ was extremely useful to slave traders and ‘owners’ – not in practical terms, but in terms of moral support for their inhuman enterprise.
Now we know about the Enlightenment’s dark side, and in the woke wake of that awareness students have – understandably – called for decolonisation of the university syllabus. (The Daily Mail‘s response: ‘They Kant be serious!’)
In defence of the Enlightenment, it’s said that Kant & co. were conservative, and we should look to lesser-known radical philosophers of the Enlightenment – Baruch Spinoza, for instance – for its heart and soul.
Maybe so, but those mainstream conservative Enlightenment philosophers built our foundations – which now feel shaky.
Luckily – switch of metaphor! – the fruit of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy (currently the worst form of government apart from all the others) seems not to be poisoned by its toxic past. So I’ll still praise the Enlightenment – but less wholeheartedly.
The poison wasn’t Enlightenment philosophy – it was colonialism. It’d be nice to think those two heavyweight phenomena, Enlightenment and colonialism, were fundamentally separate and coincidental, rather than horribly symbiotic.
We need to decolonise our democracy but it’s easier said than done. Having ripped off and destroyed colonial countries, the UK blithely invited large numbers of residents of those countries to move and live here to help rebuild postwar Britain – then blighted their lives with postcolonial racism.
As argued throughout this post, colonial racism is apparently a twisted version of a redundant anti-stranger instinct (evolved to protect against communicable disease).
If we acknowledge that, we can choose to live above it (as with other ‘monsters from the id‘), so enabling us to oppose and end racism – and to decolonise our minds and institutions.
A white person can never know what it’s like to suffer racism. It must be galling for a person of colour to hear a white person explain racism away. But racism needs explaining honestly by white people. Who better to explain racism than white people? We do it.
Racism can’t be explained away (or justified) but it can be explained. We can start by admitting it – that’s the hard part for anti-racists. Then we can try to understand and explain it.
I admit to having racist feelings – but I’m anti-racist! I wondered if it might be a twisted version of a redundant anti-stranger instinct. I now think that’s the explanation: it’s not a belief, it’s a redundant instinct, revived and twisted by colonialism.
As with other redundant subconscious ancestral stuff that I’m aware of, I acknowledge the instinct – with a respectful nod to my ancestors – and, rejecting the despicable colonial twist, I choose to live above it.
That’s my whitesplanation – and my white allyship.
Regarding white allyship, white people of good will, as well as well as being aware of and choosing to live above our own racist impulses, can respond assertively but tactfully to other people’s racist speech or behaviour.
There’s an excellent guide to dealing with difficult behaviour in a calm and respectful way by Deborah Easton of Kent State University, US.
In this post I try, as a white anti-racist, to understand and explain racism, to admit to my own racism and to commit to living above it. I look at racism’s historical and evolutionary roots and its toxic legacy. I urge all white people to do the same.
That’s big of me, isn’t it. Have I expunged my white guilt? Obviously not fully. But kind of, yes.
However, I came across a YouTube Black History Panel discussion, Do we play the victim? and it made me wonder if I’ve painted a one-dimensional picture of black and South Asian Britons – as victims.
People of colour living in the West are victims – of racism. But they’re much more than that.
In her book, Killing Rage: Ending Racism, scholar-activist bell hooks penned an essay about refusing to be a victim. According to bell hooks, besides its ability to disempower, a perpetual state of Black victimhood fluffs the comfy pillows of whiteness, and it keeps the mind of whiteness at ease. Bell hooks writes that a self-determining Black identity intimidates. And she says, a self-determining Black identity doesn’t gather the sympathy, the visibility, and the platforms that victimhood can. To bell hooks, victimhood “pays homage to white victimizers” as the all-powerful holders of every solution. She also writes, “if only white people need to change, then Black people can avoid the process to undergo radical politicization.” The world needs both.
People who experience racism arevictims, but the UK’s hard-won liberal social democracy (albeit a flawed work-in-progress) lets self-determined people overcome such adversity.
And what about white guilt? If, as I suggest, all people are racist, and therefore – more relevantly – all white people are racist, should black people see white people mainly as racists?
Clearly not. Just as black people are much more than victims of racism, white people are much more than racists.
Given the improvements in ‘race’ relations over the last 50 or 60 years and intermarriage and friendship between black and white people, it’d be wrong for black people to be seen mainly as victims; and wrong for white people to be seen mainly as racists.
However, feelings of white guilt and black victimhood are nevertheless essential to the process of ending racism.
To be effective, they need to be channelled and perhaps de-woked and synchronised but, despite being bad feelings, they’re forces for good, motivating the slow progress towards ending racism.
In the meantime, those bad feelings, white guilt and black victimhood, could be greatly resolved by one thing: reparations for slavery.
A massive coordinated gesture of financial reparation by the US and the European countries involved would do a lot of good.
Apologists for colonialism – how empire ‘civilised’ the world – should imagine if European expansion had been like Star Trek instead. Go boldly – if you must – but don’t fuck everything up when you get there.
The brutality, theft and genocide carried out by European colonialists – my forebears – vastly outweighs any ‘civilising’ effect.
And European colonialism and racism went hand-in-hand. We white Europeans believed we were a superior race. We weren’t.
Now we know there are no different human ‘races’. It was always a fake concept. So-called ‘racial’ differences are superficial. Everyone with half a brain knows that now.
So how come there’s so much postcolonial ‘racism’ around? It’s a big question. This post is my answer.
I start by admitting to my own (unwanted) racist feelings, and suggesting we’re all racist. My post also:
Addresses black-on-black colour prejudice, or ‘shadism’
Suggests racism might be innate
Explains how ‘scientific’ racism is rubbish but was used to justify the slave trade and the Holocaust
Suggests mass immigration and conservative Islam have provoked innate racism in the UK and Europe
Concludes that if we acknowledge and address evolved prejudice, humanist goodness can prevail
Presents much additional information and comment in prefixes, postscripts, footnotes and annexes
I’m antiracist, but I’m sorry to say I have racist feelings. I don’t want them, and I don’t believe there’s any justification for them. I don’t think it’s just me. I think probably we’re all racist.
We white liberals rightly resist it or understandably suppress it – but it’s still there. An irrational suspicion of strangers, especially dark-skinned strangers, persists – and has been intensified in the west by recent circumstances and pressures.
Part of it is colour prejudice, a phrase fallen out of fashion, having been replaced by the blander catch-all, ‘racism’. But colour prejudice, now sometimes known as ‘colourism‘, is still a real thing.
Racism and colourism are rubbish – so why do they persist? One clue might be shadism.
Liberal idealists might be surprised and dismayed (I know I was) to learn there’s a strong undercurrent of colourism among people with brown or black skin. In this semi-secret culture of prejudice, sometimes known as ‘shadism‘, lighter skin is considered good, and darker skin is considered bad.
The global skin-lightening market is growing. It’s forecast to be worth over $12bn a year by 2027. The biggest market is South Asia (the geographically vague but politically correct UK name for the Indian subcontinent – see my post, Asian, Indian, Pakistani) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the South Asian diaspora.
South Asian shadism is often mixed with prejudice based on class, caste or region, but there’s also shadism within such groups. There’s almost an obsession with skin tone. For instance, someone with a lighter skin will typically be considered a better marriage prospect than someone with darker skin. Encouraged by adverts featuring Bollywood stars, many South Asians – mainly women – use skin lightening products.
Finding out about shadism, and reflecting on my own unwanted racist feelings made me wonder: might there be a gene for racism and colourism?
(After starting this post as a speculative piece, I realised there’s evidence for evolved group prejudice, of which racism might be a modern version; and for unconscious colour prejudice which might be innate. See below. Anyway…)
European colonialism and postcolonialism has fucked up the whole world. (That can’t be said often enough.)
Postcolonial culturally ingrained white delusions of superiority and white insitutional power are the conventional explanation for white-on-black racism (including mine). But perhaps that’s not the whole story.
Similarly, black-on-black and brown-on-brown shadism might be mainly explained by internalised racism, caused by the historical domination of much of India and Africa by light-skinned middle-eastern and European invaders; and by colonialism and slavery. But there might be more to it.
Can history really be the only explanation? Perhaps there’s something wider, deeper and older going on. Is there a nasty gene for colourism and racism lurking in our ancestral woodshed? If so, what could have been its – probably pre-human and now redundant – survival value? Could such a gene be the cause of modern racism?
Some scientists dismiss the idea of a gene for racism, but their dismissal seems to be a horrified denial rather than an evidence-based conclusion. Our genes haven’t been fully decoded yet, and perhaps never will be. A racist gene can’t be ruled out – except by wishful thinking.
Racism is usually considered to be a belief. But what if it’s actually an instinct? There’s good reason to think of racism as an evolved instinct: it’s widespread (probably universal), destructive and irrational.
The attempt to rationalise and dignify racism with ideology and ‘science’ is pure bollocks. It’s like a drunk trying to act sober.
Racists say there are different human races, some of which are intrinsically superior to others. They’re wrong.
In biology, ‘race’ is an informal rank below the level of subspecies, the members of which are significantly distinct from other members of the subspecies.
Interpreters of genetic research have confirmed the obvious: the different human populations are not races in any scientifically meaningful sense – they’re just people with superficial evolved differences from one another.
In other words, there are no human races.
(There’s also no such thing, strictly speaking, as ‘the human race’ – but ‘the human subspecies’ isn’t catchy. ‘The human race’ is a harmless and inclusive phrase in common use. It’s fine until the time when the word ‘race’ stops being used altogether – except as a technical term in the biology of non-human life forms. ‘Humanity’ is better.)
‘Racial profiling’ can be useful to the police when identifying a suspect to other officers. However, it can also be abused by the police, for instance in the controversial and problematic practice of ‘stop and search‘. This dragnet practice continues to be used, especially in London, and especially against young black men.
Over 20 years later in 2020, the Metropolitan police chiefsaid she’d implemented Macpherson’s recommendations, and the Met was not institutionally racist.
However, in June 2021, a former Met chief superintendent, the highest-ranked ethnic-minority woman in the force (who retired in 2019 after being cleared of a gross misconduct charge, suing the Met for ethnicity and gender discrimination, and agreeing a confidential settlement), said the Met was still institutionally racist.
In December 2021, UK police chiefs were reported to be considering a public admission of institutional racism.
In March 2023, in the wake of the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan police officer, it was reported that a government review found the Met to be insitutionally corrupt, racist, mysoginistic and homophobic.
The superficial differences between populations are used – and abused – by the police. However, they also feature more positively in the complex self-declared ethnic categories used for the census and for discrimination monitoring.
Ethnicity is clearly related to ‘race’, but it’s relatively non-toxic. It’s used mainly to implement anti-discrimination practices and to support ideas of multiculturalism.
The concept of ethnicity allows people to identify themselves as, for instance, black British or Asian British, thereby voicing their own feelings about who they are in positive terms which include family origins, the colour of their skin, their nationality and their cultural allegiances.
‘Mixed race’ is frequently used as a description or self-description in the context of ethnicity. The problem with this epithet is that there are no human races. ‘Mixed ethnicity’ is better.
The widely used acronym for non-white ethnic minorities in the UK, BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic), and its less-used alternatives BME (black and minority ethnic) and BEM (black and ethnic minorities), not to mention BAMO (black, Asian, mixed or other ethnic group) are used to support anti-racist and multicultural policies.
The intention is to redress the effects of personal and institutional colour prejudice (for instance, on mental health), but, perhaps because the phrase ‘colour prejudice’ is not in current use, linguistic difficulty and consequent controversy has ensued.
Acronyms such as BAME are criticised for suggesting people whose ethnicity includes African ethnicity (‘black’) are racially different from those whose ethnicity includes South Asian ethnicity (‘Asian’) and from other ethnic minorities.
The terms BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) and BME (black and minority ethnic) are not helpful descriptors because they emphasise certain ethnic minority groups (Asian and black) and exclude others (mixed, other and white ethnic minority groups). The terms can also mask disparities between different ethnic groups and create misleading interpretation of data.
In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities recommended the government stop using the term BAME.
One of the recommendations in our final report on COVID-19 disparities, published in December 2021, was to address specific ethnic minority groups rather than address ethnic minorities as a single group (through for example use of the term ‘BAME’). This was supported by research commissioned by the Race Disparity Unit (RDU), which found that British ethnic minority people are three times more likely to agree that the term ‘BAME’ is unhelpful than disagree.
[The wording has since been changed but the gist is the same.]
That may seem reasonable, but without a collective term, how can the effects of institutional racism be understood? The Conservative government elected in 2019 has been accused of seeking to downplay or even deny institutional racism.
The term ‘BAME’ might be disliked by most ethnic minority people, but a collective descriptor is essential to rooting out institutional racism. It’s been suggested the phrase ‘ethnic minority’ is better.
Then there’s the hot potato of identity politics. Originally French, then mainly American, now exported back to Europe, it’s where people of a particular ethnicity or other identifying factor (they’re sometimes rudely called snowflakes) develop a political agenda based on their identity and their sense of oppression.
Some advocates of identity politics take an intersectional approach, addressing the range of interacting systems of oppression which result from people’s various identities.
Liberal critics of identity politics say reaction against its supposedly strident demands contributed to the 2016 US election of populist psycho Donald Trump. Trump voters were said to have voted ‘white’.
Leftist critics of identity politics (eg Ambalavaner Sivanandan) say it’s a distraction from the class struggle. Other critics say the idea fosters inherently wrong or unnecessarily divisive notions of identity, or an unhelpfully exaggerated sense of victimhood.
Some identity politics groups, snarkily dubbed snowflakes, are criticised for being quick to take offence and being vindictive in their ‘cancel culture‘ pursuit of offenders.
Identity politics has been famously dismissed by batty best-selling author and psychologist Jordan Peterson. He echoes fellow bat Ayn Rand (author of Atlas Shrugged) in asserting the primacy of the individual over the group.
Loony ‘alt-right’ white supremacists have their very own version of identity politics, ‘identitarianism’, which asserts the right of white people to Western culture and territories claimed to belong exclusively to them. Bless.
The elephant in the room of identity politics is racism. Does identity politics address racism? Is there such a thing as black identity politics?
Clearly there’s a need for a collective political agenda to challenge the oppression of systemic colour prejudice, but I googled ‘black identity politics’ and got no meaningful results in the first five pages.
Apparently the hot potato of identity politicsdoesn’t address racism. Perhaps a cooler and less fragmentary political movement is needed for that.
Edit: Sadly – and surprisingly (to me, anyway) – it seems the Black Lives Matter organisation, rather than being the focussed and well organised campaign supporters and donors might expect, is actually a perfect example of overheated identity politics, and has consequently disappeared down that rabbit hole.
Science shows there are no human races, but some say ‘race’ is a social construct that doesn’t have to be scientifically meaningful – it’s just a way of describing the different human populations.
This is where it gets tricky. On the one hand, clever racists use the social construct idea to blur the issue and keep talking about ‘race’ despite the scientific evidence that there are no races.
On the other hand, ‘race’ as a social construct is also used by non-racists as shorthand for the different populations. It’s used in that way in speech by people of colour; and by both black and white writers and speakers in non-racist media.
‘Race’ is also implied in the use of the word ‘racism’. Antiracists speaking or writing about racism implicitly accept the notion of ‘race’ – presumably, the social construct version.
For those wanting to identify and eventually eliminate ‘racism’, the solution to this linguistic dilemma is to nevertheless avoid using the word ‘race’.
Despite being an arguably useful social construct and the root of the useful word ‘racism’, the word ‘race’ is fundamentally toxic and redundant.
Until racism ends – or, rather, until the thing misnamed as racism ends – the word ‘racism’ will probably continue to be used, trailing its toxic root, lightly disguised as a social construct.
In the meantime, a better word or phrase should be considered as a replacement.
‘Colour prejudice’ is more accurate than ‘racism’, but it’s out of fashion – and it doesn’t cover white-on-white anti-Judaism.
‘Racism’ is the wrong word – there are no races. Colour prejudice is a real thing – but it makes no sense. Perhaps, rather, it’s culture prejudice.
Perhaps a different skin colour, as well as triggering the redundant instinct of disease-preventing stranger avoidance, implies a different culture – which provokes irrational fear and prejudice.
Because racism is prejudice plus power (institutional power), the colonial and postcolonial power imbalance means that in the wealthy white West, white fears black, and black is then disadvantaged by that prejudice.
A more open but equally irrational culture prejudice could also account for white-on-white anti-Judaism, where the cultural difference is more explicit
Anyway… ‘prejudice’ – with or without the prefix ‘culture’ – is perhaps a better term than ‘racism’.
Instead of being a less-used alternative to ‘racism’, perhaps ‘prejudice’ should entirely replace it.
For the sake of (relatively harmless) convention, however, this post mainly uses the word ‘racism’.
Pseudo-scientific racism still lurches on, stalking mainstream science, but now we know better. However, a few hundred years ago, pseudo-scientific racist ideology was all the rage. An early example of bad science, it was used to justify two of the worst things in human history: the slave trade and the Holocaust.
‘Scientific’ or ideological racism is based on the obnoxious and fallacious idea that the different human populations are separate races in a hierarchy of superiority. It started when 18th-century European philosophers, defamed non-white populations as inferior, thereby providing intellectual justification for the racist brutality of empire – including four hundred years of the slave trade.
The misery of slavery has, of course, existed in nearly every culture, nationality, and religion from ancient times to the present day – with or without any ‘justification’. Estimates of the number of slaves today range from 21 to 46 million. Perhaps this shows humans have an innate capacity to see certain ‘categories’ of our fellow humans as ‘other‘.
Thought to be rare amongst hunter-gatherer populations, slavery really took off after the invention of agriculture about 11,000 years ago. Perhaps hunting and gathering was an interesting and sociable activity, whereas farming was boring and tedious. Perhaps thoughts turned to how to get someone else to do it for you, preferably for free. Farming led to city states, which led to warfare and captive slaves (and which later led to capitalism and wage slavery). Bingo!
The Bible condones slavery. Its claimed moral superiority was used by cynical racist colonialists and deluded missionaries to destroy indigenous African culture, but the ‘Good Book’ accepts the fundamentally immoral practice of slavery.
For instance, in the Old Testament check the small print in the terms and conditions that follow the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 21:26 slavery is clearly accepted as perfectly normal.
The New Testament continues to accept slavery. For instance, in Ephesians 6:5, the letter writer, possibly ‘Saint’ Paul, urges slaves to obey their masters.
Jesus’s powerful message of meekness triumphant was cynically exploited by colonialist Christian missionaries to encourage African acceptance of the European occupation – and of slavery in the Americas.
(What would Jesus – apparently a real person and a radical teacher – think of such wickedness done in his name? Jesus said, Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but that was coming from an occupied Jew, not from an imperialist Roman.)
The much-romanticised Anglo-Saxon age in Britain saw the widespread practice of chattel slavery. William the Conqueror, who subjugated Britain after the invasion of 1066, is rightly hated for his legacy of land-grabbing aristocracy – see my post, Law and order – but he did at least one good thing: he ended chattel slavery.
An estimated 12 million slaves entered the Atlantic trade between the 16th and 19th centuries. About four million died in Africa after capture, 1.5 million died on board ship, and 10.5 million reached the Americas to work on plantations.
The death rate on plantations was high, a result of overwork, poor nutrition and work conditions, brutality and disease. Many plantation owners preferred to import new slaves rather than provide the means and conditions for the survival of their existing slaves.
Kindness and conscience eventually prevailed. Opposition to slavery and to the slave trade began in the 1770s. The abolition of slavery was completed in the Caribbean by 1850; and in the US by 1865.
The US didn’t compensate slave ‘owners’, but Britain did. The 1833 Slavery Abolition Act required slave ‘owners’ to be compensated. The government borrowed £20m, equivalent today to £17bn. (It took until 2015 to complete the loan repayment.) 47,000 people got compensation. No money and no apology has ever been granted by the UK or the US to the enslaved, or to their descendants. bbb
Britain also managed to continue the racist brutality. The uncompensated British slaves were forced to continue their slavery for four more years in the name of ‘apprenticeship‘, during which the brutal punishment for working too slowly or taking time off included being hung by the hands from a plank and forced to ‘dance’ a treadmill (2).
The legacy of slavery wasn’t quite so bad in the Caribbean. After abolition, former slaves were in the majority in the islands, and, after independence – achieved between 1962 (Jamaica) and 1983 (St Kitts & Nevis) – their descendants went on to assume power.
However, the UK African Caribbean minority – those who migrated to the UK in the 1950s and 60s and their descendants living in the UK – have faced, like the African American minority, prejudice and disadvantage (see below) due in part to the legacy of slavery.
There’s been anti-Jewish racism since the Jews’ most recent exile from Israel by the Roman empire, and their consequent dispersion throughout Europe.
Jewish diaspora communities were able to live in productive harmony with host communities, but cynical anti-Jewish rabble-rousing led to outbreaks of racist violence, or ‘pogroms‘; and Christian and Muslim extremism led to persecution and expulsion.
The Granada massacre of 1066, a Muslim pogrom in which approximately 4,000 Jews were killed, marked the end of centuries of peaceful coexistence with a liberal Muslim regime in Spain.
Savage pogroms continued all over Europe until as recently as the 1940s.
16th-century Christianity reformer Martin Luther publicly recommended the burning of synagogues. Luther’s beef with Judaism was supposedly theological; but his bitter hatred betrays something less ethereal.
Ironically, Luther’s modern namesake, black civil rights leader Martin Luther King, publicly spoke out against black anti-Judaism. He acknowledged Jewish participation in the civil rights movement, and actively supported the state of Israel.
Encouraged by the original Luther’s widely disseminated anti-Jewish rhetoric, 19th-century German ‘race’ theorists and philosophers ramped up the anti-Judaism.
Friedrich Nietzsche is often accused of anti-Jewish philosophy. However, that reputation was created by Nietzsche’s Nazi sister, who edited his works after his mental breakdown in 1889 (from which he never recovered) and his death in 1900. She systematically falsified his writings to match her own virulent anti-Jewish racism. Nietzsche was arguably a proto-fascist, but he was deeply contemptuous of anti-Judaism and nationalism. The falsifications have since been corrected, but were current in the 1920s and 30s. The main fakery was in the 1906 publication, The Will to Power.
(Those 19th-century German ‘race’ theorists invented the pseudo-scientific word ‘antisemitic’. See my post on that ridiculous word for a tragic phenomenon, Antisemitism – anti-what??)
We all know how that ended in Nazi Germany in the 1930s: Holocaust, Hitler’s insane ‘final solution to the Jewish question’. Extreme nationalism, boosted by the writings of Luther and Nietzsche (or, rather, by the falsifications of Nietzsche’s sister) and by racist, pseudo-scientific US eugenics programmes funded by Carnegie, Rockefeller and Kellogg, resulted in the genocide of six million Jews, carried out mainly by ordinary people in thrall to authority.
Perhaps, however, the Holocaust executioners, besides acting in blind obedience to a ‘scientifically’ racist authority, were also indulging an instinctive racist urge.
Ironically, extreme nationalism is now a charge made against the powerful state of Israel in its conflict with neighbouring Palestine. Even more ironically, perhaps, supporters of the Palestinian cause who make that charge and criticise Israeli Zionism are accused (perhaps correctly in some cases) of anti-Jewish racism. And so it goes.
Also, showing no one’s immune, there’s Jew-on-Jew racism in Israel, in particular against Ethiopian Jews. A June 2018 news report said a major Israeli winery faced calls for a customer boycott after its chief executive admitted to discriminating against employees of Ethiopian origin to accommodate demands from devout Ashkenazi (Jews of European origin) hardliners, who’d questioned whether all the Ethiopians were Jewish, and, therefore, whether the wine was kosher. A Sephardi (Jews of North African origin) chief rabbi reportedly said there could be no explanation other than ‘pure racism’.
Outside Israel, despite the terrible lesson of the Holocaust, anti-Judaism continues to thrive. A 2008report by the US department of state found there was an increase in anti-Judaism across the world, and both old and new expressions of anti-Judaism persisted. A 2012US report (by the bureau of democracy, human rights and labor) also noted a continued global increase in anti-Judaism, and found Holocaust denial and opposition to Israeli policy were used to promote or justify anti-Judaism.
Is there a gene for racism? Ideological, ‘scientific’ racism is now known to be rubbish, but still creeps on; and the legacy of the slave trade and the Holocaust continues to grow and spread, perhaps feeding on an instinctive drive. We now know there are no different human ‘races’, but racism persists.
The name’s wrong, but the thing is real – real but wrong. I’m disgusted – perhaps with presentist hindsight – by my colonising, slave-trading, Jew-hating European forbears. Like Roy Harper, (in that context) I hate the white man and his plastic excuse – but I also blame the genes.
As for being disgusted with one’s criminal ancestors, that only helps if it leads to justice for the victims. We white Europeans and Americans can humanely forgive our dead forebears their crimes against humanity if we want, but justice obliges us to compensate their victims’ heirs.
Germany has so far paid over $70bn in compensation to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and their heirs, but there’s a shameful lack of any equivalent compensation paid to the heirs of the victims of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas by the heirs or governments of those who committed those crimes.
If racism’s based on an instinct that’s redundant but still active, then it can be provoked by mass immigration.
As a pro-immigration liberal anti-racist married to a Pakistani Muslim, I’m well aware this is a thorny subject. However, donning the gardening gloves of reason and goodwill, I’ll, er, grasp the nettle.
This section addresses in detail the painful truth – understandably but unhelpfully much avoided by liberals – that mass immigration to the UK has provoked racism in the host community.
The immigrants – apart from those who practice racism-provoking self-segregation (see below) – are blameless. The blame lies with the patrician administrators who – twice recently – have ordained mass immigration for economic reasons with no thought for the social wellbeing of host or immigrant communities.
On the first occasion, at the end of World War II mass immigration from colonies and former colonies was considered necessary to help rebuild Britain. Cue Enoch Powell (see below) and the National Front.
On the second occasion, the enlargement of the European Union and the UK’s lax interpretation of the EU principle of free movement of people led to unrestricted immigration to the UK from relatively poor East European countries (see below). The consequent resentment, which included white-on-white racism, led to the UK leaving the EU – thereby shooting itself in the foot.
In both instances, if the host community had been consulted, had agreed large-scale immigration was necessary and had been prepared for two-way cultural integration, there might have been a more welcoming atmosphere.
Recent large-scale migrations to Europe from the Middle East and Africa (see below) have also provoked racism.
Those refugees and economic migrants are driven to leave their homes (often going into debt to pay traffickers) by the cruelty of corrupt autocrats who go effectively unchallenged by the international community.
The corrupt and brutal autocracy in Syria (where civil war has created 14 million displaced people and refugees, one million of whom have sought refuge in Europe) is not only unchallenged by the international community but is supported by a superstate, Putin’s corrupt and brutal Russia.
The idea that mass immigration provokes racism can be misunderstood as racist propaganda. Some anti-racists, wedded to the liberal defence of immigration, see any criticism of mass immigration as victim-blaming and a racist ‘numbers game’.
(It’s a bit like any criticism of Zionism being seen as anti-Jewish.)
Footnote 3 details the hostile response by UK anti-racist thinktank the Institute for Race Relations to a letter from me in the UK Guardian newspaper.
There’s not much racism in the UK, is there? We might have been brutal in the empire and in Ireland, but back home, on the whole, we’re a welcoming, tolerant country, aren’t we?
Well, not really. Our mainly dormant – possibly innate – racism has been provoked by recent mass immigration.
There have, of course, been invasions and migrations of people from far and wide into Britain for thousands of years (including, briefly, north African Roman soldiers and their families). We’re a mongrel nation.
The last successful invasion was the Norman conquest in 1066. (The so-called Glorious Revolution in 1688 was technically a successful invasion, but was actually a relatively bloodless coup by the ruling elite.)
After 1066, we English were mainly Anglo-Saxon peasants (English-speaking, of German origin) with a French-Norman ruling class (French-speaking, of Scandinavian origin), with some Britons and Vikings.
People from all over the world continued to migrate here from time to time – but mass immigration is a recent phenomenon.
Mass migration to the UK began in 1948 after World War Two (with the arrival of the Empire Windrush from Jamaica) when a paternalistic government, without consulting the people, enabled and encouraged large-scale immigration from some countries in the colonies and the Commonwealth (a voluntary association of former UK colonies).
The British Nationality Act 1948 gave all colonial and Commonwealth citizens the status of ‘citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies’ and recognised their right to work and settle in the UK and to bring their families with them.
The National Archives (the official UK government archive) says:
When the Second World War ended in 1945, it was quickly recognised that the reconstruction of the British economy required a large influx of immigrant labour. The Royal Commission on Population reported in 1949 that immigrants of ‘good stock’ would be welcomed ‘without reserve’, and potential newcomers from the Caribbean and elsewhere soon became aware of the pressing needs of the labour market in the UK.
The commission’s lofty, careless and patronising opinion that the required immigrants would be welcomed ‘without reserve’ sounds like a reminder of bygone times. However, policy makers continue to sanction mass immigration for economic reasons (or due to neo-liberal ideology) with the same lack of concern for the social well-being of either host or immigrant communities.
(The highly significant report of the 1949 Royal Commission on Population, held by the National Archives, hasn’t been digitised and isn’t available online.)
Most postwar immigrants came from the Caribbean, India and Pakistan. This immigration continued through the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Also, from 1968-74, South Asian communities in Kenya and Uganda (former British colonies in East Africa) were made or encouraged to leave, and were able to come to the UK.
The indigenous UK population mainly gave the immigrants a friendly, if cautious, welcome. However, there was an undercurrent of grumbling, semi-coherent resentment. Many working-class white people were disconcerted by the sudden presence of large numbers of dark-skinned foreigners – with, in the case of those from India and Pakistan, foreign languages and religions.
Polls have repeatedly shown that opposition to immigration persists. However, that persistent undercurrent of resentment isn’t only anti-immigrant – it’s also a resentment of imposed change.
For instance, the 1950s exercise was repeated more recently when the UK government, again without consulting the people, allowed mass immigration from poor east European countries under the freedom of movement rule of the European Union (EU). (See below.) Most western EU member states exercised their right to restrict such immigration, but the UK didn’t.
Finally given a say, in a 2016referendum, the UK electorate then voted – by a small majority, but unexpectedly – to leave the EU.
An insightful post-referendum analysis by acclaimed UK weekly The Economist showed although immigration was a major factor, the high numbers of migrants didn’t bother Britons so much as the high rate of change. (Sadly, the Economistarticle isn’t readable without a subscription.)
In the 1950s there was also large-scale immigration from Ireland. Many Irish immigrants experienced racism (if not colourism). Signs in lodging house windows are supposed – perhaps apocryphally (deep googling produced no convincing photos) – to have read, ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’.
The 1950s immigrants were – supposedly – needed to meet the labour requirements of postwar reconstruction by working in the newly created National Health Service and nationalised public utilities, such as London transport. The 1950s and 60s saw a very low rate of unemployment as a result of the postwar ‘boom’. These factors probably mitigated the resentment, but it certainly existed – and, sadly, still does, especially in the older generation.
Most indigenous UK white people aren’t wilfully or consciously racist. When they got to know the foreigners, they liked them. Openly racist groups emerged, but have never had much support. The term ‘darkies’, common then but now rightly banished (although apparently in current use in the world of black-on-black shadism), was crude and insensitive, but not necessarily unfriendly.
In spite of the development of superficially friendlier and more relaxed relations between locals and newcomers. the ongoing undercurrent of resentment and racism resulted in tighter immigration controls and occasional outbursts, like the 1958Notting Hill race riots, and Conservative shadow (opposition party) minister Enoch Powell‘s infamous 1968‘rivers of blood’ speech criticising colonial and Commonwealth immigration and anti-discrimination law.
An over-educated racist twat, Powell forecast coloured immigrant communities clashing with indigenous white communities. He quoted the ancient Roman poet Virgil who, in about 30 BCE, foresaw the River Tiber foaming with blood.
(Powell’s queasy mixture of classical referencing and political opportunism brings to mind a more recent politician: Boris Johnson.)
Powell was sacked from the shadow cabinet. His career was effectively over, and he sank into richly deserved political obscurity. But he’d touched a nerve. London dock workers went on strike to support him. (The dockers had form – in the 1930s, many of them marched with Oswald Mosley‘s fascist Blackshirts.)
Powell touched a nerve, not just with the militant dockers, but with many ordinary people. It was the first time an elected representative had publicly voiced people’s resentment of imposed mass immigration.
Hostility to postwar immigration, as expressed by Powell and his supporters, contributed to the 1971 Immigration Act, which limited the right to reside in the UK to those with a prior link (such as a parent or grandparent born here).
Powell’s speech is still remembered, 50 years later. People looking for an excuse for racism still say, ‘Powell was right’.
However, in what he actually said, Powell was wrong. His stirring verse failed to mask the banal stink of racism. Powell couldn’t imagine black and white getting on together. His forecast – that irreconcilable ‘racial’ differences would cause mass blood-letting civil disturbance – was false prophecy.
There have been occasional ‘race riots’ in the UK arising mainly from injustice, but there’s been no foaming of blood. Instead, most citizens have accepted a pragmatic mixture of multiculturalism and integration.
We hippies imagined all the people living life in peace in a great big melting pot. (We overlooked Lennon’s hypocrisy and Melting Pot’sdodgy lyrics.) Happily, thanks largely to anti-racist campaigning and legislation, that’s more or less how it’s been.
Despite the disturbing spike in racism following the UK’s 2016 EU referendum (see above), twenty-something ‘Millennials‘ generally seem far less racist and colourist than previous generations. However, racial prejudice persists.
Despite a lessening of racial tension, Britons with African Caribbean and South Asian ethnicity (now comprising about 14 percent of the UK population) continue to face prejudice and discrimination, institutional and otherwise.
For instance, a 2017 UK government ‘racial disparity audit’ found the rate of white people in work was higher than that of ethnic minorities – with a larger gap in the North (13.6 percent) than the South (9 percent) – and those from non-white backgrounds were under-represented at senior levels in public sector jobs. The survey findings were displayed in a government website, Ethnicity Facts and Figures.
Also, figures released in 2018 by the UK home office showed black people were more likely than white people to have force used against them by police, especially with firearms, Tasers and AEPs (attenuating energy projectiles – soft-nosed impact projectiles fired from a single shot launcher).
The figures showed black people experienced 12% of the 313,000 use-of-force incidents in 2017-18, despite constituting only 3.3% of the population according to the 2011 census. White people, constituting 86% of the population, experienced a more proportionate 73% of use-of-force incidents.
Black people were subjected to an even higher proportion of incidents where police used firearms (26%) and Tasers or AEPs (20%). By contrast, white people were proportionately less likely to be subjected to the use of firearms (51%) and Tasers or AEPs (67%).
Black Britons also suffer discrimination in the criminal justice system and disproportionate mental health problems.
In 2017 the UK government commissioned the Lammy Review, an independent review by Labour MP David Lammy into the treatment of, and outcomes for, black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system (CJS).
The review found significant over-representation. Despite making up just 14% of the population, minority ethnic men and women made up 25% of prisoners, while over 40% of young people in custody were from minority ethnic backgrounds.
If the prison population reflected the make-up of England and Wales, there would be over 9,000 fewer people in prison – the equivalent of 12 average-sized prisons. There’s greater disproportionality in the number of black people in prisons in the UK than in the United States. These disproportionate numbers represent wasted lives and a source of anger and mistrust.
The independent review found that many of the causes of over-representation lay outside the CJS, as did the answers to it. People from a black background were more than twice as likely to live in poverty as those from a white background. Black children were more than twice as likely to grow up in a lone parent family. Black and mixed ethnicity boys were more likely than white boys to be permanently excluded from school and to be arrested as a teenager.
The review found these issues started long before a young man or woman entered the CJS and therefore couldn’t be addressed by the CJS alone.
However, the review found that ethnic minority individuals faced bias, including overt, covert and unconscious discrimination, in the CJS; and more could be done to reduce the proportion of ethnic minority individuals in the CJS and to ensure all defendants and offenders were treated equally, whatever their ethnicity.
The Lammy Review findings were reinforced by January 2020 research published by UK advisory body the Sentencing Council. This report found black and minority ethnic offenders were far more likely to be sent to prison for drug offences than other defendants.
The odds of a black offender getting an immediate custodial sentence were 1.4 times the odds for a comparable white offender. For South Asian offenders and those in other ethnic groups, the odds were 1.5 times greater.
South Asian offenders got custodial sentences 4% longer than those for white offenders.
Lammy said these figures built on the findings of his review, which recommended prosecutions against some black and minority-ethnic suspects be deferred or dropped to help tackle bias in the system.
One particular aspect of ethnic minority over-representation in the CJS deserves special attention: the wrongful convictions of black ‘gang’ members under the legal doctrine of ‘joint enterprise’.
Many young black men have been wrongfully convicted in the UK under the common-law doctrine of joint enterprise. This long-established principle allows defendants to be found guilty of offences committed by another person if they ‘agreed’ to act together in a joint enterprise.
A 2014 government committee report found clear evidence of disproportionality in ‘joint enterprise convictions:
Almost 500 people were convicted of murder between 2005 and 2013 as secondary parties in joint-enterprise cases.
A large proportion of those convicted were young black or mixed-ethnicity men. Many offences were recorded as gang-related attacks.
37% of those serving very long sentences for joint enterprise offences were black (11 times the proportion of black people in the general population, and almost three times as many as in the prison population).
A charity, Joint Enterprise – Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), told the committee 80% of the convicts they were helping were black. According to JENGbA, joint enterprise was targeting the most marginalised sections of society, and was having the effect of breaking communities apart.
The committee’s report suggested two main reasons for the disproportionate impact of joint enterprise on young black men:
Black and minority ethnicity men might be over-represented in the kinds of communities where young men typically hung around in groups labelled by outsiders as gangs.
An association might exist unconsciously in the minds of the police, prosecutors and juries between being a young ethnic-minority male and being in a gang, and therefore being involved in forms of urban violence.
This personal and institutional prejudice could be subtle. For instance, the word ‘gang’ was often used, rather than ‘group’, in public discourse about crime to signal ethnicity rather than to describe the links within a group of suspects.
The 2017 Lammy Review (see above) found there was a settled narrative about young ethnic minority people associating in gangs, but far too little attention paid to the older criminals who provided them with weapons and used them to sell drugs; and the criminal justice system must avoid equating gang membership with young people simply associating in groups.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association in its submission to the Lammy Review said in the absence of educational or employment progression, or ambition, it may have become a default position for ethnic minority youngsters to fall in with a ‘gang’ which offered certainty of identity and rewards, albeit high-risk and short-term.
The review, noting that children as young as twelve were being recruited by gang leaders to sell drugs, urged the prosecution service to review its role in protecting vulnerable individuals who were coerced into gang activities by powerful adults.
Paradoxically, however, UK men of African Caribbean ethnic origin were 17 times more likely than white men to be diagnosed with serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and four times more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
The disturbing statistics also showed black people were six times more likely than white people to be inpatients in mental health units; and, because of cultural pressures in the black community, they reported mental health issues significantly later than white people. Such delays deepened any problems, and led to more black people being sectioned.
‘Deaths of people from BAME communities, in particular young black men, resonate with the black community’s experience of systemic racism, and reflect wider concerns about discriminatory over-policing, stop and search, and criminalisation.’
The government response to the report promised some reforms but contained no reference to the ethnicity of those who died in police custody.
In 2018, UN human rights experts expressed serious concerns about racism ‘rooted in the fabric of UK society’. Their report highlighted the disproportionate number of people of African descent and from other ethnic minorities dying due to the excessive use of force by state security agencies. The report said:
‘The deaths reinforce the experiences of structural racism, over-policing and criminalisation of people of African descent and other minorities in the UK.’
Data disclosed by the Metropolitan Police in August 2017 showed people of African descent and those belonging to ethnic minority groups, in particular young African and African Caribbean men were twice as likely to die after the use of force by police officers and the subsequent lack or insufficiency of access to appropriate healthcare.
According to the UN experts, these deaths occurred in many circumstances, following the use of force involving:
Tear gas agents
Electroshock weapons (Tasers)
Physical restraint resulting in the inhibition of the respiratory system and asphyxia
Denial of appropriate healthcare
Mental illness is no more common in Africa or the Caribbean than in the UK – but an American Psychological Association paper showed racism can make people mentally ill. Immigrants were generally more likely to develop mental illness than the host community – but the risk was doubled for black migrants to white-majority countries, and the risk was increased again in their children.
Racism is always prejudice plus power. Racism experienced by people of African Caribbean ancestry living in the white-majority UK has carried – in addition to the toxic baggage of empire experienced by all generations of postwar colonial and Commonwealth immigrants – the painful legacy of slavery. Black people in white US had similarly disproportionate mental health problems.
Mental health services stand accused of institutional racism in their treatment of black patients. The racist notion of black male mental health patients as ‘big, black and dangerous’ (4) was said to prevail in institutional service settings.
The government has said ‘institutional racism’ isn’t a useful term – but the shameful lack of a coherent strategy to address this issue is clearly an institutional problem.
The review process included a Mental Health Act Review African and Caribbean group, due to make recommendations on ensuring people of African and Caribbean descent with mental health challenges got the treatment and support they needed when and where they needed it; and had their dignity, liberty and autonomy respected as far as possible.
The group, which reported directly to review chair Simon Wessely, proposed to:
Look at the implementation and practice of the Mental Health Act as experienced by people of African and Caribbean descent or heritage
Identify and evaluate relevant evidence and data to support recommendation development
Identify and appraise aspects of relevant legislation, and issues that impact people of African and Caribbean descent
Identify effective practice and propose solutions to identified issues, which would work in the best interests of people of African and Caribbean descent
The review’s final report said black people were four times more likely to be detained under the ‘outdated’ Mental Health Act than white people. Such detention enabled patients to be kept on a secure ward and treated against their will.
The review said the Mental Health Act was still necessary so people who were a risk to themselves or others could be held. However, it said patients were too often denied a say in treatment – which could include electroconvulsive therapy.
It also said there was a need to challenge bias (said to be largely unconscious) against ethnic minority patients which led to the excessive use of restraint and community treatment orders.
Black patients were subjected to these orders at nearly ten times the rate of whitepatients. Those subject to such orders were required to keep to strict conditions – medication regimes, assessment schedules and living arrangements – or risk being returned to hospital.
In an initial response to the review, the government promised to legislate for two of the review’s 150 recommendations. This would allow those detained under the Act to:
Nominate a person of their choice to be involved in decisions about their care
Express their preferences for care and treatment, and have these listed in statutory ‘advance choice’ documents
These proposed improvements didn’t address the review’s ‘burning injustice’ of people from ethnic minorities being disproportionately sectioned – albeit they might help to reduce the subsequent mistreatment of black patients.
In any case, the review’s ‘burning injustice’ clarion call apparently fell on deaf ears. The initial government response said the review was meant to improve the Mental Health Act, following (among other issues) ‘racial disparities’ in detention under the Act. In all the published responses – by the government, May and two other stakeholders – that was the only mention of the systemic racism highlighted by the report.
UK rejects UN accusation of systemic racism
In January 2023 it was reported that a UN working group of experts on people of African descent accused the UK of failing to address systemic racism against black people. An interim statement highlighted CJS concerns:
‘We have serious concerns about impunity and the failure to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, deaths in police custody, ‘joint enterprise’ convictions and the dehumanising nature of stop and search.’
A government spokestwat said:
‘We strongly reject most of these findings. The report wrongly views people of African descent as a single homogeneous group and presents a superficial analysis of complex issues that fails to look at all possible causes of disparities, not just race. We are proud that the UK is an open, tolerant and welcoming country but this hard-earned global reputation is not properly reflected in this report.’
Yeah, right. It’s been the policy of the UK Tory government to deny systemic racism since a whitewashing 2021 report.
The undercurrent of racism provoked by postwar mass immigration persists, and has serious consequences – especially for young black men. These consequences are acknowledged by society and government but are inadequately addressed.
Above the undercurrent of racism, there’s currently a visible wave of conflict between immigrant and host communities. This conflict is between some UK Muslims and, er, the UK.
Islam isn’t a ‘race’, of course. But most western Muslims have ethnic origins in South Asia or North Africa. This section addresses in detail how some imported Muslim behaviour has provoked racist hostility.
Many South Asian immigrants to the UK in the 1950s and 60s were Muslims (mostly from Pakistan, which then included East Pakistan, now Bangladesh). As in the world Muslim population, some 90 percent were Sunni. In recent decades, many UK Muslims have been influenced by an extreme version of Sunnism.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has spent billions over the last four decades on an international programme to replace mainstream Sunnism with Wahhabism/Salafism, a Sunni-based extreme fundamentalist ‘true’ version of Islam.
This programme has funded religious teachers, faith schools and mosques in the UK and elsewhere. Reviews and surveys (see below) indicate this ideology has been adopted by a large minority of UK Muslims.
There are two main sources of racism-provoking conflict between some UK Muslims and the host community: self-segregation and attitude towards Islamist terrorism. Both derive from Saudi-exported conservative Islam.
A further source of conflict is that when Muslims are criticised with regard to these issues, representatives often avoid answering the criticism by describing it as Islamophobia.
The first source of racism-provoking conflict between some UK Muslims and the host community is that over the last 20 to 30 years many UK Muslims have become increasingly self-segregated.
Most colonial and Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants integrated naturally, whilst keeping their languages, traditions and religions – by just living here. However, many Muslims, having originally done that, began in the 1980s and 90s to segregate themselves in accordance with the widely adopted Saudi-exported Salafi version of Islam.
Expressions of the self-segregation practised by some UK Muslims include the wearing of Arabic clothing, separatist education and the practice of female genital mutilation. The latter practice – like Arabic clothing – has traditional pre-Islamic roots but has been adopted by some strands of Islam and is promoted by Salafism as a religious obligation.
Changes in clothing are an obvious sign of the segregation fostered by Saudi-exported conservative Islam. In the 1970s, UK Muslim women (mostly of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin) generally wore either a salwar kameez (a traditional outfit originally worn in the Punjab region, now popular throughout South Asia) or western clothes, sometimes with a loose headscarf. Muslim men wore mainly western clothes.
Now many UK Muslim women wear an Arabic black full-length shapeless robe with a tight nun-like headscarf. Some wear an eye-slit niqab veil, or a burqa (a one-piece garment covering the head, face and body, often having a mesh screen to see through). Some also wear black gloves, year-round.
None of these are specifically prescribed by the Quran, which said women should dress more modestly than was the custom at the time by covering their breasts with their headscarves and by not dressing in a way which flaunted their bodies; and – in a separate verse – they should “draw” their cloaks or shawls when they went out. (Depending on the interpretation, this might have meant over their heads, or it might have meant also over their faces.)
The Arabic word ‘hijab‘, is often used by UK Muslims to describe headscarves worn by Muslim women; and ‘Hijabi’ is often used to describe the wearer. The frequent use of this Arabic word might be thought to imply a Quranic derivation, but the word is only used in the Quran in another sense, meaning a partition or curtain. ‘Niqab’ and ‘burqa’ are also Arabic words also not in the Quran.
Most UK Muslim men continue to wear western clothes. Some now wear a traditional longer men’s version of a shalwar kameez; and some now wear a long Arabic robe-like ‘thobe’ (or ‘thaube’), usually white, especially on Fridays for the mosque visit.
The eye-slit niqab and the one-piece burqa, banned in some European countries, provoke controversy, criticism and, unfortunately, racism. When worn in Europe, they create an impression of deliberate separation, nicely symbolising the current tendency for some Muslims living in the west to segregate themselves.
Obviously, Islam originated in the Arabian Peninsula. Presumably because of that, many amongst the UK Muslim minority like to wear Arabic clothing. No doubt the practice has been encouraged by Saudi propagators of conservative Islam.
But there’s no religious reason for wearing Arabic clothing; and its cultural effect is to emphasise self-segregation and provoke Islamaphobic racism.
Conservative Islamic teachers exported to the UK or trained here as part of the Saudi Wahhabi programme have been criticised for their illiberal views, especially on homosexuality and women’s equality.
For instance, in 2016 a UK Islamic faith school lost its appeal against education watchdog Ofsted, which placed the school in special measures because it had library books which said a wife can’t refuse sex and a husband can beat his wife if it’s not done ‘harshly’. The judge said the books contained views inimical to fundamental British values.
Ofsted’s 2017 annual report, in a section headed ‘Shared values’, strongly criticised private faith schools that deliberately resist ‘British values’.
The report said a core function of education is to teach the values and culture that bind society; there’s no conflict between this and religious pluralism; and teaching fundamental British values encourages respect and tolerance for others’ views.
The report identified schools that sought to isolate young people from the mainstream, that failed to prepare them for life in Britain, and that in some cases actively undermined fundamental British values.
Such schools disseminated beliefs held by the faith community served by the school, but that clashed with British values or equalities law.
In some of the faith schools found to be inadequate, the premises were unsafe, dank and squalid. Basic checks, such as whether staff were suitable to work with children, weren’t in place. Ofsted inspectors found instances of:
Sectarian and sexist texts that encouraged domestic violence and the subjugation of women (for instance a book titled Women Who Deserve to Go to Hell)
Refusal to acknowledge lesbian, gay and bisexual people
Children being taught mainly religious texts with a restricted curriculum leaving them with little or no ability to read and write in English, no qualifications, no skills to get work, and no preparation for life in modern Britain
In some cases, children were being educated illegally in unregistered faith schools with no safeguards to make sure they were safe and receiving a decent education. Such schools exploited loopholes in definitions of education, and were deliberately not registered to avoid regulation.
The report said legislation was inadequate to tackle unregistered schools. There was no record of children who’d never been in school, and there was no requirement to register a child being home-educated. Parents could decline a home visit by the local authority.
The report section concluded this matters because the ‘British values’ of democracy, tolerance, individual liberty, mutual respect and the rule of law are the principles that keep society free from the radical and extreme views that can lead to violence. bbb
The 2017 Ofsted report’s criticism of unregulated faith schools was clearly aimed at some Muslim schools, but, weirdly, the report didn’t specify which faith the problem faith schools belonged to (apart from naming Al-Hijrah School, a Birmingham Muslim school, as an example of bad practice).
This could only have been because of an exaggeration of the worthy, politically correct, liberal multiculturalism that – quite rightly – pervades public sector institutions. Multiculturalism is currently under attack, and the misguided multiculturalists who prevent criticism of conservative Islam help no one.
A 2016 independent review into opportunity and integration found segregation at worrying levels (see below). It blamed cultural misogyny and patriarchy but also blamed public bodies which ignore or condone divisive religious practices for fear of being called racist or Islamaphobic.
In spite of the problem faith schools not being openly identified in the Ofsted report, it’s clear that most, if not all, of the schools criticised were Muslim schools whose aim was to promote conservative Islam, to segregate pupils from mainstream society, and to resist ‘British values’.
(My post, Patriotism – for scoundrels addresses the UK policy of trying to encourage integration by teaching ‘British values’ in schools. I suggest such values aren’t exclusively British – they’re European Enlightenment values.)
A year later, the 2018 Ofsted report expressed continued concern about unregistered faith schools.
Ofsted head Amanda Spielman said (in her report overview, ‘HMCI [Her Majesty’s chief inspector] commentary’, under the heading ‘Regulation and inspection powers) her power to intervene in such settings on behalf of young people remained too limited. Spielman said the continuing problems associated with such schools included:
A lack of consistent oversight or quality assurance
Education and pastoral support often not of the level which children should expect
Young people who’d left such settings unable to read English and without basic maths
Some settings operated by those with fundamentalist religious beliefs, leading to a risk of radicalisation
Faith settings such as yeshivas and madrasas providing religious instruction for five and sometimes six days a week, from early in the morning to late into the evening
However, the 2018 Ofsted report said too often, when inspectors identified a setting putting children at risk, current legislation was too weak to allow Ofsted to close it down or prosecute the people running it. A lack of proper definition of ‘full-time’ education allowed providers to continue running potentially dangerous institutions.
Regarding independent registered faith schools, the 2018 Ofsted report said inspection outcomes remained substantially weaker for faith schools than for non-faith schools. Only just over half of faith schools were judged good or outstanding, compared with three quarters of non-faith schools. Nearly a quarter of all faith schools were judged inadequate at their most recent standard inspection.
Jewish schools came out marginally worst. Only Forty-six percent of Jewish schools were judged good or outstanding at their most recent inspection, compared with fifty-two percent of Muslim schools and sixty-three percent of Christian schools.
Ofsted apparently accepts that registered faith schools have a place in British society – as long as they teach the values and culture that bind society. (Such teaching is, in any case – regardless of Ofsted’s enthusiasm for it – a legal requirement for independent schools in England.)
However, a 2018opinion poll found a large majority of a representative sample of the British public was opposed to religious influence in education.
The poll didn’t distinguish between different religions, and therefore didn’t identify Muslim schools as the main problem with faith schools. Neither – explicitly – did either of the last two annual Ofsted reports. Perhaps both Ofsted and the commissioner of the poll wished to avoid accusations of Islamaphobia. (See above.) Nevertheless, Muslim schools clearly are where the main problem lies, in both public perception and official reporting.
The problem with some Muslim schools, whether registered or not and regardless of their comparative inspection outcomes, is that they preach separatism and take religious influence to extremes. In so doing, such schools contribute significantly to the racism-provoking self-segregation practised by some UK Muslims.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting (also euphemistically known as female circumcision) is another high-profile imported behaviour which emphasises the racism-provoking self-segregation of some UK Muslims.
Predating Islam in its African origin, FGM was adopted by some strands of Islam, mainly in north Africa and the Middle East, and has recently been imported to the UK by Saudi clerics, Somalian refugees and by other, non-Muslim, African migrants.
Islam in Somalia was traditionally Sufi, but many Somali Muslims now follow Saudi-exported Salafism. Although no FGM procedures are required in the Quran, Salafism promotes FGM, and it’s widely considered to be a religious requirement by Somali Muslims.
Some 9,000 cases were logged by the NHS in 2016-17, mostly in pregnant women of African ethnic origin, and mostly carried out outside the UK. It’s thought these recorded cases might be the tip of an iceberg, with over 50,000 girls at risk of FGM in the UK.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 but, so far, there’s only been one conviction – of the Ugandan mother of a three-year-old girl.
Police found evidence of witchcraft, including spells aimed at silencing professionals involved in the case. The convicted woman wasn’t a Muslim, but the evidence of witchcraft shows the level of superstition involved in this pointless tradition, and belies the pseudo-medical justification for FGM given on Muslim Salafi advice websites (see below).
Somali parents are known to take their daughters home for FGM. Others club together to import cutters. This practice has led to FGM tourism, as people come to the UK from Europe to get their daughters cut.
FGM, often described as a cultural custom, is inextricably associated with conservative Islam. FGM has been condemned as un-Islamic by the Muslim Council of Britain. However, all four major schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence pronounce on FGM and allow it. Such jurisprudence is considered fallible and changeable, but at the time of writing:
In the Hanafi school of law, FGM is ‘permissible’.
In Maliki, it’s ‘a preferred act’.
In Shaf’i, it’s ‘an obligation’.
In Hanbali, it’s ‘an honourable thing’.
FGM is promoted by Salafi Islam, and may therefore be gaining support amongst UK conservative Muslims of Pakistani ethnic origin, especially in self-segregated areas in the north of England.
‘Circumcision is prescribed for both males and females… circumcision of women is mustahabb (recommended, but not essential; fulfilment of which is rewarded). There are reports in the Sunnah which indicate that circumcision for women is prescribed in Islam. Female circumcision has not been prescribed for no reason, rather there is wisdom behind it and it brings many benefits.’
Munajjid goes on to quote two doctors (neither of whom seem to actually exist) who list in gruesome detail(5) many spurious reasons to commit the revolting crime of FGM.
This rubbish by the esteemed scholar and his mystery medics is published on a highly popular Islamic advice website. Similar advice is given on many other Islamic websites.
Given government concern about segregation and the lack of mainstream educational opportunity for many UK Muslim women and girls (see below), and given the spread of Wahhabi/Salafi teaching in the UK, there’s good reason to be concerned tens of thousands of UK Muslim girls might be at risk of FGM.
There’s some anti-FGM campaigning from within UK Islam. The Muslim Council of Britainhas collaborated with the African women’s support and campaigning organisation Forward to raise awareness of the dangers of FGM and to warn practitioners they face up to 14 years in prison if they subject girls to the practice. The small Bristol FGM survivors’ group Daughters of Eve aims to protect young girls from FGM-practicing communities.
However, as with UK Muslims’ response to Islamist terrorism (see below), the widespread, high-profile campaign needed is missing. Denial, indifference and ambivalence have muted the response.
There are several UK charities opposing FGM, but there’s no national campaign organised by UK Muslim women. Muslim women who disagree with FGM should come together and speak out loudly and clearly against this barbaric practice.
The continuing practice by some UK Muslims of mutilating their young daughters for religious reasons compounds the problem of Muslim self-segregation – and disgusts the host community.
Given FGM’s clear association with conservative Islam and the conspicuous silence of UK Muslim women, this bizarre practice – brutal misogyny carried out by women – can only increase anti-Muslim racism.
The 2016 UK government-commissioned Casey Review, an independent review by Dame Louise Casey into opportunity and integration, confirmed segregation was at worrying levels.
The review focused on the effect of segregation on Muslim women and children. It said many Muslim women are denied their basic rights as British residents, have poor English language skills, and experience economic inactivity, coercive control, violence, and criminal acts of abuse, often enacted in the name of cultural or religious values.
The review said children are often excluded from mainstream education, are segregated from wider British communities, and lack sufficient checks on their wellbeing and integration. The review blamed cultural misogyny and patriarchy. It also blamed the public bodies which currently ignore or condone divisive religious practices for fear of being called racist or Islamaphobic.
The review had a mixed response from Muslim groups. The chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Council said, ‘I am not denying that there is a problem in Muslim communities, but I would not put it down to self-segregation. We have to look at the broader picture, at education qualifications, at economics, at social mobility, at barriers in the jobs market.’
The secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said any initiative which facilitates better integration of all Britons should be welcomed, but the review was a missed opportunity. He said, ‘We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims’.
Sadly, such responses are typical of Muslims’ defensive reaction to criticism. The attempt to deflect criticism is misguided – there’s no need to ‘look at the broader picture’ or to have the ‘participation of all Britons’. What’s needed, especially for the sake of segregated Muslim women and children, is for Muslims who segregate themselves to stop doing it.
The 2016 review called for more English language classes for isolated groups. A 2017 report by a UK parliamentary group on social integration said immigrants should have to either learn English before coming to the UK or attend classes when they arrive.
The parliamentary group said integration should begin on arrival in the UK, and speaking English is a prerequisite for meaningful engagement with British people. This would apply not only to Muslims but also to recent east European immigrants. (See below.)
In 2018, UK government communities minister Sajid Javid (subsequently promoted to home secretary following the Windrush scandal) said in a Guardian interview that 770,000 people living in England spoke little or no English. Javid promised to expand the teaching of English for immigrants. He said up to 70% of those unable to speak the language were women, most of whom were from Pakistani or Bangladeshi communities.
Javid, a high-profile Muslim politician, said he’d been subjected to regular racist attacks on social media – echoing a similar comment by London mayor Sadiq Khan. He described the ‘Punish a Muslim‘ letter sent to people in several cities and to four Labour MPs as sick and a crime.
Javid, whose parents were Pakistani immigrants, spoke movingly about his mother’s struggle to learn English. He said as a school child he was called the ‘P-word’ and was physically attacked for being a different colour. He said although British society was now much more diverse and united than when he was a child, there were now too many communities which were very segregated.
Acting against cultural practices not compatible with the British way of life such as polygamy
Tackling disproportionately low take-up rates of free childcare by South Asian women
Using the roll-out of universal credit to target ethnic minorities and help them to integrate better
The Conservative’s universal credit scheme was an ongoing universal disaster, but Javid’s other ideas had possibilities. Alternatively, the £50m could have helped moderate Muslims to end self-segregation themselves.
According to a 2016 poll, 53% of UK Muslims wanted to integrate more, an aspiration which could perhaps have been boosted into a moderate Muslim campaign against the Saudi-imported fundamentalism which has fostered segregation.
Saudi-exported conservative Islam has resulted in many UK Muslims deliberately segregating themselves. Islam is said to be not only a religion but a way of life. Saudi conservative Islam teaches that European Muslims should protect their way of life from the influence of the ‘decadent’ host community.
The consequent self-segregation – as manifested in Arabic clothing, illiberal schools, female genital mutilation, and coercive control of women – provokes anti-Islamic racism.
A 2018 survey of attitudes to immigration, the National Conversation on Immigration by anti-fascist group Hope not Hate – in which almost 20,000 people took part – found a large minority of people in the UK think immigrants don’t integrate properly. The survey also found anti-Muslim prejudice was widespread. Participants believed British culture was under threat because people were forced, usually by schools and councils, to pander to ‘political correctness’ and the sensitivities of Muslims.
UK national newspaper The Guardian reported that another Hope not Hate 2018 poll – of 10,000 people – found 35 percent thought Islam was generally a threat to the British way of life, compared with 30 percent who thought it was compatible. (The finding highlighted by the Guardian is in Hope not Hate’s report, State of Hate 2019, under Section 2 – Hate crimes / Attitudes towards Muslims in Britain / Extremism. The report is useful, but framing that finding as an extremist hate crime isn’t.)
A 2016 poll showed most UK Muslims want to integrate more. To address the findings of widespread anti-Muslim feeling, that silent majority will have to speak up and oppose Salafi extremism. It’s not enough to cry ‘Islamophobia’.
There are other smaller UK religious groups which segregate themselves – for example, Haredi Jews. But conservative Muslims have a much higher and more provocative profile – partly because of Islamist terrorism.
The other main source of racism-provoking conflict is some UK Muslims’ attitude towards the sectarian and anti-western Islamist terrorism which has killed and seriously injured thousands of people in Europe and elsewhere.
Most UK Muslims say they oppose Islamist terrorism and it’s un-Islamic. But polls reveal ambivalent or even supportive attitudes towards Islamist attacks and movements.
The terrorism is carried out by a very small minority of Muslims. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a US thinktank, estimated in 2014 there were about 100,000 active Islamist terrorists, worldwide. That’s 0.006 per cent of the world’s estimated1.6 billion Muslims.
The 2011 census showed 2.7 million Muslims living in the UK. UK security service MI5estimated in 2016 3,000 people in Britain may have posed a terrorist threat, and more than 850 had travelled to territory in Syria and Iraq controlled by Islamist terror group ISIS, some of whom may have wanted to return to the UK as Isis suffered military reverses on the ground.
3,000 is a small percentage of 2.7 million (0.1), and 850 is a much smaller percentage (0.03), but that’s still a lot of people – and that doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from shockingly anti-West views fostered by Saudi extremists and, as revealed by opinion polls, held by a large minority of UK Muslims.
A revealing NOP social research study on British Muslim attitudes was published in 2006. (A “SlideShare” version can be seen by installing the LinkedIn SlideShare app, and downloading the survey.)
The survey found 30 per cent of UK Muslims wanted to live under Sharia law, and 28 per cent wanted Britain to be an Islamic state. (Although ISIS declared itself as the ‘Islamic State’ in Syria in 2006, the 2006 social research question was referring to the general idea of an Islamic state.)
Most shockingly, 22 per cent of those surveyed thought the 2005 7/7 London bombings (in which 52 people were killed and over 700 were injured) were justified because of British support for the war on terror (see below).
Following the emergence of terror group ISIS in Syria, a 2015 survey found 15 per cent of British Muslims had some sympathy with those who’d gone to join ISIS in Syria.
(The spin given to the results by the newspaper which commissioned the 2015 survey was controversial, and the survey was criticised for polling people with Muslim names living in mainly-Muslim areas, thereby, supposedly, targeting less well educated Muslims in ‘ghetto’ areas. However, the methodology seems to have been generally sound.)
The minority anti-West views shown by these polls were fostered by Saudi extremists. The US state departmentestimates over the past four decades Saudi Arabia has invested more than $10bn (£6bn) worldwide in replacing mainstream Sunni Islam with its extremist Wahhabism.
Some of that money has funded Islamist terrorism. EU intelligence experts estimate 15 to 20 per cent of the $10bn has been diverted to al-Qaida and other violent jihadists. A leaked US cable said:
‘Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban…and other terrorist groups.’
A New York Timesarticle explains not all Islamist terrorism is inspired by Saudi Wahhabi/Salafism. Salafism has historically been apolitical, and most Salafis are not violent.
However, the anti-West views held by a large minority of UK Muslims stem from the imported puritanical Salafist belief that the Muslim world must be held separate from the West. In common with all Islamist terrorists, Salafism believes there’s an irreconcilable clash of civilizations.
At a conservative estimate, some 1.5 million people, mostly Muslims, were killed during the war on terror, including an estimated 90,000 terrorists. Some five million people remain displaced.
UK prime minister Tony Blair was widely criticised by UK citizens for giving military support for the Iraq and Afghan wars. The reasons given for the Iraq war were false. (See below.)
The war on terror, which started as an understandable retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, turned into a strategically incompetent neo-colonialist shambles. However, that didn’t justify the mass murder of UK civilians – as one in five UK Muslims believed.
Muslim representatives insist terrorism is un-Islamic. Denial material included with the homilies circulating amongst devout Muslims goes further, claiming those involved are mentally unstable loners who aren’t practising Muslims, and therefore their acts of terror have no connection with Islam. The example is given of the Nice truck attacker, a Tunisian petty criminal who used alcohol and drugs. He killed and injured over 500 people.
The Nice attacker may be described by deniers as a non-Muslim, but, lapsed or not, he apparently considered himself to be a Muslim. The only known motive for his attack is, according to ISIS’s claim, he responded to their call for Muslims to target citizens of coalition nations fighting against the ‘Islamic State’.
In any case, most western Islamist terrorists don’t fit that denial-friendly profile. Many UK Islamist terrorists are said to have been educated and apparently living a normal Muslim lifestyle.
The bland assertion that Islamist terrorism is un-Islamic doesn’t really help, given that, according to the 2006 and 2015 surveys, 22 per cent of UK Muslims thought the 2005 7/7 terrorist attacks were justified and 15 per cent had sympathy with those who’d gone to fight with ISIS.
A headteacher friend told me in her mainly-Muslim UK state primary school the day after the 2001 9/11 attacks, Muslim children were singing chants in favour of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. After Bin Laden’s death in 2011, hundreds of UK Muslims saw fit to demonstrate their support for him.
The lack of Muslim opposition to terrorist groups claiming to be Islamic, and the disturbing evidence of Muslim support for terrorist groups, actions and leaders makes Muslim claims that Islamist terrorism is un-Islamic highly unconvincing.
Such unbelievable denial, far from averting hostility, provokes anti-Muslim racism.
Many Muslims subscribe to elaborate conspiracy theories which claim supposedly Islamist terror acts were actually carried out by government agencies in order to discredit Islam.
A 2016 opinion poll found, astonishingly, 31 per cent of UK Muslims thought the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks, and only 4 per cent thought al-Qaeda was responsible.
The poll was commissioned by controversial centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange (which has been criticised for ‘demonising’ Muslims) but was carried out by a reputable polling organisation. Policy Exchange’s report had a forward by Muslim Labour MP and shadow minister Khalid Mahmood. He concluded:
‘The readiness to believe in conspiracy theories and the mentality of victimhood of which it speaks…is holding [Muslims] back and ensuring that…we are locked in a paranoid and at times fearful world view.’
Belief in such 9/11 conspiracy theories contributes to Muslim opposition to the ‘war on terror’. In his 2009book, Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History, award-winning UK journalist David Aaronovitch pointed out that because a significant number of educated Pakistanis believe George W Bush brought the towers down on 9/11, they don’t believe the fundamental premise on which the Afghan war on terror was waged – and, therefore, countering al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan is made even more difficult.
It’s understandable Muslims feel disrespected or demonised by the host community with regard to Islamist terrorism. It’s understandable Muslims resent having to justify themselves after every attack. Islam as followed by most Muslims is, as they say, a religion of peace. The Quran says killing an innocent person is a sin, and war is only permitted in self-defence.
And yet…Islamist terrorism, however ‘un-Islamic’, clearly comes from within Islam – so bland denial, although understandable, actually makes things worse.
In 2016 the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella body for mosques, schools and associations, announced its own programme to prevent young Muslims being radicalised. However, by 2018, there was no sign of the programme. I asked the MCB what happened to it. I got no reply.
Muslims who are serious about addressing Islamist terrorism must publicly acknowledge that it comes from within their religion – and then take steps to weed out the Salafi influence which feeds it.
The typical Muslim response of denial provokes criticism from the host community – which then produces Muslim accusations of Islamophobia.
When Muslims in the UK (and elsewhere in the west) are criticised for not integrating, or for not accepting any responsibility for the terrorism coming from within their religion, Muslim representatives react defensively, and describe the criticism as Islamophobicpersecution.
(For real persecution of a Muslim minority – and a modern example of bollocks racist ideology – check out the near-genocidal persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, previously known as Burma. The Myanmar government, currently fronted by formerly saintly Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, is responsible for this crime. See my post, Halo Goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis.)
There’s also a suggestion critics of Islam are racist. As most UK Muslims are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, it’s possible liberal critics of Islam in the UK are being – perhaps unintentionally – racist or colourist. It’s certain many less-liberal indigenous UK citizens harbour racist Islamophobic feelings about the Muslim community.
As a white critic of conservative Islam who’s already admitted to having racist feelings (albeit unwanted), perhaps I should examine my own attitude towards UK Muslims more closely at this point.
I feel distaste and intolerance towards the aspects of UK Islam I’ve been criticising here. (See also my liberal critique of Islam in the UK, Fear of Islamophobia.) I must admit these aspects provoke some racist feelings in me about Muslims in general. However, whilst acknowledging those feelings, I consciously try to live above them.
Actually, my wife is a Muslim. Her family is of Pakistani origin, via east Africa. Fortunately for our marriage, although she’s a believer she’s not very religious – and neither are many of her extended family. My wife and I argue about how to load the dishwasher, but not about Islam. She wears western clothes day-to-day, and Pakistani clothes with a loose headscarf at formal family or cultural events. (I love my wife dearly. She wouldn’t like to be written about here, but she never reads my blog, so that’s OK.)
I know a relationship between a white man and a woman of colour can be considered suspect by those aware of inter-ethnic power dynamics. I mention my Pakistani Kenyan Muslim wife and her family not to show how tolerant and liberal I am but to show I realise from personal experience to criticise conservative Islam is to generalise about a minority of Muslims.
Careless generalisation can be destructive, but accurate generalisation is an essential part of effective criticism. The conservative Muslim minority, being assertive and highly visible, provokes a degree of indiscriminate anti-Muslim racism in the host community; but generalised, informed criticism of that minority is not Islamophobia – it’s tough love.
There are, of course, openly racist anti-Islamic groups throughout Europe trying to stoke fear of ‘Islamisation’. There are good reasons to be concerned about subversive Islamisation, as the 2006 survey (above) shows, but organised anti-Islamic groups don’t have much support in the UK. At a 2016 high-profile election to replace a member of parliament, the two far-right candidates both got less than five per cent of the vote (meaning they lost their £500 deposits).
Research suggests humans have evolved a tendency to stigmatise those seen as threatening their social group. (See postscript 2, below.) No doubt the host community’s rational fear and instinctive response contribute, along with the issues of segregation and terrorism denial, to simmering anti-Muslim racism.
Far-right racist extremists claim Muslim immigration to western Europe is a Trojan horse, with a hidden agenda to replace liberal democracy with an Islamic state.
The far-right idea of an organised plot by UK Muslims to destroy democracy is a paranoid delusion, but an opinion pollhas shown a large minority of UK Muslims supports the idea of a UK Islamic state. The moderate majority of UK Muslims keeps quiet, allowing the extremist minority to take front-stage.
Assuming liberal democracy will continue, what future hope is there for the reconciliation of conservative Muslims with moderate Muslims, and of all Muslims with largely secular western host communities?
Must the Wahhabi-inspired racism-provoking self-segregation and ambivalent or supportive attitude towards Islamist terrorism fester on, or can this conflict between some UK Muslims and the host community be resolved?
Some Muslim critics of conservative Islam call for reform. The Christian Reformation began 1,500 years after the start of Christianity. Today, 1,400 years after the start of Islam, perhaps a Muslim reformation is due.
However, reform is a double-edged sword. One edge is extremism. Salafism itself, the extremist puritanical source of the racism-provoking behaviour of some UK Muslims, is a reform movement; and the Christian Reformation quickly became mired in extremism.
Uber-reformer Martin Luther started out well by opposing the corrupt Roman Catholic church and by translating the bible from Latin into German, but then became a zealous anti-Jewish extremist whose views later contributed to the Nazi Holocaust.
Despite its founder’s racist extremism the Reformation was mainly good for society in general. It ended the political power of the church and paved the way for the age of reason and Enlightenment, leading to our modern secular liberal democracy.
The Reformation was also, arguably, good for believers, insisting the Bible was the only source of Christian authority, and the church should be a community of the faithful rather than a priest-led hierarchy.
However, in the course of achieving these worthy outcomes, the Reformation caused a massive amount of collateral damage. For instance, Protestant puritans murdered up to 50,000 women after torturing them into confessing to ‘witchcraft’.
If Islam is to reform itself, perhaps it could learn from Christianity’s mistakes.
In the meantime, as a grateful beneficiary of the 18th-century European age of Enlightenment, I offer this unsolicited but respectful suggestion to all western Muslims: lighten up!
Keep the religion and lifestyle, if you want, but don’t make it any more separate than it needs to be. Enjoy the post-Enlightenment western freedom and hard-won democracy. Democracy is the worst form of government, they say, except for all the others – including theocracy.
The 2016 independent UK government-commissioned Casey Review into integration and opportunity in isolated and deprived communities (which found Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic populations and Muslim faith populations live disproportionately in the most deprived areas in England) confirmed Muslim segregation was at worrying levels, and blamed not only cultural misogyny and patriarchy but also the public bodies which ignore or condone divisive religious practices for fear of being called racist or Islamophobic.
Liberals are likewise reluctant to publicly criticise Muslim behaviour and opinion for fear of being called Islamophobic. However, the self-segregation detailed here as practised by a large minority of UK Muslims in accordance with Saudi-exported extremism can’t be ignored or condoned. It sows discord – and provokes Islamophobic racism.
Polls show most UK Muslims want to integrate more. That majority needs to get a grip and kick out the Saudi conservatives.
Another semi-racist cause for resentment in the UK was the unrestricted immigration from relatively poor east European countries, allowed under the European Union’s freedom of movement rule, which resulted in over three million EU citizens moving to the UK.
This provoked resentment amongst the indigenous white working class. They resented the sudden appearance in their towns and cities of large numbers of strangers with foreign languages and shops.
There were rational concerns about the undercutting of wages, and about pressure on housing, education and healthcare – but, although there was no colourism in this case, there was clearly an element of white-on-white racism.
During the run-up to the 2016 UK referendum on whether to remain in or leave the European Union, such concerns were either ignored by the metrocentric mainstream media, or were described – and dismissed – as provincial racism. The dismissed views of the white working class are now known to have played a big part in the Leave result – a result which confounded the expectations of nearly all commentators and pollsters. (However, see my prophetic post, Brexit and the east European elephant.)
After the Brexit vote, there was a nasty increase in reported ‘hate’ crimes. The victims were people thought to be immigrants or from an immigrant community. The referendum result apparently unleashed previously repressed anti-immigrant racism.
The 2018survey of attitudes to immigration, the National Conversation on Immigration – in which almost 20,000 people took part – found most people wanted EU migration to be better managed.
140,000 EU nationals successfully applied for UK residence in 2016, twice the number in 2015. It was predicted at least 500,000 more east Europeans would come to the UK over the following two years before we were due to leave the EU. When we leave, freedom of movement from the EU to the UK will probably end. EU nationals living here at that time will probably be allowed to stay – if they want to. Powodzenia z tym.
Large numbers of people have recently tried to enter Europe from Africa and west Asia (AKA the Middle East). Some are refugees; some are economic migrants
Those coming from Africa pay large amounts of money – often by borrowing – to traffickers (known euphemistically as ‘migration brokers’) to get to Libya, then pay even more – and risk their lives – to try to cross the Mediterranean to Italy in overcrowded rickety boats, hoping to get – mainly – to Germany or Sweden.
By the end of November 2016, a record 170,000 people had arrived in Italy from north Africa since the start of the year. Similar numbers of people had been arriving for several years.
Many have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The 2016 death toll was expected to exceed 10,000.
Those who made it and were allowed to stay, or managed to stay illegally, were welcomed with compassion and sympathy by some, but faced hostility and racism from others who feared job losses and terrorism.
The vast majority of refugees and migrants were Muslims. Recent Islamist terror attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Berlin were carried out by Muslim refugees or Muslim EU citizens, and exploited migrant routes and EU open borders.
A 2016 survey showed most Europeans believed the influx of refugees across the continent would mean less jobs and more terrorism.
Over 82 million people have been displaced from their homes, and six million people are living in camps. Six. Million.
The war in Syria, which prompted the recent refugee exodus, was made intractable by Putin’s Russia and western dithering. The Arab Spring attempt to sow democracy in place of dictatorship has gone backwards to a winter of discontent.
The parasitic ISIS, al-Qaeda and Taliban (and their Muslim warlord imitators) murder, rape, torture, enslave and displace civilians in the name of God. Billions of aid dollars, which could have brought law and order, have disappeared offshore.
The United Nations was well meant and can help refugees, but it can’t enforce peace. A world federation with teeth could replace the oligarchs and warlords, and bring peace – and prosperity. (For fictional inspiration, consider Star Trek’s United Earth government, which ended poverty, disease and war within fifty years.)
(You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.)
As for the Islamist terrorism making European host populations wary of refugees and migrants, the solution for the threatened west is to speed up the development of new technology which could end oil dependency; and then to sanction Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and cut off the terror funding and sponsorship.
The matching solution for the anti-Islamist western Muslim majority is to end dependence on Saudi money, remove the Saudi influence from mosques and schools, and put an end to the twisted Salafi fundamentalism which has smeared their religion of peace.
(You may say I’m an Islamistophobe – and you’d be right.)
Some anti-racists say identifying mass immigration as a cause of racism is the same as blaming the victims. It’s identified with Enoch Powell’s infamous speech, and seen as ‘playing a numbers game’. Alternatively, it’s simply stating the bleedin’ obvious.
If an instinctive wariness of strangers has been twisted by colonialism into racism, then mass immigration to the relatively affluent and secular west from relatively poor countries where people have different skin colour, languages, religions and traditions was bound to provoke racism in the host population.
Economic pressure – real or perceived – and fear of Islamist terrorism add to the host population’s resentment of mass immigration imposed by policy or circumstances, about which – apart from the EU referendum – they’ve never been consulted.
With good will, radical monetary reform to reduce inequality and acceptance of the need for two-way integration, Western countries could embrace mass immigration. The good will would involve us acknowledging racism as based on a redundant instinct, choosing to live above it – and organising to make racism history.
In this post, I’ve tried to understand the origins of racism, the reasons for its current prevalence, and the consequences of indulging it.
Colour me racist – blame my genes. I admit I have racist feelings, but they’re unsought and unwanted. It’s not me – it’s my genes.
I think those feelings are caused by a redundant but still active instinctive bias against strangers, revived and twisted by colonialism into ‘racism’ – or, more accurately, colour prejudice.
Feeling that impulse and knowing what it is, I choose to live above it, to not indulge in racist bullying and to oppose it whenever possible. Anyone can make that choice.
Racism has been nicely defined as prejudice plus power (meaning institutional power, not personal power). Racism deniers regularly appear on comments forums portraying anti-racism as ‘reverse racism’, that is, anti-white racism.
This is despicable and deliberate dishonesty. Here in the white-run West, racist white-on-black bullying, and the power imbalance that defines it, exists – and persists.
There are no different human races – just human populations with differences which – apart from single-gene disorders – are superficial, and becoming increasingly blurred.
Perhaps for lack of a better word, however, the word ‘race’ is still in frequent use in non-racist media, by both white and black writers and speakers.
Also, there is such a thing – albeit misnamed – as racism. Those of us who wish to overcome the thing misnamed as racism must first try to understand its history – both ancient and modern.
If prejudice is an ancient instinct, that instinct has been indulged over the last few hundred years by colonialists and nationalists, and has been provoked in modern times by large-scale immigration.
Historical colonialism and racism are inextricably connected. Increased travel in recent centuries brought large numbers of people of different appearance face to face for the first time in human history.
Tragically, most of that contact was colonial, and the result has been 300 years of ‘race theory’ used to justify vicious subjugation and slavery.
The Holocaust, a permanent scar on the face of mankind, arose from twisted nationalism and pseudo-scientific anti-Jewish racism. Other acts of genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’ have likewise derived from pointless nationalist race hatred.
We now know the pseudo-scientific ‘race’ theory used to justify the slave trade and the Holocaust is complete bollocks, but the damage has been done, and the legacy lingers on.
Recent mass immigration has played its part. In the UK, mass immigration from colonies and the Commonwealth and, more recently, from Eastern Europe has distressed the host population.
That distress has manifested as racism. Most of the host population aren’t wilfully or consciously racist, but all immigrants whose skin is brown or black, or who speak a different language, or who dress differently have suffered direct racism. Sadly, such casual cruelty is a consequence of mass immigration.
Conservative Islam has set many western Muslims against the Enlightenment values which underpin western liberal democracy. This has provoked a racist response. Muslim representatives cry ‘Islamophobia’, and racist Islamophobia increases.
Hundreds of thousands of desperate economic migrants and asylum-seekers from Africa and Asia are trying to get to Europe for a better life. Europeans, feeling the pressure and fearing Islamist terrorism, get more racist.
We anti-racist liberals feel obliged to defend immigration as a Good Thing. From our media and moral high ground we argue immigration is good for the cultural and economic wellbeing of the host nation; and criticism of immigration is racist.
However, the large scale of recent immigrations makes less liberal (and less articulate) members of European host populations feel genuinely insecure – and racism feeds on insecurity.
The mass migration that’s stoked racism is driven by economic policy in destination countries, and by deep-rooted inequity and insecurity in the countries of origin. It’ll continue as long as the world is a place where policy makers treat people as fodder, and where people feel they need to leave home to find a better life.
Anti-racist groups and legislation have commendably raised consciousness and madse racism unacceptable, but still it persists. We anti-racist white liberals wring our hands helplessly. But we can help – by admitting to our own racism, and by acknowledging racism may have evolutionary roots.
Some still try to rationalise their prejudice with pseudo-scientific racism and its even-more-evil younger brother, genism, but it’s bullshit. There’s no reason for racism – so why does it thrive?
Historical colonialism is the conventional culprit – and it plays a big part – but the widespread persistence of irrational racism and colourism, even amongst people of colour, suggests perhaps nature, rather than nurture, is the supervillain.
If we have racist or colour-prejudiced feelings, we instinctively try to justify or explain them. Human minds have evolved to analyse patterns. Most well educated liberals find no justification, so they deny those feelings. Some over-compensate by claiming to be ‘colour-blind’.
Less well educated conservativescan find justification for racism – in populist nationalism or pseudo-science. So they indulge their racist feelings. Thus racism can spread as an idea or belief. Definitions of racism usually describe it – wrongly – as a belief. It’s not a genuine belief – it’s a twisted version of a redundant instinct, dressed up – and spread around – as a belief.
We’re social animals, dependent on our group. Evolutionary psychologists suggest our propensity for racism is built on the scaffolding of an anti-stranger instinct which probably evolved to protect our group from communicable disease.
Colour prejudice is harder to explain. It’s unlikely our ancestors would have encountered different populations. Exposure to different populations is a relatively recent occurrence in human history. It’s therefore unlikely we could have evolved to be colour prejudiced.
Prejudice against darker skin has been confirmed by cognitive neuroscience studies (see below). No doubt, colonialism and postcolonialism are largely to blame for that. Perhaps the darker skin of the human populations encountered by colonialists emphasised and revived the underlying anti-stranger instinct.
If we acknowledge racism’s instinctive nature, we can put it in the bin with the other monsters from the id. Then we can live above it – in a great big melting pot.
Acceptance of racism as a twisted instinct would free well-meaning white people from our paralysing white guilt. If you’re have racist feelings, meaning colour prejudice, you don’t have to blame yourself. You can blame your genes – and colonialism.
Such awareness would free white people to choose not to indulge that redundant instinct – and to respond assertively (but tactfully) to other people’s racist speech or behaviour.
(There’s an excellent guide to dealing with difficult behaviour in a calm and respectful way by Deborah Easton of Kent State university, US.)
Along with collective action, such individual white allyship can help to end the racism – conscious and unconscious – which infects institutions and blights the lives of all non-white people living in the West.
We’re puppets of our selfish genes, to a degree – and one or more of them might be trying to make us racist. If so, our best hope is to consciously counter our racist instinct with reason and conscience – fortunately provided by other, more useful, genes – and so give our puppet show a happy ending.
Afterthought It should be culturism, not racism. Maybe
‘Racism’ is the wrong word – because there are no races. (Yes, race is used in a non-scientific ‘social construct’ sense by anti-racists and by people of colour, but, still – there are no races.)
It’s also not really colour prejudice. Prejudice because of skin colour makes no sense, and has no evolutionary explanation. Perhaps what it really is is culture prejudice. (That’s ‘culture’, not ‘cultural’.)
The darker skin colour of people of African or South Asian ethnicity living in Europe (or the US) indicates a different culture. This doesn’t necessarily involve the idea that some cultures are superior to others. It’s the cultural difference indicated by different skin colour that provokes prejudice, mainly unconsciously. Maybe.
I emailed some academics, writers and organisations involved with racism issues, suggesting they might like to read this post and respond.
From the response, it seems some of those working in this field are vested in a totally historical/environmental approach, and are disappointingly opposed to the very idea of evolved prejudice; others are encouragingly open to the idea; and some, surprisingly to me, have already accepted it to greater or lesser extent.
Professor Ian Law (deputy director, centre for ethnicity and racism studies, University of Leeds, UK) was opposed. He said of my post: ‘A provocative and highly speculative piece with which I fundamentally disagree.’ He seemed shocked by the very idea of a racist gene; and, in support of his opposition to my suggestion, pointed out there’s no such thing as ‘race’ – which was odd, because I’d pointed out the very same thing in support of my suggestion. (Perhaps he – understandably, busy man, do it myself, skim-reading – didn’t read it properly.) He went further, and said because there’s no such thing as ‘race’, there’s no such thing as ‘racism’. (Sophist, or what?) He also said I had no evidence for my case. I asked him if he thought the behaviour known (rightly or wrongly) as ‘racism’ is wholly learned, and what evidence he had for that. He didn’t reply.
Dr Marcel Stoezler (Bangor University, Wales, UK) said, ‘I remain unconvinced by the idea of a gene for racism. I think there are simpler, historical explanations’. After a brief exchange of increasingly argumentative emails, Dr Stoetzler said the question of whether cultural or mental characteristics are genetically inherited has no practical implication, unless for a fascist. Hmm.
Steven Neuberg (professor of psychology, Arizona State University, US – see postscript 2, below, about evidence from the world of evolutionary psychology), said, after the exchange of a few emails, ‘we agree more than disagree’. He said he doesn’t like to use the word ‘racism’ because it oversimplifies, masking important complexities which are critical for reducing prejudices; but he agreed with me we can override instinctive prejudices, and acknowledging them as such, and understanding them better, will help. He pointed out he’s written:
If we ignore our evolutionary past, we are likely to ignorantly fall prey to the prejudices that have resulted from it. If we confront our evolutionary past (and its psychological consequences) with scholarly rigor, we can more truly know the nature of these prejudices and do something about them.
Professor Melissa McDonald (principle investigator of the personality and evolutionary psychology laboratory at Oakland University in Michigan, US) said:
..it would have been extremely unlikely that our ancestors ever encountered a member of another racial group. Thus, it would be very unlikely that we could have evolved to be “racist” in particular. Indeed, exposure to racial outgroups is a relatively recent occurrence in our species’ history. And long before that, we were likely to have developed other mechanisms for detecting and encoding information about the groups we lived in, and the groups we competed with for resources. Modern evolutionary psychologists have suggested that our propensity for racism is built on the scaffolding of mechanisms that function to produce coalitional intergroup bias.
Marissa Lithopoulos (PhD practitioner, biologist, stem cell researcher and teaching assistant, University of Ottawa, Canada, who has written about evolved prejudice for schools science website CurioCity – see postscript 2, below) said, ‘Great blog post. I found it really interesting!’
Frances Aboud (professor of psychology, McGill University, Canada, who researches the development of racial prejudice in children) said, ‘You have some profound and some rambling thoughts in this blog. I found some of it interesting’. She made several points in opposition to the idea of evolved racism and colourism: many rural places in Africa have no shadism; psychologist Harold Fishbein claimed evidence for evolved racism (in his book The Genetic/Evolutionary Basis of Prejudice and Hatred) but it wasn’t convincing; and studies show infants aren’t racist. Several emails later, Professor Aboud conceded:
There might be a heritable tendency to be wary of the unfamiliar…There would also have to be some input from the environment…When developing programs to reduce prejudice, one would want to consider all these things’.
(In response to Professor Aboud’s comment, I’ve de-rambled this post, which, having been tweaked and expanded, had lost some coherence. I’ve confined most of the rambling to the footnotes.)
Dr Hauwa Mahdi (senior lecturer in the school of global studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden) said of my post, ‘It is certainly interesting and takes up issues in new directions’. However, Dr Mahdi doubts racism is evolved. She favours a historical explanation combined with race as a social construct. She said that, as a black person, she hasn’t experienced prejudiced feelings towards any particular ethnic group. She said she thinks any evolved behaviour is grounded in social constructs. She referred me to the sociology concept of habitus, which says group culture and personal history shape body, mind and social action – which would explain the widespread persistence of unconscious irrational behaviour without recourse to instinct.
Fair enough: if racism and colourism are wholly social constructs, then they’ll be easier to get rid of – eventually. But if they’re evolved behaviours, or – as seems likely – have somehow become conflated with evolved anti-stranger prejudice, they’ll be more difficult to counter. We’d have to start by acknowledging those evolutionary roots.
Ayesha Tarannum (administrative officer, Muslim Council of Britain) said, ‘I enjoyed reading your piece. It was insightful and thought-provoking; – I commend you in discussing issues not often discussed within society, such as colourism’.
Professor Neal Curtis (head of media and communication, University of Auckland, New Zealand) has written an excellent article on the racist suspension of rights common to both US ‘kill-box’ drone strikes and the killing of innocent black men by US police. He said, ‘I tend to agree with most of what you say’. However, Professor Curtis pointed out that my argument for universal colour prejudice is weakened by the lack of social dominance power relationships in black-on-black shadism.
Evolved prejudice can be considered from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, which seeks to identify human psychological traits that are evolved adaptations. There’s plenty of research showing prejudice is one of them.
Two 2017studies by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and their collaborators from the US, UK, France and China, show that six- to nine-month-old infants demonstrate racial bias in favour of members of their own race and racial bias against those of other races.
A 2017Nature – Human Behaviour paper, Relating pattern deviancy aversion to stigma and prejudice by Anton Gollwitzer of Yale University and others showed that aversion towards non-social pattern deviancy (for example, a row of triangles with one triangle out of line) predicted aversion towards ‘socially deviant’ people such as black individuals in children as young as six. The effect crossed cultures (US and China), and was ‘of a moderately large magnitude’.
(The research as described in the journal’s abstract – it costs $99 to read the rest – begs some questions: why were black people classed as ‘socially deviant’? Did that mean deviant from a white norm? Were all the subjects non-black?)
The paper didn’t address the possible evolutionary aspect, but this might be a means by which evolved prejudice develops in an individual.
Interesting stuff! Clearly, stigmatising those seen as threatening your group doesn’t amount to racism, and early humans weren’t exposed to different ‘races’ during the period when innate prejudice would have evolved; but racism might be a twisted, globalised version of that ancient tribal instinct. bbb
However, anyone seeking evidence of a gene for racism from this academic field should beware: the theoretical approach of evolutionary psychology has generated substantial controversy and criticism – see below.
Cognitive neuroscience addresses the questions of how cognitive activities are affected or controlled by neural circuits in the brain. Brain studies, – especially of the two almond-shaped amygdala clusters – show a tendency for negative reactions to photographs of dark-skinned faces.
A 2012Nature Neuroscience paper, The neuroscience of race by Elizabeth Phelps of New York University and others, describes the complex neurological process by which “racial” bias operates in our brains, unknown to our conscious selves.
However, the paper said infants as young as 3–6 months can discriminate between European American (EA) and African American (AA) faces; heightened amygdala response to AA faces is found in both EA and AA adults; and besides responding to significant emotional stimuli, the amygdalas are involved in fear-related learning, and in detecting and responding to threats.
These three factors, combined with Fiske’s and Phelps’ unconscious process, suggest a possibly innate origin. The authors’ (non-hypothetical) insistence that colour prejudice is wholly learned may be a case of wishful thinking.
The possible evolutionary aspect of the prejudice shown in these amygdala studies remains unaddressed, as far as I know.
In 2016 it was reported that research by University College London neuroscientist Hugo Spiers and others, Anterior Temporal Lobe Tracks the Formation of Prejudice, showed the brain responds more strongly to information about groups portrayed unfavourably, adding weight to the view that the negative depiction of ethnic or religious minorities in the media can fuel racial bias.
As with evolutionary psychology, this is fascinating stuff. Negative media depictions of ethnic groups derive, of course, from centuries of colonial defamation. So perhaps nurture – in the form of historical defamation – has developed the culture of modern racism; and nature – in the form of evolved prejudice pathways in the brain – locks it in.
The paper implies EP is a waste of energy. It concludes:
Energies should be directed toward identifying and dismantling the cultural-psychological structures that are the source of injustice and promote individual bias in the first place
Of course energies should be directed to that noble end. But does that mean – as the paper implies – it’s a waste of energy to identify and counter the evolved psychological structures that are also a source of individual bias?
Antiracist energy isn’t rationed. It should be directed towards a holistic understanding of the causes – systemic and individual.
The paper implies EP has a limiting effect on racism research.
EP, in seeking to explain individual racism, argues that human prejudice evolved as a function of group living. For instance, Professor Melissa McDonald, of Oakland University, Michigan, has said:
Modern evolutionary psychologists have suggested that our propensity for racism is built on the scaffolding of mechanisms that function to produce coalitional intergroup bias.
However, the CP paper implies EP is individualistic rather than group-based. It associates the ‘typical’ idea (ie, EP) with ‘individualist ideologies’, and says it’s ‘limiting’ when used exclusively. The paper says:
Conventional understandings of racism typically locate the driving force in the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of biased and prejudiced individuals. Individualist ideologies that prevail in Western…settings inform…psychological science’s conception of racism as individual-level phenomena…Without denying the role of individuals in the psychology of racism, there are limitations when racism is exclusively explained as rooted inside individual minds.
…The problem with restricted focus on individual bias is that it obscures the institutional, systemic, and cultural processes that perpetuate and maintain race-based hierarchies.
So the paper reluctantly accepts the role of individuals in racism, but aims to avoid the ‘limitations’ of that ‘conventional’ approach, which, it says, if applied exclusively can obscure cultural processes.
But… individual racism fuels systemic racism – they’re symbiotic: both need to be understood and countered.
The paper implies EP seeks to impose its approach exclusively:
There are limitations when racism is exclusively explained as rooted inside individual minds.
There’s apparently some truth in this one – it seems some EP practitioners do indeed seek exclusivity. Wikipedia says:
Some evolutionary psychologists argue that evolutionary theory can provide a foundational, metatheoretical framework that integrates the entire field of psychology in the same way evolutionary biology has for biology.
But whatever EP’s metatheoretical ambitions, its current theoretical work doesn’t hamper CP.
The paper’s concern about ‘limitations’ if the ‘individual’ approach is applied ‘exclusively’ seems exaggerated. Perhaps it reflects CP’s wider concerns about EP’s territorial threat.
The paper dismisses EP evidence as irrelevent. In asserting culture shapes psyche (and not the other way round), it says:
This direction emphasizes that tendencies of racism are not simply the natural outgrowth of some innate disposition but instead emerge as people interact with cultural worlds that promote and facilitate racialized experiences and racist habits of mind.
That phrase – ‘not simply the natural outgrowth of some innate disposition’ – casually dismisses the large amount of complex peer-reviewed evidence for the evolved stranger-aversion thought by EP to underly racism.
The paper gratuitously associates EP – ‘individual’ is apparently code for EP – with ‘individualist ideologies’:
Individualist ideologies that prevail in Western…settings inform…psychological science’s conception of racism as individual-level phenomena…
It’s true that EP addresses individual racism, but it does so by analysing group behaviour. In that sense, EP is informed by communalism, the opposite of individualism.
It’s certainly not true that EP is informed by ‘individualist ideologies’,
Individualist ideologies are those propounded by, for instance, gateway-to-the-right libertarian Ayn Rand and individualist psychologist Jordan Peterson.
Fortunately, such ideologies don’t prevail anywhere (except in their own echo-chambers). Perhaps the paper means to refer to the general – arguably, prevailing – non-ideological trend of self-centred individualism in society.
However, EP isn’t ‘informed by’ that societal trend either. In seeking to explain individual racism, EP is informed by an evolutionary perspective.
To suggest otherwise by invoking the controversial ideas of Rand and Peterson is a clumsy smear.
(Elsewhere, the paper implicitly acknowledges the group focus of EP, saying the ‘typical’ approach – EP – extrapolates from ‘out-group vs in-group research paradigms’.)
Perhaps CP paper writers feel – culturally – obliged to include criticism of EP.
The unjustified criticism, the dismissiveness, the mis-spin, and the lack of any direct mention of evolved bias in Salter’s paper, show the fields of EP and CP are at entrenched loggerheads.
Salter’s aim – to improve understanding of structural racism – is admirable, but the paper is marred by false comparison. Cultural psychology doesn’t look better if evolutionary psychology is made to look bad.
The interplay between biology and culture is complex, but the two approaches are (or should be) complementary, not incongruous.
Obviously, I’ve just skimmed the surface. Googling reveals a lot more evidence out there to support the idea that protective bias against ‘outgroup’ strangers is innate.
What remains unexplained by evolutionary psychology is the unconscious colour prejudice shown by amygdala studies. Early humans weren’t exposed to different populations, so colour prejudice hasn’t evolved.
It’s thought by some it may emerge after early childhood – in which case it can only be a culturally ingrained postcolonial phenomena.
Probably, colonialism and slavery revived a redundant anti-stranger instinct, and – crucially – twisted it into colour prejudice, which became entrenched in postcolonial power structures.
Cultural psychology (when its not too busy attacking evolutionary psychology – see below) seeks to understand how feedback from those power structures enhances bias.
It can be argued that recent colonialism isn’t the cause, because racism existed before then. If it did, it was probably due to the historical domination of much of India and Africa by light-skinned middle-eastern and European invaders, and the associated power structures.
However, even in that historical context, the boosted racism of recent colonialism and slavery is the likely cause of the unconscious colour prejudice shown in amygdala studies.
Progress is being made towards understanding racism (thereby helping to oppose it), but the further research needed is hampered by the unnecessary conflict between the two main academic fields involved: evolutionary psychology and cultural psychology. See below.
filled with self-righteous rage, smug dismissals, and unremitting invective…scoundrels who would through innuendo, mischaracterization, and yes, even outright dishonesty, shame and dishonor a foe they little understand, and therefore fear.
Current Direction’s special issue addressed the nature of racism, how it affects individual cognition and health, and how best to combat it. As far as I can see, there’s no mention of EP.
The APS seems to prefer the concept of cultural psychology – how cultures shape psychological processes.
I asked Professor Richeson about this. She hasn’t replied.
Hostility towards EP seems commonplace in the APS.
A 2017Current Directions in Psychological Sciencepaper (reviewed above), which seeks to examine ‘historically derived ideas and cultural patterns that maintain present-day racial inequalities’ goes on to say the approach of addressing individual racism (code, apparently, for EP) can obstruct such investigation.
The paper doesn’t mention evolved bias except in a dismissive reference to ‘some innate disposition’. And – as with Current Direction’s special racism issue – it doesn’t use the ‘E’-word at all.
…publishes manuscripts that advance the study of human behavior from an evolutionary perspective, with an emphasis on work that integrates evolutionary theory with other approaches and perspectives from across the behavioral sciences.
The journal wants to integrate EP with ‘other approaches’. (Presumably that means cultural psychology – without actually saying it.) That’s good. But would the gatekeepers of the ‘other approaches’ want to reciprocate?
I asked Professor Salmon about any differences there may be between the APS and the APA with regard to EP. She hasn’t replied.
Applying a form of scientific determinism to how women behave and think was bound to cause controversy in the age of feminism. However, mate-selection and its associated behaviour is central to evolution. It’s bound to be central to EP studies.
It’s ironic that feminists apparently oppose EP, given that the memorably provocative feminist slogan, ‘all men are rapists’ (meaning, of course, all men are potential rapists), relies on genetic determinism.
Rape, like racism, might be genetically determined, but that doesn’t excuse it. EP studies modules of evolved behaviour, but they don’t amount to a mechanistic explanation of human behaviour.
Humans aren’t the sum of instincts – or cultural pressures. Men can choose not to rape. We can all choose not to be racist. Our behaviour’s the result of complex, holistic, chaotic systems involving thought, language, reason, imagination, desire, conscience, morality, faith and free will.
In so far as they’re conscious, these complex aspects of human mentality may have transcended their origins, whether evolved or cultural. They may never be fully understood by psychological science.
But if any useful understanding is to be achieved, the academic barriers between culture and biology need replacing with bridges
Update, March 2023
I asked the recently released ‘AI’ super-chatbot ChatGPT about the conflict between EP and CP. Part of the response:
These two perspectives can sometimes be seen as competing with one another, with evolutionary psychology criticized for being reductionistic and ignoring the importance of cultural and social factors, and cultural psychology criticized for being relativistic and ignoring the role of biology in shaping behavior.
However, it is important to note that these two perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and there has been increasing recognition that both biological and cultural factors can play important roles in shaping human behavior. Many researchers now seek to integrate these two perspectives, and there are growing efforts to develop a more holistic and nuanced understanding of the complex interplay between biology and culture in shaping human behavior.
In biology, ‘race’ is an informal rank below the level of subspecies, the members of which are significantly distinct from other members of the subspecies. Genetic research shows the different human populations aren’t significantly distinct and therefore aren’t races.
Homo Sapiens is the only surviving species of the genusHomo, the only surviving genus of the clade (or subtribe)Hominina (aka Australopithicina), a member of the tribeHominini. The only other surviving hominins are Paninae (chimpanzees and bonobos).
Hominini is a tribe of the subfamilyHomininae, the only other surviving member of which is the Gorillini tribe (gorillas). The Homininae subfamily is a member of the Hominidaefamily, popularly known as the great apes, which includes orangutans.
The crown of evolution | Image: source unknown
(Apparently, the taxonomical method used above is disputed by – amongst others – proponents of the phylogenetic nomenclature method.)
In addition to money, slave owners received another form of compensation: the guaranteed free labour of blacks on plantations for a period of years after emancipation. The enslaved were thus forced to pay reverse reparations to their oppressors. At the stroke of midnight on 1 August 1834, the enslaved were freed from the legal category of slavery – and instantly plunged into a new institution, called “apprenticeship”.
The arrangement was initially to last for 12 years, but was ultimately shortened to four. During this period of apprenticeship, Britain declared it would teach blacks how to use their freedom responsibly, and would train them out of their natural state of savagery. But this training involved continued unpaid labour for the same masters on the very same plantations on which they had worked the day before.
In some ways, the “apprenticeship” years were arguably even more brutal than what had preceded them. With the Slavery Abolition Act, the duty to punish former slaves now shifted from individual slave owners to officers of the state. A state-funded, 100-person corps of police, jailers and enforcers was hired in Britain and sent to the plantation colonies. They were called the “stipendiary magistrates”. If apprentices were too slow in drawing water, or in cutting cane, or in washing linens, or if they took Saturdays off, their masters could have them punished by these magistrates.
Punishments were doled out according to a standardised formula, and often involved the most “modern” punishment device of those times: the treadmill. This torture device, which was supposed to inculcate a work ethic, was a huge turning wheel with thick, splintering wooden slats. Apprentices accused of laziness – what slave owners called the “negro disease” – were hung by their hands from a plank and forced to “dance” the treadmill barefoot, often for hours. If they fell or lost their step, they would be battered on their chest, feet and shins by the wooden planks. The punishment was often combined with whippings.
The treadmill was used more during the apprenticeship period than it ever was under slavery, precisely because it was said to be a scientific, measurable and modern form of disciplinary re-education, in line with bureaucratic oversight. One apprentice, James Williams, in an account of his life published in 1837, recalled he was punished much more after 1834 than before. Indeed, it is likely that slave-owners sweated their labour under apprenticeship, in order to squeeze out the last ounces of unpaid labour before full emancipation finally came in 1838.
It occurred to me that ‘fighting’ racism was not what was needed. I wrote to the Guardian, and my letter (Chris Hughes) was published on 22 August.
In my letter, I said racism was a modern twist on a redundant instinct which had been recently provoked by mass immigration, and rather than ‘fighting’ it, might it not be best to acknowledge it’s instinctive origin, and address the provocation?
Perhaps I didn’t think that through enough. Blaming mass immigration and calling for that to be addressed might sound like, ‘Send them all back’. What I meant was rather than fighting racism, we should acknowledge its instinctive base and understand its origin in the provocation of mass immigration – so we can continue to make racism history. That’s what I should have said.
‘Chris Hughes’s claim that imposed postwar Commonwealth immigration and imposed EU free movement immigration are the provocation for racism, takes us back to the numbers game of the 1960s and the argument that it is the presence of foreigners that creates racism. The fact that a Guardian reader felt legitimised to represent such a dangerous argument demonstrates just how much territory has been ceded to Powellite frameworks and how little understanding there is in the UK today of the popular, institutional and structural elements of racism.
Stung by Fekete’s suggestion that I was a Powellite racist playing a numbers game and that I lacked understanding of racism, I fired off a reply letter to the Guardian – which wasn’t published. It said:
‘Liz Fekete wrongly implies that my views are Powellite. I pointed out that postwar mass immigration, imposed without consultation, disturbed the host community. Racist Powell was wrong: there was no mass civil disturbance – people got along. Then EU free movement forced more large-scale change on people. Governments facilitate mass migration for economic reasons with no concern for the lives of the host community – or those of the immigrants. Leave supporters aren’t racists – they want controlled immigration. When the Brexit dust settles, the racism will subside.’
I emailed Fekete. I included the text of my unpublished letter, and invited Fekete to read this blogpost. I had no reply.
I emailed Fekete again to try to persuade her I wasn’t a Powellite racist. I said although she might not want to read my whole post, perhaps she’d have time to read the section headed Powell was wrong. I’d noticed Fekete was particularly concerned about young black men being wrongfully convicted under the ‘joint enterprise‘ common law doctrine. I invited her to read the section in my post about that issue, headed Wrongful convictions of black ‘gang members’.
This time, I got a reply – from Fekete’s secretary. The reply said Fekete was pleased I shared her concerns about joint enterprise, and she’d noted my publication.
Then, a week later, on 30 August, the Guardian published a letter from Jenny Bourne, IRR company secretary and joint editor of IRR’s peer-reviewed academic house journal, Race & Class.
‘To compare Jeremy Corbyn to Enoch Powell is outlandish…It serves to obfuscate growing racism in this country. Powell’s speech was made in the highly charged context of the arrival of thousands of Kenyan Asian British citizens and the debate over the 1968 Race Relations Act to outlaw discrimination. His language…was seemingly chosen to incite. And it was Powell who started “the numbers game” over immigration in the UK.’
Bourne went on to defend Corbyn’s anti-Zionism, but I was struck by her sentence including ‘Powell’ and ‘numbers game’ – the same two elements used by her boss, Fekete, in criticising me.
I emailed Bourne, congratulating her on getting a letter in the Guardian (it’s not easy!) and saying I disagreed with her description of Powell’s racism as a ‘numbers game’; postwar mass immigration was imposed by a paternalistic government without consultation and had distressed the host population; the government did the same thing with EU free movement; mass immigration has been imposed for global economic reasons with no concern for the people involved; and it provokes our instinctive racism – but we can choose not indulge racism, whatever the provocation.
I emailed Bourne again the next day, saying I’d come across a Times article relevant to my point that criticising mass immigration is not a racist ‘numbers game’. The article pointed out that the Rohingya crisis has its roots in mass immigration, organised by the British empire for commercial reasons, with no consideration for the immigrant or the host populations. (The rest is history, resulting eventually, according to a 2018UN report, in genocide.)
I got no reply. At this point, I felt I’d become a blog-nerd stalker, and I gave up the attempt at correspondence. But I also felt I hadn’t got to the bottom of it, so I did some digging.
IRR’s position, it seemed, was that identifying mass immigration as a cause of racism was the same as blaming the victims. It was identified with Powell’s infamous speech, and was seen as playing a numbers game.
The shared phraseology suggested a shared ideology, and its vehement use suggested a shared anger. I think I found the source of that ideology – and anger – in the person of a founder of IRR (in its modern form) and a great unsung hero of anti-racism – I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of him – Ambalavaner Sivanandan.
Sivanandan, who died in January 2018 aged 94, was Fekete’s predecessor as IRR director and was Bourne’s predecessor as Race & Class editor. He was also Bourne’s husband.
Sivanandan’s Guardian obituary said, ‘He was a tireless and eloquent voice explaining the connections between race, class, imperialism and colonialism.’
(This phrase, borrowed from the title of a 1927 book by French philosopher Julien Benda, translates as ‘the treason of intellectuals’. Sivanandan: ‘The intellectuals have defected, and walled themselves up behind a new language of privilege… To justify their betrayal, the postmodernists have created a whole new language of their own which allows them to appropriate struggle without engaging in it.’ Good stuff!)
In that chapter, Sivanandan (taking on the job abandoned by the treacherous postmodernists) analysed the postcolonial symbiosis of poverty and racism with angry eloquence:
‘Racism and imperialism work in tandem, and poverty is their handmaiden.
‘And it is that symbiosis between racism and poverty that, under those other imperatives of multinational capitalism, the free market and the enriching of the rich, has come to define the “underclass” of the United States and, increasingly, of Britain and Western Europe… It is there, where the poorest sections of our communities, white and black, scrabble for the leftovers of work, the rubble of slum housing and the dwindling share of welfare, that racism is at most virulent, its most murderous.’
‘And that is the racism that interests me – the racism that kills – not so much the racism that discriminates. Not because racial discrimination is not important, but because it is racist violence that sets the agenda for state racism, official discrimination, in particular. It provides the rationale for the government’s numbers game – no immigrant, no rivers of blood.’
There it was! The ‘numbers game’, and Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. I assume Sivanandan must have also written elsewhere about the Powellite ‘numbers game’, but that instance served to suggest a powerful and influential precedent for Fekete’s dismissal of my Guardian letter as taking us ‘back to the numbers game of the 1960s’.
In the introduction to Catching History on the Wing, Sivanandan emphasised the need to connect globalisation and its ‘free-market system and imperial ideology’ with ‘the displacement of whole populations leading to forced migration and the consequences of that.’
Postwar mass immigration to the UK from colonies and the Commonwealth wasn’t forced, but it was a large-scale displacement, encouraged in the interests of free-market globalisation and imperial ideology.
Sivanandan’s book addressed postwar immigration in great detail, but I suggest he and his IRR successors have – for ideological reasons – denied the elephant in the room: the consequence that the large-scale migration of black and South Asian people to a European country was bound to provoke racism in the host population.
The racism provoked by postwar mass immigration has been mitigated during the last 70 years by individual decency and friendship, and by collective campaigning. However, black and brown Britons continue to suffer daily instances of personal and institutional racist bullying which has been well defined as prejudice plus institutional power.
Whether liberal anti-racists like to admit it or not, racism was a direct consequence of postwar mass immigration: a consequence presumably unforeseen by the immigrants – and loftily dismissed by those who ordained the immigration.
Sivanandan was apparently known for his aphorisms (pithy observations containing a general truth), one of which was:
Whoever coined it, it’s an excellent epithet – and I get it. If I’d met Sivanandan, I’d have offered him a pint and an apology. Or a cup of tea.
(Maybe not tea – an aunt of mine was married to a tea planter in India during the Raj. Her stories were fascinating until I grew old enough to learn about the subjugation and environmental devastation underlying her exotic lifestyle.)
The point of Sivanandan’s compact aphorism is that the British Empire, having drained its colonies of natural assets, then exploited their inhabitants by importing them as cheap labour. If there were consequential problems, it was our fault, or that of our British forebears. Why are ‘they’ here? Because ‘we’ were there. Fair enough.
Rigorous historical economic and political analysis is needed to understand racism. However, an examination of human nature is also needed.
Pointing out, in the course of that examination, that mass immigration provokes racism is not blaming the victims or playing a numbers game. It’s stating the bleeding obvious.
Admitting it makes it easier to rise above it, to acknowledge all black and brown Britons as full and equal citizens, and then to calmly oppose racism – both personal and institutional.
‘The whole purpose of knowing who we are is not to interpret the world, but to change it.’
This was said in the context of urging black and South Asian groups to look beyond their cultural identity (Sivanandan was a left-wing prophetic opponent of identity politics) and to align their struggle against racism with other oppressed groups, and with the class struggle.
(Is the class struggle lost? Let’s hope not. See you at the barricades, Comrades!)
However, it’s good advice in general for anyone who needs nudging beyond self-awareness to social action.
For instance, knowing we’re probably all intrinsically racist is all very fascinating, but that awareness should encourage us to organise to make racism history.
As for ‘fighting’ racism (going back to the point of my Guardian letter), is that not an aggressive, typically male attitude? Armed with self-knowledge, can’t we just talk, reasonably? If conflict is unavoidable, the strategy should be based on Eastern-style non-aggression. Judo, or whatever. Metaphorically, that is.
‘“Wherever there is exclusion or detention in this society, that’s where you find over-representation of black people,” says Dyer, who argues that the notion of the black person as “big, black and dangerous” still prevails within institutional service settings.’
(More recently, Dyer became the Mental Health Equalities advisor for NHS England.)
That phrase – ‘Big, black and dangerous’ – originated as the subtitle of the 1993report of an inquiry into the death in 1991 of Orville Blackwood while he was detained in Broadmoor Hospital, a high-security psychiatric hospital near London.
The full title of the report is:
Report of The Committee of Inquiry into the Death in Broadmoor Hospital of Orville Blackwood and a Review of the Deaths of Two Other Afro-Caribbean Patients
‘In September 1991 the Special Hospitals Service Authority set up an inquiry, under the chairmanship of Professor Herschel Prins, to investigate the death of a Broadmoor patient, Orville Blackwood, and to review in the light of this case two other deaths at Broadmoor of Afro-Caribbean patients, Michael Martin and Joseph Watts (SHSA, 1993). From the outset the approach of this inquiry was fundamentally different from other recent investigations of the special hospitals; most notably it followed a less formal pattern than the Ashworth Inquiry (HMSO, 1992) which was going on at the same time. The focus was not on individual complaints or upon blame for them, but instead on the patterns of practice within Broadmoor which contributed to the tragic deaths of three patients. This report is no less hard-hitting in its recommendations than the Ashworth Inquiry, but it nevertheless managed its investigation in a way which sought to encourage staff to contribute and made recommendations which aimed to avoid scapegoating. Like Ashworth, the Blackwood Inquiry is not only important to forensic psychiatry but is relevant to all aspects of psychiatric work.
‘The case of Orville Blackwood
‘The first part of the report describes in detail the history of Orville Blackwood. He was a large Afro-Caribbean man born in Jamaica but who had moved to London at an early age. He had been in trouble with the police from an early age and by his 20s had convictions for several minor criminal offences and had served two sentences of a few weeks in prison. From 1982, at the age of 22, there was the start of a remitting and relapsing psychotic illness. Over the following two years Blackwood had nine, mostly compulsory, admissions to local psychiatric hospitals. His condition attracted several different diagnoses, including acute paranoid state, drug-induced psychosis, acute situational psychosis and psychotic reaction in an inadequate personality.
‘In January 1986, shortly after serving a six-month sentence for actual bodily harm and criminal damage, Blackwood was arrested for robbing a bookmakers shop with a toy gun. It was suggested that he should have been admitted to the Denis Hill medium secure unit at Bethlem Royal Hospital, but since no bed was available he was sentenced to three years imprisonment. Within a year his mental state had deteriorated so seriously he was transferred to the Denis Hill unit. In October 1987, after a settled period, Blackwood became disturbed after a trivial incident and seriously assaulted a nurse. The police were required to restrain him and transfer was arranged to Broadmoor. At Broadmoor he presented problems in management especially when he refused medication, but he did respond to fairly large doses of neuroleptics and when he was well was popular among staff and patients. He was always described as lacking insight and was bitter that he remained in hospital after the end of his custodial sentence. By 1991 there were moves for Blackwood to be transferred back to the Denis Hill unit and a Mental Health Review Tribunal had adjourned to further consider his case.
‘At the beginning of August 1991 Blackwood became unsettled and demanding; he set off the fire alarm, blocked his sink and was abusive to his consultant. He was managed by being placed in seclusion where damage was done to the inside of the room. On 28 August the ward doctor prepared to review Blackwood in his side room. Blackwood was quietly lying on his bed when the doctor entered into his room, allegedly without a knock or warning; there were nurses outside should he become violent. Blackwood allegedly tried to punch the doctor and was restrained. The doctor decided to administer Sparine 150 mg and Modecate 150 mg intramuscularly. The staff left the room after the administration of injections, but soon observed from outside that Blackwood had stopped breathing. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was unsuccessful.
‘The report made serious criticisms about the way Orville Blackwood’s relatives were subsequently told of his death.
‘The committee felt that there was a knee-jerk response to patient misdemeanour and violence. Seclusion and intramuscular medication was the standard response with several members of staff available if needed. Blackwood’s increased irritability was partly understandable because of the tension from his Tribunal being adjourned, but this did not seem to be appreciated by staff. The committee found that the staff insufficiently used wider psychiatric skills to prevent and treat Blackwood’s worsening mental state. The tension between safe Incarceration and treatment is also expressed in the Ashworth Inquiry and both reports concluded that the emphasis has rested too heavily on the former. Perhaps it is unreasonable to ask nurses to be both ‘warder’ and therapist. In some secure hospitals in the United States there are separate nursing and security staff.
‘There has been much debate about the role of the intramuscular injections in the sudden death of psychiatric patients. The committee heard detailed evidence on this point, including the theory that the pharmacokinetics of phenothiazines are so effected when a patient is in an excited state as to make them much more cardiotoxic. The committee could not be conclusive but suggested the need for urgent research into this, especially since special hospital patients are often given very large amounts of psychotropic medication.
‘Similarities between the deaths of Orville Blackwood, Michael Martin and Joseph Watts
‘All of these Afro-Caribbean patients died in seclusion where they were placed after disagreements with other patients or members of staff which had led to them being violent. They had all been diagnosed schizophrenic and they had all been following an unhealthy diet. Orville Blackwood weighted 21 stone and despite a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus at one time still consumed large amounts of Coca Cola and chocolate. Joseph Watts was 19 stone and Michael Martin had a ‘passion for chocolate’ and was described as heavily built at post mortem. The report makes suggestions that the SHSA investigate how the lifestyle of patients could be made healthier.
‘All three patients had the reputation of being likeable when well, but they also generated a fear of violence in the staff. The committee received the impression of ‘big, black and dangerous’ so frequently in their inquiry that they incorporated it, with a question mark, as their sub-title. The committee investigated the question of whether staff had been racist in their treatment. They suggest that there was a racial institutional bias against ethnic minorities, but this was not by direct acts of racism, rather by acts of omission. They quote a Health/Home Office paper which states, “the ‘colour blind’ approach of some ignores issues of race and culture and the experience of racism”. The report states, “The experience of Afro-Caribbean inner-city youngsters is not fully understood by Eurocentric psychiatry and those who work in the psychiatric system. It is important that differences are recognised and catered for” (page 51).
‘The report made 47 recommendations for action and invited themselves back to monitor progress if the SHSA agreed; in the event they did not. The report received wide media coverage and despite a second print run the SHSA has no more copies available. The task of the special hospitals is perhaps the most difficult in the whole of psychiatry and the numerous reports and inquiries about them reflect that difficulty. This report offers constructive criticism and the survival of the special hospitals depends on how such criticism is heeded.’
Did the survival of special hospitals really depend on how they responded to that constructive criticism? Sadly, that worthy hope was sidelined – as usual – by lax government, allowing Broadmoor to pretty much just carry on, regardless.
Broadmoor made an effort – arguably, a token effort – to address at least some of the Blackwood report’s recommendations. Several of the report’s 47 recommendations were directed at ethnicity issues.
As a result of those recommendations, in 1996 a friend of mine, a counsellor and therapist of African Caribbean ethnic origin, was employed by Broadmoor to work with black patients on their “index offence” (the class of crime for which they were convicted), taking into account that race was a potential factor affecting their progress in the treatment at the hospital.
My friend worked in Broadmoor for six years, counselling individual men and running group therapy. After his first year there he got a friend and fellow-counsellor, also of African Caribbean ethnic origin, to work with him. He said they did good work together, and the work with the men was good. He said working with the institution was not so good.
It ended with them both suing the hospital for race discrimination. They lost, and it cost them £11,000 each. The fallout from that traumatic experience sadly ended their friendship. My friend says it took him many years to recover from that experience.
He’d helped the hospital by recruiting a second black counsellor. Together they’d helped many black patients, and had helped the hospital to meet some of the Blackwood report’s recommendations – and that was their reward.
Please note, dear Reader, that failure to prove race discrimination in a UK employment tribunal doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. In 2011, only 16 per cent of race discrimination claims (150 out of 950) succeeded. In a 2013 Institute of Race Relations article, historian, barrister and socialist activist David Renton provided the above statistic – and much damning case detail – and wrote:
‘The poor prospects of success in race discrimination claims are an under-acknowledged blemish of the Employment Tribunal system.’
A sharp 1998letter (sorry – not fully available in an ad-blocked phone browser without a paid subscription to the newspaper!) to a national UK broadsheet newspaper by the Blackwood inquiry chair, the late Professor Herschell Prins, (written in the context of a contributor to the Lawrence inquiry saying London’s police force was institutionally racist) confirmed Broadmoor’s imperviousness to real change:
‘Although highly disturbing, Dr Oakley’s findings of institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police will come as no surprise to those of us whose explorations of racism takes them into institutional settings, be they open or closed. I chaired the independent inquiry into the death of Orville Blackwood in Broadmoor Hospital in 1993. He was a young Afro-Caribbean offender patient with a history of schizophrenic illness. Two earlier reports into the deaths of two other Afro-Caribbean patients, which we were asked to re-evaluate, had found no direct evidence of racism in Broadmoor and many of the witnesses at our inquiry did not believe that it was a problem in the hospital. However, we were of the firm opinion that such views were “based on an interpretation of racism founded on very crude measures” and that the staff and management just did not recognise the subtle ways in which racism could operate.
‘We concluded that there was racism in Broadmoor, but not on the whole deliberate or necessarily conscious; rather it was an extreme lack of sensitivity to the needs and cultural differences of ethnic minority patients. Of our 47 recommendations, several were directed at ethnic issues. These included the need to appoint black staff at senior management level and to have black representation on the managing health authority. We also offered to return to the hospital to monitor the implementation of our recommendations – an offer firmly declined at that time. Somewhat ironically, a few weeks ago, I was asked to return to Broadmoor to participate in a seminar examining how successful the hospital had been in developing its anti-racist policies and practices! I learnt that there were still no black members of senior management, neither was there any black representation on the managing health authority. It also appeared that there were even fewer black staff working on the wards than at the time of our inquiry. All institutions are notoriously impervious to change; the only way to bring about such change is to make them more openly accountable. Sadly, we still have a long way to go.’
And, one might add, sadly – and shamefully – men who were under the direct care of the state, who were bigotedly seen as ‘big, black and dangerous’, and whose disturbed state may have been caused – and was certainly made worse – by personal and institutional racism, are now big, black and dead.
I asked the NHS trust running Broadmoor Hospital for a response to this footnote. They didn’t reply.
‘Circumcision is prescribed for both males and females… circumcision of women is mustahabb
[recommended, but not essential; fulfilment of which is rewarded].
‘There are reports in the Sunnah which indicate that circumcision for women is prescribed in Islam.
‘Female circumcision has not been prescribed for no reason, rather there is wisdom behind it and it brings many benefits.’
‘Mentioning some of these benefits, Dr Haamid al-Ghawaabi* says:
‘The secretions of the labia minora accumulate in uncircumcised women and turn rancid, so they develop an unpleasant odour which may lead to infections of the vagina or urethra. I have seen many cases of sickness caused by the lack of circumcision.
‘Circumcision reduces excessive sensitivity of the clitoris which may cause it to increase in size to 3 centimeters [sic] when aroused, which is very annoying to the husband, especially at the time of intercourse.
‘Another benefit of circumcision is that it prevents stimulation of the clitoris which makes it grow large in such a manner that it causes pain.
‘Circumcision prevents spasms of the clitoris which are a kind of inflammation.
‘Circumcision reduces excessive sexual desire.’
Munajjid goes on to quote from an article by ‘female gynaecologist Sitt al-Banaat’*, ‘Female circumcision from a health point of view’:
‘For us in the Muslim world female circumcision is, above all else, obedience to Islam, which means acting in accordance with the fitrah and following the Sunnah which encourages it.
‘It [female ‘circumcision’] takes away excessive libido from women.
‘It prevents unpleasant odours which result from foul secretions beneath the prepuce.
‘It reduces the incidence of urinary tract infections
‘It reduces the incidence of infections of the reproductive system.
* I haven’t been able to find credentials for either of these doctors. However, the publication referred to, ‘Female circumcision from a health point of view‘ can be opened from here. It apparently recommends removal of the clitoris hood, or prepuce. This procedure is FGM type 1a, according to classification by the World Health Organisation.
In 2020, Black Lives Matter was big. Huge. Then it kind of faded. What was it? Was it a hashtag, a slogan, a protest movement, a campaign – or what? And what happened to it?
The Black Lives Matter movement was started in the US in 2013 by a small group of radical black feminists after the acquittal of a neighbourhood watch coordinator who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin.
The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter spread on social media, and the project expanded into a national network of local ‘chapters’.
The movement returned to the headlines in 2020 when George Floyd was killed by a police officer. There was widespread disgust, and BLM grew into an international campaign.
Here in the UK, BLM got a lot of support – and some opposition when racists promoted the slogans ‘White Lives Matter’ and the more insidious ‘All Lives Matter’.
I added a preface about White Lives Matter to this post.
Whilst recently updating that section, I looked into what had happened to Black Lives Matter and discovered this tale of the unexpected. I put it in this footnote (and then in a separate post).
Despite white allyship being controversial, I considered myself a white ally of BLM. Now, I’m not so sure. Next time the badge falls off, I might not put it back.
(Update, June 2022 – the badge fell off. I didn’t put it back on my jacket. Knowing what I know now, I’d feel a fool. I put it on the shelf: a memento of innocent enthusiasm.)
Racism explained as a redundant instinct Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?
After the killing of George Floyd in 2020, some $90m was donated to Black Lives Matter. BLM grew fast – perhaps too fast for the small group of organisers to keep up. A year later, the disorganised organisation started to come apart.
In February 2021the foundation said it gave $21.7m to BLM chapters, and its expenses were $8.4m. That left about $60m unexplained.
In May 2021Patrisse Cullors, one of the three BLM founders, announced she was standing down as executive director of the foundation.
In February 2022 in a UK Guardianinterview*, Cullors tearfully explained she resigned after the movement got black criticism for lack of transparency about the donations.
An April 2022Washington Postcolumn* criticised BLM’s use of its donations, including the secret purchase in 2020 of a $6m house in California.
The WP column drew on an April 2022 investigative article* on New York magazine news website Intelligencer about the BLM house, a 6,500-square-foot compound in Studio City, Los Angeles.
The Intelligencer article is hidden from the hard-up (like me) behind a paywall, but according to WP, it reported a $6m shambles:
BLM said the Studio City house was both a ‘safehouse’ and a place providing:
‘Recording resources and dedicated space for Black creatives to launch content online and in real life focused on abolition, healing justice, urban agriculture and food justice, pop culture, activism, and politics’.
Little content had been produced apart from a few videos made by Cullors for her YouTube channel.
On Twitter, in advance of the Intelligencer report, BLM urged followers:
‘Spread the word: we are redefining what it means to be an activist in this generation with our new Fellowship and Creator House‘.
On Instagram, Cullors said the purchase hadn’t been announced earlier because:
‘The property needed repairs and renovation‘.
In a May 2022AP Newsinterview*, Cullors denied wrongdoing but acknowledged she’d used the Studio City compound for non-BLM purposes, hosting parties to celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and her son’s birthday. She said:
I look back at that and think, that probably wasn’t the best idea
* Lest it be suspected these pieces challenging BLM were by racist white hacks, they were all by award-winning black journalists: Nesrin Malik (Guardian), Karen Attiah (Washington Post), Sean Campbell (New York/Intelligencer) and Aaron Morrison (AP News).
There’s more. Cullors’ friends and family have apparently had large consultancy payouts; and the $6m house was apparently bought from a developer friend who’d recently paid $3m for it.
Sorry – racist white hacks may well have been involved in the sources for the above paragraph: they’re both from the right-wing UK Daily Mail. The Mail refers to revelations in New York Magazine – but that’s behind the pesky paywall.
The impression given by the many articles and comments about all this – and by BLM’s defensive and obfuscatory response – is that BLM is more like a nepotistic cult than a well-run campaign organisation.
However, BLM’s financial irregularities seem a matter of incompetence and mission-drift with a dash of ‘looking after’ people, rather than full-on fraud. Cullorssaid:
Black people in general have a hard time with money. It’s a trigger point for us.
In spite of the irregularities, Black Lives Matter hasn’t quite come apart.
The BLM website gives the impression that all is well. But it’s not – as its mixed-up mission shows.
Racism explained as a redundant instinct Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?
So what’s Black Lives Matter about? Supporters may have assumed its idea was to oppose racist violence and institutional racism – but it’s more complicated than that.
BLM has a surprisingly radical agenda. According to BLM’s About page, its mission is to:
Eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes
Less predictably, it goes on to say:
We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.
There’s more like that.
According to a thoughtful 2021National Affairsarticle, BLM’s founders have said their ideology is rooted in postmodern cultural theory:
A few rabid souls have ferreted out what they regard as the Marxist foundations of BLM. But this gives its prime movers too much credit. BLM has been shaped more by post-modern cultural theory than by Marxism. By their own account, the three young women who ignited this proudly “leaderless” movement have been shaped primarily by feminism and queer theory. Hence their vitriolic critique of the male-dominated black church, not to mention the traditional family.
This analysis evokes the controversial phenomena of intersectional identity politics and critical race theory.
Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work. This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.
The radical BLM mission statement appears to continue the black feminist lesbian socialist theme. Co-founder Patrisse Cullors has described herself and her fellow organizers as ‘trained Marxists’. BLM has been sarcastically dubbed ‘Black Lesbian Marxists’.
Critical race theory (CRT) – also a branch of postmodernism – first arose, like identity politics, in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, it’s:
a cross-disciplinary intellectual and social movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race, society, and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice…A key CRT concept is intersectionality
CRT recently made the news when conservatives complained about the supposed surge in feminist and critical race theory being taught in colleges and universities.
However, an Aljazeera online opinion piece by a US professor said CRT informs BLM and that’s what scares the conservatives:
The significance of Critical Race Theory at this particular juncture in American history is the way a sustained course of the theoretical groundwork now informs … Black Lives Matter. This fruitful dialectic between an academic theory and a grassroots social uprising is what frightens the custodians of the status quo who are fighting tooth and nail to protect and preserve their race and class privileges.
That’s fine, but perhaps BLM supporters wanted to stop police killing black men rather than have a fruitful dialectic with an academic theory.
Supporters – and donors – might sympathise with the complex and passionate ideas in BLM’s radical mission statement, but might be surprised to learn BLM isn’t the focussed and well-organised campaign against racist murder they – reasonably – expect it to be.
The Black Lives Matter mission, apparently inspired by postmodern intersectional identity politics, makes BLM seem more like SnowflakeCity than a campaign coordinator.
Racism explained as a redundant instinct Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?
The intellectuals have defected, and walled themselves up behind a new language of privilege… To justify their betrayal, the postmodernists have created a whole new language of their own which allows them to appropriate struggle without engaging in it.
Taking on the job abandoned by the treacherous postmodernists, Sivanandan analysed the murderous symbiosis of poverty and racism with angry eloquence:
Racism and imperialism work in tandem, and poverty is their handmaiden. And it is that symbiosis between racism and poverty that, under those other imperatives of multinational capitalism, the free market and the enriching of the rich, has come to define the “underclass” of the United States and, increasingly, of Britain and Western Europe… It is there, where the poorest sections of our communities, white and black, scrabble for the leftovers of work, the rubble of slum housing and the dwindling share of welfare, that racism is at its most virulent, its most murderous.
Sivanandan also criticised identity politics as an inward-looking, naval-gazing exercise.
The whole purpose of knowing who we are is not to interpret the world, but to change it. We don’t need a cultural identity for its own sake, but to make use of the positive aspect of our culture to forge correct alliances and fight the correct battles.
What’s wrong with postmodernism in this context is that Black Lives Matter was entrusted to oppose racist murder, but its postmodernist adherents of intersectional identity politics have lost focus. They’ve appropriated the struggle but not effectively engaged in it.
Racism explained as a redundant instinct Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?
At the time of writing (May 2022), the Black Lives Matter website gives no hint of any difficulties (except to say it’s a ‘target of disinformation’). However, it continues its mixed message.
On the one hand there’s a robust response to US government plans to advance racial justice:
One of the greatest systemic factors affecting the livelihood of Black communities is the continued over-policing, brutalization, and incarceration of our people. Violence by police tears our families apart; leaves emotional, logistical, and financial gaps in our communities; and steals the lives of so many of our loved ones before they get the chance to achieve their dreams. We need the next phase of the action plan to explicitly address how federal agencies will update their policies to hold officers and departments at the local, state, and federal level accountable for the way they engage with Black people.
Healing justice…a portal for revolutionary visions of Black freedom…something we deserve…something we own…something we embody…something each and everyone of us must have. This month our center is ‘Collective Imagination: The Art of Healing Part III.’ We turn our conversation to sacred and luminous practices of creativity and imagination in the healing journeys of Black people. Our healers examine…the multiple ways to access Spirit and wholeness through the individual and collective body. We affirm that healthy connections hold spaciousness for healing and love…sacred healing practices…can support the transformation of individual and collective grief into collective imaginings, futures, and liberation for cultivating sovereignty and co-sovereignty.
* Woo: short for woo-woo, a sarcastic term meaning unconventional beliefs regarded as having little or no scientific basis, especially those relating to spirituality, mysticism, or alternative medicine
The BLM woo’s esoteric beliefs are presumably meant to protect activists who feel oppressed because of their intersectional identity, but they seem out of place in a campaign meant to protect ordinary black people like Trayvon Martin and George Floyd from racist murder by the police.
What next? Can Black Lives Matter be saved from disappearing up its postmodern woo-woo arse*? Maybe.
* I’m English – I can’t write ‘ass’. Sorry 😉
Maybe it just needs organising properly – with mission focus and financial transparency.
Maybe it could keep the spirit of radical activism, but hive off the woo and the postmodern cultural theory to a new sister organisation.
(Black Snowflakes Matter? A suitable role for Patrisse Cullors, perhaps.)
I asked the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation for their comments. They didn’t reply.
Whatever happens with the complicated and troubled organisation, the central Black Lives Matteridea of opposition to racist murder lives on – and still has the reach and momentum to help make racism history.
The Black Lives Matter website now has a ‘Transparency Center‘ which addresses some of the issues raised. It says:
We are embracing this moment as an opportunity for celebration, accountability, healing, truth-telling, and transparency. We aim to move forward into this next chapter with the lessons learned, achievements underscored, and a renewed commitment to justice and powerbuilding in service to our community.
It goes on to attack ‘misinformation from the right wing’, saying:
The right has taken up this cause, hoping to sow mistrust in our work via their media outlets. They have spread misinformation and have taken what is really an important conversation for our community, trashed it, and used their coverage as some sort of validation of their racist allegations. We hope that this is the beginning of a real conversation for our people about the dynamics of our power and our relationship to money.
It says returns have been filed with the IRS (US internal revenue service), and goes on to say:
An independent audit has revealed that Black Lives Matter’s finances are strong, the organization is financially sound, and its leaders have been good stewards of the people’s donations.
It says the foundation spends far less on costs than other similar organisations.
It says the foundation’s been fully reimbursed for private events held at the ‘Creator’s House’ (the $6m LA house). It says:
The Creator’s House was purchased as a space of our own, with the intention of providing housing and studio space for recipients of the Black Joy Creators Fellowship in service of Black culture and the movement.
That sounds good, but googling shows that one of the three has a history of financial delinquency, all three are financially linked through consultancy payments, and all three are connected to BLM founder Patrisse Cullors.
Cronyism, mismanagement, consultancy payments – it looks as though nothing has changed, and the ‘transparency’ is mainly whitewashing. Or should that be blackwashing?
Also, although there has been criticism from the nutty Right, it’s disingenuous to – wrongly – dismiss all the critics as right-wing racists and thereby swerve the criticism.
It’s like Israel saying all critics of Zionist oppression are anti-Jewish, or Muslims saying all critics of Salafi self-segregation are Islamophobic. They can’t or won’t respond to the criticism. Instead, they slur the critics.
It’s a shame. In 2020 I was an enthusiastic white ally of Black Lives Matter. Now in 2022, as a critic of BLM, I’d like to wish the newly would-be-transparent organisation well. But it doesn’t look good.
Again, I asked the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation for their comments. They haven’t replied.
Report of the committee of inquiry into the death in Broadmoor Hospital of Orville Blackwood – “Big, black and dangerous?”
The phrase, ‘big, black and dangerous’, which has been used to describe the perception by staff of some black patients in mental health institutions, originated in print as the subtitle of this report – in quotes, and with a question mark. After alleged violence towards a doctor, Blackwood was restrained and given intramuscular sedation. He died soon afterwards. The committee, chaired by the late Professor Herschel Prins, investigated the question of whether staff had been racist in their treatment. The report suggested there was a racial institutional bias against ethnic minorities, but this was not by direct acts of racism, rather by acts of omission. The report said the experience of African Caribbean inner-city youngsters was not fully understood by Eurocentric psychiatry and those who worked in the psychiatric system; and it was important that differences were recognised and catered for. However, consultant psychiatrist Dr Nuwan Dissanayaka, in a 2018 Centre for Mental Health article, Racial disparity in mental health: challenging false narratives, said that over two decades since the Blackwood Report, despite the efforts of successive governments, little had changed.
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This GfK/NOP social research study for Channel 4 Dispatches (UK TV investigative documentary series) found 30 per cent of UK Muslims wanted to live under Sharia law, 28 per cent wanted Britain to be an Islamic state, and 22 per cent thought the 2005 7/7 London bombings in which 52 people were killed and over 700 injured were justified because of British support for the ‘war on terror’.
This UK government-commissioned independent review by government official Dame Louise Casey confirmed segregation was at worrying levels. It blamed cultural misogyny and patriarchy, and public bodies which ignore or condone divisive religious practices for fear of being called racist or Islamophobic.
This poll, commissioned by centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange included the finding that 31 per cent of UK Muslims thought the US government was behind the 9/11 New York attacks. Only 4 per cent thought Islamist terror group al-Qaeda was responsible. Policy Exchange has been criticised for ‘demonising’ Muslims, but the research was carried out by a reputable polling organisation. The report had a forward by Muslim Labour MP and shadow minister Khalid Mahmood who said, ‘The readiness to believe in conspiracy theories and the mentality of victimhood of which it speaks…is holding [Muslims] back and ensuring that…we are locked in a paranoid and at times fearful world view.’
Report of the independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody
This government report by senior lawyer Dame Elish Angiolini into deaths in custody found a possible racial factor: ‘Racial stereotyping may or may not be a significant contributory factor in some deaths in custody. However, unless investigatory bodies operate transparently and are seen to give all due consideration to the possibility that stereotyping may have occurred or that discrimination took place in any given case, families and communities will continue to feel that the system is stacked against them.’ The government response to the report promised some reforms but contained no reference to the ethnicity of those who died in police custody.
UK government project: impact of ethnicity on everyday life
The UK government’s ‘Racial disparity audit’ displays updated survey findings. When launched in 2017, it found the rate of white people in work was higher than that of ethnic minorities – with a larger gap in the North than the South – and those from non-white backgrounds were under-represented at senior levels in public sector jobs.
Annual report by Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills
Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, is a non-ministerial department of the UK government, reporting to Parliament. In a section headed ‘Shared values’, the 2017 Ofsted report strongly criticised private faith schools which deliberately resist ‘British values’.
This government review, commissioned by then UK premier Theresa May, concluded sweeping reforms were needed to restore rights to mental health patients and end the ‘burning injustice’ of people from ethnic minorities being disproportionately sectioned. However, this aspect was barely mentioned in official responses to the review report.
Visit to the UK: report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
This UN report expressed serious concerns about racism ‘rooted in the fabric of UK society’. The report highlighted the disproportionate number of people of African descent and from other ethnic minorities dying due to the excessive use of force by state security agencies.
This survey, in which almost 20,000 people took part, was hosted by anti-fascist group Hope not Hate and human rights thinktank British Future alongside the House of Commons home affairs committee. The findings were given as evidence to the committee’s inquiry, Immigration policy: basis for building consensus, and informed the committee’s recommendations. The survey found a large minority of people in the UK thought immigrants don’t integrate properly; and anti-Muslim prejudice was widespread. Participants believed British culture was under threat because people were forced, usually by schools and councils, to pander to ‘political correctness’ and the sensitivities of Muslims. The survey also found most people wanted EU migration to be better managed.
Figures released in 2018 by the UK home office showed black people were more likely than white people to have force used against them by police, especially with firearms, Tasers and AEPs (attenuating energy projectiles – AKA rubber bullets).
Apart from the forced migration of slaves, and slavery’s legacy, compared with Europe’s challenging recent experiences, the US (like Canada and Australia) has historically had a more positive relationship with mass immigration. The ‘New World’ (new to the explorers and subsequent immigrants, if not to the Native Americans) was built on it. However, attitudes are changing. Wikipedia says:
Public attitudes about immigration in the U.S. were heavily influenced in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. After the attacks, 52% of Americans believed immigration was a good thing overall for the U.S., down from 62% the year before, according to a 2009 Gallup poll. A 2008 Public Agenda survey found half of Americans said tighter controls on immigration would do ‘a great deal’ to enhance U.S. national security. Harvard political scientist and historian Samuel P. Huntington argued in Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity that a potential future consequence of continuing massive immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico, might lead to the bifurcation of the United States.
In western countries, racism and colourism – whatever the deeper cause – are fed by economic pressure. Bollocks-ideology racist groups target poor white people. The insecurities of that increasingly large underclass (championed as the precariat by radical economist Guy Standing) could be resolved by paying all adult citizens an unconditional state income. (See my post about this trending idea, Robots could mean leisure.)
In English, the words ‘dark’ and ‘light’, used to describe people’s skin colour, come pre-loaded with values: night and day; danger and safety; cold and warmth; badness and goodness. I am the light, said Jesus, supposedly. ‘White’ and ‘black’ have similar baggage: good and evil.
Even the word for the development of modern liberal ideas, the Enlightenment is tonally prejudiced. If reason is enlightenment, ignorance is darkness. It even sounds like a skin lightening product: Enlightenment Cream, containing the bleach of reason. Rub it well on your dark superstitious ignorance.
(My unsolicited post-Enlightenment advice to all western Muslims to lighten up involves a mischievous homonym. The phrase refers, of course, to lightness in weight – cultural weight in that case.)
The pre-loaded values aren’t inevitable. It was good that the sun ‘returned’ after the winter solstice (or so said the powerful priestesses of the ruling sacrificial cult) but apart from that, goodness and reason have no intrinsic association with light; and dark isn’t bad.
Some say the current high status of light and lightness is a symptom of a relatively immature patriarchy; and a prehistoric mature matriarchy – probably not so much a feminist paradise as a bloodthirsty Wicker-Manish cult – valued the moon and the sun more or less equally.
Rational mystics urge us to value light and dark equally, because they’re both part of life. But we ignorant masses love the light and fear the dark. None of this helps when trying to understand and resist innate racism.
Fear of the dark is childish. Grow up! Black is beautiful
I’ve suggested there’s a gene for racism. Apparently it’s scientifically incorrect to talk about ‘a gene for’ something. But it’s a useful phrase in common speech, and should be understood as lay shorthand for the complex and not fully understood process of genetic coding.
Science can’t explain how genes code for instinctive behaviour. Radical biologist Rupert Sheldrake claims genes are incapable of coding behaviour.
Sheldrake’s hypothesis of morphic resonance suggests instincts are habits remembered in an evolved organising field which resonates with the brain of the individual.
I’ve suggested racism is based on a redundant instinct. I asked Sheldrake if, according to his hypothesis, an instinct that’s outlived it’s evolutionary purpose might nevertheless survive and continue to affect behaviour.
In his reply, Sheldrake acknowledged a redundant instinct might continue to resonate.
It’s a bit like NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), where a young child (early or pre-humans) has faced a danger perceived as life-threatening (threat to the group) and has been protected by a powerful but destructive mental defence (evolved proto-racist behaviour), which, having done its job at the time and no longer being needed, nevertheless continues, unwanted and warped by circumstances (colonialism) into systematic negativity (full-blown racism), blighting adulthood (recent times).
NLP treatment, as I understand it, is to hypnotise the client, address the rogue ‘part’ and persuade it to retire; but hypnotherapy can’t banish an ancient instinct. You’d have to acknowledge the instinct with due respect (and perhaps a shamanistic ritual or two); and then, empowered by being aware of the evolutionary roots of the ugly historical fruits (racist feelings), rise above them.
As wonderfully illustrated by the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet, we’ve got tons of nasty stuff going on down there – monsters from the id, as the movie had it. If we admit it, it’s easier to live above it.
Or we could have Racists Anonymous. Hi. I’m Chris, and I’m a racist.
Of course he was. Hello? Virgin birth? Von Däniken?
Some writers suggest that once upon a time, dear Reader, humanoid alien visitors created our human ancestors with genetic engineering to do mining and agricultural work, and they inserted a racist gene to deter one branch of their workforce from mating with another one.
The aliens supposedly managed their workers by also inserting genes for work ethic and obedience, and by posing as gods. Having stocked up, and getting fed up with their increasingly rebellious slaves, they apparently flooded the planet – perhaps to hide the evidence of what they’d done from the powers that be (Intergal?) – and cleared off.
With the help of some sympathetic departing aliens, so the story goes, a few of us built arks (and loaded animals, two by two). We survived the genocidal cataclysm – and so did our creators’ legacy: modified cross-species genes for work ethic, religious obedience and racism. Nice. Thanks. Anyway, we survived, and we all lived happily(ish) ever after.
Yes, I know…morphic resonance has been dismissed (albeit prematurely and defensively) as pseudo-science; NLP never lived up to its promise; and God as an astronaut, er, lacks evidence…but I like the ideas!
Imagine by John Lennon and Yoko Ono
You may say they’re hypocrites (think fur coats) but they’re not the only ones – and you can’t necessarily judge the art by the life. A fabulously beautiful – if a bit cheesy – song. Copyright 1971, Northern Songs. Lyrics quoted without permission.