Britain’s Living Legacy of Racism and Prejudice: A Narrative and Review of Policy Recommendations
This article is responding in depth to the cultural questioning which has emerged through the Black Lives Matter movement especially with regards to the xenophobic discrimination of the Windrush scandal which is an act of vandalism on the institutions of democracy and the outright atrocity of the latest in a long history of incidents illustrated by how George Floyd, a black American man was killed during an arrest (allegedly for a counterfeit $20 bill) when, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes.
The written piece is long with various subheadings and videos which supplement and illustrate some aspects of the issues which are at large. It has been important to me to take time over this and give it the respect and space it deserves.
There is an ongoing danger of being involved in a complicity of silence and a conspiracy of inaction from those who are not directly affected by these issues of racism and prejudice, if by dint of nothing else but embarrassment that this happens. A reflective and caring world is a better world for everyone, and although it is uncomfortable to engage in awarenesses of injustices, it is the right thing to do. Nobody should be scared of entering into a critical space, but, as it was pointed out to me, we should fear the avoidance of such a search for truth.
Black Lives Matter is a civil rights movement which started in 2013 by Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza with a twitter hashtag in response to the shooting of the 17 year old Trayvon Martin where the perpetrator (George Zimmerman) was let off. They formed a decentralized and informal network of activists to respond to racism in the United States and this coalesced with long established civil rights movements in other parts of the world such as Canada and Britain.
This movement is part of a recognition of the women, children and men who have been killed in racist incidents. In context with this there is a necessary urgency to understand the intersectional nature of prejudice and overshadowing for whilst racism may be picked up on, often multiple prejudices overlap in the lives of individuals resulting in the obscuring of discrimination in specific contexts such as black women and black LGBTQ individuals.
This cultural questioning is healthy and demands deeper investigating of self, society and institution with a view to making lasting changes. These incidents represent the very tip of countless unrecorded, unspoken about violences and harms visited on people of colour over a long period of time.
Racism is not just the overt and sensational prejudices of hate and dehumanisation, racism is structured into the physical landscape, the economy, the bureaucracies, algorithms and the subtle everyday where there is not a human in situ to account for the disparities.
In the video which follow can hear Kimberly Jones talk about her thinking on what has been happening especially with regards to poor black communities. There is a level of economic analysis which escapes the mainstream news and economic framings; in fact nearly every public analysis. As you can hear in what she is saying –
“Why do you burn down your own neighbourhood ? – Because it is not ours ! We dont own anything !… Trevor Noah said it so beautifully… there is a social contract that we all have; that if you steal or if I steal then the person who is the authority comes in and then fixes the situation; but the person who is to fix the situation is killing us. So the social contract is broken.”
The Tulsa Race Massacre
In the video Ms Jones raises the histories of Tulsa and Rosewood in the United States. The Tulsa race massacre happened on May 31st and June 1st 1921. It was also known as the Greenwood Massacre and the Black Wall Street Massacre. This happened when city officials deputized and armed white citizens and mobs of them coordinated attacks on the black communities and businesses in the district of Greenwood in Tulsa Oklahoma according to the final report of the Oklahoma Commission which was held.
Scott Ellsworth in his book ‘Death in a Promised Land: the Tulsa race riot of 1921’ wrote how: “Beginning in 1917, a series of race riots broke out across America which culminated in the summer of 1919, ushering in what Tulsa-bred historian John Hope Franklin has described as ‘the greatest period of inter-racial strife the nation ever witnessed.’ These riots took place in Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, as well as in the South. Perhaps their clearest common denominator was the invasion of black neighborhoods by whites. The race riot in Tulsa was the last one in this “series”: it has not until the Harlem riot of 1935 and the Detroit incident of 1943 that racial violence on the scale of the 1919-era riots was repeated.”
[Ellsworth, S. (2001). Death in a promised land: The Tulsa race riot of 1921. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press. Page 17]
The video below is a collection of speakers from present day talking about reparations from the Greenwood Massacre showing how live an issue it is, giving voice to the historical traumas and highlighting the inherited traumas from the ancestors who witnessed and survived this horror of racism.
The attack of the black community was both by ground assault and by private aircraft destroying over 35 square blocks of Greenwood, causing over 800 people to be admitted hospital as well as 6,000 black residents interned in large facilities, many of them for several days. According to Ellsworth “The total number of people who died in the Tulsa race riot of 1921 is very much in question; estimates range from 27 to over 250” [Page 66, ibid]
Ms Jones also mentioned Rosewood…
Rosewood was named after the rose coloured wood of the red cedar trees which formed the bulk of its economic income in the 1870s. By 1890 much of the cedars had been harvested and their associated businesses had closed; during this period many of the white families had moved out of the community. Census records show that in 1870 there was a white majority and by 1900 there had become an African-American majority. African-American owned and run businesses made a good living through distilling turpentine and rosin from the glut of surrounding pine trees.
In 1915 Rosewood held an African-American population of 355 people at its height and supported a number of small African-American owned enterprises. On 1st January 1923 the peaceful lives of the Rosewood community were turned upside down when a white woman called Fannie Taylor, resident of the town of Sumner made the claim that she had been attacked by an African-American man in her home. Whether she had been sexually assaulted was not determined but this incident caused the majority of white residents of Levy county to believe that she had been.
The white community believed that an escaped convict called Jesse Hunter was responsible however the black community in Rosewood maintained that Fannie Taylor’s attacker had been her white boyfriend who came to see her that morning after her husband had left to go to work. Men from surrounding towns assembled a posse under Sheriff Elias Walker. They got dogs from the nearby prison work camp and followed the dogs from the Taylor’s house to the home of Aaron Carrier situated on the outskirts of Rosewood.
Although Carrier was not there it was decided that he was immediately implicated in helping the escape of Hunter. Carrier was later found at his mother’s house where the Sheriff intervened in a summary lynching by taking him into protective custody. The situation continued to escalate with local vigilantes organizing armed mobs moving to Rosewood. Sheriff Walker moved Aaron Carrier forty miles to Alachua County jail however this did not stop the armed lynch mobs from attacking a Sam Carter who was a part of the black community of Rosewood. He was abducted, tortured and killed in the name of seeking out the whereabouts of Jesse Hunter.
Sam Carter’s body was then hung up in public display to the Rosewood community as a warning. Former Rosewood resident Ms Lee Ruth Davis testified “They hung him on a tree and shot him all to pieces.” No criminal investigation was conducted regarding his death. On the 3rd of January a white crowd had gathered in Sumner ruminating on the heresay that the Rosewood community were protecting Hunter and that a black man, Sylvester Carrier, had made racist statements and threats.
Sylvester was Aaron Carrier’s cousin and was well respected in Rosewood for his refusal to adhere to the Jim Crow laws which were used to enforce racial segregation. He was known to be committed to this family and an active participant in the African American Episcopal church. On the evening of January 4th 1923 it was estimated that 20 – 30 armed men descended on Rosewood seeking out the Carrier household. On approach to the house they shot the dog and on kicking open the front door Sylvester Carrier shot dead the two men who had broken in.
The mob surrounded the house and peppered it with rifle and shotgun fire. Sarah Carrier died from a shotgun blast as she along with others, including children, hid upstairs for protection under matresses. The white mob outside later claimed that they were facing an army of well armed blacks but there is no evidence that there was more than Sylvester defending the house. The shootout continued for over an hour with four white men being wounded, one of them critically. It ended when the mob ran out of ammunition.
On their retreat the mob torched one of the town’s churches and several houses. The idea that African Americans in Rosewood had taken up arms provoked a violent reaction in North Florida. Over 200 armed whites arrived at Rosewood on horses, wagons and cars looking for retribution for the deaths of the two white men at the Carrier house. A recent Klu Klux Klan rally in Gainesville supplemented the numbers significantly, as white vigilantes travelled to Levy County they left a trail of random acts of violence and murder against local black people which continued for two weeks after the initial incident.
On January 5th Governor Hardee messaged Sheriff Walker suggesting to send the National Guard to Levy County to contain the situation. Walker turned the offer down assuring that ‘he feared no further disorder’. Before dawn on the 5th of January the mobs started descending on Rosewood. Wilson Hall, who was 9 yrs old at the time recalled:
“When they started coming you can see lights from automobiles for miles, but when my mother looked out the window upstairs she saw the cars coming, then she went and got all the kids up and said, ‘Y’all, let’s go, they are coming!’.. .We all headed for the swamp”.
As the mobs set fire to the remaining buildings of Rosewood the town’s people fled into the swamps with a few residents staying behind. Lexie Cordon, an elderly woman too frail to run had been driven out of her burning home by smoke and flames before she was shot in the face by a shotgun. On Sunday the 7th of January an army of 200 to 300 people returned to Rosewood to burn the remaining structures and hunt down any African American residents. Although the homes of all black residents in Rosewood were destroyed, the homes of the two white families remained untouched.
One of these families, the Wright household, provided refuge to black residents and their children protecting them from the mob. For weeks after the riot the family acted as a refuge and contact point to those who had fled into the swamps, giving them food. Other white people who came to the aid of the African American community included John and William Bryce, train conductors who brought their train to Rosewood to help evacuate women and children including those staying at the Wright household.
The number of dead and wounded at Rosewood was never established beyond six confirmed deaths early on along with the two white men killed on forcing entry to the Carrier household. No arrests were made in the Rosewood murders. An all-white grand jury convened on evidence collected “on crimes committed against the people of Alachua and Levy counties” in Levy County Courthouse in February. Judge Long’s only action was to issue a statement “deploring the action of the mob”. The African Americans who evacuated Rosewood never returned, the individuals who owned land eventually lost it to forfeit of unpaid taxes.
On 4th of May 1994, in a historic ceremony at the old capital building in Tallahassee, Florida, Governor Lawton Chiles signed the first state legislation in the nation to compensate African Americans for past racial violence. At the ceremony were fifty survivors and descendants of families subjected to white violence over seventy years earlier in the small North Florida village of Rosewood. Also attending were a number of the historians who had prepared the report for the state legislature (A Documented History of the Incident Which Occurred at Rosewood, January, 1923); this report paved the way for the unprecedented compensation act in the United States.
[The Rosewood Massacre: History and the Making of Public Policy R. Thomas Dye The Public Historian (1997) 19 (3): 25–39. https://doi.org/10.2307/3379554]
In the light of these repeating histories knowing the histories of those who have been the harmed is essential to be able to evolve to a just society. Reparations are inextricably linked to justice, and whilst privilege tends to privilege itself, privilege also calls on justice for functional world not uncommonly creating two mental accounts whereby the justice they call on (say contract law) is not understood as equity; there are countless examples, one of which is the realisation that not a single treaty which was forged with the indigenous peoples of America was honored.
What is the case for reparations with regards to those who have been exploited and exiled from their own wellbeing and denied their own land ? Here Christopher Hitchens puts forward his views on Reparations and offers some helpful analyses to deconstruct when someone is simply trying to derail an argument…
Unpicking the Conflicting Mental Accounts of Prejudice
The Black Lives Matter questioning is a vital sign of the need to fundamentally question the prejudices going on in our time such as the rebranding of xenophobia and frank racism of the everyday which we can also see writ large in institutions. This is a time to listen and learn and recover the missing histories from the silences which have engulfed them. It involves talking about what has not been talked about and actively attending to the voices/perspectives/histories which have been obscured, marginalised and attacked. It involves being unapologetic about this.
It is necessary to develop a lexicon for identifying pathogenic perspectives and polemics (ones that cause more problems than they solve) as well as being able to disambiguate bigotry veiled as contended reason. The more that silicon valley mediates our lives and the digital is shaped by corporate algorithms the more it becomes clear we need to be able to distinguish between a debate, a differing view and hate speech.
For me this has involved reading about the psychology of dehumanisation and prejudice whilst accepting that I might be harbouring significant myopias adopted and inculcated from the time I was born. A skill we must develop is to account for the cognitive dissonance which is acting through the behaviour of people; possibly ourselves. A white person in the UK must reason with the idea that they may be reinforcing racism as much as a rich person must contend with the idea that they may be creating poverty by the concentration of wealth.
Ideas can have us as much as we can have ideas. Some individuals simply do not recognise or accept that they hold prejudices that make them treat people differently. I wrote three extended articles in 2018 about Biases In Psychology Which Affect How People’s Intellectual Contribution Is Valued which examined in detail complexes of some prejudices encoded in society.
In that research I found some thinking which can help us identify when we might be encountering prejudice masquerading as reasoning. Eunice Cooper and Marie Jahoda conducted a number of studies where they analysed behaviours occurring around cognitive dissonance; in particular how prejudiced people respond to anti-prejudice propaganda. They identified three key strategies by which the test subjects managed the cognitive dissonance they experienced:
- Identification Avoided; Understanding “Derailed‘: (prejudiced respondents understood the propaganda at first then went to such lengths to extricate themselves from their identification with it that in the end they misunderstood the message in the media)
- The Message Made Invalid: (They may admit the general principle, but claim that in exceptions one is entitled to one’s prejudices; or they may admit that the individual item is convincing in itself, but that it is not a correct picture of usual life situations involving the minority group discussed)
- Changing the Frame of Reference: (the prejudiced person’s perception is so coloured by their prejudice that issues presented in a frame of reference different from their own are transformed so as to become compatible with their own views)
[Eunice Cooper & Marie Jahoda (1947) The Evasion of Propaganda: How Prejudiced People Respond to Anti-Prejudice Propaganda, The Journal of Psychology, 23:1, 15-25, DOI: 10.1080/00223980.1947.9917316]
People who manifest pathogenic (illness causing) perspectives sometimes latch onto a maxim of criticism and cast their identities as practitioners of skepticism whilst predominantly foraging for grounds to conflict, invalidate and/or dominate. Rarely do people acting in these mindsets reach for common grounds, agreement, conciliation or equity; instead they commonly find specious reasoning to privilege their self through overshadowing others. As such they engage in dehumanizing behaviours invalidating and marginalising others who do not figure in their value system. Some thinkers have suggested that the way that our culture is configured gives rise to such narcissistic behaviours.
Marcello Truzzi wrote about distinctions which can be made between skeptics and pseudoskeptics whilst he was professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University. Criticism and having an opinion does not make the thinker, it is the ability to reason and be open to engagement. This strikes me as a very important differentiation to be able to make both with individuals and with institutions. Truzzi spoke about how a true skeptic takes an agnostic position – a term Thomas Henry Huxley developed in 1869 meaning “that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe”.
Truzzi attributed the following characteristics to pseudoskeptics:
- Denying, when only doubt has been established
- Double standards in the application of criticism
- The tendency to discredit rather than investigate
- Presenting insufficient evidence or proof
- Assuming criticism requires no burden of proof
- Making unsubstantiated counter-claims
- Counter-claims based on plausibility rather than empirical evidence
- Suggesting that unconvincing evidence provides grounds for completely dismissing a claim
He characterized true skepticism as:
- Acceptance of doubt when neither assertion nor denial has been established
- No burden of proof to take an agnostic position
- Agreement that the corpus of established knowledge must be based on what is proved, but recognising its incompleteness
- Even-handedness in requirement for proofs, whatever their implication
- Accepting that a failure of a proof in itself proves nothing
- Continuing examination of the results of experiments even when flaws are found
It has been shameful to see the way that people of colour have been treated in the UK. It is problematic even that they have recieved the label of ‘minority’. Taking on an active investigatory role in the world I live in has come about after what I see as the failure of the mainstream press to offer sufficient representative reporting or promote information deep critique or historiographic accounts of the past.
The amount of repetitive homogenised cobblers I have to wade through to get beyond specious dominant narratives is draining by which time (and energy) dictates that mainstream media is too thin a gruel to incorporate in my mind as a quality information source. For example discovering the hostile environment and understanding what the hostile environment is took hearing the likes of Sukhdeep Singh one of the founding members of the Greater Manchester Law Center who works at Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit talk about it:
Mr Singh talks about the realities of people who have lived in the UK for fifty years being denied their very identity as citizens as well as giving a history of when the term ‘hostile environment’ was introduced into the government of the country. Journalism is now, like many callings, having to understand its built institutions as problematic to its raisons d’être. Talking to people with first hand experience makes clear the institutional racism which is at work in culture and the general discrimination against groups with the calculated aim to disenfranchise them.
Frankie says Britain is Racist to the Core
Above is a video of Akala talking on Britain’s inherent xenophobia with Frankie Boyle. He raises a number of issues which are worth picking up on in writing so that I can append information resources for the interested. As well as this I have found composing writing as a good way of digesting complex issues that need to be addressed. Akala raises the point that racism and xenophobia is too complicated a question to be dealt with in simple ways with much of the focus being put on individual acts of prejudice rather than examining the structural realities and the psycholinguistics at work in society.
Culturally I think that we have a real problem in facing up to the realities of structural violence and inequality. In a different context I was doing some work in an established institution raising issues about homelessness and drug use where I was told that there will be no discussion about structural issues. I saw this as a deciding factor in not continuing my work there. Relating this experience to the kind of experience that individuals having been facing with the Home Office in light of the Windrush Scandal and the Hostile Environment policies, it makes me very worried for the country.
Redirecting attention to individual acts of prejudice can act as a misdirection. This brings to mind the likes of the Scottish anthropologist James George Frazer who wrote about the religious belief of the scapegoat (amongst many things) in his early anthropological work The Golden Bough. It seems that the same kind of dynamic can be observed daily in our present day culture just wrapped in different garbs.
Akala points out that racism and discrimination is more insidious than these neat suggestions of outlier bad apples and suggests that it requires a historical view to understand the difference between individual bias and structural bias and privilege. A deep introspection of the idea of Great Britain and empire is required to understand the psychological legacies which have helped inform the institutional culture we have now. He raises the historical point that we can look at a map of the world to see what countries Great Britain has not invaded – here is the map below; the pink countries are all those which have been invaded by Britain and the purple ones are the countries which have not:
This map was put together by Joe Vesey-Byrne and featured in The Independent newspaper and provides the opportunity to download the dataset
The point that Akala was making was the idea of Great Britain was intimately tied to this idea of empire highlighting the racism we find in Rudyard Kipling. He alludes to the poem he wrote in 1899 called ‘The White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands‘. Kipling gave the poem to Theodore Roosevelt with the aim persuade anti-imperialist Americans to back the territorial annexation of the Philippine Islands. Here is the text:
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
Take up the White Man’s burden—
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain.
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.
Take up the White Man’s burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
Take up the White Man’s burden—
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go make them with your living,
And mark them with your dead!
Take up the White Man’s burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
“Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you.
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Have done with childish days—
The lightly profferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!
We can see the writing casts the “white race” as superior and morally obliged to “civilise” the worlds “non-white” peoples, encouraging their economic, social, and cultural progress through imposition of colonial settlements. The entire rejection, disbelief and denial of the ancient and advanced cultures of colour is a lasting legacy internalised in the structures we find extant in the United Kingdom by virtue not just of the inequality but also of the outright ignorance of the citizenship of people of colour as a part of British society.
The ignorance of the contributions to society from people of colour is usually marked by silence, if not plain devaluation. Michel-Rolph Trouillot writes a brilliant analysis of how power operates in the making and recording of history in his book ‘Silencing The Past: Power And The Production Of History’: “The making of archives involves a number of selective operations:
Akala brings historical perspective to the question of structural racism in Britain asking “do we have the same institutional disparities in rates of imprisonment that they have in America ? yes ! Absolutely we do. Do we have the same disparities in terms of those dying in police custody ? Yes ! Indeed we do!”. So looking out at the United States and seeing what is happening there has bearing on what is in situ in Britain. Seth Meyers offers some good critical journalism on the responses which are happening there to yet another death in police custody…
Returning to Britain
Akala (in the earlier video) points out some of the worrying trends of contemporary British policy and action. His discussion is trying to unpack the systemic manifestations of xenophobia which manifest as racism and prejudice. He points out that in 2011 we loved Libyans so much we wanted to bomb democracy into them, and less than five years later people fleeing the same conflict are being left to drown at sea rather than being helped into refuge.
At the same time we are seeing a toxic press in which a national newspaper gives space to Kate Hopkins referring to asylum seekers as cockroaches… Akala points out that when you refer to humans as cockroaches that is a mandate for murder. We should be clear about that – the moment human beings become non-human is a mandate for murder.
The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights shared this view as was reported on in The Independent newspaper by Jon Stone. They stated that Katie Hopkins and the tabloid coverage of immigration is causing direct loss of life in the Mediterranean. There is a societally toxic media machine at work which cannot be equated with knowledge but more with perverse propaganda polarising communities. The way that immigration is being spun by media and politicians (many of whom are writing in the media) is casting Britain as the ultimate destination and intaker of these displaced diaspora.
If we review the media by the characteristics of other organisational entities we can understand it as a type of bureaucracy especially in this period where large stretches of newspaper and news coverage are owned by small numbers of people. Hence the centralised nature of the deployment of views, opinions and perspectives has become specious and unrepresentative; the fourth estate has in many places become pathological influencing populations and recreating social problems.
In academia and medicine (by my own witnessing) individuals have expressed active fear of what the Daily Mail does to people and lines of reasoning; this kind of disproportionate power has the worrying hallmarks of what Prof Gerald Caiden identifies as public maladministration and bureaucratic corruption. It seems that many media outlets start witch hunts rather than reveal them – ‘witch hunt’ here being used in the sense largely of the femicides which took place in the 15th century. Many journalists themselves should be investigated as ideologized weapons of mass corruption.
When we take a closer look what are the countries which are taking most refugees in we dont find Britain mentioned in the top ten countries on any measure. Here is an information graphic from Amnesty International showing the real numbers and contextualising the real involvement of Britain in offering refuge:
Institutional Racism Shaping Cultures of Policy
The manipulation of public perception around immigration plays on the xenophobic impulses latent in populations and awoken by uncertainty and fear. Creating such climates divides communities and they become plastic to strong messaging used for ulterior motives. An example of this kind of political manoeuvring came about with the invention of the ‘War on Drugs’ by the infamous Nixon administration and adopted by governments across the world.
In 1994 Dan Baum interviewed Richard Nixon’s (tricky dick) domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman about the politics of drugs prohibition. Baum published later in 2016 in Harper’s Magazine revealing:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
This criminalisation of large populations for lifestyle issues has its roots in ideological racism. It is hard to believe that this exists to this day where drug users are demonised rather than given support however it has taken hold of politics around the world to gain political ground through use of divisive ‘wedge issues’. This may be startling to believe but a further piece of senate history reinforces that these kinds of human rights breaches happen at institutional levels to set in motion cultures of xenophobia.
The ‘War on Drugs’ comes from the same period of time when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was embodying institutional racism by running Counter Intelligence Program (shortened to Cointelpro) to undermine the Black Civil Rights movement. Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover had issued directives ordering agents to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the activities of movements thought ‘subversive’ including women’s rights organizations, anti-war campaigners, civil rights movements, environmental protection activists, animal rights organizations, the American Indian Movement, the communist party and organisations like the Ku Klux Klan.
Authors of the investigative journalism book ‘The COINTELPRO Papers Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Domestic Dissent’ Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall argue that the “Bureau’s dealings with the klan, its purpose seems all along to have been not so much to destroy the klan and related groups as to gain control of them in order to use them as surrogate forces against the left.“
[Churchill, W., & Vander, W. J. (2002). The COINTELPRO papers: Documents from the FBI’s secret wars against domestic dissent. Boston, MA: South End Press. Page 335]
Thus, toxic activities such as psychological warfare in 1964 of FBI agents attempting to provoke the suicide of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr were revealed eventually in 1971 when the ‘Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI’ broke into an FBI field office in Pennsylvania, taking a number of records before exposing the operation by sharing the documents with news agencies.
In 1975 Congressman Don Edwards made a statement which included “I suggest that the philosophy supporting COINTELPRO is the subversive notion that any public official, the President or a policeman, possesses a kind of inherent power to set aside the Constitution whenever he thinks the public interest, or “national security” warrants it. That notion is postulate of tyranny”. This brought about the creation of the ‘Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate’ to publicly investigate and reveal what had been taking place.
The Use of Different Language for Different People
The colour of people’s skin seems to colour the use of certain people’s language. As Akala picks up, Boris Johnson goes to Australia and declares that we are all culturally the same, but this seems to be ignorant of the Aboriginal cultures which have been white washed there. Inherent in the language seems to be the classification of white people as ex-pats and non-white people as immigrants.
“…when we say immigrants if we go to a border control and we’re going to look at who’s there it’s not a bunch of white people from New Zealand; so we have structural forms of privilege and bias that are much more insidious and much more difficult to overcome. And the reaction to Africans and Asians coming here post-world War two to rebuild the country after the Queen’s German cousins bombed it – the reaction to them was one of general hatred. It’s illogical; these people who had formerly been colonised by Britain had fought in both world wars – India gave 2.5 million volunteers for those who don’t know – when we talk about being saved by America when we should talk about being saved by India and Russia that would be a bit more accurate, but that’s a bit inconvenient.”
Akala lays bare the orientation and dynamic of the historical accounts which are privileged and taught over the silenced facts. Professor Humayun Ansari OBE gives a detailed account of what was the largest all volunteer army in history bringing 2.5 million souls to the second world war from India. This collosal fact seems to be neglected in a large proportion of accounts of the conflict as well as the convenient ommission of Russia’s 8,668,400 military deaths as reported by the Russian Ministry of Defense. The popular accounts which are privileged in the UK are ones which almost entirely composed of Britain saving Europe and America saving Britain. Here we find suspicious narratives of exclusion which show up with a little research.
Akala: “The reaction to those people and their descendants has been one that is about structural bias and privilege; the greatest metaphor for this might be Canary Wharf in Tower Hamlets. So if you look at that predominantly Bengali community that has to look at Canary Wharf every day, how many of those people work in Canary Wharf other than to clean toilets ?”
The Fairness Commission published a report called ‘Tower Hamlets: Time to Act; Is Tower Hamlets Rich or Poor ?‘ wherein they report “The very wealthy and the very poor predominate in Tower Hamlets, with little bridging them economically or socially. At its worst, this represents a kind of bi-polar world in which two distinct groups are separated as much by psychological or cultural space as by physical or spatial barriers….the inequality of the borough is most stark when considered geographically…The higher household incomes are concentrated overwhelmingly around Canary Wharf and the City Fringe”
Akala: “I suppose what I’m saying saying is that there is there is bias and bigotry everywhere in the world. The country my grandparents come from…it’s pretty much generally accepted that they don’t like gay people; but what’s interesting is that race even plays a role in that. In Jamaica we have disgraceful homophobia; no one ever says it’s because of Christian fundamentalism – even though it is justified and explicitly in Christian fundamentalist terms….because only Muslims do bad stuff because of their religion, because we know almost all the Muslims in the world of brown whereas when a German wings pilot crashes and kills 150 people deliberately or the man in Norway killed nearly 90 people – I was in Australia when that happened – this is our uniform the agreement is that white people be portrayed differently…”
He goes on “…the Australian media referred to Anders Breivik as having ‘terrorists-like tactics’… I want you to think about that – this guy had killed almost hundred people and he’s just ‘almost a terrorist’, [Frankie Boyle – and he’d written a crazy thing about Muslims], oh I mean he was a terrorist by any standard. The idea that ‘white is right’ is in just a European idea it’s an idea that has had insidious implications because no matter what, the 700 people that were left to drown off the coast of the Mediterranean – were they white human beings they wouldn’t have been left to drown and they certainly wouldn’t be called cockroaches.”
Frankie Boyle: “Casual discrimination isn’t exclusive to Britain – what gets me about it is we have this whole talk during the election about this Australian point system – let’s be more like Australia – Australia is one of the most racist countries in the world. And also they’re putting forward the idea that black people don’t belong in their country when all the white people get skin cancer and the original people were black; I mean they were treated as flora and fauna [Akala: Until 1967 they were legally classified as flora and fauna, yeah, plants and animals]”
“Yeah so I mean this is what we’re supposed to aim at and there’s nowhere in the election campaign from what I’ve seen that’s said Australia’s not a good model. [Akala: Well this is who Boris Johnson says we’re culturally similar to, so at least he’s been honest about at least his section of British society”
The Dehumanisation of Non-White Peoples
It is worth creating a transcript of the conversation between Akala and Frankie Boyle because of the clear points which are being made. The prejudiced thinking and bias which is baked into our power structures must be accounted for, discussed, brought out from the silences and challenged. The challenges which arise – Like Christopher Hitchens suggests – must be paid attention to, investigated and clarified.
It is worth revisiting and thinking about the work of Eunice Cooper and Marie Jahoda on cognitive dissonance and how prejudiced people respond to anti-prejudice propaganda where they identified the strategies by which the test subjects managed the conflicting mental accounts (Identification Avoided – The Message Made Invalid – Changing the Frame of Reference)
Examining the notion that ‘Australian aboriginals were treated as flora and fauna in Australia before 1967’ we can find an interesting counterpoint arising on the internet and in media sources. Specifically Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News published an article called ‘Fact check: Were Indigenous Australians classified under a flora and fauna act until the 1967 referendum?’
In the article they lay out the question as if in a court, titling it with the prime of ‘Fact Check’ and structuring the discourse in ordered sections of ‘The Claim’, ‘The Verdict’, ‘Who Else Has Made This Claim ?’.
The article begins:
“A regularly repeated claim in public debate is that Indigenous Australians were covered by a flora and fauna act, which did not classify them as human beings, and that this only changed when the constitution was amended following the 1967 referendum. For at least the past 10 years, academics, media commentators and Aboriginal people, including an Indigenous MP, have claimed this to be true. Watch Ms Clanton make the claim on ABC TV’s Q&A Watch Ms Clanton make the claim on ABC TV’s Q&A Most recently, the Indigenous actor Shareena Clanton said on ABC TV’s Q&A program: “My mother was born in 1965 and she was not considered a human being until the referendum came through from the flora and fauna act in 1967.”
In their section ‘The Verdict’ they lay out: “Ms Clanton’s claim is a myth. Aboriginal people in Australia have never been covered by a flora and fauna act, either under federal or state law. But despite several attempts by various people to set the record straight, the myth continues to circulate, perhaps because, as one academic told Fact Check, it “embodies elements of a deeper truth about discrimination”.
This seems to be reiterated in other places of the web, for example in Quora where ABC News is referred to as ‘Fact Check’. In the Quora forum the second response to the query is given as “No. The Australian Constitution, which came into force in 1901 when Australia became a country, treats all humans as equals. Despite The erroneous insinuation that Aboriginals were treated as flora & fauna stems from the old outback missions, whereby Aboriginals were given schooling, shelter, etc, in trying to get them, to assimilate into modern Australia. The Australian Government department that administered these also administered the environment, hence the tenuous link.”
There is a third response in Quora as well offering “No. This began as a bit of gallows humor among well informed Indigenous activists. Being such as good story it took on a life of its own.” In context I am going to make my analysis by first examining what a census represents, secondly by identifying the legal framework that covered the society, and thirdly by looking at some sources on racial dehumanisation.
A typical understanding of a census is “An official count of the population of a particular area, such as a district, state, or nation. The U.S. Constitution requires that a census of the entire population, citizens and noncitizens alike, be made every ten years”. The Australian legal system is based on Common Law as is found throughout most of the nations of the Commonwealth.
The 1967 referendum was to make specific changes to the Autralian Constitution. The change being discussed has been summarized as “And the extraordinary clauses that follow (ordinarily referred to as “heads of power”) list most of the legislative powers of the federal parliament. The amendment deleted the text in bold from Clause xxvi (known as the “race” or “races” power):
The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”
So we can see that the Aboriginal peoples were not being counted as a part of the Australian population and that ‘special laws’ were being used to in terms of governance to them. If they were not being counted as a part of the population what are we to understand their perceived identity as ? Were they being treated and regarded as full and unequivocal citizens of Australia ? No. Were the Aboriginal peoples reduced to less than human and treated not as human beings but as animals ? I will present a line of argument which suggests yes. As a primer I will turn to an excerpt from Graham Huggan’s book ‘Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism, Transnationalism’ to texture the cultural context in which Aboriginal peoples found themselves:
“Racism in Australia has a long and undistinguished history. Early relations between Aborigines and white settlers were characterized by the often extreme racial antagonism that is a staple of violent frontier societies, occasionally leavened by the type of moralizing Christian sentiment that permitted itself to express sympathy for the unfortunate natives without doubting for a moment that they belonged to an inferior, quite possibly a dying, race. By convicts, Aborigines were seen as targets for retributive anger at the system that constrained them; by pastoralists, as a direct threat to the land they considered rightfully their own; by missionaries, as an opportunity for the religious conversion that would no doubt assist in civilizing them; by philanthropists, as a test-case for the humanistic ideals of Enlightenment thought.
Colonial racial attitudes were by no means uniform or historically consistent. But they often set into readily identifiable patterns shaped by the primitivist myths and stereotypes derived from European philosophy and literature, especially travel writing; by anxious debates about slavery and post-Civil War US society; by alarmed reactions to the Indian Mutiny of 1857; and, perhaps above all, by arguments taken from social Darwinism about unequal competitors in the struggle for existence and the deadly threat that mixed bloodlines posed to racial purity and national health…
After Federation (the process by which the six separate British self-governing colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia agreed to unite and form the Commonwealth of Australia), anti-Asian sentiment, in particular, was to harden into the notorious White Australia policy, explicitly designed to prevent non-European migrants from entering the country. Anti-Asianism was further stoked by invasion fears (the so-called ‘Yellow Peril’) and war-fuelled perceptions of Australia as a continent under threat (Walker 1999). Overt racial discrimination continued well into the post-Second World War period: the White Australia policy, instituted with the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, was to continue until at least mid-century, while Aborigines were only recognized in the national census in 1971.
The move from protectionist to assimilationist policies arguably exchanged one set of paternalistic pieties for another. In many Aboriginal communities, mortality and imprisonment rates were high, educational and employment opportunities low, and poverty endemic. Grave human rights abuses—deaths in custody, serial rape, the forced removal of Aboriginal children—were systematically suppressed, Aboriginal workers were routinely mistreated, and the road to indigenous selfdetermination remained, for the most part of the century, firmly blocked”
Huggan argues in his book that ‘Racism…is not just a national phenomenon; rather, it is an effect of the complex transnational network of capitalist-inspired social relations that structures our contemporary world’. Michel-Rolph Trouillot highlights some interesting historical reflections on financially inspired cultural changes of the Enlightenment in his examination of the production of history:
“Voltaire, notably, was racist, but often opposed slavery on practical rather than moral grounds. So did David Hume, not because he believed in the equality of blacks, but because, like Adam Smith, he considered the whole business too expensive. Indeed, in France as in England, the arguments for or against slavery in formal political arenas were more often than not couched in pragmatic terms”
[Trouillot, M.-R., & Carby, H. V. (2015). Silencing the past: Power and the Production of History. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, Page 80]
This kind of argument exists in new forms where the economic worth of people who are migrating is valued over their human dignity and human rights; this is especially so when refugees are treated and described as “breaking into Britain” as “illegals” – a current trend in the psycholinguistics of a xenophobic UK government of 2020.
I am going to draw focus back to how the Aboriginal peoples were ‘set into readily identifiable patterns shaped by the primitivist myths and stereotypes derived from European philosophy and literature’ as Huggan wrote above…
The toxic legacies of European philosophy and literature, like so many cases of racism, prejudice and corruption get obscured and hidden away by exorcised histories leaving us with cyphers of deeper enquiries which constitute the historians craft. It is uncomfortable to come to terms with wrongs perpetuated; both from the point of view of those who have received the harms and from the position of the perpetrators. However it is precisely this kind of excavation of more truthful accounts of what humanity is capable of that I would argue is imperative to arrive at better civilisations and evolution. We are doomed to repetition and have our own prejudices visited on ourselves without placing a restorative honesty central.
For all the positive achievements which are associated with European thinking, there are also to be found the pathologies – the things which are causing misery, suffering and disease. Central in this is the dehumanization of ‘othered’ people and significant in this deficient way of seeing is racism and xenophobia. I am going to draw on the excellent textbook ‘Humanness and Dehumanization’ edited by Edited by Paul G. Bain, Jeroen Vaes, and Jacques-Philippe Leyens. I feel this textbook and its collection of authors has special importance if we are to acknowledge and get beyond the primitive behaviours of prejudice and racism.
Without being able to reproduce the whole text here, as much as I would like, I will be drawing heavily from ‘An Anthropological History of Dehumanization From Late-18th to Mid-20th Centuries’ by Gustav Jahoda to illustrate the historical legacy of dehumanizing non-white peoples by drawing their direct comparison to animals.
After my recommendation for the reader to get this book themselves and gain the benefit of the complete text, these illustrations will serve the purpose of review and educating (drawing out) my argument for identifying racism in respect of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia as culturally associating them with animals.
Jahoda divides the chapter into several sections including:
- The Beginnings of Scientific Racism in the Late- 18th and Early 19th-Centuries
- The Spotlight Starts to Focus on European “Races” as Well as Exotic Ones
- “Savages” as Animals and Children
- The Mythology of Superior and Inferior European Races
- Racism in the 20th Century
- Apishness and Childishness
- Intra-European Racism in the 20th Century
“Edward Long, a planter and judge in Jamaica, wrote a History of Jamaica (1774) in which he developed the thesis that Blacks do not just constitute a species intermediate between humans and apes but are closer to the latter. A famous case was that of the so-called “Hottentot Venus,” a Sanid (Bushman) woman who was exhibited in England and then, in 1814, in Paris where she later died. Cuvier examined her and compared various parts of her anatomy respectively to those of monkeys, an orangutan, and female mandrills. Her remains were preserved, and later the prominent neurologist Gratiolet studied her brain and declared it to be very similar to that of an idiot (her remains were repatriated to South Africa in 2002).
In Britain, a similar line was taken by the anatomist Sir William Lawrence, who wrote that “in all particulars just enumerated, the Negro structure approximates unequivocally to that of the monkey” (1819, p. 363). In the following decades, a series of empirical investigations were conducted, which usually though not invariably were said to confirm the apelikeness of Blacks.
Probably the most influential advocate of this view was Carl Vogt, a famous German-Swiss naturalist after whom a street is still named in Geneva. In his Lectures on Man (1864), he put forward a theory about a missing link between the Negro and the ape, which he identified as microcephalous human idiots. He made a long and detailed series of comparisons between Germans, whom he saw as the highest type of humans, and the Negro. Much like Cuvier, but even more so, he went through practically every part of the Negro body, commenting on its “simiousness.”…
…It should be noted that Vogt largely confined his comments to males, which he regarded as conservative since he reckoned that the female is always nearer the animal type…
…Far from being unusual at the time, such a view was in fact widespread and long remained so. For instance, Gustave LeBon, disciple of the great anatomist and anthropologist Broca and known for his classic work on crowd behavior, could write as follows: “All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women … recognise today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and are much closer to children and savages than to adult civilised man” (LeBon, 1881, Vol. 2, p. 157).
The bracketing of “children and savages” was common then, implying that “savages” are less than adult humans. This stereotypical image of the savage can be traced back to the Spanish conquest, when American Indians were described as being like 6- or 7-year-old children. However, the trope was rather infrequent prior to the 18th century, when it took on a rather different significance.
Enlightenment thinkers believed in the progressive evolution of societies from savagery to civilization. Hence the savage state was seen as that of the childhood of humanity, and Lord Kames made the comparison explicit, suggesting that “as, with respect to individuals, there is a progress from infancy to maturity, so there is a similar progress in every nation from its savage state to its maturity in arts and sciences” (1779, Vol. 2, pp. 468–469). This did not necessarily entail the view that individual savages were childlike…
…The beginning of the 19th century saw the rise of biology as a science (the term originated at that period), and some naturalists like the great Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) claimed to have discovered a relationship in animals between certain anatomical features and intelligence. The notion was then extended to human races, which led to the idea that there are degrees of humanity. This simple explanation of race differences had a wide appeal, first in the context of slavery and later in that of colonialism.
Explorers and travelers commonly reported that indigenous peoples were like children, as for instance the famous Richard Burton: “The negro … mentally remains a child, and is never capable of a generalisation” (Burton, 1864, Vol. 2, p. 203). Subsequently, colonialists found it convenient to adopt this topos and saw themselves as paternally caring for colonial peoples who needed their guidance. Accordingly, the notion of the biologically determined inferiority of the “others” became the dominant scientific doctrine.
There were some, like Theodor Waitz (1821–1864) or Adolf Bastian (1826–1905), who rejected biological racism and proclaimed “psychic unity,” but they were in a small minority. Another group of important thinkers were the social evolutionists, inheritors of the Enlightenment tradition, who taught that the development of humanity paralleled that of individual development from childhood to maturity. Yet they were influenced by the prevailing ethos, and Herbert Spencer (1829–1903) wrote: “Children are ever dramatizing the lives of adults; and savages … similarly dramatize the actions of their civilized visitors” (Spencer, 1877, Vol. 1, p. 102).”
Jahoda serves to remind us of a thick catalogue of dehumanising perspectives which were exported through the influence of European society and coloniality. Intelligence testing and eugenics have long been linked, the combination of the two has lead to mass sterilisation and scientifically validated racism. (https://behavioralscientist.org/psychologists-go-war/)
The prejudice we can find in history is by no means a thing of the past and is found manifestly in action in our contemporary times. An example of this can be seen in the work of Christopher Brand who published ‘The G Factor: General Intelligence and Its Implications’ which articulates views that blacks were genetically less intelligent than whites and orders a hierarchy of races in this manner. In the preface to his book he wrote:
“On February 29th, 1996, this book, The g Factor, was published in the UK. by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. of Chichester. Several weeks later, on April 14th, London newspaper reports of interviews with me began to appear saying I thought Black people had a lower average IQ than did Whites; and that, since I thought psychology and race had deep links, probably substantially genetic, I had agreed I could be called a ‘scientific’ – though not a common-or-garden – ‘racist’.”
Science and especially genetics offers a medium for recreating the ideologies of the past that placed one set of people above another so long as it remains a closed shop. Never was there a creature which had a greater power to convince itself of its own specialness at the same time as its own magnanimity than homo sapiens. The over professionalisation and financialisation of knowledge production represents a continuation of the hegemonic structures that have patterned human culture since one human realised they could gain a kind of prosperity by seeing its neighbour fail. All the time we should be guarded against the buying into of marketing of image, hyperbole and plain lies.
An exemplar for this kind of deceitful doublethink approach in public life is Donald Trump. In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon Trump stated “I am the least racist person that you have ever met, I am the least racist person”. He has become infamous for the saying of one thing whilst doing another as well as confusing people with complete nonsense. There is a Russian word which is used for this kind of deception ‘maskirovka‘ which implies deceit and concealment.
If you have not seen the Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman I would recommend it as an important historical document of our time. It follows the true story of the 2014 memoir ‘Black Klansman’ by Ron Stallworth. In it Ron Stallworth, a black man infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan as a police investigation. What is appended to the end of the film is some footage of ‘White Lives Matter’ rallies in the United States along with Trump commenting on far right race incidents. Essential watching for anyone who has heard the affectations of policy statements that we live in a post-racial context.
The publicity of the neoliberal paradigm is saturated with magical thinking (unrealistic statements) consigning large social, ecological, and economic problems as a ‘thing of the past’. Prof Kalwant Bhopal talks about such myth making in her book aptly named ‘White privilege: The myth of a Post-Racial Society’:
“This book focuses on exploring how race operates as a form of disadvantage in modern-day society. It argues that individuals from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, by virtue of their racial identity, are positioned as outsiders in a society that values whiteness and ‘white privilege’. The main argument of the book is that within a neoliberal context policy making in its attempt to be inclusive has portrayed an image of a post-racial society, when in reality vast inequalities between white and black and minority ethnic communities continue to exist. Policy making has exacerbated rather than addressed the inequalities which result from processes of racism, exclusion and marginalisation in which white identities are prioritised and privileged above all others.”
[Bhopal, K., & Alibhai-Brown, Y. (2018). White privilege: The myth of a post-racial society. Page 1]
When the Black Lives Matter protests started in Britain we saw the tearing down of icons of slavery as happened in Bristol. Demonstrators tore down the statue of Edward Colston and threw it into the harbour, a man who had made fortunes from trafficking approximately 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas during the 17th Century.
This kind of public reaction is repeated after people are feeling uncomfortable with the glorification of profoundly unethical figures who made their loot from the misery and suffering of others. What kind of culture puts visible accolades to individuals who have perpetrated and perpetuated heinous violations of human rights ? The simple responses which have come are to say that it is not healthy to try to revise history, however, these signifiers in our landscape promote skewed narratives of history omitting the distasteful realities that their privilege was built upon.
Prof Doug Cairns in Edinburgh University has written about his thoughts on calls for the renaming of the David Hume tower of the university due to Hume’s holding of racist beliefs. In an article he wrote for Ragged Uni Prof Cairns points out that for him there are more pressing issues of racism at work in the structures of the university coming from the implementation of 2014 Immigration Act. He points to this as an example of institutionalized racism and prejudice which should be foregrounded.
One approach in Edinburgh has been proposed to include the omitted history on such prominent monuments. Henry Dundas, after which Dundas Street in Edinburgh was named was a primary figure involved in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade because of the wealth which he and others were deriving from the practice. Adam McVey of the Council said it was important to show the good and the bad of Edinburgh’s story, and maybe that is one answer, to use these as instruments of teaching the appauling histories which have been obfuscated by elevation on pedestals.
Maybe another is to remove them from privileged places and put them in museums in context with the effect they have had on the world. People are correctly offended in my opinion to have this kind of propagandising kitsch littering the landscape. Boris Johnson announced the creation of (yet) another commission to address inequality in the UK after the Black Lives Matter protest arrived at his doorstep. Politically there is an expression of ‘to long grass an issue which is used in the sense of “to delay a decision or course of action indefinitely”….
The response to this was it was a manoeuvre to long grass the issues by setting in motion a lengthy enquiry process which brings to mind the saying ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. David Lammy who is the Shadow secretary of state for justice and shadow lord chancellor gave an interview on the BBC saying Johnson’s article was “written on the “back of a fag packet yesterday to assuage the Black Lives Matter protest”.
Lammy emphasised that had there had already been numerous reviews and a backlog of recommendations from these reviews which had not been implemented. He said:
“In the Lammy review I made 35 recommendations – implement them. There are 110 recommendations in Elish Angiolini’s review of deaths in police custody – implement them. There are 30 recommendations in the Home Office [Lessons Learned] Wendy Williams review into the Windrush scandal – implement them. 26 recommendations were made in the Baroness McGregor report on workplace discrimination – implement them. It feels like we’re going around in circles. Yet again we seem to want figures and data but not action. The Prime Minister has buried his article behind the paywall in the Telegraph amid loads more stuff about Churchill. You’re the Prime Minister, do something!”
This section finishes with an aggregation of David Lammy’s suggestion of several parliamentary reports commissioned by the House of Commons which have highlighted recommendations the authors felt necessary if we are to reach towards an equitable democratic society in Britain. It strikes me as one of many constructive starting points for action to reach into the long grass and take ownership of the already identified tasks to hand.
The Lammy Rebuke
The following document and section is a series of recommendations which have been aggregated from multiple ‘race reviews’ carried out by the Houses of Commons after emerging scandals of racism in Britain. I created this document to assist those who want to at very least look at the parliamentary evidence and resultant recommendations of the UK on racism.
Original Document Hyperlinks
The Lammy Review: An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System by David Lammy
Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody
by Rt. Hon. Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC
Windrush Lessons Learned Review
Independent review by Wendy Williams
Race in the workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review
by Baroness McGregor-Smith CBE
Creepy Dissent of Just Issues and Myopia
To not take time to reflect, think and internalise change at a personal level surely embodies a myopic ignorance in the face of overwhelming evidence that there is something significantly pathological (meaning illness causing) at play in British and American societies. Large populations are punished for their not having privilege and resources whilst small populations are privileged in democracy defacing ways; this leads to a cruel society that stunts the finer aspects of what human beings are capable of.
I am asked by a friend in my reflecting on these issues about why I am an ally in civil rights and recognising the wrongs done to people of colour through ignorance ? How do I see racism affecting me ? My instinctual answer is that I dislike and worry about societies which are not based on equity. It affects us all and my belief is that just as one honesty leads to another, one prejudice begets another.
Racism, along with other forms of ignorance, leads to a harmful distortion of life which results in people suffering. That suffering is horrifying and so examining that horror is impressed on me as a duty I am involved in to question. Socrates is written to have said ‘Evil is a result of ignorance’; I don’t want to be a part of extending a long history of a human capacity to ignore harms which are going on.
Taking time to be a part of this questioning necessarily starts with the personal and works towards the global with the hopes of offering an authentic reflection on the everyday and the institutional. I have written this to bring together a variety of conversations and learnings which have exercised me as an individual to hopefully think – and ultimately act – in more conscientious ways. This can only happen through searching for and confronting ones own myopias with a preparedness for discovering that one has been acting to reinforce prejudice, inequality and racism. This involves searching the silences as well as the actions and statements – a lot of evil (ignorance) is passed through conspiring to be silent.
This written piece is filled with the partial understandings of someone who has not experienced firsthand the incalculable problems which many have had to live with and as such feels an emptiness which cannot be filled. Just as it is absurd to get a man to dictate the world as encountered by a woman, the rich to lay down the understandings of the poor, the straight community to articulate what life is for those who are gay, it is deeply absurd to me to look towards the thinkers of white dominant culture for the solutions and remedies to race prejudice. The sources of wisdom which are needed are to be found in those who have been silenced and undermined, if not killed, assaulted, and exploited.
This I feel is a sad truth about coming to terms with travesty and tragedy that proposes the best to come of a bad lot is commit to trying to embody a better future, one which does not repeat the ailments known in the past and one which we dont absolve ourselves from.
I am grateful to the good souls which promote steadfastness in the face of such unease helping to navigate the unspeakable and orient means for negotiating the shock of our own species, one which is eminently capable of great things but at points significantly does horrifying things.
Existential Assault, Everyday Racism and Microaggressions in Context
It is troubling to hear the incredulity which is expressed at ‘wokeness’ and political correctness identifying it as an assault on their personal freedoms. Woke in the Mirriam Webster Dictionary carries the meangin “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”. Often humour can be used as a set of blinkers behind which lazy assumptions can be sat. John Cleese publicly criticised political correctness as “stifling” creativity – saying there is no such thing as a “woke joke”….hmmmm….
Into my head comes a sketch from the comedian Stewart Lee who said “…and what is political correctness ? It is an often clumsy negotiation towards a sort of formally inclusive language and there are all sorts of problems with it but it is better than what we had before…”…”
Casual dismissal of individuals and cultures who have been harmed by a society feels like a complicity of silence dressed up as statements like “why are you taking things so seriously ? We all like a good laugh…”; what is worrying is when the conversational space is taken up in the stead of something more important. Good comedy is a skilled thing and pulling off the edgy stuff is tricky; it requires skill and understanding as well as the right intention – since primary school years I have understood not to mistake sensationalism for clever humour having witnessed it to disguise prejudices which are ingrained in cultures and people’s actions. The kind of venting that happens through shit comedy I encounter as a kind of social pollutant – boring and pernicious, thoughtless; lacking any craft.
There is a collection of histories that make me feel uncomfortable and slightly ill due to their undercurrents which I have no doubt are functioning to produce a sort of troll behaviour that confuses divisive iconoclasticism with intelligent discussion at best, and plain hatefulness and suffering at worst. There seems to have emerged a series of easy-to-hand attacks which the lazy can volley out into the world when they’ve become disinhibited by a drink or feel an angst to weaponise constructive concepts – concepts which seek remedies to division, inequity and conflict.
Steven Rose writes about the weaponization of the word ‘Woke’ (a term which has its roots in African-American English in civil rights matters) in a Guardian article; this kind of recasting of language and ideas feels Orwellian to me. I mean Orwellian in the quotable sense:
“Newspeak, doublethink, the mutability [noun: liable or subject to change or alteration. given to changing; constantly changing; fickle or inconstant] of the past. He felt as though he were wandering in the forests of the sea bottom, lost in a monstrous world where he himself was the monster. He was alone. The past was dead, the future was unimaginable. What certainty had he that a single human creature now living was on his side? ” (Page 14, Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell)
People are being berated as ‘snowflakes’, or not ‘manly’ for being ‘hypersensitive’ for things which are ‘just a laugh’ and that ‘should not be taken so seriously’… The popularised flat-pack refrain of ‘Guardian waving liberal’….
Sonia Soans pointed out in this context how the connection between sensitivity and loss of masculinity can be correlated with a response to women’s activism and how women are often depicted to loose their femininity or are hypersensitive and hysterical when casual mysogeny is challenged. Sonia shared a bell hooks (who deliberately spells her name without capital letters) quote that makes a lot of sense:
“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”
There are a number of issues which we should avoid superficially dealing with through a reactive exchange of soundbites; it is important not to let injustices pass by and fade from memory until the next civil rights crisis lands more evidence that something more significant, more measured needs to be done. We should be wary about our collective conversations being brutalised by a Facebook clickbait algorithm of conflict obfuscation or communications mediums becoming reduced to boxes limited to communicating 280 characters.
I have found myself, and seen others, in retreat from the world because of aggressive doubts which are cast independently of the investigation of the issues being raised. These kind of cynicisms and stress enact another in a series of microtraumas which accrue in a conflict riven knot that bruise the mind and heart.
Sonia said “I know it is not easy to stand up against xenophobia, to speak up is to put oneself in the line of fire. It puts one sanity to the test. To feel injustice is bad enough, to challenge it is an exercise in reliving that trauma over and over…people of colour aren’t being over sensitive or imagining hurt.”
It does take a toll on sanity challenging the racist policy of a government such as has been happening in the Windrush scandal. We need a questioning culture and a press that does raise issues; we need a culture which acknowledges its own intellectual life beyond the professionalised, ordained in business and institutions.
We need newspapers like The Guardian that started its life to report on issues of social justice. The Guardian newspaper we know today started as the ‘Manchester Guardian’ after John Edward Taylor witnessed the Peterloo Massacre when a cavalry charged on a peaceful gathering of 60,000 people who were petitioning for the reform of parliamentary representation because rotten boroughs ruled the day in 1819.
In these unsettled times we need to be able to deconstruct the identity politics which is crazymaking at a large scale. Orwellian doublethink is being used to surround valid critical perspectives of problems happening in paradise – back to big Dode (George in English) for this:
“It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ’Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ’doublethink’…Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ’doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.” (Page 19, Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell)
The Last Word: Comments from Sonia Soans
I am endebted to Sonia Soans for reading through and suggesting improvements to this piece of writing and reflective thinking. I look forward to working with her to develop an ongoing focus on xenophobia and getting the chance to learn. To finish this article are the comments of Sonia Soans, a researcher and thinker who has long studied these sociological issues of Xenophobia:
“As a reader of colour I am curious about why you are an ally. How do you see racism affecting you? A little bit about that in the intro will help with your position. Do include the writing of black women and QITPOC. The reason I say this is because in the process of liberating black people, black women and black queers get left behind. Even in liberal writing the imagined subject tends to be male, able bodied heterosexual and cisgender.
For non male black people the struggle is both within the community and outside. Black women face sexism within their communities, which often goes unchallenged as we dont want to feed into racist narratives. Society at large sees violence against us in cultural terms, which becomes a barrier in seeing crime for what it is.
For queer people of colour homophobia and transphobia is similar, it is seen as something that comes from the west, born out of decadence, it is not of our culture. In larger society queerness is largely seen as a product of western liberalism
I don’t know who your intended audience is but if it is British then, bring in more of a British approach to the history of race. Unfortunately, a lot of well known race theory comes from America. Black British history is almost forgotten, which functions to promote the idea that racism in the UK isn’t/wasnt that bad and that racism was limited to individual events as opposed to systemic discrimination by the government.
A case in point is how south asian women entering the UK had their virginity checked:
This happened in a country that prides itself on its liberalism, on being different from the backward global south, yet it enacts policies that it would condemn in other countries. This happened under a labour government. Britain has an amnesia that America doesn’t. The deportations of non white citizens, detention camps ( and the atrocities within them), don’t get the same attention America does.
I like the section with Akala, it could do with some more theory and figures to support yours and his arguments. The section on redwood is good, however, I would say provide a bit of analysis. Try and draw parallels with the UK. Canada has something similar where indigenous women have been disappearing and no one has noticed.
While I know there has been a reaction against Trump, and the Tories for a lot of PoC racist policies have been a feature irrespective of governments. The only reason why these two figures get the attention they do is because they venture into unreasonable claims/language.
Written by Alex Dunedin
Special Thanks to Sonia Soans