Posted by: constantinakatsari | February 21, 2010

British and American Racism

This slavery module has got me thinking about how we in Britain see the Americans and their society. Almost ever week without fail someone will blithely assert that there is still racism evident in American society, however I would like to point out that they are the ones who elected a black man to be their President, and over here we elected two members of the BNP to represent us in the European Parliament.

Politics aside, I think that socially, the British are far more racist on the whole than Americans. America is the great melting pot of the Western world. In its short life it has welcomed without much fuss people from every national, racial and social background with open arms. This is a country which proudly claimed “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” American society is defined by immigrant groups from Italy, Germany, Ireland and Britain. African-American culture has influenced many of the greatest musical genres of the last century: from blues to rock and roll, and from soul to rnb and rap.

In Britain the reality is that, despite our long and illustriously mongrel history, we are deep down unwilling to accept those that are different to us. Although none of us are ‘racially pure’ in any sense – being made up as we are of a rich blend of Roman, Anglo-Saxon, ‘Celtic,’ Norse, French and others – we continue to construct prejudices around the (in my opinion) fictional notions of Englishness, Scottishness, Welshness, Britishness or whatever label people put on it. What’s even worse is the awful spread of xenophobia that is far more prevalent in this country than people are willing to admit. The BNP, EDL and others are ugly manifestations of opinions shared by a fairly large chunk of the British population, from working class people resentful of immigrant workers to middle class Daily Mail readers who don’t want coloured people ruining their imagined notion of the pristine suburbia they think they inhabit.

OK, so yeah, there are plenty of people in Britain who are as reviled by the BNP, EDL etc as I am, and I’m sure there are still a good number of nutters in Alabama who think that the KKK were doing a good job. My point is that, in the words of a certain J. Christ, we should take care of the plank in our own eye before criticising the speck in someone else’s (Matt. 7: 1-5 if you were wondering :P)

Stuart McKie

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Responses

  1. Bravo! As an American living in Europe (first in Leicester now in Groningen, NL) I found this a very refreshing point of view! I have been struck by how openly racist many Europeans are, and unashamedly so. I feel like racism in America (which unfortunately does still exist) is kept more under the covers. For example, on a recent Dutch dating TV show, one woman claimed she would only date a “real Netherlander”, by which she meant a white Dutch person not just someone born and raised here. And I am absolutely disgusted to see African footballers booed with monkey chants (which of course should be applied to all of us humans as we are all descended from apes, not just Africans).

    As for xenophobia, I have noticed this myself, and think that the European Union, which was meant to bring people together has instead fostered the spread of xenophobia in Europe. Again, as an example from the Netherlands, my Romanian friend is not allowed to work here because she is Romanian and the Dutch still want to see “what kind of people they are”. Welcome to Europe!

    But xenophobia (and with it racism) is very evident in America as well. I just think at the moment there has been a shift from African Americans to Mexicans and other Latin Americans. Again, like in Britain, the fear is people coming in and taking Americans’ jobs. But let’s get real here. Many of these people are working the jobs that Americans feel are beneath them. And immigrants are wiling to work for less. There is a large population in America that feel it is their birth right to be paid $25+ an hour. And they don’t want to get their hands dirty. The fact of the matter is that many immigrants are extremely hard working and do great work. Why not hire them? If they all left, I think the American economy would collapse – we need them to keep everything going. Or Americans are going to have to revert to a time when having a job was more important than what that job was – something I hope the Global meltdown might instill in people.

    I think the world in general has a long way to go. But I hope one day we can appreciate all walks of life and love each other for our differences rather than spread unnecessary hatred.

  2. While racial attitudes in Europe sometimes appear more backward to me, it would not be hard to point out many manifestations of racism in the US. Take, for instance, the disproportionate number of young black men in prison or the racial imbalance on death row. These two circumstances cannot be reduced to racial bias in our legal system alone, but the circumstance is indeed striking.

    While living in Germany in the 1990s, I felt the same kind of difference to which you speak, and maybe you’re right, but if you want to use Obama as your measure, consider how he is more popular in Europe than in the US, and consider the more positive experience African-American GIs had in Germany than in the Jim Crow American South half a century or more ago, experiences that led them to experience more in the US.

    Sometimes I wonder if the difference between the two continents is less about the level of racism and more about differences in which racetalk manifests itself — or is even perceived.

  3. The last verb in my second paragraph should read “expect.” These GIs came to expect more. (I wish WordPress had an edit feature for commenters.)

  4. Oooo!

    Firstly: You’ve made a common misconception about the EDL. The BNP old guard may well be predominantly racist (although I can say a LOT of new BNP members aren’t). The EDL, despite what newspapers and student groups who get their information from papers say, are not.

    Secondly: I think the handling of New Orleans after the disastor shows just how racist America is. It showed firstly that wealth is still divided based on race. Secondly the poorer areas were left without any support for a LONG time. They got the rich (mainly white) people out first. I think some newspapers made fun of the relief workers saying they were ‘afraid’ to go into the poorer (black) areas. And although nooone likes to talk about it: there are many black people in New Orleans who haven’t been re-housed yet and are still living in tents.

  5. Thats a very interesting point Mr Stoneman: differences in how we ‘talk’ about race….

    I’d never even thought about that so I thank you. That is something to consider.

  6. Yes i agree with David when he points to New Orleans. When my mum said to me ‘you watch all the people will be left are going to be black’ i didn’t believe her until i saw it (i realise there was some whites but the majority werent)! That (hopefully) would never happen in Britain. However racial some small little groups can be, and yes we all don’t really like what the daily mail may preach, but i cant see this comparing to America.

    Bringing it back to slavery idea i think defining a nation’s ideology on race is hard due to the individual nature of the subject. You cant really have a collective ideology for race, like slavery, there is by no means ‘one size fits all’ presumptions on the subject.

    America has an amazing talent of having complete and utter re-births, this re-birth not only makes the internal people look at their nation differently, but also us from the outside, and Obama seems to have been one of these moments. Fair enough the BNP have got seats, but i feel people voted them due to other factors in politics at the time, sure its a bad vote out of vengance, but lets just see if they get any MPs. The fact is that both our histories are covered in racism and slavery and i think one thing which makes us less racial in our society in Britain is the fact that we seem to not forget, when America seems to just move on and forget, brushing it under the carpet trying to show purity, possibly leading them to make the same mistakes in the future.

    Sure sometimes their is what people could call racism in Europe, but is it really? Our nations have been in consistent competion for centuries, it has become inbred into our culture to see ourselves as seperate, this may seem as racism, but i dont think we are. I always see Europe almost like a family, were all the siblings of someone (or something, maybe the Roman Empire?), we want to show ourselves to be the best and always strive to put down the other, but in reality we all are very close in ideology and politics. I believe, even though USA speaks English, i will always feel closer to the continent of Europe over America in national similarities, so i dont think this can be called racism.


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