Some UK Observations on Race in the USA
Following two recent police shootings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri
1 The fact of the domestic mass exploitation of enslaved African people in agrarian production has made an indelible difference to race relations in current USA society when compared with the UK, despite the responsibility of the latter country for instigating the US slave trade and the contemporaneous presence of small numbers of enslaved people and indentured servants based in service capacities in the UK.
In our view, it is no coincidence that of the three credible contenders of African descent forUS presidential office (Obama, Powell, and Rice), two were not of African-American heritage (Obama/Kenyan, Powell/Caribbean).
2 Research suggests that the predominant small-scale slaver group in the Southern states of what is now the USA derived from Protestant Ulster-Scots communities, judged to be the least economically-successful voluntarily immigrant ethnicity in the US , in contrast with the Irish- Catholic community, assessed as being the most successful group.
3 The Klu Klux Klan was apparently originally formed in opposition to Roman Catholics rather than African-Americans. This fact has not led to any identifiable ‘everyday solidarity’ expressed by Irish-American Catholics towards African-Americans, and there are multiple instances of police brutality by members of the former group towards the latter, eg, in early-20th Century Harlem, NYC.
4 The utter invidiousness of the concept of human ownership of another person as property in the slave-owning states should be counterpoised by the utter brutality of the ‘free’ labour market of the non-slaver states, in terms of the disproportionate suffering of the African- American community. This is not to suggest that the former economic arrangement was in any way preferable to the latter.
5 The campaign against slavery in the Southern states was not impelled primarily by moral revulsion, but represented the ascendancy of industrial capital and its need to economically suppress the power of agrarian capital founded on unpaid labour. It could, therefore be described as a form of ‘Industrial Revolution’.
6 The prescriptions of some forms of black nationalism in the USA regarding ethnic economic self-determination has, to a limited extent, been realised in the growth of the African cultural industries. Political power was tactically ceded to the African-American bourgeoisie in a number of major US cities following the 1960s riots, and was ‘mitigated’ from a white-racist perspective by the ‘white flight’ phenomenon from centres of black occupation.
7 Ethnic compositions and distributions in the USA and UK vary markedly. The USA appears, crudely, to be ‘quadrilateral’: white, African-American, Latin-American, and Native American. This of course, does not take account of the particularities of distinct ‘white’ (including Jewish) and Latin-American identities. In contrast, the overall ethnic composition of the UK is extremely diverse, and compositions vary geographically, as of course the latter do in the US ,between say Florida/New Mexico/California/Texas and other states in relation to the Latin-American presence.
In the UK, some cities are effectively bi-ethnic or tri-ethnic (in crude terms, and discounting differences between the various Indian sub-continental communities), while London is possibly the most diverse city in the world, including ‘indigenous’ white, Irish, Caribbean, Indian sub-continent, Arab, South-East Asian, Latin-American, East African, and West African, as well as Jewish and various Eastern European communities.
8 Despite the absence of the ongoing corrosive effects of the historical presence of a substantial domestically-based African enslaved community, police racism in the UK towards people of African-Caribbean descent in particular is endemic and has diminished little against a backdrop of radical changes in wider social attitudes over the last 60 years. In the absence of universal access to firearms (which when they are available are often deployed for these purposes) police murders of (mostly young and male) black people by beating, asphyxiation, etc, continue to be commonplace.
9 There are aspects in which racism in London has moved beyond ‘traditional’ features of the phenomenon, most notably ‘shade-ism’. In some instances, prejudice is based on length of settlement rather than skin colour, according to which, for example, long-resident African-Caribbean families might express ‘drawbridge’ political attitudes towards more recently-settled members of white minorities, such as certain Eastern European groups. Equally, no ‘solidarity of melanin’ that can be assumed, with divisions evident among/between African-Caribbeans, West Africans, and East Africans, for example.
10 Certain legacies of US apartheid, such as racialised musical categories and scant miscegenation, are, if not absent, comparatively rare in the UK. That being said, in effectively bi-ethnic cities in the north of England, there is a palpable separation between the major racial groups.
11 There is a class dimension to white perceptions about attitudes to race, that originates in a lazy and
ill-founded assumption held by many bien-pensant white liberals (explicitly or not) that the white working class
is essentially racist. Although some of the most virulent forms of racism, expressed as neo-fascism and street
violence, do indeed tend to be the province of this group, the true picture is far less simple.Despite an
externally-imposed competition for scarce resources affecting working-class people of all cultures and
ethnicities, and barring proscriptions on mixing from within non-‘indigenous’ communities themselves, the
likelihood of white people forming true affective bonds with members, eg, of the African-Caribbean community,
is far higher among members of the working class. These bonds include those of workplace solidarity, sexual
attraction, love and affection, and the creation of mixed-race children and family structures. In effect, the most
profound, positive links that humans can make with others.
21 August 2014