How can a handful of people – politicos, media chiefs, business and institutional leaders and downright opponents of equality – manipulate our perspectives on race, and make suckers of us all?
Simple. The new ideologues claim this century’s emerging Black British politicians are radically different from the civil rights and Black Power leaders of the 1960’s. These trendsetters win their elections and appointments by favouring “universal” interests rather than affirmative action policies that can aid Black communities, proponents say.
This dogma fuels the notion that the “race problem” has been transcended. Buttressed by the “Obama phenomenon”, it is said that “Black politics is fading into British politics the same was Jews, long ago, joined the political mainstream. The mood is, “We don’t need to talk about discrimination any more. They’re one of us”. Hence, we have entered a post-racial future.
All is not as it seems
But here’s the sting. When the new acceptable Blacks are elected to a place at the political table, they are said to prove there has been satisfactory progress. However, as in slavery and colonial times, the large mass of Blacks who toil gain little.
Concerns about the post-racial ideology have been widely discussed in weblogs and a flurry of e-mails in America. One posting strikes a chord in Britain. It’s from Linda Burnham on “Obama’s Candidacy: The Advent of Post-Racial America and the End of Black Politics?, H-Afro-Am@H-Net.MSU. EDU).
Importantly, we can garner some clues about the strategies that frame national debates about race and public affairs, and block Black political energies.
How post-racial ideologues control debate
There is “Double-bind racism”, in which anyone who condemns the actual existing racial regime is charged with extremism. Similarly, advocates for anti-racist practices and policies, are accused of being racist, and of ‘playing the race card’ to win special treatment, sympathy and favour.
There is “Dog-whistle racism”, in which racist messages are broadcast through racially coded words and phrases, to reach ears that have been primed and highly attuned to them. (Political leaders that praise “a Britannia of hard-working Britons steeped in British family values and speaking the Queen’s English” are sending a coded message: “Don’t vote for a black”).
Then, there is “Colour-blind racism”, in which supposedly race-neutral policies are used to mask, sustain and defend the unbalanced racial status quo. (The colour-blind assertion –“Who me? I’m not prejudiced; some of my mates are black” — leads many otherwise worthy people to fail to see injustice. It is also the favourite tool used by opponents of affirmative action for racial equality.)
Furthermore, there is “Visually evocative racism”, in which pictures and graphic imagery are purposefully used to trigger deeply embedded racial stereotypes. (Historically, subservient dancing and prancing Golliwogs and “nigger minstrels” served this purpose admirably. So do today’s persistent images of aggressive, menacing Blacks prowling the streets, so popular in the media, television dramas and documentaries).
How racisms are used
End of race ideologues skilfully manipulate four stratagems to control race debates; and here’s how.
· They serve to confuse and divide Blacks from potential allies across race, class and faith lines. They make it difficult build friendly networks with progressive leaders in minority ethnic groups: Africans, Asians, Irish, Jews, Poles, Muslim. The stratagems create false distinctions between the so-called assimiable immigrants of the past and the doubtful integration of the new immigrants, asylum-seekers and economic migrants from Eastern Europe and world regions. (Scholars and Orientalists say this “divide and rule” strategy has proved a useful tool in the colonies and Britain.)
· Furthermore, the proponents of the end of race future throw roadblocks in the drive for racial justice and advocacy initiatives. (Though there are no laws explicitly upholding racial inequity, the stratagems used aim to roll back the fragile gains made by legislation and equal opportunity procedures.
· Proponents use the stratagems to filter out progressive Blacks who take a stand against the status quo. Thus, they undermine the potential influence of anti-racist and empowerment organisations in the corridors and boardrooms of power. (Come back Black political mavericks: Bernie Grant, Claudia Jones, Learie Constantine, and Lord Pitt, and other partisans for a political humanism that embraces rather than excludes Black communities.)
However, what if you could convert opposition to these stratagems into social power? What if you could blunt their impact on the Black body politic? Inadvertently, the end of race ideologues have, in fact, pinpointed many policy issues in which race is a factor. Confronting and overcoming these issues can help us answer the puzzling question: How will we know when post-racial Britain has arrived?
Reading Burnham’s e-mailed article suggests to me that change will not be by benign governance, top-down bureaucratic diktat or heavenly intervention. It will arise from dedicated efforts to define and support political leaders and policies that add genuine social value.
The markers of change will be the end of race-based disparities in health, education, housing, income distribution, and wealth. Changing widely contested police, prosecution, criminal justice and mental health practices, sentencing and incarceration policies will be important milestones, too.
Greatly increased political participation, representation and commitment to social justice are essential hallmarks. There is an excellent opportunity to challenge the habitual pessimism of political pundits and survey researchers, say many observers. Simon Woolley, who heads Operation Black Vote (OBV) has said: “Never before in British history has the black vote been so powerful. In over 70 mostly inner-city seats, such as Battersea, Bristol, and Luton, black communities could determine who wins and who loses”.
Woolley says empowerment campaigners can spell out an agenda for the politics of hope. OBV activists have toured the nation spreading the news of the “Equality in our Lifetime” manifesto along with the 1990 Trust and the National Assembly Against Racism,
When we reach and surpass these milestones, and when the day comes that all Black people are free, secure and can walk the streets everywhere without fear or hindrance, you will know the post-racial society has arrived to stay.
Read more in my article “What’s so “post” about post racism? We’re all right” gaffe by Windrush author deserves vigorous response”, to be published in The_Latest citizens’ journal www.the-latest.com