Thoughtless, xenophobic British racism has never been so relentlessly violent and catastrophic as the institutionalised and rationalised American version, because it is not founded on the memory of monstrous crimes. The history of genocidal slavery and exploitation is continuously present in the United States. It took place right there, on the soil still occupied by the descendants of both perpetrators and victims.
British cultural discourse has managed to distance itself from all this, at least to its own satisfaction, by emphasising the role played by British abolitionists in ending the slave-trade in this country, ignoring its traders’ role in setting up, managing, profiting, and continuing to profit from the business. It’s a bit like awarding terrorists the Nobel Peace Prize for agreeing to stop murdering people, officially, while they are still setting up contract killings abroad.
Such an interpretation of history does justice to no-one, not even the abolitionists, who faced far more resistance and hostility and had to find the resilience to deal with far more defeats and highly compromised achievements than this sunny narrative implies.
However, culture and society are profoundly influenced by the stories their citizens tell themselves. By liberating themselves from their colonial guilt, modern British people can innocently believe in the principle of equality, of equal value and respect in a sort of integrated multi-cultural Britain without a sense that they are condemning themselves. Most of us believe racial distinctions are illusory, fictional, inapplicable in the chaos of millions of individual differences.
Everyone approves of the statement “we have more in common than divides us.” Few believe that division along racial lines is natural, inevitable or desirable
Of course, the statistics deny this happy state of affairs. There is no excuse for allowing racial inequality to persist, for ignoring or being overly lenient of racial persecution and injustice when it occurs.
But it has allowed us to pursue Civil Rights more whole heartedly and without ambivalence, with more consensus and less division than in America, and thus, I’d argue, we have made some progress towards these goals and have derived from our fantasies slightly kinder and more integrated society for a larger proportion of our ethnic minorities.
We still have a long way to go. Racist incidents and attitudes, racial inequality are all far far too common. It is shameful, but we are different from the US, with a different social landscape and history, different problems and, therefore, different solutions.
Attempts to import American models of activism and theory have increased tension and division. Too often, Critical Race Theorists and Social Justice activists have said, recently, that racism and hate-crime is going up.
We can’t assume this is push-back that proves the haters feel threatened. That is narrow-minded self-justification. If our campaigns are increasing hate crimes, they aren’t working. We need to change our tactics.