Ask White people whether racism is acceptable or not, and I guarantee you, the vast majority of them, of us, will tell you very clearly that it is not. Yet it persists; yet it increases; yet it remains consistently unaddressed and pervasive in our society. Why then, with legislation, with initiatives, with the apparent collective will of all people is this the case?
Well, it’s simple really – Whiteness and White perspectives on what, and more significantly, who is intrinsically valuable, or not. We need to be clear here that it is this Whiteness that sustains racism, and it is this Whiteness towards which we – and here I’m talking to White people – must turn a highly critical and deeply honest eye.
First principles though – for any conversation about racial equality/inequality to hold any hope of bearing real fruit, there has to be a genuine and honest acknowledgment by the White people around the table that our society is fundamentally racist and that it is White culture that is the problem. Without this starting premise being explicitly clear and accepted, virtually no progress can be made because one group at the table see the world as it is, and the other group see it through ‘White tinted spectacles.’ These different starting points have historically led to obfuscation, avoidance, and denial by the White group, and their location of the ‘problem’ as being within People of the Global Majority (Note to White readers here, yes, we’re actually the global minority), rather than addressing Whiteness as the cause on racial inequality.
The resulting focus of those who hold the power, and again let’s be clear here that this is a White run society, is consequently discriminatory because it contains an inherent belief that People of the Global Majority are inferior to White people – they are the problem, after all, because if People of the Global Majority didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have racism, right?
Supposed race equality initiatives run by White institutions are inherently problematic because they too locate the problem within People of the Global Majority – if they weren’t inferior then they wouldn’t need this helping hand from the White establishment to get on in life. This attitude is simply a re-working of the ‘White man’s burden’ attitude to colonialism; its manifestation is that of the ‘White saviour’ in addressing the problems that People of the Global Majority bring to the table with them.
Alongside these discriminatory practices sold as solutions, are the White run positive action programmes, which are also peddled as the White establishment giving a hand up to People of the Global Majority – my, aren’t we nice!! Positive action programmes may provide opportunities for a few People of the Global Majority that would not have been there otherwise, however, they are in effect tokenism, as the key expression here is a ‘few’ People of the Global Majority – note, the system remains unchanged. In fact, the system remains wholly intact, and indeed strengthened because these programmes are paraded as evidence of just how racially aware we are, and that we’re doing all we can. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of other People of the Global Majority are denied basic equity of opportunity in education, employment, healthcare, housing, criminal justice, human rights, cultural life, shopping, walking down the street, hell, even breathing.
These and many other race equality ‘initiatives’ are problematic in their underlying philosophy that locates power with the White system and inferiority in People of the Global Majority, and tokenistic in their implementation, as they do little, if anything the address the real issues at hand.
This is a critical point – the real issues at hand. What are these issues? Firstly, there is the denial of the White population to accept that our society is racist, and that we, to a person, benefit from White Privilege each and every day. Secondly, that the racial inequality and discrimination in the UK today is a product of ‘cultural historical Whiteness.’
Cultural historical Whiteness is the social, political, and institutional manifestation of our colonialist past in the present day. It is the reality that our cultural paradigm and our social norms have been moulded and conditioned by discourses that cast ‘White as right’ and anyone else as inferior, barbaric, and of less intrinsic value than us. Edward Said revealed the true depth of this in his classic book, ‘Orientalism’, and much research and analysis has been undertaken into the ongoing ‘orientalist discourses’ that have been a key aspect of White society for the last 400 years or more.
However, we have to look beyond discourses as simple texts that convey meaning and promote a particular worldview. We have to understand the impact of these discourses on society as a whole. These racially prejudicial discourses, in tandem with classist discourses of the British middle-class, and the gendered discourses of White, middle-class men, created the ideational context in which the institutions of state were created – our education system, our healthcare system, our policing and judicial systems, our media and entertainment systems, our political system all of these are rooted in racist, classist, and sexist attitudes that remain infused in their ways of working to this day. They, in effect, constitute a society that is set up to benefit White people and discriminate against People of the Global Majority.
We also have to look at the impact of our development as people, and I am referring specifically to White British people here. These discourses, these stories emanating from politicians, the media, and other ‘epistemic authorities’, shape the way we see the world. They condition our cognitive development. They are the cartographers of the mindscapes we use to make sense of the world, and critically, to place value on the actors in our social world.
We all have an ‘empire state of mind’ and our institutions deliver an ‘empire state of service’ to People of the Global Majority. These aspects are visible in our approach to racial equality. They are explicated in our location of the problem within People of the Global Majority and their experience of White society, and our benevolent adoption of the role of the saviours by giving People of the Global Majority some crumbs from our table.
These are the reasons why racial inequality remains so prevalent. The reasons behind our complete and comprehensive failure to address racial inequality and discrimination lies in the reality that we are infused with racist philosophies from birth, and our society is inherently racist in its workings. Critically, though, our almost complete, collective failure to acknowledge this to be true, even when presented with the facts that prove it so, and our refusal to turn critical eyes inwards are themselves acts of symbolic violence that sustain racism and maintain Whiteness with all the privileges it affords us.
If we are serious about addressing racial inequality, then we must attack Cultural Historical Whiteness with a fervour and an energy that compares to the glee with which we colonised and raped much of the world. If we aren’t serious about it, then let’s stop fucking around and just admit that we’re racist and be happy with that.