Conceptualizations of Racism in Contemporary Britain Racism Term Paper

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Conceptualizations of Racism in Contemporary Britain

Racism in contemporary Britain is a complex and often contentious issue. The important issues related to this concept are difficult for various critics to agree upon. Issues such as primordialism and the importance of class structures in the struggle for racial equality serve as the center of various debates surrounding race and racism in contemporary Britain.


Primordialism is a concept attached to the biological origins of race, and the effect of this upon social behavior (Mason in Rex & Mason 5). The question surrounding this issue is whether the phenotype or culture attached to racial origins has an independent effect or whether it is mediated by contemporary social meaning. This is reminiscent of the biological inferiority theories that provides race as an excuse for oppression. The scientific exploration of human origins is thus incorporated into racist theory. According to the Bell Curve (published in 1994) for example black people are inferior to white people. They do not have the capacity to keep up with the technological changes of today and thus cannot be employed in positions where an understanding of technology is essential. High income groups then adhere to the misconception that they are biologically superior to low income groups, where the only difference may in fact be no more than a difference in opportunity. Further inequality theories may be based upon cultural, linguistic or moralistic issues.

Language Issues

There has recently for example been some controversy related to the use of language by British immigrants (Gasciani, 2002). Home Secretary David Blunkett called for the use of English in the homes of ethnic minorities in Britain. While critics understand the importance of using English in order to be part of life in Britain, they also feel that to demand the use of this language in the privacy of the home is another issue altogether. Of course Britain is composed of a diverse collection of ethnic groups. The settled ethnic minority communities are for example now in their third generation of British-born citizens, while a large part of the population is also made up of new immigrants, as well as Welsh and Scots Gaelic speakers. Mr. Blunkett focuses on the British Asian part of the population with his claim that English is only spoken in the home of a little more than two thirds of these households. This, according to him, is part of the problem of poverty and unemployment prevailing among these citizens. However, others suggest that to attach importance to English, precluding all other languages, infringes a vital right to diverse culture. Also, immigrants worry about losing their culture when language is homogenized. This is one example of a political struggle to homogenize culture and ignore race differences and issues in the name of equality.

According to British Asians themselves, speaking more than one language serves to strengthen an identity that is both British and Asian. Thus heterogeneity ensures a greater sense of identity that is dual and that can be useful to add to the colorful diversity of British life (Gasciani, 2002). Also, a better understanding is cultivated between the older and younger generations. An understanding between generations can then cultivate a better understanding for other ethnic groups as well.

According to research by the Home Office, potential immigrants also are not unwilling to speak or learn English. This is in fact the key factor in their decision (Gasciani, 2002), and it is crucial to assist immigrants with their English skills once they enter the UK. It is a fact that language skills is a necessity when social privileges such as a job and a basic ability to function in British life are to be had. This however should be handled in the correct way, and not so that minorities feel that their culture is going to be engulfed by the obligation to speak only one language, which is not their own, in their homes.

The Political Struggle for Race Equality in Britain

It is obvious that in Britain, as in the rest of the world, race is still very much an unresolved political issue. Ben-Tovim et al. (in Rex & Mason, 1986) for example identify various instances in which marginalization occurs in Britain. Anti-racist forces are for example politically marginalized by being pushed away from the center of local politics (Ben-Tovim et al. In Rex & Mason 135). The struggle against racism then becomes a struggle against marginalization. Marginalization then occurs through instances where local government and local organizations work together to achieve a political goal.

One such instance is for example marginalization through consultation. Consultation is the involvement of local communities when political decisions are made. While legislation officially excludes marginalization, the reality often emphasizes the inequality that is still prevalent in British politics between the consulter and the consulted. The opportunity for minority groups to be involved in important social change is often minimal.

Another case of marginalization is the view of anti-racist actions as extremism (Ben-Tovim et al. In Rex & Mason 137). Arguments for anti-racism in this case are often dismissively viewed as hysterical and fanatic. This is reminiscent of the above-mentioned sense of racial inferiority theories. Persons who stand for anti-racism are then seen as somehow inferior and therefore their opinions can never be worthy of attention.

Thirdly, while funding cultural initiatives (Ben-Tovim et al. In Rex & Mason 138) may appear to be a step in a positive direction, this is actually also an act of subtle marginalization. The reason cited for this is the fact that local authorities restrict race relations initiatives. They are then only isolated, high-profile events rather than a program that is sustained or directed at the mainstream.

Further conditions serving to marginalize anti-racist forces in Britain include local political ideologies, legislation and central policy initiatives, and local bureaucratic control of policy making and administration. Local political ideologies then include the "color-blind ideology" (Ben-Tovim et al. In Rex & Mason 139) by which specific dimensions of racism and inequality are conveniently ignored. Senior officers, administrators and public practitioners exercise bureaucratic control by strategies that can be used to inhibit racial equality promotion. Part of this is the financial constraints enforced by central government: there is often an unequal distribution of resources and their allocation where this is needed most.

Race and Class

The race and class situation in Britain is interesting when compared with non-European countries such as the United States and South Africa. Colonization in the last-mentioned two countries have meshed the class and race issues together to almost indistinguishable proportions. More often than not, lower classes are also associated with minority races. In the case of Britain, this situation is more complex. While many minority individuals are in fact part of the lower classes, there are in fact many Caucasians who face the same class struggle as their counterparts of other races. Class and race issues in Britain do however overlap, and this is also why the two issues cannot be completely separated, as some critics have contested (Mason in Rex & Mason 9). Some theorists have also called for a new theory to include the race and ethnic stratification conflict, such as the plural society thesis (Mason in Rex & Mason 11).

Economics is a factor that plays a central part in both race and class. This then ensures that race and class structures cannot be truly distinct.

According to Jenkins (in Rex & Mason 174) social groups are formed in response to stimuli of group membership. Where social classes are then denoted in terms of income, racial groups are formed in response to culture. This group however combines the class-conscious element of status attainment with ethnic identity. In both race and class systems, those in power utilize differences (either of the economic or the physical kind) to optimize their own social advantage.

Mobility issues also traverse the boundaries of class and race. Commonly, mobility increases as one moves towards to upper classes. The problem is that the lower classes and those suffering as a result of racial prejudice have few opportunities towards social mobility. This is largely the result of a lack of openness in society. This also can be brought back to the original concept of racial superiority.

With a lack of social mobility also comes a lack of power to shape society. Because of the above-mentioned marginalization issues, those in power exercise this power not to improve the world and opportunities for minorities, but to keep things immobile as possible while increasing amounts of power are ensured for those already at the top of the social scale.

This phenomenon could also be due to a long tradition of feudalism and monarchy in Britain. The accompanying tradition of predetermined and inherited social classes is then indeed a hard one to break. The same is true of inherited race and the prejudices that are suffered as a result of this. Although social minorities have taken measures to improve things for themselves, politicians, through marginalization policies have…

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