Race relations on both sides of the Atlantic (1/3)

I wish to draw a parallel between the integration of minorities into civil society after the Second Wold War on both sides of the Atlantic. In the case of the United Kingdom largely driven by a shortage of labour post-Second Wold War which opened the door to the colonies, and in the case of United Sates it was the efforts of Civil Rights movement which lead to the dismantling of the Jim Crow form of race caste system.

You have various proto-racisms in the pre-modern period, it was not until a combination of Darwinism, Eugenics, Imperialism that gave birth to Social Darwinism that racism became wedded with that of nationalism. After the Second World War nationalism became decoupled from that of race, for obvious reasons, where a common set of values, in the context of the cold war – freedom and markets, formally  determined whether you were inside the tent or outside.

The different fates of the United States and Europe after the Second World War, the former whose interior escaped large-scale destruction determined attitudes towards levels of immigration and from where.  In 1952 the United States lifted up the drawbridge as the United Kingdom lowered hers in 1948 and encouraged immigration from the Empire. As segregation broke down in the United States, and new arrivals from the West Indies in the UK, there was a whitelash from supremacists on both sides of the Atlantic.

There was a particular famous speech in the UK, ‘Rivers of Blood’ by Enoch Powell in, that referenced the situations on both sides of the Atlantic. Speaking in 1968, Birmingham, UK (from whence I originally hail):

 As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.

Elsewhere in the speech he cited one of his constituents who stated fearfully: “In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” …you know… and not the other way around. 1968 was a watershed moment in the UK, for a Race Relations Act came into force with some teeth, but its importance: ‘was not act but attitude’. New acts followed and in 1976 indirect discrimination became outlawed, and in 2000 an amendment extended the scope of the act to cover public bodies, including the Police.

In the UK, the focus is on the impact on the victim(s) and not the mental state of the discriminator,  this is hardcoded in statute.  In contrast, in the United States (and Canada) it is a matter of Jurisprudence and  guidance around interpreting discrimination hold’s the discriminator’s subjective motivation as central in weighing whether indirect discrimination is itself culpable or not. This provides cover for those who officially adopt a colour neutral language but whose action is such that it disadvantages minorities, aka policies around ‘law and order’, ‘war on drugs’.

Take home points from this is the contrasting attitudes towards handling race relations on both sides of the Atlantic in response to influx of those who were previously formally segregated,  particularly with respect to how to handle indirect discrimination and systematic discrimination in public institutions. So whilst formally the system is open to all races and creeds, de facto there are barriers which stop people taking advantage of this fact.

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