RSS FeedFacebookSearch
Gary Younge
I've changed my mind about racism

The decade that has ended with Nick Griffin on Question Time and two BNP MEPs started with me being very optimistic about the future of race relations in Britain. With the broadly positive response to the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, which had just been released, I thought a paradigmatic shift in the way that we thought about both Britain and race had occurred that could possibly be thwarted but not reversed. This was not a popular view among anti-racist activists at the time. Indeed, for about a year I had to get used to white people calling me naive about racism, which was a first.

But I believed that Macpherson had sent Powellism into irreversible decline and that a new conversation was both possible and, generally speaking, desirable. I knew not everyone would come round, but assumed that they had now been relegated to a permanent rump.

"A sizeable minority is stuck in the paradigm of immigration-integration-repatriation – desperate to maintain a seamless link between Britishness and whiteness," I wrote. "And the rest have moved on to equal rights, economic opportunities and educational advancement. Some are still asking, 'What are we going to do about these blacks?' Others wonder, 'What are we going to do about the racism in our institutions?'"

I had no confidence in our political leadership to lead this conversation, but back then the pressure for them to at least follow it seemed overwhelming. The first indication of how wrong I was came in the negligent and noxious response to uprisings in Bradford in July 2001. Soon after came terrorism, Blunkett, war, more war, torture, more terrorism, David Goodhart and the white cliffs of Dover. The speed and scale with which public discourse degraded was breathtaking. Once it began it was not difficult to see where it was all going.

No one could have predicted some of the catalysts in that chain of events. But what I did not realise at the time was how superficial support for Macpherson had been among the commentariat and political class. Nor had I grasped how the shift in emphasis from race to religion and from colour to creed and culture could so completely and rapidly graft old views on to new scapegoats.

"Macpherson has provided us with sound foundations," I argued back then. "We must wait and see what lasting structures will be built on them."

If I'd known what hideous creations some architects had in mind, or how easily they could uproot the fixtures, I would have been more circumspect.

• This article was amended on Monday 4 January 2010. There are two BNP MEPs, not three as we said. This has been corrected.

© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc
No Place Like Home – A Black Briton’s Journey through the American South
book review
'The idea of retracing the route is a great one, urgent and necessary.'
 follow on twitter
"Stronger borders do stop people from arriving and making an application for asylum. But it doesn't make them disap… https://t.co/WpEKapUutU
RT @add_editore: «Gli USA non hanno una popolazione più violenta di altre nazioni. Quello che rende la società statunitense tanto letale è…
"In 30 years King went from ignominy to icon. In 1966, twice as many Americans had an unfavorable opinion of him as… https://t.co/rQvAZYZjTY
RT @typemediacenter: “His parting words summed up our current situation, advocated resistance in the face of adversity, and will, I hope, p…
RT @sulaimanaddonia: I have an extreme fear of technology, but this festival prompted me to get over my technophobia. So I built my 1st eve…
RT @Ciaran_Laval: @therealmi5 @Saffiya_Khan1 @davidschneider @EHRC This is an issue that hasn't been addressed for decades, it came to a he…
RT @jielbyr: "We are trying to raise self-confident children for long lives, not hashtags for slaughter." Gary Younge
I dream of a world without borders; but in the meantime I’m more than happy with my friends without boundaries. https://t.co/Tg9vuEXxie
RT @MsJeanRhys: I had two longings & one was fighting the other. I wanted to be loved & I wanted to be always alone.
Wow. Twitter has many faults. But when someone can use to let you know they’ve found one of your late mother’s scho… https://t.co/tYlcKhLdbh
© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc