No matter what happens in the UK, the British invariably look across the pond with mutterings of certainty that our racial problems are not as extreme. We don’t witness as many vicious racist attacks, so we gain some comfort by saying America is just crazy. Indeed she might be, but a rather convenient cognitive dissonance ignores our so-called ‘special relationship’ when these racial distinctions are made. Worse, the UK has a subtlety to her structural racism that disguises the brutalities Black British populations are subjected to. The disproportionate COVID-19 deaths of senior Black health professionals is a case in point and demonstrate that Black deaths are not just a function of economic disadvantage.
Our US and UK histories are different yet similar when contrasts are made not just from within national borders but beyond them through the lens of race. Racism is no less confined than the coronavirus, but the international structure of Whiteness is what we must make more visible as a form of resistance and unity. Nationalism is distracting when it fails to make critical global connections for overcoming racism. The UN may once have had the best intentions, but it is structurally flawed for defeating this, while meetings among the G7 (seven global leaders) and the G20 (central bank governors from 20 countries) continue to reinforce the interests of Whiteness.
Yes, African American and Black British have different histories and reference points. Yet the non-comparisons between these two linear legacies ought not to be enough to justify the not-seeing of our similar disenfranchisements. If we do have to rely upon this discourse of history, let us jointly review the 15th century as the start of our enslavement to discuss the diversion of our experiences caused by virtually the same people. Despite the stark differences in our medical systems, the disproportionate COVID-19 death rates of Black Africans in both the US and the UK can only be fully understood in this historical context.
A significant contrast has been in the geographical positioning of subjugated populations. Most British colonial oppressions have taken place out of sight away from British soil in the Caribbean, Africa and elsewhere. Without intending to deny the current US Empire in various parts of the world, in America, we have watched in full view racial conflicts play out before our eyes because Whiteness and Blackness clash on the same land albeit from racially divided locations. This goes to the question of transparency rather than the quality of any behaviour. Nevertheless, from a Black perspective, the African American and the Black British are hardly going to split hairs in debating their preferred oppressor. That would be a divisive waste of time.
Our standpoint must surely be to look for what connects us; indeed, whether Democrats or Republicans are in power. Or whether Labour or Conservatives govern the UK, the situation for Black Africans, whether native, Caribbean, British born, American born or from the African continent remains the same. They are socially, politically and economically subject to White supremacy living with the perverse idea of being inferior to others. Until we accept that basic premise and the determination of White superiority to stay in place, we cannot hope to understand the fullness of Brexit and the current attempt to relive the US Civil War in this Biden election/inauguration.
To be clear, Whiteness in this context does not refer to individuals. It is senseless to argue with any real value that Black and White people supported Brexit, or that Black people also attacked the US Capitol last week just because both statements are factual. I am referring to the philosophy of Whiteness – a sociological, political and economic idea. Some Black people believe a White privileged environment is better for all of us, and we can debate whether this is a form of self-hatred or not, but it does not change one iota the existence of Whiteness as a philosophy in and of itself. It is the political idea of Whiteness as superior that is holding the institutional structures together like glue.
Thus, it is not President Donald Trump’s existence per se that we should ponder so much as the society that produced him and made him US President at all. The British institutions similarly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson not because he is the most talented or intelligent politician, but because he was ultimately trusted to uphold Whiteness (and thereby preserve the institutions).
I’m suggesting Whiteness as an idea supercedes capitalism as a priority because although they are deeply entwined historically and otherwise, from a racial standpoint, it is clear that capitalism would never concede to Blackness by choice. This is because capitalism is owned by Whiteness and not the other way around. Thus, capitalism is not free in the ‘free-market’ sense that it associates itself to. Capitalism is a means to an end, and that is to protect Whiteness. To put it another way, President Trump upholds Whiteness as a power that belongs to him and his followers as a matter of right that must never be relinquished. That is why some of his supporters, predominantly Confederate and White of varied social class groups, view the inauguration as the last chance to save ‘their’ country.
I would argue, the US displays its ugly racial side more honestly than that of the UK. By way of example, I turn to mainstream media. British TV programme, ‘Keeping up Appearances’ is very popular in the US because it exports a quirky idea of class Britishness without revealing the real pain and social fabric from which that emanates. Yet, one can only imagine how the social superior aspirant, Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet), would have treated a Black character had one existed in the show? Father Brown, a favourite detective period drama, does engage with Black characters but sticks strictly to the White-saviour Christian narrative. Another current programme Death in Paradise based in the ‘French’ Caribbean, consistently comes in the UK top 3 for popularity. This programme involves perfectly able Caribbean police officers relying upon a hapless White British detective to show them how to solve crimes? Presumably, these programmes are soothing to Whiteness and represent Britain’s international branding as quaint, genteel with overall decency, almost incapable of racism. Collectively they invoke a harking back to the ‘good old days’ for both the UK and the US. Although never stated this inevitably intersects with the brutal legacies of Black African enslavement that has not been adequately addressed to this day. Whiteness would probably interject at this point to say,
‘They’re just bloody good programmes. Don’t make everything about race!?
While the US also has plenty of light-hearted predominately White-saviour TV programmes, there is a broader representation of Blackness in executive leadership roles and authentic voices that speak to ‘the struggle.’ Though relatively unpopular in mainstream media, progressive political voices are also given minimal respect and consideration. Bernie Sanders is the new Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee in the Biden administration while Jeremy Corbyn is treated as a pariah in the UK Labour Party. While mainstream media in the UK and US essentially share the same moderate agenda, political Blackness seems more prevalent in the US.
Nevertheless, America is in crisis, and the UK is not much better precisely because of the White upper middle-classes stoking up the anxieties of White working-class communities. Nigel Farage was a case in point, the son of a stockbroker, lead the departure from the EU campaign long before Brexit was a thing. Arguably, Brexit set the tone for Trump’s success in 2016. Farage has a fee-paying Dulwich College education and traded in commodities before becoming the UKIP leader (United Kingdom Independent Party) in 1993. He heavily and very effectively relied upon anti-Black immigrant tropes to gather support for his party. It’s fair to say were it not for Farage’s work and the arrogance of upper-class Prime Minister David Cameron in June 2016, Brexit would not have existed.
Steve Bannon, a political strategist for President Trump, was a former investment banker. How President Trump exploited the use of race is well documented and unprecedented only in his overtly naked, careless regard for the consequences. His base loves his lack of subtlety (he had 88 million followers before Twitter closed his account). Indeed, the Republican Party is no longer sure that the party belongs to them, after Trump won more than 70 million votes, the second-highest total in American history. Even after a recession, and a botched job dealing with the pandemic that left 300,000 (Now 402k) dead, Trump won more than a 47% share of the national vote. Not all Trumps voters were more racist than Biden supporters, but all those concerned for aggressive White supremacy were Trump supporters with 3 per cent increased Black support. White women and White youths also increased their support for Trump. Crudely, most Whites (57 per cent) voted for Trump (only 42 per cent voted for Biden), and the majority of Blacks (90 per cent) voted for Biden.
Nevertheless, we should undoubtedly resist the unfair characterisation of White working-class groups linked to Brexit and President Trump as blind uninformed followers. They didn’t defect but were neglected by the Democrats and the Labour Party for decades. While Republican and Conservative Parties represent the interests of the top 1 per cent of wealth owners, it is difficult to argue that the Democrat and Labour Parties represent the poor in all but name. A conflict of interest in prioritising middle-income families and globalisation has been there for some time. On both sides of the pond, White working-class families have lived through generations of knowing they will not significantly benefit from the so-called trickle-down effect linked to moderate politics. In a racist society, it is no wonder they decide to ignore their economic interests for the social currency of Whiteness instead. The narrative may well go,
‘if neither party cares for my financial well-being,
I might as well choose the one that appears to care about my race.’
Does this mean we are learning any lessons? As we enter the next few days, we face an increase of coronavirus deaths in the UK, reflecting poor government management in dealing with this crisis. As a Brexit country, we enter British life outside of the EU for the first time since 1971. There’s no real knowing how well Britain will fare, but Brexit, like Trump’s election, voted for Whiteness directly and indirectly. That is not to say all Brexiteers are more racist than EU ‘Remainers’ for that would certainly be untrue. But nor was it a coincidence that Farage and Prime Minister Johnson grossly exaggerated anti-immigrant sentiments to sure up votes. Consciously or otherwise calls for an independent Britain is mostly nostalgic for an empire that still trails a legacy of genocidal atrocities committed against Black Africans and others that festers away in an unbearable stench waiting for that rotten puss to burst.
President Trump has become an even bigger loose canon in the US, and Washington is in siege mode anticipating a final rebellion by Trump’s loyal followers. Both countries believe they are saving Whiteness against the frightening thought of Black Africans gaining social equality. They represent 17 per cent of the US population and 3 per cent in the UK, yet the threat is felt as if an overthrow of Whiteness was imminent by invoking socialism to magnify those fears. To be clear, White supremacy should be utterly cast aside as a political belief system, as distinct from people themselves. Whiteness stands between maintaining control as natural leaders so-called, and losing everything otherwise imagined as total annihilation. Like Brexiteers, in the minds of Trump’s followers,’ they have nothing to lose. If you were to ask Whiteness whether socialism or capitalism was more threatening than Blackness itself, whether in the UK or the US, what do you think the answer would be?