Tag Archives: america

The American race narrative is unique and irrelevant

In Anglophone countries, we tend to view race through a US prism.

The recent Teacupgate saga that black (meaning black, not BME) students are underrepresented at Oxbridge is a good example.

In the UK, and every other majority-white country except the US, black people are just another immigrant group – they’re people who’ve mostly come to the relevant country in the last 50 years, alongside people of all other ethnic groups who’ve done the same as international migration has taken place. They represent about 2% of the UK’s 10% ethnic minority population.

In the US, 13% of the population are African-American, and the vast majority are the descendants of people brought over forcibly, 150 years ago or more, to work as slaves.

So what? Well, “choosing to come over recently to avoid poverty or torture” is a choice. An excellent choice that people should be allowed, but a choice. And a choice that took place within living family memory.

“Being the descendants of people you don’t know and whose history you don’t know who were brought over in chains” is rather different. It’s much closer morally – and, as the data says, in terms of levels of deprivation and lack of civic engagement – to being part of an indigenous community.

So however the US government treats black people isn’t relevant to how European governments should relate to black people, in the slightest. Black people in Europe are equivalent to South Asian and East Asian people in the US – a minority with specific cultural needs, but not a group to whom a special obligation are owed.

In Australia, New Zealand and Canada, there are directly analogous groups: the Aborigines in Australia, the First Nations in Canada, and the Maori in New Zealand. Of those, the Maori are the most relevant, as they account for a similar percentage of the population of New Zealand as African-Americans account for the population of the US.

In the UK, the closest parallel are people of Pakistani origin working in northern ex-textile towns – although they weren’t sent over by force, whole villages were offered migration in a “everyone else is going, so you’d better” deal in the 1950s and 1960s to serve the textiles industry as cheap labour. And, oddly enough, the obstacles those groups face are similar to those faced by African-Americans.

But that’s got sod-all to do with being black – indeed, if you called the average Bolton Pakistani black, they’d be distinctly cross. It’s to do with being a minority group that’s been transplanted en masse, rather than through voluntary “I’m going to leave everything and head elsewhere” choice, to another place.

So can we please drop the pseudo-American discourse under which ‘black’ is a unique and specific cultural difference worth making something of?

The reason black Caribbean British people have a shitty time of it is because they’re in the same boat as white working class British people. Which is a shitty boat, but the stats suggest that the white working class and black Caribbean immigrants live in the same places, do the same things, and have an equally rubbish time of things.

Meanwhile, other immigrants – excepting the descendants of Pakistani and Bangladeshi mill-workers, but including black African immigrants – view themselves as middle-class and get treated that way.