Racism isn’t about race, says anti-racist

There’s a curious rant over at the Guardian by A Sivanandan, “a leading black intellectual and anti-racist campaigner” (does concealing one’s first name make one seem more intellectual?), in which he claims that

Margaret Hodge, the Work and Pensions Minister, blamed a surge in white, working-class racism on its black victims’ failure to ‘integrate’…

In fact Hodge seems (Guardian pre-, Scotsman post-) to have been focusing on Asian communities, not “blacks”. It’s slightly alarming that Sivanandan (go on someone, tell me what the A stands for), director of the Institute of Race Relations and editor of Race and Class, seems to have missed one of the big public lessons of the Rodney King riots: that in LA neither black looters nor Korean shopkeepers saw the latter as part of oppressed blackdom (see eg Janine Young Kim, Are Asians black? The Asian-American civil rights agenda and the contemporary significance of the black/white paradigm (Yale Law Journal)).

Further reading of Sivanandan (it’s not Adolf is it? Adolf was a popular first name for the children of sub-continental nationalists in the 1940s), suggests that he believes that racism is no longer racist. In 2001 he published an article, Poverty is the new black, which sets out to show that “The roots of this summer’s violence can be traced to the xenoracist culture of globalisation”. While you try to figure out what the hell xenoracism is, here’s a bleeding chunk of his piece:

Today, under global capitalism which – in its ruthless pursuit of markets and its sanctification of wealth, has served to unleash ethnic wars, balkanise countries and displace their peoples – the racist tradition of demonisation and exclusion has become a tool to keep out the refugees and asylum seekers so displaced, even if they are white, on the grounds that they are scroungers and aliens come to prey on the west’s wealth and confound its national identities.

I think Mr Sivanandan is simply too lazy to change the demagogic habits of a lifetime and adopt an analytically useful term like poorhate. Here’s more from his Guardian piece:

She was speaking to a debate which has moved so far to the right that the gains made by the black struggle are being jettisoned. Even the term ‘coloured’ instead of ‘black’ is up for rehabilitation. What’s next? The replacement of ‘racism’ by ‘colour bar’?

For a start, “colour bar” never left the vocabulary; even if it had, to characterise it as right-wing seems slightly hard on a guy like Henry Gunter, who came to Birmingham from Jamaica in 1949 and wrote in 1950:

The colour bar cannot be fought by underhand measures; but in the open, where by exposure to the spotlight of public opinion, it can be seen for the rotten bigotry it is.

That sounds to me like someone who knows what he’s talking about.

(Yep, this is way off-topic, although it does relate vaguely to this.)

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