You sometimes hear people claim that we live in a ‘post-racial’ society. This claim trumpets the achievement of total racial equality. Some people point to the election of President Obama in the United States as proof that ‘race’ is now as meaningless a social construction as it is a biological one. On 26 April 2018, Dr. Tina G. Patel from the University of Salford joined us for the All Souls Seminar to problematise these claims.
To the contrary, Dr. Patel asserted that we have recently witnessed a surge in racism. Resurgences in racist ideology such as Islamophobia and Xenophobia are still rooted in the simmering post-colonial fears about the dangerous ‘black’ and dangerous ‘brown’ body. Thus, we see a continued securitisation of BAME populations to control, regulate, and ultimately remove them from society. However, this newer form of racism is often professedly ‘not racist’, instead justifying itself in terms of culture, using a logic of cultural difference, and presenting this new racialised logic as ordinary and every day. The new racism doesn’t use the crude language of the old racism, and it doesn’t rely on a binary concept of race as ‘white’ or ‘black’. Instead, today’s racism differentiates an entire middle range of social outsiders, further differentiated by gender, age, and class. These outsiders comprise a category of “white, but not white enough” people who can’t assimilate to white culture. Dr. Patel stated that the very strength of this new racism is its renunciation of racism.
Dr. Patel shared with the audience some of her personal experiences with the newer forms of racism in England. In her research, Dr. Patel has been exploring the motivations of people in Salford, Greater Manchester who voted in favour of leaving the European Union. The narratives she has heard often involve notions of cultural difference. She often hears some variation of the words, “I’m not racist, but …”.
To further illustrate some of these points, Dr. Patel discussed two case studies: that of Nina Davaluri and Jyoti Singh Pandey. Nina Davaluri was the first Indian American to win the Miss America pageant, in 2014. Her success sparked a fury of racist comments on social media outlets such as Twitter, such as: ‘How the f*** does a foreigner win miss America? She is an Arab!” These comments not only mischaracterised Ms. Davaluri as an Arab American, but also evinced a belief that a person could not be simultaneously characterised as ‘brown’ and American.
Dr. Patel then discussed the manner in which the global media constructed the victim and offenders in the intensely covered ‘Delhi gang rape case’. She described the media as repositioning all the brown actors to create both a particularly undeserving victim and especially egregious offenders. The media portrayed Jyoti Singh Pandeyas the victim not only of the men who horrifically brutalised her, but also of her culture. They depicted her as a woman trying to become more Westernised, while portraying the offenders as representative of all Indian men. Dr. Patel argued these constructions damaged the reputation of all Indian men and denigrated Indian culture. The media narrative also suggested that this type of rape is very common in India.
Turning to the role of the newer racism in criminal justice, Dr. Patel described an ongoing narrative in England about protecting national security through the promotion of so-called ‘British values’. Thus, the Islamophobia evident in anti-terror legislation and policy is recast as an effort to address cultural difference and promote cultural assimilation. This is particularly evident in the CONTEST and PREVENT strategies. However, Dr. Patel observed that these measures ultimately rely on very old notions about the deviancy of ‘brown’ people – as not just criminal, but the worst kind of criminal. She concluded her paper by recounting how these supposedly British values are not culturally specific to Great Britain: democracy, respect for the rule of law, mutual respect, individual liberty, and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.
Lisa Saccomano is a current MSc student in the Centre for Criminology