Education, Equality, and Human Rights

By Mike Cole | Go to book overview
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‘Race’, Racism and Resistance

Satnam Virdee and Mike Cole


Rather than starting with a search for empirical evidence of discrimination or the expression of racism, or analysing ‘the problems’ or ‘differentness’ of ‘black people’, ‘Asians’ or Jews, our analysis of racism centres on the material processes themselves, the complex relationship between the state and capital and between capital and labour and the way in which racism is ideologically constructed.

In this chapter, we begin by considering the origin and validity of the concept ‘race’. 1 We then examine the origins of the welfare state, with particular reference to racism. These origins, we suggest, lay in a political and ideological matrix of imperialism, nationalism and anti-Semitism. We then go on to trace the continuity of racism up to the present day and look at forms of resistance to it.

The Pre-World War Two Period2

The formalization of the concept ‘race’ in the English language can be traced back to 1508 (Oxford English Dictionary), when it began to take on a specific economic connotation with the burgeoning development of the slave trade (Williams, 1964). For most of that century, however, it was used to refer to a class or category of persons or things; there was no implication that these classes or categories were biologically distinct. During the seventeenth century, an historical dimension was added, and some Englishmen, interested in their historical origins, developed a view that they were descendants of a German ‘race’ and that the Norman invasion of the eleventh century had led to the domination of the Saxons by an ‘alien race’. This interpretation of history gave rise to a conception of ‘race’ in the sense of lineage back to the Saxons. Distinction, however, was based on separate history, rather than biological differences. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the term finally became associated with physical traits, both within the boundaries of Europe and beyond (Miles, 1982, pp. 10-11). According to Banton, by 1850, it is probable that ‘a significant section of the English upper class subscribed to a rudimentary racial philosophy of history’ (Banton, 1977, p. 25).

By the end of the nineteenth century, the ideology of the ‘inferiority’ of Britain’s colonial subjects and the consequent ‘superiority’ of the British ‘race’ were


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