After the holocaust and
the defeat of the Nazis it became unacceptable for the allied powers,
the self-proclaimed opponents of racial theory, to use the discourse
of racial theory. That was when the word ethnicity emerged - the Oxford
English Dictionary dating its first recorded use as 1954 - as
a substitute for race. However, to distance this new discourse further
from racial theory, ethnicity came to refer to both racial and
cultural uniqueness. And this set the tone for the Britain I grew
up, post-Powell Britain.
To suggest that cultural
difference can separate groups as rigidly as biological difference,
is the same argument that the romantics used. It is the same, in effect,
as genetic racism, and it is equally false, but it does not ostensibly
refer to biology. This is post-holocaust political correctness. Its
romantic legacy is clear. It is the same thing as white people imitating
Eastern religious and cultural practice without understanding its
meaning or social function, or even realising that it has a
social function. The attraction is in its difference from their own
culture, a difference that they perceive as rigid, unbreakable, and
hence do not try to seek points of comparison or to understand. It
reflects also the shift in the discipline of anthropology from racial
classification to the description of alien cultures, as opposed to
functional anthropology which examines why and not simply how. For
the romantic anthropologist there is no why. They do it because the
Other is incommensurably different. This attitude is very common among
white liberals today. However, the cultural pluralist argument is
a genetic argument. Cultural pluralists believe no culture is superior
to another, but that cultures are uniquely different, that members
of one culture, or nation, cannot possibly understand members of another.
That they live in different worlds. This has to be because
they are biologically different. There is no other logical cause.
What prevents them from understanding a different culture? What creates
these incommensurably different cultures? The answer must lie in the
genes, unless your understanding of history is so radically misguided
as to suggest that people have never mixed or changed, that
hybridity has never happened. But even if you do believe this, why
have cultures never mixed? It seems so easy. We are back to Darwins
"separate species in effect". Powell was the same as Hitler,
in effec, except Powell was a hypocrite and a liar. Hitler was only
Enoch Powell applied this
discourse to black and Asian immigrants in England. Powell was a pure
cultural nationalist, or cultural pluralist. While he called for racial
inter-marriage, he simultaneously said the Asian community was incapable
of it due to the practice of arranging marriages, and hence would
remain a separate nation. He said that use of the word race was incorrect,
that the issue was culture, which was the basis for nation, and that
nations were unique and pure. "Nation is not a rational thing",
he said. "What you belong to is a matter of feeling. Nor do I
think it is correct to describe a sense of belonging to one community
and not to another as "base". If you called it "fundamental"
perhaps that would be more accurate".
So, for Powell, communities,
cultures, could not mix. This is why he warned that in ten or fifteen
years time "the black man will had the whip hand over the white
man" and that the nation was "literally mad" to let
in people who were so different. So, logically, the solution
was repatriation and to prevent immigration. Even more logically,
if the blacks and Asians are here to stay, then social exclusion is
the answer to prevent them from getting the whip hand.
Powell changed the discourse
of racism in Britain forever. He took the biology out, and put culture
in its place, but the conclusion is the same. He did not need to say
it; whites all over the country decided that they would perform their
national service of excluding alien communities, and encouraging voluntary
repatriation, by terrorising them, destroying their property, and,
by simply killing them.
Others, the educated classes
usually, espoused a more elegant solution, equally logical. If blacks
and Asians wanted to stay then they could not remain culturally alien
and separate. They had to assimilate. They had to give up their
culture and become like the whites. This, they claimed, could prevent
the rivers and blood, and also, presumably, keep the whip out of the
black mans hand.
The distinction between assimilation and violence applies equally
to differing colonial policy across Africa and India, and to different
types of racism. In Africa indirect rule was substituted for direct
rule, genocide and brutality for the creation of an African ruling
elite. at In India this was not the case. A class of assimilated,
often English educated elites was formed, the Macaulayites or brown
sahibs. They assimilated not only English culture but also Victorian
prejudices, a hatred of their own kind and of the lower classes, qualities
essential for ruling elites. In Britain, Asians have tended to assimilate
more successfully, to be perceived as less of a threat to the system
than blacks because of this colonial legacy.
On the playground, when
I was a child, I heard words like "nigger", "coon",
"spear-chucker", "black bastard", and "nig-nog"
directed at me. While perhaps a little confused, this is the language
of biological racism, which, despite post-holocaust political correctness,
was still used in private, the playground in a white school being
a private space for racism. In the same way, after it became unacceptable
for Victorians to speak of the working class as a separate race, they
would still do so in private, amongst each other and, when they could
get away with it, to the working-class themselves.
Racial insults directed
against Asians tended to be of the anti-national variety, having their
origins in colonial India, land of the assimilated elites. Hence,
"wog", "paki", "stani", "curry-muncher".
Insults and jokes directed at Asians tended to refer to culture and
not race: joke about food, dress, language, corner-shops. As I child
I decided that the more assimilated I became the less abuse I would
receive. This didnt work, because they also had the biological
argument in reserve, and, in any case, my parents had spent most of
their lives in India and it was far harder for them to assimilate
than it was for me. Assimilation, as stated, requires more than simply
imitating English cultural practices and abandoning ones own.
It is also an ideological and political transformation. It helps to
ridicule ones own culture and people, to make racist jokes just
as the whites do, to be self-hating, ashamed of ones skin colour,
determined to eradicate any trace of difference. And never, never
complaining about racist injustice, either because it isnt injustice,
or because it does not exist. Assimilation is root and branch. There
are all too many examples of black children trying to remove their
skin with knives or leaping into baths full of boiling water in order
to become white.
I left school having assimilated
to a high level. I had had to, to survive, or so I thought at the
I decided to spend a year
travelling before university. I dont know whether I was aware
of my need to start down the path to counter-assimilation, but that
was what I spent my sixteen months doing. I went to Zimbabwe, South
Africa, Spain, Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Jordan. I encountered
racism in many places, but I also made close friends who were not
white or assimilated, and I lived in communities which were exclusively
non-white and unassimilated. It was enough. I began to encounter myself
with the construction taken out.
My path to counter-assimilation
begun, I went to Oriel College, Oxford to study politics, philosophy
and economics. Oriel College is perhaps the most right-wing of all
Oxford Colleges, and is the closest I have come to living within a
fascist institution. It was around this point that I began to become
Oriel Colleges benefactor
and most heralded alumni is Sir Cecil Rhodes. Oriel College faces
onto Oxfords High Street, from where his statue towers above
the pavement. Rhodes was a major player in the scramble for Africa,
and he sought to bring every part of the world under the control of
the Anglo-Saxon people, to paint the map red. For this
purpose, he established Rhodes Scholarships to enable (at that time
white) citizens of commonwealth countries to study at Oxford and to
form a secret aristocratic elite. Traits most desirable in Rhodes
Scholars were, in his words, smugness, brutality, unctuous rectitude,
and tact. This doesnt, by any means, apply to all Rhodes
Scholars today, but it did apply to many of the people I met at Oriel
During my time at Oriel
College, I heard, on a huge scale, the biological argument
together with a spoonful of imperial romanticism and quite a lot of
Powellism. It was the biological argument that amazed me the most.
I suppose I had expected the rest, but not racist genetics! And all
this from Britains future ruling class!
I left Oxford so angry
that I was barely able to function. I received a scholarship to study
for an M.Phil in Development Studies at, of all places, Cambridge
University. But free money is free money, and I went, did not study,
and wrote my first novel. By then I refused to pay even lip service
to the Oxbridge system. I understood it. While a liberal aristocratic
tradition exists of disinterested study, right wing Oxbridge, as embodied
by my former college, is about prejudice and conditioning, about the
creation of Rhodess "unctuous elite". This returns
us to the upper middle-class side of Powellism, assimilation.
At Oxford you are virtually
taught upper middle-class cultural norms, and you cannot escape
them. It is a story well-documented in the sixties, that of the bright
working-class eighteen year old who arrives at Oxford, loses his regional
accent, becomes accustomed to ruling class manners and prejudices,
and becoming alienated from his former self in the process. For blacks
and Asians, it is a process identical to that which created the Indian
ruling elites during colonial times. Overseas students who are successfully
assimilated can return to their countries and take up their position
in the neo-colonial system as ministers, civil servants, World Bank
officials, and economists. British blacks and Asians can become lawyers
or bankers, or, more "unctuously", work in the media, presenting
a politically compliant image of black and Asian Britain to "the
nation". This is dangerous.
The media actively seeks
black and Asian spokespersons who will write books or newspaper articles,
or appear on TV, claiming to "represent their communities",
whilst pandering to racist prejudices and misconceptions. They become
virtual heroes to white liberals who can scarcely control their excitement
at hearing a black voice telling them exactly what they want to hear.
Look, they can say to dissenting black and Asian voices, it is true!
This system of community
representation may appear to be subtle and nuanced, but it isnt.
It is crude, and obvious. As established, racism has no actual justification,
but it requires its apologists nonetheless. And what could be more
effective, in multicultural Britain, than black and Asian apologists
for racism, black and Asian patriots who feel they have to loudly
declare their loyalty to their nation before saying anything else,
whose agenda is to persuade the audience that they are "like
them", who affect racialised sentimentality and exoticism, or
embrace the rhetoric of cultural pluralism and deliberately accentuate
stereotypes. Some spokespersons are less assimilated than others,
some attempt to "play the system", by telling the whites
what they want to hear while cherishing a secret agenda of truth and
openness. A dangerous game, the same game played by so many Labour
politicians. They began with principles, gained power, and when it
came to action saw that there was nothing left of their principles
any more. They had become power, and were enjoying it.
So, having written my first
novel, In Beautiful Disguises, I decided that I had to set
a novel in Britain. There is no such thing as catharsis in literature,
or, I believe, in life, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could
set a novel in Britain wherein I would liberate my imagination as
I had done in my first novel. I realised that rather than turn the
lens onto hatred, and onto racism, I should simply incorporate it
into my story, into the reality imitated in my fictional world, as
I might include a chair or a street or a city. There was no need for
any rigid demarcation between fantasy and reality; let the two merge,
I decided, as they do in life. Fiction requires a borrowing of the
codes of reality, as the author perceives them, and, for me, racism
is an indelible part of reality, as are love, hatred, war, death.
To fixate on it would be for me to become racism, to become the reverse
side of the racist construction of the other, to make my life a narrative
of resistance to something external to me, that predated and limited
me, made me two-dimensional and caged. I wouldnt do this. But
neither would I deny reality.
The important thing was
that I accepted the reality of racism, but not the fantasy of racial
difference. This is no such thing as race. There are, of course, superficial
physical characteristics found in localised populations; skin colour,
shapes of eyes, nose, lips, but, not only do these account for less
than 0.1% of our biological make-up, but they have no necessary relation
to our more socially significant genetic characteristics; muscle size,
In Britain many people
get it the wrong way around. They accept the fiction of race but deny
the reality of racism. Racism is social exclusion. Race is its invented
justification. Even Hitler agreed. "I can think of no such thing
that I can call rac", he said, "but for me, as a politician,
it serves my purposes very well". I am not a politician. The
concept of race is of no use to me. But the concept of racism forms
an unavoidable part of my reality.
Britain remains a racist
country, with a government that behaves, more often than not, in racist
ways, with a racist press and a racist history. This is undeniable.
The biggest genocides in the last millennium have been against racially
demarcated groups: the black holocaust, the death of fifty eight million
Africans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade; the death of up to fifty
million colonial subjects due to the socially engineered famines of
the late nineteenth century; and the Jewish holocaust. And yet, the
only holocaust we ever hear of in Britain is the holocaust effected
by the nazis, because, in rhetoric at least, this is the only one
that the British opposed.
Britain has not even begun
to contemplate or accept its own past. The slave trade and
the late Victorian holocausts have to become part of the national
psyche, of collective memory. We need a generalised historical awareness
of them, and then racism will become easy to avoid in day to day existence.
As it stands, it is tremendously difficult for the average white Briton
to avoid racism, whether conscious of it or not, and equally difficult
for the average black Briton to avoid at least a degree of self-contempt
and political assimilation. These are constraints that we did not
create. They are historical and institutional, and there is little
we can do about them. This is our reality, one of holocaust-denial.
It is simply staggering how little consciousness of this exists, how
effective is the stranglehold of the British conspiracy of silence.
It is barbaric, and indefensible, and it persists, and persists, and
In In Beautiful Disguises,
my heroine dreams of being a film star, but instead, after running
away from home to escape reality, finds herself working as a maid.
She tells the reader a story from The Mahabharata about Arjuna,
the Pandava, who, with his four brothers, is forced to spend his thirteenth
year of exile in hiding. If they are discovered then they have to
return to the forest for another thirteen years. Arjuna takes on a
womans identity under the name Brihannala, and teaches dancing.
However, when the Kauravas invade he throws off his disguise, takes
up his bow, and fights, returning to his original warriors self.
My heroine reflects: "The point of the story, as I saw it, was
that a warrior is always a warrior, even when hes disguised
as a woman, or a servant. And a film star is always a star, even when
shes a maid. The problem was that Arjuna had been born a warrior
and had chosen his disguises on purpose. I had been born a girl, as
Ravi kept telling me, and not a star, and I had never really wanted
to be a maid."
My heroine analyses the
story in a different way, too. "There is an alternative interpretation.
Perhaps Arjuna had been born a warrior, but deep inside himself he
really wanted to be a woman, and a dancer. So when the opportunity
came he grabbed it with both hands. But if that was true, then why
did he go back to killing people for a living? I had a horrible feeling
the answer had something to do with duty, but at the moment I wasnt
interested in such things".
This is what I mean by
life becoming a narrative of resistance. If it is unreasonable to
expect someone to merge his sense of self with an imposed identity,
is it reasonable to expect a person to spend his entire life resisting
this identity, attempting to throw it off, to substitute it with another
which, in the worst of all cases, would be that of "Asian representative",
or "race writer".
In the end, if we are honest, I am not certain that such a thing is
even possible. This reminds me of a second story from The Mahabharata,
where Dushana attempts to undress Draupadi in front of the entire
court, but Draupadi appeals to Krishna and so, with every layer of
her sari that he removes, another appears, and another, and another.
I hate racism; I hate having
to live with it. It confuses me with its infinite variety of disguises,
with its history of obfuscation and distortion. It resembles some
hideous beast that has been starved for hundreds of years and is now
demented and crazed, barely recognisable, virtually mythical, and
incapable of anything but destruction, whether it is acknowledged
or not. This beast has wounded me, and I cannot imagine not being
angry about it. But I cannot destroy it. I simply have to live with
it as best I can, without trying to wish it away, or to eliminate
it. This task is beyond me. Otherwise I will become like Dushana,
tearing at Draupadis sari for the rest of his life.