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p. 1147. Racist identities: ambivalence, contradiction, and commitmentlocked

  • Ali Rattansi


People are often accused of using racialized language but this is not the same as being called a racist. What constitutes an identity? An individual or group identity is only partly a matter of self-identification. Identities are also assigned by others. They imply and rely on the recognition of differences. ‘Racist identities: ambivalence, contradiction, and commitment’ questions the ambivalence of racialized language, the factors that create an identity, and the contradictions involved in anti-racists claims that prejudice is a product of ignorance and irrationality. Having a possibly unfavourable view of ‘outsiders’ does not constitute racism, which involves specific beliefs about the existence of race and the possibility of a hierarchical order.

Let us begin with Kilroy-Silk, again. I expressed the judgement above that his remarks on ‘Arabs’ constituted a relatively strong form of racialization, and thereby had already entered the terrain of racism by using some of its key elements. Furthermore, his cavalier description of Arabs as inferior meant that the charge of racism has further plausibility, although I must stress that this is not the same as labelling him a racist in some absolute, definitive sense.

In support of Kilroy-Silk, he and others cited the frequent appearance of British ethnic minority individuals on his breakfast television show and the fact that he employed a black driver.

But are we entitled to conclude that Kilroy-Silk is therefore not racist? This is where his identity as a racist – and that of others who make such remarks or perform other acts with a strong element of racialization – becomes an issue.

Understanding identities

But what constitutes an identity? In recent years the social sciences have been engulfed by significant debates and new thinking on this subject. In what follows, I will draw out in abbreviated form what I regard to be the most salient themes that can help us understand issues relevant to the question of racist identities.

p. 115Firstly, an individual or group identity is only partly a matter of self-identification. Identities are also assigned by others or created by the state and civic institutions. Census categories and other social surveys which box people into groups such as white, black, ‘mixed’, Christian, Muslim, and so forth are a powerful source of such identificatory labels.

Secondly, identities usually imply and rely on the recognition of difference. Being American, black, female, young, and so forth are in part possible because others can be and are classified as Chinese, white, male, and old. Therefore, drawing boundaries around characteristics of ‘sameness’, and thus belonging, necessarily involves practices of exclusion and the creation of identities of non-belonging for others.

The fact that any identity also requires identifying what it is not, means that any identity is potentially open to being threatened and destabilized by identities that are being denied. For example, male identity can only be sustained by identification with certain norms of masculinity, but given the myriad commonalities between men and women, and the fact that conceptions of masculinity and femininity are subject to historical change, male behaviour and masculine identity characterized by ‘toughness’, ‘independence’, aversion to childcare, and so forth are always open to being subverted by ‘tenderness’ and softness, open display of emotions or affection, commitment to childcare, and so forth. It is important to emphasize that the necessity of difference does not imply the necessity of ‘prejudice’, ‘threat’, and hostility. As Billig has pointed out in a seminal contribution, the categorization and classification of others by individuals and groups is a complex and variable process. One significant point is that generalizations coexist with attention to particulars, so generalized hostility is not an automatic product of individual and group attempts at classifying the surrounding social world. As anthropological evidence, summarized, for example, by Elizabeth Cashden, shows, loyalty to one’s own group is not automatically accompanied by hostility to p. 116members of other groups. Thus tolerance, co-operation, and openness are as likely outcomes of the creation of categories and identities as are ‘prejudice’ and hostility.

Thirdly, the drawing of boundaries and the creation of identities emerge out of a process in which individuals have to decide and assert who they are in negotiation with other identity-assigning agents such as their families, the religious communities into which they may be born, the education system which grades and labels them in various ways, and local and national state regulations, including race relations legislation. Thus, identities are the outcome of processes of power relations and are located in structures of authority.

Fourthly, identities as bounded entities are not permanently fixed. The transformation of those labelled as ‘niggers’ into ‘coloured’, and thence to ‘black’ and ‘African American’, is an obvious and telling case in point of changes in self-identification as part of organized, political campaigning to change public identities through their recognition and location in public structures of power and authority. But individual identities, including racist identities, are also relatively provisional and open to transformation. They are not completely frozen in time and space.

The above examples highlight an important lesson from current debates on identity. It is more important to frame our thinking about identity in terms of processes of identification.

Fifthly, identities always involve multiplicity. Individuals have multiple roles and a variety of ‘subject positions’ pertaining to different roles and identifications. A woman may be wife, sister, daughter, and a militant feminist, setting up diverse identifications and the potential for opening up to a variety of other individuals in different circumstances.

Sixthly, identities, therefore, are rarely coherent and integrated.

p. 117They are prone to inconsistency and contradiction, depending on the context. Boys and men may behave in a tough, ‘macho’ style when with other males, in schools and workplaces, but may display softer, supposedly more ‘feminine’ aspects at home with their own children, spouses, and younger siblings.

One reason that identities lack coherence is because societies tend to have potentially contradictory moral principles embedded in their public cultures. Social psychologists such as Mike Billig have thus argued that individuals constantly find themselves in situations where they are placed in dilemmas as to how they should behave, and they can and do choose to act differently and inconsistently at different times or places.

For instance, liberal Western societies contain powerful legitimations of inequalities in resources between individuals, and ideas about the inferiority of women or different ethnic groups, but at the same time have strongly embedded egalitarian traditions and legislative measures that sanction equal rights, fair treatment, and taboos against racism. We should also bear in mind Katz’s insight, referred to in my discussion of the Holocaust, that individuals can compartmentalize different expectations into separate moral spheres, allowing them to behave in accordance with different ethical rules in different contexts, for example as between the concentration camp and the home.

Psychoanalytic perspectives have also had some influence on recent conceptions of identity, leading to the conclusion that individuals are de-centred in the sense of having their behaviour influenced by unconscious motivations, projections of inner fears and bad feelings about the self onto others, and so forth. In thus not being fully self-aware and fully knowledgeable about their own inner selves, individuals may behave inconsistently and in a contradictory manner.

Psychoanalytic, dilemmatic, and other forms of de-centring discussed above also make it possible to grasp the way in which p. 118contradictory pressures and unconscious motivations may generate ambivalence and contradiction when it comes to relationships with others. In my view, this is a point of considerable significance in understanding racism, as we shall see.

In general, an important conclusion from psychoanalytic, and the other conceptions of identity discussed above, is that individual identities are always subject to unconscious anxieties, fears, and continuous, vague, or more focused insecurities, which can be exacerbated in times of rapid change or in encounters with strangers. This has obvious implications for the exacerbation of racism against immigrants and ethnic minorities in times of intense globalization and the rapid transformation of communities and locales.

Finally, it is important to grasp that group or social identities also lack inner coherence. Therefore individuals who belong to a particular group are faced with different conceptions of what membership of the group really means for their identity. ‘Woman’, for instance, is not a unified category. There are middle-class and working-class women, black and white, Chinese and American, British Pakistani and British African Caribbean, mothers and singletons, sisters and daughters, heterosexual or lesbian, to take some of the most obvious social divisions between women with different and potentially contradictory implications for self-identity and individual action, and collective identity and group action.

Putting this final point in more social scientific terms, it is important to be vigilant against the essentialization of collective categories and identities. It is impossible to find a single ‘essence’ or core in a collective identity. There is no essential, singular way in which to be a man, woman, teenager, American, or African. Or racist.

The racism of racist identities

These transformations in the general understanding of identities, as I have also argued in Racism, Modernity and Identity (1994), can throw considerable light on the conundrums and controversies generated by examples of possibly racist behaviour.

Continuing with the case of Kilroy-Silk, note, in addition to his newspaper piece on Arabs, some other remarks attributed to him. Amongst them have been the following. ‘The orgy of thieving in Iraq has more to do with the character of the people than the absence of restraining troops.’ On the Irish, he has been quoted as describing them as ‘peasants, priests and pixies’. On immigration: ‘Why imply the increase in promiscuity is due to promiscuity among the young, indigenous population when it is entirely due to immigration?’ In addition, his membership of the United Kingdom Independence Party, and subsequently his attempt to set up his own version of this movement, displays a strong streak of nationalism and hostility to closer ties with other nations, even white ones.

What the statements and behaviour display is a strongly racialized identity that is combined with hostility to other nations and ethnicities and a tendency to view them stereotypically and simplistically as possessing innate, unattractive characteristics. The evidence points to an individual who has a tendency to view others relatively consistently through a racialized framework. There is even a tendency to project unacceptable (sexual) behaviour entirely on to racialized minorities as opposed to ‘the indigenous population’, a phrase that also appears to betray a tendency to not offer recognition to the belongingness of ethnic minorities to the British nation.

Without a thorough study of Kilroy-Silk’s identifications and behaviour, any judgement inevitably has to be tentative. However, on a spectrum or continuum of non-racism to racism, publicly p. 120available evidence appears to reveal more elements of a racist identity than a non-racist identity. Employment of a black driver, a relatively lowly occupation, hardly constitutes mitigation.

This brings us back to the case of the football commentator Ron Atkins, also mentioned in Chapter 1, ‘Conundrums’, which seems to be more complex than that of Kilroy-Silk. At a point when Atkins believed that the microphone was switched off he described a black footballer as ‘a fucking lazy thick nigger’. On the face of it, so to speak, the remarks have obvious racist connotations, reproducing a widespread stereotype of black laziness, repeating a common insulting judgement about black intelligence, and using the word ‘nigger’, which has long been regarded as an unacceptable, derogatory reference to black people.

Atkins promptly apologized for the remarks, claimed that he was not a racist, but resigned. This was not the end of the matter. Atkins was also reputed to be someone who had been a pioneer in promoting black football talent, and some black footballers came out publicly in support of Atkins. Other black footballers, however, said that Atkins was well known for racially abusing black footballers, and they claimed to have personal experiences of such abuse.

What is one to make of Atkins’s alleged racism? Did the unguarded comments reveal his real views, camouflaged by support for black players which could be seen simply as a cynical strategy for opportunistically taking advantage of potential skills?

On the basis of what I have said about the nature of personal and social identities in general, and judging on the basis of limited information about him we would be justified in concluding that Atkins, like many others, has contradictory and ambivalent responses to black people. He is neither really only a racist nor really a non-racist. Like most white people in Britain, he has culturally absorbed both sorts of views, and his response to any p. 121particular black person depends on the context and circumstances in which he is interacting with the black individuals.

Atkins-type responses can be better understood in the light of my earlier comments on the multiplicity of identities of individuals as well as the resulting de-centredness of their subjectivity such that individuals are not always fully knowledgeable about the layers of identification in their makeup, nor in control of their responses, so that they may end up behaving in a manner they abhor and have long tried to avoid.

A couple of striking illustrations of this sort of ‘de-centredness’ can be found in incidents reported from the USA. The slips of the tongue which resulted in the secretary of state Condoleezza Rice being referred to as a ‘coon’ in March 2006, when a talk show host on radio was trying to use the word ‘coup’, and ‘coon’ (nearly) slipping out when another radio broadcaster was talking about Martin Luther King in 2005, which resulted in his also being sacked, appear to be graphic examples of a racist vocabulary and perception unconsciously embedded in otherwise liberal individuals and emerging into conscious utterance without warning and with serious consequences for the speakers.

If this interpretation of such incidents is accepted, as I think it should, it marks a radical departure from the conventional impasse in which so many accusations of racism end up, with denials, counter-accusations, anger, and a sense of unfair treatment on both sides. The important thing when issues of this kind arise is not simply to try and come to a definite judgement of ‘guilt’, although this is obviously required in legal contexts, but to learn from it how individuals, in the arena of ‘race’ relations and elsewhere are continuously juggling with a variety of identities and narratives, a range of ‘scripts’ and languages in making sense of situations and responding to them, and understand why it is necessary to engage in a constant and constructive public dialogue about how our responses can break out of grids and frameworks that rely on p. 122simplistic accusations of racism and equally simplistic ideas of non-racist identities. The labelling of an action, including an utterance, as ‘racist’ should be the beginning of a dialogue and enquiry, not the prelude to a round of polarized shouting matches from entrenched positions. Discussion of the nature and multidimensional character of racism should be part of an ongoing public conversation. Combating and unravelling racisms are part of a continuous, long-term project. And it should be democratic, not authoritarian, in form.

Amongst other things, we must always be on guard not to read off a rigid, highly committed racist identity from the fact of voting for a racist party. This became clear in earlier discussions of Germans who voted for the Nazi Party, and has implications for understanding the widely varying commitments to racism amongst those who vote for extreme right parties today.

However, three possible traps should be avoided. Firstly, in the case of racist identities, not everything is always possible. It is possible to arrive at provisional judgements about the relative strength of racist identifications in individuals who have behaved in an ostensibly racist manner. For example, on the information available publicly, it is possible to conclude that Kilroy-Silk has a stronger and more consistent racialized identity than Atkins. But this does not mean that he is going to behave in a racist manner to all individuals or will demean all ethnic minority cultures at all times. There are complex and variable relationships between racist acts in particular contexts, the holding of well-worked-out or vague, ‘common-sense’ racist beliefs which combine race, nation, ethnicity, and ‘way of life’, and having strong or weak, consistent or ambivalent and contradictory racist identities.

Secondly, individuals may respond differently to different racialized groups. Take another case from ‘Conundrums’, David Tovey who had married a Chinese woman, lived with another of Jamaican origin, but was planning violent racist attacks against British Asians p. 123(referring to them as ‘Pakis’ and ‘niggers’), especially Muslims. This, amongst a host of cases, illustrates my earlier point about the folly of essentializing racist identities. There is no singular way of being racist.

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that although racist views are often impervious to ‘rational’ counter-argument and evidence, even those who appear to have shown a strong commitment to racism may change their minds when confronted by different evidence. As an example, one can cite the woman who won a seat for the ultra-right British National Party in local elections in the town of Burnley, having campaigned for the BNP because she believed the Party’s claims that the local council had been biased in favour of local Asians in relation to allocation of resources, but who resigned from office in February 2004 after seeing official accounts of how resources had been distributed which showed that the council had in fact acted fairly. To have labelled the woman ‘racist’ without qualification would have been to miss the important possibility of seeing her as she was, a reflective actor open to counter-evidence and counter-argument galvanized into political activism by grievances she believed at the time.

And of course, we should never forget that Wilhelm Marr, pioneer of modern anti-Semitism, married Jewish women and eventually recanted and begged forgiveness from the Jewish people.

How much racism? Ambivalence and contradiction in black–white relations in the USA

The more complex approach to understanding racism and racist identities I am advocating is supported by a substantial body of social science research. In particular, research bears out the interpretation that many of those whose identities appear to be solidly racist also have views and attitudes, and engage in behaviour that is non-racist. There is much inconsistency and contradiction in white American views of African Americans, for example, which p. 124the white individuals live with, deploying a range of conscious, semi-conscious, and unconscious strategies and defence mechanisms to shore up particular views in specific contexts.

Ambivalence, in other words, is as much a characteristic as simple racism in the views of those who might be simply dismissed as racist. The issue of white ambivalence towards African Americans is a key theme of social psychologist Paul Wachtel’s excellent discussion in Race in the Mind of America (1999).

And in combination with ambivalence, the idea of racialization as an uneven, variable, multidimensional, and ‘incomplete’ phenomenon is more useful than a simplistic differentiation between racists and non-racists.

Of course, this makes it particularly difficult to arrive at blanket and definitive judgements about the degree of racism in American society (and elsewhere), or the character and extent of changes in racism. Although there is general agreement amongst American researchers that there has been a decline in covert expressions of racist belief, there is considerable disagreement about its significance. Many claim that any reduction in racism as measured in attitude surveys is partly at least a consequence of awareness on the part of interviewees and respondents that racism has become increasingly culturally unacceptable in America. They therefore disguise their real views, and thus social scientific and public opinion surveys underestimate the real degree of racism against African Americans.

Inevitably, researchers have tried ingenious methods to reveal the real views of American whites. Sometimes participants are attached to equipment which they are led to believe monitors physiological reactions which will demonstrate their real views. Researchers argue that in such circumstances, where respondents think that their real views will be exposed, the results show higher levels of negative views of blacks.

p. 125On the other hand, widely discussed research by the political scientist Paul Sniderman has challenged the conclusion that covert methods reveal more racism amongst whites, especially conservative American whites. Different versions of a survey were administered to different participants, where they were asked to respond to schemes for government assistance to laid-off workers some of whom were black or white, with work histories that showed some to be dependable and others to be unreliable, married or single, and with or without children. The research showed, surprisingly, that conservative white Americans were more likely to support government help to black workers than the whites in similar circumstances.

But what exactly can we conclude from these findings? A more detailed study of the findings shows that compared to liberals, conservative Americans were four times as likely to support state assistance to dependable black workers as compared with assistance to dependable white workers. But conservatives tended to regard black dependable workers as exceptions amongst black workers, and they supported government assistance to these workers as ones who, unlike other blacks, were ‘really trying’.

That is, blacks were generally viewed by conservatives as not dependable, and in practice this means that only a small proportion of blacks were regarded as deserving of assistance. The rest were regarded as having only themselves to blame for their poorer fortunes, a view that would not support policies to reduce generalized black inequality in American society.

One plausible interpretation of such research findings is that while a large proportion of white Americans are now more prepared to support ‘racial’ equality, they are reluctant to support the specific policies that are required to address the unjust inequalities that have blighted the lives of African Americans, and this is partly because they regard such policies as possibly having a detrimental impact on their own economic interests and life chances. This p. 126would account for the inconsistencies and contradictions that seem to characterize the attitudes of white Americans to their black fellow citizens.

Human nature and the inevitability of racism

At this point it is useful to consider a view that has been briefly mentioned in my discussion of Enoch Powell and Le Pen. That is, underlying the view of many latter day racists and ultra-nationalists is the belief that what the critics decry as racism is simply the product of ‘natural’ human attributes such as the willingness of human groups, especially ‘nations’, to protect their ‘own kind’ and their own territories, forms of self-survival that inevitably involve acting defensively on the basis of stereotypes which may rest on limited knowledge but demonstrate sensible caution. What some see as a form of racism is thus viewed instead as thinking and behaviour that are and make ‘common sense’. It is only ‘human nature’ to act in this manner. And, it is believed, this is just as well for the survival of individuals, cultures, and nations.

Evolutionary psychology, a recent development, is sometimes regarded as sanctioning racism as natural, but this is quite mistaken. The main researchers in the field, such as Cosmides and Tooby, are at pains to point out that their findings demonstrate the fundamental unity of the human species, thus completely undermining attempts to use their theories in support of interpretations that use the concept of race. And psychologists such as Steven Pinker, who do believe in some notion of human nature, are nevertheless quite clear that racism is not a universal feature produced by this human nature, although ‘prejudice’ and ‘stereotyping’ are inevitably involved in human attempts at classifying and responding to the social world.

A major problem with both the ‘common sense’ and more academic versions of biologically deterministic and evolutionary views of social behaviour is that on their own they are unable to account for p. 127where group boundaries are drawn, and why. There is nothing ‘natural’ about nations and nation-states, for example. They only emerged in modern times. To claim a basic biological continuity between defence of national territory, generalized xenophobia or hostility to ‘foreigners’ and a ‘natural’ preference for ‘one’s own kind’ is misleading. ‘One’s own kind’ may turn out to be a group based on gender, colour, religion, occupation, street, neighbourhood, village, city, country, or large agglomerate of nations such as contained within ‘Europe’ or the European Union.

There is a vacuity to the claim about racism being just ‘human nature’ that robs it of any historical or political specificity. Not all groups inspire loyalty or provoke hostility to the same degree in all periods. The extraordinarily diverse fate of Jewish communities in different cultures, times, and places furnishes a telling illustration of the implausibility of the ‘human nature’ thesis.

As an explanatory tool this version of the ‘human nature’ thesis is too vague to account for any particular defensiveness or hostility by any specific group towards another. Especially, it does not explain why and how groups have come to define themselves and others as ‘races’. This is again a product of modern times, and closely connected to the idea of ‘nations’, from the 18th century onwards and has been the result of complex intellectual, political, cultural, and economic developments.

Stereotypes and scapegoats

Although ‘stereotyping’ and the exaggeration of similarities between members of one group and its differences as compared with another appear be more or less universal, this too does not explain why particular groups get labelled as having specific traits. What is clear from any historical analysis, for example of the British Empire and the noble savage, is that contradictory stereotypes or generalizations of ‘Others’ are usually in circulation at more or less the same time. The sexualization and gendering of race, as I have p. 128shown in earlier chapters, also plays an important role in complicating conceptions of racialized others.

The result is that stereotypes, like other views, reveal contradiction and ambivalence rather than completely invariable contempt or hostility or admiration towards other groups. The attributes of other groups tend to be split between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ones. Attitudes towards Asians in Europe and the US, for instance, reveal admiration for supposed community unity, thrift, ambition, hard work, respect for education, and ‘family values’, but also hostility for insularity, suspicion regarding their loyalties to the Western nation-states in which they have come to live, and a sense of superiority towards their more ‘backward’ cultures, especially in relation to religion, the status of women, and so forth.

The supposed inevitability of racism is sometimes explained as the product of other kinds of innate psychological characteristics of humans. A common one is scapegoating.

Developing some ideas from Freud, the argument here is that when individuals or groups are unable to express their frustration and aggression against their real oppressors or exploiters because the latter are too powerful, the aggression becomes displaced onto weaker or lower-status individuals or groups unable to defend themselves. The targets are often ethnically distinct communities, especially if they are minorities, who are then attacked or discriminated against in some aggressive manner. At the individual level, the psychological mechanism involved is often referred to as projection, for which there is research evidence, whereby the individual displaces bad feelings about the self onto others as an unconscious defence and survival strategy.

Whatever the merits of such interpretations, the evidence is at best inconclusive. This is partly because of the inherent difficulties of studying unconscious mechanisms and motivations, and also p. 129because of the vague and speculative conceptions of instincts of aggression, death, and self-preservation that are posited.

One fundamental objection is that there is no conclusive research evidence that frustration and aggression are linked in the ways posited by the various scapegoating hypotheses. Frustration against the powerful may dissipate into fatalism, for example, or be undermined by perceived cultural and other commonalities with the powerful. And it is not clear that frustration is always present when aggression occurs. Aggression, moreover, as social learning researchers have demonstrated, is as much a learnt response as ‘natural’, and reliant for repetition upon social mechanisms and organizations which reward aggressive behaviour.

This immediately leads to the problem of how and why particular groups come to be the targets of the displacement of frustration-aggression, the role of political mobilization and ideological propaganda in this targeting, and why this might take a racialized form if it does at all. There is nothing natural or inevitable in one group – for example occupational rather than ethnic – being targeted rather than another, or biological elements such as skin colour acting as identifiers. Any fully fledged racism has to rely on the prior invention of the category of race and racialized interpretations of behaviour and cultural evaluation.

Whilst embodiment is obviously an important feature of human identities, and therefore what other human beings look like may create expectations about what they are like and how they might behave, the features that come to matter are historically learned and socially variable. There is nothing intrinsic in skin colour, shape of nose, or size of skull that has evoked similar responses. Indeed, dividing lines between skin colour, for example, are as much a matter of social processes as natural perception, as we have seen in the manner in which Italians and the Irish came to be ‘seen’ as ‘white’ in the USA, and in Britain too. And the failure of ‘scientific p. 130racism’ to provide consistent, credible classifications of nose or skull shape and other physiological features are equally telling.

Explanations of racism that rely on innate bio-psychological characteristics thus presuppose the existence of racism, and even then rely on questionable reasoning to establish connections between them.

Some psychoanalytic ideas are highly suggestive in interpreting the trans-historical persistence of ambivalence and sexualization in perceptions and interrelations between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. Perhaps none is more compelling than Freud’s insight regarding intrinsic, intertwining connections between love and hate, sexual desire and aggression, in relations between ‘Self’ and ‘Other’.

Prejudice + Power = Racism?

In the period between the 1960s and 1980s, amongst a substantial proportion of white anti-racists in the USA and UK, it was common to define racism with the formula: ‘Prejudice + Power = Racism’. But as I have shown in ‘Race’, Culture and Difference (1992), only a modicum of analytical ability is required to have a field day with the oversimplifications involved.

The contradictions involved in the anti-racists’ claim that prejudice is a product of ignorance and irrationality are easily exposed. Rectifying ignorance by factually undermining myths about blacks and other minorities can only work as an anti-racist strategy if the prejudiced are open to rational argument and evidence, which by definition the irrational are not.

Moreover, ‘prejudice’, in the form of expectations that go beyond immediate and interpersonal experiences and solidly verified truths about human behaviour appear to be universal human traits, not just confined to racists. This is clear from social psychological p. 131research on how individuals learn to classify and respond to the social world around them.

However, one should not entirely dismiss the fact that relative degrees of ignorance do nourish the formation of hostile attitudes. As many pointed out in response to Kilroy-Silk’s statement that ‘We Owe Arabs Nothing’, it is in Arab cultures, indeed in present-day Iraq, that writing appears to have been invented, to take just one thing that ‘we’ owe ‘Arabs’.

And what is one to make of hostility against minorities amongst relatively powerless white working class and poor whites? Could the poor never be classified as racist? This latter issue was pertinent given the view of many anti-racists that only whites could genuinely be regarded as racist, because only their prejudice could be translated into power against minorities. Of course, the formula also simply failed to accommodate the many relatively wealthy and powerful non-white individuals who expressed racist views.

Finally, the formula finds itself undermined by the argument that although most (white and other) individuals might have unfavourable or unfriendly views of ‘outsiders’ or strangers, this does not constitute racism, which involves specific beliefs about the existence of races and the possibility of their being classified hierarchically as superior and inferior on a number of physiological and cultural criteria, amongst other things.