Racial relationships have evolved in England and France have evolved over the last twenty years. Cultural traditions keep changing they grow, mutate and influence or are influenced by the changing traditions around them. Paul Gilroy in his book There Aint No Black in the Union Jack describes the effect of racism with respect to exclusion of the Black community (Gilroy, 1991, pp 73-75). Most British politics and culture represents the Black community as estranged and external from the nation.

While this is true to a certain extent there needs to some deconstruction and contextualizing of the images of black alterity. This is because black people are not entirely external to the British nation rather history has seen some incorporation of black people in to the country. The incorporation process has however been incomplete and sometimes provisional or even uneven but with all these the Black people remain a part of the country (Gilroy, 1991, pp153). This paper will look at the relationship between race and nation in Britain and France describing who belongs and does not as per the racial understandings of the nation and national identity. It begins with a look at various racial portraits.

Gilroy describes a story of young Rastafarian named Samuels who refused a judges offer to help him find work. This was after the judge spent most of his lunch break on the phone trying to convince the director of the firm to secure a place for the young man who was a trained electronics worker (Gilroy, 1991, pp 72). Samuels refused to take up the job with the argument that he could not take up a job because it involved traveling for two and a half hours. This led the judge to give him two weeks to find work. Samuels found work as a van driver (Gilroy, 1999, pp73). The story made it to the papers not because of the generosity of the judge but because of the supposed ungratefulness of Samuels (Gilroy, 1999, pp73). The judge received a lot of anonymous mail from anarchists and fascists who believed that Samuels and his people were unfit to be members of society (Gilroy, 199, pp73).

The happenings of the courtroom demonstrate the images and themes that are central to contemporary racism. It also demonstrates how important black criminality is in modern day racial discourse. The case of Samuels forms a beginning point for the description of black law breaking. It gives a connection between black criminality and the rejection of work. Gilroy states that this behavior of rejection of work is deeply rooted in the expressive culture of Black people in Britain. There have been changes in the representations of black law-breaking in the period following the war.

One white reporter who was held up by young black youth reported how much perplexed the people who were mugged with him were. The muggers were smartly dressed. This makes Samuels sort of an anachronism as smartly dressed thugs refuse to conform to the stereotype of what a black criminal ought to look like. Samuelss criminal character is supposedly declared by his black skin, his way of dress and his sub-cultural affiliation (Gilroy, 1991, pp 73). In the coverage of Samuelss story there is no explanation of what a Rastafarian is and there is no mention of the word black youth. What this means is that there is an assumption of these issues which is important in threading the story together. The nature of Samuelss crime is linked to his blackness and to his West Indian culture (Gilroy, 1999, pp73).

Gilroy describes the immigration of rastas into the UK and explains how their mingling with the emerging punk subculture took on racial and socioeconomic contexts. Rastafarian music readily took root in Britain and expanded rapidly. The Mastermind Road Show attributes its growth to the reggae sound system and soul music (Gilroy, 1991, pp114).

There was close correspondence between reggae and hip hop subculture which led to the adoption of solidarity and fraternity among Black people. It was this music that was used as an antiracism tool by the artistes at the time. Riots and street protests were the subject matter in the recordings of various reggae artistes based in Britain. Gilroy goes on to give examples of emancipation questions asked in reggae songs, for example Burning Spears, Do You Remember the Days of Slavery(Gilroy, 1991, pp 114) The thinking behind this is that by confronting such historical memories then the first steps towards freeing oneself from mental slavery were being made. The soul and reggae culture is an example of the expressive culture of Black people. Both kinds of music provided ways in which the people could celebrate and reconstruct their own histories. Reggae for example has different artists criticizing and commenting on the others work or extending a narrative but with different viewpoints.

In his book, The Algerian War and the Remaking of France, Sheppard holds that modern day France was definitively changed by the relationship that it had with Algeria for close to 132 years. France regarded Algeria as an extension of itself. Definitions of nationality and citizenship were among the issues that were of significance as efforts were made to make Algeria part of France. When Algeria became independent, the country became an example of the dramatic failure of French institutions to convince people to identify themselves as being French (Sheppard, 2006, pp10). Since the French Revolution there were many incidents of course where groups and individuals had resisted efforts of being called French. The French state however always maintained its claims of being right and when necessary enforced this with violence.

This is indicated in the confrontations between the French and the Vendee, the confrontation with the village of Hautefaye in 1870 and the fight with the Bretons in the 1900s (Sheppard, 2006, pp 11).  In all these cases the French state was attempting to impose being French on these groups. Historians show that the colonialist racism was in operation at the time when the French were trying to crush the Algerian Revolution. It involved the systematic use of torture, massive population dislocations and summary executions which altogether led to the death of about a quarter million Algerians (Sheppard, 2006, pp13).

Looking at the Algerian Revolution one sees the limits, paradoxes, violence and incoherencies created by Western Universalism (Sheppard, 2006, pp14-15). With the exit of French universalism at the end of the war, there seemed to be a reemergence of racial or ethnic differences that before had not been recognized.

When initially Algeria had been described as an extension of France, descriptions such as North Africans, Algerian Muslims who could not be French or European began to occur. The use of racial thinking, racist affirmations and racial categories in state documents became more common whereas before France had maintained a semblance of color blindness (Sheppard, 2006, pp16). France however did not make these racial categories official and generally avoided placing such classifications in law, perhaps due to the attachment to universalist principles. France was most successful in creating a semblance of equality in the area of representative politics. As early as the late 1920s colored men had cabinet level posts and when women were given the right to vote there was a woman or man of color in every government (Sheppard, 2006, pp 17). The events of 1962 however saw this somewhat successful formal representation come to an end. The efforts of France in maintaining a race blind equality can be argued to have been motivated by a desire to continue control over Algerias people and land and a desire to reaffirm the self-understanding of France (purely selfish reasons). After achieving military dominance over the rebels France continued to ignore the arguments of Algerians who did not want French rule and who did not want to French.

Enoch Powell in his speech, the Rivers of Blood recounts a conversation he had with one of his constituents who tells him that if he could he would leave Britain and settle his children overseas. The man stated that within a couple of years the black man would have the hip hand over the white man (Powell, 1969, pp55). Powell suggested that there needed to be efforts put in place to stop the inflow of immigrants and in stead the outflow of immigrants needed to be supported by assistance and generous grants (Powell, 1969, pp 56). Powell even claimed that the immigrants had asked them whether this was possible. In his speech, Powell also quoted a letter that he had received from a white resident who lived among immigrants. She had lost her husband and sons and only had her house as a source of income which she let out for rent. The white immigrants she let out rooms to unfortunately moved out when immigrants moved into the area (Powell, 1969, pp 58). She had experienced verbal abuse from the immigrants after refusing to let them use her phone. Upon asking for a rates reduction on her house, a council officer refused saying that she should let the rooms out (Powell, 1969, pp59). She stated that only black immigrants would rent the house to which the officer replied that racial prejudice would get her nowhere.

The woman was afraid to go outside and she would find excreta in her letterbox, her windows were broken and when she went outside she would be followed by chants of racialist. At the time when the bill on Race Relations was passes the woman was convinced she would go to prison. Powells argument was that though many immigrants wanted to integrate most of them did not want and wanted to continue fostering religious and racial differences with the aim of exercising domination over the British population (Powell, 1969, pp 60).

The speech given by Powell indicates the racial tensions that existed within Britain at the time. Upon delivering the speech, there was hardly any annoyance and it is even reported that some people claimed that what he had said needed to be said. The conservative leadership was however outraged by his speech and it even led to the loss of his jobs. Powell was dismissed because his speech was described as inflammatory and posed the risk of damaging race relations.

In all the texts above the authors have tried to explain the different dimensions in which racialism has existed. It can be concluded that the Europeans both British and French did in fact see themselves as the superior race but there have been changes as both white and black people press for equality using various means ranging from music to legislation. The major point is that issues pertaining to race are ever changing and need to be seen in the context of their time and place.


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