Defining Cultural Racism

Social Scientists have used a number of terms to describe cultural racism, all of which emphasise either a particular characteristic or a point of historical emergence. It was labelled ‘new racism’ by Barker (1981) because of its supposed newness in relation to biological racism, which he argued, it had replaced as the dominant formation. The ‘neo racism’ of Balibar (1991) represents the French nomenclature and describes a similar phenomenon. ‘Cultural racism’ appears as an accurate and descriptive label in Modood’s work, principally because he views cultural racism as something that is not particularly new and suggests it has existed for as long as, if not longer than, processes of immigration (1997: 155) The label ‘differentialist racism’ also appears in some accounts and highlights that it is cultural difference that is of principal concern in cultural racism, rather than the hierarchalisation of difference that is evident in traditional racisms.

All accounts describe a racism that discriminates because of cultural difference rather than race difference and so implies that ‘ culture can also function like a nature’ (Balibar 1991: 22. Original emphasis). Farley defines it as following the argument ‘that minorities have developed cultural characteristics that in some way place them at a disadvantage. In more extreme forms, this view holds that groups are culturally inferior’ (1988: 133). Because of its emphasis on culture, it is often seen as a racism that moves away from, or disguises a belief in a biological basis to racism. Balibar explains this:

It is a racism whose dominant theme is not biological heredity but the

insurmountability of cultural differences, a racism which, at first sight, does not postulate the superiority of certain groups or peoples in relation to others but ‘only’ the harmfulness of abolishing frontiers, the incomparability of life-styles and traditions ... (1991: 21)

Balibar’s comments echo Wieviorka’s image of the dual logic of racism - through the issues of exclusionary frontiers and incomparable (read inferior or troublesome) cultures. From this, with its logic comparable to embodied racism, something more needs to be said on how it differs from and interacts with embodied racism.

Theorists have argued that biological racism often existed before, and led to the development of cultural racism (Fanon 1967: 32-3, Modood 1997: 155). It is often argued that cultural racism represents a replacement for biological racism because the latter had become increasingly unacceptable in the post-Holocaust, post-colonial, multicultural period. Barker argues that cultural racism developed after World War II as an alternative discourse due to a general discreditation and disgust with biological racism, and that in the UK this was especially prevalent in Conservative Party discourse of the mid-1970s (Barker 1981). Cook and Clarke argue that it ‘started at the turn of the century and whose latest phase dates at least from 1962’ (1990: 134). Gilroy and Balibar suggest a similar dating. Gilroy argues that cultural racism represents a post-war form of racism (1993: 44), and Balibar suggests:

The new racism is a racism of the era of ‘decolonisation’, of the reversal of population movements between the old colonies and the old metropolises, and the division of humanity within a single political space ... [and] fits into a framework of ‘racism without races’. (1991: 21)

This represents a second characteristic of cultural racism that is usually accepted, after it being a system of prejudice developed through cultural difference, and concerns the situational perspective in which the culture of the ‘other’ is viewed, which is the home territory of the post-war period.[1]

These arguments suggest that cultural racism develops in social situations where there is a history of embodied racism. These arguments are usually applied to political discourse, but as we saw in Chapter 3, embodied racism is not extinct in humour, and so I do not argue that cultural racism represents a replacement for it in joking. Rather, embodied and cultural racism represent equal and available racist resources for the content of humour, but emerge in situations that best suit their application.

It is useful to highlight the idea of cultural racism as one that can discriminate against ‘physical appearance or ancestry but does not require any form of biological determinism’ (Modood 2005b: 12), because embodied racism is not always present in jokes that contain cultural racism. However, cultural racism is not something that directly attaches itself to, or replaces embodied racism, even though it can do so in some instances. Embodied racism and cultural racism do not have a uniform causal connection.

The chapter will deconstruct the concept of culturally racist humour into smaller joke themes. This deconstruction highlights the overall similarity of ‘othering’ processes involved in humour that contain embodied and cultural racism, nationalism, xenophobia and immigrational prejudice.

A final area of discussion focuses on the identification of the groups that are subjected to cultural racism. Modood (1997: 156-60) describes how, in the British context, different racisms have tended to affect different ethnic groups and suggests that colour racism, is often, in this context, aimed at black or Afro- Caribbean ethnic groups whereas cultural racism tends to attack British Asians. He argues ‘the racialized images of Asians is not so extensively linked to physical appearance. It very soon appeals to cultural motifs such as language, religion, family structures, exotic dress, cuisine, and art forms’ (Modood 2005b: 7), and that ‘Asians suffer a double or a compound racism’ (Modood 2005b: 7). This compound racism exists because, for Modood, racism aimed at black and Afro- Caribbeans is primarily a form of colour racism, whereas that aimed at Asians also contains an element of colour racism but is primarily constructed as a cultural racism. As was shown in Chapter 3, embodied racism tends to be used in humour to describe black minorities. This chapter will show that cultural racism appears to focus on Asians in the main and that embodied racism often appears as a part of this humour. Despite this observation, Modood’s idea of a ‘double racism’ is not supported because there is no basis on which to suggest that this joking is any more, or less, rhetorically severe or successful. Both types express and support the dual logic of racism - exclusion and inferiorisation - which is perhaps a sturdier means on which to judge potential readings. To highlight this point it is necessary to use a joke from the internet. This is the only internet-based joke used in the chapter, and it is anti-Muslim:

  • (Q) Why Do MUSLIM Women Cover Their Faces?
  • (A) They think Cover-up means Cover Girl.
  • (A) To hide their Bad Breath.
  • (A) To hide the Camel Piss stains on their teeth.
  • (A) To avoid public ridicule for being so fucking ugly.
  • (A) To hide the fact they are Inbred Baboon decedents.
  • (A) To avoid being a look alike Martha Stewart Clone Doll.
  • (A) To hide their shame they are a Muslim and part of the biggest group of terrorist in the world.
  • (sic) (Jack’s Muslim Jokes 2005)

Importantly, as the above joke shows, one contemporary form of racism is antiMuslim. It attacks Muslims but also leads to a general increase in racism towards all British Asians (The Runnymede Trust 1997, Modood 2005b, Abrams and Houston 2006). Focusing on terrorism, Gilroy explains how in the contemporary setting this represents a new depiction of the ‘other’:

As Islamophobia has increasingly shaped public debate and the figure of the traitor/terrorist has emerged to hold hands with the other well-worn iconic representations of imminent racial chaos and disorder: the street criminal, the scrounger and the illegal immigrant. (2005: 433)

This formation of cultural racism and its internal dichotomies appears in some humour. The previous joke is certainly an extreme and crude example of antiMuslim racism. It is, however, very difficult to distinguish how the cultural, embodied and political characteristics or depictions mentioned in it can be separated or prioritised in relation to a compound racism and how this combination of elements make the racism any worse than the purely embodied racism seen in Chapter 3. Moreover, because black minorities are subjected to embodied and cultural racism (this was illustrated at the end of Chapter 3, but biological racism also always contained moral and cultural distinctions (Rattansi 2007: 31), they too suffer from a compound racism, but one that is reversed. British Asians do not represent an unusual case in this regard.

  • [1] Despite this, the general themes of cultural racism can be seen to have somehistorical ubiquity. In not wanting to overemphasise the specificity of cultural racism in thepost-colonial context, Balibar’s comment that ‘[a] racism which does not have the pseudobiological concept of race as its main driving force has always existed . Its prototypeis anti-Semitism’ (1991: 23), provides a useful marker for this point. Although there areobvious historical points at which anti-Semitism is an embodied racism, and it could beargued that this is specifically when it becomes most problematic. Fredrickson (2002)provides evidence on the historical presence of cultural racism. He explains how, in earlymodernity, race and culture were both present in racism, and charts the emergence of racismdirected at Muslims and Jews in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Spain (2002: 31).
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