From Class to a White Racial Identity

For Nairn, the links between English nationalism, class and imperialism also provide one explanation for its expression through ‘racist populism’. As a stunted ideology, repressed by British imperialism, it is only through racist themes that English nationalism generates the required coherence and energy for popular mobilisation. Certainly discourses of ‘race’ have played a central part in the construction of English-British nationalism (Bonnett 2000; Gilroy 1987; Miles 1987). Bonnett (2000) traces the shifts in classed meanings of whiteness in Britain from a bourgeois identity of the colonial and capitalist class in the mid-nineteenth century to its adoption by working-class Britons in the twentieth. By the end of the nineteenth century, the development of mass education and the production of affordable books facilitated the popular dissemination of colonial and imperial activities and racist themes as part of the dissemination of British national culture (Bonnett 1998: 328; Miles 1982: 118-9). As mentioned in the previous chapter, in the speeches and writings of Enoch Powell we find an English nationalism which fused an antiquated class structure—the Crown in Parliament and the gentlemanly code of conduct—with a white racial identity that began to take shape in the postSecond World War period as a consequence of the decline of empire. As Nairn comments, ‘the growth of a far right axed on questions of race and immigration is in fact a comment on the absence of a normal nationalist sentiment, rather than an expression of nationalism...’ (Nairn 2003: 67).

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