Racialized Lives: Ethnic Mixing and Mixed Ethnicity in Britain

Racialized Lives: Ethnic Mixing and Mixed Ethnicity in Britain

New Left Project

Karis Campion, Doctoral Researcher and Graduate Teaching Assistant
Department of Sociology
University of Manchester

Racialization has had a deeply personal impact on the lives of people in Britain, but history shows us it can be challenged.

In Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider, Satnam Virdee presents an original, alternative history of the English working class, interrogating the dominant scholarly arguments which, he claims, have too often portrayed it as synonymous with the working white male.  Focusing on a period spanning 200 years (1780-1990), Virdee thoroughly explores how the boundaries which have encompassed the working class as a distinct social (white) category have been continuously in flux.

The book details important events and developments over this period when the boundaries of the working class were extended to include what Virdee refers to as ‘racialized outsiders’.  Importantly though, whilst Virdee offers a close analysis of the specific conditions in which the boundaries of the English working class protracted to subsume working class ethnic Others, he does not shy away from dealing with less collective periods for the working class, when boundaries were tightened to exclude those same Others.  It is racialization which, as he often explains in the book, has historically been a key factor in encouraging the working class to retreat from becoming a multi-ethnic collective.

Virdee documents the Chartist movement and the period which followed in the 19th century as one key moment when the boundaries of the working class were tightened in order to exclude.  The Irish presence in the struggle and the potentially multi-ethnic working class solidarity movement which might have followed, unsettled the state.  In response, it utilised various tactics to racialize the movement.  It was constructed as something ‘foreign and alien,’ more aligned to the wishes of the Irish Catholics who led it than ‘an authentic expression of the wishes of the English masses.’[1] Alongside this racist rhetoric, a new version of British nationalism was conjured up.  ‘The nation was re-imagined as an Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation’[2] by elites, and sections of the English working class were gradually incorporated into this.  Within this image of the nation, there was little space for the Irish Catholic working class, and this racist rhetoric and method of rule would eventually lead to the downfall of Chartism…

Read the entire article here.

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