"I hope I'm not a racist." Racism, antiracism and ethnic absolutism in Britain
Sociology City University London, United Kingdom
What happens to racist ideology in times when almost everyone claims that they oppose racism, including representatives of far-right parties whose policies and practices suggest otherwise? Blatant expression of biological racism, racial insults, and open discrimination based on skin colour or ethnicity occur in Britain today, but are ostracized in public discourse and mainstream social life. Nonetheless, racializing distinctions based on allegedly insurmountable cultural differences are widespread, as is the vague or eloquent desire for a culturally homogenous nation. Such cultural racism and ethnic absolutism are contested in public discourse, but not universally condemned. The complex controversies over what constitutes racism presents methodological problems to the social scientist, as few people would like to see themselves as racially prejudiced, and many are wary of the accusation of racism. This paper reports on a mixed methods study of everyday racism in North East London. Data from a postal survey and semi-structured interviews are combined to investigate the relationship between official antiracism, racism, and prejudice in everyday thinking. On the substantial level, the results indicate that racist and antiracist convictions can coexist in people's minds. The denial of racism is not necessarily made in bad faith, but draws on simplistic notions of racism as something that is at all times irrational, hate-driven or violent. On the methodological level, I argue that the contributions of surveys to the study of everyday ideology are underrated by much current sociology. The methodological and theoretical chasm between survey investigations into "attitudes" and textual analysis of "discourse" has no scientific justification and is harmful to the project of understanding contemporary racism.