The Legitimation of Racial Resentment

The Legitimation of Racial Resentment

James Hampshire

In his book, Whiteshift – which he will be promoting at the seminar formerly known as ‘Is ethnic diversity a threat to the West?’ – Eric Kaufmann sets out to address the ‘loss of white ethno-cultural confidence’ and present a ‘vision’ which ‘offers conservative whites a future as an ethnic majority whose group consciousness continues’. Kaufmann begins with a diagnosis: the rise of right-wing populism in ‘Western Europe and the Anglosphere’ has been driven by opposition to the ethnic and cultural diversification associated with immigration.

From here he develops a prognosis of the future of ‘white majorities’ (a term that is never adequately defined), who are undergoing the ‘whiteshift’ of the title: a ‘turbulent journey from a world of racially homogenous white majorities to one of racially hybrid majorities’. Ethnic diversification and intermarriage are ‘replacing the self-confidence of white majorities with an existential insecurity’. These majorities will respond in one of four ways: fight ethnic change, repress anxieties in the name of ‘political correctness’, flee diverse neighbourhoods, or ‘join the newcomers, first in friendship, subsequently in marriage’.

The core project of the book is to legitimise and argue for the political recognition of what Kaufmann calls ‘white ethno-traditionalism’. This creed has been unjustly denigrated by ‘the anti-white ideology of the cultural left’, which is driving the polarization between ‘increasingly insecure white conservatives and energized white liberals’ (with non-white folk presumably looking on). If it was once legitimate to point to racial oppression, it’s all gone too far: starting in the 1960s, ‘left-modernism’ and its ‘theory of white ethno-racial oppression … superseded the logical, empirically grounded, left-liberal Civil Rights Movement’ to become a millenarian project whose ‘most zealous exponents are those seeking to consecrate the university campus as a sacred space devoted to the mission of replacing “whiteness” with diversity.’ These zealots have succeeded in turning their ideas into ‘the dominant ideology [that] celebrates a multicultural vision of ever-increasing diversity’.

Against the diversity zealots and their dominant ideology, Kaufmann styles himself as an empirical social scientist (an early sub-section reminds us of ‘the importance of data’) who wants to develop ‘a new centre’ that recognises the legitimacy of whites’ ethno-traditionalism and develops policies to slow immigration along racial lines.

None of this is racist, we are reassured, but instead a recognition of legitimate ‘racial self-interest’. According to Kaufmann, the meaning of racism has been stretched beyond what is ‘empirically sensible’ by left modernists and liberals, and he, along with his chief ally in the media, David Goodhart, intend to delimit the racism taboo to allow for the rightful expression of white racial interest.

They do this by asserting that ‘racial self-interest is not racism’, to quote the title of Kaufmann’s 2017 report for the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, at which Goodhart is now head of the Demography Unit. This claim is made without any reference to, let alone substantive engagement with, the volumes of scholarship on racism, presumably because too much of it is by ‘critical race theorists’ who Kaufmann repeatedly derides without actually discussing, but let us leave that aside. He says ‘my view is that the taboo against racism should be reserved for irrational reactions to other races or racial puritanism.’ (17) His view, but there are others. Goodhart is clearer still about what is to be allowed inside the racism box and what must be kept out. In an article in the Financial Times, entitled ‘White self-interest is not racism’, he argues that racial self-interest ‘may be clannish and insular, but it is not the same as irrational hatred, fear or contempt for another group — the normal definition of racism’. The problem, however, is that this is not the ‘normal definition’ of racism, whatever that might mean. It is not even consistent with well-established definitions in UK law where racial discrimination does not require hatred, fear or contempt, but can occur unconsciously, indirectly and unwittingly.

The circumscription of racism as requiring irrational hatred, fear or contempt serves the purpose of obscuring how racial inequalities and hierarchies are often reproduced, and enables Goodhart and Kaufmann to maintain that white people wanting to keep their place as the dominant group is legitimate. It has some interesting implications.

Let’s imagine that there once existed a nation in which enslaved black people were forced to work on plantations, and that this enabled the enrichment of the dominant white majority. Imagine too that some anti-racist zealots (let’s call them abolitionists) campaign to end slavery, but facing resistance from white slave-owners and their representatives they find themselves at war. The whites who are materially benefitting from plantation slavery bear arms to defend their right to own slaves. Some are motivated by irrational prejudice, let’s say they hate the food their slaves eat. Kaufmann and Goodhart allow that they can be criticised as racist. But many other whites who bear arms to defend slavery are motivated by protecting the position of their racial group and the material benefits of plantation slavery. This appears to be racial self-interest, not racism according to the Kaufmann/Goodhart definition. But if defending slavery is legitimate, then perhaps there is something wrong with the definition. Might it be that some people defend racist structures, not from irrational hatred, but because they benefit from them? In short, only by circumscribing racism as irrational hatred can the separation of racial self-interest from the reproduction of racism be maintained.

But back to the future, and Kaufmann’s prescriptions for addressing the legitimate racial self-interest of victimized white majorities. At the end of Whiteshift he concludes by advocating a race-based politics, in which racialised minorities can press their claims, so long as white majorities can do the same. Kaufmann calls this ‘multivocalism’. It appears similar to multiculturalism, which he opposes because it ‘excludes the majority’, but minus the concern for inequality and the recognition of minority claims. Unlike multiculturalism, which he claims draws ‘people’s gaze back to a distant homeland, multivocalism orients them to the nation, albeit viewed through different ethnic lenses.’

The policy implications of multivocalism include a suggestion that housing policies should be designed to maintain the racial character of certain areas, after all ‘Native Indian bands’ already use ‘cultural criteria to select who is allowed to live on reserves.’ But the main proposals are on immigration. Immigration policy should be reformed to reassure white majorities that their interests are being addressed by slowing the pace of ethnic change. The overall level of immigration should be set at what Kaufmann calls the ‘cultural comfort zone of the median voter’ and the ethnic composition of immigrants should be managed by selection according to the intermarriage rates of different ethnic groups. Groups that have higher levels of inter-ethnic marriage should be favoured as they are ‘more likely to assimilate into the existing ethnic constituencies in a country.’ Of course, the proposal to use intermarriage as a measure of assimilability would discriminate in favour of religious groups such as Christians over groups such as Orthodox Jews and Muslims practising religious endogamy. Kaufmann envisages a points-based system which would award ‘cultural points’ according to ‘existing ethnic constituencies’ as well as ‘economic and humanitarian points’ (it’s not clear what he means by the latter). This would have the added benefit of ‘slowing growth in the share of “illiberal” groups’.

For a book which claims to be about race, it is quite incredible how little reflection there is on the social, political and cultural processes of racial formation. Terms like whiteness are taken as self-evident, ahistorical categories, and races are treated as homogenous groups with shared interests. Racial attitudes are reified and legitimised, so long as they fit Kaufmann’s opinions about what is and what is not racist. Just occasionally the role of political-social processes in racial formation is mentioned, for example, when Kaufmann acknowledges that ‘cultural tradition, not genes, tells us which markers matter and which don’t’. But he then immediately tells us, via the example of how the Irish in the US ‘became white’ that the social-political construction of race ‘is, in my opinion, overstated’. But it is left as just that — an opinion without argument or evidence.

There are some amusingly weird errors (most ‘British TV anchors’ speak with a Thames Estuary accent); unfortunate turns of phrase (African American ethnicity ‘arises mostly from their attachment to a collective memory and identification with group symbols including physical appearance (encompassing styles) and traditions like the AME Zion Church, the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, the blues and so on’); parallel universe descriptions (‘the press’ is a ‘liberal institution’ ); and advice for minorities (discrimination is a ‘valid identity concern which group representatives can legitimately raise through an evidence-based sector-specific approach and which begins by advocating unobtrusive “nudge” remedies.’)

There is nothing, however, about power or structural inequality. Nothing on class or political economy, because ‘today’s populist earthquake has little to do with economics’, and in any case a ‘focus on economic issues, is somewhat arid in an age when the state lacks ideological foes’. No, as Disraeli once said, all is race.


James Hampshire is Reader in Politics at the University of Sussex.

IMAGE CREDIT: Canadian mosaic by sylviebenice (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0, modified to black and white)