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Multiracial Britain

  Министерство образования и науки Украины
                    Таврический национальный университет
                            Им. В.И. Вернадского
                       Факультет иностранной филологии
                        Кафедра английской филологии

Гура Егор Николаевич

Реферат на тему: «Multi-racial Britain»

Дисциплина «Лингвострановедение»
Специальность 7.030502
«английский и немецкий языки и литература»
курс 4, группа 42

                              Симферополь 2001
For millions  of  people  all  over  the  world,  Britain  is  the  land  of
tradition, the Royal Family, Beefeaters, Bobbies  on  the  beat  and,  above
all, white people. In much of middle America, it comes as a shock  for  them
to hear that there any black people in Britain at all. But  even  if  people
can get their head around the idea that an afroamerican  might  be  British,
the notion that he could be an MP often perplexes them.
An MP? Surely, one can see their eyes say,  a  British  MP  must  be  white.
There are many lifetimes of war, conquest, history, literature, culture  and
myth behind the idea that Britain is a racially pure  society.  And  in  the
study of history, myth is just as  important  as  reality.  But  the  racial
purity of the British has always been a myth.

From the days when  the  Norman  French  invaded  Anglo-Saxon  Britain,  the
British have been a culturally diverse nation.  But  because  the  different
nationalities shared a common skin colour, it was  possible  to  ignore  the
racial diversity, which always existed in the British  Isles.  And  even  if
one takes race to mean what it is often  commonly  meant  to  imply  -  skin
colour- there have been black people in Britain for centuries. The  earliest
blacks in Britain were  probably  black  Roman  centurions  that  came  over
hundreds of years before Christ. But even in Elizabethan times,  there  were
numbers of blacks  in  Britain.  So  much  so  that  Elizabeth  I  issued  a
proclamation  complaining  about  them.  Throughout  the   seventeenth   and
eighteenth century, black people make fleeting appearances in the  political
and cultural narrative of the British Isles. Black people  can  be  seen  as
servants in the prints of Hogarth. And in many  paintings  of  the  era.  In
Thackeray's  "Vanity  Fair",  Ms  Schwartz,  the  West  Indian  heiress   is
obviously supposed to be of mixed race. She is gently mocked but her  colour
is not otherwise remarked on.
British schoolchildren are taught about the abolition of slavery. They  hear
less about the key role that slavery played in the British  economy  in  the
eighteenth century.  Britain  was  the  center  of  the  triangular  traffic
whereby British ships took goods to Africa which were exchanged  for  slaves
which the same British ships transported to the Caribbean and North  America
before  returning  home.  The  majority  of  these  slaves  worked  in   the
plantations of the Caribbean and North America. But some came to Britain  to
be personal household servants. Over time, they  inter-married  with  native
born Britons. It would be interesting to know how many  British  people  who
consider themselves racially pure have an African slave generations back  in
their family. And, of course, between the wars, black  seamen  turned  ports
like Liverpool and Cardiff into multi-racial areas. Yet there  was  tendency
for the black areas of these seaports to be cut off from  the  rest  of  the
city. It was possible until not so long ago to visit Liverpool for  the  day
and not be aware it had a sizeable black community. Such was  the  de  facto
segregation that still existed.
So in the literal sense, multi-racialism is nothing new. Britain has  always
been a multi-racial society. What is new is the  visibility  of  its  racial
diversity. And what is newer still is a willingness to accept that  all  the
races can have parity  of  esteem.  For  a  long  time,  even  when  it  was
acknowledged that there were people of different racial  origin  within  the
British Isles, there was an assumption that the white race and culture  was,
and should, be dominant.

The creed of racial superiority  was  very  much  part  and  parcel  of  the
culture of the empire. The British Empire was built on a  theory  of  racial
inferiority. The great Victorian writer and  poet,  Rudyard  Kipling,  wrote
extensively on the supposed superiority of  the  British  and  talked  about
"lesser breeds without the law". It was the alleged superiority of the  non-
white races that supposedly legitimized  taking  over  their  countries  and
subordinating them to second class status.  So  even  until  quite  recently
British text books talked about  Europeans  "discovering  "  countries  like
America, Australia and the source of rivers like the Nile. Whereas  in  fact
there were plenty of non-white people who were in America and Australia  all
along who knew perfectly well where the source of the Nile  was.  And  until
recently writers talked about the Europeans bringing civilization to  Africa
and the Indian sub-continent. As if these  countries  had  not  seen  highly
sophisticated Empires and societies long before  the  Europeans  came.  When
you read in the old textbooks about the  supposedly  civilizing  mission  of
the British, one is reminded of the comment of Gandhi. He was asked what  he
thought about British civilization. He paused for a long time and then  said
thoughtfully "It would be a good idea". So fixed in the  British  mind,  was
the racial inferiority of the people whose lands they took over that  for  a
long time archaeologists believed that the sculpture  and  carvings  of  the
city of Benin in Nigeria could not have  been  done  by  black  people.  And
similarly that the great 'lost' city of Zimbabwe in  southern  Africa  could
not have been built by black men. In direct line of descent of that kind  of
thinking is Prince Phillip's idea that poor  quality  electrical  work  must
have been done by Indians.

Racial stereotyping echoes through British literature and culture almost  to
the present day. And  for  some  time,  assumptions  of  racial  inferiority
coloured mainstream British perception of non-white  culture  and  art.  The
Notting Hill Street Carnival is the biggest street festival  and  a  miracle
of creativity with costumes that take months to sew and wonderful music  and
dance. But it is only recently that mainstream  press  has  reported  it  as
anything other than a law and order issue.
However, in recent years, people have begun to acknowledge the  presence  of
non-white people in Britain in a  positive  way.  And  even  to  talk  about
Britain as a multi-racial Society. Although there are some people who  would
resist this description and pretend Britain's  continuing  ethnic  diversity
doesn't exit and insist on Britain being described as a  European  or  white
country.  But  although  the  phrase  multi-racial  society  is  used  quite
frequently, a genuinely multi-racial society with genuine parity  of  esteem
is quite difficult to achieve. The Caribbean is often cited  as  a  part  of
the world where you can find multi-racialism in action. The  national  motto
of Jamaica for instance is  "Out  of  Many,  One  People".  However,  it  is
noticeable that  even  in  these  supposed  bastions  of  harmonious  multi-
racialism, tensions have arisen between different races.  In  Trinidad,  for
instance, the archetypal multi-racial island in the  sun,  there  is  bitter
rivalry between the Asian and  African-Caribbean  community.  The  issue  is
equality. Where one ethnic group is demonstrably subordinate to another,  it
is idle to talk about multi-racialism because  in  reality  one  culture  is
dominant. Furthermore, the political attractions of playing  the  race  card
are often irresistible, multi-racialism just doesn't have the same  visceral
appeal to popular sentiment.

But multi-racialism is a tricky balance to achieve. On the one  hand,  there
has to be a measure of economic equality and genuine parity of  esteem.  But
on the other, it should not  mean  obliterating  differences  or  pretending
differences do not exist. Britain would be the poorer without its  different
races and their different cultural  traditions.  But  it  would  also  be  a
mistake to try and  iron  out  these  differences  in  the  name  of  multi-
racialism. Of  course,  a  vexed  question  is  of  the  relative  merit  of
different cultures and cultural traditions. It is very  difficult  in  these
cases to distinguish where objective judgement starts and prejudice  begins.
In European societies, the bias  tends  to  be  that  European  culture  and
tradition are necessarily superior. But in the words of the  American  blues
songs "It ain't necessarily so."
But with all the difficulties  in  practice,  multi-racialism  is  still  an
ideal worth striving for. Because you can look around and see  where  ethnic
tensions and rivalry can lead. The  civil  wars  in  Africa  get  plenty  of
coverage. One of the original ethnic conflicts was the Ibo  insurrection  in
Biafra in Nigeria. But the fighting in Yugoslavia is just as much an  ethnic
conflict as any African bush war. And the  prospects  in  Yugoslavia  are  a
nightmare. Serbs, Croats and Muslims  are  so  intermarried  and  intermixed
that Yugoslavia seems destined to  shatter  into  a  multiplicity  of  mini-
statelets. All ethically pure in themselves but in almost every  other  way,
unsustainable as modern nation states. So  a  multi-racial  society  is  not
just a rosy and possibly unrealistic ideal. It is vital to understand how  a
multi-racial society can be made to work if we are going  to  avoid  further
turmoil across great swathes of Africa, Asia and Central Europe.

To have a genuinely multi-racial society there needs to be genuine  economic
equality between the races. It's unbelievable that  one  can  talk  about  a
multi-racial Britain or anywhere else unless there is a measure of  economic
empowerment for all groups within  Society.  This  means  making  sure  that
there is genuine equality of opportunity in education  for  all  races.  And
that the barriers for black and ethnic minority advancement in business  and
in the profession are taken down. But economic  empowerment  for  minorities
is a necessary precondition but not sufficient to bring  about  a  genuinely
multi-racial society. Because nationhood and society is as much about  ideas
as anything else, the role of culture, literature, philosophy and  the  arts
in building a multi-racial society is  key.  The  first  step  is  that  the
influence of black and ethnic minorities in the culture of  a  country  like
Britain is properly acknowledged.

There is no doubt the history of twentieth century  popular  music  is  very
much the history of African music as it  has  been  mediated  through  North
America. There is almost no sort of pop music that doesn't owe something  to
black American influence. And in art, the influence of African art has  long
been acknowledged on modern abstract painters like Picasso.  More  recently,
the literary establishment has been willing to acknowledge the  contribution
of black and ethnic minority writers like Ben Okri,  Alice  Walker,  Gabriel
Garcia Marquez, Arundathi Roy, Salman Rushdie and Nobel prize  winning  Toni
Morrison. And  at  the  level  of  popular  culture,  different  races  have
enriched British life greatly.

There is no doubt that the presence of  ethnic  minorities  in  Britain  and
much more foreign travel have transformed the British diet for  the  better.
Noticeably fish and chips have been overtaken by curry as the  most  popular
British takeaway. For many years, Britons have  got  used  to  seeing  black
athletes like Linford Christie representing them internationally.  And  much
of the famous "Cool Britannia" that mix  of  music  and  fashion,  which  is
admired internationally, derives from different  ethnic  street  styles.  We
are also seeing an unprecedented level of intermarriage between  the  races.
It is noticeably more common to see mixed race couples in  Britain  than  in
the U.S., which has had a larger black population for longer. There  can  be
no doubt that as more and more British either have a black person  in  their
family or at least knows someone that has a black person  in  their  family,
ideas about the desirability of racial purity will have to  be  examined  by
even the most die hard conservative.

So multi-racialism is easy to talk about but hard  to  achieve.  Yet  as  we
have approached the end of a millennium, Britain is a more open, more multi-
racial society than ever before. And one where different races and  cultural
influences are beginning to  be  positively  acknowledged  and  given  equal
respect. British society have come some way but there is  still  further  to
go. Martin Luther King dreamed of an America where a man's  character  would
be more important  than  the  colour  of  their  skin.   The  indication  of
Britain's becoming a genuinely multi-racial society is when the skin  colour
of a British MP is no more significant than the colour of their eyes.

While preparing the essay the  following  publications  and  resources  were

1. Diane Abbott, MP.  Multi-racialism in Britain Oxford, 1995.
2. R. Rees Davies, M.A., D.Phil. The Matter of Britain  and  the  Matter  of
   England, Oxford, 1996

Internet resources:
   1. www.bbc.co.uk/history
   2. www.planet-britain.com

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