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By Jason Michael
“Scotland’s not a race… is it koz I is ginger?” The funny thing about racial difference is that it is neither genetic nor biological. Race based on colour is an arbitrary construct, used to fabricate social difference in relation to power.
Yesterday in the post ‘Why Don’t You Fuck Off Back to Scotland’ this blog examined the incident in a Somerset school where a Conservative MP, James Heappey, told a sixth form girl to go back to her own country. It was an open display of a growing sentiment in England towards Scots who refuse to tow the unionist political line, but it is interesting that we don’t have a more precise language for this class of prejudice. Sure, it is prejudice, as it is intolerance, bigotry, and xenophobia, but these terms lack the precision conveyed by words like ‘Anglophobia’ when the discrimination and abuse is in the other direction. This very issue was touched on in the comments section of the Butterfly Rebellion Facebook page. So we ask: Is anti-Scottish racism a thing?
All too often we hear criticism of the charge of racism on the grounds that the group being targeted “isn’t a race.” Apparently Islamophobia and Anglophobia are not racisms because Islam and Englishness are not racial categories. Yet the assumption that these groups cannot be thought of as racial signifiers rests on the acceptance of race as a biological fact, and this is problematic for a number of reasons. Moreover, the United Nations rejects racial biology in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:
In this Convention, the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
Article 1, §1 (21 December 1965)
While it is the case that in the main we identify racial difference in terms of colour, there exists no scientific basis for racial difference in biology or genetics – leading UNESCO to affirm, “All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a common stock (Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, 27 November 1978, Art.1 §1).” In effect, what this means is that race – rather than being a natural and inherent difference between human populations – is a social construct, an artificial means of differentiating between people to serve some purpose – power.
Enter Stuart Hall, cultural theorist, and his idea of race as a “floating signifier.” He presents the idea of race – something we imagine to see while failing to see so many other arbitrary differences – as a shifting meaning dependant on changing social and political relations. Whether or not one is racialised depends, at any given time, on one’s relationship to power. His argument certainly holds when we think of Jewishness or Irishness as racial signifiers. Even Albert Einstein picked up on this when he famously quipped:
If I am proved correct, the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me Swiss, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew.
Racial categorisation, then, when we accept that it is without a genetic or biological basis, must have a sociological origin. Race is an idea imposed on people by people, and this implies a power relation. We are familiar with the Scots, the Welsh, and the Northern Irish being called British at the Olympics when they win, and Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish when they lose. This too is a categorisation imposed by power. Britishness, as a notional superlative, is synonymous with and an extension of Englishness. England is the power holder, and it is those who speak for this dominant culture who grant the honour of Britishness to those British-ish people only when they deserve it. This is a clear type of cultural and national racialisation.
So we may be somewhat uncomfortable identifying anti-Scottish bigotry as racism, but this is only because we have uncritically accepted race as a real thing. Race is a social fabrication used by people in power to establish the parameters of the dominant group. Yes, we can’t deny that black people have black skin, brown people have brown skin, and white people have white skin, but this observation is as arbitrary as differences in other physical characteristics we routinely ignore; like eye colour, height, hair colour and such.
When Scottish people are subjected to any kind of abuse on the basis of their national origin it is perfectly legitimate and reasonable to speak of this as racism. Our discomfort with this idea, however, might possibly be explained by our historical self-identification as a member of the British racialised in-group; that we – like the English – are “white.” But what we are discovering now is that, as we continue to test the patience of the power holders, we are not as white as them. “White” is not a colour, as we are discovering. Whiteness is a social measure of one’s acceptability to power, and it is in precisely this way that Barack Obama was referred to as “an honorary white man.” We Scots are fast losing that privilege in the eyes of British power.
The Science Of Racism