Racism has deep roots in both the United States and Europe. This important book examines the past, present, and future of racist ideas and politics. It describes how policies have developed over a long history of European and White American dominance of political institutions that maintain White supremacy.
Givens examines the connections between immigration policy and racism that have contributed to the rise of anti-immigrant, radical-right parties in Europe, the rise of Trumpism in the US, and the Brexit vote in the UK. This book provides a vital springboard for people, organizations, and politicians who want to dismantle structural racism and discrimination.
Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency in 2016 was a triumph for far-right, populist politics in the US. Many voted for him simply because he was the Republican candidate, but his extreme positions couldn’t be ignored. He launched his campaign in 2015 with a racist attack on Mexican immigrants and his profoundly misogynistic language and violence toward women was revealed in a leaked video from an appearance with Access Hollywood (Fahrenthold, 2016). Despite these revelations, Trump managed to win the electoral college, defeating Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes.
One of the most prominent issues during the election was immigration, in particular undocumented immigrants. Trump consistently called for the building of a wall on the Southern US border (and claimed that Mexico would pay for it). He played into the fears of working-class White voters who feared the flow of immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America. Trump’s approach to immigration was in line with many of his compatriots on the other side of the Atlantic, not only on the far right, but also many conservative politicians like Boris Johnson of the British Conservative Party, and the Bavarian Christian Democrats who wanted to set up detention centers on the southern border of Germany.
The politics of White supremacy were on full display in the second decade of the 21st century. The success of far-right parties, increased violence toward ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, and more restrictive policies on immigration were impacting politics on both sides of the Atlantic.a
“We can’t breathe” – a cry heard around the world in the summer of 2020. One of the more egregious forms of discrimination against Black people on both sides of the Atlantic is police violence. In May of 2020 protests broke out around the world after the horrifying death of an African American man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mr. Floyd had been apprehended after being accused of passing a counterfeit US$20 bill. It’s not clear that he knew the bill was fake. Outrage came as a viral video of a policeman kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he was asphyxiated flew around social media.
Although all four police officers involved in the murder were immediately fired, only one of them was arrested for murder a few days after the incident. Frustration with the situation only grew as a coroner’s report tried to place blame for Floyd’s death on underlying health conditions. This did not mollify community members who noted that Floyd was pleading for his life, telling the officer that he could not breathe and calling out for his mother.
The ensuing riots came in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many cities having been under shelter in place orders since mid-March. Given that African Americans were getting sick and dying at disproportionate rates, many in the community were frustrated with the lack of access to health care and the fact that many of those who were considered “essential” workers came from minority communities. That frustration played into the protests, and in some instances, violence that played out from London to Los Angeles.
In February of 2019 I was invited to record a talk for the PBS show “Blackademics,” and I titled my talk, “Can Democracy Survive Racism?” At the time, my concern was that anti-democratic elements in our societies were using issues of race to divide and in some cases radicalize parts of the electorate. For now, I believe democracy will survive, but this conclusion gives me the opportunity to explore some answers to the dilemmas we are facing for democracy.
The success of far-right politicians in Europe, including Poland and Hungary, has clearly led to an undermining of the free press and judicial oversight. Countries like France and Germany are not currently in danger, as the support for radical right parties there has remained around 15–20 percent of the electorate but it will be important for under-represented minorities in these countries to feel that they have a voice if democracy is to survive.
The saying goes that demographics is destiny. It is clear that demographic change will continue on both sides of the Atlantic. It is important to acknowledge that racism exists and that it will continue to be a challenge as we struggle with the cultural and economic challenges that will strain the bonds that have held these societies together since World War II. I don’t believe that we will face war, but societal upheavals have and will continue to occur whether they come from terror attacks, pandemics, or economic crises.
I have traced the intellectual development of ideas about race in the previous chapter, but along with the ideas came the actions. Defining Africans as sub-human was necessary to legitimate the slave trade. Colonialism was based on similar ideas but added to it was the idea that the subjugated peoples were barbarians that needed to be taught how to be civilized. Underlying those “ideals” were the need for land, power, raw materials, and labor. The original sin of slavery is the beginning point for the roots of racism and the connections that have been built across the Atlantic Ocean since the 15th century. European explorers would begin the trade that would ultimately define a new nation and bind the two sides of the Atlantic in a trade that would destroy lives and souls in Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
Race relations today reflect the ongoing impact of the mass enslavement of millions of Africans, not only in the US, but in the Caribbean and Latin America. The brutality of the slave trade is clearly described in much of the historical literature, but it becomes clearer when one visits the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC. Leg irons and other implements, pieces of a slave ship, and historical artefacts bring home the cruelty, confinement, and death that met the slaves who survived the middle passage and made it to America.
Colonialism (and imperialism) were part of the driving force behind the slave trade.
From its founding, race and law have been integral components of state- and nation-building processes in the US. Slavery, in effect, transformed people into property, and elaborate rules governed the existence of Blacks, free and slave, in the North as well as the South. Even after the institution of slavery was destroyed by a bloody civil war, Whites continued to use law as a means of subjugating African Americans. As a result, an array of state and federal legal systems, often known by the euphemism “Jim Crow,” codified various racial distinctions, often limiting the capacity of African Americans to vote or to enter into contracts, the two fundamental elements of participation in a Lockean democracy. In addition, under the common law, owners of property and capital essentially possessed a right to discriminate. They could thus refuse services, accommodations, and employment to individuals on any grounds. This right gave Whites, particularly White men, considerable non-state power to shape communities.
Citizenship, civil rights, and voting rights are closely intertwined. In the US civil rights leaders fought for the right to vote after voter suppression laws made voting nearly impossible for Blacks in the American South. Ethnic and racial minorities face similar challenges relating to discrimination on both sides of the Atlantic, but they also have fought for their rights, learning from the various protests and civil rights movements. Although civil rights and human rights movements have been part of the political landscape from a transatlantic perspective since the founding of the League of Nations, policy developments were slow to develop until after World War II.
In the first decade of the 21st century, many hoped that that election of Barack Obama in the US and the growing political activism of minority communities in Europe was leading to an era of post-racial politics. However, those hopes were dashed as racism showed itself to be resilient with the rise of leaders like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and the success of racist, anti-immigrant parties across Europe. Even in 2008, at the time of Obama’s first term as president, Howard Winant was arguing that, “far from becoming less politically central, race defines and organizes the world and its future, as it has done for centuries. I challenge the idea that the world, as reflected by the national societies I compare, is moving ‘beyond race’” (Winant, 2008, p 42).
First, it is important to examine what is meant by the term race. As noted in the previous chapter, many disciplines have struggled with defining race as a concept and an issue for research. In a recent example, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) put together a committee to develop a statement to address the concept of race and racism. The authors note in the summary of their statement that:
the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. It thus does not have its roots in biological reality, but in policies of discrimination.
The discipline of political science should be uniquely placed to understand the role of racism in politics and policy. However, the history of the discipline indicates that the study of racism and discrimination has been marginalized, despite the centrality of race in politics and societal relations. In this chapter, I examine more closely the history of political science and race since the discipline was founded in the late 1800s. The way that race has been handled in my own discipline provides lessons for other disciplines, particularly those in the social sciences, but it is also an indicator of how society has dealt with issues of race over time. We are entering an era of greater awareness of the role of racism in the development of policy and politics, and it is clear that the lack of diversity in political science has had a major impact on the types of research that have been done over time and in many ways the quality of that research was impacted by the lack of taking into account racial biases.
The discipline of political science has been a latecomer to the study of race and politics. Other fields, including sociology, have been engaged in examining race issues since at least the 1950s. What is curious is that the study of race was an important component in the founding of the discipline, as I will examine in the next section of this chapter. Then race disappeared from the agenda beginning in the 1920s through the 1960s.
Citizenship is one of the defining features of a sovereign nation-state. Who is allowed to enter and settle helps to define the nature of a country. The concept of the nation-state was developed in Europe, but it has been refined as democracies like the US have come to the fore. Founding myths, at least in the case of the US, have played an important role in helping define who we are as a country and as a people. As Woodard notes:
Maintaining a shared sense of nationhood has always been a special challenge for the United States, arguably the world’s first civic nation, defined not by organic ties, but by a shared commitment to a set of ideals. The U.S. came into being not as a nation, but as a contractual agreement, a means to an end for 13 disparate rebel colonies facing a common enemy. Its people lacked a shared history, religion, or ethnicity. They didn’t speak a language uniquely their own. Most hadn’t occupied the continent long enough to imagine it as their mythic homeland. They had no shared story of who they were and what their purpose was. In short, they had none of the foundations of a nation-state. (Woodard, 2021)
In the case of the US, immigration has become an important part of our founding myth, and we have an ideal that citizenship is open to all. France has had a similar approach to citizenship, with an ideal that anyone can be a French citizen, as long as they agree with Republican ideals of liberty, equality, and brotherhood.
The development of the idea of race was mainly associated with people of African descent (in conjunction with the development of Whiteness) up until the late 1800s. As immigration policy developed in the US and Europe, a new era of racialization would begin. The conflation of immigration and race is often seen through the impact of immigration policies. For example, the first restrictions on immigration in the US were the Chinese exclusion acts passed between 1882 and 1888 (Givens et al, 2020). The racialization of different waves of immigrants after the US Civil War is echoed in the racialization of ethnic and religious minorities who migrated to Europe after World War II.
Although racism is often based on color in Europe, it is also important to look at issues of cultural racism (Modood, 2005, p 7). As Muslims have become more defined as a group, rather than as part of their respective nationalities and ethnicities, they have become the focus of restrictive immigration policies, punitive integration measures, and citizenship tests designed to test for “anti-liberal” values. Although much attention goes to the issue of Muslims in Europe, many groups face issues of racism and political exclusion. The basis for discrimination is often perceived race, as well as religion and culture. These perceptions lead to policies that impact the ability of immigrants to not only enter and settle in a country, but also whether they can thrive, as noted by Castles et al: “Immigration policies have consequences for immigrants’ future status.