This is a book about ‘whiteness’, what it is to be white in our curent society, what it may be like to be white in the future, but it is a book with a difference. The difference, which feels taboo breaking, is that he looks at the issue of the major ethnographic changes and includes the viewpoint of those that are white. It looks at the fears that they may have for their future and how these may be driving current populist politics.
The book attempts, and largely succeeds, to look at this issue from a dispassionate viewpoint. It is not a book which looks at whiteness in order to clarify some other issue, and although issues such as empire, racism, slavery, and inequality rightly are addressed they are not the sole lens though which this analysis is made.
This attempt at objectivity, while it is the root of the book’s success is also its achilles heel and its ultimate failure. Many reviewers have commented on the magisterial and mammoth amount of data collection that the book contains. No statement is made without reams of data to support and buttress it. While this does make it possible to accept many of his observations and conclusions it also means that this is extremely heavy reading. This reads like a heavy reference tome not like a political book. So while I can say I found this book interesting I can not say I found an easy or pleasant read.
An important strand of the book is the current failure to look at these changes in an impartial way. The inability of most commentators to understand that people may be upset or anxious about the changes they see to their communities brought about by demographic change. The dismissal of these concerns, and the lazy assumption that these worries simple reflect racism, is shown to be a potent driver of support for populist political groups.
The book makes a good case that the future should not be bleak. All evidence suggests we accomodate to change and further manage to create better societies a consequence. But, if we ignore this change, or mishadle or responces to it, as we are currently doing, we may stoke the very problems we seek to avoid.
So in summary, a worthwhile and valuable read, if not a very enjoyable one. Perhaps one for the reference shelves.
As Remembrance Day approaches in Britain red poppies have started to appear on the lapels of all those who appear on television and at the same time an argument has started with FIFA over the right of footballers to wear poppies on the outfits during international matches. This is a slight change from the usual annual argument which normally occurs when someone apparently ‘fails’ to wear a poppy and is publicly berated for their lack of sensitivity. This is the usual hyperbole that we accustomed to each year – “How dare they not wear the poppy?“. This year there has been a slight twist, as the focus has been FIFA and hyperbolic anger at its decision to classify the red poppy as a political badge (and thus not permissible on the playing field). So the call this year is “How dare they stop them wearing their poppy ?”.
This argument has even involved the Prime Minister who insists, like the newspapers, that “people should be able to wear their poppies with pride”. There has been a tinge of indignation that a body, as corrupt as FIFA, has dared lecture us on morality.
My concern, however, is the idea that we should wear our poppies with pride. I do not feel that this in the spirit of remembrance. The function of the poppy is twofold. Firstly to pay respects to those in British uniforms who died in war, and secondly to collect money to help the lot of those disabled while in military service or those left bereft following the loss of their loved one. Both of these aims are laudable and no-one would wish to do other than promote them.
However, none of this necessitates feeling of pride. None of it needs to be associated with promotion of the military or the nation. Indeed, hopefully most people during their one minute’s silence will be pondering on how to prevent future war and loss of life. Certainly not feeling any sense of military or national glory. Pride is the feeling of satisfaction or pleasure we have about past actions or skills. There are few times we could extend this to include the death or maiming of soldiers. There has always been a sad irony that the poppy appeal has its origin with Earl Haig who was responsible for sending so many young men to their death (earning the sobriquet “Butcher Haig” as a result.) A modern day irony is to watch politicians with their red poppied lapels promoting new fresh wars in the Middle East or seeing British businessmen sporting their poppies as they sell new weapons to enable the ongoing slaughter in Yemen or elsewhere.
The Red Poppy appeal is limited in its concern to those in the British Military forces. It does not concern those who died wearing other countries uniforms nor those civilians who died as a consequence of war. There is no special place for some dead over the others. The German soldier did his duty equally, the dead farmer’s family are just as bereft.
We need to remember everyone who died as a consequence of all wars and think how we can make war less likely. Therefore, if you wear your poppy wear it with sadness, wear it with regret, wear it with anger, or wear it with hope for a better future. But please, do not wear it with pride. Pride, and national pride in particular, is often at the root of war and surely we do not need to see any more people die before we learn our lesson.