British critiques of American Nazism will ring hollow until we have a proper reckoning with colonialismby Jason Hickel / October 31, 2017 / Leave a comment
For those of us east of the Atlantic, the spectacle of American politics has moved from being bizarre and bemusing to downright terrifying. We’ve watched as a potent strain of white supremacy has surged from a silent undercurrent to a tide breaking right out in the open. Now columns of neo-Nazis march with torches and guns, their hearts filled with The Bell Curve, spurred on by the man who holds the nation’s highest office. Pundits on the left and right line up to explain it all away as nothing more than the disaffection of a beleaguered white working class. But it’s clearly more than that. In America, racism runs deep. It lies at the very heart of the nation.
In a now-famous piece for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to whiteness as America’s bloody heirloom—an ancestral talisman that has been carried since the nation’s founding. For decades the talisman has been publicly disavowed, he claims; but the Trump campaign cracked it open, releasing a violent energy that is now ripping up the country.
Britain sees all of this as unbecoming. The encounter with Nazism during World War II – a story endlessly rehearsed in schools and public ritual – has instilled in most a careful distaste for white supremacy. We watch aghast as Americans, who have never confronted Nazism on their own shores, flirt with a force that Europe knows to be nightmarishly violent.
What’s dangerous about this stance is that it veils Britain’s own ancestral talisman. And I don’t mean the more obvious expressions of white supremacy – the English Defense League, UKIP, and Nigel Farage, whose Brexit campaign slogan, for all its dog whistles, may as well have been “Make Britain White Again”—although those are frightening enough. I mean something even more conspicuous, even more mainstream; something that sits right at the center of the very idea of Europe itself. Colonialism.
While he was Prime Minister, David Cameron, reflecting on a visit to India, went on record saying “there’s an enormous amount to be proud of in what the British Empire did and was responsible for.” Today, Boris Johnson, bumbling Brexiteer-turned-Foreign Secretary, has refused to distance himself from a column he wrote in the Spectator in 2002 calling for the re-colonization of Africa. “The continent may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience. The…