Eric Kaufmann: Our thinking in race is far too binary and truncated

The following is an excerpt from an interview between Mallard Chairman, Jake Scott (JS) and Eric Kaufmann (EK), regarding his book ‘Whiteshift’.

The full interview is available in our print magazine, which you can purchase here. 


JS: In Britain we recently had the commission on Ethnic and Racial Disparities report by doctor Tony Sewell, and responding to that, one of our best public speakers on this Dr. Rakib Ehsan pointed out that the mixed-race population of Britain is the nation’s largest growing subset but remains structurally ignored. Why do you think that is, and is it the same in America?

EK: Yes, and first of all because they are still quite small, they are growing, they are the fastest growing, but their presence isn’t going to be felt until late this century, and ill just give you a projection I did with a demographer from the London school of hygiene who has now gone on to the ONS, England and Wales will still only be 7% mixed race according to our calculations by the middle of this century, still pretty small,  by the end of this century its 27%, and then by 2150 it’s 75% and then its pretty quickly 99%. So, what I’m saying is were still in a pretty early stage, and its quite understandable that this emerging group hasn’t made an impact in the demographic numbers. But also, it’s because it doesn’t fit the established categories that we have, there isn’t really a well-established mixed-race culture, and that mixed race culture let’s say, and that mixed race group consists mainly of people whoa re part afro Caribbean and part white but there are various other mixes, generally with white British people, so there isn’t that unified, unitary collective memory and culture that’s attached to this, plus it’s a small group.

JS: You said there was no mixed-race culture, and we can see that probably due to the size of the group but due to the lack of history and myth as the mixed-race population grows do you think there will be a fracturing of that population between say Afro white and Indian white, is that going to be the next frontier of inter group tension?

EK: I think that what you will get say multiple melting pots, you know like in the US you’ve got an African American melting pot, an American Indian melting pot, and a white melting pot, other groups are more or less melting into those because those are groups that have a longer history and perhaps more cultural capital in some way due to their long-term association with the territory. I think if you were to say this country, you know, will you get a very distinctive mixed-race group like the coloureds of South Africa or the metis in Canada, I don’t think you necessarily will because in those situations you had a very distinct mixture which was incubated over a long period of time, and I think what you see in countries like Britain is superdiversity and a lot of mixing, but essentially the traditions of the major groups are well established. I would suspect that a lot of mixed people would be allocated into established groups, but with fuzzy boundaries, but because the established traditions are from the main groups, I have a hard time seeing the emergence of a very distinctive mestizo type group that has distinctive symbols, I just don’t know if I see that emerging.

JS: At the moment it seems like a problem to talk about immigration in this country, and as you say there is an issue around talking about demographic change generally, because it’s seen to be racist to be seen to be talking about it. So, what are the issues around talking about demographic change?

EK: One of the difficulties we have is this definition of racism is extremely expansive and elastic, progressives especially will try and expand the boundaries of the meaning of racism to include many things, including not wanting the ethnic composition of a country to change too rapidly, instead of seeing this as shades of grey, some wanting change faster, some wanting it slower, because of this almost religious reverence for this concept of racism, you wind up in a situation where its totalising binary between you’re either open or you’re closed, if you want it slower you’re closed-minded and you’re a bigot, and we can never get passed that to the more subtle conversation that says, people have attachments, and ethnic composition is part of what gives particularity to a nation, and that’s a mixture, its about a slowly changing ethnic composition with a certain number of people melting into stablished groups, and that process is going on. The other problem is if you have this very binary take there’s this view that says people who want it slower is because they’re scared of, they hate or they feel superior to various different groups that are entering the country, whereas in the psychology literature we know that attachment to and hatred of are separate dispositions; for example if you look at the American national election study there’s a question around, how warm do you feel toward black people, how warm do you feel toward Hispanic people, how warm do you feel toward white people. If a white person feels very warm toward white people they do not feel less warm toward black and Hispanic people than a person who doesn’t feel particularly warm to white people, in other words its like saying if I feel really attached to my family it doesn’t mean I hate my neighbours more.

Whereas if you feel more attached to the Republicans you do tend to hate the democrats more, and vice versa. So some relationships are zero sum and some are not, the ethnic and racial one is not, in peace time its not, in war time it is, and yet there’s this persistent attempt to force these thing together to say that if you’re attached to a particular composition of the nation and you don’t want that too change too rapidly because its what you know then you must be a racist because you hate somebody, its not. You can be perfectly comfortable with newcomers and difference or whatever but you might just be attached to a particular historic ethnic composition, yes changing but you want it to change at a slower rate perhaps, or you want time so that intermarriage and assimilation can take place to limit the degree of change, and I think that’s all perfectly legitimate that we should have an agreed accommodation between those who want change to be fast and those who want it slow, but what we have is this strange shadow conversation where we can only talk about economics, its going to cost jobs or its not going to cost jobs, otherwise you’re a bigot, I just think it’s a very truncated and narrow conversation that doesn’t really get at the actual motivations, and the academic research will show that the actual motivations for wanting to reduce immigration or increase immigration have essentially nothing to do with personal economic circumstances.

JS: How far do you think current governments are addressing demographic change if at all?

EK: Well, they’re aware of it because they know its driving opinion on the immigration issue, for example when the Tories talked about reducing immigration to the tens of thousands, and even with something like the Brexit vote, immigration was the lead issue for something like 40% of Leave voters, and that issue is all tied up with Brexit. And even though people said it was about Eastern European immigration, that was only part of the motivation, part of the motivation was that there was an equal amount of non-European and European migration and the levels were historically high from the late 1990s onwards and you had a lot of people who wanted those numbers reduced, something like three quarters who wanted those numbers reduced, and the Tories did try to reduce it somewhat, and they insinuated that once we take back control then well be able to regulate the numbers, but I think that the reality is even after Brexit they have not actually done that and I suspect, that if the current numbers continue I suspect there is going to be a split on the right and your going to see the emergence of some kind of populist force there, but of course if the conservatives are able to get hold of this issue then that populist force wont emerge.

But as we saw with the Cameron government when Cameron wasn’t able to do it UKIP moved in, and this is the trend we see on the European continent as well. With a big increase in migration from 2014 through the migrant crisis you see immigration shoot up the list of people’s priorities, and you see in 9/10 European countries the support for populist parties really rises a lot. To give you an example take the Swedish Democrats, a poll was done showing that 99% of Swedish democrat voters wanted immigration reduced, the connection between immigration attitudes and particularly the priority people give to to immigration issue and voting for populist right parties is by far and away the strongest connection, that’s mainly why were seeing the populist right in western Europe.

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