hatred in Britain at the general election last October, proving that the United States is not alone with its racial problems in the West. Here GEOFFREY ASHE examines two books on this explosive issue as it affects Britain and America.
Nations sharing a problem
SOME years ago 1 let a flat to two successive Catholic families. My first tenants were Nigerians. No complaints. The others were white. They insulted the neighbours, smashed the furniture, and left an unpaid electricity bill.
This is my warning to readers who may conjecture that I have no experience of negroes. 1 have —and as a landlord.
Colour and the British Electorate 1964 (Pall Mall Press, 25s.) is a collection of studies made in six towns with large immigrant communities, as part of a survey by the Institute of Race Relations. William Pierce Randel's The Ku Klux Klan (Harnish Hamilton, 30s.) is exactly what its title implies. The British book, which is concerned with a situation and the American one, about a movement growing out of a situation, have at least the racial problem in common.
The Klan has had three lives. Founded in 1865 as a Southerners' club, it degenerated into a terrorist secret society for white supremacy. After its demise, novelists and historians fostered favourable myths. It revived in the 1920s as a powerful racket, attacking not only negroes but Catholics and Jews. Scandal ruined it. But gangs of Klansmen have lately reappeared, resisting Civil Rights with illiterate violence.
The constant factor throughout is a racist cull of Americanism. The true Americans are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. All others are inferior. Negroes, perhaps, are not even human.
Professor Randel deals with a long-standing situation and a well-established response. lie shows us the Klan plainly, uncovering both the infamy and the factors that keep it going. In Britain, nothing so clear-cut has emerged. Five of the towns examined by the IRR survey show few reliable trends. The air is charged, the white and coloured communities seldom mingle. except slightly in church. But most people do not yet express their feelings in an organised way, by their voting or otherwise.
The one town with a pattern of racist politics is, of course, Smethwick. Here alone the Conservative Party refused to co-operate with the survey. But the technique by which Peter Griffiths won the seat was not so crude as a Klansman's.
The lies and incitements which The Times so ably exposed were neither started nor directly condoned by him. What he did was to publicise anti
immigrant talk as the "true voice of Smethwick", and say it was his duty to listen and act accordingly. Ile rode in triumph with the current. But he could claim that he had not unleashed it. or urged it on The question posed by both books is how far the white man's resentments can take a really dangerous organised form. Not that the coloured man is harmless; but white extremism is the issue here.
America today has no national Klan, only local ones. Nevertheless Professor Randel believes that the basic state of mind is still potent. Klansmen can no longer control politics, and the major parties present a united front against them. Yet in 1964, though Goldwater did finally reject their support, the Klannish tone of his campaign had enough appeal to upset voting habits and capture the South.
In Britain, the survey suggests that similar bodies—the British National Party among them— have no hope of direct power. Furthermore the major parties. as in America. have upheld certain decencies against them. The danger is that this unity may crack, as it threatened to crack with Goldwater. Politicians who are not racists themselves may exploit the trouble which the racists promote.
The extreme Left has been known to do this. However, a greater peril is that Smethwick's M.P. may inspire imitators among the Conservatives. Nothing was more desolating in 1964 than the rapid distortion of the Smethwick affair. When that result came through, several Tories spoke out in condemna tion, promptly and honourably. But after their Party realised that the Griffiths technique was a winner, no more disavowals were heard, and the story altered.
I doubt if we need worry about responsible Tory leaders exploiting racism openly. But the field has been kept clear for further local exercises in having it both ways. Against that possibility the 1RR report is a useful warning.
It also proves, though, that Britain's race problems transcend politics. They are too complex and various for the generalisations of government. Negatively, the braking effect of the new Act against discrimination may apply everywhere. But can we conceive any Act whatever that could be trusted to help positively?
The United Kingdom was formed by the creative reconciliation of peoples--Celts, Saxons, Danes, Normans. The solution with coloured immigrants ought ideally to be the same. What it demands is devoted effort at grassroots level, plus nationally-respected leadership. As things are, it is hard to see where such a movement is going to come from. Religion or ethical humanism can supply moral force, but cannot give shape.
If there is any tradition which we might look to for guidance, it is perhaps the Gandhi tradition—which was born, it is worth recalling, not in the Home Rule agitation of India but in the racial strife of South Africa. I suspect that a rediscovery of Gandhi may be one of the major events of the next decade.