The Changing Texture of Western Society – Observations in London

 

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral

From diverse America to diverse Britain 

I returned from a few days in London and here want to record a few reactions. London is a fantastic place to visit and I would recommend it to anyone. However, this blog is concerned with understanding the crisis we face in the West and so I necessarily report some negative things. 

At the Detroit airport I showed my passport and boarding pass to a Muslim woman whose round face popped out of her snug headcovering. At Heathrow, I missed being summoned by an identical-looking Muslim woman at passport control, and was admitted to the country instead by an “Asian” man who was probably her coreligionist.  It seems in both our countries we are putting the Muslims symbolically in charge. (The amazing British Museum also had heavily-covered Muslim women collecting tickets. The pillars of progress to be replaced by the pillars of Islam?) 

In London certain jobs are done almost entirely by non-whites. The people manning the convenience stores, the ticket takers on the trains, and the hotel clerks I met were almost all “Asian” (presumably mainly of Pakistani origin) or African. It is as if the native British presence has been entirely wiped out from these professions. (At pubs and restaurants, more than once, thinking I finally had a British person serving me, an accent revealed him or her to be an immigrant from elsewhere in Europe.) 

But this is nothing unfamiliar to someone coming from the Detroit area, where gas stations are run by Arabs, hotels by Indians, local call centers, cafeterias, and the like staffed by blacks, and most landscapers and many construction workers are Hispanic. It seems each ethnic group has a way of working itself into a particular profession, whether by giving preference to their own once established, or because employers develop a certain line through which they hire new immigrants of a particular ethnicity. It seems that in the mind of many white Westerners, this phenomenon represents the fulfillment of an ideal. A look at websites and pamphlets for universities, government offices, medical centers, insurance companies, you name it, from Canada to Germany to New Zealand, show each locale and industry firmly convinced that its meaning and justification comes from becoming… non-white. It is as if each Western country thinks itself unique and superior to other Western countries to the extent that it has “diversified.” 

In Britain the word “racism” seems to be used more frequently by white people than it is in America. Accusations of racism, and denials that one is racist, seem to take place more frequently. I think this is because the “race problem” is relatively new in Europe and that the word represents an easy way to get a handle on the problem. Years ago, I attended, on an exchange program, an English school which was still run along traditional British lines – all boys, uniforms, school assemblies including hymns and prayers from which no one was excepted, caning by the headmaster as punishment. There was not a single black boy in our school. I noticed at one point that when a certain boy’s name was called, someone or other would always cough in a loud voice, “nigger,” which was thought to be hilarious. It took me awhile to realize the reason for the joke, which was simply that this kid had black, curly hair and a slightly swarthy complexion (but did not look in the least bit black). There was literally no real black person present to be offended. Jokes about Jews – in extraordinarily bad taste – were also occasionally heard. All of this baffled me since I had grown up in a liberal, well-off, and reasonably integrated American community and I had never heard people make jokes of this sort. I didn’t even know how one was supposed to distinguish a Jew from a non-Jew. It made me feel a little superior – poor fools, they’re so backwards they’ve never gone to school with a real black person.

Since then Britain has moved in fast-forward to becoming a multiracial society. The diversity mania does not seem to have caught up with every part of society quite yet – for instance, commentators on TV are usually a white man and white women, something almost unthinkable in the U.S. these days. But, officially, everyone knows that Britain is now multiracial and multicultural. From children’s shows to emergency-room dramas, casts are conspicuously multiracial. And, truth be told, these are responding to a reality in many parts of Britain. 

 

Emile Heskey (left)

Emile Heskey (left)

“Racism” in British football

A telling example is the integration of black players into British football. The September 12 issue of The Times featured an article entitled “Pride not Prejudice: The real reason why British football is the best in Europe.” The article discusses the “great strides made by British football in its fight against prejudice” and concludes, hopefully, that Britain can proudly see itself as a model for integration. 

20 years or so ago there were only a handful of black football players and they were regularly taunted by fans. Now, according to the article, one-third of the league is made up of black players, racial incidents are rare, and recently the Blackburn Rovers have appointed their first black manager, Paul Ince. 

The problem is that when the England team plays in international matches, they sometimes encounter abuse from fans from the, uh, less enlightened European nations. For instance, Croatian fans apparently enjoy taunting black players by making monkey sounds, as they did to Emile Heskey on Sept. 10. Similar incidents happen in Spain, Italy, and elsewhere. 

Now, making monkey noises is really too pathetic to warrant any further comment. But the interesting thing is to note that integration of football has resulted in the sport’s getting locked into the endless and impossible task of “eliminating racism.” The Football Association now has a Racial Equality Advisory Group which, we can be sure, will continue to highlight the racial failings of British football while demanding new appointments for minorities in every area of the sport. Meanwhile, the writer doesn’t notice the irony of his own admission that British football is not what it used to be as a sport, and therefore British fans need to console themselves with being relatively less “racist” than other countries. It is also not noted that the proportion of blacks in football is much higher than the share they make up of the population, only about three and a half percent. It seems British football will eventually go the way of American football, more than half of whose players are black. Will this be a good thing, or will something in the character of British football have been irretrievably lost? 

Where is it all headed? 

None of these demographic changes may seem of much concern to anyone who feels comfortable with the direction his society is taking – whether in Britain or anywhere else. But it is hard to see any evidence that things are getting better, and there is much evidence they are getting worse. In Britain, cities are getting far more dangerous than they have ever been, and much though not all of the crime increase is coming from the immigrant sectors. London, I observed, has prominent knife-collection bins at its major stations, obviously a campaign to try to alleviate the startling increase in knife attacks by minority youths in recent years. And all of Britain has been changed, of course, by the 7/7 bombings. A taxi driver joked to me, “Now you can get on the Tube… and take your life in your hands.” We see evidence of the growing power of Islam in Britain in ads selling Halal car insurance or promoting Ramadan.

By the way, in the past I have found that all I had to say to a white taxi driver in England was “I hear you have a lot of immigrants here…” to hear some very blunt and angry remarks about what immigration is doing to Britain. In fairness, I also have heard Indian cab drivers in Britain complaining about the violent, drunken behavior of (white) British youth. 

Apart from the danger and discomfort that comes with being more “diverse,” there is the texture of everyday life. Even as a foreigner, I feel a comfort speaking with native white Britons, a feeling of common ground and understanding, that is not there with the African clerks at my hotel. The same is true of turbaned Sikh police officers and railroad stations with signs in Punjabi. And if this takes place on a massive scale, what will the result be? Most likely, a stratified, Balkanized society… at best. And ultimately, the end of the British people as we have known them throughout history. 

What is great about Britain

This is all to report a few impressions. However, the other side of the story is that one cannot visit London without being amazed at the achievements of British civilization. From the dignity of the architecture in the most ordinary streets, to the amazing splendor of St Paul’s Cathedral (it is extremely unfortunate that the pamphlet of St Paul’s tries to “welcome” Muslims in its self-description), the city itself is a testament to scientific and cultural genius. You can actually sense how a world empire was run from this city.

And this still can inspire and help us all to renew our culture. For my part, as an American, I think we have for too long ignored our own deep connections with Europe and Britain, acting as if we sprung out of nowhere in 1776 or so. Nowadays America is starting to look more like a brilliant flame that may soon burn out, than an enduring world civilization. Ancient cities like London take us back to our roots, in Rome and in the pre-Christian peoples of Europe most of us are ultimately descended from. And British culture expresses a particular dignity, individualism, and relationship to nature and the transcendent that Americans have much to learn from. I remain fascinated by the very different ways that Britain and the U.S. have come to the same critical point, and I think we need to work together to get to a better place.

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One Response to The Changing Texture of Western Society – Observations in London

  1. staybryte says:

    Stephen,

    Fascinating article, will try to put together some kind of response and a few questions soon.

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