Losing the Race: Thinking Psychosocially about Racially Motivated Crime

April 14, 2011

A few pages into this book and an old Punch cartoon came to mind: two (white) yokels leaning on a gate, watching another (white) male. The caption? Something along the lines of: "'Ere's a stranger -'eave 'alf a brick at 'im!" Losing the Race explores the longstanding complexity of resentment of "others" into which racially motivated crime fits.

David Gadd and Bill Dixon rightly insist that there is something different, and particularly disturbing, not so much about current manifestations of racially associated prejudice, but rather about the ways in which they are understood not just by specialists but also by the general public. There is a widespread dearth of the necessary complexity of interpretation.

But in saying that Gadd and Dixon here present an attempt to remedy that lack of complexity, I am not saying they have written an unreadably dense, specialist text, interlarded with jargon and references impenetrable to all but the specialist. On the contrary, in fact. I was in an off-duty mood when I sat down with this book, as I wasn't reading it for immediate teaching or research purposes. Reviewing often causes me to snap back into work mode; but reading Losing the Race was an interesting experience because I could engage with it on two levels. I could subconsciously note that the book contained much material that I would want to read more critically later in relation to themes I research and teach. But primarily, I sat and read with enjoyment at having my mind stimulated by the narratives provided and their contextualisation by the authors.

Stoke-on-Trent (the authors' case study focus for interviews) is not the world, but I found myself rethinking episodes in my childhood as the only white child in a Singapore primary school before I went on to attend an RAF base school. Was I despised by the other RAF brats of my peer group because of my "wrong" taste in friends - Florence, you see, was Tamil - or because I did not fit in for other reasons? Was it an experience of "racial prejudice" or not? That this book challenges readers to revisit their own experiences is one of its merits.

The project that Gadd and Dixon display to the reader is a well-researched one. But while they discuss the key literature in the field, they wear their learning sufficiently lightly that the general academic reader will not be irritated by constant weighty postulations. The informed specialist who is already acquainted with the authors and works cited here can engage on a deeper level, but for the non-specialist, the references do not interrupt the flow of Losing the Race's hypothesis and conclusions.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in racial prejudice and "hate crime" and their public presentation by both the media and the individual victims and perpetrators involved. (Indeed, the authors show that it can be difficult to work out which of the last two labels to use in many examples.) Although it is not a term that the authors use, when reading this book one cannot help but be struck by the "performativity" that underpins so much of the modern expression of racial prejudice.

Some criticisms of the text can usefully be made, but more to stimulate further research and writing than to highlight failure on the part of the authors. Class and the longer historical context are not really engaged with in the book's nuanced, detailed interview reportage. The main gender focus, for very practical reasons, is masculinity, but the direct or indirect contribution of femininity also needs to be explored.

Losing the Race: Thinking Psychosocially about Racially Motivated Crime

By David Gadd and Bill Dixon. Karnac, 288pp, £20.99. ISBN 9781855757936. Published 15 October 2010

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