Silent fears of society's cancer

July 31, 1998

According to sociologist Frank Furedi at the University of Kent, the history of racism in the 20th century can best be described as "a silent war". His new book provides a critical account of the changing balance of power between western nations and the Third World since the second world war and the unspoken racial fears of ruling elites over that period.

Given the volume of public discussion about racism, one might assume that "the silent war" is an outdated motif, which describes the world only up until the 1990s. A vital part of Furedi's analysis, however, rests on an unusually candid critique of the "fashionable" obsession with prejudice. "Today we have a peculiar situation, where the constant discussion about racism helps to mystify it," he says. "The inflation of the meaning of racism transforms the term into a banality." This is exemplified by the way "racism" is understood as the behaviour by one group towards another, so that black people are seen as just as guilty of "being racist" as white people. Thus racism has become just another label for impoliteness.

Furedi's concern is that the "silent war" has not been so much resolved as recast, in a way that makes racial fears more ingrained. By hyping the most blatant, emotive manifestations of racism in history, elites can avoid discussing their racial prejudices. "It has even become fashionable to apologise for the racial misdeeds of the past. Sorry to the Irish, sorry to the Aborigines, sorry to the native Americans. It's all very politically correct," says Furedi, "but it has little to do with the legacy of racism. This noisy war on racism only serves to obscure the silent persistence of racial fears".

Jenny Bristow The Silent War: Racism, Imperialism and Ideology in the 20th Century, Pluto Press, £14.99

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 10 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Business Development Officer YORK ST JOHN UNIVERSITY
Lecturer in Linguistics YORK ST JOHN UNIVERSITY
Associate Professor/Professor EDINBURGH NAPIER UNIVERSITY

Most Commented

Brexit, EU referendum

Joanna Williams voted Leave, and has been left disappointed by the academy’s reaction to the EU referendum result

Elly Walton illustration (7 July 2016)

Researchers in the liberal arts seem to have made it their mission to communicate in the most obscure fashion, says Zachary Foster

Daniel Mitchell illustration (14 July 2016)

Frank Furedi says the mournful mood on campus and the disparagement and silencing of Leave supporters betray an isolated scholarly class

Michael Parkin illustration (7 July 2016)

Rising immigration-related costs and lack of employer support send an unwelcoming message to international staff, says Jason Danely

Huge eyes peering through door windows

Some scholars claim plans are more about improving staff visibility to students than brightening corridors