Challenging a culture of racial equivalence


  • I would like to thank the editor, Don Slater, and the referees, who provided some excellent comments and suggestions. I also thank Jon Fox, who read an early draft of this paper, and Michael Banton, who meticulously responded to my email enquiries. Thanks also to colleagues at the Malmo Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare (MIM), for helpful feedback on the presentation of this (then) working paper. Thank you also to Jacquie Gauntlett for expert copyediting.


We live at a time when our understandings and conceptualizations of ‘racism’ are often highly imprecise, broad, and used to describe a wide range of racialized phenomena. In this article, I raise some important questions about how the term racism is used and understood in contemporary British society by drawing on some recent cases of alleged racism in football and politics, many of which have been played out via new media technologies. A broader understanding of racism, through the use of the term ‘racialization’, has been helpful in articulating a more nuanced and complex understanding of racial incidents, especially of people's (often ambivalent) beliefs and behaviours. However, the growing emphasis upon ‘racialization’ has led to a conceptualization of racism which increasingly involves multiple perpetrators, victims, and practices without enough consideration of how and why particular interactions and practices constitute racism as such. The trend toward a growing culture of racial equivalence is worrying, as it denudes the idea of racism of its historical basis, severity and power. These frequent and commonplace assertions of racism in the public sphere paradoxically end up trivializing and homogenizing quite different forms of racialized interactions. I conclude that we need to retain the term ‘racism’, but we need to differentiate more clearly between ‘racism’ (as an historical and structured system of domination) from the broader notion of ‘racialization’.