Empire’s Endgame: Racism and the British State

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Empire’s Endgame: Racism and the British State


Bhattacharyya, G., Elliott-Cooper, A., Balani, S., Nişancıoğlu, K., Koram, K., Gebrial, D., El-Enany, N., & de Noronha, L. (2021). Empire’s Endgame: Racism and the British State. Pluto Press.

Author and Publication Information

Gargi Bhattacharyya is a Professor of Sociology at the University of East London, authoring several works on racial capitalism and racialized violence. Adam Elliott-Cooper is a researcher in Social Sciences at Greenwich University, noted for his work on black resistance to British policing. Sita Balani is a lecturer in contemporary literature and culture at King’s College London, known for her research on postcolonial Britain. Kerem Nişancıoğlu, a lecturer at SOAS, focuses on international relations with an emphasis on colonial history. Other contributors include Kojo Koram, Dalia Gebrial, Nadine El-Enany, and Luke de Noronha, each bringing expertise in law, history, and critical race studies. This work is part of the FireWorks series by Pluto Press, first published in 2021.

Intellectual & Historical Context

“Empire’s Endgame” emerges from a historical backdrop of British colonialism and its enduring legacies in modern Britain. The authors draw inspiration from earlier collective works such as The Empire Strikes Back (1982), produced by the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, to analyze contemporary state racism. This period, characterized by rising authoritarian nationalism and the sociopolitical fallout from Brexit, provides a fertile ground for examining how state practices and ideologies evolve in response to crises of political legitimacy, economic instability, and racial anxieties.

Thesis Statement

The central thesis of Empire’s Endgame posits that the contemporary British state deploys racialized narratives and practices to sustain its authority amid declining imperial power. The book argues that racism is not a static phenomenon but a historically contingent and adaptive mechanism used by the state to manage economic and political crises, enforce social hierarchies, and maintain control.

Key Concepts

  1. Racialized Mythologies: The book examines how myths surrounding race are constructed and utilized to justify state policies and practices.
  2. State Racism: It explores the ways in which racism is institutionalized within state mechanisms, particularly through immigration controls, policing, and welfare policies.
  3. Authoritarian Nationalism: The text discusses the rise of nationalist sentiments and their intersection with state practices of exclusion and control.
  4. Precarity and Abandonment: Analyzing the impact of neoliberal policies, the book highlights how the state withdraws support from vulnerable populations while intensifying punitive measures.
  5. Historical Continuities and Discontinuities: By comparing past and present forms of racialization, the authors reveal both enduring patterns and new developments in state racism.
  6. Cultural and Political Responses: The work also considers the cultural and political movements that resist state racism and imagine alternative futures.

In summary, Empire’s Endgame provides a comprehensive analysis of how the British state perpetuates racism through evolving policies and practices, reflecting broader historical and contemporary shifts. It highlights the urgent need for collective action and solidarity to challenge these oppressive structures.

Chapter Summaries

Introduction: Racialised Mythologies in Times of Neglect, Cruelty and Expulsion

The introduction sets the stage by explaining the pervasive nature of racism in contemporary Britain, linking it to historical and ongoing imperial legacies. The authors assert that racism must be understood as fluid and context-specific, influenced by shifts in political, economic, and social landscapes. They critique the British state for using racist ideologies to legitimize harsh policies and austerity measures, framing them as necessary for national security and economic stability.

Part 1: Racialising the Crisis

Chapter 1: Windrush

This chapter examines the Windrush scandal, where long-term Caribbean migrants faced unjust deportation and denial of basic rights. The authors argue that the scandal reveals deeper issues within the British immigration system, reflecting broader racialized policies of exclusion and marginalization. The chapter critiques the limited public and political response, which often failed to connect the scandal to systemic racism and instead treated it as an isolated bureaucratic failure.

Chapter 2: ‘Knife Crime’: Prevention and Order

The authors discuss the moral panic surrounding “knife crime” in Britain, focusing on how racialized narratives frame young black men as inherently violent. The chapter critiques the use of stop-and-search policies and other aggressive policing tactics, highlighting their ineffectiveness and discriminatory nature. It also examines the pre-criminalization of black youth through measures like knife-crime prevention orders, arguing that these policies perpetuate racial inequalities.

Chapter 3: Gang Land

This chapter explores the construction of “gangs” as racialized threats within British society. The authors argue that the concept of gangs is used to justify extensive surveillance and policing of black communities. They critique the simplistic media portrayals and policy responses that fail to address underlying socio-economic factors contributing to youth involvement in gangs.

Part 2: The Persistence of Nationalism

Chapter 4: Nationalist Convulsions

The chapter delves into the resurgence of nationalist rhetoric in Britain, particularly in the context of Brexit. The authors analyze how colonial nostalgia and racial anxieties fuel nationalist movements, which in turn support exclusionary and racist state practices. They also discuss how these nationalist sentiments are manipulated by political leaders to garner support and deflect criticism from systemic issues.

Chapter 5: Progressive Patriotism

The authors critique the notion of “progressive patriotism,” where leftist politicians and activists attempt to reclaim nationalism for progressive causes. The chapter argues that this approach often fails to challenge the underlying racial and imperialist assumptions of nationalism. Instead, it tends to reinforce exclusionary identities and overlook the experiences of marginalized groups.

Chapter 6: The Limits of Representation

This chapter examines the pitfalls of representational politics, where increased diversity in political and public life is seen as a solution to racism. The authors argue that simply increasing the number of racial minorities in visible positions does not address systemic racism. They highlight how tokenistic inclusion can obscure deeper structural issues and maintain the status quo.

Part 3: State Patriarch

Chapter 7: Our Heart Belongs to Daddy

The chapter discusses the gendered dimensions of state power, focusing on how patriarchal values underpin state practices and ideologies. The authors analyze the relationship between gender, race, and the nation-state, arguing that the state often enforces traditional gender roles and hierarchies to maintain control.

Chapter 8: ‘Pakistani Grooming Gangs’

This chapter addresses the moral panic surrounding “Pakistani grooming gangs,” which has been used to justify racial profiling and harsh policing of Muslim communities. The authors critique the racialized and sensationalized narratives that obscure broader issues of sexual violence and exploitation. They argue that these narratives reinforce racist stereotypes and divert attention from systemic failures.

Chapter 9: (Powerful) Men Behaving Badly

The authors explore the rise of populist leaders characterized by buffoonish and authoritarian behavior, such as Boris Johnson. The chapter analyzes how such figures gain popularity by exploiting racial and gender anxieties, presenting themselves as anti-establishment while upholding oppressive structures. The authors critique the seductive appeal of these leaders and the dangers they pose to democratic principles.

Part 4: Send in the Army

Chapter 10: Longing for Authority

This chapter examines the increasing calls for military intervention in domestic issues, reflecting a desire for authoritarian solutions to social problems. The authors argue that such calls are rooted in a longing for order and control amid perceived chaos and decline. They critique the militarization of everyday life and its implications for civil liberties and democratic governance.

Chapter 11: Militarisation on the Mainland

The authors discuss the historical and contemporary processes of militarization within Britain, tracing its roots to colonial practices. The chapter highlights how military strategies and technologies are used in domestic policing and border control, reinforcing racial and social hierarchies. The authors argue that militarization perpetuates violence and exclusion rather than addressing underlying social issues.

Chapter 12: Zero-sum Game

This chapter explores the zero-sum logic that underpins many state policies and public discourses, where the success of one group is seen as a threat to others. The authors analyze how this logic is applied in areas such as immigration, social welfare, and national security, exacerbating divisions and conflicts. They argue for a more inclusive and equitable approach that recognizes mutual interdependence.

Part 5: What Now?

Chapter 13: Covid-19: A Real Crisis

The authors reflect on the Covid-19 pandemic as a real crisis that exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities and state failures. The chapter critiques the British government’s response, highlighting how racial and class disparities were intensified during the crisis. The authors argue that the pandemic revealed the inadequacies of neoliberal policies and the need for a more just and caring state.

Chapter 14: Shared Grief, Hope and Resistance

In the final chapter, the authors offer reflections on collective grief, hope, and resistance in the face of state racism and neoliberal austerity. They emphasize the importance of solidarity and collective action in challenging oppressive systems and imagining alternative futures. The chapter concludes with a call to build movements that prioritize care, justice, and mutual support.

Key Quotes and Significance & Impact

Key Quotes

  1. “Race presents all the appearance of stability. History, however, compromises this fixity. Race is mercurial – deadly and slick.”
  • This quote underscores the book’s argument that racism is a fluid and adaptive mechanism, constantly changing in response to historical and social contexts. It emphasizes the need to understand racism as a dynamic process rather than a static condition.
  1. “The ascendancy of authoritarian nationalism that we trace here – however triumphant the national mood music – only makes sense through the lens of decline.”
  • This quote captures the authors’ thesis that the rise of authoritarian nationalism is a symptom of imperial decline. It frames contemporary nationalist movements as desperate attempts to maintain power and control in the face of diminishing influence.
  1. “Racist state practices – immigration controls, counter-terror measures and criminal justice policies – seem to address people’s real problems and lived experiences.”
  • This quote highlights the book’s exploration of how racist state practices are framed as solutions to societal issues, legitimizing exclusion and violence. It underscores the need to critically examine the narratives that justify these policies.
  1. “The point is not to say how things are always the same but to understand how we and ours continue to be shafted in spite of other changes.”
  • This quote highlights the authors’ emphasis on the evolving nature of racism and the importance of understanding the specific ways in which marginalized communities continue to be oppressed despite changes in policies or political rhetoric. It underscores the need for continuous critical analysis to identify and challenge new forms of racism.
  1. “Taking time to write sometimes felt like an indulgence, given the scale of our political and ecological crises. But while none of us believe writing or thinking is any substitute for political action, this project has offered us some sustenance for the messy work of organizing.”
  • This quote reflects the authors’ recognition of the tension between intellectual work and activism. It acknowledges the necessity of critical thinking and writing in supporting and informing political action, while also affirming that real change requires direct engagement and organizing.
  1. “The spectacle of the ‘scrounger’ seems of another time, occasionally resurrected by one or other new right-winger eager for clicks, but no longer a reliable hook for popular rage. In their place, ever-present racialized threats have to come to carry even more of the ideological load.”
  • This quote illustrates the shifting nature of racialized narratives used by the state and media to justify exclusionary and punitive policies. It points to the decline of certain stereotypes and the rise of new ones that continue to perpetuate racial divisions and legitimize harsh state measures.

Significance & Impact

Critical Reflections
  1. Historical Continuity and Change
  • The authors draw explicit connections between past and present forms of state racism, showing how colonial legacies inform contemporary policies. This historical perspective is crucial for understanding the persistence of racism and the ways it adapts to new political and economic conditions. By invoking works like The Empire Strikes Back, the book situates itself within a broader tradition of critical race scholarship, offering continuity while also addressing current issues.
  1. Interdisciplinary Approach
  • By integrating insights from sociology, law, cultural studies, and political science, Empire’s Endgame provides a comprehensive analysis that is accessible to a wide range of scholars and activists. This interdisciplinary method allows the authors to tackle the complexity of state racism from multiple angles, making their critique more robust and nuanced. It also broadens the book’s appeal and utility across various fields of study.
  1. Critical Engagement with Neoliberalism
  • The book’s critique of neoliberal policies and their impact on racialized communities adds a significant dimension to the discourse on state racism. By linking austerity measures, welfare cuts, and labor market deregulation to the rise of nationalist and racist policies, the authors highlight the interconnectedness of economic and racial justice issues. This perspective encourages a more holistic approach to addressing social inequalities.
  1. Challenging Representational Politics
  • The critique of representational politics and the limits of diversity initiatives is a timely intervention in debates about anti-racism. The authors argue that increasing the visibility of racial minorities in political and public life is insufficient if it does not address underlying structural inequalities. This critique pushes for a deeper transformation of social and political systems rather than superficial changes.
Broader Implications
  1. Policy and Practice
  • Empire’s Endgame provides a critical framework for analyzing and challenging state policies that perpetuate racism. It offers valuable insights for policymakers, activists, and community organizers seeking to develop more equitable and inclusive policies. The book’s detailed case studies, such as the Windrush scandal and the handling of “knife crime,” provide concrete examples of how state racism operates and can be resisted.
  1. Educational Impact
  • The book is a significant resource for educators teaching courses on race, ethnicity, and politics. Its interdisciplinary approach and critical analysis make it suitable for use in a variety of academic settings, from sociology and political science to law and cultural studies. The book can help students understand the complexities of state racism and the importance of historical context in analyzing contemporary issues.
  1. Activism and Solidarity
  • The authors’ call for collective action and solidarity resonates strongly with current social movements. By highlighting the interconnectedness of different forms of oppression and the need for a united front against state racism, Empire’s Endgame provides a theoretical and practical foundation for building inclusive and effective resistance movements. The emphasis on mutual support and care also aligns with emerging frameworks of intersectional and transformative justice.
  1. Global Relevance
  • While focused on the British context, the book’s analysis has broader relevance for understanding state racism in other parts of the world. The historical and theoretical frameworks used by the authors can be applied to examine similar phenomena in different countries, making Empire’s Endgame a valuable contribution to global discussions on race, state power, and justice.

In conclusion, Empire’s Endgame is a profound and timely exploration of racism and state power in contemporary Britain. Its rigorous analysis, interdisciplinary approach, and critical engagement with current issues make it an essential resource for scholars, activists, and policymakers. The book challenges readers to rethink their understanding of racism and to engage in collective efforts to create a more just and equitable society.

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