Race & Ethinicity

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall was an utterly unique figure. Although he arrived at the age of 19 from Jamaica and spent the rest of his life here, he never felt at home in Britain. This juxtaposition was a crucial source of his strength and originality. Because of his colour and origin, he saw the country differently, not as a native but as an outsider. He observed this island through a different viewfinder and it enabled him to see things that those shaped and formatted by the culture could not. It took an outsider, a black person from a former colony, to understand what was happening to a post-imperial country seemingly locked in endless decline.

His impact was to be felt across many different fields. Perhaps best known is his pioneering work in cultural studies, but his influence was to be felt in many diverse fields. By the end of the 1970s, it was the connections that he started to make between culture and politics that was to redefine how we thought about politics.

This was how my own relationship with Stuart began in 1978. Soon after I became editor of Marxism Today, I commissioned an article from him on Thatcher. The result was one of the most important pieces of political writing of the past 40 years. Stuart, drawing on his cultural insights and the work of Antonio Gramsci, proceeded to rewrite the way in which we make sense of politics; and in the process, incidentally, he invented the term Thatcherism. For the next decade, it felt as if we lived in each other’s pockets. The way in which Stuart wrote was fascinating. Some, like Eric Hobsbawm, the other Marxism Today great, produced a perfect text first time out. Stuart’s first draft, in contrast, would arrive in an extremely incoherent and rambling form, as if trying to clear his throat. Over the next 10 days, one draft would follow another, in quick succession, like a game of ping-pong. His was a restless, inventive intellect, always pushing the envelope, at his best when working in some form of collaboration with others. His end result was always worth savouring, his articles hugely influential.

Tragically, Stuart’s ill health slowly but remorselessly curtailed and undermined his ferocious energy. But his mind remained as alert and involved as ever. The response to his death has served to demonstrate how much his work has influenced so many people in so many different ways: cultural studies, race and ethnicity, politics, the arts, the media, academe. Little has been left untouched by his intellectual power and insight.

Stuart’s extraordinary impact was not because he happened to be black and from Jamaica. It was because he was black and from Jamaica. It took an outsider, a black Jamaican, to help us understand and make sense of Britain’s continuing decline. He was in so many ways well ahead of his time. It is difficult to think of anyone else that has offered such a powerful insight into what has been happening to us over the past 70 years.

26/10/12 - BBC News Magazine and Radio 4

This is the script of the Point of View talk first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on October 26th, 2012, also available on the BBC News MagazineMissed the programme? Download it as a podcast or listen again on BBC iPlayer.

I was on a taxi journey in Shanghai with a very intelligent young Chinese student, who was helping me with interviews and interpreting. She was shortly to study for her doctorate at a top American university. She casually mentioned that some Chinese students who went to the US ended up marrying Americans.

I told her that I had recently seen such a mixed couple in Hong Kong, a Chinese woman with a black American. This was clearly not what she had in mind. Her reaction was a look of revulsion. I was shocked. Why did she react that way to someone black, but not someone white? This was over a decade ago, but I doubt much has changed. What does her response tell us – if anything – about Chinese attitudes towards ethnicity?

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The historic enmity between the two countries – now resurfacing in a dispute over sovereignty – threatens stability in East Asia

The large-scale demonstrations that erupted across China on Sunday, in response to activists from Japan landing on disputed islands in the East China Sea, were a fierce reminder that it takes little for the deeply rooted animosity between the two countries to rise to the surface. The islands lie near to Taiwan and not far from the Chinese coastline; they are a long way from the main Japanese islands, but not so far from Okinawa, one of Japan’s southernmost islands. How can such small, uninhabited islands – known by the Japanese as the Senkaku and by the Chinese as the Diaoyu – arouse such anger and passion?

The reason lies deep in history. The islands were for a long time regarded as Chinese, but they were taken by the Japanese – along with Taiwan and much else – following China’s humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-5. It marked the beginning of Japanese expansionism in East Asia, with the subsequent colonisation of Korea as well as Taiwan. This reached its zenith after 1931 with the Japanese occupation of north-east China, and from 1937 with the Japanese conquest of further swathes of the country. This expansion was carried out with particular brutality – the Japanese looked down upon other East Asians as their inferior – the most famous example being the barbarity that was displayed in the taking of Nanking. There the Chinese claim more than 300,000 were killed.

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Martin Jacques defied the odds to expose racial prejudice and medical negligence in a Hong Kong hospital. Here he tells of his feelings on learning that his 10-year struggle was over

The settlement approved by the Hong Kong high court last Wednesday in the legal action brought by me and my 11-year-old son, Ravi, against the Hospital Authority over the death of Harinder Veriah, my wife and Ravi’s mother, represents a major victory. It has taken 10 years and a huge commitment of emotion, time and resources. We have faced monumental obstacles. From the outset the Hospital Authority denied any responsibility and it has used its limitless funds to try to bludgeon us into submission.

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In Britain, black people are excluded from decision-making in top-flight football. It will take more than one club appointment to change that

If you are white, you might think that English football is gloriously multiracial. After all, over a quarter of the players in the Premiership are black and much the same is true of the lower leagues. Alas, you would be wrong. Many players are black and, predictably, so are many who do football’s menial jobs such as catering, parking and security; but after that you enter an overwhelmingly white world. Virtually all the club chairmen and directors are white. Most outrageously of all, virtually every manager, even though they are almost always former players, is white.

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Ian Wright’s departure from the BBC’s football punditry team casts shame on the corporation: it is guilty of cultural apartheid

So Ian Wright has decided to quit the BBC as a football pundit because he was made to look like a “comedy jester”. Too right. That is exactly how he was treated by the other pundits, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, and Alan Shearer. Wright was always made to look and feel as if he was the odd one out, never taken too seriously, his judgments discounted, his views made fun of, his relationship with his step-son Shaun Wright-Phillips the object of regular hilarity. It was demeaning; you could see Wright squirming, unsure of how to deal with it. As a viewer I found it embarrassing and distasteful. It was a grown man’s version of picking on someone in the school playground.

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Events in Tibet expose China’s achilles heel: its inability to recognise and respect ethnic difference

The Beijing Olympics are a huge occasion for China. Ever since the opium wars, the country has experienced what it describes as a “century of humiliation”. Extraordinarily, the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 was its first major foreign policy success since the early 19th century.

Western countries are thoroughly accustomed to being the centre of global attention, which they have come to regard as their natural birthright. Not so China. It was thwarted in its attempt to hold the 2000 Olympics, which, as a result of American-led pressure, was awarded to Sydney. For China, therefore, the 2008 Olympics assume a huge importance as its first opportunity to command the global stage. The fact that the games also coincide with China’s emergence as a global power only serves to enhance their significance. These Olympics, not surprisingly, have been long in the planning, with nothing left to chance.

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He lost at the last but Lewis Hamilton rocked all expectations – and not just in formula one

A black formula one world champion seemed, even last year, unthinkable, yet Lewis Hamilton so nearly made it. This is a sport that has long suffered from an almost total white-out. Apart from the Japanese, virtually every face in the paddock, let alone on the starting grid, was, until recently, white. This is hardly surprising. The more expensive and/or exclusive a sport, the whiter it tends to be: the fact almost has the force of a law. That is the main reason why the Rugby World Cup, the Pacific islands excepted, was so desperately white, the Springboks included.

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Around a decade ago, Bernie Ecclestone, the guy who runs Formula One, began to make ominous noises about the prospects for F1 in Europe, suggesting that the sport’s future instead lay in the East. Now Bernie is no mug – you don’t become as rich as he is without being very smart. Not least, he is perceptive at spotting new trends. He recognised the potential of TV broadcasting and its associated rights before virtually anyone else in Europe. And he was right about the growing importance of East Asia (though hardly the first to notice it).

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Hamilton is an inspiration to black Britain – but his sport will remain white, writes Martin Jacques

There is little doubt, even at this early stage of his first season in Formula One, that Lewis Hamilton is a special talent, far eclipsing recent British drivers such as Jenson Button and David Coulthard. He has the great advantage of driving for one of F1’s most successful teams in a sport where equipment counts for far more than in any other. Michael Schumacher in a Toro Rosso would have made for great entertainment, but even his genius would still have been reduced to life in mid-field. Even with the advantage of driving for McLaren, though, Hamilton still looks exceptional – extremely fast, cool, mature beyond his years, and not in the least fazed by having the world champion, Fernando Alonso, as his team-mate. From his very first race, it felt as if Hamilton was born to be at the front of the grid, displaying, like Schumacher in 1991, an extraordinary self-confidence, an inner-belief that he was inferior to no driver. Yet this has been combined with a humility that is at once endearing and disarming.

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