In contemporary societies race is more discussed than ever before and it is critical to think about the differences which individuals have between them to acknowledge the causes of conflicts, search for practical ways to solve them and promote peace and tolerance between nations in the end. This essay ultimately aims to find the real connections between sexuality, gender, class and identity politics to understand why these factors shape the contemporary debate about race, using at the same time British Muslim communities as a valuable source of information for justifications in order to construct clear, precise and objective arguments.
Firstly, to explore the different theories which academics have to offer, it is vital to be aware of the definitions of race and racism, since they both represent the cornerstone of the entire discussion about race. The idea of race was built when diverse civilisations developed, and individuals needed to comprehend their social position (Law, 2010). Race and ethnicity indicate types of collective social identity, and in the present time, the identity represents a critical role in numerous parts of society, particularly in political issues (Goldberg and Solomos, 2002). When it comes to the social sciences, Hill Collins and Solomos (2010) specify that there has been a swift expansion in the last 30 years for ethnic and race studies as a research field. However, Garner (2010) explains that the resources from the scholars fail when it comes to giving a meaning to the concept of the race since the experts cannot reach a consensus in this regard and because of the fact that race, in the author’s opinion, is not a natural phenomenon, but a social one. Bhatt (Solomos and Hill Collins, 2010) remarks that the contradiction that researchers have on the utilization of race is dull and he explains that the idea of race has absolutely no links at all with science and it is, in reality, a social fact.
Racism represents an idea which has different conceptualisations, and every single one of them could prove to be helpful in the end to make the public understand the phenomenon better and to enrich their knowledge towards the topic. Solomos and Hill Collins (2010) think that racism remains an ideology that indicates the fact that distinct races exist all across the world and Memmi (2000) specifies that racism is a process through which other individuals are denigrated because of their differences. The academics do not agree on the definitions of “race” and “racism”, but they do agree on one aspect, and that is the fact that racism illustrates in precise terms an ideology that describes a specific group of people as being second-class when it is compared to a different one.
Race, gender, sexuality and class represent elements connected with each other that are globally and historically specific which also indicate socially constructed power relations that in unison function at both the micro (individual) and the macro (societal) levels of society (Bonstead-Bruns and Weber, 2002). Bonstead-Bruns and Weber (2002) also argue that race, gender, sexuality and class indicate systems of inequality which divide, restrict and limit some individuals while other people are being privileged.
Dwyer and Bressey (2016) illustrate that race, sexuality, class and gender are historically specific and power relationships (socially constructed hierarchies of domination). This fact essentially means that one group has control over another in a system where nonmaterial and material resources are at stake (such as income, wealth, education, access to healthcare). Veenstra (2013) indicated that the majority of the traditions from the sociological field that are attentive to the analysis of the systematic relations of power in the society (including Marxism and incarnations of feminism) have privileged, theoretically, one dimension of inequality over others. By contrast, academics explain that the principal axes of inequality in the different societies nowadays (such as patriarchy, heterosexism, classism and racism) are naturally entwined in the way that they mutually reinforce one another, and they cannot be empirically and conceptually disentangled from each other (Veenstra, 2013). The point of the author is that along the lines of sexuality, class, gender and race, power relationships are mutually defining and not analytically systems of oppression.
These four systems are contextual, and even though throughout history they tend to persist, sexuality, gender, class and race hierarchies were never fixed, and static, and they are not like that now either. For example, when it comes to class, if a rich Qatari individual would have come to the UK in the past, he might have been classified just as a migrant regardless of the class, whereas if he would have come to the country in contemporary times, he might have been seen more as an invester, not a migrant, and people would have overlooked the fact that he is a Muslim just because of class. Dwyer and Bressey (2016) argue about social class that it provides an informative contrast to gender, race and sexuality ideologies and the two authors also explain that the dominant ideology of social class is biological, polarized or binary.
However, class, sexuality, gender and race change regularly as part of new political, economic, ideological trends, processes and events. When discussing about race, gender, class and sexuality, individuals need to acknowledge the fact that these four significant topics need to be understood within a specific global and historical context since the research generally avoids looking for meanings which are common and that would apply to all places and all times (Bonstead-Bruns and Weber, 2002). Dwyer and Bressey (2016) also mention about the historical context that is vital when it comes to placing existing issues of race and racism.
To exemplify that, Bonnstead-Brunns and Weber (2002) argued that academics noticed that not all men and women were included in the ideals of masculinity and femininity from the mid-19th century (when masculinity was associated with the cold sphere of the labour market, while femininity was associated with the warm, personal sphere of home): more precisely, men of colour did not have a family wage that was extended, and women who were of colour were already doing agricultural work or domestic work in the paid labour market.
Another vital illustration made by Bonnstead-Brunns and Weber (2002) that proves their point is that in the past the ideal traits which were held up for women and men of colour were in a powerful contradiction with those for white men and women. The authors specified that the ideal dominant culture image of the average African American man after Reconstruction was the Sambo image (a silly individual that was almost always afraid of the dark), while on the female side that same kind of image was Mammy (an asexual slave that was happy and very loved by the master’s family). At that time, these images provided justifications for slavery (Brunns and Weber, 2002). Also, unlike white women at the time, women of colour (Mammies) were not allowed to have any sexuality or family. The point of the authors is that the significance of femininity and masculinity are constructed in a distinct way all through history for separate groups using social processes which keep and produce a class-bound, heterosexist and racialized patriarchy.
Dines and Humez (1994) argue that television, film, radio and other different products of the media culture influence society in the way that individuals forge their identities through the materials provided by the media. The authors indicate that through the media people become aware of the notion of what it means to be a female or a male, of their sense of ethnicity and race, class and sexuality. Therefore, the stories from the media have the power to shape the public’s view towards a specific culture, indicating who has power and who is powerless, who has high moral values and who does not, making the distinction in the end between “us” and “them”.
Said (2014) argued that a characteristic of the electronic, contemporary world is that there has been a reinforcement of the different negative stereotypes through which the Muslims are viewed. A study found out that since 2000 the coverage of communities formed of British Muslims has increased and that rise is justified partially by news devoted to terrorism and different stories related to that (Moore, K., Mason, P. And Lewis, J.M.W., 2008). Some interesting facts highlighted by the authors are that 36 per cent of the news which involved British Muslims overall were about terrorism (this can be observed especially after the attacks carried out by terrorists in 2001 in the US and 2005 in the UK) and four out of five articles from the British press linked Muslims different problems and generally in contradiction to dominant values in the UK (the concept that Islam is irrational was present in around 26 per cent of the stories from the news, while only approximately 2 per cent had a positive impact on the reader, since it was said in them that Muslims care and have respect for the dominant British values).
Poole (2009) argued in her book that even though the coverage of the British Muslims in the UK has a tendency to increase, the coverage of Islam represents just a small part of the entire coverage of Islam. Therefore, Islam is still perceived a foreign phenomenon. The author indicates that the ‘Guardian’, because of its typical form of liberalism did not always talk about Muslims because of the secular approach that it has and how it marginalizes religion to the private realm. Poole (2009) also specified that the ‘Sun’ has talked more about Islam as a different phenomenon, but it was always delineated very clearly as being foreign and subject to ridicule, making a contribution to a culture of idiocy. In this case, coverage from the press about the differences which exist in the British society has very clear implications that for the total exclusion of Muslims from the UK.
The main point is that most stories presented by the media talking about British Muslims focus on newsworthy elements (such as sensational headlines, for instance) and the original facts can become impossible to identify by the public (K., Mason, P. And Lewis, J.M.W., 2008). In the national press in the UK, the misinformation, discourse of danger and fear and the decontextualisation represent powerful forces (although not present in every source of news) when it comes to reporting about the British Muslims.
Poole (2009) argues that because of the tabloidization of the press, the outcome is that the Muslims are not going to be seen as good citizens in society. When it comes to different sources of news, there is a common purpose that they have and there is a tendency among all of them to reveal more about the state of the British nation than to discuss Islam. The fact that the discourse from the news stories is consistent makes the set of interpretations standard and therefore the public believes in the end that the real truth is the one told by the different news organisations, which only represents their own view of the truth (Poole, 2009). The power relations are maintained through this kind of discourse (which uses a distorted view of the British Muslims) and it acts as a method of social control.
In her study, Dwyer (1999) argued that when it comes to young British Muslim women, their dress represents a signifier of their identity that is contested because of the talks which point out to the different meanings of dress styles. The piece of work indicates the also indicates the very complicated ways through which class, gender and ethnicity are intertwined (Dwyer, 1999). The author also illustrates that the dress worn by British Muslim women is a representation of their sexual identity and they reflect with much care about the management of their sexual identity within the spaces in the city that are masculinised. Skeggs (2011) showed that understanding the respectable and appropriate sexual identities of British Muslim females, both through behaviour and dress, is strongly related to the class positions in the way that women who belong to the working-class need to regularly defend themselves against different accusations of sexual impropriety. In the case of young British Muslim women, Dwyer (1999) mentions that these connections between the dress, sexuality, class, gender and race, are very closely related to patriarchal and dominant racialised discourses of difference through which the religious and ethnic identities are built.
When it comes to identity politics, Seddon (2010) argues that in the context of the usage of hegemonic language employed in the various identity discourses on multiculturalism, there needs to be a new kind of politics of representation which does not only reject the fundamental notions of ethnicity, but allows for reconstructions to be continued by rethinking the concept of difference. In his study, Seddon (2010) uses the discourse that Said had on Orientalism to illustrate an example of a reconstruction of the language of representation. Seddon (2010) also agrees with the fact that suppression should no longer be part of cultural politics and that a critical characteristic of cultural politics should be giving the differences more consideration.
Dwyer and Bressey (2016) argued that the dominant culture defines the categories within gender, sexuality and race as polar opposites (black and white, women and men, homosexual and heterosexual) in order to build social rankings (bad and good, right and wrong, worthy and unworthy). The two authors indicate that the explanation for these hierarchies given by the dominant groups is that the rankings are part of the design of nature and the subordinate groups (such as the British Muslim communities) resist the rankings associated with them.
The conclusion is that debates about race are heavily influenced by gender, sexuality, class and some identity politics since all these are strongly connected to each other in the way that they operate in every single social situation. These represent systems which are essentially embedded in all social institutions and the way different races get to be portrayed in the media (such as British Muslims) can impact the way many individuals think towards minority groups, which continue to be problematized in the UK.