White supremacy across the Black Atlantic: Obama, racism and British-American race relations
With the election of Barack Obama, much attention internationally has been focused on the possibility of a return to good transatlantic which characterized the post-war period and was seriously damaged under Bush‘s war on terror, with its unilateralism and imperialism. Much attention has also inevitably been focused on the fact that Obama is the first African-American president elected in a country that many view as historically and structurally racist. While Obama's election has been seen to represent an end to both the damaging impact on transatlantic relations of the Bush era and to white supremacy in America, these two issues have rarely been connected. This paper will look at the link between these by examining the special relationship‘ across the Atlantic between the United States and Britain, a relationship that has not only been the most enduring in the post-war era, but is partly defined by the Black Atlantic‘: that history and aspect of the transatlantic relationship that developed from colonialism and the slave trade or concern race, racism and race relations in Britain and the US. What is perhaps most interesting is that far from the transatlantic support and cooperation in foreign policy that we have seen under Churchill and FDR, Thatcher and Reagan, Blair and Clinton or Blair and Bush, the two countries' relationship across the Black Atlantic‘ has been characterized by British criticism of American racism (e.g. American slavery, lynching and segregation) and American criticism of British colonialism (e.g. from the American Revolution to the cold war). Whereas British views of American race relations have tended to focus on its history of white supremacy, slavery and segregation, while ignoring its own history of slavery and colonialism (or attempting to recover the latter through such a comparison in recent work by Schama and Fergusson), American views of British colonialism have tended to ignore its own imperialism. In this paper, I will examine British representations and criticisms of the American race problem‘ and American responses to these historically. I will argue that, far from representing examples of anti-racism or anti-colonialism, British criticism of American racism and American criticism of British colonialism occur at and reflect moments in the hegemonic reconfiguration and realignment of their respective and related geo-political power at particular historical junctures, from the American Revolution through the post-war/post-colonial era to the election of Obama.
Winter, A. 2011. White supremacy across the Black Atlantic: Obama, racism and British-American race relations. BSA Theory Conference: Rethinking the Modern: Empire, Colonialism and Slavery, Birmingham Midland Institute, 10-12 July, 2011