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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

The Silent War: Imperialism and the Changing Perception of Race
Frank Füredi

(London: Pluto Press, 1998)
282pp. Index. Bibl. £45.00; ISBN 0745313086. Pb.: £14.99; ISBN 0745313035.

In this meticulously researched and compelling study Füredi analyses the ways in which white racial thinking has been, and still is, inextricably linked with western culture and identity. Drawing on a wide range of often fascinating source material, the author examines how, during the 20th century, Anglo-American political culture dealt with the issue of 'race' within the context of massive global changes. These changes impacted on the nature of both international and domestic relations, and throughout the paramount concern was ensuring that any threats to Western power were minimised. At the turn of this century elites in Britain and the USA surveyed the world order that had been created out of slavery and imperialism from, as Füredi puts it, a position of 'racial confidence'. There were no inhibitions regarding the concept of 'race'; Western domination of large portions of the world confirmed assumptions of white superiority. From early on in the 20th century, however, this was to change significantly. Internationally there was increasing resistance to Western exploitation and oppression, and within the USA the beginning of a black civil rights movement. The 20th century, then, saw a shift from confidence to 'racial fear' and, according to Füredi, this shift resulted in the gradual development of an Anglo-American race relations industry. In his view this race relations industry evolved in order to avoid, minimise or postpone racial conflict. Thus the history presented here is not one which sees the development of 'race relations' as part of a linear process of progressive enlightenment, a process arising simply out of a moral agenda based upon anti-racism and a commitment to racial equality per se. In his interpretation the agenda is induced by fear, informed by pragmatism and at times overtly cynical. Above all, this was a 'war' which, although deriving from white racism and domination, remained 'silent' as it was reconstituted ideologically by a race relations industry in all its guises. The book details these developments up to the immediate post-Second World War period, though there is some discussion of more recent history. The final word can be left to the author:

"In the end, racial pragmatism had to give way to a formal acceptance of equality, but by the time this occurred, decades of racial pragmatism, and the practices associated with it, had helped create a climate where the West could minimise the damage consequences of its racist tradition." (p. 238)

John Tierney, University of Durham

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