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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Empire where class trumps race, September 28, 2001
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This review is from: Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (Hardcover)
David Cannadine, a self declared "Child of Empire" has what can only be described as an obsession with the British Aristocracy. Unlike some of his other works such as "Decline and fall oft the British Aristocracy" where he allows bittersweet emotions such as nostalgia to be evoked at the passing of an era, or the undisguised glee of an outsider indulging in schadenfreude in "Aspects of Aristocracy: grandeur or decline" this book presents a much more balanced analysis.
His thesis is that there was a complex interplay of class and race in the Empire, but in most cases class trumps race.
The defining example from the book is an exerpt from the "Raj quartet" where the british aristo identifies more clearly with his Indian counterpart who went to public school than to the uncouth white police constable. However the police constable viewed himself as superior to the Indian because of his race.
Its thesis accords well with my experience in public school at Winchester College in England where I felt accepted as a peer despite being Asian. But my same peers were openly disdainful of poor uneducated Pakistani and Bangledeshi immigrants. (They welcomed the educated Indians much more easily)
Perhaps these sentiments were what prevented mass support for Oswald Mosley and Fascism in the 1930s despite prevalent anti-semitism. It has been argued by John Lucas that Nazism as an ideology failed because Hitler had made his elite too small. The British extended their elites to the sultans, nawabs, emirs and kings all over the Empire and used them to bind the Empire together.
This book provides an interesting contrast to America where race is so much more important. Black and white interracial marriages are quite commonplace in Britain. In my opinion it better to recognize nobility in another person and disdain the baseness in another person regardless of the colour of their skin.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 7, 2013 2:21:13 PM PDT
T. S. C. says:
This is a very good review of a book I have both read, enjoyed reading and used for my degree. Being a white Working class English person, of Irish and Welsh descent (mostly) there are and always have been subtle interplays between class and race in England. Class, although generally seen as prejudice between people of the same colour, was fortified in many instances when the poor Irish and other Celts came into Britain looking for work in the 18th century, throughout the 19th century and of course in the 20th century, when Asians and Black people from the Caribbean and Nigeria came to Britain at the end of the 40's. The oppressive class system of Britain forced millions to emigrate in the 19th century and at the same time the Upper classes and Middle classes wanted to replicate the class system wherever they went in empire! Any ideology where one person basically thinks they are superior to another human being, for any reason, that allows one human being to oppress, exploit or otherwise harm or effect negatively some other person is a fascist ideology, full stop. Many people around the world still hate the English because of these horrendous ideologies that were promoted and acted upon all over the British Empire for a number of centuries, not least of which were you are, Hong Kong.
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