We are now witnessing in the Europe and in the United States the emergence of new racism and politics of cultural differences. Cultural racism is “negative ethnic stereotyping that leads to racist effects,” such as social exclusion or violence. Cultural racism constructs groups from perceived ideological differences such as culture and religion. Many scholars have referred to this occurrence as the “culturalization of races”. This is because cultural racism’s rhetoric focuses around the “irreducibility of cultural differences” among ethnicities as opposed to the outright conflict among races.
We can begin to understand cultural racism by comparing it to colonial racism. New cultural racism is happening during this period of globalisation and the weakening of nation-states and borders, compared to colonial racism which took place within the period of imperialism/colonialism. The ‘scientific basis’ behind cultural racism is that it is a type of socio-biology. It comes from new genetics and ‘human nature’, whereas colonial racism was just based around biology. Many argue that cultural racism is in fact just ‘common sense’. It is just the way things are. In terms of language, cultural racism is more indirect and coded, whereas colonial racism is more direct and a lot more explicit. For example, the genocide of Jewish people in 1933 was vile but remains to be something the world will never forget. UNESCO, however, responded to the WWII Nazi genocide of Jewish people. They produced Statements on Race & Racial Prejudice (updated since 1950). UNESCOs basis of anti-racism (Lentin 2005: 387) said “…’race’ has no scientific validity, it should be replaced by ‘culture’ or ‘ethnicity’…” UNESCO also said “the benefits of cultural diversity should be promoted as a means of enriching society…” and finally that “greater knowledge of other cultures…should be encouraged…to bring about awareness of the ‘fact’ of cultural diversity on a global scale & to combat the inclination of ignorant and prejudicial human beings to adopt ethnocentric attitudes”. There were many problems and issues that came up from these statements. First, racism as individual pathology. Racism reduced to problem of pathological or ignorant individual. It fails to grasp: “Racism…is a social relation…anchored in material structures and embedded in historical configurations of power… individuals do not have actively to express or practice racism to be its beneficiaries” (Shohat & Stam 1995: 19). Another problem with UNESCOs statements were that they replaced ‘race’ with ‘culture’ to claim “different but equal cultures” (Levi- Strauss).This led to possibility of essentializing (fixing) cultural differences. “The idea that people can be assigned to different groups according to culture is powerless to avoid the essentialism implied by ‘race’… (Lentin 2005: 388-9)
The shift to new cultural racism was based on absolute cultural differences of groups. Cultural racism, however, can be difficult to identify. “…New racism is a racism of the era of ‘decolonization’ of the reversal of population movements between the old colonies & the old metropolises. Current racism, which…centres upon the immigration complex, fits into a framework of ‘racism without races’…whose dominant theme is not biological heredity but the insurmountability of cultural differences.. It is a racism which … does not postulate the superiority of certain groups…but …the incompatibility of life- styles & traditions…” (Balibar 1991: 21)
Equality Ombudsman, a government agency in Sweden formed in 2009 describes the cultural racism ideology as “After WWII, as the idea of different biological races became controversial, the term culture received increased significance in racist reasoning. Scientists usually talk about so called “Culture racism”. Instead of starting from biology, culture is used to explain how people are and what they do. Culture is seen as something solid and unchangeable. The rhetoric and the purpose of the division is the same as when talking about biological races though. Stereotypical notions about the cultures of ethnical groups as essentially different and incompatible with the (for example) Swedish culture lies as a foundation of cultural racism. Cultures are seen as unchangeable and very “deciding” for a person’s characteristics.