Dr Steve Garner at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research

Published Date: 
Thursday, 19 November 2015

Race is socially constructed, and white English people are ‘making race’ through the discursive use of four frames, contends Dr Steve Garner.  

Frames are interpretive structures that allow people to inject meaning into them, organise their experiences, and guide their actions.  Drawing on the results of interviews conducted since 2005 with white UK citizens resident in England, Dr Garner argues that within England, white respondents are employing frames to create a hierarchy of ‘us and them’, and to occupy a morally superior position to other groups.  

The first frame is fairness.  

White respondents are hostile to the idea of equality, and think it is a way to transfer white resources, such as jobs, housing, healthcare and education, to minority groups.  This transfer is enabled through political correctness – the second frame – a mechanism that simultaneously prohibits discussion about discrimination against white people and favours minorities.  

Integration is the third frame, and represents the process that newcomers must navigate before they can be welcomed as community members.

Typically, discussion about integration focuses on clothing, religion, period of residence, and contribution to society.  In opposition to integration is Islam, and, particularly, veiled women.  Finally, the fourth frame reveals a shift away from Britishness to Englishness.  Rather than identifying as British, respondents have begun to favour the more exclusive English identity.     

 These frames are important because they enable the speaker to position him or herself as part of the group who should decide who is entitled to have resources, work here, and be here without being asked where they are from.  Additionally, the frames exemplify a victimisation narrative, in which the speaker – a good person – is being assailed by the bad.  This is embodied by statements such as ‘The Brits feel like we’re being squeezed out of our country’.   

Framing in this instance is an emotionally charged process that is resistant to facts.  

 Because the topic of race is engaged with emotionally, members of the public are open to being influenced by hearsay and daily newspapers.  Dr Garner observes that this is why evidence showing the immigrants make a net financial contribution to the UK’s wealth has little impact on public opinion.   These frames are also used by our politicians and, according to Dr Garner, have narrowed the gap between mainstream and far right parties.  In addition to passing legislation that criminalises people such as travellers, immigration discourse by the major parties suggests that migrants are channelling resources and employment opportunities away from more deserving recipients.   Dr Garner concluded that immigration has become a discursive space that enables racist discourse to enter the mainstream.  While not focussed on skin colour, this discourse has the hallmarks of racism as white residents claim migrants threaten their culture and resources.  We must recognise this ‘colour blind racism’ for what it is because, as Dr Garner observes, it presents a challenge to minorities and multiculturalism.