Racism is the issue of our time, particularly in Britain, with her legacy of colonialism, and in the United States, with her history of slavery.  Race is the ultimate taboo, and careers, such as that of Trent Lott in the United States or those of various British Conservative MPs, have been permanently ruined by one unguarded remark.  Public bodies in Britain, such as the fire brigade, rush to declare themselves “institutionally racist,” rather like 16th-century heretics admitting to blasphemy in the hope of avoiding the flames.  In America, racial discrimination has been turned on its head through “affirmative action.”

Not far beneath the surface of “anti-racism” is the racist view that the white race is the dominant one, and that all white people should have collective guilt for being white.  Being white, or being part of any historically dominant nation, is shameful.  But being nonwhite, or even part of a white-subjugated nation such as Scotland or Wales, is something of which to be proud.  Nowhere can this understanding of racism be seen more clearly than in Zimbabwe.  For there is only one thing more shameful than being white, and that is being a “white African.”

In 2000, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe introduced a policy of forcing white people out of the country.  After almost 20 years in power, his popularity was on the wane.  “War veterans,” who were demanding compensation (though most of them had never fought in the guerrilla war against white rule), were undermining his credibility; he had lost a referendum on a new constitution, and it looked like he would lose power; so he needed to unite the Zimbabwean people and his own party, ZANU-PF.  Reigniting resentment against the tiny white minority of about 4,000, most of whom were successful farmers who were feeding the country, was an ingenious method of doing this.  The war veterans were permitted to run riot.  By March 2000, they had invaded 500 white-owned farms.  Images of their drunken and drug-fueled violence were beamed around the world as their leader, Chenjerai “Hitler” Hunzvi declared, “Those whites who think they are Zimbabweans will be marched to the airport and sent home to Britain.”  By April, five white farmers had been murdered by the gangs, and many more hospitalized, because the police would not assist them.  Also, Zimbabwe’s chief justice, Anthony Gubbay, was forced to resign purely because he was white, and the authorities made it clear that they would not protect him if he stayed.  There was almost no international response.  Bill Clinton ignored the issue; Tony Blair slightly cut Zimbabwe’s aid.

Contrast this with the response to Ian Smith, the former prime minister of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe’s colonial name).  Rhodesia was a self-governing British dominion in all but name and had been so since 1923.  By the early 1960’s, the Rhodesian government was contemplating the gradual ending of white minority rule.  Voting, for blacks, was by land qualification.  Thus, all 230,000 whites could vote, while only 60,000 or so blacks qualified.  In 1962, the Rhodesian Front came from nowhere to win power.  It wanted white-minority rule to remain forever.  In 1965, under Ian Smith, it took all 50 parliamentary seats reserved for whites.  In response to British pressure to revoke racist laws and minority rule, Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).  The international chorus of condemnation could not have been louder: Smith was branded the leader of a “racist regime.”  British prime minister Harold Wilson seriously contemplated invading Rhodesia.  Several countries boycotted Rhodesia, and, when Smith declared Rhodesia a republic in 1970, only South Africa, Greece, and Portugal would recognize it.  At the time, China was massacring Tibetans at will, but, for a small, landlocked African country to deny black people the vote was utterly outrageous.  However, Mugabe’s ethnic cleansing of independent Zimbabwe’s white minority provoked no accusations of racism at all.  He was merely addressing an historical wrong, of which Britain should be ashamed.  Smith, as a white African leading a black country, needed to be crushed.

All of Smith’s predecessors as Rhodesian prime minister had been born and educated in Britain, but Smith was born in Rhodesia and attended university in South Africa.  (Rhodesia did not have a university at the time.)  He felt almost no ties to Britain; his declaration of independence was very popular; and, even now, he remains in Zimbabwe, ignoring Mugabe’s intermittent threats to prosecute him.  When the British Empire fell, the British generally returned to Britain, because they had always thought of themselves as British.  Smith managed to do something quite dangerous in Rhodesia: He helped to foster a strong sense of white Rhodesian national identity.  His Rhodesian Front was a nationalist party.  It presented the distant British as a threat who would introduce black-majority rule and continually emphasized that Rhodesia was at war.  Mugabe’s terror campaign killed thousands, and there was the constant threat from the British.  Smith emphasized that Rhodesians had a shared history: They had all come to Rhodesia for a better life.  Also, there was a clear “other”—the blacks and the British—that any nationalism needs to thrive.  Smith had all that he needed to create a nation, an “imagined community,” as sociologist Ernst Gellner once put it.  So the declaration of independence made total sense.  But that kind of nation building does not square with the powers that be.

In fact, the inverse is now almost encouraged, at least in Britain.  Under Tony Blair’s New Labour government, Scotland has effectively been given independence and has almost the same status as a dependency.  She controls her own affairs but does not have her own foreign or defense policy.  Before Labour introduced the Scottish parliament, there was already a strong sense of national feeling in Scotland.  Today, it is stronger than ever, and it has been followed by the Scottish government’s introduction of clearly racist policies.  English students pay higher tuition fees than European students to attend Scottish universities, while Scottish students pay nothing.

The British government has even described a rise in English nationalism as a “danger.”  This attitude can be seen in numerous official bodies.  Certain fire brigades have banned firemen from displaying English flags on engines because the flag is deemed “racist.”  Pubs can get a special “late license” for St. Patrick’s Day but not for St. George’s.

Within England herself, the establishment of de facto national communities is encouraged by the British government under the policy of multiculturalism.  City councils allow the celebration of Hindu and Muslim festivals, while some insist that Christian imagery is beyond the pale, even at Christmas.  This has all added to the ghettoization of many English towns, especially in the north, where white people and Asians often have nothing to do with each other and do not have the same first language or history.  In these areas, there are effectively separate nations.  Those who challenge this, however, or suggest that this is dangerous for Britain are immediately charged with “racism.”  Yet, to have failed to challenge Ian Smith, or to do anything other than condemn him as a fascist, is just as “racist.”  Racism is a one-way accusation.  It is a way of expressing guilt for being a member of a formerly colonial nation or race.  Those who were once colonized cannot be racist themselves.  Thus, racism is a failure to be sufficiently guilty.

Racism and antiracism are primal, requiring a clear contrast in order to work; and this, too, can be observed in Zimbabwe.  Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front was a white party ruling black people.  The two peoples were conspicuously different and easy to identify.  Under Mugabe, the same situation was reversed.  The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) almost won the 2000 general election and held nearly half of the elected seats.  (Before this, Zimbabwe was virtually a one-party state.)  Indeed, the MDC would likely have carried the day had it not been for electoral fraud, gerrymandering, and a brutal campaign of voter intimidation.  Also, ZANU-PF was able to exploit the involvement of whites in the MDC quite brilliantly.  Pictures of white farmers signing checks for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai were played again and again on the state-run news.  And four of the MDC’s new MPs were white.  Mugabe, naturally, used this to argue that the MDC “was a party for white farmers” and a “British plot” to re-colonize Zimbabwe.

Elsewhere, where the ethnic contrast has not involved a clear difference in color, the accusation of racism has not been leveled at all.  Nobody questions the substantial influence of Swedish speakers (just five percent of the population) in Finland.  The excessive influence of Scots in the British government has been termed the “Scottish Raj,” but nobody in England really cares.  Questioning such influence may be termed “racist,” but it can always be argued that it is an issue of culture rather than race.  This argument is far more difficult to maintain when the difference, as in Zimbabwe, is stark.

So what is the future of white Zimbab-weans?  Under Mugabe’s tyranny, almost all of them have been forced out.  Their farms lie fallow, and the people whom they once fed are starving.  A good deal of them have started from scratch, farming in South Africa, and countries such as Nigeria have welcomed many of them with open arms.  A host of others, as well as numerous educated black Zimbabweans who support the MDC, have fled to Britain.  However, many of them desire to return once the elderly Mugabe is dead or removed.  Currently, Mugabe is in the process of taking the remaining white farms into public ownership.

The alternative party in Zimbabwe is the MDC, which effectively controls most of Zimbabwe’s cities.  Its chairman, Morgan Tsvangirai, a miner and trade-union leader, managed to galvanize the country and almost toppled Mugabe in 2002.  Tsvangirai lost badly in the 2005 election, however, as many Zimbabweans expressed their disappointment with the lack of progress, having previously risked their lives to vote MDC.  Since then, Tsvangirai has shown that he is, perhaps, not the man for Zimbabwe.  Apart from getting himself put on trial for, and acquitted of, treason after making stupid remarks, he has become increasingly autocratic within his own party.  In September 2005, his party voted to contest the forthcoming senate elections, but he overruled their consensus.  (Despite Tsvan-girai’s threats, many went ahead anyway, and the party split.)  He accused fellow party members of rigging this vote and claimed that his opponents were ZANU-PF spies.  When a white former MDC MP, Roy Bennett, questioned his leadership, Tsvangirai implied that he was crazy because he had been jailed for over a year for shoving the justice minister in parliament.  Mugabe, by contrast, managed to maintain a front of politeness and reasonableness until well after he was entrenched in power.

Taboos change and evolve.  Fifty years ago, homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom; today, a “homophobic” remark could cost you your job.  It is very likely that the current race taboo will die away in time and that people will be able to write about race without feeling guilty or nervous.  By then, however, it will be far too late to help the white Zimbabweans who were left to be tortured and killed by Mugabe’s regime.  While that was happening, the world was far more concerned about Trent Lott’s speculations about Strom Thurmond and a Conservative MP’s joke about Chinese people in a bar.