Notes on:  Arday, J. (2020). Cool Britannia and Multi-– Ethnic Britain. Uncorking the Champagne Supernova. London: Routledge.

Dave Harris


The preface refers to the 'melancholy' of cool Britannia and claims to examine it through an ethnic minority perspective [just his really], particularly taking on the notion of utopia, inclusion and cultural integration. There is a different discourse focusing on racial discriminatory episodes during the 1990s that illuminate systemic racism 'sponsored and sustained by the state', which might be called institutional racism. The struggle redefines Britishness, who is excluded, multicultural diversity. The book uses 'storytelling and auto ethnography' to address this historical amnesia and illustrate the struggle for racial equality. The Lawrence murder and the Macpherson report will be used as an important moment to address the folklore which sees the 90s as 'inspired by 60s pop culture and infused by youthful exuberance'(xii) [really?] It celebrated British culture and ignored the hostile environment for ethnic minorities in the 90s we eulogised. More accurate narration is required.

A subsequent podcast contains claims to have interviewed  80 other people, but they do not appear in any definiteway here

There is a soundtrack to the book including Oasis, Skunk Anansie,  Blur, Paul Weller, Fat Boy Slim, the Charlatans and others.

On how people reflect upon and recount a period of time. The magazine Vanity Fair announced that London was swinging again in 1997, referring back to the 60s, and a period of invigoration after Thatcherism and traditional communism and the emergence of new technology. New Order would sing about love. Britain must be a cultural epicentre of the world again. The lacerations of Thatcherism were to be 'balm [sic]" by a "socialist cavalry which represented a new cosmopolitan generation of parliamentarians … Fronted by Labour centrist firebrand [sic] Tony Blair.' New national pride… Populism especially after the 96 European Championships [really -- during it, surely -- the bleedin Germans won!]. Apparently the press called this the "'Cool Britannia years" [sarcastically as I recall].

However exclusion and marginalisation were also evident in events leading to the Macpherson Report in 1999 which 'illuminated what was probably one of the most known unknowns — least of people of colour... — that Britain as a society was institutionally racist' (3). There was a wasteland, racial discrimination, matched only by apartheid in South Africa [!] which ended only with the release of Mandela.

There is a personal resonance resembling 'an auto ethnographic and perhaps semi-biographical experience', self-discovery where he became aware of racial binaries and discriminatory cultures, an awakening which somehow led him to Oasis which resonated with social deprivation as a result of growing up on a council estate and being from a working class background. He still doesn't know what struck a chord with him, may be the opening chords to the first track he heard, or maybe 'the tale of four Mancunian working class boys taking on the world in coming out on top' (4) [very naïve] which inspired him to think that maybe a working class South Londoner could do the same, at least until he encountered racism. 

Until then he felt included. Until stopped by the police at 14. [No details, but he took this as 'an anecdote of systematic and racialised persecution… An anchor for racial ascription, victimisation and institutional racism'. 'Shame, vulnerability, helplessness and injustice would swiftly proceed [sic] my "stop and search" encounter' (5). [The podcast claims he  has been stopped many times since]. Before that he was 'engrossed and immersed within his anecdote of inclusion in the form of the cool Britannia machine'.

He now knows about the discourse of discrimination and marginalisation, through Gilroy, for example. Britain is unable to accept difference and has excluded marginals. Cool Britannia excluded multi-ethnic Britain [no black music?]. Reflection is required [not research?] to give a voice to those on the periphery. This book uncorked the phenomena and develops a narrative focusing on the understudied and marginalised histories of black and ethnic minority Britons, showing the duality of optimism and pessimism, through three incidents – Stephen Lawrence murder in 1993, Tony Blair in 1997 Macpherson in 1999.


Chapter 1
Britain is not an inclusive space. Black communities have been seen as problems in different ways and have been unable to verbalise their own experiences. There has been historical amnesia. Auto ethnography will centre the 'voices of ethnic minorities' (7) [all of them].

[Themes are repeated. Euphoria freedom and expression, hope and optimism, oddly seen as 'melancholia' (8) but systematic and insidious oppression nonetheless aimed at multi-ethnic individuals and the challenge they finally got to offer through activism and civil rights politics. Mandela halted things briefly, but generally the period has been romanticised. Lawrence's murder shows how 'insidiously racism was saturated throughout the fabric of British society. The MacPherson [sic] Report brought to the British public's attention the depths of this discriminatory saturation and how it pervaded all of Britain's major institutions' (9), and this was a compelling counter narrative, countering 'melancholy and psychedelia' expressed through the Stone Roses lyric of love spreading and their festival.

In personal terms he was into guitar rock music and yet was a black person, which led to him being called a bounty [by black kids?] Which made him feel 'helpless and vulnerable'(10) and he was stunned into silence although he refused to assimilate and tried to be true to himself even though this would locate him in predominantly white spaces where he would experience othering.

Apparently this has got something to do with social capital. His parents made him politically conscious of racialism around the world and they said this was prevalent in the UK and the USA. They equipped him with a survival toolkit to reside in a racist society and disillusioned him about inclusion. He was still not sure as a teenager, 'immersed within the vacuum of cool Britannia' (11). He was inspired by a group of white working class Mancunians — Oasis --  and felt he shared a common language and was a member of their tribe despite his obvious difference. At first he 'naïvely' removed race and racism altogether (12) as an avoidance mechanism, denial [in favour of a class identitiy --maybe] . However, 'cognition transpires which ignites a political consciousness' [sounds like Russell Brand] and it did not speak to his lived in future racialised experiences — he was racialised, treated as an outsider and felt he did not belong and should not be gaining influence. People of colour themselves reminded him that he did not belong and an internal conflict ensued, with Oasis and with other acts.

He could see other individuals on his council estate that had not been socially mobile and had become deprived or criminals and realised that 'ideas associated with one day becoming socially mobile and removing oneself from abject poverty becomes an essential vehicle for mentally transporting from a particular situation towards envisaging a perfect utopia. The story of four working class Mancunians… Complemented this narrative for me. It provided an idealistic framework from which there was a feeling that "racism" as a construct could be removed'. A class context could be substituted, but he saw this is naïve and misinformed, an 'epiphany'. He still fluctuated a bit between being proud of being British and experiencing intolerance and the topography of race. Again the first encounter with the police is mentioned, and the emergence of 'populist and nationalist rhetoric' (14).

He was more hopeful with the emergence of New Labour 'and the dawning of rock 'n' roll politics' propelled by Britpop (15)… A seismic shift, raising ambitions and hope, overcoming the inequality of Thatcherism, reawakening social mobility. Identity politics became important [didn't it just! — wholly a good thing for him] racial discrimination and oppression became important.

Britpop came to take over the notion of Britishness, being antiestablishment, socialist, liberal, working class, illuminating social issues. Again it was led by Blur and Oasis, seen in Gallagher's attendance at Blair's party and his claims to have launched a social revolution — seen even by Arday as 'self-indulgence and vanity' (17) and Tony Blair as opportunistic. Ethnic minorities found it hard to identify again because they were not particularly well represented. The media tried to establish class differences between Oasis and Blur, all within white notions of masculinity and class. Girl power seemed apolitical and cross-party, and did help young Black girls identify at least with Melanie Brown. He also particularly identified with Skin [he seemed repelled by gangsta rap which sexually objectified women]. She disrupted white cool Britannia and was a political activist — 'a staunch liberal'. So young people were galvanised but euphoria also concealed discrimination. 

New Labour was too opportunistic and cynical. There was a Conservative hangover especially with market policies and a failure to reform schools. Race was still not prioritised. Colourblindness seemed to be the dominant approach. As the black vote became more important, especially to Labour, some actual interventions to address inequality did appear, including the Social Exclusion Unit which particularly benefited Black students and an attempt to direct funds towards ethnic minorities. And there was the MacPherson [sic] Enquiry.

He admits that his personal understanding of multiculturalism and diversification 'has always been conflated within a narrative of being a son to second-generation African parents' (23). He is aware that many Britons are rebelling against what they take to be censorship and hypersensitivity. There is a resistance to immigrants even if they have integrated, and a growing nationalist and fascist rhetoric. Migrants are seen as a threat, and he has heard dialogues that frame migrants as stealing jobs, and so has his parents. He was also frequently asked where he was from and he detected 'a fascist and racist undertone' (24).

There is also continuing cultural imperialism which marginalises ethnic minority Britons and the activities of the National Front [NB the term 'social sanctum' 24], perpetuated with eugenics and the clamour for hard orders. It all provided a 'pernicious backdrop' to the hedonistic atmosphere of the 90s. For those ethnic minorities that escaped the peripheral groups, there was still '"unspoken sacrifice"' which made ethnic minorities disconnect themselves in order to endorse British imperialism to obtain British citizenship, leading to suffering, and precarity.

Channel 4's comedy Desmond's exemplifies the experience for many ethnic minority families, especially the Windrush generation, it was rare, a positive representation of black people and created a 'synergy among ethnic minorities' (26), based on an aspiration to return, the promise of social mobility via the ownership of a small business, multiculturalism and diversification, and the depiction of prejudice. It is a lasting impression on him especially in making the idea of social mobility 'conceivable… a chorus for hope' (28).

'Personally, my cognition of this dialogue was conflated within two particular instances within Black and White circles' [Russell Brand again, 28]. He claims to have been a 'rock-loving Vespa-riding 60s Mod obsessive'[in the 90s? He was only 15 in 2000] and thus doubly marginalised.  He experienced 'mostly symbolic acts of violence', including being accused of betraying his black heritage, and having to oscillate between different cultures. He realised that belonging to different social factions was important. At the same time he realised that 'Britain is a racist country', but that he rejected racial stereotypes and labels whether from white or black people. He had discovered himself and his own orientations that would 'navigate my moral compass for the rest of my adolescent, teenage and adult life'. (29)

[No mention of any of his neuro diverse problems or any help he received with any of them]

Chapter 2


Apparently about institutional racism, based on the Lawrence murder and the Macpherson report. Oasis and their track Don't Look Back in Anger apparently 'captures the racial trauma that ensued' (31) as a metaphor [that one line might -- but the other lyrics? -- 'Who the Fuck is Sally', said Liam Gallagher].

Stokely Carmichael coined the term institutional racism but Sivanandan developed it for Britain [and is much admired — his Marxist version is eventually lightly contrasted with Macpherson, which follows immediately]

Macpherson apparently 'illuminated a long sequence of systemic racism which permeated all of society's major institutions' (32), particularly within the Met and saw it as playing a part in the flawed investigation of the murder. Apparently he asserted 'that institutional racism was likely to be found in every organisation within the UK' (33). Ethnic minorities already knew this and could now accept the concept. It also 'gleaned the attention of policymakers' and led to the abandonment of colourblindness. It did lead to wider admissions of institutional racism, at least after initial resistance, and increased surveillance of the Met. The Labour government can be given credit for legitimising the concept. Macpherson finally drew wide attention to racism, and the responsibility of white middle-class males who had hitherto profited from inequity. Arday saw it as a way of rebuking triumphalists who were singing about football coming home.

Why did it take a murder to raise awareness of institutional racism? That certainly destroyed his own romantic innocence and helped his own break with the idealism of cool Britannia [NB Lawrence is still described as a 'young, male, black promising architect' (37).]

[Lots of summary] Racism until Macpherson had been variously grasped as xenophobia, a reaction to strangeness, to be remedied by time and familiarity, or as something to be exploited by politicians for example in Smethwick. It was mixed with policies about immigration and integration. Confronting racism was never particularly prominent despite the Race Relations Acts. The emphasis was on cultural problems, not on whiteness. There was real discrimination in the Met, the education system [citing Coard -- he has read more recent stuff in his articles], and various legal injustices.

A 'hegemonic discourse in Britain on racism' (40) has failed to encompass the whole range of racisms including that focused on Jews and Muslims, gypsies and travellers [and Miles is cited here]. Apparently this is relevant in explaining 'how ethnic minorities and migrants were excluded from celebrations of "Britishness"' (40). New Labour offered a chance to re-evaluate Britishness, including absorbing the influence of 'poststructuralist and post-modernist theories' instead of simpler versions of multiculturalism [this is probably the best stuff, although it is just parachuted in]. Multiculturalism became increasingly difficult to define 'as the dialect [sic] became fluidly interchangeable dependent upon the faction of society from which an individual derived' (42) [Russell Brand intervenes to screw everything up] — feminists are particularly responsible for confusing things, and overall, this seems to be a bad thing because it derails the antiracist movement from its original mission of 'dismantling inequitable power relations between White and Black communities'.

This requires 'a boarder [sic] canvas' to address citizenship rights, and how to fight racism. One response was to use the term black as a general category, even including Asians. The renewal of the emphasis on culture led to a redefinition, partly because Muslims and Islam was itself demonised — a new antiracism, '"cultural racism"'.

There was a new awareness of racism, following Mandela's release and the Stephen Lawrence campaign, despite attempts to smear Lawrence, and 'the continual criminalisation of black males' (44), while white football hooliganism 'was celebrated as nationalists defending Britannia' [really?]. Stop and search continued. The middle-class nature of the Lawrences made it difficult to stereotype them, however. Other ethnic minority persons became more visible, such as Trevor McDonald, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Denise Lewis, all 'successful Black Britons… Enshrined in British folk lore' (46). [Acceptable Black stereotypes?] However there were still negative media portrayals.

Racism was also being reinvented [with a repetition about cultural racism]. New Labour came increasingly focused on cultural identity and multilayered citizenship. There has been a diversification of institutions and multicultural agency but we still have pockets of resistance and still barriers for ethnic minorities to gain access to opportunities to become mobile.

There is still a problem because Mcpherson's definition still causes ambiguity. It is not sufficiently located 'in societal structures, workings, and the culture of organisations, which includes not only processes, behaviour, policies, practices and procedures, but also the organic relationship between them and the discriminatory dynamics that emerge as a result' (49) [quoting Gilroy, Muldoon and Lammy rather than Sivanandan or Miles]. Macpherson individualised instead and this is compounded by terms such as '"unwitting prejudice" and "thoughtlessness"' which permits further resistance.

Luckily Doreen Lawrence emerged as a dignified and forgiving heroine with great influence, symbolising the demand for justice, dignity and democratisation, indeed a redefinition of Britishness.

So definitions of racism and discrimination can become 'conflated within many contexts'(51). The impact of racism can be distressing to observe. What could happen if racism did not exist – the end of oppression, including patriarchy — sadly not he thinks.

Back to the personal, he feels he was never properly prepared for encountering discrimination or the routine experience of it. However, he has learned to be 'continually and eternally resilient', to show 'dignity and restraint', to continuously fight to obtain 'access to opportunities to become socially mobile and economically self-sufficient' (52) [he cites Hall 1990 here but this is clearly his own Disney dream]] He feels you have to work harder than a white person. It is exhausting. Macpherson only confirms Sivanandan. Racism is firmly 'engrained'. He thought that Macpherson would be decisive.

He is aware that some people would want to dismiss racism as a minor matter overall.  He is worried not only about the acting out of prejudice but the 'tacit, prejudiced thoughts' (53. This was not addressed by Macpherson who therefore failed to grasp the relation between institutional and state racism. The state was overlooked altogether although it is crucial [Hiro is cited here]. 

Racism is continuous. It requires several approaches, to combat state racism as well as personal racism. The state is in fact far more important. Racism is tended to be trivialised, and initiatives captured, such as multiculturalism.

[Clear flaws here of an auto ethnographic approach — massive generalisations throughout, especially of the impact of Lawrence and MacPherson. It radicalised him. Other bits have been dragged into discussion, especially about the state, but not really developed. The horror of barriers to social mobility persists. Still no story of neuro diversity].

Chapter 3 

Now it seems that the period excluded ethnic minorities culturally [no black music]. Now he's going to consider antiracist movements and the far right.

He thinks no other song captures the compelling narrative of the time better than The Verve's 'anthemic Bitter Sweet Symphony in 1997' (56), depicting euphoria and depression, acting as a soundtrack to continuous racism.

New Labour was instrumental, despite charges that it tried to please too many people, and  was not committed to radical change. Even Baroness Lawrence questioned their record on race however, subjectively, they could be seen as 'passionate' about providing equal opportunity, which resonated with ethnic minority communities. Their antipoverty measures were popular, especially the ones tackling social exclusion. Lots of repetition about Macpherson as the major achievement.

There has since been a regression, the tightening of borders and the reduction [?] of migrants, more social exclusion, more short-term initiatives. Race and ethnicity is now an established part of the political landscape, a perennial feature, reduction in the sense of hope 'that endorsed the potential for all members of society to be socially mobile' (60).

The media focused on British youth cultures which were not reflective of ethnic minorities, such as The Face, Loaded, New Musical Express and Q, generally considered to be most representative, but not of ethnic minorities, celebrating the success of white Britons, they did address the murder of Stephen Lawrence, however and other cases of racial violence.

There were new forms of racist politics and violent attacks, adding to 'a state that facilitates structural racism' (61) including neo-fascism. There was also increased journalistic attention after Macpherson and Black politicians. 

However far right movements in Britain and Europe were also consolidating, using the Net, and new movements were growing. Some of it found a home in cool Britannia which celebrated Britishness. There is increasing racist stereotyping. The extreme right became more flexible and elusive, including football hooligans but also senior executive officers. Belonging in Britain became subject to 'an ever-changing and racialised vernacular' (63). There was border control and forced deportation, which often concealed racialised stereotyping. There were local differences, say between London and other communities, but this was met by flexibility on the part of the right, 'singular forms of racism' (64), sharing the common theme of ethnic minorities as a threat to the nation. Muslims appeared as a main threat, for example.

The impact of Stephen Lawrence was increasingly diminished and trivialised. Wanting to live with your own kind was seen as normal, encouraged by politicians like Thatcher and other senior politicians. This made it difficult for any ethnic minorities trying to establish footholds. It coincided with a resistance to globalisation and a rising populism.

Antiracism developed in different ways, beyond the earlier binary between black and white. There is a need to make clear the aims and objectives of black struggles which were often more modest than suspected, the need for 'mental and cultural agility' to adapt to changes in the discriminatory landscape.

Racism became 'an afterthought, culturally, politically, and socially', 'never an essential political objective'(67). However a critical mass developed, especially after Stephen Lawrence, reacting to racialised experiences across the field, taking on the conception of a perfect British utopia that unfortunately had isolated pockets of inequality. There was a demand for 'accuracy regarding the motive for such discriminatory offences' (68) another way of silencing protest, accusations of playing the race card — 'a prominent and fragile retort' [?].

Maybe Labour had too simple a conception of racism, despite the complexity revealed by the MacPherson [sic] report and the efforts of the Lawrences (69). He thinks 'there is a very true and accurate history that would suggest that ethnic minorities have been actively organising and mobilising themselves to defend against racism throughout British history' [he doesn't say where this can be found, although a couple of sentences later on he quotes Modood 1994]. This was thwarted apparently by 'Project Fear'.

An increasing [?] fraction refused to accept new discourses and new conceptions of Britishness. They wanted ethnic cleansing of Britain,  seen best in the NF.  He admits this is now defunct. They formed links with other far right movements against South Africa and gained some 'mainstream attention' [or rather 'gleaned' some]. The Lawrence case reminded ethnic minorities of the unreliability of justice. The state was lethargic in extinguishing neofascist groups and their abhorrent behaviour was made acceptable 'in favour of residing on safer grounds, which resembled a more socialist antifascist politics (Hiro 1973; Gilroy, 1992)' (71).

Black liberation was reduced to antiracism which trivialised it and made it into countering far right groups. Racially flawed institutions contributed to seeing ethnic minorities as a threat and to demonising them, making racial hatred more acceptable. Racism was rebuffed if it was neofascism, but accepted if it was redefined as black criminal activity [be fair Dave, this is quite good], but this became 'an inoperable societal cyst' (72)]. All groups want to defend their own interests, but antiracism is superior because it desires for all people to be treated as equals. [It's naive egalitarianism then? Not at all zero-sum?]

Popular nationalism was 'funnelled' through popular culture, including football hooliganism. Reactions to it only served to marginalise discussions of race as opposed to say discussions of equal opportunity policies.

The MacPherson [sic, 73] report was useful in leading to the revelation of institutionalised racism, and raising the potential for further social cohesion. However the state's complicity in discrimination was not accepted. Nevertheless, antiracist movements drew strength from collective oppression and resistance, including frontline action. Some succeeded in penetrating the structures of the state, although imagery associating blacks with criminality and lawlessness persists. So do definitions that refer to primitivism and violence. Any political antagonism seems to be 'purely based on conjecture', and seems to threaten freedom of speech (75) — antiracist zeal threatens social order and democracy, and there is a right [for Black people?]  to be prejudiced [Gilroy apparently].

Community is a strong theme but somehow is also 'the binary that brings people together' (76). The 90s seem to offer a new generation after Thatcherism that seem more inclusive, but it rapidly became splintered and ethnic minorities were placed on the periphery. Nationalism and populism emerged instead, despite antiracist resistance. Cool Britannia was complicit in developing race and racism and excluding ethnic minorities. However there is 'a collective thankfulness on behalf of ethnic minorities of my generation' (77) for New Labour which provided the opportunity to become socially mobile, and produced the Macpherson report. However cool Britannia provided a misleading story of unity for the white population.

20 years on, these racialised discourses have become even more sophisticated and include the Prevent Strategy, the continuing policy of stop and search, 'blunt force trauma' (78). It did raise awareness for 'the second generation of British-born ethnic minorities', and made them hypervigilant. This 'whistlestop tour of the 1990s' (79) shows that a reconceptualisation of Britishness is overdue and that race and racism needs to be removed. However, he remains as 'an eternal optimist' imagining a more inclusive Britain and admires the enduring resilience and ability to survive.

Overall the marginalisation of ethnic minorities accompanied the cool Britannia years, although antiracism activists also resisted, negotiating 'the margins in the centre, alienation and belonging, alignment and critique (Warmington, 2014)' (80). This book attempts to depict the complexity of discrimination and cultural exclusion showing Britain as 'a fundamentally institutionally racist society throughout the decade… [It]… Acknowledges the enduring and pernicious nature of racism when we as a British society choose to reject equality in favour of inequality and endorse segregation rather than integration' (80).


[V patchy and thin. Only 80 pages of text! Strangely selective about his 'semi-biography'.  Overall, he just can't understand why everyone did not agree with him at, age 14, about racism and the need to tackle it to promote social mobility for Black people, especially after Macpherson. What else did British people need to convince them? Couldn't they see through all that Cool Britannia crap?

Mixes up Macpherson and Sivanandan. Flourishes rather than explores references. Nothing on classic subcultures. Nothing on Black subcultures or Black music.

Odd view of the 1990s. No IRA bombs. No colonisation of the old East End by Canary Wharf. No deindustrialisation. No recession.No cynicism about the Millennial Dome.

No 'similarities' leapt out at me this time, though, and I definitely did not set out to explore any.]