This article outlines the complex stories through which national belonging is made, and some ways in which class mediates the racialisation process. It is based on fieldwork on the ways in which white UK people in provincial cities construct identities based on positioning vis-à-vis other groups, communities and the nation. I argue that this relational identity work revolves around fixing a moral-ethical location against which the behaviour and culture of Others is measured, and that this has a temporal and spatial specificity. First, attitudinal trends by social class emerge in our work as being to do with emphasis and life experience rather than constituting absolute distinctions in attitudes. Second, in an era supposedly marked by the hegemony of ‘new’ or ‘cultural’ racism, bloodlines and phenotypes are still frequently utilised in race-making discursive work. Third, in provincial urban England, there is a marked ambivalence towards Britishness (as compromised by Others) and an openness to Englishness as a more authentic source of identification.
Drawing upon 38 qualitative interviews with Black and South Asian middle-class individuals we theorise post-racialism as a hegemonic ideology. While research tends to focus on how racialised people experience racial inequality, some of our participants rationalised such inequality through a post-racial understanding. This post-racial understanding involves commitments to racial progress and transcendence, the view that racism is no longer a societal issue; race-neutral universalism, the belief that we live in a colourblind meritocracy; and a moral equivalence between anti-racism and anti-racialism, allowing for forms of ‘cultural’ racial prejudice. We examine how these components of post-racialism travel from the political macro-ideological level, to the micro-phenomenological level. Through this analysis we argue that these post-racial rationalisations are not the result of false consciousness, but reflect how post-racialism, as a hegemonic ideology, can manifest itself as common-sense and consistent with particular individuals’ histories of mobility and success.