This was coming for years. There’s been a slow drip-drip, in every banner headline blaming immigrants or scaremongering about immigrants; there’s been a slow drip-drip, in every unchallenged racist vox pop (the angrier and uglier, the better); there’s been a slow drip-drip, in every time cutbacks were blamed on the foreign scapegoats; there’s been a slow drip-drip, in every article written post 9-11 or 7-7 about the “failure of multiculturalism” or the “threat to our Christian values” from Islam.
Calling migrants “swarms” and “cockroaches” – we allowed it to happen. They were effectively dehumanised, and they became the problem that needed solving.
It’s been coming, and we didn’t stop it; we didn’t challenge it. Not enough of us challenged it, and not enough of us challenged it strongly enough; it might not have made any difference if we had, but we should have tried. We might have seen it coming, and some of us might have tried to say something about it, but in the end we didn’t think it was as overwhelming as it was until it had overwhelmed us completely; and now we’re stuck where we are, and we have to do something about it – but it turns out we can’t do anything about it.
All through the early 2000s, the argument went, you couldn’t even talk about immigration anymore without being called racist – particularly, it turned out, if you were being really massively racist about it, but that’s beside the point. The right-wing newspapers found a useful tale: here come the immigrants; New Labour have let them in; you have to pay for them; they’re taking your jobs and homes and getting free handouts! It wasn’t true, but it’s never about whether it’s true or not – it’s about whether it’s an inviting tale that supports your prejudices and fears. And it does. The bogeyman is the Pole or the Romanian or – even worse – the Muslim refugee, who is probably a terrorist as well.
Little Englanders who saw their world crashing down had a reason for why their entitlement hadn’t worked out: the foreigners were going to the top of the housing list, rather than there being an actual housing crisis that no-one wanted to address. The foreigners were taking our jobs, rather than work disappearing into a horror show of zero-hours contracts and agency work misery.
Blame us, the liberal-left metropolitan metrosexual bien-pensant intelligentsia, if you must. We didn’t “listen” to the “legitimate concerns” of the head-wobblers on the news, shouting with bulging veins about how Brexit will somehow mean that all immigrants or descendants of immigrants are going to be sent back “home”. Incidents of casual racism increase since the vote. Empowered and emboldened and legitimised, they have crawled out from under their rocks. Good luck in trying to get them back underneath there.
There wasn’t a golden age where racism disappeared, but there was a time, maybe from the tail-end of the 1980s to the early 2000s, when it seemed less visible, although the mind plays tricks of course. You can argue about whether political correctness merely drove it underground and let the racists code their language more politely in mixed company, or whether it genuinely became less socially acceptable – and that was a good thing, perhaps – but whatever the reason, racism’s back. Not Black & White Minstrel Show racism or Love Thy Neighbour racism but vicious NF-style British Movement racism. This isn’t cultural; this is brutal. Racism is back.
The landscape didn’t change overnight. Racism didn’t explode over the course of the vote. But something has been building over these years. And the trouble is, it sells papers and it makes interesting telly, so why challenge racists? The racist vox pop has become the staple of the news over recent days, but it’s been coming for years. News crews have become Bill Grundy egging the Pistols to swear live on TV, gently easing racists into a safe place where they feel they can be as racist as possible.
Oh, you mustn’t call racists racist, it’ll upset them, and how can we win them back? That’s another thing I keep being told. But I am afraid I take a rather less charitable and more gloomy view. I don’t think that these racists aren’t racists, and I don’t think that not calling them racist or giving them a cuddle or nodding along and listening to their “legitimate concerns” will make it possible to turn them around; I think they think what they think, and they’re not going to change. I think they’re racists, and they need to be challenged, and hated, and despised, and ridiculed, and fought. They do. They aren’t poor little misguided lambs, and the more you try to pat them on the head – look at Labour bringing in the evil Phil Woolas, making a ridiculous “controls on immigration”mug or sloganising about “British Jobs for British Workers”- the more it makes them feel that their prejudice is correct. The less you argue, the more you empower.
And besides, what a luxury it is for whites to be able to try and “engage” with these people. What a luxury, and a privilege, to be able to say, well, let’s wait a minute and listen to these people and their legitimate concerns. We aren’t on the receiving end of this new wave of racism, day after day – although, all of a sudden, now that it’s white Europeans being harassed on buses and having stuff chucked at them in the street, it’s brought it home a little bit more to a few folk.
But this wasn’t about racism or bigotry or xenophobia, I keep being told; it was about the abandoned communities of the working-class white folk who were left behind by successive governments. And there’s a crack of truth in that: those communities, and those people, were abandoned, by Tories and Labour alike. But the Poles or Romanians or whoever didn’t steal their jobs; no-one stole their jobs – their jobs just disappeared, and no-one came to help, and the communities died.
Of course those people are angry. They have every right to be angry. But they have no right to be racist. There’s plenty of working-class people, even in the “abandoned communities”, who don’t turn to racism or feel a sense of entitlement in a world in which jobs for life have gone, pensions are disappearing and the welfare state has been torched. Anger, yes, but be angry with the right people, with the people who actually brought this about, surely.
Anger, everywhere. Where does it go now? Where will it go when the Leave voters realise that the Poles aren’t on the next bus home, that the Muslims who’ve been here for three or four generations aren’t going to be moving out, that immigration will stay pretty much the same as it always was, no matter what the new governments or their leaders promise, in a bid to hold back the tide?
There are dangerous times coming. We allowed it to happen by not challenging it when it began. We allowed it to happen by reading the papers that published this absolute garbage, and by not challenging it then. We allowed it all to happen, this is our fault and we have to try and clear up the mess. How we go about that, I don’t know. I keep hearing about how we need to “roll up our sleeves” and “get on with it”. I think that’s right, but a big push is needed now to try and undo the harm of the past 10-15 years, or this collection of islands is going to be a very unpleasant place to live.
Maybe the migrants will “go back” because this is an unfriendly, unwelcoming, vile little hole. Maybe I’ll go with them.