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Monthly Archives: June 2016

Drip-drip

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.

 

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Posted by on June 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Aftermath

It began soon after Jo Cox died. Quietly at first, and then you saw and heard more and more about it. This murder represented something about our culture: not something about the political motivation of the crime, apparently, but something about the way we treat our politicians. We’re too mean to them. We all killed her, by being beastly about our MPs rather than patting them on the back for a job well done.

At first, I found this distracting, but understandable. Someone was dead, and there was a rush on to get the hot takes out. The best and worst thing about the instantness of our culture is the demand for an immediate response to something baffling and emotional, like the murder of a politician, but there it is: keen to share something, write something – anything – or provide a sliver of insight into the perplexing and demoralising, writers prepare their words.

(I was no different when I was doing it for a living, merrily blundering into the world of geopolitical assassinations or identity politics for the sake of something to write about, and – let’s not be shy about this – there are precious numbers to be had in the aftermath of something huge. I wonder now, though, how useful any of that immediate response is, other than just crystallising a particular feeling on a particular day.)

And it seems on the face of it to be a noble enough sentiment: why do we dehumanise politicians, who are real people with real lives and families? Why do we demean ourselves, the people these professionals represent, by assuming they have anything other than benign intentions? Why do we cheapen their humanity by making out they’re all on the take?

But then I started seeing and hearing this over and over again. I started reading so much about the general public’s unpleasantness towards MPs (it was usually framed as something done by plebs at laptops, rather than professional writers at slightly more shiny laptops) that I wondered if a point was being missed, or an opportunity wasted. Why were so many people focusing on this, rather than the more important issues about what this awful event said about our culture? The climate of fear and hatred towards minorities, particularly immigrants? The labelling of the “Left” as traitors and terrorist sympathisers? Those last two things perpetrated by the mainstream, by the way, not the keyboard warriors. Why was the most important thing to say that we aren’t deferential enough towards our superiors and betters?

(Yes yes, I know about the laws of contempt, by the way. I may have been kicked out of journalism a few odd years ago, but the faint memories of media law are still in my memory. It isn’t about that. If the Lee Rigby killers received a fair trial, given the words written about them in the immediate aftermath, I reckon this guy’s got a pretty decent shot of getting one. Besides, he hadn’t even appeared before a magistrate while all these pieces were being written. No, that wasn’t the reason.)

And then you start to see how tragedies like this become co-opted and twisted into opportunities. I’m not saying any of the thinkpiecemongers have been part of some kind of deliberate movement, because they write what they want and it’s not part of some bigger push, but it just so happens that their allegiance is towards the powerful, not the weak. I think they see in the murder of an MP an attack on the powerful and the political – an attack on their class.

So you hear things like, we may not have agreed with Jo Cox’s politics (and her left-wing thinking has been largely marginalised in favour of a more woolly “community MP” portrait to ensure we don’t dwell on the politically troublesome aspects of her life that might have brought her to the attention of those who would call her a traitor), but all MPs are doing a difficult job and they’re all, just like her, trying to make a difference in the best way they see fit. All MPs of all parties are basically on the same team, just with slightly different methods of doing that. An attack on one MP is an attack on all of them.

And that’s where I have the biggest problem, because that just isn’t true. It wasn’t an attack on all MPs – it was an attack on one in particular, apparently because of the compassionate and passionate support for minorities and immigrants. If you try and delete that from the crime, it makes no sense at all. The reason it happened was not because we’re cynical about politicians; it didn’t happen because people are mean and sometimes nasty on social media, and sometimes carry over that behaviour into real life. It isn’t evidence that some kind of enhanced civility towards our rulers is necessary. That isn’t why it happened. You need to look at why extremism has been courted, stirred up, fluffed and admired by politicians for over a decade now, and what the mainstreaming of extremism by the media and politicians alike has done to embolden people who have gone from the fringes to front and centre.

Sure, it wouldn’t hurt if we were nicer to each other, but this isn’t a wake-up call about that. There is some hard thinking to be done, but it’s not by the masses. This tragedy didn’t come out of nowhere. It wasn’t made by allowing people to be rude and unpleasant towards public figures. It was created elsewhere. And to examine that means to examine a culture that has tolerated intolerance for too long, that has said it’s OK to be borderline racist because that makes for a lively debate, it’s OK to be a troll if you’ve got a photo byline, it’s fine to dehumanise people as long as they’re foreign or different, it’s conversely expedient to brand people who aren’t extremist as extremist and as a threat to our family’s security. That’s where it came from. But to answer that requires some hard thinking, because that would mean looking inward rather than out, to the articles themselves rather than the comments underneath, to writers rather than readers. And that just wouldn’t do, would it.

 

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2016 in Uncategorized