We saw this process of legitimation in Canada last year when the flailing Harper government began a concerted effort to use race hatred to bolster their election chances. They attempted to make the wearing of a niqab a major political issue because they knew that it would whip up their base and even garner support from those how are not so openly bigoted. Then they promised to establish a so-called "barbaric act tip line" so people could report on their neighbours for supposed culturally driven acts of an illegal nature. It is not difficult to see how such an effort was motivated by racism. Since people are already expected to report any illegal act to their local police force anyway, it remains entirely unclear how this tip line was supposed to contribute anything except the fanning of racist flames.
It was because the Conservative government opened up the public space and legitimized racist discourse that Canada saw a startling uptick in racist outbursts in the months around the Election.
We now see a similar phenomenon in Britain where the victory of the "leave" campaign in the Brexit vote seems to have opened up public space for racist hatred.
People have begun to document the outbursts of racism that are emerging now in Briton and the situation is not very pretty. Images such as these have popped up.
Meanwhile Twitter users are telling the world about the sudden rise of racism in their everyday lives. They talk about racists comments being yelled at people in public places, immigrants being told to "pack up and leave," and neo-Nazi posters and leaflets suddenly appearing.
Now I am sure that most of these are relatively isolated incidents, and we obviously shouldn't suggest that all of those who supported the "leave" side in the Brexit vote were racists. However, it is the space that such events open up for racists to feel that their opinions are a legitimate part of the discourse that we really need to be concerned about. We all know that the far-right is on the move again in Europe and the Brexit campaign was a major focus for them because it afforded them the opportunity to demonize immigrants, refuges, and racialized people in general. And this space, now opened wide, is quickly spreading. In France and the Netherlands the far right is already talking about organizing their own EU referenda, and there can be little doubt that race hatred will be a major part of those campaigns if they come to fruition.
In the past, when capitalism falls into a perceived crisis, certain political similarities between the far-right and the left in general emerge. This is because only those who are willing to significantly question the status quo are willing to admit and address the crises. But the similarities between the opposition are wildly different in motivation and goal, and the issue of race is one which demonstrates the important differences. The right is quick to blame "outsiders" and "foreigners" for the crises of capitalism. And where the rightwing talks about "sovereignty" and uses nationalist rhetoric, the left talks about democracy and the need for the economy to serve the needs of all people.
The rightwing has always had an easier job; whip up fear, hatred, blame, and difference. The left has to assuage fears, build bridges, and encourage cooperation. It is, unfortunately, always easier to destroy than to build. And when a space opens up for the far-right to get its foot in the door of public discourse, our job just becomes that much more challenging.