Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit and fanning the flames of Racism. . . .

One needn't be an historian or an academic to understand that hate and racism often lurks in the shadow waiting for an opportunity to come out in the light of day. That opportunity is often offered by a process of public legitimation.

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. 


The Mound of Sound said...

Tagging this on racists is a bit facile. Read John Pilger's excellent piece at Canadian Dimension.

Yes, racism was a factor, one factor. There were plenty of others.

Troy Thomas said...

You know, when the times become tumultuous, scum rises. Boris Johnson and the like are as scaly as they come, but in better times, they generally remain in their ponds, farting away their opinions for whoever bothers to listen. They're ridiculed, in better times.
But when the times become as they are, now. People actually start listen to these pond scum, and they nod their head in agreement, because when you want someone to blame for your insecurity, who's the lowest common denominator? Who can you spit upon, and direct all your hate. Whose fault is it?
And scum like Boris Johnson provides them their targets. He doesn't provide any proof, or substance. He has no expertise on the subject. He has no credibility, whatsoever. But people are listening to him, now, because he's shouting good and hard for all to hear.
The tincture for that is to shout back, good and hard. Try and shout him and his ilk down. But you know, within reason.

You know, all I can hope for, is all this is settled without violence. I hope the weather in the UK stays cool. Last thing we need is for the temperature to rise, and fuel the hate and anger rising up.

Anonymous said...

What is fanning the flames of nationalism and racism today is the same thing that was fanning them back in the 1930s: an economy in free fall because of establishment looting.

The European ECONOMIC Union is founded on market fundamentalist economic ideology sold as 'peace, love and unity' to people who don't bother to do the research. It's three funding principles are all disastrous policies: free trade, a common currency zone, and open borders which floods EU countries with immigrants. (No, it's not racist to want some kind of control over immigration. But obviously right-wing ignoramuses blame immigrants for all their problems.)

The establishment's manipulations on this issue can only be described as psychopathic. First they lump both left-wing and right-wing anti-establishment people in the same group. Like how the mainstream media claimed Bernie Sanders supporters were "racist, misogynist Bernie Bros." Next they hold up a picture of baby seals then claim any left-wing people who don't support their neoliberal agenda are heartless bastards. Then they tell centrists the people who reject neoliberal reforms are radicals and extremists.

The establishment is the problem. They have put civilization on the brink of world war like they did in the 1930s. We must remove their stranglehold over our democracy and economy or civilization is toast.

Anonymous said...

Here's a decent article on average brits who voted Leave. It explains pretty clearly what the problem in the UK is, and racism is just a small factor. Disenfranchisement from decent jobs is at the core of it all. Fops with actual money running around London mouthing Remain cheese them off.

Kirby Evans said...

To all of those commenters who suggested that I was over-emphasizing racism, I beg you to read more carefully. I never say, nor did I mean to imply that racism was the primary motive for Brexit "leave" voters. Rather, I said that an event like this opens the space in which racist discourse tries to push its way into the mainstream. When racist feel comfortable spewing their hate in public, that is what they do, and many, previously silent racists suddenly start talking.

Again, please read the blogpost carefully if you are going to comment.