Has racism left the building? Guest blog by Janine Griffiths

As David Cameron gives a speech blaming immigration for everything from the economic crisis to the destruction of society as we know it, journalist Janine Griffiths asks: has institutional racism died? Or has it simply become more covert? Have we created a new kind of racism, which does not use openly racist language (yet) but instead uses ‘code words’ and appeals to populistic sentiments in order to rally up resentment against those perceived to be causing problems in modern Britain?

One of the great things about Britain are its core values tolerance, fairness, freedom and equality. People from all over the world visit the UK, seek refuge in our country and contribute to our culture and economy in a way which has enriched it immeasurably over the last few generations. It is little wonder that Britain has gained a reputation for being one of the most welcoming and tolerant countries in Europe.

As a country, the UK has taken great steps forward in addressing the problems of racial inequality and the overt hatred that has existed over the last few decades, with the creation of bodies like the Commission for Racial Equality and the introduction of the Equality Act 2010; the implementation of the Macphearson Report and the creation of the Black Police Officers Association, and more.

So institutional racism is now basically dead. Right?

Wrong. As the recent appointment of the first BNP mayor in Lancashire shows, we still have a long way to go.

Many supporters of the BNP argue that the party is no longer racist. Some mainstream media outlets even describe the BNP as an ‘anti-immigration’ party.

But you only have to glance at the BNP’s own 2001 general election manifesto to see that they want “native Britons” (who they claim can only be white) to be given priority in the job market, housing, and elsewhere. “Non-whites” would instantly become second class citizens in Britain. Under a BNP government any black person who commits a crime would also be thrown out of the country, even those who were born here. Mixed race relationships would be outlawed.

Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP party who once joked that black people ‘walked like monkeys’, claims that the party is no longer racist and is inclusive of minority groups.

An example of their new, non-racist agenda? The BNP dropped its policy of compulsory repatriation and replaced it with a voluntary scheme. And even then, they themselves claim that a BNP-led government would consider forcible repatriation if not enough “non-whites” took up its offer

So it cannot be stressed enough that the BNP is exhibiting the same old bone-chilling hatred delivered with a smile. Luckily, most people know the BNP are racist. Perhaps we should be more worried about this: they aren’t the only ones. The first comments that tend to crop up after any news story about a non-white person being on the receiving end of physical abuse or institutional racism is often to highlight ‘reverse racism’ (as if a black person assaulting a white person makes up for a white person assaulting a black person), or to drag the topic back to people’s ‘concerns about immigration.’

Yes, I can understand why people have concerns about immigration. I can’t, however, understand why concerns about jobs and housing shortages (which is what ‘concerns about immigration’ usually boil down to) are relevant to discussions about racism, or why an argument about who ‘started it’ is relevant when talking about individual cases. Why should these things even be relevant to specific instances of racism at all?

One quick glance at most of the right-wing newspapers such as the Daily Mail, Daily Express or Daily Telegraph will tell you that there are no shortage of negative stories about Muslims, particularly if you can stomach the comments below the line. Being Muslim is the new ‘Black’ today. The amount of stereotyping, misrepresentation and general vitriol directed against Islam and those who live by it is truly shocking.

Take the constant, repeated, often unquestioned insinuations (in this country but even more so in the United States) that terrorism is to be equated with, and somehow unique to Islam. Terror tactics are confined to a tiny minority of fanatical Muslims but it is not confined to Muslims only. The IRA being just one other example. The KKK, Westboro Baptist Church, and the Crusades being others. And, quite frankly, some would argue, George W Bush being a fifth.

I’ve actually heard it said that all Muslims must secretly support terrorist atrocities. Take it from me, I’m friends with a lot of Muslims. They don’t like being equated with murders anymore than you or I would.

And this brings us back to immigration. As a country, the UK has the most draconian immigration laws out of all the EU countries. Less than 3 per cent of the world’s migrants live in Britain. Most tend to be professionals and managers – and this has been the case for three decades. Immigrants are more likely than those born in Britain to be graduates.

Even refugees, often thought of as a burden, are more highly skilled than the population of Britain on average. The vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees from African and Asian countries choose to reside in foreign countries on those continents anyway.

Clearly, immigrants are not the burden they are made out to be in David Cameron’s speech. However, they do make nice scapegoats, particularly when there is widespread discontent and instability over jobs and the economy. If that anger can instead be turned to immigrants instead of politicians and bankers, then the mainstream media will capitalise on that and continue to highlight the minority of cases where immigrants or asylum seekers do commit crimes and fail to get deported.

Whenever I hear a politician speak out in defence of far-right sentiments in a futile bid to steal away voters of far-right parties all I hear is double-talk, double-think, acrobatics, and semantics. The word ‘immigrants’, is often used as a code word for ‘minorities’. Crimes committed by the minority of people in those minority groups thus receive more attention, creating a volatile situation where racist groups like the BNP and EDL gain more headway.

Complaining about ‘political correctness’ is another way people seem to have adopted a ‘code-word’ for expressing racist sentiment. We as a nation are ‘tip-toeing’ around minorities. Stories in the press often appear for example, of councils taking such actions like, banning Christmas lights as it may offend Muslims, who don’t celebrate Christmas. Now I don’t know of any Muslim that has ever been offended at the idea of someone celebrating Christmas. But if the council has taken it upon itself to appease terrorists or fanatics without consulting anybody, then the moderate Muslim majority can hardly be blamed for that can they? I’m also more than a little curious to know why such a draconian action allegedly taken by some council’s in the UK would only be associated with Muslims for example, and not atheists who presumably don’t celebrate Christmas either.

But usually the argument escalates into how ridiculous it is when someone gets fired over using the ‘n’ word or reprimanded after telling an Asian bus driver to go home. The bottom line is some people want the right to be offensive: as long as they are not the ones being offended, of course: these advocates of minorities just shutting up and putting up never seems to extent to them when a decent member of society fails to appreciate their racism, or complains about it. As long as we have these kind of double standards in the UK, then the popularity of extremist groups from any racial background will only continue to grow, leading to greater instability and disharmony for everyone.


6 thoughts on “Has racism left the building? Guest blog by Janine Griffiths

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  1. A few weeks before elections and a senior Tory plays the race card (full of equivocations of course and with other Tories lined up to say that he is misinterpreted – usually with some saying that such misinterpretation is because he is really more liberal and others saying he is really less liberal).

    Yawn and move on – it’s been Tory tactics since at least this http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103485 and likely long before then.

  2. In all fairness to Janine I added the specific references to Cameron’s speech during the editing process to make it a bit topical; Janine was being less partisan than that and making a more general point about racism in Britain…

    But yeah you’re right, it’s classic tactics. I don’t think Labour are exactly exempt from it though 😛

    Thanks for the Maggie link, very interesting. I was at the Museum of London a few weeks back and they had newspaper clips about Jews from the 30s and 40s, and rants about immigration, and comments from people like good old Enoch Powell…

  3. Hi Lou – my Yawn comment was much more exasperation with Tories than with Janine who, like your other guests, adds to what is a well-written and interesting blog. It’s, as you write, classic Tory tactics with the modern twist of leavening the message for liberal and hard-line wings of the party. In a recession blaming, directly or indirectly, the foreigner is low work – they all do it to some extent though.

  4. Yeah I figured that was what you meant 🙂

    I suppose to an extent most of politics is like that, but it becomes so much more serious when it’s a really dangerous and sensitive issue isn’t it?

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