When right wing journalists try to blame the working class for racism

Immigration and class: When right wing journalists try to blame the working class for racism

Occasionally you come face to face with an argument that riles you in its offensive stupidity before you can quite pinpoint exactly why. This particular argument comes up a lot, in one form or another: “immigration is rough on working class people; rich people like having nannies and gardeners and cheap food, but working class people are pissed off that the foreigners took their jobs. I’m personally not one of those nasty intolerant people, but won’t someone think of the poor working class people, it’s a lot for them to cope with.”

We see it from both sides of the political divide; we see it in the way the EDL are mocked more for their bad spelling and bad haircuts than for their fascism. We see it in the constant assertions from the media that there’s some innate conflict for the Labour party over immigration; the liberal bisexual hippy woman Guardian reader in Islington versus the traditional working class white man on a council estate dichotomy. (There are clearly no bisexuals, women, non-white people or hippies in council estates. Nor are there any racists in Islington. Media fact for you.)

Julia Hartley-Brewer from the Daily Express came out it with again on Question Time last week, but it’s not even her comment that’s triggered this post, really. It’s only because she put it in such honest language that the full offensive absurdity of it hit me. I’ve been feeling my skin crawl when people on the left and the right have implied the very same things for a long time.

We need to stop accepting the simplistic assumption that racism and xenophobia are somehow working class phenomena when in fact these things are top down evils. There’s plenty of both among journalists and media owners, many with salaries north of £100,000 a year, wealthy MPs, and even the very pinnacle of the British class system – the Royal Family.

It’s also the narrow dismissal of what immigrants bring to the country – indeed, the implicit conditionality of a migrant’s humanity being founded in what they “bring” to the country, for “our” benefit – that irks me. The insinuation that you’d only  be pro-immigration if you had an immigrant as a gardener, but not if you had immigrants in your class at school or in your local A&E or living in your street is saying that immigrant communities are great at making exotic food and make lovely nannies, but they’re not so jolly to actually live alongside. That is a profoundly unpleasant thing to say.

Maybe your best friend at school is an immigrant, or the child of an immigrant. Maybe your neighbour who feeds your cat when you’re away is an immigrant. Maybe your partner is an immigrant. But these experiences are all erased by that kind of rhetoric.

It reminds me of Richard Littlejohn’s sneering assertion that Jack Monroe couldn’t possibly be working class or be making cheap simple recipes that are useful to people without much money because poor people “don’t eat pasta, they eat spaghetti out of tins.” In other words, if you don’t fit the stereotype of what an extremely rich journalist, who mostly lives in a different country anyway, thinks a poor British person must live like, then you’re clearly some kind of fraud. That is a very special level of arrogance.

In fact, the Daily Express’s own media pack says their readership is 57% ABC1 adults. I am tired of seeing rich people project their own xenophobia and racism on to working class people. Can’t they at least take responsibility for it?

Are there racist working class people? Obviously. To say nothing of the fact that people have complex, nuanced views about things. People may think immigration is too high in some areas but low in others. People may think immigration should be recorded better but not necessarily cut. People may think immigration would be fine if minimum wage regulations were always enforced but find it hard to believe that is a reality that will ever materialise. But racism is top down, and it always has been. Is racism and xenophobia uniquely working class, or even disproportionately working class? No.

We might instead ask: does immigration disproportionately have a negative impact on working class people and poorer communities? Yes, it probably does. In fact, it would be surprising if it didn’t because pretty much everything else does. Of course working class people aren’t sharing equally in the economic benefits that immigration brings. That’s hardly a problem with immigration. It’s a problem with economics.

Perhaps that’s the thing that’s really enraging to me. The fact that a whole class of people can notice how immigration impacts the guy living on a council estate much more harshly than a wealthy lady living in Kensington, then identify the problem as immigration, not the differences in the lives and opportunities between those two individuals.

After all, if you took away all the immigration from Britain, those two hypothetical lives would still be grossly unequal. But if you tackled the inequalities between them, you might just mitigate some of these so-called “problems” with immigration at the same time. Radical I know, but maybe that is where our anger should be directed.

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Rape, anger, and why “forgiveness” does not mean “shut up”

Rape, anger and lectures on forgiveness

The recent story of Katja Rosenberg who forgave her rapist has triggered something in me. Not her story itself, so much as the elevation of it by others to some kind of desirable ideal. You may know who I mean. Those people who like to go on about forgiveness without having experienced anything they’ve ever needed to muster the strength to forgive.

We live in a world where people love telling rape survivors what we should or shouldn’t do – both before and after the fact. Don’t get drunk. Don’t get in taxis. Don’t have casual sex. Don’t wear miniskirts. Don’t be timid. Don’t be assertive.

Then, after: don’t be angry. Don’t you dare make other men feel uncomfortable, even for one second, about what you’ve experienced. Don’t be a feminist. Don’t bring gender into it. Don’t feel shame. Don’t feel unashamed. Don’t be put off sex. Don’t carry on being too sexually licentious. Don’t make any noise. Don’t think you can express solidarity with other women who’ve experienced this same violation in a different context. You’re supposed to be competing over whose was worse, not supporting each other.

And packed in there, often from the “well-intentioned”, no end of lectures about the joys of forgiving rapists. Maybe you’d be better off if you forgave him? It was a long time ago. Move on. You have to let the past go. Stop letting this hang over you. Just shut up. Stop being so bitter.

I am not knocking or being dismissive of forgiveness here. But that isn’t forgiveness. It’s wanting a quiet life. And too easily, it becomes rape apologism, it becomes a minimisation of what happened. Look on the bright side. Much worse rapes happen every day. Yes, for some people, that is a “bright side.” You’re lucky, he didn’t kill you. And it becomes an exertion of control. I’m trying to help. I know what’s good for you, if only you’d shut up and take it. Why are you crying?

I thought I had forgiven, seconds after it happened. That was horrific but he probably didn’t mean it. That was terrifying but at least I’m still here. That was agony but its only physical. I will pretend it didn’t happen. I will just put it out of my mind. In the years that followed, I was constantly doing all those things that people nowadays tell me would be the healthiest thing for me. I did those things naturally, to protect myself. To protect him.

I wasn’t forgiving him at all. I wanted a quiet life. I was trying to “forgive” without first recognising and allowing myself to feel the awfulness of what happened; without recognising that he chose to do what he did; without even calling it rape in my own head. That’s not forgiveness. It’s denial.

Katja Rosenberg says that it helped her to see the rapist as small, pathetic, helpless – no longer a dominating powerful force over her life. I can see how that’s empowering. I did that for years too. But sometimes this happens the opposite way around, as well. You make excuses, you apologise, you feel terrible asking for any justice because you don’t want to ruin your rapist’s life. Because you see him as a bit pathetic, or helpless, or just an ordinary lad doing what lads do. It is hard to step back from your own blurring of the lines and see him for what he is – a power-tripper, a bully, who used his body violently against you against your will to feel good about himself. To assert his masculinity, whatever that means. To put you – to put women – in our place. A rapist.

Forgiveness is beautiful but forgiveness does not mean what some of you think it means. Forgiveness does not mean shut up. Forgiveness does not mean an absence of anger, or an absence of condemnation. Forgiveness does not mean seeing his side of it or blurring the lines. Forgiveness does not mean erasure. Forgiveness does not mean a quiet life. It means the opposite. To forgive you have to first feel the full force of what it is you are forgiving.

Getting yourself to a place where you can forgive, if you want to do that, if it is right for you, like Katja Rosenberg did, that’s a tremendous thing to do. But when people tell you to “forgive” because they think you need to be less angry or less depressed or quieter or because they think you need to be more understanding about the rapist’s weaknesses or feelings, what they want is a quiet life, what they want is control, what they want is for their worlds not to be disrupted.

I say to those people, with the full spirit of healing, calmness and forgiveness in my heart: fuck you.

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