‘Taking control’ means taking responsibility, too

Okay, first of all, no more petitions to re-run the referendum. Please. It confirms everything that the Brexit campaign has said about people who wanted to stay in the EU. People voted. It’s done. The anger at over-turning it or demanding a do-over would be so enormous that Brexit would probably not only win again but would win again with an even higher margin. And the level of rage we would see in response could honestly be so great as to be dangerous.

That’s not to say that down the line there is not room for the debate to be continued. Given that people voted for Brexit for a myriad of different reasons, with different goals and different visions of post-Brexit Britain, it seems reasonable to say that once a specific deal has been reached, that it could be put to the public, to give people a chance to have their say again. And, of course, going into a general election, parties can campaign on whatever platform they like. But right now, the vote was to leave the EU. Everyone must respect and, to use an irksome political phrase, be seen to respect it.

Okay, now I’m done with all that. Please also stop with the accusations that we, the people who supported Remain, are labelling everyone who voted for Brexit and thick or racist or both and are terrible mean bigoted people, when we raise our concerns about the severity of the impact of Brexit, or the strengthening of the far right. This simplistic and dismissive response to people’s very real concerns about the impact of Brexit, the way the campaign was fought, and the way decisions of this importance can be sensibly made is getting extremely tedious. Democracy doesn’t mean that the minority has to shut up and respecting people’s right to have an opinion doesn’t mean you have to pretend to agree with it.

First, the racism bit. I am extremely bored with the inane statements about how not all leave voters are racist. No-one is saying this. There could are lots of sensible arguments on both sides of the EU debate (I have written about some of them myself). But that isn’t the campaign that the Leave strategists chose to run. What I have heard expressed is: ‘The Brexit campaign won because of racism.’ That is a very different statement from ‘every Brexit voter is racist.’ And it’s true. Of course it’s true. We know from polling, interviews, and conversations with people in real life, that huge numbers of people voted for Brexit because they basically dislike foreigners. I know people who did so. It is a senseless, patronising waste of everyone’s time to pretend that this isn’t the case, and to pretend the campaign we saw was not fuelled by racism and xenophobia. By the end, they might as well have sent out leaflets saying: “If you want a Turk for a neighbour, vote Remain.” It is not helpful to pretend not to see it. It wasn’t only Nigel Farage’s poster. There was a banner from Leave.EU which claimed we were in danger of an Orlando-style shooting if we voted to Remain. There was that map sent out claiming Turkey will join the EU, with the only countries labelled on the map being Syria and Iraq (let me know if you can think of any non-racist reason for that. I am stumped). And who can forget that Nigel Farage genuinely warned of middle-eastern men coming to assault European women. Let’s not pretend that comments like that are accidental. We know they are very old, tried and tested techniques to stir up racism and xenophobia without taking responsibility for it, for political ends.

So calm down and have a beer, because no-one is calling you, personally, a racist. I’m sure you’re a lovely person. But so what? I am sure when the Conservatives ran their infamous ‘if you want a [slur] for a neighbour, vote Labour’ campaign, there were people who voted Conservative for other reasons. Perhaps they disliked the Labour candidate. Perhaps they didn’t agree with Labour’s economic policies. Perhaps some just thought Peter Griffiths would do a good job as MP for Smethwick. Do you see the flaw in this reasoning now?

Ultimately it doesn’t much matter if your motivation for putting those people into power was racist or not. No-one cares about what is going on inside your heart. No-one cares if you like them or want to hang out with them or want to have sex with them. People care if your actions impact their lives, their rights, their safety. Once the far right is out of their box it matters very little who opened the box, or why they did it. All the Brexit voters are not racist but what does that matter; the point is that huge numbers of Brexit voters are comfortable with racism, and prioritised something else over keeping racism out of politics; huge numbers of Brexit voters were happy to vote in such a way as to give a mandate to racists, and to reward a racist campaign, thereby encouraging more of the same. That, I’m afraid, is a factual reality of what you voted for. You can be offended by it as a lovely non-racist Brexit voter but that’s tough. If you get into bed with Nigel Farage don’t be surprised if people look at you funny when you’re doing the walk of shame in the morning without your knickers on.

It is at this point that I expect to hear the familiar cries of either ‘but unity!’, or, ‘I’m bored of this now; get over it.’ With regard to the first, well, you might want unity but that’s just tough for the time being. I’m afraid you can’t run or support that kind of campaign and expect everyone to be the same towards you in the immediate aftermath. Actions have consequences. Telling everyone else to shut up and stop boring you by discussing the consequences of your actions is not cuddly and warm; it’s actually quite unpleasant. And make no mistake, you can tell people to shut up in whatever polite, superior language you want – don’t be divisive, calm down, let’s not be hysterical, let’s have a bit of positivity – but that’s still what you’re doing.

But the second cry, the cry to ‘move on, get over it, stop discussing it’ is perhaps the most troubling. Look. I absolutely believe that most voters knew what they were voting for, looked at all the facts, and voted carefully for what they believed was best. I am also aware that many voters feel lied to, ill-equipped to make the choice, or exploited, and am happy to accept that this is not their fault. What I am struggling to be patient about, however, is the huge groups of people who insist with furious indignation that they analysed all the information, and are absolutely qualified to make this decision, but are now puzzled to find that people are still discussing it, and think it’s hilarious that so many people are so angry, scared, and upset by what they’ve done. There is no nice way to say this: if you think we should all just forget about it now, like a football match that our side lost and your side won, then guess what – you did not understand the ramifications of your vote. If you didn’t realise there would be consequences for the pound, the wider economy could be plunged into recession, we would end up with – and this is just off the top of my head – effectively no Prime Minister, potentially the breakup of the United Kingdom and the end of the peace process in Northern Ireland, then I’m afraid however intelligent you are and however carefully you considered the information available to you, it’s really, really, not unreasonable for people to question whether we, any of us, are qualified to make such a momentous decision by the means of a referendum.

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not like I think I’m any better informed or smarter than you. I’m not. None of us has time to read all the legislation that comes out of the European Parliament and analyse the impact on domestic and foreign policy; none of us has time to speak to world leaders and diplomats and economists around the world to pull together detailed insights into what impact Brexit would have on world markets and borders and the likelihood of peace; none of us has time to read up on the full-scale impact of Brexit for workers rights or human rights, women’s equality or trans equality (I mention trans equality in particular because the Trans Equality Legal Initiative has produced a briefing on it, which you can access here); none of us has time to calculate by how much food prices will go up and what impact that will have on child poverty and malnutrition; none of us has time to consider all the different Brexit models, establish how all of the above and many, many more things would be impacted by each one. That’s not because we are ignorant or thick, it’s because we have day jobs, families, partners, friends, and we are not subject experts. I know, those pesky experts again. But you see, just because experts sometimes get things wrong, it doesn’t mean that the whole concept of knowledge or expertise is null and void. I get that it isn’t our fault we were asked the question. But it’s not as if no-one told us that the consequences of Brexit would be disastrous – it’s not even as if only David Cameron and politicians told us so. Everyone told us so. World leaders. Economists. Business leaders. Scientists. Academics. Doctors. And contrary to the line we keep hearing, it’s not about class. Plenty of homeowners in leafy suburbs voted for Brexit; plenty of people in low or no income voted to Remain. Immigrant-free seaside towns or leafy suburbia can be just as much of a ‘bubble’ as London, you know. This is nothing to do with ordinary people who voted Remain thinking we know best. You are the ones, the Brexiters, who thought you knew best. You knew there was no plan, no answer to any of the above – how could there be, when all the people campaigning for Brexit can’t even agree on what model they want instead – and you still thought you knew best.

That is why people are pissed off. That is why people are struggling to be polite through your sneering and mocking people’s concerns. That is why people are still talking about Brexit. I’m not pissed off at people who can see the impact on the markets already and see that they may have made a mistake. I’m not pissed off at the people who were confused about why we were asked the question in the first place – the people who have spent the last several months asking, pleading, begging, for the facts and the information they needed. It’s the having the cake and eating it attitude that pisses me off. That attitude comes from the politicians who are supposed to be steering the ship and have no plan, but, yes, also, I’m afraid, from those voters who thought they knew better than the experts, and now find the inevitable chaos that has ensured boring, funny, or someone else’s problem. The Brexit camp wanted to take control – but when it’s time to take responsibility, none of them can be found.

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No, I will not blame it on the Muslims

A video clip emerged online this week. It shows a Muslim woman, Rose Hadid, wearing a t-shirt that says ‘I come in peace,’ being escorted, not politely, from a Donald Trump rally, after making a peaceful protest against his exclusionary policies.

This image comes to mind again and again today as I browse the news. Why? Because I see, from a mix of media outlets, complaint after complaint after complaint that ‘feminists’ and ‘LGBT campaigners’ have not spoken enough about the horrendous attacks against women in Cologne, Germany, that took place on New Years Eve. In fact, that isn’t quite right. The complaints are more specific. The complaints are, in fact, that we are not talking enough about Islam, race, and border controls in relation to the Cologne attacks. 

As you will almost certainly have seen, since it has been the lead-in to nearly all of the Cologne coverage, some of those involved in the attacks may have been asylum seekers (although at the time of writing, the Guardian had reported that no asylum seekers have been confirmed as involved in any of the sexual assaults; only crimes of vandalism and/or theft.)

The clear implication (and in many cases, the outright assertion) made in these opinion pieces, tweets, interviews, and indeed, in many casual conversations, is that feminists should be more outspoken in denouncing immigration in general and Islam in particular. I am cautious to stride into this complex and long-standing debate with anything remotely approaching a tone of presumed authority, but when I see how much racism and anti-Islamic sentiment is being pushed forward in my name, as an English, feminist, queer woman, it leaves me with such a sour taste that I feel the need to say something. 

First, the lazy claim that ‘feminists’ do not speak about the connections between Islam, race, and feminism is very clearly not true. Feminists around the world speak, march, write about these things every day. Salma Yaqoob, Rania Khan, Shireen Ahmed, Sam Ambreen, Shami Chakrabarti, Maya Goodfellow, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Ava Vidal, Shane Thomas, and Musa Okwonga* spring to mind as people who have written about these subjects now or in the past – and as I haven’t exactly pushed the boat out looking for names to add to that list, and this list is by no means extensive, it doesn’t seem to me as if anyone claiming that ‘feminists do not speak about’ this subject is either well-informed, nor particularly adept at research. 

But, of course,  ‘talking about’ these subjects is not what they mean, and we all know it. What they mean is that these knowledgeable, thoughtful, nuanced voices are not saying what they want them to be saying. Why, they say, angrily, are there no experts on this subject who agree with me? This proves that the experts are all wrong, or brainwashed, or lying, or scared of Musim reprisals. Right? I’m reminded of climate change skeptics who complain that the majority of scientists and climatologists believe that climate change is man-made, as if this is evidence of some outrageous bias against their theories, rather than evidence that perhaps their theories are due for a reboot.  

I suspect most of the people asking this hypothetical question ignore the writers I mention because they are not drawing anti-immigration conclusions from attacks like Cologne. These feminist and/or LGBT campaigners are not concluding that we must water down the painfully weak rights that refugees already have in order to protect Western women from foreign misogyny. This is probably because they are feminists, as opposed to racists pretending to be feminists. It is not surprising that feminists or LGBT activists would focus on violence against women and LGBT people, rather than using those topics as a proxy to talk about something else. 

(Incidentally, even if these people outright admitted their complaint is that the ‘liberal left’ never talks about these things from anti-immigration, anti-Islamic perspective, it would be way off the mark. There is a constant stream of casual anti-Muslim sentiment from supposedly liberal, supposedly feminist, supposedly progressive voices – from Kate Smurthwaite, to Richard Dawkins, to Cathy Newman in the UK; from Bill Maher to Hillary Clinton to Sam Harris in America, there is an endless stream of sneering, faux-concern, dog whistle racism, generalisations and assumptions, about the supposedly inherent sexist and homophobic nature of Islam. Even the BBC, the famous UK cornerstone of Political-Correctness-Gone-Mad recently screened a huge show presented by Reggie Yates that focused for an entire episode on the “homophobia problem in the black and Asian communities.” I use this example not as a criticism of Reggie Yates – it is very far from my place to make any such criticism – but rather to show how ridiculous the assertion is that “no-one is talking about” the subject. The portrayal of Muslims in general as sexist or homophobic or both are rife in the media – and not just the famously anti-immigration right-wing papers like the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, and the Sun.

It is not new or surprising that racists use feminism or LGBT rights as a proxy for attacking other minorities. There is, of course, a very long history of using the narrative of protecting white women from sexual violence as a justification for enslaving and murdering black and brown-skinned men. But it is embarrassing – worse than embarrassing; it is disgraceful – that so many white, Western feminists and LGBT people, like myself, have sat comfortably for too long while this is done in our name. 

Two things about this framing of the issue alarm me in particular. The first is the erasure of Muslim women, and Muslim LGBT people. Second and first generation immigrants who are LGBT, refugees who are women – many of them escaping the very brutalities of Isis that get laid at the door of all Muslims. It is surely no coincidence that many of the writers I list above get forgotten when a generalisation is made about what ‘feminists’ write or speak about. Despite being tireless campaigners and spokespeople for women’s rights, in the mainstream press, black and Muslim feminists tend to be seen as Muslim first, feminist second. The concerns raised uniquely by Muslim feminists are boxed away as ‘Muslim issues’, or, perhaps, ‘Muslim women’s issues’, while concerns raised by wealthy, white women like women in boardrooms, breastfeeding in parliament, and even the line of succession in the monarchy are reported as ‘women’s issues,’ that should be important to all women, despite these issues affecting only a tiny minority of women. This allows the dangerous myth to foster in some sections of society that violence against women and girls is predominantly perpetrated against white women by black or Asian men, and, as we have seen repeatedly this can have terrible consequences both in terms of victims that do not fit this narrative being silenced or ignored or disbelieved, and in terms of the issue being exploited by the far right to stir up hatred.   

When anti-Muslim hate crime rises (in the past year, in the UK, it went up by 70 per cent), 60 per cent of the victims are women. This goes largely unseen because in this false dichotomy of ‘Muslims’ versus ‘feminists’, Muslim women are invisible; inconvenient to the narrative. 

The second alarming thing about this dichotomy is the way it makes the rights of immigrants or asylum seekers living in the UK conditional. I despise homophobia and misogyny as much as the next person, but my right to be accepted as a UK citizen is not conditional upon my dislike of bigotry, and nor should it ever be. We should not be telling the immigrant population (perhaps even less so those who seek refuge in the country) that they are welcome, but only as long as they adhere to a value system that is not even shared in full the country’s most honoured institutions, let alone by the whole population. When Prince Philip’s position is conditional upon him subscribing to values of equality for women and queer people, when MPs have to swear an oath of intersectional feminism before taking office, when our greatest educational institutions don’t boast proud and celebratory statues dedicated to slaveowners, then perhaps we can demand to know your views on gay marriage at the border controls before we let you in, but as things stand right now, the idea that it is immigrants, asylum seekers, and Muslims who are keeping the UK away from being a magically progressive utopia is, I promise you, not catching on, not because feminists and LGBT campaigners are cowed by Islam and don’t want to discuss immigration, but because it is frankly ahistorical to the point of total delusion.   

Allowing a disparity in how we measure people’s rights as citizens is profoundly dangerous. Across the Atlantic, we see how conditional rights can look. In the nation that prides itself on being the cradle of freedom, for Sandra Bland, or Tamir Rice, or Trayvon Martin, freedom is not quite the same as other people’s; you are expected to know that don’t have the right to argue with the police, that you don’t, even as a child, have the right to play with a toy gun, that you don’t have the right to walk down the street if everyone knows that some people will find your appearance frightening. You are free but only if you abide by the conditions that have been attached to your humanity. If you break those conditions, then your humanity itself is up for debate.

Muslims living in the UK, whether born here or not, should not be told they have to accept ‘liberal’ values any more forcefully than anybody else is. Immigrants should not have to prove they are twice as patriotic, twice as committed to ‘British values,’ (whatever they are), twice as hard-working as everybody else in order to be welcome. That this is already the case in practice for some first and second generation immigrants is saddening; to demand it be explicitly enforced as government policy is chilling.

And yet these demands that we treat immigrants differently, that we apply different standards to people on the basis of where they were born, is supposed to be feminist, somehow. Open-mouthed people who want to make everything into an argument against immigration stare at women and queer people who do not, and express baffled rants as to our motives. Why do we not care about the women and LGBT victims of Isis, they yell at us. Why do we not show more solidarity with them, by mocking the prophet Mohammed with cartoons, or banning hijabs, or marching against immigration?

Why indeed. Because we do not show support or solidarity with the victims of Islamic terrorism by attacking Muslims, when the people most victimised by Isis are Muslims themselves. We do not show solidarity with gay victims of terror or their families by mocking their religion – we show it by offering them asylum and working to make sure that our LGBT communities are not racist once they are here. We do not show solidarity with women who have been victims of sexual assaults by detaining women and children in centres like Yarls Wood, where rumours persist of sexual assault cover ups – we show it by providing counselling, legal aid, and good quality housing. You do not show solidarity with me, as an LGBT woman, by making the lives of people I know and care about more difficult. You will not turn us against each other, no matter how frustrated you are that not everyone shares your xenophobic interpretation of world events.

So please do not keep asking why feminists aren’t using horrific events like the attacks in Cologne to push an anti-immigration or anti-Islamic agenda. Please do not imagine, not for a moment, that you are protecting me by restricting other people’s rights in my name. It is not in our interests, as women, or as LGBT people, to make our, or anyone else’s humanity conditional. It is so easily done. It is so easily made to feel normal. And what does it look like? To you, I suppose it looks like something foreign, or from the past – a white hood, a pink triangle, a bloodied coat hanger. To me, it looks like something that I see now, that I keep remembering again, and again, and again. It looks like a leading presidential candidate’s henchmen escorting a woman, while she conducts a peaceful protest, from the premises, because of her faith, while the people around her celebrate it as ‘freedom.’

*I am not sure if the latter two identify as ‘feminist’ as such, but Musa Okwonga has written about the Cologne attacks in the New Statesman from the perspective of gender violence and misogyny and both have written about how the two issues intersect, so I’m including them on this list.  

 

Why do we care so much whether technically you can be racist to white people or not?

Why do we care so much whether technically you can be ‘racist to white people’ or not?

We need to make sure we always have the best, more qualified, most informed people in each job. That’s what meritocrats who don’t see colour or gender or anything else always say. Tell me why, then, we have so many repetitive, inexpert voices, who speak without intentional malice, just with a complete lack of understanding?

This week we have heard a lot about ‘racism against white people’ in the context of Bahar Mustafa’s safe spaces and ironic jokes which have offended so many. Anyone who thinks ‘safe spaces’ of this kind are places full of groupthink and indulgent mollycoddling has almost certainly never been anywhere near one. I’ve been called out and challenged to think about my words, actions, and my most deeply-held opinions more in ‘safe spaces’ than in any other place I’ve ever been in my life. Strange how those who complain about safe spaces and groupthink also are so often the first to denounce so-called ‘call out culture.’ Which is it? We are too critical, jumping on everybody who opens their mouth until no-one can say anything, or we are too circular, just sitting there nodding our heads?

Let’s talk about safe spaces. Let’s talk about triggers. It’s a flawed, perhaps problematic analogy, but we put warnings about flashing cameras on things to help people with epilepsy makes choices about what media to consume. Many people have no understanding of PTSD (despite, of course, being given space after space to write about it), and vaguely imagine ‘triggered’ just means ‘upset.’ So the idea of a warning that something might throw you back into reliving a vivid flashback of being raped (for example), make you sick, make you unable to function for a time, make you pass out, make you panic and struggle to breathe, is dismissed as nonsense for the over-sensitive.

The ignorant conclusion those people arrive at is understandable I suppose, if irritating, but the demand that people don’t set up our own safe spaces either, while refusing to understand or respect people’s needs in public spaces, feels like outright bullying to me.

Safe spaces are not just about PTSD, of course. It takes a huge amount of personal energy to watch people with no knowledge or understanding or interest in listening to actual experts dominate the same old boring conversation, a conversation that is about your life, time and time and time and time and time and time again. Imagine walking into a university level maths seminar, with people who have years and years experience, academic or literal or both of maths, and stating that you don’t agree Pi exists, because it’s never used in common language between you and your mates.

And imagine, when people suggest you chat to a tutor separately if you want to learn maths, but actually, in this seminar people have turned up to have a bit of a more complex discussion about maths that you might find confusing, demanding that you have a right to be in the space and you’re being discriminated against for not knowing about maths.

People will say, of course: “Ah, but that’s about a level of understanding, not skin colour. Bahar Mustafa wanted to discriminate on skin colour. My skin colour is irrelevant to my ability to understand racism, my gender irrelevant to my ability to understand sexism.”

This is simply not true. Just look at where we place our focus. When Katie Hopkins or David Starkey or Jeremy Clarkson or John Terry or Prince Philip or David Coburn or Iggy Azaelea or Ricky Gervais or Frankie Boyle or Dapper Laughs says offensive things, you might hear a condemnation of what they say, but the focus, the central point, always gets dragged back towards “freedom of speech” and their “right to say it.” Ched Evans raped someone for crying out loud, and the overwhelming din from the media for week, if not months, was “do we really want to blight this man’s career, his future, over a mistake?” Meanwhile, when Bahar Mustafa or, as we learn this week, young Muslims who don’t want to shop at Marks and Spencer’s or drink booze (no, really), offend us, we might in passing acknowledge that they have a right to say what they said, but the focus always gets dragged towards why ‘reverse racism’ matters, whether you can be racist to white people, whether ‘social justice warriors’ have gone too far, and, above all, why it is so important not to be racist to white people.

Your life experiences impact what you think is immediately compelling about an event or news story. Of course they do. You can’t help it. It’s why diversity isn’t the opposite of “getting the best people for the job” – it’s the only possible way of doing it. How else do you explain the disproportionate amount of fuss made over whether technically you can or can’t be ‘racist to white people’?

And, boy, can people talk about that in great length! Why do we want it to be called ‘racism’ so much? Comparing institutions and patterns of systematic, deliberate, historical oppression with someone offending you because they dislike you as an individual for your white skin on one single occasion does seem extremely minimising to me. And since there’s already a word for the former (racism), how about we (white people) just let it go, and call it something else when someone is a bit mean about a white person?

Perhaps that’s not how your mates use the word. Perhaps you only ever use words in their colloquial meanings. Perhaps, in the maths seminar analogy, you think the professor could reasonably be expected to refer to Pi or zero or some other concept that mathematical experts probably have a rather different understanding of than you do, by a different term. But you probably don’t. You probably recognise that maths experts know more about maths than you do.

You probably understand (or who knows, maybe you don’t), that straight men aren’t all creepers, but understand that lesbian bars exist for women, and the bouncers might be inclined to turn away big groups of men who turn up demanding to be let in. You probably understand that a mental health support group isn’t a space you can wander into in order to ‘learn’ about mental illness, by listening to people’s experiences and vulnerabilities. You probably also recognise that David Cameron’s wealthy background doesn’t in itself make him personally a bad person, it just means that his perception of life is a bit different to that of a guy who works in Morrisons. And that his policies reflect that. So it is relevant to the debate about his ability to do his job well.

Imagine if David Cameron turned up in a trade union meeting about, say, the living wage, to ask questions like “but why does it matter if you earn an extra 20p an hour, it’s such a tiny amount anyway? Can’t you just use your savings? I don’t agree with your definition of the terms ‘work’ and ‘wage’ and ‘welfare state’ and ‘working class’ – after all, most people don’t commonly use it that way. Can you explain why you use the term ‘wage’ when technically we are talking about someone working for their benefit (because that’s what we have decided to call it)?” He might just get told piss off.

And imagine him saying, but how will you grow this movement, if you don’t let me in? If you tell me to shut up? I’m on your side, I believe in aspiration! I want to help you. You have to listen to me, I have heaps of ideas. I know about this stuff, man. I really, really, really care about it. I learned about it at school.

But one thing they don’t seem to teach you at schools like David Cameron’s is that you don’t need to be leading or speaking or even in the room where others are speaking in order to support social progress. You can volunteer time for boring, thankless tasks that no-one wants to do, donate money or possessions to charities and refuges, listen, learn, elevate, empower and validate and support others. It’s no fun hearing it if your entire skill set is to have opinions and say things for a living, but the most constructive thing you can do a lot of the time is shut up.

Richard Dawkins and the limits of liberalism

Richard Dawkins and the limits of liberalism

Richard Dawkins, scientist-cum-professional-controversialist, has confirmed what I have for a while suspected: that, in spite of being a very talented scientist, he is also a – how shall I put this – a less than lovely human being.

Today he is lamenting the great injustice that perpetrators of anti-Muslim hate crime are given too harsh sentences. “Who was hurt, except the pig?” he rhetorically asks his thousands of Twitter followers, as the pair who (in their own words) “invaded” an Edinburgh mosque by attacking it with bacon were sentenced to jail

This is the same Dawkins, let us remember, who, when Rebecca Watson wrote about how uncomfortable it was to be chatted up in an enclosed space like a lift right after giving a talk on sexual harassment, took the time to sneer at how trivial her complaint was, compared with the serious things happening to other women, in other countries. (Sam Ambreen has written a brilliant blog here about why this line of reasoning is nonsense.) This matter of anti-Islamic criminals being sentenced to jail is presumably the kind of high priority issue he would prefer people spent their energies on.

The attack on the mosque wasn’t just any attack. One of the perpetrators is a member of the Scottish Defence League – the Scottish version of the EDL. The self-appointed ‘rationalists’ seem to think the fact that you should always be free to criticise people’s religion (obviously true) applies here. But it doesn’t. The EDL and the SDL are not critiquing religious oppression. Many are hardline ‘Christian’ extremists, full of homophobic, misogynistic, anti-choice rubbish of their own. Nobody was critiquing passages or verses from the Quran. Nobody was asserting their own right to disbelief in Allah. This was bacon attached to and thrown at the door of a mosque, in a climate of rising hatred and violence towards Muslim communities. It is more akin to attacks on synagogues in a climate of rising anti-semitism than to an atheist or humanist critique of religion.

Attacks like these have nothing to do with ‘rationalism’ or atheism and everything to do with the nasty shadow of the far right that is creeping across Europe. When we talk about fascism and far right politics, we are too quick to talk about the role working class people play in driving it forwards, and too slow to talk about the responsibility of journalists, academics, politicians, scientists, and all sorts of other middle class professionals who have historically been central to the rise of fascism whenever it has occurred. Scientists, doctors and psychiatrists in particular played a huge role in legitimising racism in the early part of the last century, with their cold, ‘objective’ evidence based on measuring foreheads and gaslighting women into mental illness.

Rationalist liberalism likes to position itself as objective. The privileged arrogance of assuming yourself to be impartial and everyone else to be subjective speaks for itself. Too often, white rich men are able to see themselves as objective because they are the default human being, after all: what possible biases or prejudices could they have?

Nobody is removed from the context of the society they live in. If you describe yourself as a rationalist, far from being a super-rational person, you probably just have blind spots to your own privileges and prejudices.

Richard Dawkins talks of Muslims being “offended” by the bacon attack but we are talking about oppression, fear and real violence. Context, as I have written before, matters. Last week a woman was killed possibly, the police say, for wearing Muslim dress. Britain First are making threats to journalists for writing about them. Marine Le Pen’s Front National has topped the EU elections in France. The party is being widely reported, even by the BBC, as a ‘Eurosceptic’ party. This is the reality of the context this hate crime – for that is surely what it is – happened in. To say that nobody was “hurt” by one individual incident, as Dawkins did, highlights the limits of liberalism. Liberalism, by itself, ignores the structural. ‘Pure’ liberals, ironically, seem to have ended up as devout believers in the shiny religion of individualism, even when increasingly the evidence tells us that both socially and economically, liberalism is no longer, by itself, enough to make society better.

Michael Fabricant, jokes, political correctness and context

Michael Fabricant, jokes, political correctness and context

Michael Fabricant doesn’t seem to take much seriously. So it’s not surprising to me that he thinks it’s a right old laugh to joke about punching a Muslim woman in the throat if she gets a bit too opinionated for his liking.

As the defenders of ‘political incorrectness’ like to say: context is all. You have to take it in context. Stop being offended, you’re just taking it out of context. So I have to ask: what is the context to this comment?

Last week, a woman was murdered. The police believe it could have been because she was ‘wearing Muslim dress.’ Tell Mama has reported that Muslim women are experiencing ever-higher levels of hate crime, so much so that, according to reports, just going outside means taking an explicit risk.

The context is that hey, feminists are hysterical, and women overreact, so we need not be taken seriously in our outrage. Not so when the Liddles and the Farages of the world get outraged; no, then it must Mean Something. Ah, we need to respond to this! Their outrage shows the alienation of the public from the political class, or the rise of political correctness gone mad!

It’s not like Fabricant’s tweets are never taken seriously. When Fabricant, back in the days when he was party chairman, tweeted something which embarrassed David Cameron, of course, that was an entirely different matter. He was sacked for saying it was ‘about time’ Maria Miller went. But joking about punching a Muslim woman in the throat, in the midst of a climate of rising racism and violence? Cameron backs him up.

Ah, context. When respected, professional men like Michael Fabricant jokily sympathise with somebody wanting to give a woman a punch, she, not he, is the one who is then subject to a heap of abuse. That is the real context to Michael Fabricant’s joke.

The more marginalised you are the more people believe your right to be heard is conditional. The more people believe your right to be heard, the right to your humanity, is conditional, the more disproportionate the reaction you ‘provoke’ will be. The anger expressed to wards Alibhai-Brown or Diane Abbott (or, in America, Michelle Obama or Melissa Harris Perry) never seems proportionate to whatever they have supposedly ‘done’.

Was Yasmin Alibhai-Brown seriously imagined to be somehow more unpleasant than Rod Liddle was, in the interview that so offended Mr Fabricant? Liddle rudely insulted the interviewer and complained – a typical manifestation of the entitlement ingrained in the faux-anti-establishment brigade – that the questions weren’t about the things he fancied talking about. He pretended he didn’t know what Alibhai-Brown was referring to when she mentioned his comments on Stephen Lawrence’s murder – comments that it is extremely hard to believe he had forgotten, given that he was found to have breached a court order over them, and the Spectator was fined. If Liddle, who writes of ‘black savages’ and compares supporting gay marriage as a conservative to endorsing sex with a goat as a conservative, does not provoke an equivalent violent fantasy from the likes of Fabricant, it begs the question: what would a white man actually have to say to provoke one? You don’t even have to agree with Brown or disagree with Liddle to see that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was certainly not being any more provocative that he was.

Provocative is a strangely gendered word. We do not often hear of men being provocative, or at least, when we do, the bar is set so much higher. A man is provocative, for example, if he is seen carrying a weapon, or if he shouts abuse in the street at a stranger, or if he gets drunk and squares up to somebody in a bar. A woman is provocative if she wears a miniskirt or has an opinion or two.

When we talk about context, which is the third magic word that pops up alongside ‘irony’ and ‘intention’, it always seems to be a very specific context that those people are interested in discussing. “You have to take it in context,” cry endless apologists for ‘ironic’ sexism or racism, before innocently asking why they cannot say the N-word, if NWA can, or why they can’t shout ‘bitch’ at women in the street if Beyonce can sing the word in a song about empowering herself.

Reacting to ‘jokes’ like Fabricant’s is not about being offended, and it’s certainly not about being knee-jerk. It’s not even about the individual joke itself. Would Fabricant actually punch Alibhai-Brown in the neck? It’s highly unlikely that he would. (What a thing, though, to be an MP, and have people rounding behind you to assert that you wouldn’t really punch a woman, as if that alone is amazingly high praise that qualifies you to keep your job.) No, much of the reaction to these seemingly silly little incidents is a dispassionate, structural analysis of the context in which those ‘jokes’ sit. The context, not the single incident, is what makes it matter. The context is not just that two women a week die of domestic violence. The context is how many of those women died because they were made to believe it was a little bit their fault, because they were, in some small way, too provocative.

What was wrong with Elliot Rodger? (Short answer: a lot)

Guest post by Emily O’Malley

I read Elliot Rodger‘s whole 140-page manifesto, and have not been able to stop thinking about it all week. From the day it happened, I’ve heard a medley of theories about his pathology. People have blamed mental illness, guns, violent video guns, MRAs, feminists, atheism, racism, and his therapists. Some have taken a leaf out of his own book and faulted women for not dating him. Others have said that no one is responsible but Elliot himself. A guest on Fox News even speculated that he must have been secretly gay and angry with women for taking away the men he desired. After watching his videos and reading his autobiographical screed, I point the (middle) finger at narcissism and misogyny–both his own, and that of the society which fostered it.

Elliot Rodgers was an egomaniacal, emotionally infantile, status-obsessed, classist, racist, sexist, spoiled pig. He demanded that everything be handed to him on a blood diamond-encrusted platter, and for the most part, he got it. His parents bought him everything he could possibly want, along with countless other things he was too ungrateful to appreciate. We’re talking about a guy who went on international vacations nearly every year and always flew first class. He had VIP passes for movie premieres and attended a private Katy Perry concert. He wore Armani and Gucci, ate at five-star restaurants whenever he pleased, and drove a BMW. His dad was friends with Steven Spielberg. Even so, he didn’t believe he was wealthy. He kept pressuring his mom to find a rich husband so he could “be part of a high-class family” in order to feel superior to others. His mom didn’t wish to remarry, but Elliot told her she should sacrifice her own happiness for his sake, because he believed that being rich was the only way he could lose his virginity. He wanted women gifted to him along with all the other status symbols, but found that to be far more of a challenge.

Elliot constantly spoke of being rejected by women, but it was entirely in his own head. From the sound of his manifesto, he never even asked women out. He didn’t approach them. He didn’t flirt. He went out by himself in public and expected women to flock over to him, and felt jilted when they didn’t. How many women are going to approach a man who’s immersed in a book at Barnes & Noble or waiting in front of Domino’s? How many women are going to try to pick up a man they see jogging around in a park? Based on those descriptions, he must have looked busy. He never tried to initiate conversation. There were some encounters in which a woman smiled at him, but he didn’t follow it up by saying hello. He decided she must not be interested because she didn’t fall into his lap right then and there.

The manifesto contained numerous laments about not having friends, but Elliot was the one who drove them away. Whenever he made friends, he became maddeningly jealous of them for attracting women or being charismatic. He snubbed the friendship of anyone he saw as nerdy or unattractive, but felt deeply threatened by attractive and outgoing friends. His jealousy immediately turned to hate. When any of his friends dated or hooked up with women, he assumed they were doing it to spite him. He truly believed that everything they did was directed at him. This wasn’t just his belief about friends; he also applied it to strangers. Elliot thought that every couple out in public was displaying their affection just to make him feel inferior.

Elliot was also racist. He was half-Asian but passed as white, and heaped a generous helping of racial slurs onto black people, Hispanics, and Asians. He seemed to idolize blonde white women as an Aryan ideal, and I doubt it was a coincidence that the majority of his victims were Asian men. He was trying to kill off that part of himself.

His hatred of women burns through the pages, searing anyone who scrolls through. He wanted to own and enslave them. He wanted to establish himself as a godlike dictator, lock women up in concentration camps, and starve them all to death. I’ve heard people ask why no woman ever gave him a chance. After pointing out the fact that he never actually approached any of them, I respond by asking, “Would you?” He was handsome and rich and had myriad Hollywood connections, but clearly that’s not enough to attract someone if you radiate predatory zeal. Clearly you can still scare people, even if you’re good looking and intelligent. Creepiness is a distinct trait that attractive people are not immune from exuding. I strongly suspect that he would have been violent and predatory even if he did have a girlfriend. It was his nature. If somebody can’t handle being denied what they want, they can’t handle it any better from a significant other. With his impossible demands and inability to be satisfied, I also doubt that one girlfriend would have been enough for him. Even if he had managed to win over a woman he viewed as a flawless trophy, he’d be enraged about not being able to date every woman who appealed to him, and he would still feel as if the world were cheating him out of his rightful rewards. The people who blame women for “not giving him a chance” would also blame a woman if she did date him and was murdered. They’d say, “She had to be crazy to say yes!” Either way, Elliot would be absolved of responsibility.

Elliot’s affinity for Men’s Rights Activist websites has caused many to wonder if they fueled his fury toward women. I’d say that was more of a symptom than a cause. He already felt alienated from women and blamed them for his misery, so he sought out an online community with others who shared his grievances. Very few of his partners in commiseration would actually commit murder, but the support he received for his massacre is chilling. Not all MRAs condone Elliot’s actions, of course, but a great deal of them are choosing to derail the topic (or possibly rationalize it) by immediately reverting to, “Well, women kill men, too!” or “There are women who commit domestic violence.” Yes, there are women who domestically abuse men and women who kill male partners. No one is denying those facts or using this tragedy to excuse female-on-male violence. However, we are currently talking about a man who committed a mass shooting based almost entirely on his acrimony towards women, and many MRAs seem unwilling to discuss this without seeking out a way to blame the female gender.

A large portion of Elliot’s alienation from women, and social struggles in general, seemed related to his Asperger’s Syndrome. That being said, Asperger’s alone doesn’t account for his actions. Plenty of people with Asperger’s are able to date and have active social lives. It may take more effort for them than it does for others, but it can be achieved. Elliot’s astounding level of narcissism kept him from finding love and keeping friends. He wanted the world to drop down and worship him, and refused to take responsibility for any of his flaws. That’s not attributed to Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s not psychosis, either. One striking aspect of Elliot’s manifesto was its lucidity. His ideas were outrageously inaccurate, but coherent and consistent. He couldn’t relate to others’ joy or connection, so he resolved to destroy it.

I’d diagnose that as bare evil.

Ukip and the myth of the alienated oppressor

Ukip and the myth of the alienated oppressor

This week I can’t turn my head without seeing articles, tweets, blogs and comments about how Ukip is representing alienated voters, and if we ‘label’ them as racist or bigoted we will further alienate those people. This is where journalists start to opine about the ‘white working class’ – presumably hoping that class is so rarely mentioned explicitly that everyone will be distracted by ‘working class’ and forget that they’re specifying ‘white people.’

I guess it’s easier to pretend you’re standing up for working class people who happen to be white and conservative than to say you’re standing up for conservative white people, some of whom happen to be working class.

Anybody who did GCSE history knows that it’s common to turn towards extremism when people are alienated, particularly in challenging economic times. But that doesn’t mean we have to pretend in some patronising way that everybody who turns to the far right is ‘alienated’ or that there’s no other factors involved. Ukip voters are slightly more likely to be working class than Labour or Tory voters but  overall they span all different class demographics – and that’s before we even analyse the backgrounds and wealth of the party officials themselves.

The thing is, lots and lots of people feel alienated, and don’t turn to extremism. And a lot of those people don’t get pandered to like this. A lot of those people don’t get heard at all. Is it because they aren’t scary? Is it because Nigel Farage, with his fag hanging out his mouth is ‘likeable,’ while disability rights campaigners, or asylum seekers asking for basic rights, or trans people denied healthcare, are somehow less fashionable to leap up and defend?

Is it just me or are some people just a tiny bit too enthusiastic about listening to the voices of the ‘alienated’ racist, homophobic, sexists – out of compassion and decency, they insist – but not the voices of the alienated people who end up on the receiving end of that bigotry? It’s not to say all those trying to engage have an ulterior motive but fake concern for the alienated far right voter can be a way of expressing sympathy for the bigotry without owning it.

It’s a pretty common thing, after all, for people in politics and in journalism to project less than pleasant views on to us, the public, rather than defend them. They like to present their ‘discomfort’ at same sex marriage or women having casual sex or ‘Romanians moving in next door’ as the views of ‘ordinary people’. And I don’t know about you, but as a member of the public, I don’t want that kind of crap said in my name.

If someone feels alienated and they turn to a far right party, there are two things happening. One of them is alienation. The other is what they do with that alienation. If you choose to take your vote and use it to show the ‘political class’ (a term increasingly applied to anyone who watches the news and dislikes Ukip) that you care more about sending them some vague message of being pissed off than you do about racism, homophobia, misogyny, rape apology and Islamophobia, then expect me, and others, to conclude certain things about your priorities.

As I type, I know what the response will be. Farage doesn’t care what I think. I’m not his target voter. And his voters don’t care about these issues. (Well, quite.) So it isn’t ‘productive’ to talk about the party’s problems with bigotry. But I’m not here to filter every opinion I have through the prism of political tactics. That suggests to me a mindset too obsessed with positioning, a world where opinions aren’t rooted in anything real, but are only expressed as a means of political strategy.

It also gives an awful lot of power to ‘oppressor’ or dominant groups, as soon as you allow them to dictate what counts as an acceptable response to their behaviour, and what does not. If we’re not allowed to call things sexist in case we alienate sexists, if we’re not allowed to call things racist in case we lose the approval of racists, if we make the broader debate about what is oppressive or bigoted and what is not conditional upon appealing to the most oppressive and bigoted mindsets, then it’s over, we’ve lost, we might as well go home. It’s wrong to police people’s reactions to bigotry and, worse, actually blame those reactions for fuelling the rise of the far right. Bigotry isn’t caused by people standing up to it. Racism isn’t caused by people talking about racism. Homophobia isn’t caused by gay people demanding too many rights too fast.

I know what else people will say. That I should shut up and listen more. I agree. I do listen to people. I listen to friends who say they’ve no interest in politics but they are thinking of voting Ukip. I listen to other people too. I listen to all sorts of people, some I agree with and some I don’t. I listen to a lot of people that many of the ‘don’t-call-Ukip-names’ brigade never even notice exist.

So I do listen but not just to you: I don’t think that by virtue of being angry and loud, you are entitled to my attention any more than the voice than, say, an asylum seeker being held in a detention centre without basic medical care. You are not entitled to a larger platform than the Muslims on the receiving end of hate crime which spikes dramatically when the far right up their rhetoric. You don’t get a bigger microphone than gay people who want to get married and feel safe in the streets. You aren’t entitled to a bigger platform than everybody else just because you’re loud and aggressive, and claiming to be ‘alienated by the modern world’ rather than intolerant.

Listening is good, but listening is an active thing, and if you’re listening properly to things, they usually spark a reaction. To assume an ‘alienated’ person isn’t capable of engaging with any kind of disagreement is far more patronising than telling them you disagree with them and having a conversation about it. That’s what you do, ironically, when you don’t actually care about what they’re saying. Let the disillusioned Ukip voters have their rants, they’re almost saying, because it’s all they have. Ignore them, don’t challenge them, they don’t know any better and can’t be expected to expand or explore their ideas.

It’s telling that so many of the apologists feel the need to frame discussions about bigotry with phrases like ‘screaming racism,’ ‘shouting racism,’ or ‘playing the race card,’ or spike accusations of sexism or homophobia with words like ‘hysterical.’ The assumption seems to be that in calling an opinion racist or homophobic or misogynistic, you aren’t engaging with it, or you must be seeking to silence it. But defining things is part of how we debate them. Words like ‘racism,’ ‘homophobia’, and ‘misogyny’ exist for a reason – and bigots hate them for a reason, too. Those words allow us to name and challenge broader structural issues behind what they say, instead of treating each occurrence as a random, isolated incident – which is exactly what Ukip want us to do when they demand we only use words they are comfortable with.

Saying that Ukip aren’t intentionally a racist party and it’s just a coincidence that they attract so many bigoted people isn’t good enough for me as a voter, and I’m entitled to say so. When I say there’s a problem with bigotry in Ukip I’m including people who are quietly okay with other people’s bigotry. When we say we shouldn’t focus on racism, or homophobia, or sexism, because that’s not why their voters are voting for them, we are accepting an ugly premise: that those things are side issues, not important to most people. We are saying that people’s views on equality shouldn’t be a central part of how we judge them. We are accepting that we can only talk about racism if the racist actually wants to be called a racist, and isn’t a potential voter. In other words, we can never talk about this. The fact that the bigotry isn’t a factor one way or the other in how so many people choose to vote, far from being a reason to change the subject, is exactly what I am so concerned about.

Ukip want to present the case that the party is accidentally stirring up racial tensions with their xenophobia, and accidentally riling up homophobes, but they don’t intend to do that. I don’t think it matters as much as they do what their intention is. If you vote for someone you know could be a racist or a homophobe or a rape apologist, then what use is it to me that your vote was cast because you wanted to send Westminster a message? If pissing off ‘the political class’ is really more important to you than whether the person you’re choosing to represent you and pass laws on your behalf is hateful or not, then, well, what exactly are we supposed to conclude from your priorities?

UKIP, “politically incorrect” jokes, and boundary pushing

Ukip, “politically incorrect” jokes, and boundary pushing 

I don’t like UKIP. There, I said it. I don’t like them. I’m bored of indulging them, indulging their little defenders and apologists. The party scares me enormously, with their insidious drip drip drip of what they call “political incorrectness” – a self-righteous, self-romanticising, self-indulgent way of describing any views that people object to. From the moment they proscribed HopeNotHate as a hate organisation, it was obvious what kind of organisation they are. They are extreme. I am talking specifically about the party itself, in its fundamental world view, which is extreme. How could you think HopeNotHate are a hate group unless you are extreme?

Is the party racist? That accusation inevitably gets met with a similar response to individual accusations of racism. That response is more or less: in my life I’ve done things which aren’t racist, and that proves that I’m not racist. Okay. Fine. I daresay there are people in UKIP who are not racist every minute of the day. There are people in UKIP who have done not-racist things in their lives. There are individuals in UKIP who aren’t white and the party is okay with that. (Give them all the cookies, seriously.) But there’s no getting around the fact that at their spring conference, comedian Paul Eastwood told a series of racist jokes, and not only did the crowds laugh, but Nigel Farage defended the jokes –  although he hadn’t actually heard them, he says – on the basis that they are ‘national, not racial’ stereotypes. Then fell back on the classic straw man defence: we must be careful not to kill comedy or censor people. No-one is doing either. What I am doing is saying that I do not trust the values and decency of a party that laughs at those sorts of jokes.  Farage also advocated a free market solution to racism; that if the man’s jokes are racist no-one will book him again. That might be true, but only if people talk about it and challenge him. How does he think these potential future customers find things out and make a decision about whether to book him again?

Nigel Farage’s response is so old it makes me yawn. Jokes matter. Why do people tell racist – or for that matter, sexist or homophobic – jokes? I don’t believe it’s just about making people laugh. There are much funnier ways to do that. What these people are doing is chipping away at our boundaries.

Comedians are usually quite rightly happy to say that’s what ‘controversial’ comedy is about. Pushing boundaries. Breaking taboos. In fact, many comedians embrace it as the whole point of their ‘controversial’ comedy.

I looked into sexist comedy because I was tired of arguing about rape jokes in terms of trauma and feelings and pain. Those things should matter to people but they obviously don’t, so I decided to look at the broader impact. And it turns out, quite a lot of people have looked into this. It has been found in more than one study that misogynistic jokes, especially those at the expense of a rape survivor, have a direct impact on things like the likelihood of a person believing rape survivors, the likelihood of them believing rape myths, and the likelihood of them blaming rape survivors for their own rape. Here’s just one article by the very funny comedian Raj Sivaraman which explains this rather expertly.

And you know what else? Comedy is honest. When we laugh, it comes from the gut.  Who we humiliate and who we tell to shut up and who we listen to and who we stand up for and who we use as a punchbag isn’t a random coincidence. We should look closely at who we think it’s okay to laugh at. It tells us who we are.

Boundary pushing isn’t an accident. It is an exertion of power. Sexist jokes – even ironic ones – serve to remind women that whoever they are, whatever they’ve achieved, misogynists hate them. Racist jokes – even ironic ones – serve to remind people of colour that however safe they feel, there are racist white people who hate them.  When you make bigoted jokes you are reminding marginalised people that their humanity is conditional. You are reminding them that you are being generous for not hating them, and deserve gratitude. When you make an ironic joke to show how funny it would be if you genuinely, non-ironically said a bigoted thing, you are demanding that the subject of your joke embrace you as not-a-bigot and laugh at your definition of what is and isn’t acceptable. Yes, it is a direct exertion of power – whether you consciously intend it that way or not.

This silly myth of “political correctness” is particularly dangerous for our generation because we don’t remember just how recently everybody’s boundaries were so different – and just how easily they could be pushed back. We laugh at rape jokes without remembering that even as recently as the 1990s, ‘rape’ didn’t mean a violation of your body without your consent, but rather, a crime of property, against not you but your husband or father, because rape within marriage was perfectly legal.

When people like Paul Eastwood make jokes about Somalians shooting people, mocks Asian accents, jokes about places being full of Arabs, and throws in insults about  Muslims and Poles to boot, to a roomful of laughing Ukippers, mostly wealthy, mostly white, some who hold positions of elected office, they are not just providing entertainment, they are pushing boundaries. And it works. Of course it does. One racist joke at a time, racial slurs go from “racist,” to “offensive,” to “colourful language”. One sexist joke at a time, sexist slurs go from “misogyny” to “risqué” to “poorly worded” to “old fashioned values”. And before we know it, oppressive bigotry is a matter of hurting people’s feelings with clumsy phrasing. The underlying values become normal.

I am tired of pretending that UKIP stand for anything nuanced or original. We can be capable of understanding why people get frustrated with the main parties, we can get that people relate to UKIP – Farage in particular – we can agree that Westminster is painfully out of touch, all while still holding and expressing the opinion that Nigel Farage is a deeply unpleasant man, and that the party’s core values are rooted in something very ugly. When challenged, they wipe policies off their website and start again. They apologise for their choice of words and explain that they weren’t insulting women for being sexual, they were insulting women for not doing enough housework. But the bigger picture is that any policy coming from the sort of people who will laugh publically and shamelessly at those sorts of jokes will be a disaster for the country. Your underlying values matter.

People tell me, hey, but Nigel Farage is likeable. Likeable? To whom? How can you find Nigel Farage “likeable”? He is only “likeable” if you “like” people because they have learned how to apply charm like a coat of bad paint. I judge people – especially potential future leaders – on their actions, values, and character, not whether they enjoy a pint and have a lopsided grin.

It is ironic that the media and political careerists are the first to accuse those of us who have no patience with the question-dodging, fact-dismissing, £2m-in-expenses-claiming Farage of being disinterested in why he connects with people. It is ironic because they are the ones interested in the psephology of the thing. Will it harm the blue vote or the red vote? Will they challenge Labour in the north or should they focus all resource on the south? Should the right have supported the alternative vote? These are the sort of people who say things like: “this is too important to be made into a political issue. ” What the hell are your politics about , if not important things? These are the sort of people who say: “he’s a nice person and I get on very well with him – obviously his politics are horrendous though.” Your politics come from your values. If your values are horrendous you’re not a very nice person.

And why do UKIP supporters still get these generous assumptions that UKIP connects with people because they’re disillusioned or vulnerable? There are a lot of people who do hold racist, sexist, and homophobic views and they’ve just been waiting for somebody “likeable” like Farage to come along and validate them.

What UKIP has done with their boundary pushing is make bigotry subjective. They’ve made it a matter of “political correctness”, a modern fad that some people just don’t sign up to. Far from all being shackled by this mysteriously-defined “political correctness”, it seems that we’re not supposed to call racism ‘racism’ anymore because it’s trivialising the debate or name calling or censorship or being out of touch.

So please, please, please can we drop all this yeah but Farage is a talented politician, yeah but UKIP make some valid points, yeah but Farage is charming and funny and likes a pint. I don’t judge people on whether they like a pint. I judge them on their actions. Just imagine those jokes at an office party. Imagine them in your parliament. Imagine them in the grocery store. Imagine them being normal and acceptable and just how people talk to one another. I find it hard to see it as a laughing matter.

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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