By Jason Michael
We shouldn’t be too surprised when we hear poorer people saying racist things. However upsetting their comments are, they are only doing what people in power want them to do: Blame everyone but the real culprits for their present misery.
On the run up to Christmas this year, as much to inform myself as others, I decided to hit the streets of Dublin to speak with some of the growing number of homeless people forced – by government cuts and a lack of real social assistance – to sleep rough. What I wanted was to record what these women and men had to say, why they felt they were out on the streets and what they thought of the government’s response. From the beginning I had my reservations. It is clear that there is something exploitative in doing this, but there is an almost complete absence in the media of their voices.
Each one of the people I spoke with understood what it was in their own lives that had brought them to the street and they knew fine well that the government wasn’t doing enough. Everyone I met was an ordinary person, no different from myself or anyone else I knew – save for the fact that they were homeless. Some were more angry and frustrated over their current position than others, and others still were quite philosophical about their situation. There were those who were drunk – if I were homeless tonight I’d probably be steaming – and there were those who were not. It was a perfect mixed bag of people.
What I did find, not surprisingly however, was that the majority of the white Irish homeless I spoke with – while asserting that they were not racist – laid much of the blame for homelessness on the “foreigners” they perceived the government to be helping before them. Anto was a perfect example. He asked to be named and for his face to be filmed. When I asked him why he thought things were so bad, he said: “All the foreigners coming into the country, they get everything. Irish people are getting nothing.” Immediately after this I asked if he knew of any foreigners who were sleeping rough and he could list of a number of different nationalities who were among the homeless he knew. What struck me was that he couldn’t make the connection between this reality and his opinion.
His seemingly racist analysis shouldn’t be something that greatly surprises us, and it certainly doesn’t mean that Anto and the thousands like him are racist. This is simply how the system that makes him homeless works. It is how it is meant to work. Mutuma Ruteere, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, highlighted the relationship between poverty and racism to the General Assembly in November 2012. He stated that poverty and racism were inextricably linked, that the more people are forced to compete for limited resources the more likely they are to turn on and blame outgroups.
Naturally this works to the advantage of the only body that can actually change the circumstances in which these people find themselves – the government. Capitalist democracies – not to be confused with “democracies” – represent the interests of the economic ruling class, and the last thing the profiteers of the economic system that keeps them on top want is their victims realising who they ought to be angry at. This explains why during times of economic hardship the instruments of the ruling class; the government, the media etc., lean towards more xenophobic narratives – giving the people at the bottom ready scapegoats. Staying in power, for them, means that they must become the masters of a game of smoke and mirrors.
Anto is Homeless in Dublin
Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)