By Jason Michael

Barbers rarely go out of business; someone will always need a clip around the ears. It’s much the same when it comes to racism in hard times – it is never too difficult to whip up feelings that are already there. We are on a journey and this is only the start.

Racism infuriates me. Not only does the use of racism anger me, but that this is something we still have to deal with also gets under my skin. This opening would of course be virtue signalling if it wasn’t for the inconvenient fact of own racism – and that too I detest. As an accidental beneficiary of white privilege I am frequently reminded of the latent feeling of racial superiority that comes with my whiteness. Fortunate indeed – and few – are those white people who can say in all honesty that they are not racist. I hope such people exist. If they don’t then I believe we are truly damned. The near unavoidability of this is the real ‘white man’s burden;’ that we have been cursed through our history and culture – things over which we had no control – with this most disgusting prejudice.

It is precisely this universality of inherited and inculturated racism that makes hatred powerful as a political tool. It is so easy for unscrupulous opportunists to scapegoat and victimise the racial other and to stir up tensions in society because racism isn’t something that needs to be taught to others. It is something that is always at least dormant right across the population. What this means is that, even without the presence of racist rabble-rousers, racism is already more or less active as a rallying point for popular discontent to mobilise. In times of peace and plenty racism, which is always and everywhere in our society endemic, recedes. People have more pressing things to worry about. But right now is not a time of peace and plenty.

Global economic depression and government driven austerity directed towards making the poorest bail out the richest have conspired to create poverty and misery to a level unknown in the West since the 1930s. Ordinary people are suffering and looking for others – outsiders – to blame and governments, eager to remove their heads from the chopping block, are more than willing to adopt and thus legitimise the rhetoric of racist and power-hungry far-right politicians. In the beginning this might well have been intended as a temporary populist measure to keep them in power, but soon the infection spreads and this manufactured and manipulated opinion gathers weight and so takes on a life of its own – driving by democratic means the agenda of bigotry and hate.

Until its full flowering – in expulsions, in pogroms, in ghettos, in genocide – a point thankfully we have not yet fully reached, it dares not come completely out into the open. It baulks at the obvious language and behaviour of unsophisticated racism. Instead it opts for codified and ‘dog-whistle’ racism; allusions and pointers to specific yet permissible racially identifiable threats – Islamic terrorism, the burqa, Sharia law etc. as an easily deciphered nod to Islamophobia or similar hints to other racial groups and minorities. This is what we have seen sweeping across England where ordinary people are amassing behind the overt and covert racism of UKIP and the Conservatives, and in no small part this dynamic is driving the isolationism of Brexit.

That the Leave campaign thrived on these instruments explains why hate crime and racially motived violence have spiked in the wake of the Brexit victory. In the eyes of those whose racism has been unfettered and legitimised by this populist climate the vote has vindicated them – as the majority and as the will of the people, making it rational and ‘patriotic’ for them to act out in order to defend their Englishness, their Britishness. To them, following the Trumpist slogan of making Britain great again, this is about restoring national pride. Politicians who were once of the centre are already unable to stop the march of this beast. The tail is wagging the dog, and what is most frightening is that we have not even nearly seen the end of this. The future does not look so bright.


Dog Whistle Politics: Ian Haney López

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