rs21 Political Weekend: Racism, old and new

Mitch Mitchell reports on a discussion at rs21’s political weekend on contemporary racism and the dynamics of Islamophobia and anti-migrant politics.

Anindya Bhattacharya’s meeting began with a series of photographs, the first, of a UKBA van in Bermondsey, was taken outside a “Lovely and British” boutique while border officers were checking to see whether there were any “illegal” migrants in the area, while the second was a racist advertisement for a Vietnamese takeaway that parodied East Asian accents.

The photos helped to set the scene for a really interesting and thought-provoking meeting. He talked of the threat posed by so-called respectable parties such as UKIP and focused on the way in which Farage had artfully distanced UKIP from the racist “go home” vans.
This was partly because of the way, he argued, that racism has become “abstract” in recent years. He reminded us of the comments of right wing historian David Starkey who said after the riots how he felt that young people in Britain were “turning black”.

The recent scurrilous attack on Carole Duggan by the Daily Mail‘s Richard Littlejohn is also reflective of this, when he likened her to Little Britain’s “Vicky Pollard”.

Bhattacharya then considered how Islamophobia had changed. He argued that between 2000 and 2005 the portrayal of Muslims mainly centred around them being “extremist”, bent on introducing Sharia law and subjugating non-Muslims. Whereas after 2005 it took the shape of classic racism – “They’re coming over here to impregnate our wives and daughters”.

The left’s continuing insistence that Islamophobia is, in fact, yet another form of racism began to be taken really seriously after the massacre by Nazi Anders Breivik in Norway.

Anindya Bhattacharya suggested that the outburst of violence following the Woolwich murder of soldier Lee Rigby was short lived and the reaction of the general public was opposition to far-right thugs.

Nowadays racism is directed at migrants – often white. This was illustrated by the 2005 Tory election poster claiming “it’s not racist to talk about immigration”, leading to politicians of all stripes making racist comments under this guise.

When it came to activism, Bhattacharya seemed unimpressed with the new “Stand up to UKIP” campaign and preferred the one created by Kent International Socialists which spoofed the Pepsi-Cola ads.

Another slogan gaining approval came from an anti-fascist demonstration in France – “Everybody who is here is from here”.

When it came to action, all agreed that we must continue to fight the idea that migrants are responsible for unemployment. We must acknowledge the extent to which austerity is actually to blame and be ready to confront entrenched attitudes to race and migration within the movement and the working class. Only by doing this will we be able to improve the lives of all working people, irrespective of where they are from.



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