White, working-class ‘racism’, the BNP and a few uncomfortable truths

So little time, so much ground to cover…

One of real pleasures, and also sometimes frustrations, of blogging is that you can never be quite sure just how your readers will react to your views and what, if any, comments you might get by way of a response to your ideas.

For example, the article I posted on Tuesday in regards to suggestions from Jon Cruddas & Mike Ion as to how best to tackle the current resurgence in far-right politics within some communities drew three very different responses despite the fact that, on re-reading the piece, it strikes me that all I really got around to saying was that the near constant stream of negative policies, legislation and spin surrounding issues of immigration, etc. emanating from the present government due to its shameless and unprincipled pandering to the xenophobic right wing press is a right pain in the arse if you out in your local area trying to fight racism at a grass roots level.

Never mind the fact that we’ve moved so far to the right on these issues that we’re now making the Tories look like bunch of limp-wristed moderates… no, worse than that, we’re actually telling the fucking public outright that the Tories are a bunch of limp-wristed moderates… when we get to the point where the BNP start complaining that we’re effectively buying into their policies and vindicating their views, then we really are doing something badly fucking wrong.

Oops, seems like the BNP have got there already…

In the past few weeks an astonishing reversal of opinion has come from the lips of Labour MPs queuing up to attack the Muslim faith.

Those who for years have courted the Muslim vote are now outdoing the BNP in raising awareness of the growing threat of Muslim to national security. The Labour establishment aided and abetted by a compliant media with its still powerful Zionist lobby is in part stirring up war propaganda as a prelude to an inevitable attack on Iran.

But there is a bigger picture emerging – Labour is playing with fire to win back the white working class vote. This brash political opportunism coming from the very people who continue to hold open the door to hundreds of Muslim migrants every single day smacks of desperation and utter hypocrisy. If the government’s own statistics are to be believed there are 1.8 million Muslims in the UK (2001 census) which would mean just over 1 million Muslim voters. Clearly the Labour establishment has awoken to the fact that numerically 15 million white working class is much more worthy of chasing that a mere 1 million.

The media have always taken a swipe at statements from the BNP about our concerns for the future of the country, dismissed as “extremists”, “racists” and “bigots” but media pundits are revelling in their new found liberty to take a daily dig at Muslims.

It’s a dangerous game the Labour establishment has chosen to play, one which could lead to serious disorder and bloodshed. Do Blair and Straw really want to see a civil war on the streets of West Yorkshire, Birmingham and Oldham?

That was posted by the BNP on their website a little under a month ago.

More than anything here, I’m responding to B4L’s comments, but first I ought to take care of Tristan’s suggestion that the BNP are ‘a party of the far left, their economics is collectivist. They are socialists, but instead of grouping around individual trades, they group around the idea of the nation and race.

Sorry, Tristan, but you’re way off the mark there.

Quick bit of political theory here.

Collectivism and socialism are not the same.

Socialism advocates democratic control of the means of production by the working class – a precise phrase you’ll find nowhere in the BNP’s literature and certainly not in its 2005 general election manifesto. In theory the power structure is bottom-up. The workers control industry by means of electing representatives to worker’s councils (what the Russians called ‘Soviets’) who run the industries on behalf of the workers. That’s the theory anyway.

Fascism, in is classical form, is corporatist, i.e. it advocates control of the state and society by ‘corporations’; unelected civic assemblies that represent key economic or civic interests. The power structure is a top-down one and, often, but not always technocratic in nature. A classically Fascist ‘solution’ to, say, running the car industry, would place control of the entire industry into the hands of a cartel of car producers, not into the control of the workers.

The difference is not as obvious as it once was as the far-right in Europe (other than Le Pen) has largely abandoned its corporatist roots and bought wholesale into modern capitalism, but occasionally those roots do re-emerge. Hence, in the BNP’s 2005 manifesto we find this:

Axiom #11: Owners should work, and workers should own.

If ordinary Britons increase their savings rate and invest the money in British industry, it will over time transpire that they are the owners of British industry. This has been called “pension-fund socialism,” and it combines the efficiency of capitalist private ownership with socialism’s ideal of worker ownership of the means of production. It also gives workers an incentive to care about the long-term health of the companies they work for, as they are part owners. It is also a pro-nationalist policy, as it tends to bring the ownership of British industry into British hands. The BNP supports the gradual assumption of worker ownership through their pension funds.

You’ll note both that it miscasts socialism’s ‘ideal’ as worker ownership of the means of production and not control – these are two very different things as is apparent by the reference to ‘pension-fund socialism’.

Under the BNP’s ‘plan’ workers might well own the industry in which they work, but only through their pension fund, which would still be managed on their behalf by corporate interests, i.e. pensions/insurance companies, and therefore would have no direct control over that industry. That’s not socialism, its corporatism but, and here’s the rub, the BNP want workers to think its socialism (or like socialism) in order to gain their support.

Moving on to B4L’s comments…

B4L: I think some wider reading on my part might help me here, but is the press/government really as influential as you suggest?

I’m not sure that reading will help much, here, as where I’m coming from is not an academic understanding of these issues, but one based on first-hand experience, having grown up in a white, working-class community.

Is the press/government are as influential as I suggest? Yes, absolutely. In the right circumstances.

What you have to appreciate here is that we’re not talking about the government or press creating prejudice where none previously existed, what we’re dealing with is the reinforcement of pre-existing prejudice – preaching to the already ‘converted’.

To understand properly what’s going on in these communities, the first thing you have to do is strip away the accumulated political bullshit that surrounds the issues of prejudice and racism and appreciate that there is a valid distinction between the two.

Prejudice stems from ignorance and a fear of the unfamiliar/unknown.

Racism stems from the belief that a particular ethnic group (your own) is inherently and innately superior to one of more other ethnic groups.

Prejudice is apolitical. Racism is political.

It also, just to kill another myth, has fuck all to do with where your ethnic group happens to sit in the global ‘power structure’ of society – which is why anyone can be racist no matter what ethnic group they actually belong to.

Why? Because racism is not rational.

If you believe that your ethnic group is superior to another one, you believe it regardless of whether the relative social status of your group to the other group supports that belief or not. And if your group’s position doesn’t support its presumed superiority than all you do, instead, is ‘rationalise’ your own lower status on the basis that your group is being actively and deliberately oppressed by the other one and therefore denied the right to take up its rightful, superior, position within the prevailing social hierarchy.

Simple.

Now can we just drop all the ‘Black people can’t be racist’ bullshit and get on with trying to understand the world as it really is and not how you’d like it to be because it make you feel a bit better about your own prejudices. Thank you.

For the most part, what one actually encounters in white, working class communities (or any other community for that matter) is prejudice – or to put it in rather more crude terms, people in those communities don’t harbour a dislike of ‘Pakis’ because they believe in the natural superiority of the ‘white race’, they profess to dislike them simply because they’re seen as foreign/alien and, therefore, ‘not one of us’ – and ‘not one of us’ can just as easily, in some communities, mean that you come from the next town as it does that you come from Karachi.

This is the kind of thing that, if you’ve not grown up or lived in that kind of environment, can seriously mess with your head as, at first sight, it doesn’t appear to make sense.

The classic headfuck for anyone who’s new to this kind of environment is the overheard pub conversation in which they hear someone talking openly talk about their dislike of ‘Pakis’ only then to hear them become desperately offended if someone dares to refer to the Asian guy who runs the local corner shop in the same terms because ‘he’s not a Paki, he’s one of us’.

In reality, this not only makes perfect sense but illustrates a critical difference between prejudice and racism. Prejudice can be overcome and the dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘not us’ can be crossed. A prejudiced community can come to accept a ‘foreign’ individual over time and bring them into the body of the community. A racist community cannot, because if you’re ‘foreign’ and inferior then you’ll always be foreign and inferior no matter what you do.

If you’re Black, you can move into an area and become a ‘local’ but what you can’t do is move into that area and become White.

Prejudice can be readily fought and overcome because it’s based on ignorance, for which the correct and proper antidote is education. Racism requires a hell of a lot more work and effort… or a good stock of rope and a plentiful supply of lampposts.

Let me illustrate what I mean here with a true story…

Back in my days in youth work (early 90’s) , I worked in a youth club in a white working class community.

At the time we had a ‘problem’ with a group of older youths (16/17 year olds) who, in terms of the conventional wisdom of the profession, would have been considered to be (and labelled) racist, although to my mind the issue was simply one of prejudice. If you talked to them, then what you quickly discovered that, yes, they did dislike Black and Asian people but then they also didn’t know any Black or Asian people, personally and exhibited no particular signs of believing that they were any better than anybody else just because of the colour of their skin.

To tackle this we arranged an number of ’exchange’ activities with a youth club on another estate about three miles away where the local community included sizeable Black and Asian populations, starting with that old staple of youth clubs, a Disco.

This led to a confrontation with this group of kids from the club in which I worked, as they quite openly turned round an announced that, yes, they’d be keen on a disco but only if we didn’t invite any ‘Blacks or Pakis’ from this other estate.

At this point in proceedings, and with other members of staff taking this all very seriously, I burst out laughing.

Why? Because (and this is going back a fair few years) the kid who were telling me they didn’t want us to invite any ‘Black’ were uniformly dressed in baggy jeans, high-top trainers and sporting baseball caps (worn backwards, naturally) and were the same kids I’d had to bollock a couple of days previously for playing NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ on the club’s stereo on a night when we had the under 13s in the club.

There they were, aping the Black street-fashion of the time, listening to Black music, and yet telling us they did want ‘Blacks’ invited to their disco.

Needless to say, we went ahead with the disco as we planned – with Black and Asian guests from the other club – and we also brought in a Black youth worker (actually a 6’4” Rasta, and a brilliant bloke to work with) and started working with these same kids around their interest in music; teaching them a bit of DJ-ing and mixing, even how to programme sequencers and use a basic recording studio.

After a year or so, these kids graduated from the youth club to the local pub; I moved on shortly afterwards to a different line of work and lost touch with them and with the club.

It must have been something like three or four years later that I bumped into one of them at, of all places, a ‘battle of the bands’ competition and, as it happened, it turned out to be the guy who’d been the ‘ringleader’ of this particular group, the one that actually said outright that we shouldn’t be inviting Black or Asian kids to ‘their’ disco.

I was at this gig on a night out with friends. He was there because he’d kept up the DJ-ing/mixing he’d learned at the youth club and was in one of the bands that was in the competition…

… a mixed-race, left-wing rap/rock/bhangra band after the fashion of Asian Dub Foundation with a bit of Rage Against The Machine thrown in for good measure.

The last thing he said to me, before going on stage, was that the band was hoping to do a couple of shows for Rock Against Racism.

During all the time that I’d ‘worked’ with this kid in the youth club, never once did I try and lecture him about his ‘racist’ attitudes – all I, and others, did was challenge his ignorance by putting him into a different environment where he could learn about and from people who were different to him and let experience and a bit of growing up take care of the rest.

That kind of thing works, when what you’re dealing with is prejudice and ignorance – had he been genuinely racist he’d have probably pursued his musical inclinations by playing in a bunch of Skrewdriver wannabe’s.

B4L: If so, why do so few ‘benevolent’ public information campaigns appear to succeed?

Well, it depends entirely on what kind of message a particular campaign is trying to put over, but in general terms it’s easier to influence behaviour by such means if you’re reinforcing pre-existing attitudes and beliefs than if you’re trying to change those attitudes – unless you have a real shit-kicker of a message to put across, like the AIDS campaign of the 1980’s.

A lot of this comes down to an individual’s sense of being in control of whatever it is the campaign relates to. For example, the anti-drink driving campaigns don’t eradicate that behaviour entirely because there is a core ‘constituency’ in the population who believe both that they’re perfectly capable of driving even after having a few drinks and that they won’t be amongst the unlucky ones who get caught by the Police. You’re also dealing, here, with the consumption of a product that impairs people’s judgment, which doesn’t exactly help matters.

AIDS, back in the 80s, was all a bit different, due, in part, to the severity of the message (catch this and you die), the unpredictability of the disease (you can’t tell whose got it just by looking at them) and the fact that what the campaign was promoting, the use of condoms, gave you some measure of control that you would otherwise have lacked.

This is something that you can read up on, as there’s no shortage of literature in psychology on the differential impact of using positive or negative reinforcements.

B4L: And what proportion of BNP-style racist incidents conform to the New-Labour-ministers-pandering-to-rightwing-press time-scale you mention?

The question is irrelevant as we’re not dealing with a direct connection/relationship. This isn’t a game of ‘monkey see, monkey do’.

As I’ve noted, above, the majority of prejudice one encounters in white, working-class communities is actual prejudice and not racism, and certainly not racism in the politicised form promoted by the far-right. That’s why far-right political parties in the UK have never been able to build a mass-membership, even at times when their apparent support, in electoral terms, has been at its highest.

We’re not dealing here with growing hot-beds of white supremacism.

The actual number of people who buy into the ideology of the BNP is tiny – most of those who voted BNP in recent elections didn’t do so out of the belief that they belong to the master race, they did so because they’re pissed off with mainstream politicians who do listen to them and don’t do anything to address their concerns.

The idea that BNP is gaining a foothold in these communities because we’ve abandoned them is absolutely spot-on.

B4L: Surely we can’t avoid talking about class, the structure of communities, dependency, employment, and housing patterns, etc., also the longevity of a culture based upon ethnic/class/anti-system pride – to which can be added the racism of economic/communal rivalry which is not confined to the white BNP stereotype.

Not only can we not avoid talking about these things but we have to do more than just talk about them. It’s because they’re being ignored at the moment that the BNP are gaining ground in these communities.

This is where I think my comments in the other article have been rather misunderstood. I’m not saying that the approach advocated by Jon Cruddas is wrong or that it can’t or won’t work – given the right conditions.

What I am saying is that, right now, those conditions aren’t right.

Why? Because our own government is creating a ‘reality gap’ between what Jon is trying to achieve and what the government is actually doing.

This is all very straightforward.

What Jon Cruddas is trying to do is win back votes in these communities by talking about addressing their actual needs; i.e. housing, employment, etc.

What Tony Blair and John Reid are trying to do is obtain their votes by pandering to their prejudices. The right-wing press stokes up the paranoia about immigration, crime, etc. and the government responds with a crack down and a shitload more illiberal legislation, none of which actual addresses the real needs of people in these communities. In fact, for the most part, these communities end up on the receiving end of this kind of legislation (i.e. ASBOs and so-called summary ‘justice’)

And what the BNP are doing are playing both angles by claiming that the reason their needs for housing, employment, etc aren’t being met is because of immigration, etc. They can do this –and get away with it – precisely because they have absolutely no prospect of gaining any actual power and, therefore, being faced with having to deliver on either their rhetoric or their policies.

In short, what the government is doing here is…

a) Treating the symptoms of a problem, but ignoring the its actual causes, and

b) Undermining what Jon’s trying to achieve by doing nothing to either counter the prejudices in these communities, and the malign effects of the right-wing press in stoking those prejudices, in particular, or address their actual needs.

I never once said, in my earlier piece, that Jon was wrong in what he’s trying to do, what I said was that there’s nothing particular new about his ideas (and there isn’t) and that he’s fighting a losing battle at present because no matter what we try to do at grassroots level, unless the issues we’re trying to tackle on the ground are also reflected in central government policy, then no one in those communities will take us seriously. We can’t promise people access to social housing if our own government won’t fucking well build any in the first place.

We are, currently, the party of government and therefore the onus is on us to back up our rhetoric with actions. We not only have to be saying the rights things, but doing them as well.

That doesn’t apply to either the BNP, or indeed, even to the Tories. They can say what the hell they like and promise the earth – and get away with it – because the one thing that the public do understand is that you can’t judge a political party on a track record it doesn’t have because it hasn’t the power to even try to deliver its policies.

One might say, with some justification, that after ten years in power we’ve forgotten what its like to be in opposition and, particular, just what kind of advantages being in opposition can actually provide to a political party because it has the freedom to make promises without the requirement that they back up those promises with action. Opposition parties don’t have to deliver, they just have to appear plausible.

I didn’t suggest, either, that the ‘solution’ to this problem was simply for the government to take a stand against media scare-mongering and xenophobia. This will not solve the problem. But what it would do is stop the government from fucking up the efforts of those, like Jon, who are actually trying to address these issues.

In short, you can have all the talk about ‘localism’, grassroots activism and community action you like, but it’s not going to achieve anything if our own government keeps right on shooting us in the fucking feet in order to cover their own electoral arses with the Daily Mail.

Okay, just one last thing to say on this.

Leaving aside everything I just said, one of the things that really pisses me off about the whole debate surrounding this issue is that, when it hits the mainstream media in particular, with few exceptions (and Jon seems to be one of them) most of the people holding forth on this issue haven’t got the first fucking idea of what they are talking about.

These are real communities, made up of real people with real needs – and to understand those needs you either need to have grown up in one of those communities or to have spent a considerable amount of time living in them.

Simply having talked to someone who lives on a council estate while researching your next ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ style commentary for Comment is Free does not qualify you either to comment on the attitudes and values of these communities or sit in judgment over the people who live in them – and if you find those comments in any way applicable to yourself then, please, do us all a favour and shut the fuck up!

(And that’s not directed at you, B4L!)

  • Nick

    Interesting article. I think that Jon Cruddas does often make very much the same point that you do about the need to increase resources like social housing, otherwise competition over their allocation becomes viewed through the prism of race.

    He may not have said so in the article you were referring to, but in general he certain advocates an approach that combines better ways of working on the ground and better policies at governmental level.

    Is that roughly the point you were making?

  • douglas clark

    Here was me, sitting down with a nice wee cup of Solpadiene, reading through another of your posts I could pretty well relate to, waiting for some sort of comment. I take it we are more or less agreed then?

  • B4L

    Good stuff – thanks for that. “Because our own government is creating a

  • Proud Brit

    Some people would describe some of the opinions shared by my me and most of the people I speak to as being racist. I would not. I do not have these opinions because of the colour of someones skin. I travel the world quite a lot of have the greatest respect for a large proportion of people I meet.
    I am not saying the British way of life is neccesarily the best but it is the one I choose to live by. If I wanted a pakistani, bangladeshi, indian,french or any other type of lifestyle I could choose to live and integrate in that country.
    If these immigrants are so attracted to the British way of life that they want to come here why do they want to carry on living their own way of life in this country. Surely it would be far easier to stay where they were.

    So I think very few people are actually racist or prejudice. They were just never asked if they wanted to change their culture and are now slowly begin to rebel against having this forced on them.
    But that is not racist!

  • douglas clark

    So, is Ministry of Truth, Proud Brit? Just asking. Secrecy is one thing, racism is another.

  • B4L: Glad I could clear up where I was coming from.

    Douglas: Yes, I think we are on same wavelength in terms of the need to address the structural issues and accept that these communities do have some legitimate grievances and a need to freely express them on their own terms.

    Proud Brit: As I see it ‘British’ is a public identity, a shared and quite loose framework of values which enables people from all manner of backgrounds and cultures to get on with each other relatively peacefully. In fact its less an identity in the conventional sense and more an ‘understanding’ that there is a degree of common ground that we all buy into voluntarily in order to get along as a society.

    Beyond that we all have one, or several, private identities that are no ones business but our own. If someone wishes to live, say, a particularly Sikh, Muslim, French, Italian, Welsh or any other lifestyle in their private life then that’s entirely up to them and no business of mine.

    I respect their right to do that and ask in return only that they respect my right to live my own lifestyle without undue interference.

    This is the same strand of argument I apply to, say, the abortion debate.

    If you have a moral objection to abortion, then you have the perfect right to choose not to have one – what you don’t have the right to do is take the stance that because you object on moral grounds then no one should have the option of an abortion.

  • Douglas:

    No, MoT is ‘Unity’, Proud Brit is a visitor like yourself.

    I should be clear that, personally, I loathe racism with a deep and abiding passion, and have been involved in anti-racist action for more than twenty years.

  • douglas clark

    Unity,

    Sorry.

  • Andy

    Hi,
    I agree with most of what you say, but I believe there is something else within humans as with teratorial animals. If we apply your logic to say the Aboriginals of Australia or the American plains Indian of North America and Canada then we should assume that a disco with all invited and the Aboriginals and plains Indians will overcome “their prejudices” towards the aliens. They will then embrace the aliens culture and have overcome there fears.

  • Andy:

    Back in my youth, when I did a bit travelling around the US – back when travelling actually meant something other than a cosy gap year gig with an NGO or a package trip from Trailfinders – I spent 6 weeks living and working in a Native American community (not on the plains but on the California/Nevada border) and have to say that we got perfectly fine.

    I apply three basic priniciples to dealing with people, whoever they are.

    1. Everyone is entitled to a basic level of respect as a human being,

    2. Never assume you know best – if unsure then ask, and

    3. Always be prepared to listen and learn.

    Those principles have always served me well no matter who I’m dealing with.