Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Ethnics"

You better get ready for more of this, and worse. The Desmond media functions as a kind of pathfinder and vanguard for the racist right. The story itself is little cop - essentially, it hinges on a survey showing that the population of the UK may rise by about 1% a year until 2040. Most of the story is in the headline, and the illustration used (a photograph of two Muslim women in full burqas pushing prams). The use of the word "ethnics" as a code for people with brown skin, probably following some market research to find out what presses readers buttons most effectively, is an attempt to normalise and mainstream racist dialect. Whether the hate figure is "asylum spongers", "gypsies", or Muslims, the Express and the Star find the frontiers and push forward as far as they can. It wasn't long ago that the Star was puffing the English Defence League, running friendly interviews with its leading members, and evidently dabbling with the idea that a violently xenophobic - but not explicitly fascist - group might be worthy of their veneration.

The Desmond media isn't behaving this way simply because the proprietor is a reactionary shit, but because they have carefully segmented out a market, an audience to sell to advertisers. I expect that their painstaking consumer surveys have told them that their readers are economically insecure, racist, and paranoid about the idea that the Third World may be seeping into the UK social landscape - you know, that poor, dirty place that British troops have to go and civilise every so often. You'd probably find that they're the same kinds of people who want to see a return to 'discipline' in schools, 'respect' for authority, and 'family values' - hence, the Express going for the whopper double bigotry burger last week with it's story about gay asylum seekers. It's part of a total, retrograde social vision that seeks solutions to social and economic insecurity in some sort of 'normative' condition that preceded Commonwealth migration and sexual liberation.

For the last ten years, the reaction against a multicultural, multi-racial Britain, with Islamophobia often used as the sharp end of the wedge, has involved using immigration as a narrative to explain domestic and global social processes that are in fact produced by neoliberalism. The revived Powellite ideology has it that immigrants, or "ethnics", are responsible for the breakdown of the welfare state, because people are less willing to pool their resources to look after people of markedly different cultural backgrounds. It blames immigration for placing intolerable stress on public services. It also holds that immigration leads to fewer, less secure, and lower paying, jobs for non-"ethnics". Such arguments are often tied to a kind of protectionist argument in which 'foreign competition' and international out-sourcing are the cause of economic decline.

It isn't hard in this climate, with a recession caused by unfettered finance capital, for politicians such as David Cameron, Frank Field, Ed Balls and others to espouse a nationalist, protectionist argument that, while grudgingly acknowledging that the banks must be subject to some light regulation, comes down especially hard on immigrants. The worse the crisis, the more these arguments will come to the fore. This anti-immigrant discourse is usually hedged by assurances that "ethnics" already living in the UK have nothing to worry about, but the logic of today's immigrant-bashing inescapably leads to the conclusion that previous generations of immigrants and their descendants are responsible for the decline of post-war welfarism, and for the breakdown of social cohesion. Polls probing social attitudes about race and migration tend to find a strong overlap between those who are hostile to immigration, and those who don't believe that black Britons are as properly British as their white counterparts. That's why today's headline talks about "ethnics", because it's a catch-all term for people with brown skin, and those are the people whom the right will attempt to scapegoat for the failings of capitalism.