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Why Is Xenophobia Still An Acceptable Form Of Bigotry?

17/10/2016 12:41

It is a quirk of democracy that the achievement of power often diminishes your ability to speak freely. Luckily I am neither famous nor dependent on the votes of those who disagree with me, and so I can say what Gordon Brown could not: if you blame your inability to access services on an influx of Eastern Europeans, you are a bigot. I can say what Hilary Clinton could not: if you endorse barring all Muslims from entering your country and a depiction of all Mexican immigrants as drug-users, criminals and rapists (I could go on, but there's a word limit) then you are "deplorable".

Such statements should be self-evident, yet the protection -and therefore validation- of bigoted views is worryingly in vogue. If you are a British Brexiteer harping on about 'taking back control' of my country from iniquitous immigrants and venal Europeans then Theresa May is right to say that I "find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal". But her decision to designate liberal voices like mine as the villain in this exchange is heart-breaking.

Like all good persecutors, the anti-immigration brigade has developed a victim complex. It centres around accusations of racism, which they term unfair for a group who care not about the colour of your skin so much as the colour of your passport. They are technically correct - prejudice against people from a different country is called xenophobia, not racism. But now we've got our semantics straightened out, let's move onto Prejudice 101: discrimination against any social group is morally wrong. So why are xenophobes allowed to vent their prejudice freely, with support from media and politicians alike?

Common answer: it's not prejudice, it's a justifiable concern for lack of space / resources / jobs. Except that when you choose to allocate assets based on the assumption that one social group is more deserving than another, that is prejudice. Being born on a particular patch of land is as much of a choice as being born with a particular skin colour or a particular set of genitals. Assuming that any of these accidents of birth should entitle you to priority over another in the sharing out of the world's wealth is the definition of arrogant selfishness.

To be clear, I am advocating free-market policies, not socialist ones. I am not suggesting that those born in a rich country should have their luck stripped from them. What I am saying is that if you agitate for laws and policies specifically aimed at stopping a certain category of people from even attempting to achieve the same things you covet - a job, a house, a life in Britain- then that is unjustifiable and immoral.

There are genuine, reasonable grievances to be had by people in this country regarding their standard of living. But aiming ire at immigrants rather than the powerful individuals and forces responsible for these predicaments is prejudiced and unproductive. Houses aren't affordable because homeowners, who vote, would see a big depletion in their net worth if prices dropped. Labour intensive workers are unemployed because the government is not sufficiently reinvesting the benefits of globalisation and automation in retraining schemes. The NHS is creaking because a larger, older, fatter, population is hideously expensive to treat. All of these problems are caused, exacerbated and unsolved because of British people and British governments.

In a different political climate, we could have had sensible conversations about policies to increase housebuilding (hint to the government: it involves actually building more houses), or laws to prevent companies circumnavigating the minimum wage. I'm not opposed to requirements that people pay into a system before they extract benefits from it, I just want the same rules to apply to all human beings.

Instead, I find myself fielding trite complaints about the disintegration of British culture (although, oddly, never in regards to American films, German cars, or Indian food). Let's be clear: the proportion of our country who are non-British is a mere 8.7%. Within that, a huge diversity of different cultures is represented. The idea that any single group would have the numbers or the influence to fundamentally reshape British culture is ludicrous scaremongering.

History is full of the dangers of prejudice and discrimination. Forcing business to declare their proportion of foreign workers is not so far from making said workers wear a star. If you think Britain should be for the British alone then I for one will tell you straight: you are selfish, you are bigoted, and you are wrong.

I only wish someone more powerful than I would tell you so.

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