Referring to a report on ethnicity by think tank Policy Exchange, Helen Barnard of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has stressed that the report 'does not highlight one of the most important facts about ethnicity in Britain: there is more poverty in every ethnic minority group than among the White British population'. Other modern manifestations of colour-coded racism can be found in some police forces, relate to mental health issues, and football matches remain a hotbed of racism. A largely ignored form of racism related to Britain's colonial past is experienced by the UK's Chinese communities.
However, colour-coded racism does not tell the whole story. Racism can also be non-colour-coded. Lord Levy, Labour's former chief fundraiser under Tony Blair, has warned he could quit the party if it does not do more to confront antisemitism within its ranks. In fact, antisemitism is a long-standing and ongoing form of racism in the society in general. Anti-Gypsy Roma and Traveller racism also has a long history in the UK. Thus the liberal think tank CentreForum finds that the worst school performers are white Irish traveller children (anti-Irish racism per se also dates back centuries), followed by 'white gypsy/Roma' children - both of which school fails by a long chalk.
Leading theoretician at the Institute of Race Relations, Ambalavaner Sivanandan has described the racism directed at white Eastern Europeans as xeno-racism (racism in substance, but 'xeno' in form). Currently 'blue on blue' abuse and recriminations rage as to whether a seven year 'emergency brake' on EU migrants claiming in-work benefits along with the restriction of child benefits to the rate of their home country is enough to keep Britain in the EU. This spat within the Conservative Party can be traced back to David Cameron's pledge in January 2013 for an in/out choice - a tactic to prevent Tory defection to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) - and to the run-up to the 2015 General Election where second only to the future of the NHS, the playing of the 'race' card (who can out-UKIP UKIP) was the predominant feature of the major parties.
While anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller racism and xeno-racism are non-colour-coded, that meted out to migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers may be termed 'hybridist' in that, given their diverse countries of origin, whether skin colour is a factor or not is not clear. A couple of months after the Tories won an outright majority in the General Election in May 2015, David Cameron spoke of 'a swarm of people' crossing the Mediterranean for a better life in Britain, while in February 2016, as part of the scaremongering which is a central feature of the Referendum campaign, he claimed that leaving the EU could result in refugees decamping from Calais and setting up in parts of the UK. More recently, migrants on the Greek-Macedonian border trying to reach northern Europe, and others camped at Calais were simultaneously tear-gassed, and United Nations Refugee spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, warns that Europe is 'on the cusp of a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis'.
Despite all this, it is a commonly held belief that antipathy to those seeking a safer or better life in the UK is not racist. Thus the Archbishop of Canterbury says that Britons have a 'justified' fear of mass immigration and that it is 'absolutely outrageous' to say that this is racist. Even if some people's anti-migrant sentiments are not intentionally racist, their effects are racist nevertheless.
Islamophobia, which features in anti-migrant racism as well as being a major form of racism in its own right, may also be thought of as hybridist. To quote Sivananandan again, 'the victims are marked out not so much by their colour as by their beards and headscarves'.
Whatever the result of the Referendum, which is in large part a reactionary façade reinforcing and intensifying non-colour-coded racism rather than articulating the nature of the EU and the role it plays, one thing is clear: the ongoing 'civil war' among the Tories has accentuated the urgent necessity for fresh policy initiatives from a Left-driven (both with respect to grassroots support and leadership) Labour Party. One of its major tasks must be to explore the links between migration and racism, thereby busting the myth that opposition to immigration has nothing to do with racism. More generally, there is a need to articulate the nature of the multifarious forms of racism in the UK, colour-coded, non-colour-coded and hybridist, and to challenge them all head-on.
Mike Cole is Professor in Education at the University of East London and author of Racism: a Critical Analysis, published by Pluto Press
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