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Stop Calling Hate Crime Against White Polish People "Racism"

26/10/2016 17:55
Kerstin Waurick via Getty Images

When I was born my parents wanted to acknowledge my heritage by giving me a Polish middle name. While the Polish midwife insisted "Vadka is a beautiful name for a baby!" my parents instead opted for "Natashka" after a Polish contestant they watched on Cilla Black's Blind Date. My surname, "Kon", is the Polish version of Cohen. This makes my foreign roots pretty clear from the start - if you meet me by seeing my name written down first, that is. And the rise of social media means that many people meet me in the digital world before, if ever, meeting me in real life.

But the danger that the anonymity of social media brings is that it allows particularly pernicious individuals to spew their hate online without any real-life consequences for themselves. This was illustrated to me at a young age, when someone made a fake Facebook account of my older sister and uploaded pictures of her with swastikas drawn on her face.

My father, a freelance worker, told me that he had recently seen a sharp decrease in the job offers he was receiving. He puts this down to more job opportunities being secured online now, where people see his foreign name before they meet him face-to-face. He reckons Mr Smith gets the jobs before Mr Kon. As a recent graduate struggling to get my first foot on the career ladder, with the same surname as my dad and the same reliance on online applications, this terrifies me.

In post-Brexit Britain we are seeing a spike in hate crime reminiscent of when my Jewish grandfather fled his hometown Łódź during World War Two to come to England, which was sold as a promised land of welcome acceptance. Instead, he found that he couldn't get work with his medical qualifications because British people didn't want to be touched by a Jew.

The Polish Embassy spoke out about the rise in reported hate crime against Polish people since the Brexit vote, which has included brutal and unprovoked attacks such as that against a Polish man in Harlow, Essex, who tragically died from his injuries. BBC news has dedicated large segments of its prime time news programmes to covering hate crime against Polish people in Britain, showing instances of xenophobic abuse and calling it "racist". But is "racist" really the right word for these attacks?

The majority of hate crime against Polish people in Britain is white-on-white violence. While it is utterly deplorable, malignant and unacceptable, nationalist discrimination against other white people isn't racism. Why are we using the wrong term to describe a distinct form of hate? It is also worth noting that while "black-on-black" crime is a phrase used to dismiss violence which is often cultivated by a culture of police brutality and poverty, "white-on-white" violence is never given that label.

But while the media is quick to brand hate crime against white Polish people as "racism", they are reluctant to use the same label for the rise in Islamophobic attacks. I have seen countless reports on social media from Muslim friends who have had obscenities shouted at them in the streets, had their clothing grabbed by strangers and even been spat at. This is something that I can confirm is just not the reality for most white people of any nationality. A stranger cannot not identify my heritage from my appearance alone, and therefore I am not the target for racist hate that many other Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) groups are facing in Britain today.

While British nationalists may use other markers to help direct their hate, such as people speaking different languages, it cannot be denied that being white gives most of us a certain level of privilege to walk down the street without being attacked. There is a distinction between violence directed towards white Polish people, based on their language or nationality, and racist abuse. It is offensive to pretend otherwise, erasing hundreds of years of European white supremacy inflicted upon much of the rest of the world.

The media then legitimise Islamophobic views by actively perpetuating it through their platforms. Take the recent incident between the Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie and Channel 4 News' Fatima Manji for example, in which he complained that she, as a woman wearing a hijab, should not report on what he called "yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim" (the Nice terror attack in July). But press watchdog IPSO ruled in favour of MacKenzine's right to publish this offensive opinion. So while one form of hate is classified as "racism" with distaste towards the offenders, others are still institutionally stamped fair game.

By legitimising slurs against People Of Colour (POC) while vilifying hate crimes against white Polish people, the politically-motivated media reinforces racist power structures. Racism is a structure which relies on one group having power while others are powerless. Historically, and presently, this benefits white people at the expense of POC. Calling hate crime against white people of different nationalities "racism" reinforces the myth that reverse racism exists, keeping focus on the white race as the victim rather than the aggressor and subtly shifting any blame from historically (and ongoing) oppressive white supremacy.

Therefore, calling hate crime against white Polish people "racism" only continues the racist cycle of power, erasing the real racism experienced by Muslims and other POC. Please don't be under the impression that this in any way comes from concern for the status and wellbeing of white migrants and refugees. Legitimate hate crimes experienced by white Polish people are being weaponised to serve a political purpose.

Instead, we should take an intersectional approach to combating all forms of discrimination rather than focusing on hate targeted towards one group. We cannot tackle hate crime against Polish migrants without changing our attitudes towards migrants and refugees as a whole. We must instead stand together in the face of this bleak situation, and work united to stamp out the fascism that is once again threatening our cohesive way of life.

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