The Ins and Out of Racism

There has been a furore in the British media over a poster released by Operation Black Vote intended to encourage black and minority ethnic voters to register to vote in the EU referendum. Said poster features an Asian woman sitting serenely opposite a skinhead jabbing his finger towards her on a perfectly-balanced seesaw with the slogan “A Vote Is A Vote” (some non-Britons may be a little confused at this point, but Black is regularly used as an umbrella term for anyone who isn’t white, regardless of actual skin colour or ethnicity).

The intention of the poster was to remind minority voters that their vote has as much influence as anyone else’s (and, by extension, that by not voting they could be handing undue influence to racists), which is a perfectly reasonable message. The problem, of course, is that the image looks suspiciously like one intended to demonise the Out the campaign by associating it with thugs, given that charges of racism are regularly laid against UKIP and anyone who expresses a desire to see immigration curtailed. Given that the message could have been conveyed just by showing a non-stereotyped white person (ie that all votes are equal regardless of skin colour) only encourages the suspicion that this was intentional.

The response of OBV only emphasises the likelihood that this was the intention as, while they do make the point that both camps have descended into the gutter at times (a point that the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, a keen supporter of the EU, has made about the In campaign), the only politicians they quote are the Out-supporting Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. Ironically, while immigration has been a major issue of the debate, it’s immigration from Europe that is the primary focus, while immigrants from the rest of the world have a harder time getting into Britain or leave to remain (just consider the plight of Zimbabweans, for one example). Indeed, by offering restrictions on immigration from outside the EU, the In camp are a bigger threat to non-European immigrants than those who want to leave.

It should also be noted that the quotations used by OBV in its response are taken out of context to imply a racism not inherent in the original statements. When Boris Johnson spoke about Obama’s attitude towards Britain being shaped by his ‘half-Kenyan’ heritage, it referred (perhaps a little clumsily) to the fact that his father claimed to have been tortured by British troops during the Mau Mau campaign, a fact that has clearly coloured Obama’s feelings towards the British. Meanwhile, the quotation attributed to Nigel Farage that Labour had encouraged excessive immigration to “rub our noses in diversity” is one that has been confirmed by Labour sources, making it a statement of fact not opinion. In fact, excessive and mismanaged immigration, such as failing to vet or deport violent criminals and terrorists, and not ensuring there is sufficient housing and services, has done much to stoke racial hatred.

Of course, as with any movement, especially on an issue like this, which affects everyone, it will be possible to locate members of either camp who are racist, but the debate isn’t about race (xenophobia would be a more plausible accusation to throw at some members of the Out camp). But, despite this, race is an issue that should be considered, but not for the reasons usually implied. Europe is essentially a rich white men’s club of cultural chauvinists, inward looking and regressive despite how it likes to portray itself. It is also beset with neo-Nazism and a rise in rightwing governments who have no love for minorities.

One slur hurled by supporters of the EU is that those who support Brexit are yearning for ‘the white commonwealth’. Probably some do, but most of us would like to be reunited with the broader Commonwealth, which is a rainbow of races and cultures and offers far more opportunities for the future than the stale and paranoid Europeans-only club we find ourselves stuck in at the moment.

One Response to “The Ins and Out of Racism”
  1. atomtrident says:

    I especially like your last 2 paragraphs. Spot on.

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