Socialist Worker

Is Britain more racist than it used to be?

Issue No. 2208

The police are seven times more likely to stop and search you if you’re black than if you’re white, a government report revealed last week.

Race hate attacks are on the rise – 660 were recorded last year – and the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey shows a significant increase in Islamophobia.

These statistics, and the rise of the racist English Defence League, paint a picture of a society that is becoming more racist.

However, the reality is more contradictory than that.

The statistics show a decline in “old fashioned” open racism, but at the same time racism is making a comeback in new forms.

A generation ago interracial relationships and marriages were seen by some as something out of the ordinary but are now widely accepted.

The last census shows that nearly half of British-born African-Caribbean men now have white partners.

Black and white people live side-by-side, work together and socialise together.

The number of black and Asian local councillors is on the increase as is the number of MPs from ethnic minorities – although there are still far too few.

These changes go hand in hand with a society that has seen battles over a range of issues that have changed attitudes for the better, from gay rights to the acceptance of single parents and couples living together outside of marriage.

But each time working class struggle overcomes a prejudice, people are more likely to blame the ruling class for society’s problems.

So our rulers have to seek ways to repackage racism and sell it back to us in new forms.

Today, many people have bought into the idea that opposing immigration, or being concerned about the supposed threat of “Islamic extremism”, is not racist.

Anti-migrant ideas are couched in the language of “culture” and “identity” – not race.

We are told that arguments about Muslims wearing the hijab are vital questions of “defending our way of life”.

The truth is that they are racist.

Today our rulers are working to create a perception of Islam as a backward religion out to rule the world – making every Muslim a potential terrorist.

These ideas are picked up on and driven through by the media, who whip up hysteria and racism so that we see a bomber behind every veil.

The idea of “good” and “bad” Muslims has become frighteningly commonplace.

Yet in the last year, two of the most serious bomb plots in Europe were by white far right racists who were planning to kill Muslims. And last year there were five firebomb attacks on mosques.

You rarely read about these in the press. Instead the newspapers are full of handwringing over “extremist preachers” and “Muslim bombers”.

This barrage of lies and distortions helps new racist ideas take hold.

Racism – taking physical and cultural differences between people and turning them into the reason for treating them differently – is a tool in the hands of the ruling class, who are constantly seeking new ways to divide working people.

It lets them create scapegoats for problems really caused by bosses and politicians – unemployment, lack of affordable housing, poverty and so on.

Racism also acts as justification for the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which they say are to spread “Western democracy”.

This racism is still at the heart of the state. The figures for stop and search show the police remain racist to the core – but they are not alone.

Black people are five times more likely to be imprisoned than white people and twice as likely to be unemployed. Black students are three times more likely to be excluded from school.

The Tories will be looking to deepen divisions in the working class by encouraging racist scapegoating.

But what we have on our side is the reality that the working class has historically been the force which has led the struggle against racism.

Through the unions and campaigns against injustice, racism is broken down. Every act of unity can destroy years of prejudice.

That is why the left has to tackle Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment for what it is – racism.

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Tue 29 Jun 2010, 18:49 BST
Issue No. 2208
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