Recent claims that the behaviour of Roma people is different to that of others in Sheffield would be comic if they weren’t so serious.
Apparently Roma teenagers stand on street corners in groups listening to music. Some adults drink and are loud.
The right wing media often claims that this is how all poor and working class people behave. When they are not attacking Roma they run features complaining about binge drinking and “anti-social” behaviour on working class estates.
The same papers regularly suggest that all Muslims are potential paedophiles. Now they are defending what they call the respectable Pakistani community against Roma.
Many say that this anti-Roma bigotry isn’t racism. Yet people who would never say all Africans are dirty and smelly are happy to stigmatise all Roma.
Respectable liberals said they were proud to be Islamophobic just a few years ago. Anti-racists had to fight tooth and nail to say that scapegoating Muslims is racism.
And bigotry against Muslims turned into assaults on anyone who wasn’t white when the English Defence League took to the streets.
The papers have sown confusion between Roma, who in this case largely came from Slovakia, and Romanians.
This is because the panic over Roma is part of a wider racist scare about immigration.
Romanians will have the right to travel to Britain as full members of the European Union from January next year.
During an anti-immigrant scare in 1976 Socialist Worker proudly ran the front page headline, “They’re Welcome Here”.
The article underneath countered almost identical arguments to those raised today. It argued that Britain was not overcrowded, pointing to the multiple homes of the rich.
It pointed out that Britain isn’t “our country”, and that immigrants are not responsible for low wages or poor housing.
It showed that the way immigration is raised is always racist.
Some of those on the right have recently spoken out in favour of immigration. They see it as being in their economic interest.
But migrants remain a useful scapegoat and way of dividing workers—so the racism remains.
Labour figures claim to be tacking left by raising the “taboo” subject of the “problems” of migrants. Yet politicians whip up panic about immigration week in, week out. It isn’t taboo—it’s standard.
Encouraging workers to turn on each other will benefit no one except the bigots and the rich.
Labour politicians who flirt with this politics should remember that once the racist genie is out of the bottle it isn’t easy to put back in.