And now for something completely different. After the self-indulgent navel-gazing of my first blog, and the trivial nonsense of my second, I’m going to talk about a serious subject: racism and immigration.
It’s more than forty-eight years since Enoch Powell gave his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in the Houses of Parliament. Referring to Virgil’s Aeneid, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West spoke in apocalyptic terms about the supposed dangers of mass immigration. Despite the politician’s dismissal and the condemnation he received from his peers, the public mood at the time was not entirely at odds with the opinions he espoused. During the same decade, on the other side of the Atlantic, huge swathes of normal American people railed against the Civil Rights movement. Many still believed that African-Americans should be second-class citizens, with some willing to use lethal force to defend their point of view.
It is perhaps heartening that we look back on these times with distaste; it seems that both nations have come a long way with regards to attitudes towards racial equality, opportunity and integration.
However, it seems that racism is becoming an issue again. In the UK, right-wing Euro-sceptic party UKIP are becoming more popular all the time. Of course, I accept that many UKIP supporters back Nigel Farage for the right reasons: they believe that his mission to separate from the European Union would benefit the country if it were realised. But not all are so well-meaning. If it weren’t for the much-derided first past the post electoral system, this band of reactionaries would have a firm foothold in the House of Commons. Which is worrying, because a significant proportion of UKIP voters are racist – to a degree, at least – and would probably vote for less-moderate right-wingers if they had the media platform UKIP have. Farage’s party hides overtly-xenophobic opinions such as “Africans are bringing HIV to Britain” behind less unsavoury theories like “Britain is being weakened by EU membership.” Their general message is this: we need to stop immigration and keep foreigners out, for they are the problem with Broken Britain. It saddens me that just seventy years after the end of World War Two, when fascism and bigotry were roundly defeated, UKIP got six million votes. They are exploiting the disenchantment caused by poverty and loss of national identity, just as the Nationalist Socialist party did in 1920s Germany.
And don’t even get me started on the likes of Britain First. This social-media savvy collection of ne’er-do-wells are becoming notorious for their Islamophobic views and protests. Judging by their poorly-attended demonstration in Luton, it appears most of their followers are internet warriors, happy to hit share or like but unwilling to put down their mobile/tablet/laptop and take to the street. But the popularity of such hate-peddlers is concerning nonetheless.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of national attitudes to race is the behaviour of our own government. I’m no fan of the current administration for a number of other reasons, but they can be saved for another day. Sticking with immigration, it has become so divisive that until recently, David Cameron was willing to let countless refugees drown rather than risk an anti-migration backlash. Though the rivers of Britain may not be foaming with blood, there is far too much being shed in the Mediterranean. Don’t be fooled by the selfless people who say “I’d have a refugee in my house” – there are still many who want to stop the refugees from landing on British soil, whatever the cost. Hence Theresa May’s draconian speech at the Tory Party Conference last week.
In the USA, racial tensions are on the rise, with actual blood being spilt. The Charleston church shooting, the riots in Ferguson and elsewhere and the supposed rise of the KKK suggest that, once again, racism is becoming an issue worth killing or dying for. Opportunistic rabble-rousers are using the situation to foment trouble, and Obama’s term in office, which began with such optimism, seems to have only worsened the divide. The fact that uber-bigot Donald Trump is even being considered as a candidate is indicative of the sad state of affairs in the Land of the Free.
Looking around the world, racism, sectarianism and bigotry are more of a problem than ever before. In the parched deserts of the Middle East, blood stains the sands with every passing minute as IS conduct their murderous campaign of oppression and expansion. The far-right is on the rise in Europe, as minorities are blamed for austerity and other social ills.
The common denominator is the use of scapegoats. Too many Britons see Eastern Europeans, Africans and Asians as the reason for their troubles when they should be blaming the bankers and the politicians for the recession. Similarly, plenty of Americans cite illegal immigration as the cause of economic hardship rather than the recession. Politically-driven scapegoating, discrimination and bigotry are central themes in my SUBNORMAL series. The victims in my books are disabled people, not ethnic minorities, but the message is the same: the wrong people are being blamed for our problems, and people are being hurt as a result. Communities are divided and human beings are wary of their fellows for no good reason.
Apologies if my piece has been markedly Anglo/American-centric. Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of the rise in racial tensions in our two countries is the fact that our two countries owe a great deal to immigration and racial integration. Britain, a tiny island nation, has punched above its weight for centuries thanks in part to its multi-cultural make-up. The US has risen to prominence in just over two centuries. It’s no coincidence that America is also a melting-pot of different races.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions!