Racism is on the rise in the UK, having increased exponentially over recent years, fuelled by economic recession and anti-migrant sentiment.
So recently there has been the news of landlords in London refusing to let properties to black people. This was something that most people believed had disappeared with the no Blacks, no Irish, no dogs notices so commonplace in the 1960s and 70s.
This form of discrimination was made illegal by the Race Relations Act of 1976. It remains so, yet as the BBC reporters discovered the law is being flouted by these rogue landlords. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission is now to investigate the incidences.
A major driver of the latest wave or racism is the poisonous debate on immigration. As a result of wildly inaccurate information, the public discourse on immigration is set almost entirely on the default position of reducing numbers. No political party is prepared to make the positive case for immigration.
Much of the hysteria around immigration is fueled by the press, who sell papers on the back of scare story headlines about the subject. Hardly the basis for a balanced debate or progressive policy making.
The anti-immigration ferment has resulted in the scenes like those of Home Office deployed white vans going round London streets with the message “In the UK illegally – go home or face arrest.” As these vans make their way through the multi-ethnic streets of Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Brent, Ealing, Barnet and Harlow, what has been the effect on the communities in those areas?
Another driver of racism and division has been the ongoing efforts of politicians and media to label Muslims in the UK as a suspect community. This has been going on since the so called war on terror began in 2001.
Muslims have been treated as the Irish before them, with the whole community treated as suspect. This has seen police stop and search on Asians increasing incredibly. Whenever there is an incident, that happens to involve a Muslim, the whole community gets the blame.
The effect of this approach has been to make the community draw in on itself feeling under threat. The net result being that those who are a real threat will find it far easier to hide and operate. It has all happened before with the Irish but few lessons seem to have been learned.
The net effect of all these developments has been to increase racial tension. The economic recession has helped increase racism. A situation where work is in short supply sees the indigenous community turning to blame others. The cry that the immigrants are coming to take our jobs is never far from the headlines. The fact that immigrants are often coming to do jobs that the indigenous don’t want to do is a less often heard.
The reality is that Black and minority ethnic peoples (BME) are usually hit hardest by economic recession. Many are at the bottom of the pile, so when hard times come the group of people worst effected are always likely to be BME females.
The sad reality is that many in the white indigenous working class do not seem to understand or want to understand the common circumstances that they share with their BME brothers and sisters.
Professor of Education Gus John believes the education system has much to answer for in bringing about a situation, where the white working classes have progressed little beyond a misguided concept of identity bound up in imperialism. “You have to ask what is the point of education in a post colonial world? Why has no post war government put racism high on the educational agenda?” said Professor John.
The combination of economic hard times and growing racism has seen a resurgence of far right groups across Europe. In the UK, there has been the BNP and English Defence League peddling race based politics. In Europe, there are groups like Golden Dawn in Greece and the Northern League in Italy on the rise.
The economic recession has allowed the seeds of racism and hatred to grow, thereby benefiting the far right.
There was a time before when this combination of circumstances came together to devastating effect. It was the 1930s, which saw the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini sweep across Europe. Although, people today like to think this could never happen again, the seeds are there from which just such a political outcome could develop. History offers many warnings, few of which are being heeded at present.
There is a need now for a re-establishment of tolerant pluralism in our society. Stop looking to blame the other for societal woes. Look instead to some of the real causes of economic hardship: the banks, multinational companies and individuals that don’t pay their taxes. Also accept that immigration is good. It has provided a vibrant diverse society in Britain that should be valued. Indeed, in the fullness of time it will probably prove to be immigration that contributes most in enabling this country to compete on the world stage in economic terms...that is if anyone still wants to come here.