Monitoring and understanding individual cases of racism and the extent to which it is embedded in British society, at least on a statistical level has proven difficult as victims can be reluctant to come forward. However, the UK government has released a report regarding hate crime in England and Wales, in which according to the most recent statistics we note a 10 per cent increase between 2017/18 – 2018/19: three quarters (76%) of these offences were racial hate crimes, with an annual 11 per cent increase overall. According to a poll generated by research specialists at Number Cruncher Politics, two-thirds of the British population recorded experiencing a “fair amount” or “great deal” of racism – with Muslim men and women facing the most discrimination, followed by black men and women. Anti-semitism has also increased, by 7% as reported by the Community Security Trust. Overall, we are seeing increases in racism and as a result a more polarised society.
This panel hopes to bring to light the multi-faceted, and layered dimensions of racism in the UK. Our notable speakers will provide a specialist outlook on the racism experienced by British society at large.
Professor Peter Morey is a Professor of 20th Century English Literature at the University of Birmingham. He specialises in colonial and postcolonial literature and theory, with a focus on culture, nation, diaspora and the politics of representation and he has co-edited several volumes in the area of Islamophobia.
Professor Morey started his talk with the statistics from the government report on hate crime in England and Wales. According to the report, hate crimes increased by 10 % in the recorded 12 months. Breaking down the figures from the report, we find that Muslims are the largest group targeted for hate crimes with 47%. Professor Morey revealed that there are similar findings from the reports across the Western world regarding Islamophobia, reporting that Islam is seen as a threat to the Western world by Western societies.
According to Morey, Islamophobic attitudes don’t emerge in a vacuum, for one thing, we live an age where established civilities of everyday life are continually challenged by the proliferation of new media, where opinions, prejudices, and threats can be blurted out instantaneously. He believes that Muslims now comprise one of the most recognisable targets. “We got a factor in economic and social disenfranchisement leading to frustration and the targeting of minorities”, said Morey and continued his words by stating that political utility of stoking certain prejudices is another cause of Islamophobia. Morey stated, Islamophobia as promoted by the elites at particular moments for political reasons, quoting Deeper Kumar’s words. Furthermore, Professor Morey insists that it is essential to see Islamophobia as a form of racism. As Morey defines Islamophobia, he says, “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a part of the racism that targets of expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
Additionally, Morey touched upon his work around the topic, exploring the connections between politics and culture and how they work together to “frame” Muslims and Islam in particular ways. According to his findings from his research, Muslims have minimal opportunity to construct a public identity outside the stereotypes circulated about them. The public areas of politics, media and culture are built to accept specific versions of the Muslim identity. To that extent in the symbolic interactions that make up the civil society, Muslims are caught to “frame” even they attempt to dismantle it.
While mentioning the negative effect of media, Morey stated that one of the factors that allow Islamophobia to gain a foothold in the daily drip-feed of new stories is that Muslim’s attitudes appear aberrant or threatening. He points out that, there is collective guilt attributed in the actions of Muslims, as they are shown as the same by the mainstream media by often repeated from Islamophobic perspectives.
Lastly, Professor Morey mentioned that cultural and political discourses feed each other to frame Muslims. Muslim’s political utility of Islamophobia became a political tactic. He believes exclusionary populism has been a highly successful deliberate electoral tactic, as populism always needs scapegoats and who better than already marginalised communities, such as Muslims. “Politicians know that there is a sweet spot where prejudice against Muslims and anti-immigration sentiment intersect, and the former is a good way to legitimising the latter”, he quotes. In the end, discrimination does not discriminate, exclusionary narratives of our people endanger us all, they set the tone for much political debate today, and they always allow racism to flourish, Peter Morey says. He believes that populism, sectarianism, and a sensationalist media market pose some of the biggest challenges for communal harmony in the future and it is only possible to make inroads to this phenomenon with addressing those things along with economic inequality.
Dr Aaron Winter is a senior lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice in the School of Business and Law at the University of East London. His focus areas are racism, the far-right, hate crime and terrorism. Dr Aaron Winter starts his words by saying there has been a rise in hate crime and the far right in recent years. Racist and religious hate crimes have been mainly focused on Muslims. Hate crime is seen as visceral explicit extreme, much like the far right but also seen as an individual manifestation. In terms of the far-right, it often engages in Islamophobic attacks. Dr Winter points out that there has been an increase in far rights terrorist plots, referrals to prevent, imprisonment, the number of arrests from white terrorists outstripped others in two years in a row.
There has been a significant increase in far-right threats, no doubt by the emboldened of mainstream legitimisation, Dr Winter says. In his work, he argues that racism in the far right had been mainstreamed and encouraged in both the UK and US. This plays a role in people’s ability to feel free to attack others. The attacks do not need to come from the mainstream or the far right but are a part of a growing mainstream ecosystem.
Furthermore, Dr Winter claims that far-right attacks and hate crimes are extremely dangerous, but they are a symptom of a bigger story. He believes that there is an increasing legitimisation of a racist scapegoating both in the media and political sphere. Compared to other classes and categories of hate crime, religion and race are the primary areas of rises, but they are not disconnected to the others targeting, Dr Winter indicates. This is partly because as we saw with the mainstreaming of racism within media and political ecosystem. We know a legitimisation of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Dr Winter continues his talk by stating that there is an explicitly hostile environment created by the politicians, policymakers. On top of demonisation of black lives matter movement and anti-racists, public defences of colonialism and monuments to slave traders, there are sociological factors. One of the elements, Dr Winter argues, is scapegoating that has been exacerbated and weaponised within the context of particular historical developments and events. Brexit, nativism and racism that came with it, BLM protests, lockdown, distractions from the economic crisis, austerity, and political alignments on both the right and left, Dr Winter lists. These are the events, historical developments and political discourses that have solidified in the past few years an innate that enable and mainstream racism in the far right.
He then touches upon his work where he mentions “populist hype”, he says that it is called populism because the media calls it populism but in reality, it is a euphemism for racism for the far-right and racist opportunists. The definition of the populist hype, as Winter explains, it is a discourse that attributes the alleged rise in far-right, populist parties, and racist ideas to the left-behind white working class. As if it is a democratic and corrective imperative correction for some classed injustice. The mainstream parties must engage with it to represent the population. This discourse overestimates the significance of far-right but gives it more legitimacy. The populist hype negates the humanity of Muslims, immigrants and other racialised people; they only serve as scapegoats within this populist narrative, Winter argues.
According to Dr Winter, the second narrative is liberal racism. This is the way the democratic societies deploy progress narratives where racism defined as the liberal extreme it’s explicit and historic in terms of the far-right fascism that we deem dead, defeated, unacceptable and fringe. In this narrative, Liberalism is a bulwark against racism in the far right which not only negates the ongoing racism within liberal societies but ignores the way post-race narratives which are often constructed on this narrative. This paved the way for racism denialism, Dr Winter states. He goes on to explain “racism denialism”. Racism denialism is how racism cast racism as of the past; we defeated racism, so stop talking about it, which is an inherent contradiction. Liberal racism that denies racism in the present and celebrates this alleged defeat of it. It not only denies the ongoing legacies racism and systemic racism in our structural institutions but spends a lot of time defending the monument of that racism. Dr Winter states that we can see all these claims and discourses made in response to BLM movement. We can see this in the context of Islamophobia, how Liberalism is weaponised against Muslims and Islam as illiberal. Casting Islam and Muslims as illiberal in a liberal context provides an opportunity for liberal racism. This Liberalism is also weaponised to platform racist in the far-right often in the guise of free speech and balance.
Dr Winter continues his talk by answering the question, “what do we do about the rise of hate crime and the far right?”. We need to look at the context, Dr Winter says. One, we need to look into the context of a racist system that is both structurally and institutionally racist. Two, the way the hate crime and the far-right used as a distraction from wider systemic racism. He argues mainstreaming of racism in the far right embolden racists. It plays a role in increased hate crimes. Dr Winter finishes his talk by saying, by being able to stop mainstreaming racism, we need to establish solidarity between communities at the sharp end of all hate, empower civil society and activists and particularly knowing how effectively dividing rule has been used.
Lee Jasper, First Black Deputy Mayor of London and Senior Policy Director for Equalities and Policing start his speech by stating that the growth of race hate crime institutionalised racism to swing to the right. In his experience, whenever economies in liberal democracies begin to decline, racism in the extreme right rise. We have seen the example of this in the during the period of austerity and financial crisis. So, there is a relationship between the economic conditions and the social atmosphere concerning race equality and anti-racism, Jasper says. Liberal democracies perennially use racism and points at the minorities as the means of distraction for the ills of failing economies and failing governments.
Lee Jasper argues that the government picks up on the most unpopular minorities at any given time to be able to hide the problems within its system. The extent to which governments take advantage of a moral panic crisis driven by fearmongering, by the demonisation of particular communities such as secularisation of the Islamic community or the fears of crime rate for the black communities. The state is opposing in introducing legislation targeting that minority that is extended by creeping an infection, and it begins to extend the power of policing, criminal justice and the state, the security forces largely predicated on this is a profoundly unpopular minority.
Lee Jasper believes that following on the economic crisis; we have seen a rise in white supremacy and racial terrorism against all sorts of groups nationwide and Muslim community globally. The ascension of Donald Trump has given the final seal of approval for the white supremacy, Lee Jasper says. Jasper continues his talk by stating that he is conscious of the brutalisation of African Caribbean diasporas around the world, as a part of the African Caribbean community. The deportation of black British citizens to the countries they have never been to shows that the recent governments have fundamentally broken a public contract of citizenship between a multicultural democracy in the state. Black and Muslim communities begin to doubt their very tenure; they begin to lose confidence in the extent which this is a place to raise, live and work. Jasper states that for his community, lots of people decided that the British project is over, and they are moving to better economic climates. But more importantly, they are moving to places which institutionalised racism is not as toxic as it is in the UK.
Lee Jasper continues by stating that British society has a racist, right-wing media that amplifies all of the tactics by the current governments about keeping the community divided and ruling. Jasper claims that Brexit itself has been the sort of the major project that has allowed the advance of racism. Racism is normalised as the patriotic duty for the nation, and this normalisation is extremely toxic. The danger of this is ancestrally and historically recognised. It is looming on the horizon for a Britain that continues to descend into economic recession and more extremity on the right-wing.
Jasper believes that the white working-class must be brought to the discussion. For black communities, race hate crime is perpetrated mainly on them by people in their communities and people close to their communities. Not that we are fundamentally pathologising white working-class communities Jasper says, but we need to give expression to the reality. Jasper argues that the most experienced race hate crime, where you are attacked for the colour of your skin, comes from the white working-class, although it is amplified by the elites and government. In summarization, we have seen a rise of attacks on people of colour. Focusing on black people in any part of the community, whether they are a political actor or a dancer, they get hostile reaction and hate. What is unfortunate is that this hate is not seen as objectionable. This worries me, says Jasper. There is no evidence of necessary political forces. Lee argues that there needs to be solidarity between Muslim and black communities about building a common alliance against the bulwark hitting their ways. The attempts of keeping them divided must be ignored, and these communities must stand together to the hate.