Thursday, 30 June 2016

Racism and the Referendum

Racism and the Referendum

The online news site “Spiked” takes what I consider to be a rather cynical view of the reported increase in race crime:

“Following the Brexit vote there has been a panic about an apparent ‘spike’ in hate crime. An increase of 57 per cent was widely reported, and, on Twitter, a new hashtag, #PostRefRacism, started trending, with tweeters listing incidents from around Britain. It seems many people, both online and offline, have had personal experience of post-Brexit, racist Britain.”

They notice that a group of protesters from Newcastle carrying a sign that reads ‘Stop immigration, start repatriation’ was part of a planned demo anyway, and that Northumbria Police, who cover the Newcastle area, have indicated that there has been ‘no spike’ in racist incidents reported to them over the weekend. They also say that while it is deplorable, an EDL rally in Sheldon, Birmingham, showed around 30 EDL protesters chanting at passers-by but this too had been planned for months,

It should be noted, by the way, that nine racist crimes were recorded by Northumbria Police over the weekend, although the police do not see that as a “significant” increase, it is nevertheless an increase above the baseline.

They argue that “two of the most prominent examples of post-referendum racism have nothing to do with the referendum at all” and that “Britain has not become a racist country overnight. Remainers who suggest otherwise reveal their own prejudices.”

While “Spiked” is correct to ask us to take a deeper look at the figures, and what they represent, they seem to have biases of their own and I am not convinced of their own objectivity. The two "prominent" incidents reported are not typical of the reported abuse, which is not organised for the most part. And they overlook the fact that organisations could have also planned their strategy for both a remain and Brexit victory.

But there is something in what they say. A statistic which is being widely sent out is that “Reports of hate crime have risen 57 per cent in the aftermath of the EU referendum vote, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council.”

When examined, this means that “There were 85 reports of hate crimes to True Vision, a police-funded reporting website, between Thursday and Sunday compared with 54 reports over the same period four weeks ago.”

That, as Spike points out, is a very small number to base a percentage increase on. The question is how significant is that of the population as a whole. It is certainly a problem, because most statistics on race crime come from self-reporting of victims to the police, rather than a general survey of the population in general.

If we look at a random statistical sample of significance, we see that the 2013 British Social Attitudes reported noted that British people were becoming “more suspicious of immigrants and narrow in their interpretation of who counts as “truly British”.

Writing on this in 2014, Dr Robert Ford noted the generational differences in viewpoints, and how the statistics, when examined, showed that the trend tended to be for the older generations to be more likely to have racist attitudes:

“It is easy to forget that mass immigration is still a recent development in Britain, within the living memories of many voters. A voter drawing her pension for the first time this year would have turned 18 in 1967, a time – one year before Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech – when immigrant minorities were a new and contentious phenomenon and the British born ethnic minority population was small and politically invisible.”

“Voters turning 18 today have grown up in a vastly different society, where ethnic diversity is an established fact of life in most walks of life, and where one in five relationships is between partners from different ethnic groups.”

And he notices how this can also be reflected in attitudes to inter-marriage:

“Nearly half of those born in the 1940s or earlier oppose white-black, or white-Asian intermarriage, and two thirds oppose white-Muslim intermarriage. Among those born since 1980, the equivalent figures are 14% and 28% respectively.”

Amnesty International UK has an example of racial abuse post-Referendum. A member of Amnesty’s Belfast group was verbally racially abused on Saturday night by a man who asked him if he was from the European Union before telling him to “get the fuck out of our country”.

Kate Allen of Amnesty, suggests that this is because ‘Some people now feel licensed to express racist views in a way we haven’t seen for decades’ and notes that “Amnesty is deeply concerned at reports of verbal abuse, attacks on buildings, racist slogans on t-shirts, calls for people to leave the country and other acts of intimidation and hate.”

Not one to simply take anecdotal evidence, Amnesty will conduct research into the rise in racism and xenophobia across the UK. The new research will examine reports of abuse and their causes, including the public and political discourse around both the EU referendum and the London mayoral election.

This will, I suggest, yield some solid statistics of the kind that is needed, and also see what kind of cohorts we are looking at with racial abuse. Is it generational, with the prejudices of the older generation coming to the fore? Are there more older racists shouting abuse than younger ones? That is not to say that some abuse may still come from younger people, but is there a generational demographic, as reflected in the 2013 survey?

Certainly the voting on the Referendum indicated a split between younger voters significantly in favour of remain, while older voters for leaving, almost certainly driven by fears of immigration stirred up by the Brexit campaigners. The research by Dr Robert Ford suggests that this division may also plays out with incidence of racial abuse.

While most incidents involve self reporting rather than sampling, there certainly seems to be a some element of abuse that can only be attributed to the aftermath of the Referendum, and the xenophobic attitudes it engendered.

This can be seen as eyewitnesses have taken to social media to describe incidents they have encountered, and an account called Post Ref Racism was started on both Twitter and Facebook to offer people a “space to document the increase in racism,” according to the page’s description.

When one examines these examples, albeit anecdotal, what is significant is the number of cases in which older people have seen racial abuse in the past, which has declined, but has now shocked them by its resurgence.

A few examples from Twitter demonstrate this:

In utter shock: just been called p**i in my home town! Haven't heard that word here since the 80s..!

Mum got called 'Paki' for 1st time in 40yrs.@Conservatives have created hostile environment for immigrants & British citizens.#PostRefRacism

The British-Nigerian Historian and Broadcaster, David Olusoga, says that: “I’ve never had a day of so many people telling me to go back to Africa. My home town is Newcastle. This afternoon. I feel like I am back in the 1980s.

And certainly as Kate Allen suggests, it also has created a climate in which racist remarks kept in private have become more open and voluble, for example:

This is also the opinion of Nick Lowles, chief executive of the charity Hope Not Hate, who says that “such bullies seem to have felt energized by the immigrant scaremongering that was voiced by elements of the Leave campaign during the referendum debate. They saw the result as a green light to act out their prejudices and foist their hatred on others.”

Doctor colleague was told to 'go home' today. The legitimisation of racism by the political class is terrifying and real. Must fight it

This morning in Manchester there were groups of people shouting racist abuse in the city centre. I have been subject to comments such as "pack up and go back home" even though my home is the UK.

“Spiked” makes great play of the question “what is racism?” with an implicit suggestion that some people are taking relatively minor sleights too seriously.

But if racial abuse can be measured, it would surely be on a continuum, and John O'Connell, from anti-racism group Far Right Watch, said they had recorded more than 90 incidents in the past three days, ranging from "verbal abuse up to physical violence".

Certainly the self-reported comments are from people who are genuinely shocked to discover that they are considered to be non-British because of the colour of their skin, or their accent.

The case of Lauren Stonebanks, an artist and mental health campaigner of mixed race is instructive. Getting off a bus in the city on Monday, an old woman shouted at her: “Get your passport, you’re fucking going home.”

She is used to getting the odd abusive racist comments. But what she has noticed is a marked shift in the type of abusive comments she receives. “I’m used to the random nasty comments,” she says, but “since Brexit the tone has changed. It’s no longer ‘Effing Paki.’ It is now ‘Go Home,’ which used to happen in the 80s and it’s happening again.”

And certainly the anecdotal evidence, growing daily, bears this change of tone out. While the numbers may be relatively small compared to the total population, that does not mean it is not significant nor that it does not reflect deep seated but buried prejudices resurfacing.

After all, no one thinks that all football fans are hooligans, but an increase in the incidence by those who revel in violence would be cause for concern. Innocent bystanders can get hurt in tribal attitudes, and where there may be nothing more than angry words today, there may be bottles thrown tomorrow. 

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