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10 myths of the UK's far right
September 17, 2012 8:33 AM   Subscribe

"This is what anti-racism looks like. Equal opportunities are not handed down from on high by Westminster bureaucrats; they have been fought for by ordinary men and women. Even at its peak, the BNP never spoke for anywhere near the majority of working-class white people – in Dagenham, or anywhere else. Daniel Trilling, in The Guardian on Ten myths of the UK's far right.

Daniel Trilling is the author of Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain's Far Right.
posted by MartinWisse (26 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
This, from the comments, sums it up for me:

"You are dispelling 'myth' with your own personal opinion, anecdotes and sparse references to fact topped off with a generous dollop of the same tired 'ripostes' that for some reason the left is currently as fond of spouting as mindlessly as an EDL footman shouts racist slurs. Well done, you are as dogmatic, preachy and self righteous as the far right you claim to hate."

Also, he has a book to sell.
posted by marienbad at 9:04 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The BNP's rise was Labour's problem alone.
This is one I strongly disagree with. Labour has really dropped the ball on poor working-class whites. Of course the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives didn't step into the gap, why in the hell would they?
posted by Jehan at 9:09 AM on September 17, 2012


This is one I strongly disagree with.

You mean you disagree that it's a myth? Or you think it's a particularly egregious myth?
posted by yoink at 9:15 AM on September 17, 2012


This, from the comments, sums it up for me.

That's a bit dumb, to approve of somebody who thinks criticising the far right (and/or the myths surrounding it) is the same as actually being on the far right.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:28 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Isn't it the case that the BNP are the working-class xenophobes (and thus Labour's problem, electorally speaking) whereas the UKIP were the aspirational middle-class ones (and thus the Tories' problem)?

That's England for you; even racism is a medium for expressing class distinctions.
posted by acb at 9:33 AM on September 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


Well done, you are as dogmatic, preachy and self righteous as the far right you claim to hate."

As if being dogmatic, preachy and self-righteous are the real problem with the far right, and not their being racist, fascist thugs.
posted by howfar at 10:05 AM on September 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


What an incredibly successful derail from the very first post! Hey, maybe we should talk about, you know, fascism in Britain and not, you know, glib dismissals of concern over the former.
posted by Catchfire at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You mean you disagree that it's a myth? Or you think it's a particularly egregious myth?
The former. That is why I said, "Labour has really dropped the ball on poor working-class whites." Really you can expand that to any working-class person, they don't have to be white.
posted by Jehan at 10:42 AM on September 17, 2012


I'm reading Trilling's book at the moment. It's rigorous and surprisingly fairminded. Not in the least self-righteous. Also it's a pleasure to read, he writes very well with an ear for rhythm and pace.
posted by WPW at 11:22 AM on September 17, 2012


The true purpose of the BNP and the EDL is to make the rest of England feel less racist.

I lived in England and was continually surprised by just how implicitly racist the mainstream politics and ordinary people were. Being a serial migrant to and from what are considered immigrant cities- Canada to the UK to the US - I have some opinions.

First England is not nearly as multicultural and immigration friendly as its citizenry like to think or project. The Life in the UK study book for the residency test even inadvertently highlighted this while trying to convince immigrants the UK was multicultural. The number if I recall correctly was 96% White British. I was always amazed that White-Irish was a category. Personally, I was White-Other. Despite being officially othered every time I filled out a work invoice people who were aware I was an immigrant routinely talked to me about 'immigrants stealing our jobs' .

Almost all the immigration is in the major cities. I know you are thinking this is true everywhere but it isn't true to the extent it is in England. There are still plenty of places in England that have no visible minorities at all. I knew people in their late 30's who hadn't seen a black person in real life until they went to uni. I don't think that is really possible in Canada or the U.S. unless you are truly remote (and nowhere in the UK is truly remote in the same way) and even then there will be other minorities present such as First Nations or Chinese.

The historical data on immigration patterns in the Life in the UK study guide also showed that the Conservatives under Thatcher were every bit as xenophobic as the BNP and EDL promise to be. Immigration from non-white commonwealth countries pretty much vanished during their tenure. It would be a thing that would make Arsenio Hall go "Hmmmmm?"

Then there is the myth of integration. The England I experienced (which admittedly was the non-London non-Southern version) was not an integrated multicultural society. It was a fractured and isolated collection of separate cultures - Birmingham Pakistanis kept to themselves. So did the white lower claszs. So did the white middle class. Other than food tourism there just wasn't a lot of overlap. I am not sure if I ever even met an upper class person (Though I did meet quite a few pretentious snobs who gave me that special look that a French last name elicits in certain quarters). Chicago is widely regarded as a very geographically racially segregated city yet despite living in one of the whitest areas, I already feel, after just a bit more than a month, it is far more integrated than Birmingham was and Brum is probably the second most multicultural city in England. ( Not that Chicago doesn't have it's own problems like the solid lead projectile air pollution flying around in the South of the city this summer). Even if you buy into the idea of geographical integration - where white english folk live in the same neighbourhood as the minorities don't mistake that for actual contact. I lived across from a crack house and never met a single person who lived in it. There were plenty of Asian families living on my street. I never met any of them. In fact I only really got to know one neighbour in 4 years. Geographic integration doesn't equal social or cultural integration. Particularly in England where insularity is almost a core feature. It's even difficult for white immigrants with similar cultures to integrate.

The immigration narrative that Americans hear about Britain are wildly inaccurate. The travel experiences of tourists who visit England are usually just trips to London and they may spend almost no time around any actually from England. The US accepts far more immigrants, far more visible minorities and integrates them better both economically and socially. I'd guess there are more Muslims in the US and Canada than the UK (I can't be arsed to look it up).

So I guess what I am trying to say is that it isn't the far right that needs talking about. Particularly since there is very little about it that is 'far'. It is the near-right. The right-there. It is Labour, the Lib-Dems, and the Conservatives and even the Guardian reading Middle Class SUV driving fellow bruncher sitting next to you at the Gastropub scarfing down Sunday Roast while discussing how to get his kids into the 'right' school and casually mentioning 'good breeding' as an admirable thing rather than a eugenic nightmare.
posted by srboisvert at 11:27 AM on September 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


While I don't disagree with the thrust of your comment, you make a few factual mistakes.
First England is not nearly as multicultural and immigration friendly as its citizenry like to think or project. The Life in the UK study book for the residency test even inadvertently highlighted this while trying to convince immigrants the UK was multicultural. The number if I recall correctly was 96% White British. I was always amazed that White-Irish was a category. Personally, I was White-Other. Despite being officially othered every time I filled out a work invoice people who were aware I was an immigrant routinely talked to me about 'immigrants stealing our jobs' .
It was 85.67% in 2001, so likely less now. Further, the categorization is about what communities exist and their needs, that's why White Irish is a category. I find it just as odd that "Hispanic" is a thing.
The US accepts far more immigrants, far more visible minorities and integrates them better both economically and socially. I'd guess there are more Muslims in the US and Canada than the UK (I can't be arsed to look it up).
In the United States, 12.81% of the population is foreign born. The figure for the UK is lower, but at 8.9%, it's hardly in a different league. There are maybe 2.6 million muslims in the United States, compared with maybe 2.5 million in the UK. Considering the relative size of the countries, it's a vastly greater number. If the US had the same level of muslims, then there would be about 12 to 13 million, or about the entire population of Illinois.

I think, however, your comment is right, that there is little proper integration of minorities. But I feel that there is little integration between different socio-economic classes too, and there's a deeper problem going on. Even in small towns that are predominantly white, there are still splits between different groups, depending on class. Race is kicked about so that the poor folk don't wise up to the real problems they face.
posted by Jehan at 11:54 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, I'm from the American South and live in Eastern Quebec, and I have got to say--unless you live in a major Canadian city--this is the whitest place I have ever seen. I see a lot more ethnic minorities when visiting American cities or London for that matter.
posted by Kitteh at 12:24 PM on September 17, 2012


One of the best things about living in the UK IMHO is how blissfully inept the Far Right is when compared to their Continental European and American counterparts.
posted by Monkeymoo at 12:24 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


> The number if I recall correctly was 96% White British. I was always amazed that White-Irish was a category.

Irish people have long had a special immigration status in the UK: for instance, Irish nationals are allowed to vote here, whereas other European foreigners aren't. It makes sense to count them separately. They're also not generally regarded as being quite as foreign as, say, the French (this may vary regionally, I suppose).

And you're right about the myth of integration; London is more integrated than the rest of the country, and the only image of Britain you tend to see in the media is London's portrayal of what it would like to imagine itself as. At times, the rest of the country might as well not exist.

I lived the first two years of my life in Kenya, but after that didn't see a black person until I went to Uni, just as you say.

However, I'd say that comparisons with the US aren't quite "more integrated" vs "less integrated", going by my experience living in NYC, where there are very sharply defined segregated neighbourhoods, but in my 10 years there I don't think I even once found myself in a group comprised of a single ethnicity. And I'm sure you could go to the Mid West and find entirely white commuter towns such as the one I grew up in in England. Rather than 'more' or 'less' it struck me as being really very different.
posted by nowonmai at 12:29 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are still plenty of places in England that have no visible minorities at all. I knew people in their late 30's who hadn't seen a black person in real life until they went to uni.

As someone who grew up in Cornwall, about as white a place as you'll find in England, I can tell you this is a bit of a myth. It was largely a myth in the 1990s, when I was a kid, with at least a smattering of different ethnicities in my school, and is noticeably less so now. The community I grew up in is still incredibly white by any sensible standard, but simply walking through the streets of such places will tell you that "no black people until uni" is an exaggeration.

But accepting that the exaggeration has a basis in fact, what does this tell us? It tells us that patterns of immigration in Britain are very different from those in the US and Canada. The majority of the non-white population have moved to Britain due to economic need since WWII. It's hardly a failure of integration that they don't live in places where there has been little economic growth in a very long time. A failure of the rural economy is probably a better assessment.

I only really got to know one neighbour in 4 years.

That would likely be true whatever your neighbours' ethnicities. I think you may be verging on conflating racial and class separation with the British tendency toward reticence. Which is not to deny that this reticence is a problem when producing integrated communities, but rather to identify it as part of the problem rather than an aspect of a failure of solution.

I lived across from a crack house and never met a single person who lived in it.

So are the residents of Chicago crack-houses always popping 'round with a pot-roast and asking if they can borrow a cup of baking-soda?

I did meet quite a few pretentious snobs who gave me that special look that a French last name elicits in certain quarters

I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I think you might be projecting somewhat here. Lots of French surnames among the genuine upper-class. Came over with the Conqueror and all that.

Things are far from rosy in terms of racial integration in Britain, but the picture you paint seems to reflect as much on your own difficulties dealing with British culture as on the actual difficulties British culture has with diverse ethnicities. Getting the British, particularly the white British, to speak to each other and form self-sustaining communities is a real problem, but it would be a real problem even if there were no non-white population.

I don't think we're fundamentally at odds as to what the difficulty is, but I tend to think it is more useful to see insularity as a long-standing cultural problem for all, rather than a problem that exists primarily in relation to immigration.
posted by howfar at 12:44 PM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


So are the residents of Chicago crack-houses always popping 'round with a pot-roast and asking if they can borrow a cup of baking-soda?

I should hope not. That's an awful lot of baking soda.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:05 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"So are the residents of Chicago crack-houses always popping 'round with a pot-roast and asking if they can borrow a cup of baking-soda?"

No, they bring hot dish.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:09 PM on September 17, 2012


So are the residents of Chicago crack-houses always popping 'round with a pot-roast and asking if they can borrow a cup of baking-soda?

"popping 'round" means something completely different in Chicago.
posted by srboisvert at 1:34 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think that is really possible in Canada or the U.S. unless you are truly remote

I don't think you know as much about the U.S. as you think you do. Have yourself a trip to Northern Michigan.
posted by spicynuts at 1:36 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have yourself a trip to Northern Michigan.

Are there that many residents of Northern Michigan who haven't seen an American Indian? I know there are several reservations on the UP. I don't know as much about the mitten, but I'm pretty sure there are also some Chippewa reservations there as well. I have a vague memory of driving through one somewhere outside of Traverse City.
posted by Area Man at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2012


British far-right extremists voice support for Anders Breivik: National Front and English Defence League members praise Norwegian mass murderer as 'inspirational' and a 'role model'
posted by homunculus at 3:09 PM on September 17, 2012


Britains's generation gap: Our research shows that anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies are much less likely to appeal to young people
posted by homunculus at 3:11 PM on September 17, 2012


Well done, you are as dogmatic, preachy and self righteous as the far right you claim to hate.

Is it equally bad to be preachy about racism as anti-racism?

I know preachiness is annoying, but personally, I'll stick with the inarticulate anti-racists, rather than the articulate racists, given a choice.


I liked the account of the ford factory workers successfully opposing racism. From those who have read the book I'd be interested to know whether he speaks to other successful mobilising strategies.
posted by chapps at 12:14 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The number if I recall correctly was 96% White British. I was always amazed that White-Irish was a category."

Irish people feel a strong tie to their cultural background, and I would imagine the situation in Ulster intensifies this. I could technically tick White Irish on the form, though having never been to Ireland nor having any living Irish relatives, it feels a bit fraudulent.

I imagine before long there will be additional categories for Eastern European nationalities, as the current wave of immigration is Polish/Romanian.


"Almost all the immigration is in the major cities. I know you are thinking this is true everywhere but it isn't true to the extent it is in England. There are still plenty of places in England that have no visible minorities at all."


The latter is correct - a friend of mine from Ipswich was surprised when she visited my home town, as until recently when Polish agricultural workers settled there, there was little immigration. However, in small towns across the North-West and West Yorkshire, there are enormous Asian populations. I never met a Jewish kid until I got to university, and there were only a handful of black people in my town (my secondary school possibly had more Italians than black pupils) but 20% of the population of my home town were Asian, and several pupils at my Catholic school were. I had a Muslim next-door neighbour, a Hindu friend in primary school, and another whose parents ran the local shop. It is a very ghettoised town, for want of a better word, and the BNP have made capital from that, but anyone who grew up there would have had Asian friends or neighbours.

I read a few years ago that there were something like six black pupils in the whole of Cambridge University, so there may be some who never meet a black person until uni, but then I never met someone from public school or Glasgow until uni, so there you go.
posted by mippy at 6:32 AM on September 18, 2012


Is it equally bad to be preachy about racism as anti-racism?


This is a pretty classic response from bigots, at least in the US.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:14 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


re homunculus's link about the generation gap in attitudes, I wonder if low youth voter turn out plays a role in this.
posted by chapps at 5:31 PM on September 18, 2012


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