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Tag: racism

A short note on racism

The other night, millions of TV viewers were treated to the grand spectacle of a woman being racist on camera. The woman was former Ukip councillor Rozanne Duncan, and the programme itself, Meet the Ukippers, was the usual paternalistic BBC fare – one long sneer at those dreadful tacky ukips, with their mobility scooters and their purple ties and their collections of almost two thousand porcelain clowns (although, to be fair, they do have a collection of almost two thousand porcelain clowns). I live in Seaside Ukipville myself: a damp, ugly trough of barely drained bog and shoddy housing hemmed in by barren bag-strewn hills, a geological latrine that curves out from the less fashionable end of Brighton; I know how it goes. My neighbour flies a huge British flag in his back garden, visible above the low roofline, the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Third World border town; behind my house there’s a tattered cross of St George, and across the street someone’s decked out the front of their home in both English and British flags. The local shop sells tabloids and tinned peas, all the cheese comes in individually wrapped slices, the aisles are filled with hoarse grandmothers roaring impotent fury at kids with sticky fingers and feral, darting eyes, and you simply can’t get decent bruschetta or even a bottle of wine that didn’t roll flat-bottomed off a conglomerate assembly line somewhere south of the Equator. The whole area was purpose-built after the First World War as part of the Homes for Heroes programme, but these are less homes than filing cabinets for human beings. These places are easy to hate because, well, they’re utterly hateable: dismal, depressing, and shot through with a kind of existential meanness, in both senses – the miserliness of low ceilings and crumbling plaster, the general atmospheric sense of a total hostility to human life. The one thing they have going for them is that they tend to be cheap. That’s why, up to a point, it’s generally best to blame the hideousness of these places on the landlords, the speculators, the ones who left people with no other choice, rather than the people who actually live there.

Up to a point. That point was nicely identified by Ms Duncan, who delivered a long racist rant in front of a clearly horrified Ukip press officer (aghast, no doubt, that someone was actually saying what everyone’s thinking) and – unbelievably – an entire BBC camera team. She ticked just about every box: not just ominously referring to people with Negroid features but directly and openly voicing a specific, personal, visceral dislike for such people, and even recounting an instance in which she had discriminated against them (by pushing for Negro children to be excluded from sheltered housing). And she just kept on going, a bubbling sewer-sluice of the stuff, idiocy after idiocy. What’s strange is that she also insisted, and continues to insist, that she is not a racist. In an interview filmed after she had been fired from Ukip, she seemed to believe that her offence wasn’t a clearly voiced animus towards black people, but the anachronistic use of the word Negro. It’s a description, not an insult, she said. Like how Jews have bent noses. (Mine, I should add, is beaky and protruding but ramrod-straight.) But of course she didn’t think she was saying anything wrong – otherwise she wouldn’t have said it in front of a BBC camera crew, all of them surely trying to stifle their grins and hoping the word paydirt wasn’t visibly flashing across the whites of their eyes.

It’s strange. For a long time anti-racists have been trying to show that racism isn’t just an overt expression of hatred towards one racialised group or another, that it’s an unvoiced hierarchy structurally embedded in the fabric of society, that the construction of race itself is mutually inextricable from racism – and yet after all that, when someone performs the most basic, crude, open expression of racism, she’s unable to recognise it as such. In a way we’re the victims of our own success. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine a slightly more literate racist-apologist defence of Ms Duncan: of course, what she said was unacceptable, but it wasn’t really racist; after all, racism is a structural relation, and what’s one person’s simple prejudice next to the large-scale bigotry of an impersonal system?

Where does this chiasmic structure come from? What Duncan’s insistence on her non-racism demonstrates is that the word ‘racism’ has been emptied of all content. The formation I’m not racist but… is rightly mocked, but it needs to be taken very seriously: it’s the master-signifier of modern racial discourse. After decades of work we’ve finally hammered in the message that Racism Is Bad to the extent that almost nobody will now admit to actually being a racist (with the exception of Chelsea fans abroad); in fact, the word racist has come to mean nothing more than the thing that one is not. There are no longer any racist signifiers; racism exists only on the level of the signified, and when the signifier is entirely overdetermined, something like racism becomes a strange, scuttling, hermit-crab thing. It’s a nomad language, a subterraneous seepage that gloops beneath the solid structures of words and concepts. Like the wet rot that plagues houses in my malarial pit of a neighbourhood, it seeps up into a phrase from beneath and carries out its work beneath paint and plaster. Even the most egregious examples of racism – the string of police killings of unarmed black people in the United States, for instance, or the exclusionary jeering of European secularists – never allow themselves to appear as such, and any attempt to properly fumigate them leaves itself open to the perverse accusation of racialisation.

Some anti-racists seem to be labouring under a strange illusion, the idea that once you identify something as being racist (or sexist, or homophobic, or ableist, or transphobic, or otherwise oppressive) you’ve in some way done away with it. In a way this is true: overt racism really isn’t allowed in the general discourse any more. But racism stubbornly continues to exist; in fact, we seem to be doing more work correctly identifying it than ever. It’s the same with Ukip: the party is routinely mocked on social and traditional media; it’s become a handy byword for stuffy, ugly incompetence; it’s been so utterly annihilated by every stand-up comedian on the circuit that by now there surely shouldn’t be anything left – but for some reason they just keep winning elections. The problem is that simply identifying something or someone as racist, however correctly, has become semantically empty. What’s being said is that the thing is that which it is impossible for anything to be, an obvious nonsense. If the subject is embedded in a discourse of the signifier, and racist is an absolute negation, then it’s structurally impossible for anyone to actually be a racist. (In a way racist is the perfect signifier; it does all the things that Saussure and Derrida and so on say such things should – defining itself negatively, relating to signs rather than things – while most other words still operate according to some kind of magical thinking.) A funhouse mirror version of Hegel’s was wirklich ist, das ist vernünftig: what is real is not racist.

What can be done? It’s always possible to invent new words, but while logodaedaly is generally a good in and of itself it’s always very hard to put a slithering oizytic evil back in the box. I don’t have too much objection to the idea of really engaging with the meat of the matter, the intercranial signified, with fists if necessary. But in the end what might be most needed is the continued insistence on a simple truth, as trite as it might seem: racist ideas aren’t wrong because they’re racist; they’re wrong because they’re wrong.

(This is probably a separate discussion, but the fact that Duncan appeared to believe that her racism is a punishment for misdeeds in a past life, and that it could possibly be cured by regression therapy, merits further analysis. The Nazis had grand and stupid alternate cosmologies; their shitty contemporary iteration appears to have an appropriately banalised myth-structure. When Ukip inevitably enter into a governing coalition with Labour this year, will drowning asylum seekers be told that they’re the reincarnations of ungrateful Englishmen? Will Farage claim the quiddity of King Arthur? The future is a terrible place.)

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Trifles for a massacre

Who is it that threatens free speech? When the French government bans all Gaza solidarity demonstrations at the height of a vicious massacre in Palestine, it’s not a threat to freedom of speech: it’s a public safety measure. When the French state bans Muslim women from wearing the veil in public, it’s not a threat to freedom of speech: it’s a defence of secularism. When fanatical Zionists plant a bomb under the car of a French Jewish journalist who won’t toe the party line on Israel, it’s not a threat to freedom of speech: it’s a criminal act, certainly, but not an existential threat to the general ability for you or for me to say whatever we want. In the UK newspaper offices are raided by spies and kids are sent to prison for burning artificial poppies; this isn’t a threat to free speech either. It’s strange. The capitalist state, once the existential enemy of all freedom, a monster to be kept constantly under watch, is now the armed guarantor of liberty. Threats to free speech don’t come from the powerful any more. It’s “the Muslims”: a mass both hydra-headed and faceless, like a handful of worms. A persecuted minority, the suffering conscience of Europe. (Did you know that it’s now illegal to build minarets in Switzerland? Or that several towns in Italy have banned non-Italian restaurants? Whose freedom is under threat?) Or if it does come from a state, it’s one far away, surrounded by barbed wire and guns pointing inwards. The poor and the despised: this is who we must defend ourselves against?

How do you exercise free speech? You don’t do anything. You hoist up your Je suis Charlie placard, you queue in the cold to see a stupid and ugly Seth Rogen film, because this is your duty to the ideal of liberty and free expression. Freedom means obedience. Is this Hegel we’re reading? You must passively and dutifully admire the courage of those who dare to ruthlessly satirise any and all targets. In other words, those who have stockholders and distribution networks, while you have forty Twitter followers and the right to pen a letter to the editor. Freedom of speech belongs to the brave, the few, the moneyed.

What does free speech do? It offends, and there’s no such thing as a right to not be offended. Fine. But why is it assumed that what really offends “the Muslims” is the mere depiction of the prophet Mohammed, that if all other things were equal “they” would still fly into a murderous fury at stick-figures? France has been killing and occupying in Muslim lands since 1830. Across Europe Muslims are subjected to discriminatory laws and police surveillance; outside Europe Muslims are slaughtered by the hundreds from the air; Muslim-majority countries are plunged into chaos and bloodshed on the whims of a paternalistic Atlantic elite – and all of it is done in the name of freedom, a freedom that quickly reveals itself as the freedom to mock the victims. Such bravery. It’s just cartoons, it’s just satire: but it’s not; it’s bombs and missiles,

Is this all it is? Is freedom of speech nothing more than the freedom for a multi-million dollar studio to make a warmongering film, or the freedom to publish a racist magazine? Freedom that only punches down, that only repeats and intensifies the discourse of power and oppression that already comes from all sides (but especially from above), that is lauded by presidents and parliaments, that is threatened only by those that it oppresses – is this, in the end, really the best we can do? Is the freedom to repeat really freedom?

The armed attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo was a vile and senseless act of murder. I condemn it utterly, it repulses me, and my sympathies are entirely with the families and loved ones of the victims. I can only hope that the perpetrators are caught, and that they face justice. All this is true; I really do mean it. But it’s also politician-speak, inherently false. Read any article against the sacralisation of the magazine, especially one written by anyone from a Muslim background, and you’ll see a paragraph like this one, either strangely stilted (I utterly condemn…) or falsely slangy and overfamiliar (a bunch of gun-wielding cockwombles…). Why should this be necessary? Why do we feel the need to prove that, like all sane and decent people, we don’t somehow support the gunning down of ten innocent journalists? Why this ritualised catechism; why can’t we get straight to the point? Is this not itself a kind of restriction of free speech?

The line now is that you cannot criticise Charlie Hebdo, because they had the bravery to criticise anything. Je suis Charlie: you have to identify yourself with an openly racist publication. Why this identification? Protesters in the United States said that they were Mike Brown and Eric Garner because they, too, could be killed by cops, because they, too, were black. Do you also say that the French are stupid like blacks? Do you also show Boko Haram’s kidnap victims as pregnant grotesques demanding welfare money? When the Egyptian coup regime was killing thousands of demonstrators on the streets of Cairo, the cover of Charlie Hebdo showed a bearded man holding up a book against a hail of gunfire and being shot through the chest; the caption read The Qur’an is shit: it doesn’t stop bullets. If they were really ‘equal-opportunity offenders’ relentlessly satirising anyone and anything without any thought for taste or morality, their next issue will be of this type, a ruthless mockery of the victims. We never liked them anyway, or something like that. It wont happen.

As soon as you question the value of this free speech that isn’t really free, the assumption from your defenders is that you must want to impose some kind of censorship. I have no desire to censor. My title here is from Louis-Ferdinand Céline, another French racist, whose hatred was this time ranged against my self and my people; a great writer, even a great writer of antisemitic screeds, who I would never want to censor. It’s assumed that you must want to limit criticism of Islam. I have no particular love for Islam; there’s a lot about it I don’t like. I don’t like the concept of tawhid, or the figuraion of the One as a uniqueness. I don’t like the circumscribed universalism, the community always facing the horizon-figure of the kuffar. I will always support the freedom for anyone to argue against any set of concepts. But this is different from the victimisation of an already persecuted minority. I also support the right of people to fight against those that would destroy them. Free speech fanatics have pointed approvingly to the verdict in the Skokie Affair; where would they have stood in the Battle of Cable Street? I believe in satire; sometimes I even try to do it myself. But I also believe that satire only works when it punches up, that free speech is only really a freedom when it threatens power, not when it becomes the cruel laugh of imperial sadism. The Interview didn’t do this, neither did Charlie Hebdo. Nobody should be killed for this. But they mustn’t be applauded either.

How to spot an illegal immigrant: a UK Border Agency guide

Beyond what I am, I meet a being who makes me laugh because he is headless; this fills me with dread because he is made of innocence and crime.
Georges Bataille, The Sacred Conspiracy

A series of public UK Border Agency raids in the last few days has attracted the usual furore from the usual quarters, with various pious lefties throwing around accusations of racism based solely on the fact that officers deployed at various train and tube stations were only stopping commuters from visible ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, the publicisation of the raids on the Home Office’s Twitter account has attracted criticism for supposedly being ‘totalitarian,’ ‘a blatant Tory election ploy,’ ‘some serious Children of Men shit right here,’ and ‘a further demonstration of the chimerical and ungodly union between racialised state violence and the pseudo-democratic spectacle of social media.’ In the interests of combating such nonsense, the Home Office has released to the general public this guide, which lays out the criteria by which trained officers can distinguish potential illegal immigrants from ordinary people of colour on sight.

Illegal immigrants, who are known to derive perverse enjoyment from stealing the jobs of British workers, may be identified by their sadistic grins, or expressions of haughty contempt. They may also have bulging pockets, a large rucksack, or a burlap sack printed with a pound sign, in which stolen jobs may be stashed.

While legal British residents tend to have a stoop, hunch, slump, limp, crimp, clob, grag, bort, or other psychologically induced musculoskeltal deformation, illegal immigrants typically display the upright bearing and proud stature of one whose back has not been broken under the weight of labour regulations or union representation.

Many illegal immigrants have been trafficked in to the UK to work in the sex industry, often in positions of indentured servitude. Such offenders can be distinguished by their bed-tousled hair and the healthy sweaty radiance of someone who is definitely getting a lot more action than you are.

Recent illegal immigrants may not have fully adjusted to the social codes that govern life in the UK. Telltale signs include sartorial choices (a swan’s neck worn as a stole, corgi slippers, a lucky red squirrel’s head pendant), food (curry that is not masala, korma, balti or jalfrezi), or suspicious behaviour (any deviation from the mandated autism and perpetual embarrassment of British public life).

Any person who appears at all disturbed or frightened by the presence of officers in stab-proof vests demanding documentation from passers-by is behaving suspiciously and should be immediately handcuffed to a seat on the next flight to Lagos.

Funny moustaches on men, pregnancy on women, an expression of existential bewilderment on the faces of children. Tweeds in unusual colours. Any honest hope that tomorrow might be better than today. Joy, vitality; misery, real misery, black and incandescent. Anything whole and total. Any sense of vastness, any ocular gleam betraying the faint memory that the edge of the firmament does not curve in a shimmering curtain from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

The illegal immigrant’s lack of papers is an innate rather than a contingent attribute. As such, officers should be aware of any persons on public transport who appear unwilling to pick up or carry copies of the Metro or Evening Standard, or whose hands seem unable to even touch them, as if repelled by a strange magnetic force.

When show a picture of the Queen, illegal immigrants may hiss, recoil in horror, spontaneously burst into flames, or collapse into ashes (helpfully saving the Home Office and its private-sector partners the costs of repatriation).

As entering the country illegally is against the law, and breaking the law is cool, anyone exuding an aura of charismatic nonchalance and cheerful self-assurance should be apprehended. They are almost certainly an undocumented worker; and even if their papers are valid, they’re definitely up to something. Anyone meeting these criteria and also wearing sunglasses should be tackled to the ground with no warning and with entirely disproportionate force.

Some police dogs have been trained to pick up the scent of intrinsic bodily illegality. Due to the high levels of background illegality, which has been known to confuse the dogs or send them into a frothing omnicidal fury, it is recommended that the UKBA not deploy them in the City of London or Canary Wharf areas.

After crossing a national boundary, the ontological and material status of the illegal immigrant is permanently altered. Many are subsequently able to move through solid objects at will. Be alert for persons emerging out of walls, passing through doors without opening them first, holding a briefcase through its centre, walking ankle-deep in the pavement as if it were no more substantial than a fragrant early dawn mist, etc.

Remember above all that these people are not criminals; they are crime itself, their existence is crime itself.

Other documents made public by the Home Office include plans to capitalise on the impact of the ‘racist van,’ a mobile billboard that drives through multicultural areas with a sign telling immigrants to ‘go home.’ In addition to racist rickshaws, racist hydrofoils, and light racist aircraft, the next steps in the mechanisation of racism will include an airport security gate that beeps in the presence of melanin rather than metal, a phone that makes automatic calls to the council whenever ‘those people’ next door play that dreadful dancehall music, a toaster that burns a carbonised transcript of the ‘rivers of blood’ speech onto every slice of bread, and a coin-op laundromat that asks visible ethnic minorities where it is that they’re really from. These innovations are expected to be highly popular, as people will be able to enjoy all the benefits of living in a structurally racist society without having to go through the whole tiresome rigmarole of having to be outwardly racist themselves. Further Border Agency initiatives include a contingency plan in which uniformed UKBA personnel will invade and conquer the eastern Balkans and impose a murderously appropriative colonial regime so as to dispel positive illusions about Britain, and an ongoing project in which the education, healthcare, and labour protection systems are comprehensively wrecked in the hopes that the UK will then become a less attractive destination for migrants.

The oleagineity of Nigel Farage

 … ssss…. kill them all… eat their egssssss….

Russian leaders have followed a strict pattern since 1825: lisiy–volosatiy, bald-hairy. A bald leader has always been followed by a hairy leader, a hairy leader by a bald leader. In the UK we do things a little differently. While in Russia hair sprouts with the furious fecundity of Stalin’s purges and Yeltsin’s shock treatment before receding in Khrushchev’s secret speech at the 20th Party Congress or Putin’s managed democracy, in Britain nothing ever changes. Russia has dialectical progress, we have dynamic stasis. Our prime ministers come in two types: the slimy and the greasy. Our politics is a contest between opposing forms of oleaginous unpalatability. David Cameron is slimy. Call me Dave, he says, as he stares at you with hunger in his slitted eyes. Gordon Brown is greasy. He may as well have been made from leftover chip fat. Tony Blair is slimy. The Iraqi blood slides right over the shiny coating on his hands. John Major is greasy. His leftover Y-fronts could supply the UK’s energy needs for the next decade. Thatcher was slimy. Callaghan was greasy. Wilson slimy, Heath greasy, Wilson no less slimy the first time. And on and on, the eternal pattern cycling back through the centuries to that distant day when the first poor wretch scrambling around in Albion’s mud took it upon himself to rule over his fellows. But all that might be about to end.

Ed Milliband is greasy, perhaps the greasiest man ever to lurch his way into the House of Commons; he looks like a blob of Vaseline with a haircut and an awkward smile drawn on. Even so, something is changing in our world; the old rules no longer make any sense. The air resounds with governments and economies falling like hailstones. The ice caps are melting. The rain is poison. The sea is plastic. The End of Days is upon us. And Nigel Farage is both slimy and greasy.

Nigel Farage. Say it. It’s horrible, like a slug sitting on your tongue. It fits him perfectly. There’s not a photo of the man in which it doesn’t look like his skin’s about to split open, fall away so the crawling thing inside can rear up in all its insectoid glory. And Ukip is a party in his image. You can see it in that tacky purple and yellow logo, which makes it look like the political wing of Poundland (which, in a sense, is exactly what it is: a cheap, exploitative alternative, feeding off the common desparation). You can see in the language they use, too. We’re not racist, but. It’s common sense. Brussels wants to get rid of your curtains – your curtains, the ones you spend so many hours happily twitching – and replace them with Venetian blinds. Vote Ukip, save our snooping. Barmy Eurocrats want you to eat food with more than two colours. Vote Ukip, save our slurry. Gays want to paint the cliffs of Dover pink. Vote Ukip, save our staidness. Muslims – yes, all of them – want to bring wild-eyes mullahs in to inspect your pantry. Vote Ukip, save our sausages. Be afraid. We’re not racist, but. It’s common sense.

What does common sense mean here? Petty viciousness, the kind the British are so fond of, that’s all. In the run-up to the local election in East Chersterton, candidates were fielded a series of questions by the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. “Do you support plans to allow cycling on Green Dragon Bridge?” asked the Campaign. Most of the candidates mulled it over and tried to give a vaguely reasonable answer, or at least one that would endear them to voters. Not Peter Burkinshaw of Ukip. He applied some common sense. “I don’t use Green Dragon bridge,” he said, “so am not able to make an informed comment. However, I am constantly subjected to verbal abuse from cyclist riding of the footbridge at Jesus Lock when I ask them to stop ignoring the please dismount signs.” It’s a perfect image. Burkinshaw, the shit Napoleon in his purple rosette, standing by the lock, waiting for a cyclist to come by so he can remind them of the rules. And the cyclist, speeding past: oh, do fuck off. It almost makes you proud.

The needling puritanical side of what I’m calling the ‘There is a sign-Oh do fuck off’ Axis has always been a part of British life, but its recent resurgence has a precise aetiology. Successive British governments have for decades wormed away at people’s livelihoods and communities: affordable housing has been deprioritised, healthcare gutted, schools turned into businesses. In the place of the industrial sector that once secured the livelihoods of millions we’ve been left with the terrors of the service industry. No unions, no job security – forget alienation, there’s no end-product of labour to be alienated from; and to cap it all off, you might at any point be replaced by a beeping machine that querulously complains of an unexpected item in the bagging area. A few bones have been thrown our way, of course. You can go on a Saturday night talent show to be ritually humiliated by a panel of wankers in the hope of one day reaching international fame as That Guy Who Won That Show Once And Now Mostly Does Panto. (If you have intellectual pretensions, you can try BBC1’s The Voice, a daring televisual adaptation of Theodor Adorno’s On the Fetish-Character in Music.) Everyone must have a talent, and if yours doesn’t propel you to stardom then you probably deserve to work nine hours a day in a windowless office. If that doesn’t placate you, our political class has a solution of last resort: blame the immigrants! Don’t blame us, or at least not too vociferously, don’t blame our friends in the financial sector, blame the immigrants! Blame the poor and vulnerable, the huddled masses, they’re not like us, we don’t owe them anything. Blame the immigrants, hisses slimy Cameron. Blame the immigrants, rumbles greasy Brown. And somewhere, in a disused sewerage pipe in Kent, the slime and grease of their duplicity blends together and forms a hideous blob, growing with every new outrage, until it assumes human form and a wonky grin tears across Nigel Farage’s face…

In yesterday’s local elections, Ukip gained 136 councillors across the country. Farage claimed that he’s reshaped British politics. It rained a little this morning. As I watched, the rain drew thick, viscous trails across my window.

LOL. Fuck Muamba he’s dead !!! #Haha

University of Swansea student Liam Stacey is currently serving a 56-day prison sentence for a series of racist posts made on Twitter after Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field from a heart attack. Nobody in the UK press has yet reprinted the tweets in question, which I think demonstrates an astonishing level of cowardice. Here they are:

LOL. Fuck Muamba he’s dead !!! #Haha

@porcavacca owww go suck a nigger dick you fucking aids ridden cunt

@SamParishPR go suck muamba’s dead black dick then you aids ridden twat! #muambasdead

It’s pretty obvious that Liam Stacey is, to put it kindly, a bit of a twat. I don’t think that his twattishness necessarily earned him 56 days in jail, but that’s not really what I want to talk about. That angle’s been covered plentifully, by everyone from cryptofascist American ‘libertarians’ to the outgoing EU commissioner for human rights. (Although as someone who spends slightly too much time writing stupid and inflammatory nonsense on the Internet, it’s not as if it’s not a concern.) What really struck me about this story is the way the British judiciary appears to have claimed for itself the right to determine what is racist, and to punish accordingly. This is, after all, the same British justice system that in West London was 79% more likely to jail black defendants after the summer riots, the same British justice system that sends black people to jail for driving offences 44% more than white defendants, the same British justice system whose officers suffocated a young black man last year and told him that ‘the problem with you is you will always be a nigger.’

Is Laim Stacey a racist? Maybe. To be honest, that’s not the real problem. The problem is that 44% of black Britons aged between 16 and 24 are unemployed, as compared to 20% of their white peers. If we take racism to be a simple matter of Bad Racist People saying Bad Racist Things, it allows us to cover for the pervasive institutional and systemic racism that suffocates our society. If we can all jeer at the Nasty Bad Racist, the rest of us are let off the hook.

Take another case: earlier this year in Sanford, Florida, community watch co-ordinator George Zimmerman made a 911 call in which he described a ‘guy look[ing] like he is up to no good or on drugs or something.’ He then proceeded to chase down, shoot and kill Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year old described as ‘an A and B student majoring in cheerfulness,’ who had been in the area to buy some skittles and a can of iced tea. Is George Zimmerman a racist? Obviously, and the fact that he has not yet been charged with any crime is indicative of the horrific institutional racism still subsumed in American law enforcement. But the far bigger problem is  the place where the shooting occurred: The Retreat at Twin Lakes, an overwhelmingly white gated community where gates and security guards keep its rich residents in a state of suburban bliss, safe from the churning multiethnic chaos of the outside world. The problem is that places like this, where the presence of a black teenager on the street could constitute a cause for alarm, exist – and not only in Sanford; they’re ubiquitous, with up to eight million Americans living in similar communities. Zimmerman’s personal racism didn’t emerge from a vacuum; it’s a product of his politico-geographical milieu, a product of the vast underlying substrate that is American class and racial segregation.

Republican strategist Lee Atwater described perfectly the way racial issues have become masked over the course of the 20th Century in an anonymous interview:

You start out in 1954 by saying ‘nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now that you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is that blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘nigger, nigger.’

What, then, happens to the people who, in 2012, are still saying ‘nigger, nigger, nigger’? They become homo sacer, they’re a horrifying reminder of the actual content of the society whose mode of appearance is one of racial equality. The must be clamped down on, because they expose our hypocrisy. In the UK, where a high level of abstraction has been reached, Liam Stacey was clamped down on near-immediately. In Florida, where a lot of people still seem to be living somewhere between 1954 and 1968, the power structures are dragging their heels, but I’m sure George Zimmerman will be clamped down on too, eventually. He’s a monster; he certainly deserves it. But it won’t signify an end to the problem. It’s just another of its manifestations.

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