The Dangers of a Xenophobically-driven Immigration Policy
The stream of obituaries that followed news of Maya Angelou’s death are an indubitable testament to the much-lauded African-American poet’s influence in contemporary American society. As well as a literary figure, Angelou was a towering figure in the civil rights movement – a successful movement that sought to dissipate the racist attitudes that underpinned discriminatory legislation in America. However, it is exactly such attitudes the Guardian suggested are once again on the rise in Britain. Conducted by NatCen Social Research, the research shows racism has been on the rise since 9/11 (and further spurred by the onset of the economic crisis in 2008) and, at present, 30% of Britons admit to harbouring racial prejudices.
The research also goes someway in constructing the profile of this person. Based on the British Social Attitudes Survey, racial prejudice was most prevalent amongst the lower skilled (41% of unskilled manual labourers compared to 26% of professionals), relatively old (those born before the 1980s) men (albeit topping woman marginally by 3%) from the West Midlands or Yorkshire and Humberside (both sharing the highest rates of racism at 36%). From these nuggets of information, it is easy for one to conceive of the average middle-aged, “white-english” EDL lout that is ridiculed by topical satire, but the image is more complex than that. Much of this perceived racism is actually xenophobia fuelled by a myriad of declining living standards, lack of opportunities and inadequate cultural awareness. Semantically, racism is the belief that one race has an inherent superiority or inferiority to another, whereas xenophobia is an irrational fear of people who are different. Though the two are frequently inextricably intertwined, the former tends to occupy the overlap between xenophobia and nationalism, while the latter is born from a simple lack of understanding.
Certainly a panoramic peek at the results of the European elections this month would not only concur with the Guardian, but suggest that such attitudes are erupting across the continent. Whilst UKIP topped elections in Britain, Le Front National garnered a quarter of the French vote and the Hungarian nationalists, Jobbik, came second, giving one the impression that the whole of Europe has lurched radically to the far-right. However, despite this impression, it is worth noting, of the 766 MEPs, 554 represent mainstream, centrist political parties in Europe- marking a mere 1% drop from 2009. It is undeniable euroscepticism, often under the guise of more sinister sentiments, has grown, but to base the growth of racism on this would be rather hasty.
Nonetheless, it is the prevalence of such attitudes that has had the calamitous effect of haling the political establishment to the right. From the three main parties (Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, for clarification), our ears have become so accustomed to that ingeminate phrase: “We understand people’s concern with immigration.” This was recently typified by Ed Miliband who, whilst maintaining support for the overall European project, came out in favour of curtailing free movement across the continent. Having already apologised for Labour’s record on immigration, this marks a significant transition away from Blairite policies and, even if only to lure back those Gillian-Duffy-esque voters who turned to UKIP, signals a clear shift to the right.
Nevermind that immigration into Britain has never had a negative impact on the economy. Or that esteemed libertarian think-tank, Adam Smith Institute, recently published findings concluding that although “there are lots and lots of bad things governments do that ruin people’s lives… few cause as much harm to the poorest people as the state controls of where people can work and live that we call ‘migration policy’.” The real flaw of Labour’s new “tough” stance on immigration is that not only is Miliband caving to a misguided and mobbish minority (only 9% of British people actually voted for UKIP in the European elections), but in doing so he will also be fuelling future xenophobia in Britain. Such reactionary policies will turn Britain from a cosmopolitan global hub to an isolated, insular and insignificant island. Compared with the growing opportunities we have to enhance our cultural understanding- opportunities which are at the greatest risk of being discontinued should Britain leave the EU- this seems like a rather self-destructive route. Obviously the unskilled, middle-aged Yorkshireman is not the first person benefitting from such cultural exchanges, but the opportunities are growing generation by generation.
In the vast œuvre of Maya Angelou, one line reads: “I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” Despite the interwoven history, the shared struggles of the last century and the ease with which we can all now communicate- the very criteria upon which Giuseppe Mazzini founded the notion of nationhood – Britain seems incapable of looking beyond the channel and beyond our trivial differences. Were people ever capable of believing that “we’re all in it together”, then it must surely be within the realm of possibility that they will see that Britain is better off when we’re in it together with Europe.