Austerity, immigration, racism

From a member's diary.


Thursday 3 September 2015

At the beginning of the Cambridge People's Assembly meeting last night, Stuart urged that we should discuss organizing a demonstration in support of the thousands of migrants presently being refused settlement in Europe: those abandoned at sea in unfit boats, repelled by wire and tear gas, held in camps, or deported on chartered flights. (The agenda, which I'd drafted, was silent.) Of course we did discuss it, and we agreed that the situation demanded a response from us as an anti-austerity organization.*

For the sponsors of austerity, politicians and others, the immigrant is a scapegoat. The politics that produces the conditions of scarcity holds out for blame one who would share them (although in this respect as in important others, austerity retraces earlier conservative lines). In the responsive imagination, the migrant represents need: one more claim on lean resources and short, precarious work. Except that he is never one more. He is one of imagined millions; or if black, perhaps (as for the prime minister) part of a simply countless, 'swarming' mass. As such he evokes a frightening need without limit.

As just implied, racism and – the word's still new to my pen – antiblackness organize this picture. It exploits the persistent figure that maps whites to adults and blacks to children: irrational, demanding, improvident, and apt for adult discipline. (See the recent, wild calls for the government to use the army against the Eritrean, Somalian, and Sudanese migrants trying to reach Britain from Calais.) But the antiblack programme is total, reaching far enough that for example white migrants from Bulgaria, Romania, and other Eastern European countries can be associated in the press with the notionally darker Roma people who compose large minorities in some of them.

These notes summarize a first understanding. They're bearings, I hope, for a new attention and a new engagement.

Neil Kirkham

* See item 1 and item 10 in the minutes for September 2015.

To seek to illustrate antiblackness with an effect it had on white people always seemed to me unsatisfactory. Reading my words again, it seems intolerable. I now wish these lines to be struck out as mistaken. 9 February 2017.

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