The present turn to the right is giving rise to a seemingly unceasing flow of disastrous policies and actions. Every few hours of so we receive another devastating piece of news, accompanied by an avalanche of online and print commentary. It is these responses that are almost as frightening as the shocks from the top. And I do not mean the comments from those who celebrate their own self-oppression, but by those who consider themselves in opposition. While it is understandable that people suffer from overload, this is not a good moment for clinging to straws offered by the very same people one is opposing. These false friends tend to manifest as follows:
1) ‘National values’. Whether it is appeals to ‘British values’ and ‘Americanness’, or concerns about embarrassing the Queen, emphasis on ‘national values’ as a counter-strategy is not only disturbing, but increasingly bordering on the bizarre. From reading the protest signs at the London march on Monday against the ‘Muslim ban’, one gets the impression that some people seriously think of the UK Government as being capable of decent actions. We are talking about the same government that ran racist Brexit and anti-immigration campaigns and is radically disenfranchising its own people. But, apparently, there is still hope that they’ll do super nice things, because of British values and all that truthful stuff that abject non-Brits have to learn about this country in the citizenship test.
But then you say: appealing to ‘national values’ helps me speak to the nationalist constituency and not just preach to the converted. Great move! But: while you have correctly identified that nationalists do not fully understand their own ‘values’, perhaps you as an Enlightened Being at least could be a bit more reflexive about what these might be. After all, such values have historically been used to devalue those of other people, specifically, as writers such as Hoda Katebi have pointed out, under colonialism and ‘development’. From this perspective, if there is something such as ‘British values’, it could be described as ‘killing with kindness’.
2) Nationalism. Some writers feel no need to bother with the lame illusion of ‘national values’ and go for straight, undiluted nationalism. This economic gesture is popular, because it neither requires much elaboration nor reflexivity: take back the nation, make it great again! Oh wait, doesn’t that sound familiar? In the past, nationalism has led to real revolutionary fervour that resulted in some brilliant dictatorships and mass deportations/executions, or, if you don’t want to go full drama, failed alliances (I’m not talking EU here) and some really sound delineations of who belongs. But for many people it means such beautiful things as re-nationalising the railways, keeping more of their money, preserving the fragile local ecology of non-standardised bathtub plugs, saving the health service from the likes of Richard Branson – or being saved by the almighty Nicola Sturgeon. Of course, nationalism is totally going to deliver on that, because there is going to be so much more accountability…
3) Who is this about? At the supposed anti-Muslim-ban march on Monday, most of the signs read something like ‘fuck this shit’, ‘fuck Trump’ and ‘grab him by the balls’, combined with some more polite British variations (see point 1). As some Muslim (and also non-Muslim) writers have pointed out, no white person actually gives a fuck about them. As a white non-Muslim, you might be hurt by bad man Trump, but, most likely, you are going to be able to carry on live as usual, even if you join the odd travel boycott. So, basically, you get to vent your frustrations at that whatsitorangefuckface, look great in front of your friends AND continue to enjoy your privileges – after all, even the most disenfranchised white person has greater freedom of movement – a brilliant win-win situation. Of course, it is totally okay to make this all about personal pain and not about your embeddedness in structural oppression (see points 4 & 5). After all, this is not making things worse for anyone else, is it?
4) Self-victimisation. A familiar face from anti-racism debates, white self-victimisation is a totally great way of ensuring that we can all be happily oppressed together without having to make special concessions for anyone. As they say, we’re all in this together. In fact, all the hard-done by white people that have suffered from the clout of the English upper class, evil Germans and so on, are much worse off than, for example, those dirty refugees that don’t even have a concept of the struggles in the countries they are rushing to for salvation. You seek salvation from us wretched white people? Sorry about those unfortunate bombings, but haven’t you looked at how much we are suffering ourselves? Some of the brilliant logic from this camp has even resulted in calls to support Trump, because Angela Merkel, the apparent source of all of this suffering, rejects him. The enemy of my enemy is my…
5) Externalising white supremacy. Congratulations – you have correctly identified sources of modern day Nazism: Trump, the KKK, the Christian right, Theresa May, Nigel Farage, the Sun, Steve Bannon, the BBC, and sometimes even Jeremy Corbin when he dabbles in half-hearted attempts at immigration policy. Down with them all, and the world will be a better place. Of course, as a white middle-class political commentator, it is sheer talent and ambition that has given you a position at a major news outlet, and it is sheer coincidence that pretty much all of your colleagues have the same background, too. You probably all love Hannah Arendt and her poignant analysis of totalitarianism. But you are really not sure what to make of that ‘banality of evil’ talk. Evil that can’t just be conveniently isolated in scapegoat-type effigies? Evil as a process that we may all be part of? But I’m such a good guy!
6) Fantasies of violence. Along the same lines, a popular sport at the moment is virtual ‘Nazi bashing’. Devised as a critique of the wimpy left and its amnesia regarding bodies that could potentially be hurt, because it’s usually not theirs (and wasn’t there this Fanon guy, too?), some people haven’t quite got the irony and have discovered ‘Nazi bashing’ as an online spiritual relief that helps make the world a better place for others – a bit like Fight Club meets Live Aid. It’s so romantic to be a black clad street fighter, a hero fighting for… what was it again? And it’s unlike the less visible forms of violence that are so hard to make fashionable. Recommended watching: The Dreamers.
7) Bad shit from nowhere. OMG – where did all this suddenly come from?? We’ve never seen such racism, sexism, homophobia, etc before! What has gotten into people? I’m afraid, you are so right! This is a total anomaly, probably having to do with a bad constellation of planets or something. I’m sure I read some of this my horoscope: people will turn really fucking scary from 2016 onwards. Of course, this has nothing to do with present economic and political systems which reward a dismantling of public services or just the public in general. It also has nothing to do with any sort of racist, sanctimonious rhetoric from the top, used to cover up self-enrichment and nepotism. So what are we supposed to do?? We can’t really think of anything, because we really don’t understand why people act like this!!
Ongoing Reading List (recommendations welcome!)
Demir, Ipek (2017) “Brexit as Backlash Against Loss of Privilege and Multiculturalism” Discover Society
Goodfellow, Maya (2017) “Theresa, Trump and a Culture of Demonisation” Media Diversified
Katebi, Hoda (2017) “Please keep your American flags off my hijab” JooJoo Azad
Ko, Lisa (2017) “20 Lessons on How to be American” The Offing
Holloway, Lester (2016) “White tribalism was not made by Trump. It already existed in America as it does in Britain” Media Diversified
Weber, Cynthia (2016) “Sovereignty, Sexuality And The Will To Trump: A Queer IR Analysis And Response” The Disorder of Things
Wolfe, Ross (2017) ““Everyone’s a victim”: Relativizing Auschwitz with Adorno” The Charnel House
Yerbamala Collective (2017) “Our vendetta: Witches vs Fascists”
Big thank you to Gesa Helms and Anja Kanngieser for comments. All mistakes remain my own.