Republican candidate Donald Trump was a figure of ridicule until he spouted yet another racist view earlier this week. We need a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”, he declared in the wake of an attack in California, where a Muslim couple – claiming to support ISIS – shot dead 14 people. Outrage boiled over on social media but cheers reverberated in a conference hall when Trump repeated his xenophobia in the third person. His support remains high among Republicans; in Iowa he has a thirteen point lead.
His views are not isolated.
It’s easy to look across the Atlantic at the horrendously divisive politics unfolding before our eyes and condemn this kind of discrimination. But Trump doesn’t exist in a vacuum; the racist, Islamophobic sentiment that gave birth to his comments exists here in Britain, too. They are packaged in a more acceptable, “traditional” form of prejudice, where politicians pander to anti-immigrant sentiment, some dreaming of a return to an idealised British past (that never really existed.)
Among those British voices quick to denounce the rising Republican was Boris Johnson, who has on more than one occasion called black people “piccaninnies”, described people from Africa as having “Watermelon smiles”, and yearned for returning to the days of bloody, exploitative colonialism because he believes countries like India, where millions of people were killed at the hands of colonialists, benefitted from British rule.
Trump is not a politician alone in his extreme views. Although Britain is not directly comparable to the US, one of our own versions of the Republican hopeful can be found sipping a beer in the pub as soon as the clock strikes twelve, so long as there are cameras around.
Nigel “self proclaimed man of the people” Farage is like Trump: rich, white, privileged and eager to stoke racial divides. Although there’s more of a possibility that Trump could hold the mantle of power than Farage (and not forgetting that if this nightmarish vision were to come true, he would be the President of one of the world’s most powerful countries) they have their similarities.
Farage was quick to join the anti-Trump brigade with Johnson, saying he had “gone too far” with his comments. But just last week, Farage responded to Labour’s overwhelming victory in the Oldham by-election with a racial slur: “There are some really quite big ethnic changes now in the way people are voting. They can’t speak English, they have never heard of UKIP or the Conservative Party, they haven’t even heard of Jeremy Corbyn. I’m commenting on the state of modern Britain, post mass immigration. It means effectively that in some of these seats where people don’t speak English and they sign up to postal votes, effectively the electoral process is now dead”. Flanked by his deputy, Paul Nuttall, Farage told the public that Labour won because people of colour voted for them and that makes this election illegitimate, just like the people who voted in it. Asian voters aren’t white so they don’t really count.
This is just the tip of the racist iceberg. In March, Farage flashed his Islamophobic badge by referring to a “fifth column” of Muslims who live “within our country, who hate us and want to kill us”. In almost the same breath he dreamed of a UKIP-run Britain where laws banning discrimination on the grounds of race or colour were a thing of the past. Under his stringent immigration criteria, Britain would only let in Christian refugees, babies born in Britain but whose parents’ birthplace was beyond British shores should be classed as immigrants, and children of immigrants shouldn’t be allowed to attend state school for five years. Underlying all of these proposals is the belief that people from abroad and people of colour, Muslims in particular, aren’t equal to white British citizens.
None of this is the same as calling for a ban on Muslims entering this country; it is a more careful and arguably less harmful form of discrimination. But the sentiment, wallpapered with racism, is one that ultimately brings statements like Trump’s into existence.
Like Trump, Farage is not an isolated anomaly. Despite what we would have ourselves believe, UKIP’s views are not outliers. They make racist and anti-immigrant sentiment more acceptable in the mainstream. In part, an attempt to stave off the UKIP threat, a watered down version of their racism is knitted into government policy.
The Tories are charging ahead with the Prevent programme, the brainchild of a Labour government, which many Muslims feel is a discriminatory tool to explicitly spy on them. Policies like this, that make the Muslim community synonymous with terrorism, paired with a right-wing media that demonises Islam at any opportunity it can get, it’s no surprise that after the Paris attacks Islamophobic hate crime has shot up by 300%.
In this xenophobic mix are plans to stop immigrants from claiming benefits until they’ve have lived here for four years, even though only 1% of people from abroad claim unemployment benefit in comparison to 4% of the British-born population.
Facts simply don’t stand in the way of planting the seed of discrimination. Just ask the vulnerable asylum seekers who have had their benefits slashed by the Government or all the people whose lives have been affected by an institutionally racist police force. These incidents are not isolated; they are on a continuum of “Othering’“.
It’s only right to call out Trump’s abhorrent views and divisive comments, it’s frightening that he has such support and could potentially claim the mantle of power in the US. But we should be asking ourselves how US politics get to this point? The answers: unchecked xenophobia, underlying scaremongering about the “other”, anti-immigrant sentiment and institutional racism. Farage and Trump are certainly guilty of this – and more – but so too are politicians and commentators from across the political spectrum.
So, continue to attack Donald Trump’s toxic views that put outright racism in mainstream discourse. But let’s not forget that in Britain we have our own dangerous, discriminatory brand of politics not entirely disconnected from the US – and it’s one we need to fight against.
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Maya Goodfellow is a journalist and political commentator. She primarily writes about British politics and has worked as a researcher for a think tank. She also writes about international affairs, with a particular focus on conflict studies. Find her on Twitter: @Mayagoodfellow
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