I’ve been surrounded by racism all my life. I’ve never seen it for what it claims to be. It’s always been more complex, deep rather than simple. The first time I came across racism in a big way was when I was about 12, when I had a moment like the scene in Huckleberry Finn, where he says, “What’s a feud?”
In my case I asked “What’s Paki bashing?” to the group of lads who were getting tooled up on the Mile End Road. I was told, “It’s great. You should come. You see a Paki, and all shout , ‘Paki, paki, paki!’ He legs it and you all chase after him and then you catch him up and everyone steams in. And you smash his head, and you kick him in the back and you batter his face and you…” I asked, “But don’t you feel sorry for him?”
Watching Newsnight last night, I saw the same joy of hate in the new leader of the far right, Tommy Robinson. In a similar vein to Nick Griffin, Robinson wishes to make the EDL respectable. He claims his organisation is not racist, and burned a Nazi flag to prove his point.
Unlike Griffin, who ruined the reputation of the BNP by his inconsistent appearance on Question Time, Robinson held his own against Jeremy Paxman. He achieved this by keeping his message simple, rather than creating a wide manifesto like Griffin did.
He claims to be defending the white working class against the terror of militant Islam. There were many references to the white working class. This is another significant departure from the middle class pretensions of Nick Griffin. Robinson clearly knows his niche and plays well to it.
He made several references to his lack of education. “I didn’t even know what right and left were before this. I’d never even switched a computer on.” This was not so much an effort to be sympathetic, but seemed like a pitch to gain the empathy of those who didn’t do well at school.
Hope Not Hate tell us that he lives in a leafy suburb of Bedford, although we see him in his business in Luton, ironically, a tanning salon. It’s often important for those with racist feelings to be close to the source of their fascination and the focus of their spite.
I once had a racist workmate, who used to be doubly charming to black customers, and then when they left the shop, he’d refer to them as “Sooty”. He emigrated to St Lucia. London wasn’t multicultural enough for his racism.
Robinson revels in his role and in the apparent danger he has placed himself in by his politics. He wears a bullet proof jacket to walk along the high street in Luton. Perhaps it appeals to his heroic self-image, but I’ve seen that siege mentality before, quite recently.
I was canvassing with a Sikh councillor from Newham, Amarjit Singh, in a Bethnal Green block, when we knocked on a steel door, decorated with union jacks, and was surrounded by a highly inappropriate wall (we were on the first floor landing). The man who answered the door gave us some venomous abuse, and we walked on. Amarjit pointed out that the wall around his flat seemed like a defensive wall. And I thought he was quite right. It was if this man was in fear of an invasion.
Robinson claims that black people and Sikhs are welcome in the EDL. But if there is no racism in his politics, then there is only hate for the sake of it. But maybe that’s the point. More often than not, there is no politics in racism, or at least the politics are a smokescreen. Racism is just an outlet for anger, hate and spite. If it’s not the colour of their skin, it’s their sexuality. If it’s not their sexuality, it’s their religion. And if it wasn’t their religion, it would be something else. Robinson picks and chooses, and right now, he chooses Muslims.
On Twitter last night, there was much anger over the BBC decision to give this man the legitimacy of their coverage. I disagree. The more you drive this man underground, the greater the victim mentality and consequent self-justification of him and his followers.
Let him have his say and we’ll have ours. He’s the new Nick Griffin. There’s nothing to be achieved by lionising him. The best we can is do is keep them small and irrelevant. There will always be a racist leader. Griffin begat Robinson begat the next one. We’ll carry on the fight, and in the same way that we saw Griffin off, we’ll see this man off, and whoever follows him, we’ll see them off also.