Multicultural backlash

Via Pickled Politics, there's this from the Guardian - 'Kin Outrage'.

Although I have to confess to not having read 'The New East End', I have read other books and articles about multiculturalism that talk about the white working-class community's reaction to it that come to similar conclusions to this:
"As recent migrants to Bethnal Green have tended to be more needy, their needs have taken priority. We argue the indigenous working class understand this all too easily, and this feeds their hostility towards migrants. They see their welfare state as having been adapted to suit migrants and morally undermined in the process," argues The New East End. It concludes that: "the state's reception of newcomers has ridden over the existing local community's assumptions about their ownership of public resources, and this has precipitated a loss of confidence in the fairness of social democracy."
And one flaw in those that I have read (like 'White Backlash and the Politics of Multiculturalism' by Roger Hewitt) is that they don't examine closely enough whether those feelings are justified and based on a realistic view of what is actually happening.

Yes, the shift towards allocating local services on the basis of who needs things the most would have an effect, and it does lead to people coming to the misleading conclusion that services are allocated purely on the basis of immigration status, skin colour or sexual orientation. But some anti-mutlticulturalist and even racist feeling is based on nothing more than strange urban legends. I haven't seen these mentioned anywhere.

This is only anecdotal from me, but I do hear an astonishing amount of rubbish from family members and people I grew up with. There are familiar stories like the ones about bans on displaying the St George Cross (that I've heard while sitting in a pub that has one in the window, in a street with flags draped from pretty much every other house and every other car that drives past has one flapping from the front window, while I'm wearing a t-shirt with one on, sitting underneath yards of bunting with them on), but there are ones that have taken me by surprise. Here are a couple.

I've heard that we have affirmative action laws in this country that are even more radical than American laws. These, so I've been told, are so radical that a company must, by law, employ a black candidate for a job over a white one even if the black candidate isn't as well qualified. No amount of pointing out that this would be illegal, and if it were true the CEO of every company in the country would be black could convince the person I was talking to that he was wrong.

I've been asked, 'What about that asylum seeker that came over and told the council he lived in a mansion with a swimming pool in his country because the council have to give them the same as what they had at home, so he got his house and swimming pool and when they investigated, they found out he lived in a shack in his own country?' Where do you start with a story like that? Where does anyone come up with the idea that asylum seekers are given the equivalent of what they had at home, even down to mansions with swimming pools?

You only have my word for it that I've heard these things, but I swear I have. In the midst of quite heated discussions.

So, when I hear quotes like this:
"My report in 1994 showed how the council didn't apply need and repeatedly discriminated against Bangladeshis in favour of whites. The reality is the opposite of what they claimed," said Adams, adding that repeated investigations in the 80s and early 90s uncovered evidence of systematic discrimination in housing policy against Bangladeshis.
I have to say, I'm not entirely surprised. Nor am I surprised by this:
Kate Gavron, one of the authors, insists it simply records the views of the white population. But others feel these views are not borne out by the evidence.
The tabloids fit in here by perpetuating these ideas, even if they don't specifically report some of the stories you might be likely to hear.

Here's what I think is probably happening. It's speculative rather than scientific, but this is a blog post, not a doctoral thesis.

The tabloids are complicit in the creation of the idea that there is some sort of shadowy 'PC Brigade' that have made it impossible to speak your mind, and have gone as far as banning things from being mentioned even if they're true. I covered an example of this in 'The answer is, none more black'. Also, and this was something I'd been meaning to write a whole separate post on, they deliberately give the impression that the people they quote refuting their PC Gone Mad claims are liars (see 'They go together like Batman and Robin', 'It's Political Correctness Gone Mad Gone Mad' and 'What's this? Some truth in an Express headline?'), creating the impression of a shadowy conspiracy that sneakily ban things for PC reasons while pretending that there's another explanation.

At the same time, the tabloids produce misleading articles about Political Correctness Gone Mad, Muslims or immigration that either exaggerate the truth beyond all recognition or are completely untrue in the first place. So, a reader who picks up one of the papers will probably already think the paper is having to hold back from reporting what's really going on because of the PC Conspiracy. This does three things:
  • Convinces the reader that the stories they read must be true or they'd have been nixed by the PC Brigade.
  • Convinces the reader that any explanation that points out that whatever has happened (if anything) has nothing to do with PC is a lie.
  • Gives the impression that what's really going on is much, much worse than the paper would ever be allowed to report.
So, it should come as no surprise that someone will believe that an asylum seeker has lied to get a mansion with a swimming pool without questioning whether it's likely that that rule exists at all. It also explains another thing I've witnessed: how someone can dismiss an explanation that changing the words to nursery rhymes like 'Baa baa black sheep' can be an excellent way to help children develop linguistic skills and understand language even when the person explaining that to them is a speech and language therapist.

Of course, it's not entirely the fault of the press, but they certainly play a role in perpetuating weird ideas about race and PC Gone Mad that fuel these more extreme versions of it that go on to fuel racism.

And to be fair to the tabloids, they may be falling for the same sort of urban legend as some of their readers rather than just making things up. But here's the thing. It should be job of the press to find out whether or not these things are true before they report them, not to unquestioningly regurgitate everything they think their readers might want to hear. The trouble is that Paul Dacre at the very least disagrees, as I pointed out in 'Dacre's rant'. He boasts that the tabloids are 'the very embodiment of the views of the great majority of the British people.' But that shouldn't be the job of the press. The job of the press should be to tell the British people what is really happening in the world. Not to misreport events to somehow reflect their views even if they're wrong.

So the two things here feed on and perpetuate each other. Often, people will have a completely misguided view of what's going on in their local community and believe ethnic minorities are getting all sorts of benefits that they aren't. Newspapers will pick up on these ideas and report them either without checking to find out if they're true in the first place, or checking and then implying that the explanation they're given is a lie. This leads to people thinking ever more ridiculous things are happening, which leads the papers to report them and so on and so on. Now we have a situation where any change of anything for any reason can be blamed on Political Correctness, and nobody will bat an eyelid.

That's not to say that there never have been any odd misguided local policies, or that everything white working-class people believe about multicultural policy is wrong. I'm just pointing out that a large chunk of what they (we?) do believe is weird and exaggerated, and that their views may well be different if they knew the truth.

In the midst of all this, a study is produced that reproduces these misguided views about how policy has led to disaffection among the white working class without ever checking whether the disaffection is justified by the reality of what's going on, which only goes to reinforce the ideas both among the white working class and the tabloids, so it's possible to say that multicultural policy has led to disaffection and racism and a shift toward the BNP, when in fact that isn't entirely true. A weird, exaggerated caricature of multicultural policy has played a very important part.

And who's reponsible for that?


Mephitis said...

Reading this made me think of this sort of related story I've been reading today, about how Fox News reported an on-line parody as real recently: http://www.wcsh6.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=58751 (

Not that one is supposed to expect much from Fox news, I believe, from what I've heard).

But it's certainly taking an assumption and running with it, unchecked, if true.

Makes you wonder.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

What?! Press reports about Muslims getting offended by something totally harmless turn out to be untrue? Surely not!

This sort of thing happens all the bloody time, often because of papers not checking their sources but also because they decide that any change for any reason is because of PC. So when kids come home from school saying they didn't have hot cross buns, instead of finding out why (in this case because the school had never served hot cross buns) the papers decide they must have been banned because of people of other faiths.