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The rise of racist attacks in the south leading to murder in Dublin along with a 400% rise in racial incidents in the North have lead to many articles being written and much debate acknowledging such racism. Yet little has been afforded to the understanding of such a rise. So it is in this contribution that I will attempt to give a historical understanding of racism and also its immediate relationship today in modern society.
Racism and its rise is to be understood between the historical development of recent society and its relationship with the conditions of that society within the interests of the ruling minority. This understanding is essential to attempt to combat racism and the underlying reasons that give rise to it, as it is not a development of misplaced feelings and thoughts but of a system that has bred and institutionalised both the politic of race and the ideology of racism.
The origins of racism firstly emerged during the days of colonial exploitation of the seventeenth century, where slave labour was used in the plantations, but unlike previous slave societies such as Rome, slaves then were seen essentially as commodities rather than having some biological inferiority. In the plantations though this slavery followed through with the concept of one set of humans being naturally inferior to another set in the interest of exploiting wealth and labour for the benefit of the then early progressing ruling classes.
This perception of the slave as having no rights and unequal was concretised as a cornerstone to the then ruling political body of early developing capitalism. Whilst now we have progressed to the development of modern capitalism, racism remains wedged still to the material conditions of modern times as the underlying factors and root causes remain fundamentally unchanged. Today's "modern racism" is on the one hand stated by "democratic government" to be unacceptable, so legislation and laws have been passed to attempt to combat it, or possibly legislate it away, while on the other hand they also introduce draconian asylum and immigration bills which could in themselves be seen as racist. This seems a contradiction but it is in fact that the logic of their politic as democracy is seen to be upheld through fighting racism while in unity possibly democratising racism itself.
The modern mechanisms to contain, disperse or deport political and economic immigrants have now become institutionalised not only practically but ideologically within ruling governments. But this runs much deeper when the facts of that politic are revealed to involve wider class interests. In Britain for example you are welcome without official papers if you have over £750,000 to come into the country with. While in Ireland not a word was muttered from the political establishment when thousands of rich white south Africans came in the 80s. This understanding between class and race is fundamental as it not only brings an analysis of its progression but also of the potential for its defeat.
The connection then between race and the ruling class interest has not only historically delivered the idea of biological and cultural racism but also equally shown the connection of those of all race and common aims in this class-based society. Such a politics embraced by governments around the world have shown money buys entry while poverty excludes, as the recent Australian episode shows, which is ironic in Australia's case as it was built and colonised by immigrant labour. "Fortress Europe", as it is also known, is to intensify its project to keep immigrants out while lending a sympathetic ear. So the EEC each year spends four times more keeping asylum seekers out that the UN high commission for refugees spends on all refugee programs worldwide.
This lack of resources is clearly defined in relation to their priorities where vast amounts in abundance can be found for war to create such refugees but limited resources to help them. In such crisis we hear constantly of the floods and swarms of such peoples that will overwhelm our country from the spin doctors of government. But in reality more people leave countries such as Ireland and Britain than enter it and this has been the case for well over 100 years. Through history such inflammatory language has been used for political or selfish interests, from Enoch Powells ''rivers of blood'' speech through to Thatchers "we may be swamped", to today's Labour Party in Britain and Fianna Fail in the south of Ireland. Along with such language in recent years we see the practicalities of their words with dispersal, detention, food vouchers, criminalisation all at the behest of the governments and to the delight of racist organisations who relish the prospect of exploiting the issue of asylum.
coupled with the beginning of an economic down turn will then rise the
spectre of intensification of such words and legislation by the establishment
to direct failures to the most downtrodden and vulnerable. Yet initially
in a period of economic stability and growth the establishment welcomes
migrants to fill its quota of low paid jobs that have been hard to fill
where by even Enoch Powell as minister for health welcomed Indian and
Pakistan health workers. But once the economy slumped such openness
was reversed. Such governments worry only about the impact of their
economies and care little for the people fleeing war and famine. Refugees
continue to flee such situations and this will intensify through the increased politic of globalisation which will see an ever widening of the inequality gap both in underdeveloped economies and within the West's nation states.
The current downturn will effect the Irish economy who lovingly embrace global and free market policies, with already the most advanced technological and computer related industries sacking workers. So the immediate response to this was first seen in that articulated by Mary Harney - that immigrant visas may be cancelled. So in a backhand way she states her belief within in her governments interest of the possible cause and cure for economic downturn. Secondly, that increasing legislation and language used by the establishment is creating an opening for racial tension which has led minister for justice John O'Donoughue calling for garda investigations into racist websites. This is the same man who gave draconian powers of detention aimed at asylum seekers, legislation to cut time for their appeals, claimed he thinks 90% of asylum seekers are bogus and that they were only here to milk the system. It is ironic that he is also calling for the garda to check racist websites, the very same force that had refused to collect statistics on racial attacks.
So as the Celtic tiger inevitably goes into continued decline despite the belief it could by pass the boom-bust politic we will hear the cries of "they are taking our jobs and houses" by sections with a vested interest, mostly within the deprived inner city areas, which they mean to exploit. This rhetoric can find resonance in such communities of poverty and despair but when we look at the facts of the matter we in fact see a very different picture.
The simple fact of the matter is that enough houses have never been built. Immigrants or not, just a few years ago over 40,000 Irish citizens were on the corporation waiting lists yet they built only around two thousand homes, this at the height of the Celtic Tiger. So rather than asylum seekers being to blame, it was the government's lack of funding for such crucial resources. Secondly, economic conditions prevailing the privilege to work may be given to undertake usually the non-unionised low paid mundane jobs unable to be filled by the natives. It is not a case of taking the jobs, but rather if allowed to take those the governments economic strategies need for big business. Although under the 1951 Geneva Convention it in fact states that economic and social rights should apply to refugees as they do to other individuals in relation to medical care, jobs and education, to the many who are fleeing war and famine they are faced with a shameful wall of intolerance by western governments.
Ireland herself should know, for in 1853 370,000 people were forced to leave Ireland and by the 1920's 43% of Irish born men or women lived abroad, but despite this the government is continuing with it scapegoating, thus given succour to the racists with the continued and increased attacks on asylum seekers and native ethnic minorities. This scenario not as yet at the same level is also being witnessed in the north. In a study by Dr Paul Connolly, a lecturer of sociology in the university of Ulster he found that 44% of ethnic minorities in the north reported experiencing verbal abuse. For Chinese people this figure rises to 65%. Also that one in ten ethnic minorities are physically abused while 29% experience criminal damage like graffiti or broken windows. Again for Chinese people that figure rises to 52%. Asylum seekers in comparison have also to face institutional racism of the state with the draconian laws and legislation imposed on them which enhances the perception of them as criminals rather than those fleeing war and destitution.
The detention of asylum seekers in the north is done at a maximum security prison, with this having a huge impact on such persons through fear and depression leading in some cases to suicide. The wait in such confinement can take years while the outcome of refugee status is decided, then there is one of three decisions given. Firstly the granting of refugee status with, secondly, exceptional leave to remain. This means they would not receive immediate rights such as family re-union, but would be entitled to work and study. While thirdly and most commonly used, refusal to refugee status. Such laws help build racist perceptions and through the jailing and detentions like criminals of assylum seekers so then in turn helps concretise that very perception.
Such logic is used by the relevant ruling class to create division among 'race' by political, economical and ideological means. The political means through legislation, which attempts to legitimise the politic of race, economically through division of community and workforce on material grounds while ideologically exploiting conditions imposed by themselves to attempt to sinisterly set the politic of "inferior" and "superior" race.
All such instances are crucial to the present dominant ruling interests as it weakens the working class thus hampering any effort of collectivity. This is further progressed for that interest during economic instability and so this understanding of the factors of these circumstances helps us then to see such trends historically which can dictate the state's response. For the working class communities and organised labour movement such history is understood in the struggles of collectivity with unity of both white and back in common against such ideas of division. This issue of race has been lost in such collectivity for class based interests whereby the problem is not seen as the black or Asian worker but by a politic which endorses division for its own class interest.
conclusion then from the development of early capitalism the ruling
class has used race as a part method of division not only through its
own original economic interests but now increasingly politically. The
struggle against racism arises from many fronts. Some fight for better
understanding of different culture or for better legislation but essentially
it should be a fight against the root causes of its rise aimed at those
who exploit class relations within our class, who embrace their manufactured
conditions of society, who institutionalise an ideology of racism, all
within its own interests. So it is for those of us that are opposed
to such a politic of division and inequality to not only understand
its rise but to relate our politic of unity and strength collectively
focused and directed at that which endorses it. For over the centuries
faces may have changed but their basic politic remains fundamentally
unchanged. So inevitably it will be at that root cause that such a politic
will not only be challenged but also broken.
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