UKIP: Racism without the racists?

In light of the United Kingdom Independence Party’s (UKIP) recent successes at the local and European elections, a number of colleagues, friends, family and followers on social media have asked me whether I think UKIP are racist. My answer is always the same. Yes – UKIP is a racist organisation. A significant proportion of people have been surprised by my response; however, I am not similarly taken aback by their reaction to my assertion neither am I shocked that this question has been put to me so frequently over the last few weeks. I’ll explain why during this short piece.

Firstly, to deal with some of the more incontrovertible occurrences of individual racism emanating from UKIP members. Should a UKIP member instructing Lenny Henry to “emigrate to a black country” be considered racist? Yes. Is telling Nigel Farage that “Jewish bankers dominate the world” racist? Yes. Is the expression “bongo bongo land” racist? Yes. Is the following statement from a UKIP member racist: “Go home you free-loading, benefit-grabbing, resource-sucking, baby-making, non-English-speaking ********* and take those other hairy-faced, sandal-wearing, bomb-making, camel-riding, goat-********, raghead ******** with you”. Well, irrefutably, yes.

Popular opinion would mostly agree that these kinds of bigoted attitudes, expressed about Black people, would constitute racism. That is because they fit neatly within old, colour–based conceptions of racism as something to do with a dislike or hatred of Black people. Hence, when such abhorrent opinions surface high ranking UKIP officials appear all too aware of this and act quickly to condemn the perpetrators for expressing such indisputably racist sentiment. Moreover, to further distance the party from these increasingly frequent individual micro-aggressions, UKIP professes actively to value highly-skilled Black, South Asian and East Asian people over certain peripherally white people – a position which distances them from the (even far-er) far-right British Nationalist Party. If one then continues to hold to the position that racism should be understood simply as “prejudice … directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”, it is unsurprising that some do not recognise UKIP as a racist organisation. In simple terms, given that it is the official party-line to supposedly celebrate, as opposed to deny, the talents of particular non-white peoples how could an organisation of this nature be considered racist?

So successful is UKIP’s articulation of its ‘anti-racist’ immigration control objectives (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) even the BBC’s chief political editor, Nick Robinson, seems to agree that the broader debate about EU migration (read: white migration), engulfing much of the UK, is indeed “not about race”. This attitude is especially worrying. That is because it fails to recognise how it is white people are indeed raced, and therefore must have something to do with ‘race’, or how differing white ethnic groups are racialised differently. Thus, if the position of Robinson is typical of others in mainstream media, UKIP will continue to receive very little in way of comeback when describing “Romanians” as benefit-stealing criminals or “Polish” people as low-skilled workers because simply it is assumed that these persons and countries are perceived by Britons as white. Failing to understand that UKIP’s vision of Europe as a two-tiered economic space, which has produced supposedly two distinctly different cultural-types of European countries and, importantly, peoples (wealthy, cultured and civilised Western, Central and Northern Europeans and impoverished, barbaric and uncivilised Eastern Europeans), is absolutely to do with ‘race’, legitimises UKIP’s supposedly ‘anti-racist’ position.

Indeed, racism should be understood as a belief in Black inferiority but it should also be considered in much more complex terms if we are to understand the nature of how discriminatory practices function in contemporary Western societies. It is therefore imperative to mark and name the racist practices and beliefs of UKIP and Farage to avoid what Mairtin Mac an Ghaill calls “racism without race”, which is a tendency to downplay the seriousness of xenophobia, jingoism and racialised forms of oppression simply because ‘new’ incarnations of racism do not fit neatly with the ‘old’. To ignore what is implicit within Farage’s anti-European rhetoric – a belief in Europe as a place populated by sub-racial categories of white people, whose cultures are inferior to those imagined to exist in Farage’s mythical little England – is to fail to recognise the sincerity of intra-racial racism and the inherently racist, divisive and contentious intent harboured by UKIP.

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