Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Britain’s Unpeople or Race-Framing as a Smokescreen

Consider the following:

We live in a country where the police are 28 times more likely to stop and search a young black male.

We live in a country where Muslim men can be arrested, imprisoned in solitary confinement and extradited to the US despite a complete absence of evidence (before being released without charge over 8 years later).

Yet, here we are. We are expected to believe that the reason council officials and police ignored the repeated complaints about serious sexual abuse of over 1400 girls in Rotherham, and used their power to silence the voices of whistle-blowers, was because of misplaced sensitivities about the ethnicity of the perpetrators and a desire not to be perceived as being discriminatory.

Yeah. Right. This is BULLSHIT.

This is actually about young women and young girls of a certain socio-economic status being deemed as unworthy of the protection of the law, unworthy of police work, unworthy of basic trust and unworthy of care. The victims, young women and young girls, were treated as unpeople, not only by their abusers, but by the authorities too.

Just over a year ago, in the first month following the creation of this blog, I published a piece called Race-framing, Self-fulfilling Prejudice and Abusing the Notion of Courage. What prompted the piece was my frustration at repeated attempts in the media to race-frame certain crimes, when the perpetrators happened to be black, Asian or Muslim. This race-framing simply doesn’t happen in the case of white perpetrators of similar crimes (Hall, Savile, Harris, for example.) and is not warranted by the statistical data available on which groups are most likely to be perpetrators of specific crimes. For example, the Rochdale case prompted much frenzied race-framing back in 2012, but the data are and were there for all to see: 95% of those on the Sex Offenders Register in the Rochdale area are white.

In my piece from June 2013 I recommended two excellent articles by Joseph Harker. I recommend them both again here. Even if you read them last year, I recommend you read them again now: This is How Racism Takes Root & It’s Time to Face Up to the Problem of Sexual Abuse in the White Community.

But now, just as a year ago, and just as in 2012, no one writing headlines, or deciding on the newsroom agenda, seems to be listening to Harker, to me or to the many others who have made similar points going back decades.

The media went into race-framing overdrive as they discussed the Rotherham Abuse Report, following its publication (26-Aug-2014). They did so despite the report’s author warning against such a pre-occupation with the ethnicity of the perpetrators, at the report launch. As Prof. Jay remarked, making reference to 2012’s Rochdale case, ‘None of the programmes put in place in Rochdale will make headlines the way a bit of stereotyping will.’ And the media, led by the BBC, obliged. Rochdale programmes were ignored and stereotyping prevailed as they discussed the Rotherham abuse Report.

I don’t want to rehash what I said last year. I want rather to pick up on the implausibility of the ‘liberal sensibilities’ angle, with which I began. If you listen to the news today you will, inevitably, hear this being pushed, The discussion will be about how it was liberal sensitivities that prevented the council and the police from acting in Rotherham.

This kind of race-framing serves as a gratuitous smoke screen. The smoke screen prevents us seeing what this is really about. This is about society as a whole failing, through prejudice. Society taking young women and young girls, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, and creating unpeople.

You might not be an abuser of children, but do your prejudices help create the environment in which such abuse can take place and continue for so long?

Do a quick test. You need to be honest with yourself here:

Ask yourself, would you be less inclined to believe people, particularly girls, from certain (lower) socio-economic groups, people who looked, dressed or talked a certain way, if they came to you asking for help, telling you they were being abused?

Do you hate chavs?

What stereotypes are operative in your subconscious?

Ask yourself, do you make decisions about the best use of your time based on which kind of people you think are more worthy of your time and your help than others? If that’s good enough for you, then it must be good enough for a time-pressed police officer… right?

And just how sound is your judgement here? Is it even judgement you are exercising? It could just be a bit of casual, maybe implicit, sexism, class bias or racism (in practice the three get run together quite often).

It’s all too easy to make the events in Rotherham a story about the ethnicity of the perpetrators, because that rather conveniently also makes it not about the rest of us not belonging to that ethnic group. But it is about us. It is about us, as a society, creating unpeople: people not really acknowledged as people at all, in important and significant ways: the law ignores them in practice, civil authorities often don’t hear, much less acknowledge their voice, and predators prey on them because they know that in practice the law ignores them, their voices go unheard and there is no-one looking out for them, no-one caring for them.

The race-framing narrative, which currently dominates the discussion, serves a right-wing, reactionary agenda: ‘it is those lefties with their liberal, multi-cultural sensitivities that are the problem’. This is one explanation for its popularity. The other explanation is that, as I noted above, it let’s everyone else off the hook. We buy-in to this narrative and we simultaneously shed any responsibility we might have for what’s happened. The two go together: a reactionary political agenda and our desire to abdicate ourselves of any responsibility: ‘it’s the [insert preferred scapegoat group here] and the liberals who are too scared to acknowledge it who are to blame’. Then you can sit comfortably, safe in the knowledge that you, not being a member of one of the scapegoat groups and not being a lefty or a liberal advocate or defender of multiculturalism, bear no responsibility at all for what has happened in your society.

But what if you are wrong? What if this is just a self-serving myth? And what if that myth is also what creates the conditions in which these crimes take place on such a scale and over such a long period of time. What if the problem isn’t liberal sensitivities but is rather the opposite: prejudice (whether class-, gender- or ethnicity-based), which serves to motivate and justify the creation of unpeople in our society.

The stop and search data, the British state’s imprisonment without trial and extradition of an innocent British Muslim man with Asperger's syndrome, while simultaneously fighting and ultimately resisting the US extradition request in the case of a white British man with Asperger’s syndrome, suggests that contemporary Britain is not a place where liberal multiculturalism gets in the way of justice, but quite the opposite: one’s ethnicity, one’s skin colour and religion, like one’s social class and gender, can serve to deny you justice, by rendering you an unperson. This is what we should be talking about following the Rotherham report.


1 comment :

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