Immigration, xenophobia and racism…

Every so often, these days, someone says something about immigration that makes me think about racism, xenophobia, or both. Often it’s someone from UKIP, but recently Tory politicians have been joining in pretty regularly – and even Lib Dems and Labourites have been triggering the same reaction in me. Whenever I mention this on Twitter, in amongst the other reactions there will pretty much every time be someone who says something like ‘why does someone wanting to limit or control immigration have to be racist or xenophobic?’

The answer I generally give is that of course they don’t – but these days, all too often, the reasons behind such statements have racism or xenophobia in the background. That is, not all those people wanting to control or limit immigration are racists or xenophobes, but a lot of xenophobes or racists use the relative respectability of opposition to immigration as a cover story from xenophobia or racism.

I had three interesting altercations of this kind on Twitter last week – from what I remember, they came after the revelation that UKIP had done a deal with a Polish MEP who happened to be a Holocaust Denier. In all three cases, the starting point was a seemingly rational objection to immigration. I engaged with the argument – I don’t always, because these kinds of arguments can be exhausting and depressing – and in all three cases the ending was memorable. The first finished with the suggestion that Labour councils had been engaging in ‘ethnic cleansing of whites’ (the words of my opponent). The second peaked with the remarkable statement that everything always goes downhill when the proportion of whites in an area goes below 60% – a ‘fact’ that I was assured couldn’t be racist because my opponent has been told it by a black person. The third argument was much more rational, and specifically about immigration from the EU. It ended with a suggestion that one of the biggest problems with EU immigration was that communities didn’t integrate. When I pushed on this point, asking which EU communities didn’t integrate, the answer came Poles and West Africans. Aside from my own experience of the Poles as integrating very well into British society (as they have since their great contribution to the Battle of Britain), the way that West Africans somehow fitted the ‘EU migration’ story made that old feeling of racism and xenophobia come back again.

It happened again when I read of Michael Fallon’s comments of towns feeling ‘swamped’ and ‘under siege’ by EU immigrants. If he really was talking about EU immigrants, what was it that made him feel ‘swamped’? Too many Polish shops on his high street? Too many shopping aisles in his local Tesco with Eastern European specialist products on them? Hearing Czech spoken at the bus stop? Does he think he can tell an Eastern European from a Western European just by looking at them – I mean, Nigel Farage may be able to ‘know the difference’ between a Romanian and a German, but…

To me it feels like dog whistle politics. When Fallon talks about feeling under siege, he means that ‘they’ look different from ‘us’. ‘We’ should feel threatened by ‘them’. That’s feeding into racism and xenophobia – and I’m afraid that’s all too common in the anti-immigrant rhetoric going around at the moment. That’s where the ‘too many black faces’ talk comes from, the ‘ethnic cleansing of whites’, the ‘going downhill when the White faces go below 60%’, and the non-integration of West Africans goes. And whilst we’re at it, non-integrations is often a cypher in itself. It suggests people shouldn’t talk their own languages, even amongst themselves, shouldn’t wear any clothes that aren’t ‘British’ enough – and certainly shouldn’t practice any religion other than Christianity openly.

Of course there are rational arguments against immigration – though most of them fall apart under serious scrutiny. Those twin myths of ‘health tourism’ and ‘benefit tourism’ keep being trotted out though the figures show they’re negligible – and indeed immigrants tend to be younger, healthier and less likely to claim benefits than non-immigrants, as well as contributing more in taxes than they cost in terms of health and benefits. ‘They’ aren’t taking ‘our’ jobs either – in general immigration creates as many jobs as it takes, and boosts the economy. The problem problems we have with housing are connected with chronic underinvestment and a dysfunctional market – not immigration.

All this, however, is lost in the morass of misinformation, much of it fuelled by racism and xenophobia. What are also lost in this mess are the real causes of the real problems in places like Clacton, Rochester and elsewhere. Whilst focussing on the immigrants, the unscrupulous landlords, dodgy employers and tax-avoiding rich people and companies who mess up the housing market, pay poverty wages and massively reduce the tax take necessary to make the investments those communities need, are laughing all the way to their off-shore banks. Politicians wreaking havoc through austerity and ‘reform’ are left to enjoy their subsidised drinks in the Commons’ bars. The real villains are happy to see immigrants and immigration take the blame. Of course they are.

So no, talking about wanting to limit or control immigration isn’t racist or xenophobic – but plenty of xenophobes and racists talk about wanting to control immigration. And plenty of others are selfish enough to encourage them to do so, because it keeps their own actions away from the limelight. It keeps them from being held to account – and it allows the story to keep on going in exactly the same way. The side effects of the encouragement of racism and xenophobia are hideous, and the damage it does to us as a whole, as a culture, as a community, is incalculable. It divides, it stigmatises, it spreads suspicion, distrust and fear. It’s what makes people suspect any Muslim could be a terrorist, every African a carrier of Ebola, every Serb a war criminal, every Romanian a thief. It diminishes all of us. That it’s allowed to grow, to fester, is something that makes me, for one, deeply sad.

23 thoughts on “Immigration, xenophobia and racism…

  1. While I agree with many of your claims regarding xenophobic and racist sentiment, there is something I’d like to share my opinion. I personally have no issue with immigration. This is the United States, and our opportunities should be available to those who seek a better life from political hardships. However, in regards to South American immigration, it isn’t a matter of opposition to their cultures, it is more the fact that quite a few do not integrate into U.S. Society. They simply retain their language, and never have a need to learn English. In America, there are clusters mainly along the west coast and southwest regions where Spanish is the only language spoken. If Inwere to immigrate to say, Germany, I’d be expected to learn German. The Germans would not be too keen on adapting to the presence of English speakers. If you make the choice to immigrate, it is your responsibility to learn the customs and language of your chosen county. Culture is fluid, and maintains its rightful place in an immigrants life. Language, however, is not something to be forfeited in my opinion.

    1. Yes, well one would have to ask why the Brits do not learn Spanish when they retire in sunny Spain….the sad fact is whatever race you are talking about is that we are all lazy in learning languages.It takes three generations to settle in a country and integrate and by the by speaking English does not appear to have helped your black population which has been around for ever such a long time. Has it? And futhermore who was it who exploited the Americas? So the Americans speak English? Do they? The real problem lies in the wars that your country and my country chooses to play out on innocent civilians all over the world.
      And we wonder why we have a refugee problem……give me a break. Sanctimonius load of codswallop.

    2. You do realise, I hope, that I’m writing from the UK…. and whilst learning English is good, that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean you stop using your original language!

      1. And the Spanish were in California before the gringos, New York was previously New Amsterdam, there was no border when Wolfe assaulted Montreal and beat the French. Who are the newcomers and whose language (or variation thereof) should they speak?

        The Louisiana Purchase (French: Vente de la Louisiane “Sale of Louisiana”) was the acquisition by the United States of America in 1803 of 828,000 square miles (2,144,000 square kilometers or 529,920,000 acres) of France’s claim to the territory of Louisiana for US $15 million. How much of a fee did the realtor get?

        “Acadian-Creoles or Cajuns (/ˈkeɪdʒən/; French: les Cadiens or Les Cadiens or les Acadiens, [le kadjɛ̃, lez‿akadjɛ̃]) are an ethnic group mainly living in the US State of Louisiana, consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles (French-speakers from Acadia in what are now the Maritimes). Today, the Acadian Creoles or Cajuns make up a significant portion of south Louisiana’s population and have exerted an enormous impact on the state’s culture.”

        “Cajun French is a variety or dialect of the French language spoken primarily in the Acadiana region of Louisiana. At one time there were as many as seven dialects spread across the Cajun Heartland.

        Recent documentation has been made of Cajun English, a French-influenced dialect of English spoken by Cajuns, either as a second language, in the case of the older members of the community, or as a first language by younger Cajuns.”

        “In 1819, by terms of the Adams-Onís Treaty, Spain ceded Florida to the United States in exchange for $5 million and the American renunciation of any claims on Texas that they might have from the Louisiana Purchase. The free blacks and Indian slaves, Black Seminoles, living near St. Augustine, fled to Havana, Cuba to avoid coming under US control. Some Seminole also abandoned their settlements and moved further south. Hundreds of Black Seminoles and fugitive slaves escaped in the early nineteenth century from Cape Florida to The Bahamas, where they settled on Andros Island.”

        Top 10 Non-English Languages Spoken in Florida (Language and Percentage of Population (as of 2010))

        Spanish 19.54%
        French Creole 1.84%
        French 0.60%
        Portuguese 0.50%
        German 0.42%
        Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Italian (tied) 0.31%
        Arabic 0.22%
        Chinese 0.20%

        Check out:

        Truly, the USA remains a melting pot and just with its many regional English accents and dialects poses a severe problem for anyone seeking to integrate by learning US English. In the case of some states, surely people should be seeking to learn Spanish as the people living in them rediscover their heritage and preserve their unique cultures? Wales is bi-lingual and none the worse for it, even the safety announcements on railway stations sound better in Welsh than English! Welsh being so much more lyrical than any other language in the world …

        Ultimately, the purpose of language is primarily communication and certainly not as a means to determine who is us and who is them.

        Nos da!

  2. Do migrants price local people out of jobs in agriculture?

    “The Abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board

    10 May 2013

    In 2010, the Coalition Government announced its intention to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, as part of its shake-up of public bodies. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 abolishes the Agricultural Wages Board from 25 June 2013. The 31 Agricultural Wages Committees and Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees will also be abolished at the same time.

    The Agricultural Wages Board, which was established by the Agricultural Wages Act 1948 (, has a statutory obligation to fix minimum wages for workers employed in agriculture in England and Wales. The rate of pay depends on the type of work involved. The Board also has powers to decide other terms and conditions of employment for agricultural workers, such as holidays and sick pay. It produces a legally binding Agricultural Wages Order, which is enforced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Order is made annually and normally comes into force on 1 October. The current Order is due to expire on 30 September 2013.

    The effect of abolition is that employers will be able to take on new agricultural workers on less generous terms and conditions than under the Agricultural Wages Order, provided they comply with employment law generally, such as the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Regulations and the Working Time Regulations.

    Whether existing workers are entitled to continue to be paid at the rates prescribed by the current Agricultural Wages Order will depend upon the wording of their contracts of employment. If the contract states simply that the worker is entitled only to the statutory minimum, then that will probably be treated as meaning the National Minimum Wage Regulations and so the employer is likely to be able to reduce the worker’s wages down to national minimum wage rates. If, however, the contract of employment is unclear or states that the worker is entitled to the rates under the Agricultural Wages Order, then the employer is likely to have to continue to pay the rates prescribed by the current Agricultural Wages Order until the national minimum wage rates rise to meet or exceed the levels set out in the Agricultural Wages Order.

    If the employer makes unlawful reductions in the worker’s wages, it is likely to give rise to a constructive unfair dismissal claim and/or a claim for unlawful deduction from wages. Employers should therefore check their workers’ contracts of employment and take legal advice if necessary.

    The changes will not affect Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have their own Agricultural Wages Boards and have no plans to abolish them. The Welsh Assembly, however, was opposed to abolition and may try to create a separate Welsh Agricultural Wages Board.”

    Were there any migrants in the UK in 1948 driving down wages in the agricultural industry, particularly in the East of England? The prisoners of war had gone home. Most immigrants were heading to the urban bright lights. Working in agriculture has been poorly paid for more than a century. The AWB survived the scrapping of the other boards by John Major and had survived the era of Mrs Thatcher (

    The AWB was abolished by the Coalition on 1st October 2013 ( Perhaps someone should ask Farage if ukip would bring it back into existence and so do something practical for the rural poor, working or not? May be Mr Fallon might think about calling for it to be brought back? Perhaps Labour should come out fighting on the issue ( And Clegg? Probably best if he keeps his mouth shut.

    Labour has brought into existence a Welsh Agricultural Wages Board in the teeth of fierce opposition from the heirs of Thatcher ( Incidentally, the leader of the Tory antis in the Welsh Assembly is a farmer, but she was not campaigning on behalf of herself, it seems. She also declines to say how much she receives in the way of agricultural subsidies (aka taxpayers’ money) from the European Union. She benefits from an AWB for farmers, just like ukip’s former candidate in Clacton, another farmer.

    Of course, Farage says migrants push down wages in agriculture so everyone agrees with him, seemingly across the political spectrum. This theory supports the views of opponents of the EU and anti-neo liberals. It gives reporters, looking for a simple narrative, a ‘common sense’ story to present, requiring no research apart from a vox pop. At the margin may be migrants in some localities have moderated wage rises, but there are other more significant issues affecting the state of agriculture and impacting on workers within the industry, but they cannot even be tenuously linked to migration; a major one of them is down to anyone who buys food in the UK. These issues do not fit the preferred story. They will feature in a post on my blog shortly along with other related labour market issues from elsewhere in the economy (and UK).

    As an aside, Heywood and Middleton, Clacton and Rochester and Strood all have indigenous white populations in excess of 90%. No urban bright lights there too?

  3. Well vacationing and permanent residency are two completey different situations. No offense, but you don’t live in America not do you understand the circumstances as I do. In America, we press “one” for English” and “two for Spanish.” There is incentive to assimilate. That is the only point I am bringing to light here. I also agree with the military industrial complex being a major problem in the formation of worldwide cultural identities. However, that was not the point I was making.

    1. Assimilation means losing your cultural identity etc. and becoming a homogeneous member of the local community, subject to the cultural mores, behaviour etc. set down by others. Integration allows for multi-culturalism, a blend of cultures not the subjugation of one by another.

      1. There is a difference between abandoning cultural identity, and integration. When a person to the United States, he/she is choosing to leave their home country, and start a new life in another country. If he/she wanted to remain apart of their culture, why leave in the first place? I don’t disagree with the idea that cultures are fluid. However, migrating generally includes the necessity to adapt to that countries principles. Each country adheres to a specific set of customs and traditions. Why should it be any different for immigrants?

    1. I look forward to hearing that you have renounced Western materialism and fully integrated into the lifestyle of a native North American. It matters not one whit, following your logic, that there are so few of them and so many of you. After all, they were there first, were they not? You have a hell of a lot of assimilating (or integrating) to do, it seems to me.

      And the USA does not have one set of customs and traditions. How could it? Following your version of your own history, the thirteen colonies et al were settled by all sorts of waifs and strays. Try telling an Irish American that he should consider himself a descendant of the English. I would check your healthcare insurance first before doing so.

      I gather many US citizens are big on States rights. Partly, if I understand it correctly, in order to reflect the fact that the USA does not have a shared set of customs and traditions. By the way, if you do, why do you celebrate Halloween, but not Bonfire Night?

      It strikes me that the one thing that we bequeathed the foundling white dominated USA was a complete inability to agree on a common set of customs and traditions. You cannot even agree what constitutes a right to bear arms and individual State legislatures disagree on capital punishment.

      By the way, where do the people who were forced to come to your country to work fit in with your argument? They did not choose the lifestyle foisted on them by others.

      Following your logic again, why are you not all bumbling, tea drinkers with a tendency to apologise for bumping into other people rather than a bunch of brash philistines with egos the size of the Statue of Liberty? You are seeking to preserve in aspic your society as it is today (and, yes, both are extreme stereotypes). You seem to be clinging to Nanny and in danger of turning into a stereotypical member of the Orange Order or a British ex patriot in Spain, both of whom are more British than the British. I thought the USA was all about embracing change and so forth?

      Our own version of the Tea Party set great store by our ‘shared’ British values and culture. They look forward to the day when they may impose them on all of their fellow citizens. You know challenging that dictatorial mentality reminds me of a story I once read about 13 rebellious colonies and their battle not to be dicated to by a far away government. They actually wanted more rights, no taxation without representation, than those that were enjoyed by their cousins across the sea. Hardly anyone in Great Britain had the right to vote in 1776. They were, in fact, seeking to break with a set of shared customs and traditions.

      By the way, I notice that you chaps cannot spell the word labour. Thereby proving that even your chosen language is not immutable. We would never have let a Webster ruin our language in the way you did. Shakespeare would have turned in his grave if we had. The same Shakespeare whose appeal transcends customs and traditions whatever language in which his works are performed.

      1. Actually we not only apologise for bumping into other people, we apologise to them when they bump into us! Tis a quaint custom and one migrants have had no problem with making their own. Verily a sign of assimilation.

        As an aside, why do New Yorkers now routinely describe a convenience/mom and pop store/mini-mart/grocery store/liquor store/7/11 as a bodega?

  4. What always surprises me is that no one ever mentions the racist xenophobic nature of the eussr constitution aka the lisbon treaty which discriminates against people from outside the bloc by giving those foreigners to each other within freedom of movement and the right to work anywhere within the bloc that they like but anyone from outside has to obtain a visa and go through the hoops. This racist xenophobic attitude has lead to a shortage of Doctors in Britain as those from India are now restricted, and yet we never hear about the constitutional racism of the eussr do we.?

    1. Well, if you have an rabid rogue elephant attacking you, you don’t generally worry about a gnat that’s buzzing around, do you? Seriously, is that your only response to this issue? You support a wildly xenophobic party, and you try to distract people by saying ‘hey, but they’re xenophobic too’?

      1. A member of the party touting Australia’s immigration and migration system (that ukip favours and which requires valid visas for more than a 72 hour stay, regardless of reason) complaining about a much wider geographic area with a very much larger population putting limits on those who enter it? Of course, the UK, already determine who comes here for work from outside of the EU, using a points based system.

        Confused? You will be, Barry, when checking pages 6, 7, 8, 9 14:

        Click to access shortageoccupationlistapril14.pdf

        “This document sets out the official Shortage Occupation List for Tier 2 of the Points-Based System.”

        You may find this list easier to navigate.

        You may notice, Barry, that this website discriminates against visitors by suggesting they use a pull down to customise the site to reflect where they are viewing it from. The site recommends doing so before you view any of the site’s content.

        The Australians are not big on letting Indians into their country to work on a temporary basis, for example, although one may, for instance, if Indian:

        “do full-time domestic work in the household of certain senior foreign executives (the Domestic Worker (Executive) stream).”

        Most of the occupations open to Indians are very much in very niche occupational areas and none, as far as Indians are concerned, include medical staff. The Australians poach a lot of their medical staff from our NHS. UK taxpayer subsidies Australian medical service? Time for a policy of golden handcuffs and/or penalties for emigrating within a specific time of completing initial training? Thereby, reducing the need to import staff from outside of the UK.

        And, it would be nice if ukip, amongst others, stopped attacking and running down the NHS. Perhaps then people would be a lot less likely to want to leave and go where they and their skills are treated with the respect they deserve?

        And say hello to ukip’s NHS policy:

        Farage said something disturbing about the NHS

        ukip’s NHS Policy Allows 4 Charging Pensioners & Others 4 Prescriptions!

        A policy that would make NHS staff recruitment and retention harder not easier.

        Finally, Barry, remember I am the Labour Market Expert with 27 years experience who has worked with the NHS (and lots of private, public and VCS employers) about just the issues you comment. By the way, is Cuba in the EU? There were 600 nurses from Cuba working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham in the mid 2000s. Wherever employers choose to recruit they decide who they appoint not the EU.

  5. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I was in the hand-wringing well, you know… camp until quite recently (as in “obviously a lot of it is racism, but when ordinary people feel that things are changing too quickly, well, you know…”). Then I realised that when people talk about immigration these days they’re talking about Eastern Europeans – people like my wife. And, indeed, her late father, who fought the Fascists as part of the Free Polish Army and later settled in Britain – which was glad to have him, and rightly so. Which made me feel a bit less sympathy with those ‘ordinary people’ – and, incidentally, made me wonder if I’d been too generous to them before.

    We should never stop asking – and when it comes to the media it’d be an improvement if we started asking – what are the actual problems which are caused by “too many immigrants”? Are there non-discriminatory (i.e. legal) ways of addressing those problems – like, say, enforcing minimum wage agreements? As a commenter above says, if anyone’s being priced out of a job, the guilty party are the employers paying poverty wages to recent migrants – so where’s UKIP’s campaign against low pay?

    If discrimination against immigrants is the answer, then there’s another question, posed by Dennis Potter in Brimstone and Treacle and more recently by Mike Rosen. So there are too many of ‘them’. ‘We’ had better send some of them back, hadn’t we? But which ones? Who will do the choosing? We’ll have to have a special new police force in charge of picking out immigrants to send back. But then, what if they don’t want to go? And so queasily on.

    1. I wrote this piece on the plane home from Romania – my wife’s Romanian, and I visit Romania a lot. When you have a personal connection it really hits home, and you see how nasty it is. I think part of the reason people excuse the xenophobia and racism is that they don’t make the connection, and don’t think of the people they’re talking about as real ‘people’.

  6. Reblogged this on Europäische Gerichtshof … call me CJUE and commented:
    “Not all those people wanting to control or limit immigration are racists or xenophobes, but a lot of xenophobes or racists use the relative respectability of opposition to immigration as a cover story from xenophobia or racism”. Muy actual, y grave, no sólo en UK, sino también en toda la Unión, como estamos comprobando.

  7. Very well written, Paul. Your post seems to be more valid then ever nowadays (just after the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris).

    I myself am a Bulgarian expatriate living in Germany, and I cannot help but feel disgusted at the recent surge of right-wing xenophobic opinions among “normal people”.

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