The year’s creeping tide of racism
Was 2017 the year of the white supremacist? A friend put this to me recently.
My answer is no. It would be indulgent despair to declare we’ve lost to racism. We haven’t. And we shouldn’t think we have.
But I admit: there has been something about 2017 that has tested our multiracial and multicultural society. It’s there in the zeitgeist. This year, across many countries, racism has gained a new credibility and potency. Right-wing nationalism has gathered momentum. White supremacist movements have surged.
This has been most pronounced on either side of the Atlantic. In the US, the first year of the Trump presidency spawned the racial violence of Charlottesville. In Europe, far-right political forces have entered into coalition governments in more than one country – most recently, in Austria. Even in Canada, that progressive bastion of multiculturalism, there has been a dramatic increase in far-right hate group activity.
Here, there are signs that intolerance, prejudice and hatred may be on the rise too. White supremacist and anti-immigrant groups, inspired by global developments, have been operating in open view, in ways unseen for two decades.
The problem runs deeper. Within our political discourse, there has been a creeping normalisation of discrimination and hatred.
What may have been regarded as repugnant is now being entertained as part of ordinary debate. Proposals for immigration policy to discriminate on ethnic or religious grounds, and for the mass internment of Muslims, are just two examples of ideas that have been seriously aired in 2017. Pauline Hanson even dressed up in a burqa in the Senate chamber to make a point about Islam.
Meanwhile, we have seen commentators fantasise about running over people from migrant backgrounds with whom they disagree (as media personality Prue MacSween did about writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied). Some have revelled in disparaging multicultural voices by telling people to leave the country or “go back to where you came from”.