Racism is alive and well in 2004

    Racist language was easy to identify 30 years ago, but times have
    changed. The 21st century brings new challenges to those of us
    committed to ending oppression because we must face up to our own
    complacency.

    We have learned the language of political correctness. We know
    which words to avoid and we can, at will, spout the philosophy of
    equal opportunities. Blatant racism is neither fashionable nor
    popular and accusations of such are vehemently denied. We appear to
    have made progress, with the introduction of human rights
    legislation and laws condemning racist practices. In theory we are
    a humanitarian society committed to ethical principles. Or so it
    seems.

    The truth is that we have not kept up with the changing face of
    racism. It has become more subtle, more covert than overt, more
    implicit than explicit, more devious and therefore much more
    dangerous. It is increasingly difficult these days to spot racism
    and the accusation of such often leads to as much condemnation of
    the accuser as the accused.

    Racism 2004-style exists in the little words we use every day. It
    is evident in the way we describe the otherness of people, and in
    whom we exclude when we talk of “we” and “us”. It is there in the
    pronouns we use to identify those we see as like us and those we
    don’t. And it is particularly evident in the way immigration is
    discussed.

    Close examination of the dialogue used by Labour to discuss asylum
    seekers and refugees is particularly enlightening. Negativity and
    criminality, unacceptable cultural practices, and the depiction of
    immigrants as lacking understanding of basic human rights are all
    expressions of racist sentiment: a politically acceptable racist
    sentiment that forms the foundation on which our current
    immigration policy is built.

    While this is the case we cannot consider ourselves a humanitarian
    society.

    For as long as we stand by and allow our elected leaders to abandon
    commitments to ethical principles in the name of immigration
    control, we are all guilty of perpetuating oppression. Our
    understanding of racism must change if we are to continue the
    fight, and the battle must start with those at the top.

    Dawn Summers is a youth and community worker.

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