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Conservatives can’t be racist because so many of them have foreign wives? Here are six reasons why that’s not a great argument.
As far as the great Tory modernisation project goes – and Dave’s actions (for example on bedroom tax) speak louder than his words to many – a niggling obstacle is the continued reluctance of black and minority ethnic (BME) communities to vote Tory. In fact, research conducted by their very own Lord Ashcroft finds that far too many BME voters perceive the party to be “hostile to people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds”. Ouch. The belief runs deep, so deep that at the last election, the party managed only 16% of the minority vote where Labour gained 68%. Fast-forward nearly four years to 2014 and a Tory candidate campaigning for election in London’s West Hampstead.
Edward de Mesquita complains that he has had to fend off recurring accusations that his party produces “racist” polices. His strategy? To remind constituents that “Conservatives are not racist.” The proof? Well, erm, “so many of the Conservatives have foreign wives after all”. Right. And? Perhaps best to let the man speak for himself here: “So, when I go out door knocking, and people tell me the Conservatives are racist, I could say: ‘No, now come on. I have a Chinese girlfriend.’ ” That solves it then. Casually shattering my naive belief that there was more to having a partner than their use as a political statement, de Mesquita goes on:
“Many of the racists in this area are old people or less privileged people. How could I be racist? Most of the girlfriends I’ve had have been very international. I tend to go for non-white women.” Cue awkward silence.
So, though this may well not apply to de Mesquita, here are six reasons for why you can have a wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend from a BME background and still hold racist views or prejudices.
1. Deny the existence of subtly racist acts or indeed racism altogether because it’s not like we’re living in the times of, say, slavery. Hallelujah! You maintain a misguided belief that racists only come in white sheets with pointy hoods adorned with holes. Or in the high-waisted, stonewashed jeans, Doc Martins and skinhead guise. Apart from the fact that it is a look even Rihanna has adapted and popularised. While BME people may no longer be murdered just for the colour of our skin (although some may dispute that), we remain disproportionately criminalised. We are half as likely as the white population to take drugs, yet are six times as likely to be stopped and searched for their possession. And when found on us, we are twice as liable to be charged. And yes, private landlords no longer crudely place the “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish” signs on their doors. Now they can instruct estate agentsto do so on their behalf.
2. View positive traits like intelligence as somehow surprising and extraordinary when found in the BME person you are conversing with eg “she was Pakistani, very bright”. The word Pakistani does not qualify “very bright” unless you think the two are mutually exclusive. They are not.
3. Subscribe to the exotification of BME women which casts south-east Asian women as docile, demure and able to “treat a man well”; south Asian women as universally oppressed because “those poor women are controlled and trapped”; and black women with our “shapely” figures are forever sexually available cos, “you know, the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice”. No, I don’t know. See: 12 Years a Slave.
4. May love your black partner but it doesn’t stop you from quietly knowing that BME men generally oppress their women; that black men are all gangsters with grotesquely large penises, south Asian men brutish, while Chinese men have laughingly small members.
5. Hold racist generalisations about particular BME communities that you’re not familiar with. Having a black or Chinese girlfriend may not actually stop you from “feeling uncomfortable” (read “scared to death”) when a woman in full veil sits next to you on a train or bus or plane.
6. Believe in the idea of a model minority that is enterprising, while the majority within the BME community need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and get with the programme of what life is like in the UK. Your typical train of thought here might go “look at those (insert ethnic minority label), they’ve come over here and are just fitting right in and doing well. Why can’t (insert ethnic minority label) do the same?!Well done, you get a lolly for ignoring the significance of institutional and structural racism, thereby supporting them.
This list could go on. Anti-discrimination laws may do a lot but they haven’t quite yet made us a post-racial society. The “my girlfriend is non-white” line isn’t a badge that exempts you from ever being implicated in racism; hell, the fact of being black doesn’t even do that.
– By Lola Okolosie for The Guardian