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Jason Wood |

History has shown us that come election time, a card is placed on the table by most of the major contenders. Unable to take home the electoral vote on their own merit or by winning an argument, they turn to the British 'gut instinct' and, ultimately racism. But this card is becoming harder to define...

If you look at any analysis of electoral campaigns throughout the years, one thing is certain. From Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' through to 'If you want a Nigger neighbour - vote Labour', playing the race game has only ever served as a political ammo. In this modern day, populist, detached, so-called democracy, little is different. However, one thing that has occurred to me is the changing nature of what people define as the 'race card'.

Media pundits and commentators are outraged on two accounts of the recent abuse of the race card for political kudos.

Further more, a worrying element is the backlash against the Commission for Racial Equality, which is now under fire for using this mysterious 'race card'. They are being accused of crimes such as 'blackmailing' politicians, 'forcing' people to think a certain way. Commentators will always stretch this a little further, even suggesting that the CRE 'pulls stunts like introducing a contract' in order to justify their jobs or keep the so called 'race relations' industry in business.

I often wondered what a race relations industry produced. What kind of industry is it? Obviously in the eyes of the right-wing press (which incidentally just caught fire with outrage at my local newsagent) the industry is responsible for destroying our white heritage, giving special rights to minorities and is in the business of producing mind-altering advertising.

I have a serious concern about all of this. With the media frenzy adding 'race card' to every discussion, incident, political commentary that surrounds any racist event, perceived racist event or - now it seems - any anti-racist effort, then discussions about racism are lost. Soon, the seriousness of racism will be forgotten in popular consciousness forever, replaced by two mysterious and clever words 'race card'. There is a solution however.

I personally believe that Robin Cook's speech was a sound critique of a root and branch, ingrained racism in the Tory Party, something that a memorandum cannot simply erase. When William Hague recently told John Humphries on Today that his party no longer had an ideology, he was sorely mistaken. His party is comprised of two clashing new right agendas; the old traditionalists who despise pollution of a mythical culture that once existed here and the new, free-market economists who thrive on free immigration, movement of everything in order to keep the economy afloat. In the end, these two ideologies will either wipe one another out in a 'to the death' battle, or co-exist uncomfortably like the old-socialist/new-third-way arrangement we currently have to put up with. Either way you look at it, the ideologies firmly support and concrete the nature of inequality.

Cook's speech was good. However, his timing was ill-conceived - because now the Backlash have got him by the balls. What government needs to realise is that racism is not an election issue, its a day-to-day political concern of the country. A brave government would go to war when racist comments 'flood' the House of Commons, or papers take it upon themselves to pollute our minds with rubbish about 'gut instinct' concerns of the British public. Consistency is needed in order to create an environment where the 'race card' becomes obsolete and firm discussions about tackling racism become the norm. The CRE's move should not be condemned, rather those politicians who have used it to play football should be held to account. 

If we don't put a stop to this soon, the mass psychological effect of those two words will continue to dilute anti-oppressive initiatives altogether and 'gut instincts' will continue to be fed.

Jason Wood is the editor of Student Youth Work Online.

Student Youth Work Online 2001 | This comment was published on 23/04/2001.







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