Nigel Farage and the taboo of calling racist politicians racists
Commentators appear to be more offended by the term 'racist' than actual racism.
In an interview with the Observer on Sunday the journalist Michael Crick says that he does not believe the former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is a racist.
“I don’t think Farage is a racist, though there is plenty of evidence that he was both a racist and an antisemite in his teenage years,” Crick says.
“And he does, I think, like [his hero] Enoch Powell, pander at times to racists.”
The idea that Farage is not personally a racist, but is merely pandering to the racism of others, is hard to square with the facts.
Aside from the evidence, which Crick himself uncovered, of Farage’s own early racism and antisemitism, there is also substantial evidence of it more recently.
To pick a small selection of examples, Farage has in recent years:
Said he wouldn’t like to live next to Romanians
“I was asked if a group of Romanian men moved in next to you, would you be concerned?” he told LBC in 2014, before adding that “if you lived in London, I think you would be.”
When pushed on whether he would also object to living next to German children, he said: “You know the difference.”
Said parts of Britain are like “a foreign land,'“
In a speech which pushed the age-old racist trope about immigration turning the UK into a foreign country, Farage told UKIP’s conference in 2014 that parts of Britain were now like “a foreign land.”
“Whether it is the impact on local schools and hospitals, whether it is the fact in many parts of England you don't hear English spoken any more. This is not the kind of community we want to leave to our children and grandchildren,” he said.
Said he felt uncomfortable hearing foreign voices
Asked to justify his comments about Britain being a foreign land, Farage said that he had recently been on a train in South East London and felt uncomfortable hearing foreign voices.
"Does that make me feel slightly awkward? Yes it does,” Farage said.
Asked to explain why he disliked hearing foreign voices, he explained that "I don't understand them… I don't feel very comfortable in that situation and I don't think the majority of British people do."
Said UK Muslims have ‘split loyalties’
Farage used a speech in 2015 to accuse British Muslims of having “split loyalties.”
In a speech that portrayed British Muslims as being traitors to their own country, Farage said there was “a problem with some of the Muslim community in this country” and suggested that they had a “tremendous conflict and a split of loyalties”.
Said the ‘Jewish lobby’ has disproportionate influence
In 2017 the former UKIP leader was accused of spreading antisemitic tropes after saying that what he called the “Jewish lobby” were "very powerful" in the US.
"There are about six million Jewish people living in America, so as a percentage it’s quite small, but in terms of influence it’s quite big," Farage said on his LBC show.
Asked by a caller whether US politicians were "in the pockets" of Israel, Farage replied that: "In terms of money and influence, yes they are a very powerful lobby."
If any member of the public, picked at random, had made the sorts of comments listed above then few people, Crick included, would hesitate to judge that they were a racist.
The same applies if another member of the public were attributed the sorts of comments that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has made over the years.
And yet for some reason Crick, who is about to publish an extensively-researched biography of Farage, hesitates to use the term that so obviously applies.
The reason for this hesitancy is curious. The commentator Ash Sarkar suggested this morning that it may come from an attempt to position “racism as a working class phenomena, which is incompatible with being an elite political operator.”
“Posh people who fan the flames of racism are ‘pandering’ to racism, while magically being absolved of being racists themselves,” she explains.
I think there’s something in this.
Crick’s reasoning appears to be that Farage is not really a racist, but is just exploiting the racism of others.
Yet is this even a meaningful distinction? If you are repeatedly saying racist things, standing in front of racist posters and devoting your entire political career to a racist agenda, then the question of whether you are a racist “at heart” seems somewhat irrelevant.
In life all we can do is judge people on their own words and actions and when it comes to Farage these are both as clear as can be.
A similar hesitancy has been applied to Johnson over the years, with commentators and even his political opponents reluctant to ever call him a racist, despite him repeatedly saying and writing racist things throughout his career.
In both cases Johnson and Farage are given an exemption from the sorts of judgements that are readily applied to people from different social, political, and professional backgrounds.
A ‘Charming’ Racist
Even if we were to accept the premise that these politicians are merely “pandering” to racism, rather than being racist themselves, would that really be any better?
If a Neo-Nazi activist were to abuse somebody on a train, they could at least claim the excuse of genuinely believing in a false and abhorrent ideology.
What would Johnson and Farage’s excuse be? If we are to believe that both men are trading off of a vile and dangerous ideology *despite* knowing that it is vile and dangerous and despite not really believing in itself, then that is not really a defence.
When pushed about his own views of Farage, Crick told the Observer that “I admire his persistence and his energy [but] I don’t admire his pandering to racism.” However, he goes on to add that “clearly he does have a charm. I’ve had some good laughs with him.”
It is exactly this kind of logic that plagues so much discussion of racism. On the one hand Crick acknowledges that Farage has exploited racism, but on the other hand absolves him from the term that obviously applies to this behaviour on the apparent basis that he is personally “charming.”
The use of ‘charm’ is interesting here. Charm in British society tends to imply social equivalence and is often used to excuse terrible behaviour by social equals.
Yet whatever the reason for Crick’s reluctance, a simple fact remains.
By being so reluctant to label obviously racist people as ‘racist’, Crick and others have only succeeded in making a larger taboo of the word than the actual racism itself.
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