Brexit and Trump were predominately delivered by a white working class in battered and bruised deindustrialised regions of the UK and US.
There are times when the truth is not enough, when only the unvarnished truth will do; and the unvarnished truth when it comes to the terrorist massacre that unfolded against Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand is that unless we wake up to and confront the beast of white supremacy that is now in our midst, we are headed for perdition.
The unity and interpenetration of opposites is a key tenet of Marx’s dialectial materialism, a theoretical formula that applies with impeccable insight when arriving at a proper rendering of the worldview of the white supremacist mass murderer responsible for Christchurch. It is a worldview that stands both as the polar opposite and twin of the Salafist-jihadism espoused by al-Baghdadi and ISIS.
Because in the last analysis the divide within the humanity that allows us to penetrate the obfuscation of racial, religious and ethnic divisions is not the divide that exists between Muslim and non-Muslim, between Jew and non-Jew, Christian and non-Christian, or white and non-white. No, the divide, the only divide, which corresponds to the human condition in all its multifarious complexity is the divide that exists between a sectarian and non-sectarian worldview and consciousness.
White supremacy is both by-product and driver of Western colonialism and imperialism. When Columbus set sail across the Atlantic from Spain in the 15th century, expecting to reach India and China but instead ending up in the Americas by accident, he did so not with a heart bursting with Christian love and fellow feeling for whomsoever he and his men might encounter when they finally reached their destination. Instead they set sail with hearts filled with the rapacious intent to plunder and dominate. This is because for them Christianity was both religion and ideology interwoven, coterminous with Western so-called civilisation, based on nothing more ennobling than might is right.
From then to now the same might is right ethos has lain at the root of the West’s dominant cultural values. That Europe’s rapid economic development, starting from around the mid 17th century, was down to an accident of geography rather than any racial or cultural superiority compared to the lesser economically developed non-West, has been conveniently elided from the West’s cultural and political taxonomy, usurped by a set of cultural and historical myths deployed with the objective of wedding the masses throughout the West to the value system of their own ruling classes.
White supremacy as both a racial and ideological construct has been the result; though in normal times sans the rhetoric of white supremacy, given that white supremacy is so historically entrenched within Western culture it has long been embedded the collective unconscious of Western societies. It is why when atrocities such as the one just carried out in Christchurch explode in our midst, political leaders from left to right of the narrow spectrum that constitutes the mainstream outdo themselves in platitudes of condemnation and sympathy for the victims. That they do so having been the architects of even worse atrocities against Muslims or black and brown people in our time, unleashing devastating wars under the flag of democracy and human rights, this is the hypocrisy that has undergirded Western colonialism and imperialism since time immemorial.
With the inimitable insight for which he was known, Edward Said once pointed out that every empire “tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.”
Multiculturalism is at once a child of empire and Western colonialism and also the revenge of its victims (not literally, of course, in the abstract). Its unintended consequence, as it has broadened out over the decades, has been to challenge prevailing national myths and identities, giving rise to a reconsideration of the history of Western civilisation and its conceits.
Thus the presence and growth of other cultures forces us to re-evaluate that which we’d been taught and conditioned to believe represents progress and human worth. In the process of doing so, as the myths that sustain the West’s dominant cultural values are gradually and steadily stripped away, we are forced to confront received truths fed to us from childhood over the West’s role in the world, its history of plunder of the lands of ‘the other’. The African proverb that “until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter,” springs to mind here.
In this scenario, multiculturalism in Western societies is something we can either embrace as a means of mental and cultural emancipation from those myths and the unconsciously-held prejudices they sustain, or reject as a threat to those myths and the national identity established on the back of them — one that, perforce, is rooted in white supremacy.
The economic extremis wrought by the crisis of global capitalism starting in 2008, culminating in draconian austerity programmes that only left already vulnerable deindustrialised regions and communities battered and bruised, has tilted the scales in favour of the latter at the expense of the former in those regions, with Brexit and the election of Trump in the US the most obvious result.
The uncomfortable truth we must contend with is that both Brexit and Trump were predominately delivered by a white working class in those battered and bruised deindustrialised regions of the UK and US, but less on the basis of class and more on the basis of whiteness – or, to be more sociologically precise, ethnocentrism. It is surely no accident that the white supremacist terrorist responsible for the Christchurch massacre cited Trump in his ‘manifesto’ as “a symbol of renewed white identity,” while also stating his support for Brexit.
Hip-hop artist, writer and thinker, Akala, in his imperious book Race and Class In the Ruins of Empire, highlights among other things the following data vis-a-vis the 2016 EU referendum result:
- Of the people who thought multiculturalism was an ill, 81 per cent voted leave
- Of the people who thought immigration was an ill, 80 per cent voted leave
- Of the thirty areas with the most people identifying as English not British, all voted leave
He also writes persuasively of how “the narrative of white racial victimhood is very useful in class terms for the white ruling classes. By demonising the undeserving ethnic other with whom poor whites have more materially in common, the upper classes can use a racial solidarity rooted in the history of dominating the other to mask a history and reality of exploitation. Those that instrumentalise race in this way generally could not give two shits about the ‘chavs’ in Liverpool or the ‘redknecks’ in Alabama.”
The mass murdering white supremacist and your average Brexit or Trump supporter could not be farther apart in terms of how their race consciousness manifests in actions. There were and are entirely legitimate reasons to vote for and support Brexit and Trump, given the role of the extreme centre in fashioning a world fit for bankers and corporations rather than ordinary working people. That said it is inarguable that white racial anger was the driver of both – misplaced, misdirected and shaped by the politics of ethnocentrism rather than class.
Confronting this ugly truth has never been more necessary, along with drawing the conclusion that support for multiculturalism must be embraced rather than rejected or viewed as an optional extra in the struggle for transformative change as part of the class struggle.
The alternative hardly bears thinking about.
How can we stop a ‘second wave’ of fascism returning us to the darkest times? How do we prevent the history of the 1930s repeating itself?