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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Even royal pregnancy can bring out the perpetually lurking racism

© Flickr user Ian Kershaw
So, Kate Middleton is pregnant. Not interested, you say? Never mind, because the media is still going to shove it down your throat. Every news website you go on to will have it as the top news story - let's forget that Israel has said it will not backtrack on a settlement expansion plan or that Starbucks is planning to cut paid lunch breaks, sickness leave and maternity leave for its workers or that hospitals in the UK are 'close to bursting'. The BBC has a series of features and videos lined up, including an article on what 'acute morning sickness' is (when was the last time they were so concerned about pregnant women's health?) The Guardian has joined in too with its live blog - it's not entirely clear whether they intend to live blog for the next nine months or so (I'm still hoping it's more of a 24 hours hysteria).

The question over why monarchy still exists in a democratic nation is not a new one. Neither is the sentiment that 'if you don't like it, why don't you leave the country'. But it hits me every time - the racism that's always just lurking underneath the surface looking for the first opportunity to rear its head. As the BBC and the Guardian posted news about Middleton's pregnancy, a huge number of comments, as expected, flew in. Those who (quite rightly) protested against the blanket coverage of the 'royal pregnancy' should have known they had it coming to them. 

It's not uncommon for people who criticise Britain, especially those who look or whose names sound 'immigrant', to be told to 'go back to where they came from'. This racist rhetoric is so common that I hardly sit up and take notice now. Yet thinking about it now, it's slightly surprising to realise that racism is just there perpetually. Take this comment under the BBC news story about the pregnancy - 

"Let all the misery guts go and live in a convenient republic, I would suggest North Korea or possibly Iran..."

Or this one from the news posted on Facebook by the Guardian - 

"Why are you hideous people even on this site, you are seriously unpleasant, how can you possibly call yourselves British????!...None of you deserve to live in this country, with all the benefits and privileges we all have."

And another one that went Guardian's way - 

"Just think, if all the nasty, cruel, mean-spirited people, who made horrible remarks about this happy announcement, just cleared off out of Britain, what a nice place it would be! The country would then be home to people who are happy to live here. Probably most of the ignorant scumbags are unemployed "doley" chavs who we'd be better without anyway!"

This idea that people come to live in Britain to enjoy the many privileges it offers is not a new one (there was a fantastic article in the Guardian some time ago about how British living abroad are 'expats' not 'immigrants' whereas the same doesn't hold true for Indians living in the UK). Neither is the resentment against those people. But there's somehow another aspect to this - the idea that people who have migrated to Britain should just shut up and be grateful for what they're being 'given', that is, immigrants shouldn't be entitled to the 'right to criticise' the country, so to speak. The word I'm looking for is probably 'jingoism' that seems to be fuelled by such resentment.

Being on online forums, there's no way to tell which individuals the comments I've mentioned above were directed at. But it's the language, not who the comments were addressed to, that depicts the ever lurking racism. It's the construction of 'you' and 'we' ("None of you deserve to live in this country, with all the benefits and privileges we all have."), the repeated emphasis on 'Britishness' ("...how can you possibly call yourselves British?") and the classist rhetoric ("Probably most of the ignorant scumbags are unemployed "doley" chavs who we'd be better without anyway") that says it all.

Such remarks are not uncommon - I was once told that I'm "not even supposed to be in this country" by a white girl when I refused to give up my seat for her in McDonald's. Of course, it's linked to the idea that immigrants are here only use up Britain's resources and don't/can't contribute to its economy. But the recent increase in onslaught on immigration by this government is further fuelling such resentment and hatred. What's scary is that it is now reaching the level where even the slightest criticism of Britain leads to anti-immigrant sentiments. 

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