On Being Non-White

Brexit, Trump and Identity Politics Kick Off Post-Truth Era

I was having a glass of vermouth with my friend over the weekend when she looked at me and asked, “Did you know we are not White?”

“I thought white meant skin color,” she added while looking at her hands.

It’s understandable to link skin color to ethnicity since we have come to classify races as such. African Americans have been distinguished by their skin color for years. But even though my skin color is white, I’m not White. I’m an Arab and in today’s world that comes with a lot of connotations — uncivil, terrorist, refugee and alien to name a few.

I have experienced first hand that having white skin does not grant one the privileges of being white.
Because I’m Arab, it takes me almost one month of rigorous effort to collect all the papers required to travel abroad. I get body and sample checked for explosives at the airport. I was refused by many tenants while searching for available apartments in Barcelona. I have to continuously testify to the national Spanish bank that I’m not a terrorist before receiving any transaction. Finally, I have to anxiously wait for my student residency acknowledging the high possibility of rejection.

This account is a part of a much broader sentiment of cultural and economic insecurity among white westerners that is turning into violent racism. Over the years whiteness as a racial identity has come to signify status and dominance in power relations. To be white means being afforded opportunities that are not accessible to other ethnic minorities in the West. A recent meta-analysis in the US concluded that “hiring discrimination against Blacks hasn’t changed in the last 25 years.”

“Since 1989, whites receive on average 36% more callbacks than blacks, and 24% more callbacks than Latinos.”

Other figures suggest that Black male graduates in London are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts. Moreover, Muslim men are 76% less likely to be employed than their white Christian counterparts, according to research by the Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol.

Racial biases also manifest themselves in other systems such as educational and financial institutes i.e acceptance to universities and eligibility for bank loans.

This privilege, however, does not prevent right wing political leaders like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage from using “whiteness” as means to manipulate the population. Wanting to preserve white culture was the key player in Trump’s election, Brexit and is kicking off our seemingly post-truth era.

The election and eight-year governance of Obama in the United States was a crucial moment in American History. Considering the role racism played in the ownership, slavery, and trade of the African American peoples, having a Black president was historic.

This might explain why Trump is trying to reverse all of his predecessor’s policies. Those actions include pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, expanding the Global Gag rule and halting Equal Pay Measure.

During his first year as president, Trump has promoted a series of bigoted views. Kicking off with the Muslim Ban proposal, wanting to fire Black Lives Matter activists on the NFL Team, insinuating that Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, calling a senator ‘Pocahontas’ and retweeting several anti-Muslim videos.

Following these efforts, the Chicago Tribune has recently dubbed Trump a “textbook racist.”

This should come as no surprise. Make American Great Again was the slogan used all throughout Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. It managed to emotionally appeal to the disenfranchised white working class folks who are in debt or struggling to make ends meet.

The catchy slogan indirectly called for a period of time when the white culture had a greater influence on society, the glory days of employment and stability. It covertly placed blame on immigration and multiculturalism. By tapping into those fears and desires, Trump managed to gradually and successfully rail in voters.

It is this same fear-based incentive that is driving Brexit voters. Research showed that Brexit has been largely supported by the white working class people who fear to lose societal status mostly due to mass immigration.

The fear of being marginalized has enabled politicians to pull on nostalgic strings via a “take our country back” notion. Throughout his campaign, leader of the U.K. Independence Party Nigel Farage frequently vocalized concern about Muslim migrants and strongly advocated anti-immigration policies.

He also warned against the “wave” of Syrian and Turkish migrants who were bound to disrupt the “white” way of life.

This narrative is being reproduced so heavily that race-based violence has been steadily rising. Vandalism, graffiti, and verbal attacks have been most prominent. Swastikas were drawn on several doors in New York following Trump’s election. In May, a white supremacist fatally stabbed two men who came to the defense of Muslim passengers he was harassing on a train in Portland. An FBI report in November showed that hate crimes have been on the rise for two years in the US.

Similar scenarios are also being carried out in London. The Metropolitan Police statistics reveal an increase in almost all forms of hate-related crimes. There has been a 216% spike in disability-based crime, 20% increase in religion or race-based violence and a 12% increase in homophobic incidents. BBC has also reported a 65% rise in hate crimes against Muslims. 

“We had witnessed negative and sometimes toxic language being used in debates on refugees and migrant rights. The London Mayor election and the EU referendum brought some of this to the surface, but there has been an insidious narrative developing for much longer.”

Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty International UK’s campaigns director

At the heart of the problem is members of society who feel distressed due to their economic and societal status. This vulnerability makes individuals susceptible to divisive attitudes that seek to pin blame on other groups.

Trump and Farage have utilized this opportunity to manufacture social consent. By adhering to the preservation of “white culture”, they have managed to push through identity politics and establish distinct groups. That is the White identity as a gentry group that needs to survive while other underqualified groups take over.

The idea that immigrants are “stealing” jobs and taking over the labor force is fallacious. It is becoming increasingly evident that automation and robots are replacing humans in the workforce. A White House report estimates that 83% of U.S. jobs, in which people make less than $20 per hour now, will be replaced by automation.

Even though statistics dismiss the narrative that blames immigrants for economic inequality, xenophobia persists strongly across the West. That is because we are experiencing a post-truth era. A time when “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

We are not White, and the unfounded belief that we are the problem is dictating our future — our education, employment, the places we can visit and our entire life experience.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the site administration and/or other contributors to this site.
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Joana Aziz is a Syrian Barcelona-based freelance writer. She was the Arts & Culture Editor for Time Out Magazine (Beirut) and has written for Home Magazine, Conatus New, Middle East Eye and Freethought Lebanon.

She has a BA in Communication Arts from the Lebanese American University, an MA in International Studies in Media, Power and Difference from the University of Pompeu Fabra and is currently pursuing her PhD in Communication at the same university.

Aside from having a writing career, her ambitions for the future include teaching, researching, and activism.