So news arrived this morning that one of Ukip’s prominent non-white supporters, Sanya-Jeet Thandi, is leaving the party because “they are playing the race card”. Putting aside for a moment what terrible political judgement Ms Thandi must have to have signed up in the first place (apparently it was their economic liberalism that attracted her, so, erm…) it strikes me that whether Ukip is racist or not is the side issue. The real issue is how big a section of the UK voting population is racist.
We certainly do now live in a country where explicit racism is socially unacceptable (hence the scurrying around by Farage et al. to try to show that they’re not), but the phrase “I’m not racist, but…” is probably as frequently uttered as “It’s political correctness gone mad.”
The thing is, stereotyping is a wonderful cognitive trick that has allowed us to evolve as a species. “Run! It’s a tiger!!” is a sensible strategy even if it can be a flawed mechanism that misinterprets patterns into things that they are not. Stereotyping on the basis of someone looking different to us I’m sure also had its evolutionary benefits in the past when someone from a different tribe was likely to bash your head in.
But we have evolved, and that sort of bias is now a flaw in our contemporary setting. Yet it is hard to clearly articulate a difference between positive and negative stereotyping that all can understand.
In the meantime politicians (particularly on the right) use the fear of “others” in times of economic strife to garner support, and sadly the rest of the political parties follow suit in an attempt to out “I’m not a racist, but…” each other. Sadly what I don’t appear to be seeing from any of the parties is a proper debate about why racist (or “I’m not a racist, but”) policies still get popular support, and what should be being done about that.