In the age of Brexit where racial tensions are cynically exploited for self-serving agendas, nothing epitomises the tragedy greater than Sajid Javid – a child of post-war Pakistani immigrants, alienating ethnic minorities by pandering to the far-right, writes Hasnet Lais.
From his inflammatory comments on grooming gangs to normalising hatred towards refugees, Sajid Javid is no stranger to controversy. With senior Tories lining up bids to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader, the former protégé of George Osborne is among those salivating at the prospect and has broken through the political glass ceiling by demonstrating a tough stance on national security and immigration.
In recent months, the debate surrounding the repatriation of “jihadis” and the Shamima Begum saga quickly became a flashpoint in our culture wars. An obscure executive power allowing the government to revoke one’s citizenship without judicial oversight became a battleground for racial politics, with Sajid at the forefront of institutionalising a two-tier system of citizenship.
The discussion is no longer exclusively one of terrorism but is inextricably tied with race and the Home Secretary is widely perceived to have betrayed the struggle of ethnic minorities for equality and justice.
On closer inspection, the suggestion that Sajid has sold ethnic minorities down the river is not unfounded. Following the convictions of 20 members of a grooming gang from Huddersfield, he described the perpetrators as “sick Asian paedophiles” and justified highlighting the Pakistani heritage of these men. Implying that the disproportionate involvement of Asian men in grooming scandals could be explained with reference to their ethnic background, it was difficult to interpret his comment without inferring that being Pakistani meant a greater inclination for predatory behaviour associated with child sex exploitation.
Furthermore, his promise to eradicate “no go areas” in places like Rochdale was the kind of dog-whistling symptomatic of the influence of the far-right on mainstream discourse. Such scaremongering undoubtedly played on populist fears relating to immigration, and exploited the far-right penchant for scapegoating minorities.
This wasn’t the only attempt to ride the populist wave. Sajid’s trademark race-baiting has also involved weaponising anti-Semitism by accusing Jeremy Corbyn of Holocaust denial, alleging he had a “problem with Jews” following comments made by the Labour leader at a conference a few years ago. Sajid went on to claim that had Corbyn criticised “Asians” or “Blacks” instead of “Zionists”, he would have suffered greater reprisals.
The Home Secretary also brought his office into disrepute following the wrongful deportation of Windrush migrants whom he dubbed “criminals” and shamefully excluded from an official review. He was likened to an “Enoch Powell in incarnation” with some deeming his incendiary remarks as more damaging than the xenophobic spleen of some white politicians.
In his quest for self-promotion, it would appear that Sajid sees no problem in lending mileage to a bigoted narrative which stigmatises a racialised other.
The Home Secretary’s obstinate refusal to acknowledge the trenchantly right wing nature of his politics not only smacks of opportunism, but as a child of immigrant parents, he presents a greater conundrum than those whose citizenship he seeks to revoke.
There is a perception amongst many British Asian Muslims that Sajid is oblivious to the real-life consequences of his inflammatory rhetoric and blind to the microaggressions suffered by BAME communities due to suffering from an identity crisis, which renders him out of touch with his native origin. He is often criticised for currying favour with the white majority given his appeasing of the racist underbelly which is enjoying a new lease of life in the age of Brexit.
In a climate where the integration of minorities is increasingly judged on their degree of assimilation, there is no doubting the levels the Home Secretary will sink to in order to exemplify his brand of “Britishness”. To me, his pains to gain admittance and recognition by entertaining far-right tropes of minorities is more than just a case of an expedient politician with prime ministerial ambitions. If Sajid can’t see why playing to the gallery through populist gestures has provoked indignation amongst minorities, it may be symptomatic of his own confounded sense of belonging.
It begs some uncomfortable questions which are often talking points in POC circles: Is Sajid suffering from internalised racism, a condition where someone embraces prevailing racist stereotypes of their own ethnic group? Is he a self-hating native informant akin to “rented negroes”, feted by the establishment to put a brown face on contentious white opinions?
To help unpack these tensions, we may revisit the works of Frantz Fanon, a defining critic of European colonisation in the 20th Century.
In his magnum opus The Wretched of the Earth and the equally prolific Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon claimed that the psychological humiliation inflicted by imperialism nurtured a self-loathing and mental disorder among colonised subjects who internalised the myth of the coloured savage. As a result of these repressed racial tensions, they are beset with an inferiority complex which sees them disparaging their own community and embracing the cultural tropes of the dominant white class. In the process, they forge new identities by assimilating to the culture of their masters in a futile bid for acceptance.
Although Fanon was writing at the height of the Algerian war for independence and was reflecting on first hand experiences of colonialism in his birthplace Martinique, his scholarship is a prescient reminder of the often insidious and dehumanising role played by colonial racism in fostering feelings of alienation and dispossession.
The fact that Sajid never leveraged his position to benefit minorities and so casually regurgitates racial stereotypes of his own ethnic group, leads me to think whether a web of psychological complexes, and the asymmetrical dynamic of the master-slave relationship led to his epidermalisation of inferiority, creating contempt for his ethnic status and ultimately leading to a neurotic refusal to face up to his own ethnic background.
Is he overcome with such abasement that makes him anxious not to identify with fellow ethnics and instead emulate the most sordid elements of the white establishment?
Sajid’s phenotype might not have undergone a mutation, but there may be underlying insecurities. which mirror the dispossessed Antillean whom Fanon chides for desperately seeking the affirmation of the French status quo by relinquishing his blackness. The Home Secretary seems blind to the machinations of institutional racism and appears comfortable with stigmatising his natives while kowtowing to the racist power structure, a masquerade which only compounds the feelings of psychological displacement.
The “coconut” jibe
I am not implying that every Eurosceptic with a conservative bias within the Asian community is aligned with the far-right or reinforcing a system for the benefit of the dominant white majority. I also appreciate why labelling the Home Secretary a “coconut” and prescribing a particular code of conduct for minorities is problematic as it reduces communities to a cliché of how their culture is perceived, and wrongly assumes white people as a homogenous group who subscribe to the prevailing racial stereotypes in far-right discourse.
Nonetheless, this does not detract from the phenomenon of self-loathing ethnics and the urgent need to decolonise some from BAME backgrounds who continue to endure the psychopathological effects generated by the imperialist juggernaut.