The Hostile Environment. The Windrush Scandal. Priti “deport dem” Patel. RWANDA!!! And now “Cruella” Braverman is determined to break European law so Britain can pull up the drawbridge across the Channel. The recent hostility towards immigrants has a much longer history, going back to the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act but the last decade would make even Enoch Powell blush. It is no coincidence that as the policy has become even more extreme the home secretaries responsible for it have not been White. No White home secretary could get away with sending immigrants to Rwanda, we would all see it for the blatant racism the very idea is. Patel and Braverman have been able to mainstream National Front ideas because they are Asian. Previous prime ministers could play the political equivalent of denying they were racist by saying they had a Brown friend (or in this case home secretary).
Truly worrying is that Rishi “Rich” Sunak does not even need to hide behind the diversity of his cabinet. He can defend the indefensible, sure in the knowledge that his color blinds people to the obvious racism of his agenda. The irony of Tory diversity is that it actually helps the party flaunt its racism. We should just be happy that Kemi “Britain First” Badenoch did not become prime minister because there may have been no limits to the extremism of her government. If Rishi is backing Rwanda, then I can half imagine Badenoch bringing back slavery, to make sure the values of hard work are instilled back into the Black community. Diversity in colonial administration is nothing new, the British empire could not have survived without collaborators. But this particular brand of identity politics has its roots in the United States.
When George Bush the First had his initial chance to put a judge on the US supreme court in 1990, he wanted someone firmly right-wing (shorthand for racist) but was deterred by the failed nomination of Robert Bork to the court by his predecessor Ronald Reagan. In the US, the Senate has to vote to confirm the nominees. Bork was undone largely by a speech from Senator Ted Kennedy. He argued that Bork’s “America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, Blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids.” This successfully painted the judge as an extremist and he failed to be confirmed. So Bush played it safe and got a moderate on the court his first-time around. But when he got the second bite of the cherry he found the perfect candidate.
Civil rights legend Thurgood Marshall (who argued the Brown vs Board case that desegregated schools) stepped down from the court due to ill health. There was a clamor to replace the first and only Black judge on the court with another African American, so Bush killed two birds with one stone. He nominated Clarence Thomas, a Black right-wing extremist, in a brazen embrace of identity politics. Bush (rightly) hoped that many Black people—that should know better (even civil rights organizations)—would ignore Thomas’ right-wing views and champion a Black man on the bench. Even after Anita Hill, a former colleague accused him of sexual harassment, Thomas found a well of support in the Black community with up to 70% of African Americans backing his nomination. High-profile people such as academic Orlando Patterson went to lengths to explain his behavior and dismiss the complaints of Hill, a Black woman. Thomas fully embraced identity politics when he claimed he was a victim of “high-tech lynching” to keep the Black man down. Thomas has lived up to his billing whilst on the court, being the most extreme justice. He has consistently endorsed gutting voting rights legislation and has even voiced the opinion that the ban on White only lunch counters is unconstitutional. He is so extreme that he has almost become a parody of himself.
The case of Curtis Flowers, an African American tried six times for the same murder after the cases against him kept collapsing, made it to the supreme court. They were overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct, such as the district attorney trying to ensure as few Black people as possible made it onto the jury. Amongst the nine judges, Uncle Thomas was one of only two to vote against Flowers. Even though he had been kept in prison for more than twenty years for a crime he was never safely convicted for, Thomas declared that “if the Court’s opinion today has a redeeming quality, it is this: The State is perfectly free to convict Curtis Flowers again.” But, at least Thurgood Marshall was replaced by a Black man.
British conservatives took a bit longer to catch on to right-wing identity politics. In 2001, the party only had White MPs, but by 2015, when Rishi Rich was elected there were 17 Tory members of parliament from a racialized minority. That number has gone up to 22, representing 7.5% of the Conservative benches. In 2019 Boris “picaninny” Johnson drew plaudits for the most ethnically diverse cabinet ever, with six ethnic minority ministers. That might have been an understatement, given that prior to this, there had only been five ethnic minority permanent cabinet members ever. Johnson used his diversity fig leaf to full effect, with his draconian immigration policy and announcing that institutional racism was over with the publication of the Sewage Sewell Report. Not coincidentally, now Rishi “Rich” is in place, cabinet diversity has declined. For those of you seduced by the diversity of the Tories, WAKE UP! The nasty party is nastier than ever because they have invited some color to the table.