By Duncan Richter
(N.B. I cannot vote, but I certainly would have voted for the UK to stay in the EU if I could. I am not a Brexiter. Also, I have addressed the question whether Morrissey is racist here.)
Chris Bertram argues that "it is not unfair to think of (nearly all) Brexiters as racists." This is not because they "actively hate foreigners" but for another reason, which I'll try to pin down here. Brexiters, Bertram says, were either indifferent to the predictable wave of hate crimes that followed the Brexit vote or else "failed to give them [i.e. these hate crimes] the thought they should have." He goes on to say this:
So what to think about someone who just doesn’t care, whose commitment to some policy or slogan is such that if there were to see that it would seriously adversely affect say, black people in particular, they wouldn’t change course? “Too bad”, is their view. I’d say that such indifference to the fate of some particular group is a form of prejudice against that group, a failure to show those people respect, a failure to take proper account of their interests. And I’d say that in the case of EU migrants, that failure is properly thought of as a type of racism or xenophobia.
There is a lot going on here, not all of it in a straight line. The hate crimes may have been predictable, but I doubt that I am alone in having been shocked by the number and viciousness of these crimes. Are Brexiters who did not predict the extent or force of the wave culpable for this failure? And, of course, a vote for Brexit was presumably not a vote for hate crimes, even if such crimes were a foreseeable result of such a vote.
Secondly, commitment to a slogan is obviously pretty bad, especially when it comes at the expense of "say, black people." But commitment to a policy doesn't seem to be necessarily as bad, or even bad at all, even if the policy in question has victims. Imagine, for instance, that a policy I support has foreseeable bad consequences for some particular group. Presumably I support this policy because I think its benefits will outweigh these costs. Does this make me indifferent to the group likely to be harmed? Is my (imaginary) support for this (hypothetical) policy a form of prejudice that might be "properly thought of as a type of racism"? It might be, but doesn't it depend on the policy, what benefits I expect it to have, and my attitude towards its expected victims? If I really say "Too bad" with a shrug then maybe I am culpably callous or indifferent. But what is the evidence that this is the attitude of nearly all Brexiters? It might exist, but I haven't seen it. Here's what Bertram says about it (my emphasis):
Sadly, my guess is that most Lexiteers (and most sovereigntists) were not like this [i.e. genuinely concerned about the price to be paid for Brexit by minorities but reluctantly in favor of leaving the EU for other reasons]. Rather they were people who were happy to mouth slogans about the EU being a “capitalist club” (alternatively “taking back control”) and just didn’t think at all about the impact on local Poles, Estonians, Romanians etc. And failing to bring the interests of those people to consciousness, failing to notice them as deserving recipients of concern — ignorant indifference to a particular vulnerable group — is also a form of prejudice against them.
I'm not sure how all this is to be read. It's almost as if he's saying that the reason not to vote to leave the EU was the predictable hate crimes against members of minority groups that were bound to follow a vote to leave, and that anyone who voted to leave must not care about the victims of such attacks. That, I think, would be a strange thing to say, because I don't believe the attacks were all that predictable, I don't think failure to predict them (even if they were predictable) is all that culpable (because such failure could have been the result of lack of imagination or distraction by other things rather than racist indifference), and because I think the main reasons to vote for or against a policy are usually, rightly, the expected costs and benefits of that policy, not the expected costs and benefits of that policy's being supported.
What else might he be saying? Part of it, I take it, is that pro-Brexit voters cared insufficiently, if at all, about the effects of British withdrawal from the EU on Poles, etc. living in the UK. That might be a reasonable claim. But does caring insufficiently about Poles make one anti-Polish? I agree that "failing to notice them as deserving recipients of concern" is a form of prejudice against them. But what if I, in my capacity as an imaginary pro-Brexit voter, think like this? I'm really struggling in this economy, and so is everyone I know. We'd be better off if there weren't so many immigrants around competing for the same jobs. I don't think they should be allowed to come here and do that. It just seems unfair. And anyway, the point of democracy is that everyone gets to vote for what they want. What I want is less competition for jobs. So I'm voting Brexit.
This might (or might not) be economically ignorant, and it certainly isn't saintly. But is it racist? There's nothing in it about feeling that one ethnic group is better or more important than another. There is a vague bias in favor of "local jobs for local people", but that could be cut out (and isn't clearly, unequivocally racist anyway). And we could equally add some genuine compassion for immigrants without changing the conclusion. Not a lot of compassion, admittedly, and quite possibly not as much as one ought to feel, but some.
Bertram might think that the most important people to look out for are the worst off. Open borders allow the worst off, or the more mobile of them anyway, to seek a better life in a different country. Voting to restrict such movement is voting against the interests of the worst off (or the best off, because mobile, of the worst off, at any rate). To do this is bad. To do this when those people are from other countries is anti-foreigner. And that's on a par with racism.
But if your motive is economic self-interest and nothing else then it seems unfair to call you racist. As I say, you may well have got the economics wrong. And you are certainly no saint. But it's unfair to call you a racist. Especially on the basis of a guess.