Politics is controversial, and tiring, and dull, and sometimes horrific, and on rare occasions it offers a little reassurance. Politics is also important – it dictates almost the totality of our existence, to pretend otherwise is either ignorant or disingenuous. To neglect politics is to obfuscate the allocation and dictation of resources and relations which we live our lives by. To be politically indifferent is to stand back and allow the disenfranchised to be further discriminated against and policed in misery. To be weary of politics and to choose to drown it out is to be either extremely privileged or unfortunately foolish.
No Society, Not Ever
Margaret Thatcher once said in a 1987 issue of Women’s Own that there is no such thing as society. Perhaps you agree with this sentiment, perhaps you do not. I think the most charitable interpretation that can be made from this claim is that individual responsibility exists. Certainly, we are all individuals, and all possess varying degrees of autonomy; we all make decisions, though the caveat is that we make these decisions in specific circumstances. A belief that we are all purely individuals, that politically enforced patterns of behaviour do not, cannot exist, is a major aspect of what I deem to be the (A)political ideology.
I am from a white lower middle-class family in a majority white county of a majority white country. My experiences may differ to various minorities, whether they were born here or migrated from another country. As individuals however, we all must make decisions when it comes to employment, though our choices in employment may differ. My education has been stable, my family’s finances are secure, and I am less likely to be hampered by state apparatuses like the police. I did nothing personally to arrive into this position, I was merely born into it (a phrasing that will return in a more regretful sense). I recognise the privileges that afford me on average more socioeconomic safety than people of minority backgrounds.
(A)politics in following Thatcher, would not recognise the varying material circumstances that dictate my position in society juxtaposed with that of someone who may be subject to racism. Professor Tricia Rose, Director of Brown University’s Centre for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, delivered a lecture on structural racism, discussing its obfuscation by colour-blindness. Colour-blindness is a magnificent tool of the enlightened (A)political, it marks them at once as appearing rationally indiscriminate whilst usefully (for themselves) stripping each individual of their socio-racial matrix and ignoring wider patterns of behaviour and events within society. If you blot out most of the evidence of there being a problem, how can there be one?
Get Your Politics Out of My Escapist Media
Reality, as each of us individually perceive it, is an ideological construction whereby we explain individual actions and events through certain belief systems which allow us to process them. For the (A)political, their reality is one in which the Other is political yet they themselves remain thoroughly not political. The (A)political believes themselves to be above politics, they see themselves as the models of the world, and so if anything, foreign or (say) Other were to come into the foreground it would create disharmony. They believe culture and politics to be very distant spheres and they seethe at the idea that political agents are tainting culture with their ideologies and agendas.
The (A)political generally exists within the status quo (a placement they might argue against), and as such all that generally makes up the status quo is non-political, whilst any departure from it is obviously political. For the (A)political, if they see a white man and woman sharing a kiss in a film, they will see this as just a kiss, but when it is an interracial or same-sex or queer couple, it is an upsetting and subversive political act. Of course you can argue that the latter representations are political, the reason one might deem the Other’s presence as being political is precisely because they are politicised, their existences are controlled and enforced in ways the (A)political has not experienced or perhaps if they have experienced similar control they do not grasp it as political as such. But we must also see that of course there is something political about white heterosexuals kissing, it is a representation of certain people and not others (Others).
The big problem for the (A)political is nearly all cultural texts are inscribed with politics, either implicitly or explicitly, so what exactly is there for them to enjoy? They just want to relax, they will watch something political but will be blind to its politics, ingesting them without further thought.
You Noticing My Politics is Boring in Our Tolerant, Lovely Country
In January, actor Laurence Fox (for some reason) appeared on Question Time and got into a heated exchange with an audience member about racism. She made the claim that the treatment of Meghan Markle by the press was racist, to which he responded that Britain is the ‘most tolerant, lovely country in Europe.’ If we consider how the press discussed Meghan Markle when she and Prince Harry were first publicly dating, words like ‘exotic’ and ‘blood’ were bandied about by the right-wing press. If Markle is Othered in such frank terms of ‘exoticness’ when she has done nothing more controversial than enter a relationship with Prince Harry, then what might we say the same right-wing, pro-monarchy press will be like when the pair are stepping back from royal duties?
I cannot claim Fox is purely (A)political nor would I want to, but in this one fixed moment of broadcast television he exemplifies the (A)political par excellence. He claims Britain is the ‘most tolerant, lovely country in Europe’, but that doesn’t seem like a particularly weighty achievement. We still have institutional racism here in Britain, Black and Muslim minorities are twice as likely to be unemployed as white people and are significantly more subject to police stops. Minorities are still subject to harassment and violence that is racially-motivated. Britain being the most tolerant country in Europe does not end the argument that there is still work to be done when it comes to racial justice.
Fox sees problems of racism not in any institutional form but only as individual issues, if a minority is attacked in this country it is not part of a wider issue for Fox. He is the perpetrator of Tricia Rose’s colour-blindness, if a minority lacks the same opportunities as those around them, it cannot be part of a pattern, it’s just some inexplicable state of being. Fox says we need to combat racism when we see it, but what he means by this is when one very explicit racist does something very obviously racist we slap them on the wrists without investigating further the root causes of the racism. Racism is just an individual failing for Fox. The audience member he was arguing with pointed out Fox is a ‘white, privileged male’ and he responded in turn that he ‘can’t help what I am, I was born like this, it was an immutable characteristic.’ The (A)political here is the inability to see one’s own identity as being on par with that of others. Of course, Fox cannot help being born white, nor more than I can or anyone else. What he can do however is consider how his whiteness makes him subject to different experiences to that of non-whites. The cries of racism bore Fox. I will charitably say that dealing with issues such as racism are tiring, they are not comfortable things when you have to maybe re-consider your world view and actively make changes to try and benefit society around you and yourself. Calling out racism, however, should not bore you. The presence of racism should incite outrage and a willingness to view events more widely than what is presented directly in front of us. Until the (A)political can grasp the larger structural issues at play around and within them, they will continually be confused as to why all these individual incidents keep occurring and why very few of their more diverse friends are calling anymore.
(A)politics is not a true negation of politics, rather just a distorted, often incoherent version of it. The adage that ignorance is bliss has some truth to it when it comes to engaging with politics, it can be harrowing and disillusioning to be involved in contemporary politics at any level above that of (A)politics. We have to transcend this lackadaisical attitude to issues such as institutional racism if we hope to build a better world on the basis of a wealth of academic consensus that point to our numerous and present failings.
In the long term it is beneficial to the (A)political to recognise the need to become truly political so that they can perceive for themselves their own alienation within the political system. What I mean by this is that to be (A)political is to be alienated but unable to precisely trace this alienation. Nothing sounds worse than being trapped and unable to properly utilise language which accounts for one’s own state of being in a coherent manner to those around you. We are all individuals with thoughts and feelings, but if we do not learn to analyse and critique the systems that we uphold and are governed by, we will continue to discriminate against vulnerable classes of our society and face the consequences whenever they bubble upward. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘a riot is the language of the unheard.’ Listening and understanding is in the world’s best interest.
Abbie Bray, ‘Question Time flooded with 250 complaints after Laurence Fox’s controversial race row about Meghan Markle.’ Available at: https://metro.co.uk/2020/01/24/question-time-flooded-250-complaints-laurence-foxs-controversial-race-row-meghan-markle-12114511/
Anthony Heath and Lindsay Richards, ‘How racist is Britain today? What the evidence tells us.’ Available at: https://theconversation.com/how-racist-is-britain-today-what-the-evidence-tells-us-141657
Jules Holroyd, ‘Implicit racial bias and the anatomy of institutional racism.’ Available at: https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/publications/cjm/article/implicit-racial-bias-and-anatomy-institutional-racism
David Lammy, ‘The Lammy Report: An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System.’ Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/643001/lammy-review-final-report.pdf
Tricia Rose, ‘How Structural Racism Works: Tricia Rose.’ Accessible at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KT1vsOJctMk
Gary Younge, ‘Waking up to the realities of racism in the UK.’ Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/b51d534f-5515-4717-a1e3-866f39955d8f