The Bigger Picture
This weekend in Birmingham, and the week before in London, fascists, advocates of far-right ideologies and all manner of racist bigots marched, spitting their vile hatred, in an attempt to capitalise on rising xenophobia following the triggering of Article 50 and in the wake of the terrible Westminster attack. Thankfully, they marched in small numbers and were met with resistance from defiant anti-fascist organisers.
It would be easy to dismiss the fascists on the streets as the radical fringe groups they are and the minority viewpoint they represent, but this would be dangerous. We must analyse their existence, their consistent attempts to gain momentum by capitalising on terror attacks and their emboldened conviction in the wake of Brexit and other recent political developments. Racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have long been embedded and engrained across society, but have taken on new manifestations and heightened prevalence in recent times.
And it is essential that we acknowledge these oppressions as structural; not singular isolated occurrences. Racism and bigotry is endemic in our society because we are still, unbeknownst to many, in a colonial mindset. We fail to recognise how the past actions of the British empire have left white supremacy as the norm - a norm which has been unchallenged by those who are part of, and complicit with, its continuation.
Nationalism and patriotism are fast becoming conduits for racism - insidious means by which to normalise white supremacy and xenophobia. It is this type of pride which easily slips into justification of borders and border policy and which feeds anti-migrant sentiment - and these forms of pride are being capitalised upon by fascists to spread their agenda of hatred.
In Higher Education
Vice Chancellor Stuart Croft recently penned a blog calling for unity in our community following the triggering of Article 50 - the beginning of Britain’s exit from the European Union - and the attack in Westminster. He rightfully called for action in response to the hatred and intolerance which is so rife throughout society. Warwick is a University which has embraced multiculturalism and internationalism, with one of the most vibrant and diverse communities in the sector and indeed, in this country. Defending this community, and the benefits this diversity brings to us all, is imperative.
Whilst espousing these commendable values however, there is an element of insincerity that must be acknowledged. International students are encouraged here with the promise of world-class education and new cultures to explore, but are met with xenophobia, exploitation and the status of being an ‘other’, thrust into vulnerability. The University, and the Students’ Union, has a responsibility to do all it can to protect students from this oppression, but it is a responsibility which conflicts with our own structural flaws and the University's exploitation of international students through a disproportionately high fee regime.
It’s a simple case of recognising it's not enough to pay lip service to equality and tolerance - we need to assess our own privileges and challenge where we are complicit with oppression of international students and BME communities. Then we can try to remove barriers and welcome everyone equally. Only then can we consider calling ourselves allies.
We do not need to peddle the neoliberal notion that migrants, and international students, should be assessed on their economic worth - not only does this perpetuate a false ‘good migrant versus bad migrant’ dichotomy, it also attributes a monetary value not only to someone’s freedom of movement, but to their right to exist. No matter who you are or where you are from, you are always so much more than your productivity - your fundamental right to education and to life should not determined by these factors. Migrants should not be evaluated on their ability to contribute to the economy or how they diversify data sets, they should be appreciated for their humanity.
Let’s challenge this rhetoric propagating an individualist agenda which in turn endangers lives. We need to embrace the principles of unionism and celebrate collectivism - only then can we exercise practical solidarity to support those who need it. Not everyone needs to throw themselves down in an intervention in the style of activists who recently blocked a deportation, but we all need to think about challenging the systems around us, recognising them for the injustice they cause, and finding ways to disrupt them and support the people affected by them.
In Our Community
Alongside a plethora of trials international students face when enrolling in British Universities, there is another key oppressive barrier they face when they come here to study. This academic year, we have seen a particular issue with racism and hate crime in our local communities. Some international students have faced racial abuse and harassment, targeted theft and burglary and, more recently, violent assault whilst travelling between campus and Canley.
In order to support students affected by this, we are working with the University to support their wellbeing and coordinating a shuttle bus service between Canley and campus. The SU has registered as a Third Party Hate Crime Reporting Centre and we have launched a new hate crime awareness campaign. We will also be working with senior management in the University to develop a proper strategy for intervening with and stopping hate crime in our community.
It is apparent these global and national issues feed into the issues we are witnessing locally. I want us to think critically about why they occur in our communities and I also want us to be aware of the roles we can play, be it on our campuses or within the bigger picture, in challenging these structures.
I want to reaffirm the SU’s zero tolerance towards all forms of discrimination and to condemn not only the rise in hate crime, but also these attacks on our members in the local community. To our international students: you matter. You are important. We are here for you. I hope our actions in the future show that and that you feel supported. Ultimately, I hope we will unite as a community and through all means necessary, eradicate racism in all its forms.
If you, or someone you know, has been affected by anything related to this blog or the occurrence of hate crime in Canley, please speak to someone. You can contact the SU Advice Centre for support.
If you are interested in the issue of international students’ tuition fees, we will be launching a new campaign you can get involved in soon.
***UPDATE*** We have now launched our #FixTheFees campaign. Sign the petition here.