Whilst on an educational sojourn from the States, Rob Sprankle, a temporary Lincoln student and resident, shares some initial observations into how the US and the UK differ in their approach to discussing race.
Taking to heart the lessons in suspicion I have learned from poring over primary source documents in all manner of history classes, I tend to be fairly suspicious of news in general. Still, I couldn’t help but be interested when I scrolled to the ‘politics’ section of the Lincolnshire Echo and saw the headline: “BBC accused of stirring up racial tensions by inviting EDL marchers to join Question Time audience”. Coming recently from America, where racial tensions are at a new high with the anti-police riots in Charlotte (170 miles from my own hometown of Raleigh, no less) and with certain recent appointments to positions of power, I was surprised to see this kind of thing making the front page in a U.K. newspaper.
Upon further reading, I came to realise that British media is gripped by the same quandary as American media: the portrayal of fringe (albeit threatening) entities such as the EDL. The Echo’s article wasn’t directly about the English Defence League, but rather the BBC coming under fire for contacting and in a sense legitimising them; handling an organisation such as the EDL, even indirectly, requires a deft touch. First of all, the decision to report it at all may in itself be difficult, as the tacit admission that the EDL may be considered “newsworthy” could be seen by some as garnering attention for a radical group, or worse, legitimising their discourse. Yet doing the opposite—and not publishing any coverage of them at all—could be seen as potentially silencing the voices of legitimate citizens, and in any case, a publication that doesn’t publish, doesn’t stay in business for very long.
Returning to the point, I was tempted to label the EDL as another example of reactionary, populist xenophobia, of the kind that has increasingly dominated the American Republican Part (cue President Trump). Yet some more research into both the organisation itself, and their recent activity, confirmed that the EDL still does represent that dangerous reactionary strain that seems to be popping up all over the western world, it is of a different variety than the kind I am used to experiencing in America. In the United States reactionary conservatism is often accompanied by hard-line evangelical “Christianity”, commonly marked by homophobia and vigorous campaigning against Planned Parenthood services.
Notably, the article, which brought up accusations of “stirring up racial tensions”, did not actually explicitly mention racial tensions apart from the title. In any American article, on the other hand, the detailing of the racial tensions would be the focus of the piece. Does this mean that racism is not as prevalent in the public discourse in the U.K. as it is in the U.S.? It would be tempting, but ultimately naïve, to say so. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, news —especially in this age of massive media conglomerates— is best taken with a grain of salt.
Even though my understanding of British politics began with Brexit this past June and while the particulars between Trumpism and the Alt-Right, and the EDL may differ in method, the underlying strains of xenophobia, militant nationalism, and anti-immigration are uncomfortably familiar to anyone that endured the particularly vitriolic presidential election. Yet rather than the resignation that I’ve come to experience back in the States, my brief exposure to the EDL and their similarities to certain unsavoury elements of American politics has sparked my curiosity. What more can I find out about the UK’s unique political landscape, using the microcosm of Lincolnshire as my lens?