Since Brexit, there has been an increase in racist attacks, violence, intimidation and calls of “Go Home”directed at minorities in the UK. But surely what we call an “increase” in this case is not really an increase, but the eruption of something that was already there to begin with. Brexit has allowed some of us to abandon polite exchange or just plain silence and to replace it with the repressed: abuse, hatred, racism, sexism, and fear of the other. This wasn’t something new developing overnight as the votes were being counted. It was already there, lodged in them, in us.
Brexit has made me consider political correctness as a form of tacit control that does not necessarily allow us to overcome racism, sexism and hatred, because it does not lead to the kind of open, shame-free dialogue that enables unheard voices to rise up in protest and provocation, and for actual learning to take place. Political correctness, or what the Marxist theorist and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek calls “enforced niceties,” but which could also be called a protective shield, works very much like a disappearing act: what disappears and retrenches is white privilege, racism and sexism. Brexit has made me consider the possibility that the liberal tolerance that is the result of our world of enforced niceties may not be the best or most productive way of ending discrimination and violence. On the contrary, liberal tolerance can sometimes in fact lead to, and reinforce, zero tolerance of the other, because what we want from the other is that he or she abides by the enforced niceties or pretences created and patrolled by us. In other words, we want the other to be by our side, but only if he or she is deprived of his or her “otherness.” The banning of all problematic language, problematic clothing, controversial jokes, satire around certain topics at home, in the media, at the university, in political debates, in events such as this one, usually results in the enforcement of love, respect and empathy for the other. Whether or not this enforcement actually brings us closer together through dialogue and debate is something I’m not sure about.
- How can we take responsibility for the divisiness of politics that we are witnessing?
- Should we be sacrificing everything that sounds racist and sexist?
- And doesn’t this sacrifice betray a retreat from disturbing the actual causes of racism and sexism? Doesn’t this betray a refusal to go the bottom of the question?
- Are appeals to democracy a way of avoiding conflict?
- Are we too afraid to risk divisiveness?
- What do we really mean by inclusion?