We've had a period of rather modern racism in this country - Muslims have been targeted after 9-11 and 7-7, asylum-seekers of all faiths and from all backgrounds (though largely brown, poor people) have been vilified, and even the white foreigners from Poland and the former Eastern bloc countries have been insulted, attacked and demonised in the press.
It is, if you like, a rather multicultural kind of racism that accepts there's no absolute truth, only relative truth: one day it could be those evil sharia-loving Muslims who are the devil themselves, with their nasty green book and the fact they all without exception want to blow themselves up and convert our children; the next day it could be asylum-seekers who should be sent back to places of unspeakable horror and torture rather than having a few quid chucked at them by the already overburdened Great British taxpayer (tm); and then you've got the evil bastard Poles coming over here, taking our jobs and actually wanting to work for a living, the disgusting scum.
If it's not too much of an oxymoron to say so, it's a very liberal kind of racism: there aren't the 'black and white' certainties of the past, when white folk could simply relax in the prejudiced assumptions that black men were criminals who would abandon their children; Pakistanis were evil shopkeepers determined to overcharge you for stuff; Chinese folk were bookmaker-dwelling inscrutable types; and so on, and so on. I needn't detain you with the details. Anyone who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, as I did, knows all about the stereotypes, the lies and the drivel that white culture invented for different races and cultures.
Racism has certainly moved on, though. It's not as acceptable as it used to be, back when Spike Milligan's 'comedy' Asian characters provoked roars of laughter rather than winces, and the Black & White Minstrel Show raked in millions upon millions of viewers to see Welsh male-voice choirs blacked up for its 'harmless' teatime fun. Jim Davidson wouldn't get away with the 'hilarity' of Chalkie nowadays - thank fuck.
But just when you think something's so outdated that it'll never come back, it becomes retro and gains a second life. Racism against black people is alive and well, a lot more subtle than it used to be and a lot more coded to try and avoid the instant opprobrium from people who will no doubt be dismissed by the racists as PC NuLab do-gooder bleeding heart liberal fascist hand-wringing yoghurt-weavers. But it's back. You could even call it 'old skool' if that wasn't an irony too far.
It's well worth reading 5cc's excellent post on knife crime today to explain what I mean a bit more cogently. In the current moral panic over knives, there's a big desire to try and look for causes that strike a chord with right-wing values and worries: and guess what, it rings the same old bells as ever. Black people committing knife crime? Must be because their fathers ran off and abandoned them, because that's what black men do! Black people committing knife crime? Must be because they're primitive savages, because that's what black people are!
The truth is buried under the same old rubbish, the same old lies, the same old bullshit. Yes, the stats show that black children are more likely to grow up without a father; but do they really show that black people are more responsible for knife crime? And if they don't, then why are these two things linked by anything other than supposition?
One thing we do know, and we've known for years, is that young black men are more likely to be stopped and searched by police than young white men. So given that possession of a knife is a 'knife crime', guess why a false picture of ethnicity and 'knife crime' would be easy to draw? Easy, but only if you want to, I should add.
you'd think that paper would find the room to report that of the teenagers stabbed to death in London this year (20, according to the London Paper, which in a perfect example of tabloid scaremongering about knife crime includes one person stabbed with broken glass, two people who were shot and two people who were beaten to death in its 'London knife crime teenage fatalities 2008' gallery), only three were white. You'd think that would be relevant in an article that pretends to examine the ethnicity of knife crime victims in London. You'd think an article that looked at figures that showed that the largest number of knife crime victims' ethnicity is unknown would mention the number of black victims of the most serious knife crime possible, but this one doesn't. Do you think the paper would ignore this figure if it showed that only 3 out of 16 teenage victims of knife murder in London were black, and around 10 were white?
And yet the paper (The Mail on Sunday) said that most victims of black knife crime were white. How did they know this? Where was the evidence for this? Who said this? Can we check the facts? Well in fact the facts don't say that at all - ethnicity of victims isn't known in most cases. How does 'unknown' become 'white' - unless you're trying to oversimplify or be deliberately misleading?
It's the return of anti-black racism. It's the classic depiction of the black man as the bogeyman. Unless newspapers attempt to show a responsible and intelligent approach towards this summer's scare story over knives, a totally false and reprehensibly misleading picture will be drawn.
Remember last week, when the Express (falsely) claimed that MPs feared riots over immigration? The truth is, if race riots do happen, and I really hope they don't, then those with blood on their hands will be those journalists who lied, and lied, and lied again.