Dudula and the difference between racism and xenophobia

“All them Africans coming here and nicking all our jobs and bunging up the hospitals!” It’s a cry heard commonly enough on the racist side of politics in the UK. But what if the people who uttered these words were fellow-Africans, and they were uttered not in South London, but South Africa? Now a fascinating piece of film from Jamal Osman of Channel 4 News raises deep questions about exactly what racism is and what causes it [1] And, at least by implication, a clue to the roots of our present woes, and how they might be cured.

Our staff here have seen a lot of racism over the years, some in the course of their professional work in law enforcement agencies. It’s an elaborately confected theory of dividing people into groups, and how some groups are inherently superior to others. The theory unleashes hatred of breathtaking extent, explanations of baroque complexity and specious logic. So what happens when identical behaviours are unleashed between people who seem to be of identical race (at least to others) Think South Africans and Zimbabweans, as in Jamal’s film. Or Arabs and Israelis? Our favourite example has always been the inhabitants of Northern Ireland who work tirelessly to maintain grievances which are utterly imperceptible to outsiders. What is going on?

Look at the word-cloud around Dudula in Jamal’s film, and the links we’ve chosen to accompany it. [2] [3] [4] What is a typical Dudula member? Poor. Marginalised. Insecure. People like market traders, the self employed. generally. Before you start to feel superior, gentle reader, imagine if you were something like a self employed builder. Every morning begins a full day’s work, and every night a struggle to price new jobs, fill up your stocks and try to calculate the margin of survival for you and your loved ones. Given the natural human tendency to distrust strangers, are you going to rush out to welcome them with open arms? Especially if they enter into direct economic competition? And so every nation and every race gets its Dudula, its Proud Boys, Otzma Yehudit or Nazi Party. It’s not racism at all, it’s xenophobia, and it’s part of the human condition. And it manifests strongly in the same social classes all around the world.

And slowly but surely, it’s tearing us apart into mutually suspicious tribes, reducing the flow of trade and ideas and making us all poorer. History shows that in such circumstances, wars inevitably follow. Is it possible that the solution is to reduce the anxieties and ameliorate the economic and educational conditions of those in the lower reaches of the economy?

this blog was the result of a pooled discussion of the Editorial Board


[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Dudula


[4] https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/podcasts/podcast-borders-belonging/south-africa-dudula-diepsloot-migrant-nyathi-zimbabwe/

#operation dudula #racism #xenophobia # Nazi Party #otzma yehudit #fascism #economics

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