21 February 2009

You say xenophobia, I say anti-immigration.


No more: one man amongst many againts prejudice

He who controls the media discourse, controls a lot. I've written about this before, but the thought hasn't let me be. I am talking about the South African xenophobia and European anti-immigration feeling. The same thing with two different names can be two different things only because that's how we perceive it.

Xenophobia is broken into small details and every incident has been analysed, victims named and they haven't been reduced into statistics, but their humanity has always been kept on the forefront. Just like their attackers' undertakings have been condemned and generally, it has been made to be about hate, and especially about the hate of Black South Africans for their fellow Africans; an inexplicable feeling since the continent did what it could for the struggle of its southernmost inhabitants.

We ended up doing our documentary Beyond Xenophobia because we were so frustrated with the media discourse, the blatant simplification of the matter and distinct lack of looking into the background of the problems. I feel satisfied to that extend that we, in my opinion, managed to uncover and analyse factors such as poverty, trauma of the past and unemployment; all of which seemed to have much more to do with incidents than some abstract hate as it was portrayed by so many of the opinion leaders and media producers. We were in talks about the broadcasting of our documentary with some broadcasters also outside of South Africa, and one European English speaking station of an unnamed Public Broadcaster, while wanting it for free, which is a different type of problem between the two continents, wanted to have a debate with us on the topic “Should the Blacks in South Africa already get over themselves”. True story. After hundreds of years oppression, forty years Western supported apartheid policies and fourteen years of democracy and a representative of a major European broadcaster suggests that it maybe time for the people of South Africa just snap out of it. Sounds a bit rich to me, but hey, let's not pretend that it surprises us at this point. That is how the ones who decide how the media talks about xenophobia in South Africa think.

Back home in Europe, where I originally come from, name a country where a political party or larger scale movement isn't gaining momentum and increasing their membership and voter base with some type of anti-immigration platform. It happens at the moment in my home country of Finland and it certainly has been happening on much larger scale on that unnamed country whose national broadcaster wished to make broad generalisations about the South African Black people. But the difference is, of course that this is not about hate, but several myriad practical and complicated factors such as unemployment, losing jobs and of course women. In Finland our own brand of nationalists who gained considerable support in recent elections were very clear about the fact that they are not racists and shouldn't be considered as such. They just don't like Islam (in Finland that would pretty much equal to saying they don't like Somalians), and that of course they are not against anyone who comes there to work hard, but they are worried about people who just come there for fun to have a free ride and good life. It's very arrogant and uniformed way of thinking. But how does this work in practice? I am not sure as I never felt that any interview with representatives of the party went into the details of their plans (journalists were too busy asking are they racist and they were busy saying that no they aren't). How do you find out that only hard working people get into our promised land? To avoid the accusations of having selective memory we should go and ask from the Finnish immigrants in Sweden. Those men who live under the bridges in Stockholm, and who got the short end of the stick from our western neighbours when all they wanted was a better life, work and basic things like that. But I guess it wasn't easy for them either. Different country is a different country whether it is near or far, and language barrier can be tricky even if you've learned the small talk worth of it in school years ago. But according to what seems to be the idea of populist right wing thinking in Europe, Sweden should have stopped these guys all those decades ago on the border and do some personality tests to find out whether they wanted just a easy life – I suspect no one then thought it would be under the bridge drinking cheap vodka. Simplifying doesn't make complex things simple, just pointless, and certainly many Finns did well in Sweden and that really is not the point, but still, that saying about throwing stones in the glass houses comes to mind.

I started by indicating that xenophobia in South Africa might not be all that different than the anti-immigrant feeling in pretty much every country in Europe. The complexity of European concern of problems with cultural integration and primitive hate of Africans, as it tends to be described by us Europeans, does have some differences as well. In South Africa there is no political party that would run in the general elections in few months trying to get votes by peoples fears of foreigners stealing the jobs and women, and should someone try, I think they would be shot down quicker than they could spell xenophobia. But hate is still hate even if it's rationalised. Let's do what we can to fight prejudice on all the continents, and remember that prejudice can also be how we perceive the prejudice of others.

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