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Make no mistake - Donald Trump's victory represents a racist "whitelash"

In Britain and the US, politicians are succeeding not despite of racism but because of it. 

"We’ve talked about income, we’ve talked about class, we’ve talked about region, we haven’t talked about race…This was a whitelash. This was a whitelash against a changing country”. These were the salient words of political commentator Van Jones last night as it became clear that Donald Trump was set to become the 45th President of the United States. Racism, and its bedfellow, sexism, have played a large part in bringing Trump to power. To ignore this is to legitimise discrimination. Trump ran on a racist, misogynistic platform, and he won.

Trump’s overt racism is not the only reason for his triumph, but it is a central one. Despite having run on anti-migrant, anti-Muslim and anti-women platform, his victory is already being chalked up to working-class economic disenfranchisement. This doesn’t make sense on two counts. Firstly it ignores working-class people of colour, who largely rejected Trump. Economic anxiety is not the exclusive redoubt of the white working class - African Americans and Hispanic Americans experience the highest rates of poverty in the US. Secondly, this narrative entirely ignores the middle-class white Americans who seem to have turned out in support of Trump.

The President-Elect’s support base includes white nationalists who think African Americans are "criminal," "unintelligent," "lazy" and "violent" and who sat by while the KKK endorsed their candidate. To ignore racism as a motivation for many people voting for Trump is to overlook, for example, his calls to ban Muslims from entering the country, to deport 11 million migrants and build a wall between Mexico and the US. The underlying theme behind these policies: forcing people of colour out of America.

The election of a billionaire businessman is, in part, about protecting a racial order in which whiteness reigns supreme. The people who are celebrating Trump’s victory tells you a lot of what you need to know: Ukip’s Nigel Farage, who is on his way to the US to congratulate Trump; the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, who proclaimed that the American people are now “free”, and Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, who congratulated the American people for taking back their country. In the US as in the UK, racist views are regularly explained away as “legitimate concerns” about the economy or over the erosion of an imagined national culture.

The decisive victory of a racist misogynist in the US Presidential race should prompt a reconsideration of the narrative that has led us to this point. There will be a temptation to further legitimise Trump’s white nationalist narrative by turning a blind eye to the structural racism and misogyny that swept him to victory. There will be a rush to defend Trump’s supporters as neither racist nor sexist – the comparatively small number of minority voters who backed Trump will be held up as an example of why this can’t simply be boiled down to race. But this will obscure what is hidden in plain sight: racism has played a significant part in this election. 

In the coming days, weeks and months, we need considered analysis about the construction of whiteness and politicians’ arguments that white identity under attack from supposedly inferior and threatening minorities. This matters because rhetoric has real life consequences. As we’ve seen in Brexit Britain, when people of colour and migrants have found themselves demonised as the enemy, and nationalists also declare they are reclaiming their country, violence and hate crimes becomes more possible. 

The situation in the US is by no means an exact mirror of what happened when the UK embraced Brexit. But in the initial aftermath of the presidential announcement one similarity is clear - politicians weren’t successful in spite of their racism. They were successful because of it.

Maya Goodfellow researches race and racism in Britain. She is a staff writer at LabourList.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.