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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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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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