Friday, 7 September 2007

The accidental racists

The view that accusations of racism are an attempt by liberals to shut down debate on immigration is wide of the mark. In reality they are our killer argument.

I want you to imagine something. What would happen if the Mayor of London decided that in order to protect the wages of ordinary Londoners, he was going to prevent people from outside London coming to work in the capital? This would be regarded not only as completely barmy but also deeply unfair; Why should jobs in London only be available, when there are plenty of people in the rest of the UK perfectly capable of doing them? Surely, this is a rather nasty form of discrimination? Now replace the word ‘London’ with ‘America/Europe’ and ‘UK’ with ‘world’ and you have a pretty good description of the iniquities of immigration controls.

I raise this issue because on one of my favorite blogs, Dizzy Thinks, there is an entry asking: ‘How can you sell any immigration policy…without being called a racist?’ The answer is that you can’t because these policies are inherently discriminatory. They rest on the assumption that it is legitimate to deny certain rights and opportunities to people solely on the basis of their nationality.

I am not suggesting for a minute that the people advocating these policies are all skin headed neo-Nazis. It is entirely possible to support tougher limits on immigration without meaning to support a racist policy. This is not about the intentions behind a policy but there impact. That is why I am endeavoring to talk about these policies as ‘discriminatory’ rather than ‘racist.’ The problem for these accidentals racists is that many people are going to assume that because they are promoting a policy with racist results that they have racist motives.

A possible response by those who want to reduce immigration is to suggest the fact that white migrants are affected by controls means that they aren’t racist. This is true but it misses the point. They do not necessarily discriminate on the basis of skin colour (though the bulk of people they effect are non-white) but nationality. To suggest that someone opportunities in life should be determined by what passport they hold is no better than suggesting it should be on the basis of their race. Both are largely the result of an accident of birth rather than personal decisions.

Another commonly used to defense is to claim that it is legitimate for us to place the interests of British nationals above those of foreigners because the state’s primary responsibility is to the people that make up the political community. This does not really rebut the claim that immigration controls are discriminatory but instead tries to provide a justification for it and it is not even a terribly convincing one. In the American South during the era of segregation, the state authorities that imposed the race laws were representing a political community composed of white Americans that did not entitle that state to take actions designed to uphold the dominance of the white majority. The states responsibilities to its citizens is not a license to infringe the rights of foreign nationals.

If all people are created free and equal, then jobs should not be denied to talented individuals simply because they are, say, Mexican rather than American. What we have done by trying to block global migration is to reintroduce segregation, only this time on a global scale. It is unjust and should be ended.


dizzy said...

Interesting logic being displayed here methinks. You're essentially saying - racism is discrimination, policy X is discriminatory, therefore policy X is racist. That's a bit like saying all dogs have four legs, my cat has four legs, therefore my cat is a dog. I wouldn't call that a killer argument at all, I'd call it a positively weak one.

Also, I think you're missing point about the closing down of argument. The minute you call someone a racist that's it, the discussion is over, you're leveling a charge that carries an emotional value, and you're attacking the person, not their argument. It's a weak debating point, especially if it's backed up by fallacious logic.

Mark Mills said...

It is less a matter of the policy being racist and more that it is unjustifiably discriminatory, which is why people call it racist.

dizzy said...

But it's not about race, it's about nationality, which is a very different thing. Conflating the two things interchangeably is highly suspect, unless the intention is, as I said, to close down discussion, which is essentially what the racism charge does even when the person is not actually talking about race.

Mark Mills said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Mills said...

But I fail to see how discrimination based on nationality is morally justifiable in a way that discrimination based on race is not. They are both, in the vast majority of cases, something we have no control over and for this reason it is not a just basis on which to deny somebody opportunities.

I am not accusing you or any other opponent of immigration of being racist or xenophobic in the conventional sense of having an irrational hatred of foreigners or people from other races. Instead that immigration controls rest on a logical fallacy that privileges the rights of one group of people over another on an entirely arbitrary grounds.

dizzy said...

Hang ona s econd we seem to have gone off on a tangent here. Firstly, we live on a planet of nation states. You may not like the concept of the nation state for all I know, but it does not change the fact that we live in such a scenario. As such, a nation state is deinfed by borders and make decisions based on those borders. I mean, that's just the way it is.

Also, who said anything about a requirement for a policy of dscirmination in terms of immiration needing to be morally justifiable? Discrimination is as natural as walking, people do it all the time, you do it all the time, alebit unwittingly. You will make prejudicial decisions daily based on your own empircal experience of the world, and many of those will be discriminatory.

Incidnetally, I am not an opponent of immigration. I believe in the complete free movement of labour because it is good for business migrant labour more often than not because it cheap.

I'm a little confused by the claim that immigration controls imply a logical fallacy "that privileges the rights of one group of people over another on an entirely arbitrary grounds". For a start the basis of any immigration policy comes from the very notion of the state and it's subjects or citzenary. As such someone who is a non-citizen will not be accorded the same treatement as one who is a citizen. That's not fallacious logic at all, it's a perfectly sound logical argument. I'm not sure where the fallacy is. Can you explain it again?