So today, I will be deviating from my usually disability focused writing because stuff like this really pisses me off.
The above image reads
Doesn’t Make Much Sense, Does It???
Homeless go without eating. Elderly go without needed medicines. Mentally ill go without treatment. Troops go without proper equipment. Veterans go without benefits that were promised. Yet we donate billions to other countries, and excessive immigration before helping our own first. 1 % will re-post and 99% won’t. Have the guts to re-post this. I KNOW I’m in the 1 %.
This image was created by a British political group called Britain First. Britain First is an offshoot of fellow political group the British National Party (a group that has only allowed non-white members since 2010 and then only after a court order). Britain First is staunchly anti-immigrant. They are also anti-Muslim. In 2014 on two occasions group members entered Mosques to either hand out Christian literature or simply berate worshippers.
I personally find the content of the image abhorrent regardless of its connections to Britain First. I call is sneaky racism though because not all people recognize the racist undertones or feel they are overshadowed by the call for increased social services.
So lets look at what the text actually says.
It starts off by listing a lot of serious social problems. Poverty affecting the elderly, the lack of effective available help for people with psychiatric disabilities (psychiatric consumers/survivors). The lack of appropriate funding for the military (I’m not sure I agree with that one) and the lack of supports and services for returning veterans.
These issues are so common that the fact that I am Canadian and the friend who posted it was also Canadian make these issues relevant even though the target audience was British people.
Do these issues need addressing? Absolutely, these issues and many more.
What is causing these problems?
Britain First makes no clear claim regarding the actual causes of poor social funding but they strongly imply in this image that government spending on international aide and immigration supports are taking money away from natural born Britons. By extension any Canadian or anyone from a country in the Global North posting it is implying the same thing about their own country.
It implies that foreign aid is a one way flow of money from the donor country to a foreign recipient with little or no return. Foreign aid is in fact much more complex than that.
Immigration is also more complex than foreign national entering countries for the purpose of taking jobs and using social services. Often they are brought in to meet a need or if immigration is abused it is more likely at the hands of locals than the immigrants.
Take for example the much maligned Temporary Foreign Worker program in Canada. Workers were only to be brought in if there were no qualified Canadians to fill those jobs. Yet there was story after story of employers firing Canadian workers in favour of TFWs.
In all these cases, it was not the immigrant at fault but the Canadian employer. The immigrant usually thought they had found a work opportunity and took it. Unfortunately once in Canada they were sometimes abused by their employers.
In reality the lack of funding for social programs is far more complicated than funneling money into one area rather than another. If a country cut funding for immigration and aid, there is no guarantee that it would be be sent to social programs.
Here in Canada the government has recently been criticized on an international level for not sending enough foreign aid.
So on the face of it, the Britain First Image is misleading at best and dangerous at worst.
It creates an us vs. them situation and the them is quite often people of colour. While it is true that white people immigrate, they are not the most noticeable additions to a society dominated by other white people nor are white people the primary recipients of foreign aid. That lack of explicit racism lets people argue that it’s not about race but the reality is that this argument is naive at best.
Despite the actual textual argument in the image, this picture still ended up in my Facebook feed. Posted by someone, I would not generally classify as racist. Yet when I explained the origin of the image they simply denied personal connections to racism. They also voiced personal support for both immigration and foreign aid but refused to acknowledge the problematic undertones of the image and argument they had shared.
Now some of this is likely due to a combination of not thinking to critically before hitting the share button and cognitive dissonance. No one wants to think that they have violated their stated belief system (in this case nonracist and social justice oriented).
I however think that posts and images like this are actively designed to fool people into sharing them to both expand an idea outside the insular group that holds it and in so doing make that idea seem more popular than it actually is.
This image starts out with an easy to agree with premise that people feel connected to. People are suffering because of a lack of social services. They then present a hypothetical strawman, the foreigners. They keep the connection vague and avoid overtly offensive language like slurs. They hope you stay with the emotional connection to suffering. They ignore that immigration and foreign aid* can also be tools to combat suffering.
The post then dares you to share it. It goes further than that. It suggests that people who share it are brave. YOU could be a hero. YOU could be the voice of reason to the majority who won’t share it. This framing in conjunction with the emotional impact could be more than enough to convince the uncritical to hit share.
This is not the first image I have seen that dares the viewer to share it. In some ways I think images like this have replaced the chain e-mail that used to promise luck if only you would share it with at least 15 other people. It plays on superstition and a desire to do good.
The internet can be a powerful place for activism but if the activism you are willing to do consists solely of posting easily shareable images. I would ask you to reconsider. It is all to easy to post something you only partially believe in because you missed the problematic undertones or you are simply trusting that your friends will know you didn’t mean those parts. If you actually want to do good, make a personal statement don’t share or copy and paste, at least then there will be no doubt where you stand on an issue.
*I am aware that foreign aid if fraught with controversies over its roots in colonialism and that the limitations placed on recipient countries can add to suffering. This is an important issue that needs to be discussed. For the purpose of this blog post I am focusing only on the racist overtones of using racialized groups as the boogeyman to further racist agendas.