In a Foreign Land: the new popular racism

Asylum-seeker StabbingPublished in October 2001, this paper explores the new common sense racism emerging through media and political discourses of asylum, particularly linked to the policy of dispersing asylum seekers out of London to other parts of England. Focusing on the ways in which an attitude of multicultural tolerance towards some racialised groups, seen as ‘settled’, appeared to be consistent with attitudes of hostility and suspicion towards more recently arrived groups constructed as ‘asylum seekers’, the paper discusses a number of national and local newspapers as well as some of the ways in which asylum seekers were constructed in policy discourse. Martin Barker’s notion of a ‘new racism’ is used to describe how such discourses are not so much based on racial superiority but rather advocate an implicit theory of human nature in which xenophobia and fear of immigration are naturalised as legitimate instincts that come to the fore once a ‘threshold of tolerance’ is crossed and a way of life or culture is seen as threatened.

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