Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Other White Meat: Governing through Crime, Race, and Gender

The intricacy with which the politics of crime and the politics of race are intertwined in the US is distinctive but not unique. The latest example comes from the country which is arguably the world's second most obsessive "culture of control" and from one the architects of New Labour's long experiment in governing through crime. Former Home Secretary (under Blair) and now veteran Labour stateman Jack Straw (I can never hear his name without thinking of the Grateful Dead song) speaking on BBC Newsnight about the conviction of two men of Pakistani ethnic background of raping and exploiting several young women who were of white (Anglo-Saxon?) background. (Read the Guardian story by David Batty)

"Pakistanis, let's be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences, and overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders.

"But there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men ... who target vulnerable young white girls.

"We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way."

Straw called on the British Pakistani community to be "more open" about the issue. "These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they're fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically," he said.

"So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care ... who they think are easy meat.

"And because they're vulnerable they ply them with gifts, they give them drugs, and then of course they're trapped."

Pakistani ethnicity has become the UK equivalent of African American in the US racial formation. Historic discrimination against this community which grew through immigration after World War II ("Paki-bashing" was a "sport" among "skin-head" racist youth in the '80s) has only become more intense since the recent upsurge of Jihadi terrorism in the UK. But the potential for invoking prejudice in this example is eclipsed by the striking absence of any analytic value. The fact is that men have long divided the world into women who are marriageable and women who are rape-able. There is no policy pay off to attending to the specific features of Pakistani culture that play into this near universal and invidious pattern of gender domination. The only purpose of invoking Islam or Pakistani "heritage girls" is to reinforce a linkage between fear of crime and fear of racialized others. Straw, on the verge of retirement and a seat in the House of Lords (or he was) has little to gain from such a statement. Instead,as an example of political slips of tongue, it reveals, why crime governance was such an important part New Labour's electoral strategy in a series of administrations that failed to improve the economic foundations of the UK's fragile middle class.

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