‘Borderline’ Racists

Party activists. UK, 2013.

At the foot of the White Cliffs of Dover, the slogan No Border. No Controlgreets those taking the elevator up the bluffs, or viewing them from the Channel. With inimitable frankness, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) displays the same such sentiment to the City of London as well, tucked away a little awkwardly on a brick wall along Great Eastern Street.

An off-white tarpaulin flies on a wall perpendicular to the billboard, with the words “Borderline Racistspointed towards the nativist sloganeering, drawing more attention to the anti-immigration poster that one suspects the tarpaulins authors may have intended.

It seemed designed to be overlooked; apt for a campaign of ideas that we like to believe only still exists behind closed doors. Meanwhile, across the street on the roof of Shoreditchs Red Gallery is a large Ukrainian flag, painted in solidarity with the Euromaidan following a photojournalists exhibition. It was these blue-and-yellow colors that first slapped me out of my somnolence on a bus ride to Waterloo Station. At which point, I rued that such a piece of UKIP agitprop is perfectly observed from the top deck of a 243 London bus seems insufferably fitting.

In a district of London that prefers its ideas and even its sandwiches to be considered ‘bespoke, Im almost willing to indulge the term Borderline Racistsas introspective and satirical. It could be, perhaps, a play on an island mentality, the frothing xenophobia of Europes wealthier fringes? Or perhaps a facetious instance of English understatement, leavened by a hearty electoral fear. Mindful of European election results, British (or rather, English) politicians have tiptoed gingerly around the R-wordin its various guises: its application to UKIP seen particularly by Labour as potentially compromising a chance to claw back haemorrhaging working-class voters.

Billboard detournement. Shoreditch, June 2014.
Billboard détournement. Shoreditch, June 2014.

For Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband, the party was merely deeply offensive”, whilst MP Sadiq Khans open letter lamented Labours historic over-eagerness to accuse people of prejudice”. And UKIPs prominence in popular political debate (if not in actual electoral performance) has afforded the Conservatives a certain veneer of moderation in comparison.

Given the less dramatic shift in loyalties performed by Eurosceptic Tory defectors to UKIP, the Tories are consequently no less comfortable in their deliberations on the R-wordthan Mr. Miliband. We need the racist thing to seep into the public consciousnesssaid an ally of Cameron’s to the New Statesmans Rafael Behr, “but it cant be us saying it. You cant call a spade a spade, but neither can you have your fruitcake and eat it, too.

The fascist part..
UKIP vs. Fried Matzo

Sit on the fence in an earthquake, goes the saying, and the fence moves too. That the illicit political commentary of East End graffiti adds the caveat borderlineto decrying racists is a mockery in and of itself, regardless of the authorsoriginal intent. Its a peculiar kind of subversion. After all, The English, as Kate Fox once observed, ‘have satire instead of revolutions.

Ive heard Shoreditch described as a Bohemian Mecca; a Slavic-Islamic coalition that could surely explain a UKIP billboards diffidence. Yet a few days ago I noted that the tarpaulin had since gone, along with its mention of racists borderline or otherwise. In any case, theres plenty to distract the tired, the procrastinating, and the decaffeinating masses in Londons streets. I once saw a Georgian flag wafting casually from a second-floor window down a side street. A Georgian restaurant, perhaps? Or perhaps a deeply misled EDL supporter taken with its crosses?

I soon reached Waterloo station for the commute home and took a seat in a quiet carriage; an instant study in English passive-aggressiveness should its rules be breached. Remembering his views on foreign languages in the public space, it occurred to me with some unease that Farage could feel quite comfortable here. A friend once described hostile stares from fellow passengers after noticing her reading material in Urdu and Arabic. Icy glares travel quickly through silence.

Walking along Great Eastern Street last week, I glanced again at the billboard and for the first time paid attention to the storefront below: Fried Matzo and Grilled Fish Specialistreads the shop sign. Fish n Chips by any other name [would taste as sweet]. These days I am more often confronted by borderlineviews which are cause for concern mostly when discussion starts to target the Muslim community. To draw the topic closer to (a) home and a family background, I occasionally draw parallels with attitudes to the Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century, and am frequently met with mute incomprehension. Yes, but the thing is …” they say, the Jews integrated”.


Photographs courtesy of Jennifer Jane Mills and  Maxim Edwards. Published under a Creative Commons license.

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