The BNP has been receiving more air-time and discussion than they deserve. Yet there seems to be one aspect of this debate which is not being discussed. No one seems capable or willing to listen to what BNP members have to say. It is essential that we do not lose sight of the fact that BNP members (spokesmen and leaders) are still humans with emotions, families and friends just like the rest of us. Portraying them as monsters that bear no resemblance to our-selves is morally naive and ultimately detrimental to tackling the sort of hatred some of their policies can incite.
It is essential that we do not carry on condemning the individuals who support the BNP like we are in a bizarre 21st century witch hunt. Instead we should stop and listen to try and understand why they may have come to these political views. The moment we lose the ability to empathise with BNP members, sympathisers and leaders, is the moment we get dragged into the sort of politics that the BNP has become renowned for. This is not the same as saying we have to accept their political message. Indeed, I think we will be in a stronger position to tackle far-right politics if we first learn to listen.
I have never had the opportunity to sit with a BNP official or member (to my knowledge) and talk to them on a human level. The BNP are obsessive about infiltration and leaks. Everybody outside of the BNP is petrified of be associated with the BNP in any way because of the stigmatised image of the BNP. There is an atmosphere of ignorance and that is being driven on by a mutual distrust and a breakdown in communication. There is responsibility from both sides to try and tackle this situation.
It is apparent that at the moment there is no shortage of voices condemning the actions and policies of the BNP. There is, however, a distinct lack of people willing to listen. There is a subtle balance in recognising the humanity of all, whilst still denouncing beliefs that we feel to be fundamentally wrong. It is a balance that perhaps we must all strive to make.
6 responses to “Learning to listen, engaging with BNP supporters”
I grew up in an area where racist and fascist parties were strong and on the streets weekly to recruit and sell their papers.I have been to school with and worked with members of these parties. These are not people to talk with and reason with. They are Thugs who talk with their boots and like to hate people; whether they are opposing footie fans, black people, gays etc. There are plenty of examples of their behaviour accessible on the net. Furthermore, The BNP has gained a lot of space on the airwaves to be listened to, particularly during the last election and before. Who are NOT being listened to are working class people. The issue of the BNP is really an issue of class in Britain. The Labour Party’s move to become a middle class liberal party in the last 30 years has left working class people without parliamentary representation. The far left are just ridiculous and following their own elitist agenda which patronises working class people. The BNP, like all political opportunists, are using the political void created by Labour to try to present themselves as the voice of (white) working class people to promote their particular agenda. There is a lot of popular racism latent in this country, across the class spectrum. The BNP is no different to the mainstream parties who all rake it up when voting time comes around. Rather than talking to the BNP, and giving them EVEN more attention, lets talk to the people they pretend to represent and bypass these racists altogether. Lets talk about the increasing class inequalities in this country. This is the poison that breeds hate and resentment.
I would agree completely. If however, the situation arises, this is not to say that one should shy away from the situation. It depends whether you see you objective as wanting to gain insight or whether to influence others. I guess i was originally blogging to say that perhaps you need the first before you can get the latter. In which case you’re right!
It is a challenge. I personally feel as though I too often fall down the ‘us and them’ side of the tight rope. It is easier that way. Less challenging. I think it takes quite a skill to walk that fine line you describe. Just occasionally it might be worth s walking closer to the line, not being worried that we might fall on the other side.
We can see that missing the line either way is detrimental. I am personally going to try and be braver and try and walk the line!.
Thanks for your replies.
I do agree with everything which has been said.
However having actually talked to and listened BNP supporters I have yet to come across one with a valid reason for this vote and these beliefs which is not bread from fear, hatred or sheer stupidity! all of which are regrettable foundations on which to vote or to form a political opinion!
It is important that we do not create a ‘them and us’ culture by reacting with disdain and reproach, however it is also important that we do not allow such views to be seen as either decent or acceptable. unfortunately this is an impossibly fine line to tread…
It is tempting to define a person by their political beliefs. In fact, it’s hard not to when politics is the only (or main) medium through which you relate with them.
I’d suggest first talking to people you know about why they voted (joined, sympathise with the) BNP, before talking to people you’ve never met before. It’ll be far easier to gain insights that way round.
Strangely enough, I agree with this, despite being one of those who have condemned both the BNP as an organisation and its supporters.
The only problem seems to be a practical one of finding the right forum for this sort of debate to take place; somewhere where the emotional barriers generated by the BNP’s views won’t prevent proper, reasoned debate.
A very good point. I do worry about the idea of giving national or local media coverage to such an exercise. I am not sure I have a convincing answer.
One step we could make is to look at how we respond as individuals. I will admit that when a friend of mine told me she voted BNP I acted with a little bit of disgust (which would instantly have made her feel uncomfortable). This would be fine if it was a mistake or a spur of the moment thing. If though, she had made a conscience decision to vote BNP, then in this situation I would have completely closed myself off from her talking to me about it.
So maybe, we should at least hold back when people start talking about the BNP. As I alluded to in the blog, there will be no shortage of people ready to jump in with abuse. I think we need to be careful not to be so arrogant as to believe that nice people won’t vote BNP. I think (know) that nice people have voted BNP.