Anti-African racism just the latest desperate attempt to divide us

There is nothing new about the appalling racist campaign against African youth being waged in Victoria.

Back in 2007, a young Sudanese teenager was assaulted with a broken bottle and racially abused. What was the response of then immigration minister Kevin Andrews? He used this racist attack to justify a drastic cutback in the number of Sudanese refugees admitted to Australia, claiming they were not integrating.

Andrews’ vile outburst sent a clear signal to every racist in the country. A week later, 19-year-old Sudanese refugee Liep Gony was beaten to death with a metal pole.

His white attacker had sprayed “fuck da niggas” on the wall of his rental house and, immediately before setting out to murder the first Black person he came across, had yelled: “I am going to take my town back. I’m looking to kill the blacks”.

Despite all this, the trial judge ruled the murder was not racially motivated.

This is part of a much longer history of racism towards migrants.

In 2005, we had the riot on Sydney’s Cronulla beach against Lebanese people, egged on by leading Sydney radio shock jock Alan Jones. The groundwork had been laid by Bob Carr’s NSW Labor government, which for years had been demonising Lebanese as criminals and rapists.

Earlier still, in the 1980s, John Howard was vilifying Chinese, and Vietnamese were being denounced as violent criminals who received favoured government treatment and would not integrate. It reached the absurd proportions of people being told to lock up their cats and dogs or the Vietnamese would BBQ them.

Before that, it was Turks and Greeks, who were all lazy dole bludgers. And the Italians were all involved with the Mafia.

Racism has always been a useful tool used by the rich and powerful to whip up fear, justify law and order campaigns, keep us divided and provide scapegoats to distract attention from the real issues and challenges confronting working class people – finding a decent well-paid job, housing affordability, skyrocketing electricity prices, the state of the health system, a decent education for your kids and so on.

We must be clear that the hysteria about African gangs is a monumentally racist, law and order beat-up. Overall crime in Victoria is actually falling, as is youth crime.

Africans, we are told by the media and politicians, are more likely to engage in criminal behaviour than the rest of us. The figure widely quoted is that people born in Sudan make up 0.1 per cent of the Victorian population yet account for 1.4 per cent of all alleged offenders.

But this figure is incorrect and overstates the case. Sudanese-born people make up only 1 percent of alleged offenders. The figures are for alleged offenders, not people actually charged with an offence – let alone found guilty.

With alleged offenders, it is easy to see why Sudanese youth are over-represented. They are systematically racially profiled by the cops.

In 2013, six young African men won a five-year legal battle confirming that, between 2005 and 2009, they were systematically targeted by police and suffered discrimination and harassment.

In the case, it was revealed that young African people were much more likely than anyone else to be subject to an arbitrary “stop and search” by police. Someone from any other ethnic group was eight and a half times less likely to be stopped.

No wonder Africans are over-represented in so-called crime statistics. Police ignore other offenders and target people with a black skin.

Similarly, outraged media headlines focus on the exploits of the supposed APEX gang of African youth (which even the police admit is not a gang and not just African in composition), but virtually ignore or downplay riots and violent attacks by non-Africans.

In January, for example, a riot by more than 100 young white people in Torquay went virtually unreported. There was no police media release about it, and the rioters were not described as a gang. And only five were arrested.

It is a similar story with Aboriginal people. All around Australia, Aboriginal people are much more likely to be charged with offences regularly ignored by police when the offender is non-Aboriginal. It is part of the reason that Aboriginal people are so massively over-represented in the prison population.

So why is this all happening?

Clearly, the Victorian elections are part of the reason the Liberals have targeted Africans. They believe that whipping up law and order hysteria is the way to put Labor on the defensive.

Liberal leader Matthew Guy, who enjoys lobster dinners with leaders of the Mafia who donate to the Liberal Party, is an authority on gangs.

But despite the narrative of the Liberals and the Herald Sun about Labor being soft on crime, the Andrews government has been building new prisons at a rate of knots. It has tightened bail and parole laws and introduced harsher sentences.

Police numbers are at record levels and, per head of population, are higher in Victoria under Labor than in NSW under the Liberals: 297 cops for every 100,000 people in Victorian, compared to 256 cops for every 100,000 in NSW.

Labor has introduced some of the most draconian anti-terror laws in the world and anti-democratic laws targeting protesters. Police have open slather for attacking demonstrations, routinely unleashing pepper spray to break them up.

But it is not simply to back up their mate Matthew Guy in the Victorian elections that Malcolm Turnbull and home affairs minister Peter Dutton have waded in. They head an increasingly desperate government consistently behind Labor in the polls.

For years, the Liberals have whipped up hatred of refugees and Muslims. But that is no longer delivering them enough votes, so now they are searching for a new target to demonise – Africans.

Even when people correctly respond that it is a lot of sensationalist garbage, it is still the right wing provocateur setting the agenda and shifting the whole debate in society further and further to the right.

The international context is important. It is not just in Australia that the racist far right is on the offensive. Right across Europe, racist and fascist movements are growing.

In France the fascist National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, got its best ever vote and came second in the presidential elections. In Germany, for the first time since the Second World War, open Nazis have been elected to the parliament.

Standing above them all is Donald Trump, head of the most powerful nation in the world, who openly sympathises with far right extremists. Trump has emboldened racists and reactionaries all over the world, including here in Australia.

The rise of Trump and the far right reflects the crisis of neoliberal capitalism. All around the globe, people are becoming increasingly fed up with decades of austerity and inequality, of the privatisation and running down of core public services – health, education, electricity and public transport – of increased job insecurity, which combined have resulted in a massive transfer of wealth from workers to a tiny number of billionaires.

To deflect this growing discontent, the mainstream parties have increasingly relied on playing the race card – demonising refugees, migrants, Muslims, Roma or any convenient scapegoat. This has opened up the space for the far right and fascist forces. Their obnoxious ideas have become normalised.

This highlights the urgent task of building a militant and principled left prepared to campaign in solidarity with whoever is under attack, whether Africans, other groups of migrants, Muslims, Aboriginal people or refugees. But it needs to be a left that can also provide an alternative to capitalist polices of austerity.

A left that fights for massive increases in taxes on the rich to fund hospitals, schools, child care and public transport. That organises to rebuild the unions so that workers can win better wages and decent conditions at work.

And ultimately, a left that is for getting rid of the capitalist system that breeds racism, war, oppression and exploitation.