On Thursday, a friend of mine put on Facebook that she and a friend were in an Arabic restaurant in London, ordering their food using the correct Arabic names. A man shouted over to them that ‘they should speak English because this is England.’ Aside from the irony of this man enjoying Arabic food in England, this is not the only such incident she has spoken of since Brexit and Trump’s election victory - two political events in the last six months that have emboldened racism, misogyny and homophobia.
On the same day, another friend of mine re-tweeted about an Evening Standard article on the ‘fascie pack’ - a puff piece gushing about how the new generation of fascists were well-dressed, well-groomed and, well, I don’t know how to put it, really. Cool? Hip? Edgy?
Everything about this article was completely mind-boggling. It dripped with celebratory descriptors for its subjects, from calling Milo the ‘arch celebrity of the movement’ to focusing on Tomi Lahren’s ‘allure’ - she is ‘slim, pretty […] zealous about her mission’ who ‘with a deft hand makes a discussion about cultural appropriation seem trivial’.
Under a subhead ‘dress the part’, the journalist explains the haircut of the alt-right male - ‘a short back and sides but long on top (nicknamed “the fascie”)’ and their ‘three outfits: a dark suit, a Farage-esque heritage look or a skinhead with Eighties jacket and light-wash jeans.’ Meanwhile, the women are ‘polished […] Lahren has it down: smooth, tonged hair and slim-fitting A-line dresses.’
So there you have it. A style guide for hate speech, fake news and conspiracy theories.
This is one of a number of articles I’ve seen in recent weeks that seem to have decided the really interesting thing about the rise of the far right is fashion, not politics. And okay, maybe in being pissed off about it I am just doing exactly what such click-baiting articles want me to do. I’m being as outraged as they want me to be.
But there is something important to say about the way these articles are normalising the hateful, dangerous rhetoric that is making it easier and more acceptable to shout at a black woman in an Arabic restaurant to ‘speak English, you’re in England’.
Right now, we don’t need puff pieces about fascist fashion. We never did. I don’t care if Tomi Lahren wears an A-line skirt of a pencil skirt. I don’t care about which fascist wears a suit and which one styles himself on the 80s skin head beating up black kids. I care about the rise of hateful, far-right speech that is inciting hate crimes against BME communities, the LGBT community and women across all communities. That is where our energy and our attention needs to be focused. Articles like this only serve to normalise what is hateful and dangerous. Focusing on fashion over politics might seem like a fun pitch in an editorial meeting. But the impact of the rise of the far right on people across the world is far from pretty and far from frivolous.
We cannot allow the things these young far-right ‘thought-leaders’ say to become acceptable. We can’t afford to normalise fascism. Because as soon as we do that, as soon as we describe them as ‘impeccably groomed’ or ask whether the leader of Austria’s young far right movement is ‘hipster or hatemonger?’ (glasses don’t make you a hipster, if you spread hate then you are a hatemonger), then we’re treating hate speech as a trend. As something that is just happening in the world that we have to get along with, like Amish-style beards and sailor tattoos. It becomes met with a shrug, with a: it might not be for me, but heck, who am I to judge?
We are to judge. We need to judge. We need to speak out and say that the rhetoric spouted by Breitbart writers and right-wing YouTube ‘stars’ is vile, and hateful, and causing real harm.
There’s something inherently naive about these articles that reminds me of the way we talk about domestic violence abusers and rapists. As if all fascists have a swastika tattooed on their foreheads. As if you can’t brush your hair before opening your mouth to pour out racist epithets. Just like the wife-beater doesn’t always conform to your stereotyped expectations, neither need the far right. The hate speech they spout doesn’t become easier to stomach because it’s delivered by someone wearing a sharp suit. The impact of that hate speech isn’t lessened because they’ve given their shit haircuts a sickeningly cutesie nickname.
As I wrote last month, since Trump’s election there have been exhortations for those of us who despise everything he stands for to reach out to his supporters with empathy and understanding. We’re told that we need to accept the result, and accept what it means.
I disagree with this. I don’t think we should try and reach out with an olive branch to racism and misogyny and homophobia - that we should try and understand politics that want to ban all members of Islam from a country and damns an entire country’s population as rapists. Yes, we have to ask why these ideas are becoming more and more popular. But we don’t have any obligation to reach out with care and understanding. Because as soon as we do that, what do we say to those under attack from these views? What do we say to the woman whose hijab has been ripped from her head; to the woman denied an abortion in Ohio? Where does our understanding of their attackers take us? How do we answer to the victims and survivors?
I believe that we need to challenge it. To refuse to accept it. We need to stop pretending that it’s normal and understandable, and instead we need to argue back. Fight back. We need to say that it’s not Milo’s freedom of speech under threat when he’s banned from Twitter, it’s the women he’s set his supporters on. We need to point out again and again that those attacking the ‘liberal elite’ are themselves the elite. We need to put the blame for inequality firmly where it belongs.
My worry is that seemingly frivolous articles about the fashion choices of the far right are part of a creeping acceptance. They are contributing to the normalisation of hate speech. Look, these articles say. Look at their clothes. Not their views. Not what those views mean. Not what those views lead to. Keep looking at the clothes, and how nice the clothes are.
The rise of the far right isn’t a quirky trend. We simply cannot allow it to be normalised as though it were.