Is power inherently violent? Foucault, the makings of a hostile environment and the attack on Black lives in the United Kingdom.
Disclaimer: This was submitted as a replatformed University essay based on course- selected texts and a previous post on violence and hostile environments. I didn’t have that many words so it’s not as detailed.
The truth of it all is the hostility against Black people are legislated hate crimes.
Much like energy, power can neither be created or destroyed. It transfers from one form to another, existing in a constant state of dynamism. Similarly, a hostile environment partly defines the outright attacks on Black lives as well as the implicitly explicit assault, violation, perception, and trauma on and of Black bodies. Race and hostility are entwined in a web of interconnected isms and aggressions that support a ranking, with Blackness at the bottom. Such examples include the disproportionate killings of unarmed Black men and women through unwarranted police force or the waged biopolitical warfare that affects ‘othered’ personhood through medical policing, symptomatic of Michel Foucault’s thoughts on biopower. (Foucault, 2003, p. 277- 279). Recent events have shown Foucault’s specificity of ‘the right to make live and let die’ (Foucault, 2003, p. 241) such as the response to Black people’s health in light of the current pandemic, the murder of Black individuals, the Windrush scandal and Grenfell.
Biopower and biopolitics represent a partnership in their functionality; an evolved form of violence embedded in systems of governance. Biopower is ‘the technology of power over the population […] it is the power to make live’ (Foucault, 2003, p. 247). The purpose of biopower and its contribution to rule is the control of population systems that concern life processes. Biopolitics, its complementary force, refers to the implemented mechanisms that work to temper and intervene in the way these processes work. Examples of such include sex education, educational pillars and vocations in authority including the police, the power of the court and health professionals. Violence then, is not an inherent facet of power but a behavioural choice of the hands in which it lies. It factors in then that racism and the bias of discrimination works through biopolitical acts supporting the ‘exclusion and extermination of the politically dangerous and ethnically impure’ (Foucault, 2013, p.276). The language here is meticulous. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes states that ‘nature hath made men […] equal’ (Hobbes, 1997, p. 76), but this belief, he says, founds violence. The existing inequalities of personhood which work to strip autonomy, are man-made projections that work for the good of those it deems worthy under the law. Worth that is made acknowledgeable through racism.
Racism prides itself in a forcefully imposed hierarchy rooted in false notions of being through slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and more. These pseudo-perceptions that award statuses of superiority and inferiority are linked to ‘unchangeable physical characteristics’ that imply ‘psychological and intellectual’ advantage. (Ashcroft, Gareth, and Tiffins, 2013, p. 181). Human life is chiselled down to appearance; hence the negligence surrounding the failed people of Grenfell Tower, majority of which were minorities. We are approaching the three year anniversary of Grenfell and the questionable number of 72 deaths is a gross trivialisation and insult to the memories of the residents. More so, considering several surviving residents are yet to be rehoused permanently. Biopolitics and personhood are intertwined in the ways they affect livelihood on an intimately personal and widespread level.
Communities consist of people who, in turn, make up the populations that make up, care, and nurture the economy. The choice to make live and let die (Foucault, 2003, p.241) is evident in its view of Black lives as disposable. In addition to race, livelihood is a myriad of intersections, including age, class, ability, gender, sexuality, and religion, to name a few. The population that exists at these intersections tend to overlap and are at most risk under the State and the violence against dates back.
The Appellant’s Tale, as told to David Herd (Herd and Pincus, 2016), tells the story of a British Nigerian citizen and the unprovoked attempts to enforce his removal from the country. The ‘appellant’, as he is labelled, is removed from the safety of his home with no opportunity to gather evidence of his belonging. The unnamed man is transported to various holding facilities and isolated for 11 months, subjected to a non-identity. Told in 2015, it aligns with Theresa May’s 2012 hostile environments speech. Intentional in her words to ‘create a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’ (Hill, 2017) combined with an Austerity Britain, May made good on her word. In her time as prime minister, she oversaw the deportation of British citizens invited to the United Kingdom, particularly those on the SS Empire Windrush, exposing the extent to which the State does not care about Black lives. However, to blame May solely would be scapegoating; a gratuitous denial of those who have come before her and the legacy of anti-blackness that exists worldwide.
Reni Eddo-Lodge surmises the relationship between race and the specific implicitness of the political sphere. Put merely, racist policies are a result of an audacious government made up of ‘dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of people with the same biases, joining together to make up one organisation’ (Eddo-Lodge, 2018, p. 64). Structural racism is a globalised strategy that invites and builds empires in the homes and on the backs of Black bodies then turns around to ask for proof of lived existence (Herd and Pincus, 2016, p.71). The truth of it all is the hostility against Black persons are legislated hate crimes.
The language of these regulated policies is indicative of Foucault’s words, ‘a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death’ (Foucault, 1978 p. 138). This stance forms the basis of the makings of a hostile environment using language as a framing technique to choose who gets to live and who does not. The immigrant status is ingrained in projections that urge one to ask what an immigrant looks like. The answer is simple; immigrants are first and foremost, non-white individuals and therefore illegal, tethered to an ‘othered’ personhood, fit to be discarded when deemed appropriate. Thus, the law sings ‘a song of mistrust’ (Herd and Pincus, 2016, p.78) maintaining that ‘one true race […] holds power and is entitled to define the norm’ (Foucault, 2003, p. 61). This continues to oppress Black lives through a conscious attempt to go ‘against those who pose a threat to the biological heritage’ of its populous. (Foucault, 2003, p. 61).
The makings of a hostile environment are a result of a charged agenda that attacks and cripples the personhood of Blackness in the United Kingdom. It speaks the language of polite coercion (Herd and Pincus, 2016, p. 74) and deliberate action in its bid to render submission (Herd and Pincus, 2016, p. 78). This is the truth about Windrush and the Appellant, a forceful removal ‘because nobody knows who you are’ (Herd and Pincus, 2016, p.78) even though indeed we do. Biopolitics is more sinister in its execution in that it relies on deception through squashed rights, destroyed papers and a distanced state at war with itself and its people. Consequentially, there is a distasteful attempt to cover this up by blaming individuals as at fault with the law and thus deserving of their circumstance. The wielded biopower and biopolitical positioning of the State is dangerous because it creates the breeding ground for hostility. Under State law, ‘the theme of race does not disappear,’ (Foucault, 2003, p. 239). Instead, a paradoxical execution of power takes hold. Black lives are subjected to mistreatment but gaslit into compliance through stereotypes and policies that supposedly apply to all. One must ask — considering the UK’s anthem and proclaimed belief in God — ‘why, if so religious, so little concern for ethical life or human rights?’ (Cole, 2015, p. 142).
Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G. and Tiffin, H. (2013). Postcolonial Studies : The Key Concepts. London: Routledge.
Cole, T. (2015). Every day is for the thief : fiction. New York: Random House.
Eddo-Lodge, R. (2018). Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Foucault, M. (1978). The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1: An Introduction. 1st ed. Translated by R. Hurley. New York: Pantheon Books.
Foucault, M. (2003). Society must be defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–76. 1st ed. Translated by D. Macey. New York: Picador.
Herd, D. and Pincus, A. (2016). Refugee Tales. Great Britain: Comma Press.
Hill, A. (2017). “Hostile environment”: the hardline Home Office policy tearing families apart. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/28/hostile-environment-the-hardline-home-office-policy-tearing-families-apart [Accessed 11 May 2020].
Hobbes, T. (1997). Leviathan, or, the matter, forme and power of a commonwealth ecclesiasticall and civil. New York: Simon And Schuster.