Greece | 01/16/2022

The normalization of racist rhetoric

By Dimitra Athanasopoulou

The article was first published in EFSYN – Journal of authors, on the 5th of December 2021

The narrative that has been created on Roma – as Cayetano Fernández writes – is a white construct that produced the legitimization of white identity.

Consequently, antigypsyism – as emphasized by Fernández, a specialist in Gypsy issues – is a racial system of domination which is historically rooted in modernity and obeys the construction of white European humans as the model for humanity, thus dehumanizing all others.

The eight-year-old Roma girl who lost her life in plain sight on the evening of 17 November 2021, in a factory at Keratsini, Piraeus, was obviously fully dehumanized in (our) eyes. That is why she was passed over as if she were not human as if her life had no value. In particular, audiovisual data showed factory employees repeatedly walking past the little girl as she slowly died, trapped by the sliding steel gate.

The study entitled “Normalisation of Far-right Discourse in Greece: Gender, Media, Armed Forces, Church”, recently published in Greek and soon to be published in English under the auspices of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the academic supervision of Rosa Vasilaki and George Souvlis, is one of the most important books published in our country on the extent to which far-right rhetoric has penetrated everyday discourse.

This work by the social studies group indicates how extreme opinions which are formulated negatively, through phobias and exclusion, become “self-evident”, and frame “common sense”.

Highly interesting is the chapter which illustrates how the media reproduces Greek national history through an almost obsessive search for a dominant Greek identity with historical origins in the midst of time, which is associated with ancient Greece, therefore contributing to the formation of a phobic climate as regards the integrity of the nation and the security of its citizens.

Page after page, this great study demonstrates the dangers of language and, naturally, of journalistic discourse, and how they hold the power to mitigate a crime or criminal indifference and silence, as in the case of the eight-year-old Roma girl.

In this valuable handbook, Souvlis and Vasilaki document how the normalization of racism is not the privilege of far-right parties, since the produced discourse has cultivated panic through a moralistic language, by constructing the Other, sometimes as miserable yet threatening refugee-immigrants and sometimes as our “Skopian” (North Macedonian) neighbors coveting our country.

The research was based on a questionnaire focusing on a research gap: namely on the dissemination of flagship notions from far-right and ultra-conservative discourse, regardless of whether it originates from parties or from so-called civil society. As for the answers? They confirm how much the ideology of white supremacy has become embedded in historical narratives, media representations, and political practices.

The way the death of the eight-year-old Roma girl was dealt with reflects the normalization of racism and specifically of anti-Roma rhetoric, reminding us of the deafening silencing of Roma racism in the media and how ultimately whoever controls language also gains control of social reality, as – also – constructed through discourse, as Foucauldian theory suggests.

In our social reality, whiteness is presented as a structural racial class, and Roma, refugees, and immigrants as a threat to this class. Racist hatred embodies the rejection of something different that threatens to negate us, and racist violence strikes this different Other.

Based on the above reasoning, anti-Roma racism appears as a regulatory tactic in order to control, observe and discipline the bodies of Roma, to the point that even progressive voices have now adopted the role of “white saviors” who must “save” Roma women from the so-called “Roma patriarchy” – a notion borrowed from Fernández. In other words, if we can’t save them from their barbaric selves, their lives will be worthless. Or, the more we conceptualize antigypsyism as a consequence of the “Roma way of life”, the more we will blame the Roma way of life for the racism they face and the more we will legitimize the dehumanization of these people.

So there will be a day when we will all end up – if we haven’t already done so – either considering them dangerous or not treating them as human beings. As in the case of the eight-year-old girl. In psychoanalysis, if we do not highlight the subjectivity of each human being against any attempt at “normalization”, according to Jacques Lacan, “we risk being all insufferably alike”.

Have we considered how dangerous it is for everyone to appear the same in our eyes as a threatening or indifferent mass? Think of an eight-year-old child slowly dying trapped by a steel door, of “people” and consider… The objects of racism – as psychoanalyst Éric Laurent writes – change as social bonds are modified. So let us urgently alter social bonds.