Resisting Arrest: The UK Home Office’s Tweets

The UK Home Office’s tweets of arrests of (suspected) ‘immigration offenders’ (with the all-important ‘suspected’ clause being left off the hashtag itself, which presumably was designed to trend as just ‘#immigrationoffenders’), and the now-notorious racist ‘Go Home’ van, which was driven round targeted ‘ethnic’ areas of London, have rightly come under heavy criticism in recent weeks, not least on the social media platform itself – with tweet comparisons to Kristallnacht and so on abounding – and in most mainstream news media. It is indeed quite astonishing to see an establishment body, a governmental department, publicising arrests, which we expect to see more on pulp TV shows like Cops or in tabloid newspapers; and not just any arrests, but very specific ones; ones pandering to the shift right in electoral ideology, towards party-manifestoing (UKIP, BNP, etc.) predicated on producing racial difference as the key political factor negatively affecting the UK, and thus simultaneously propounding and popularising this tactic.

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The operation is of that which Paul Gilroy describes succinctly in There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: ‘it is not, as many commentators suggest, that the presence of immigrants corrodes the homogeneity and solidarity that are necessary to the cohesion and mutuality of authentically social-democratic regimes, but rather that, in their flight from socialistic principles and welfare state inclusivity, these beleaguered regimes have produced strangers and aliens as the limit against which increasingly evasive national particularity can be seen, measured and then, if need be, negatively discharged’ (David Starkey’s comment on Newsnight that ‘whites have become black’, in response to the events of the UK riots, is an exemplary example of this negative discharge). How it works in this instance is by what Louis Althusser calls ‘interpellation’. Althusser claims that ‘ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’’

In this ‘Hey, you there!’ the individual becomes a subject through turning around to meet the call, and thus ‘recogniz[ing] that the hail was ‘really’ addressed to him’. They are interpellated by being given a specified place in the ideological order of things; and in these tweets and photographs and messages (of ‘[Hey, you there], go home!)’ interpellation is being deployed in the most propagandist way. In the UK Home Office’s campaigning the message given is that #immigrationoffenders should be able to tell who they are by being specifically addressed (i.e., ‘profiled’; the lack of initial photographs of white suspects being rounded up, for example, was an obvious contentious indicator); and the other implied targets of the campaign – the ’#anti-immigrationoffenders’ – are interpellated too, by proxy (‘hey, you there that supports that, you can support this…’).

Through this form of targeting ideology has so often been able to slip into the public discourse unrecognised. It is now, however, that the racism inherent in these campaigns is to an extent being addressed, but nonetheless the clear message was put out there, and is out there still, and still circulates; and so such publicism, in its possible returns, needs resisting. As was discussed in an earlier article of ours, about the Scrabble squabble, online platforms are not always the easiest place to make a mark in this regard, but resistance to such arrests has had some effect, and thus will its continuation remain necessitous.

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