Listen to this track by Swindonian pop perfectionists and Little England observers XTC. It’s “No Thugs In Our House”, a single as taken from their 1982 double album English Settlement. On that record, writers Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding explore the English identity as could, and perhaps still can, be found in small towns all over the country.
“No Thugs In Our House” appeared in an historic context, with racially motivated violence and the rise of British national parties characterizing the social landscape in Britain in the early 1980s. The National Front in particular was a high profile group that ignited racially motivated incidents and hate speech at the time that began to seep into the public consciousness, poisoning the political viewpoints of many including the young. They framed incoming immigrants as scapegoats. These “foreigners” were supposedly taking all the good jobs, somehow soaking up a disproportionate percentage of social benefits at the same time, and generally encroaching upon traditional (read: white) British culture. In 2016, this brand of propaganda as it covers up austerity measures of sitting governments, and as it provides traction for fringe single-issue groups still sounds pretty familiar.
But, having said all that, I don’t think that white supremacist groups are the target in this song at all. In many ways, the criticism here in this song has more sinister and wider-reaching implications.
The scene is set with a young policeman knocking on the door of a middle class house, the home of a judge. In his hand is the wallet of a kid called Graham, left at the scene of a violent and racially motivated beating; an open and closed case, or at least the beginning of one. That is all but for the attitudes of his parents, particularly his mother who cannot conceive that her boy could have been involved in such a thing. He must have dropped the wallet after too much beer. Meanwhile, Graham sleeps in his room with a membership tattoo on his arm, a badge on his clothes, and incendiary hate literature in his drawer. In this song, hate and denial are sinister collaborators, with the knowledge that Graham’s judge father (who knows what the job of judging’s all about) will no doubt have some influence over how justice is or is not carried out. His mother can then continue to believe what she will of her son while the violence continues unchecked.
This of course has wider implications about patterns of destructive behaviour that are tacitly supported by the establishment. It is also about violence as it springs from supposedly benign settings, perceived to be benign only because of the way that our social systems are designed to organize our perceptions around the subjects of class and race. In this way too, this song is about privilege; the judge’s son who simply must be above suspicion because of the home he comes from despite damning evidence to the contrary. To question Graham’s innocence would be to question the whole system, and to acknowledge that there is a lot of ugliness under the veneer of polite society, which is the real object of criticism in “No Thugs In Our House”.
It is tragic how well the narrative in this song continues to fit with the twenty-first century political climate in the west, particularly in the way that average citizens respond to immigration and social pluralism. This type of social environment certainly helped to set the stage for many Brexit voters, with fear and hatred of immigrants and foreigners driving the vote. This resulted in many instances of xenophobia now coming out of the woodwork with the “Leave” win giving many the tacit permission to live out their racist views outwardly, heaping violence of all kinds on their fellow citizens, seemingly without consequence and most certainly without any current leadership to constrain them since most of the key figures in the drama have resigned by now.
This frightening trend of xenophobia as it relates to a new political and social normal also applies to the rise of Donald Trump in the United States; a demagogue candidate who uses white privilege as mixed with a twisted take on personal branding as fuel to a campaign that offers no constructive ideas, but rather is marked by aggressive othering based on race, gender, and sexual identity. That is apparently all he needs to gather massive support against all reasonable predictions. These are times when falsehoods are papered over with prejudice on a mass scale in the mainstream with no negative repercussions for those spreading them, all in the name of freeing oneself from being “politically correct”. Graham’s dream of a world where he can do just what he wants to do is seemingly coming true for many.
What is even more horrifying is the fact that in this scenario, many of us are discovering the we are Graham’s mother hanging her washing on the line as the young policeman makes his inquiries. We are having to confront the racism and the inherent violence in our political and social systems (and in the hearts of some of our friends, family, and neighbours) head on, often using what privilege we may have (if any) to distance ourselves from the uglier sides of our societies for the sake of our own stability. The question remains is how we will continue to respond to our times, particularly during elections. Will it be with revulsion, active rejection, and reform? Will it be with petty self-interest as informed by our mass insecurity, prejudices, and irrational fears? Or worst of all, will it be by convincing ourselves that there are no thugs in our house while the flames of hatred and violence rise around us?
XTC broke up officially in 2006. But Andy Partridge is an active songwriter, label owner, and archivist of the band’s back catalogue today. You can even follow him on Twitter at @XTCfans.
For more about how to fight against hate and work toward hope in Britain, investigate hopenothate.org.uk. To do the same in the United States, check out niot.org. For anti-hate information in Canada, visit stopracism.ca.