Our Inability to Talk About Race Threatens Democracy
“Where do you begin telling someone their world is not the only one.”
We need to start talking to one another. I try to do this in my latest book, Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism & the Global Problems of the 21st Century. If you are interested in this topic, then my book may help. I aim to bridge ideological opponents which is exactly the purpose of this blog post as well.
Studies show that right-wing populist regimes emerge because of the lack of healthy discussion around race & immigration in politics.
Around the world, Brexit, Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro, and many others are distracting us from the true enemies of the 21st century: war and famine.
War is among the largest threats to life in the 21st century. Refugees from war-torn countries flee to Europe because of the economic downfalls that accompany it, resulting in widespread famine and displacement. Today, 780 million people are malnourished around the Globe, resulting in 9 million people dying annually of starvation.
Well, it is most definitely immigration. But because of the lack of healthy conversation in the West surrounding the topic of race, few are willing to vote for politicians that understand race. Whenever they discuss race with their friends, they are told that they are “racist”. So, they then choose right-wing populists, such as the ones mentioned above, instead of the much more reasonable voices.
What’s the solution to all of this?
If we don’t talk to one another — we will destroy ourselves.
The Hydra & White People in the Anglo States
Many people seem to forget that white people are the majority of Anglo-states (Canada, America, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa). So the way you discuss race with white people is how you often influence the outcome of elections.
When you tell your white friends to unfollow you, to “fuck off” and all rest, you are preventing necessary discussion.
In Ancient Greek and some Roman mythology, there was a story of a Hydra, The Lernaean Hydra, a serpentine monster that could not be defeated.
Many heroes of mythology attempted to slay this monster, among which Hercules was perhaps the most infamous.
Today the Hydra we face is of a different kind; we face one where our reality & epistemology (the ground we stand on) among fellow well-meaning people is different.
We tell others to “educate themselves” all the whilst not realizing that there is no such thing as a “full education” or “enough education”. We all need to continuously educate ourselves.
Until then, we need to understand each other. But now there is no mythology that unites us. The Hydra may be undefeated. In the words of Stephen Fry, who is himself a great fan of Greek mythology, “I think it’s time for this toxic, binary, zero-sum madness to stop before we destroy ourselves”. Indeed this “with us or against us” / “us vs them” / tribal / polarized (whatever you call it) thinking is strangely reminiscent to something that brought us close to the brink in the 20th century.
Listen to others.
Advocate for their right to speech. That right is of intrinsic value not just instrumental.
Studies show that right-wing populist regimes emerge because of the lack of healthy discussion around race & immigration in politics.
Conservative Values and Immigration
During Nixon’s presidency, conservatism was tied to traditional (Christian) values. Opposition to immigration was to preserve American values guaranteed by the Constitution — liberty, life, & the pursuit of happiness.
Today, we have seen a resurgence of similar sentiment with figures like Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orban, Trump, and Boris Johnson, popping up all over the world taking over the media, granting them free press coverage worth millions of dollars.
Growing polarization has destabilized & moralized discourse, causing little to no conversation. “Radical left”, “Fundamelist Christian”, & other categorizations have permeated society to the extent that few are willing to listen to each other.
Obama, seemingly, was the last hope America had for a bipartisan President (as polls show, in the beginning of his 1st term 2008). John McCain, along with the GOP, resisted his policy-proposals. As a result, much potential for progress was lost. Partisan politics conflicted with progress.
When it came to ethnicity and race, many centrists, undecided voters, and conservatives turned to the only source for information on growing concerns about immigration in 2016 and in the years leading up to the federal election.
Unfortunately, that voice was Trump.
The primaries revealed a divided democratic party, corrupt DNC, and one of the worst American presidential campaigns in modern history (aka Hilary, going so far to call Trump voters a “basket of deplorables” because of their “racism”).
Looking back, that was a mistake.
Studies show that when a healthy conversation concerning race is not in politics, this creates fertile ground for right-wing populist regimes to enter the political arena, especially in PR governments where the threshold for entry is about 3% as had happened all across Europe.
Our Inability to Talk to One Another
Our inability to talk to one another is among the most serious threats to democracy today. Due to cognitive errors, it is difficult to comprehend unfathomable risks such as the end of democracy, liberalization, climate change, etc. Politics, in the end, is often about the short-game (all about winning voters now) rather than the often better and safer long-game solution.
But we forget, that the social experiment of democracy is relatively novel & it may well be short-lived. When Hitler threatened the invasion of Czechoslovakia & Poland, few in the West thought he was serious.
As any reader of history will know, Chamberlain, along with the rest of the West quickly learned that nation-state sovereignty & democracy is precious & difficult to maintain.
Our oldest democracy, the United States, is not immune to political collapse seen in Ancient Empires from distant memory, including Ancient Athens during the Peloponnesian War (loosing to Sparta, the Sicilians, and other temporary allies), the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and others.
We should be ready for the collapse of the American unipolar power. This very well may happen and the world will need to come up with institutions, international courts & law, that are ready to face Putin & Xi Jinping from the East when America fails to threaten Nuclear War upon invasion.
Democracy, as we know it in the West today, is not a given.
The next two decades will be much more divisive than what we see in the wake of the lynching of George Floyd. China is about to become, by far, the largest economy in the world. It is also, debatably, far from tolerating the human rights of its citizens. If you are petrified of what America has done when in charge of the liberal international order, imagine what China will do when it has the largest surveillance system & military in the world.
Soon war, famine, and climate change will force hundreds of millions from the largest cities across Southeast Asia and the Middle East to flee to Europe. But Europe will not be ready because right-wing populists occupy its shores with fences, ready to turn away any man, woman, child, or elderly back to the uninhabitable refugee camps where they came from. All the whilst not realizing that they are choosing between acceptance in Europe & death at home.
Right now, social media is causing immense divisions within society, leading the cognitive psychologist Jonathan Haidt and others to conclude that it is among the largest threats to democracy.
The bubbles that Twitter & Facebook create, because of algorithmic failures, force people into echo chambers. That means that voters are coerced into a world of alternative facts where parties are not able to agree on the basics, let alone on issues of race, immigration, & police brutality.
The Media has failed the people in providing reliable trusted information, forcing hundreds to turn to independent news sources. Of course, that comes with benefits such as people for the first time not having gate-keepers controlling who gets to present their narratives. The downside is that “alternative” facts dominate political discourse.
Lying was always a problem in politics. But, as we’ve seen with Trump’s arrival into the White House, lying can always be replaced with denial. Everyone worries about cultural & moral relativism, now when it’s here in its most apparent form, they ignore it.
That brings me to where we are now.
All Lives Matter: My Remarks To the Right
To those on the right that say that “all lives matter” I urge you to realize the following: the rise of anti-immigrant speech in the media (primarily against people of color but also against poorer nation’s in the EU, as was the case with Brexit) has created political tension & prejudice against ethnic minorities within societies.
Studies cited by Eric Kaufmann in Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities show that there is a direct correlation between anti-immigrant rhetoric & right-wing populism (especially seen with Brexit & Trump’s election).
Furthermore, these parties are also (as they are populist), connected to anti-elitist rhetoric. The popularity of right-wing populist groups like Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece voice opposition to liberal institutions & democracy. Trump similarly calls the media into question every time they have to say anything negative against him (good old “fake news”).
Thus, the threat that is being made is against all lives; the threat is against democracy. If all lives truly matter, vote differently.
Furthermore, when you say “all lives matter”, you are taking away from ethnic minorities & immigrants that experience prejudices every day in relation to police brutality in America (& other Anglo states). Most prevalent of which is in America. Here, you must listen.
In the end, you don’t experience it. You must listen & care enough to call it out rightfully for what it truly is: hatred, prejudice, & racism. As I have shown, these are linked to right-wing populist regimes. We — our democracy — are threatened by these parties.
Then you say that you cannot endorse “looting”. Luckily, no one is asking you to. We merely hope that you won’t switch the topic AGAIN, taking the much-needed spotlight away from where it should be right now.
It is estimated that during the Boston Tea Party Damage was close to $1.7 mil. Yet few will remember the insignificance of shipment (tea) damage since this sparked the beginning of American separatism from the Red Coats. During WW2, constant bombing in Dresden, Warsaw, Portsmouth, London, and other cities across Europe forced many to lose jobs, homes, and livelihoods.
In England, at the time, political voices within the House of Commons urged Churchill to call for a truce with Hitler. Thousands of troops stuck in Dunkirk made many consider the white flag. In the end, all this is forgotten because evil was suffocated.
But we should remember. Democracy can be extinguished.
So, right-leaning friends, the call for “black lives matter” is not one where we disregard “all” lives; it’s one where we create a more equal society where prejudice & racism are readily shunned (readily is crucial). Property can be replaced — lives cannot. Please do not demean these important calls.
Of Course All Lives Matter: My Remarks to the Left
To my left-leaning friends. Yes. The opposing side is saying that “all lives matter”, and “of course black lives matter”. We find this infuriating, morally repulsive even, because we feel care for others that are worse off than us.
In response, many of us are inclined to create larger echo chambers. We tell them to “fuck off”, to “unfollow” us, that they are “racist”, and so forth. We forget that they are simply misunderstanding. It is not that they are completely racist; they merely lack the epistemic access to the experience African-American communities face (in the case of police brutality). Neither do you or me. When you, as a white person in Canada tell other white people in Canada they don’t understand racism, the follow-up question surely is,
and that would imply that you somehow have epistemic access to experience that u will never be able to identify with.
With the development of the novel, human-rights historian Lynn Hunt and others have speculated that our moral sympathies have expanded. The printing press thus ushered in an era of unparalleled human progress. Steven Pinker expands that the growth in popularity of novels may explain the sudden emergence of the Rights Revolution in the ‘60s.
Today, many have streaming services that give instant access to films that educate us on police brutality, refugee calamities, and climate fears around the Globe. More social change is to come — it’s inevitable. That is not to say that we shouldn’t be outraged now.
Rather, that with that outrage, there is finally some hope of progress. Who in the late 2000s could have imagined the wide acceptance of homosexuals across most of the West today? Today shows regularly feature homosexuals, although there is work to be done here as well.
When you call on them to unfollow you, you are preventing them any epistemic access to learn.
Is anger justified? Yes. Is anger necessary? It often is. But don't call for more political divide unless you are Indigenous, Black, Asian/Canadian or American, and so forth.
The Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam showed that right-wing populism is connected to weakening face-to-face interactions starting in the 1960s. The already mentioned Jonathan Haidt showed that the functions of “retweeting” on Twitter & “sharing” on Facebook created political echo chambers on social media & intense partisanship.
In reality, the differences we have among us are a matter of Epistemology. Most of these people you disagree with are good people. Are some white supremacists? Certainly. But most are not. Most are ignorant because they have not been educated on these issues.
Everyone is culpable of being uneducated.
We can always learn & listen.
My experience is that the more you learn, the less you know. So, when I hear you have the answers, you show your ignorance.
When it comes to listening to the opposition. Of course, it’s hard. I’ve blocked Candace Owens, Donald Trump, Maajid Nawaaz, and Ben Shapiro because of what they’re saying. I’ve taken breaks from social media because of how mad I was. We should all permit ourselves such peace.
But I refuse to block my friends (I’ll block others, granted) because of their political views. Hopefully, the widespread social response to the death of George Floyd will spark fear within the next Derek Chauvin who chooses lynching over lifting up.
Once we fully address the potential for police reform & the prevalence of police brutality (YES, talk about race as white people, mainly — LISTEN), then we can talk about how we accept millions of refugees into our borders. Because of their intensifying numbers, they need it now more than ever.
And they’ll need it more and more in the years to come. Political division will not get us there.
Understanding is our best shot.
Before you go…
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Until next time, keep reflecting!