The events of the last three weeks aren’t ones many of us are likely to forget. It started with footage of a senseless murder taking place in real-time: a man pleading for his life and crying for his mother as the life is gradually squeezed out of him by a police officer whilst the pleas of by-standers are ignored. The fact the Minneapolis police initially put out a statement that glossed over this, whilst the union president stood-up for the officers involved, meant it cut no ice when they were all fired the day after: it struck us as a system that was rotten from the top-down. That the use of disproportionate force by the US police was a feature, not a bug, and that any officer unlucky enough to find themselves accused or in the dock would be treated with leniency, whilst those they arrested would be treated with anything but.
It also didn’t escape everyone’s attention that only three weeks earlier hundreds of demonstrators, several openly armed and of a somewhat different complexion, stormed the Michigan statehouse and were met with a more indulgent response from law enforcement.
This offends against almost everything we hold dear in terms of justice and fairness. And it continues today: you don’t have to look very far to find videos (even of events in the last few days) of US police continuing to use disproportionate force on protestors, journalists and ordinary citizens who just happen to be in their way. The USA has some serious issues.
The problems of the UK (yet alone the rest of the world) are not those of the USA. Not even close. Nevertheless it’s hard to ignore how strongly so many people around the world feel about this, and it’s shone a spotlight on what many feel is a lingering unfairness in how black people are treated right across the West.
We’ve clearly missed something here. So, how can we all understand what that is and work together to build a better future where all feel included?
It’s here I part company with some of the protestors, or perhaps I should say the protest leaders in particular. That’s because I’m worried some of their actions might move us away from building a society that is colour blind to one that is colour obsessed, and frustrate understanding rather than building it.
Of course, people need to be heard. Protests are a legitimate form of expression, particularly when many have been arguing for action for years but little has been taken. However, we should always pause to reflect when, in shock at a heinous crime; we reflexively slip into condoning acts of violence in protest against it and, in a highly-emotionally charged atmosphere, go along with sweeping generalisations that present simple solutions to complex problems.
You can see some of these generalisations being made along racial lines. There’s a tone of culpability of white people everywhere on the one hand and, on the other, a reflexive co-opting of all non-white people behind all of the political objectives of the Black Lives Matters movement. However, is it really that simple?
Even a cursory look at the BLM website shows their beliefs – in addition to the laudable one of racial equality – include dismantling capitalism, imperialism (by which I assume western foreign policy is the main feature, given there’s hardly any formal empire still left) the nuclear family and favouring open borders for all. Clearly, there’s a consistency of both black (and white, for that matter) people who agree with this. But there’s also one that would not: many Afro-Caribbean and African people are deeply christian and would object strongly to that message on the family. Still more might think capitalism was a great tool for wealth creation, but feel that not all opportunities were fairly open to them. Yet we’ve seen in recent weeks prominent non-white people who do not agree with all of this being dismissed with words like “gaslighting” or “racial gatekeeper”. For some white people the message has been even simpler: “you’re either with the racists, or against them” and you must “educate yourself” because “it’s not the job of non-white people to explain racism to white people”.
And, of course it’s not. However, I’m not sure who’s saying it is. But in a liberal society speech is what we use instead of violence to be heard. If there’s no dialogue you can’t be heard and, if you can’t be heard, you can’t be understood. If you can’t be understood you risk further alienation and division and, ultimately, further violence. A cynic might wonder how much of that is because in real-life increased and freer interracial dialogue might give out a more complex message on politics than what’s in their literature, where they’d far prefer it to be adopted wholesale unquestioned.
Are we sure that the countries that have made good progress in racial equality over the last 30-40 years are the most racist in the world, that all our institutions are racist and our society is structurally racist? Or is it (as I thought, and I was clearly wrong) that we were almost there, but I hadn’t paid sufficient attention to the fact that 15-25% of people still harbour some form of racial prejudice, that this affects black people in particular, that that’s not good enough, and there’s more to do? That there are problems and injustices and we should focus relentlessly on eliminating these, but keep things in a sense of proportion and recognise that both people and societies are complex?
We should talk to one another. We should reject those who say we should not. We should pick up the phone and speak to a greater diversity of people (in all forms) as opposed to those who look and think just like ourselves. We all have different experiences and it’s important for them to be shared and understood.
We need a lot more listening, understanding, dialogue and forgiveness. We need far less dictation, violence, judgement, and condemnation. Because without the former there will be no progress. “The fight” may never end. We might continue to present society as riddled with bigotry and find reasons to condemn it forevermore as we see the fight as somehow virtuous in and of itself and a demonstration of what good people we are by echoing the sentiments of the moment. But the effect of that might not be a colour-blind peaceful future. It risks being one that’s colour-obsessed, which could take us in all sorts of unpredictable directions.
Few of us are motivated by conflict. We derive meaning in our lives from our relationships, those we love, family, friends, neighbours, and communities, our achievements, pride in what we’ve built together, and our sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. We all live in the same society, and we all want the best future for ourselves and our children. We want to be appreciated, respected, to do the right thing and to have fun.
So, it’s time we all found a way to get along. To do that we need to ditch some of the politics and take the time to listen and understand each other, understand better but accept the past, and take positive and constructive action to build a great society that binds us together and we can all be proud of in the future.
That is going to be hard work. But real progress always is.
Casino Royale is a long standing PBer and tweets as CasinoRoyalePB