The death of George Floyd in America, and its repercussions beyond America, have certainly shook western governments to their core. Suddenly there are riots and protests. Statues are being torn down, controversial media removed, police officers imprisoned. Social media is alive with posts about ‘educating’ oneself or Black Lives Matter. There are celebrities calling for an end to systemic racism and governments seem both stunned and over-responsive in equal measure. The police are both demonized for perpetrating violence and forgotten when violence is perpetrated against them. The UK Home Secretary, herself of BAME background, was told not to give her opinion if it doesn’t conform to expectations of what a BAME person should believe – in fact at one point she was told that she didn’t understand racism. Meanwhile, J.K Rowling recently posted about the value of science in being a woman and was met with outcry from trans-rights activists. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Bonnie Wright have also weighed in stating that trans women are women – a statement few may disagree with.
The past few weeks have demonstrated three important things. First, the desire for identities to be recognized is driving division within democracies. Second, this same division leads to an inability for these opposing groups to talk to anyone other than themselves. Third, this is destroying democracy.
It’s important to say however, this piece is not going to weigh in on these debates in any meaningful way because when stripped back, there are simple answers to these heated debates. Racism is wrong.
In the United States, systemic racism is a real problem. In the United Kingdom, the lack of recognition surrounding our colonial past is a real problem. Pulling down statues is ok, but it must come through deliberation amongst communities, not through mob rule. Hurting the police is wrong, just as them killing people is wrong. BAME people are allowed to disagree with the liberal left, and their experiences and beliefs should not be denigrated because they disagree. Trans women are women but if people disagree don’t shout them down; be more tolerant and enter into constructive dialogue with one another. These are fairly simple answers to important issues. Instead, I would in fact like to focus on something more important than these debates. I want to focus on the grand, overarching narrative that links these issues and more.
Recently, I read Francis Fukuyama’s book Identity in which he suggests various groups within society clamour for recognition, be that patriotic ‘gammons’ or the ‘woke’ liberal left, is something liberal democracy is unable to deal with. The intolerance toward one another that comes from these groups and others means that dialogue and discourse breaks down and is limited to their respective bubbles. This quest for identity was expressed in the Brexit debate in which one group wanted to be seen as British and the other wanted to be seen as European. This is in essence the culture war; a battle of identities. Such a confrontational form of democratic practice is doomed to fail as liberal democracy is based on the principles of tolerance and respect of one another’s political views.
For progressives, the current issues surrounding trans-rights and Black Lives Matter must serve as a moment to pause and think. Politics involves disagreement but the true test of a healthy discourse is that we can disagree and form a compromise in which all of society is involved in shaping. We progressives all want minorities to have greater rights, but we must include others in those discussions and accept disagreement when it exists.
Surely this is what democracy is all about?
Daniel is a political activist and Senior Associate Editor of Liberal Base. His interests are in populism, democratic crisis, western party politics and automation. He tweets @danny_hod and blogs at dannyhodson.com