A single atrocity in Minneapolis started a causal chain which has led to mass demonstrations, an orgy of rioting and looting across US cities and the vandalism of civic monuments across the world.
As the revolutionary agenda of Black Lives Matter (BLM) sweeps uncritically across our institutions it’s time to defend a vital, old-fashioned and neglected idea – civilised toleration.
Equality is a noble aim but it remains a profound and stubborn truth that no diverse society will ever secure total parity among all groups and still remain free. All multiracial societies exhibit differences. Some of these differences should be challenged, some should be tolerated and some might even be celebrated. If a plurality of races and cultures are to coexist harmoniously in the same hosted space – while retaining their identities – an acceptance of some differences is essential. A civilised toleration of differences.
Alas, the diversity enforcers disagree. They will find a disparity, quickly attribute it to racism or oppression and campaign for its immediate correction. Even better if the racism in question is considered ‘systemic’ or ‘institutional’. Much of their analysis is unthoughtful and infantile. Stuck in a victim versus oppressor mindset it doesn’t occur to them, for instance, that disparities in educational performance might reflect group differences, for instance, in the stability of family life or the tendency of parents to read to their children. An adult reaction to this reality might be to understand that variations in outcome could only be eliminated if the state could magically eradicate all these differences. This is not going to happen. Where disparities are to the advantage of favoured minorities however – Premier League footballers and jazz musicians come to my mind – there appears to be no problem.
A programme of diversity training, racial quotas, Maoist ‘re-education’ programmes and pulling down statues is the opposite of toleration. A society which goes in for these things has lost the art of getting along with itself. It’s a place in which the useful ambiguity which is necessary for citizens to rub along together has evaporated.
Historically we know where this leads. Pogroms and racial violence have been the norm in many multi-ethnic states. Across history conspicuously successful minorities such as the Chinese in Malaysia, Asians in Uganda and, most tragically and persistently, Jews in Europe, have been persecuted. It’s unnerving to hear BLM activists openly advise people to make ordinary purchases based on race, a practice promoted by the Nazis in the 1930s.
Being a good citizen entails toleration and being a serious political party involves producing positive policy. This is an unhappy time and Social Democrats need to offer some solutions. Here are three.
First, stop racialising everything. We aim for a more equal society but we accept that some differences are inevitable in a free society because practices and customs vary. A ‘colour-blind’ attitude is far better, wiser and more unifying than Labour and the far-right’s poisonous and divisive identity politics which, in reality, are gateways to actual racism. State-sanctioned racial favouritism is dangerous.
Secondly, be truthful. Sensationalising things through simplistic slogans and depicting rare occurrences as typical of policing is highly irresponsible. It is harmful and anti-social. Tackling racial disparities in crime, education and employment requires honesty about the reasons for them as well as acceptance of the importance of social class. What happened in Minneapolis was terrible. However, it is inexcusable to exploit the incident to inflame and polarise here. Turn down the anger, turn up the facts.
Thirdly, deal with causes not symptoms. Many of the real reasons for group disparities concern culture, everyday practices, beliefs and social class. Working in grassroots sport will do more to help children become good citizens than political agitation. Good housing, education and sensible family policy will also do so.
Britain had the good fortune of avoiding the European totalitarian scourges of the last century and there is no good reason for us to import racial conflict from the United States now. Whether we’ll enjoy a social future together or find ourselves locked behind gates is in the balance.
Political wisdom will not be found in hyper-racialisation. It resides in recognising that we live in a sea of similarities and that, fundamentally, we want the same things. Getting them depends not on perpetual conflict but on the exact opposite – on achieving peace. Civilised toleration of differences isn’t, therefore, merely a social democratic ambition for a peaceful society, it is a pre-condition. It must prevail.
Hold onto toleration.