A Post-Race World | George Prentis
It is my firm belief that we need to move to a post-race world in which, as Martin Luther King Jr so appositely put it, we judge people not on the colour of their skin, but the content of their character. Race is not a characteristic we as individuals can control, which makes discrimination predicated on the grounds of race utterly unjustifiable and, needless to say, demeaning and dehumanising. Yet, with the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests we appear to be further away from this post-race world, with accusations of systemic racism and white privilege far more manifest than before. Bismarck said that politics is the art of compromise – and it is that word that I hope should help build the sturdy bridges we need so we can cross the treacherous waters of race-based politics.
The first realm of compromise needs to be in the police force. In 1829, Robert Peel, the founder of the British Conservative Party, set up the first modern day police force – the Metropolitan, in London. There were nine principles crucial to their operation, one of which was the notion of ‘public approval of police actions’ – for without this, the police carried little to no legitimacy to execute their duties. Evidently, the murders of George Floyd and all those before him have been met with stern public disapproval and this has led to the charge, as articulated by Black Lives Matter, of the American police force being systemically racist, and that it should be defunded. At the very least, there should be an independent investigation and at best, an uprooting of racism in the police force – such as ruthlessly sacking members who choose to discriminate on the grounds of race. Whilst this is more than a gesture, it will show black communities that the police are not out to get them because they are black. It may also encourage more black officers to join, making the force more representative and thus increase its legitimacy. When the riots broke out in London, the police did nothing because any act of violence against the mob would have met with public disapproval, even if some members of the mob were themselves taking things too far. Hence, the initiative needs to come from the government. On the flip side of this compromise coin, the American police force should not be defunded given the elementary and essential role that it and any police force plays in keeping law and order, and neither should it be simply castigated as institutionally racist, simply because it is predominantly staffed by white people without comprehensive and compelling evidence that they are all racist.
That leads to my second point where compromise is required – in both intellectual and institutional circles. We need to stop peddling this ridiculous notion that because a small minority of people in a race, or indeed any other uncontrollable physical characteristic, does something illegal, immoral or discriminatory – that all people who fit into that characteristic are for one responsible, and for two, on the same moral level as that small minority, as if they had also done the deed. White people are not telepathically linked, surreptitiously conspiring to oppress other groups. This may seem flippant, but we will make no progress on this issue if we continue to see one group in concert as the source of all evil, and our own as the source of all good. It is therefore pivotal that we see people as individuals in a world where racism is abolished, and not as a part of their group collective. This should not be taken by any stretch to mean we invalidate an individual’s experience of racism and or their right to feel proud of their race especially in light of historical oppression. What it does mean is that we blame an individual for their racism, but not their entire race. This is a compromise both sides can make – we are not nameless foot soldiers in some culture war, but thinking, multi-dimensional individuals who are more than just the colour of our skins.
The third compromise to be made is on the part of Black Lives Matter. Their aims, according to their UK GoFundMe page, extend beyond fighting racism. They are intersectional – they are calling for the dismantling of capitalism, an end to imperialism, the end of the patriarchy, the nuclear family, as well as the destruction of white supremacy and any state structures that support racism. I resent any suggestion that because I, or others I know, do not support BLM at present because their aims are not exclusive to racial oppression and are indeed politically contestable, that I am suddenly a racist, or do not believe black lives matter – it is precisely that brand of absolutist binary politics that I warned against in my second point. The point being, if BLM wish to convince the unconvinced that there needs to be a radical change in the US police force or make the other side of the argument understand them better, they need to make succinct, reasonable and achievable demands. For example, dismantling capitalism is not only unachievable because of how embedded it is, but eminently undesirable knowing how much suffering in the past has been caused by trying to undo it (not to mention its positive aspects) – however, lobbying for equality of opportunity, or as one friend put it to me, ‘liberating’, by knocking down financial barriers to black communities, could be a far more plausible approach than some revolutionary and inevitably violent overhaul. I should be allowed to contest the aims of Black Lives Matter whilst agreeing with their overarching purpose, which is to fight genuine incidents of racial oppression. If they can shed some of this dogma which makes it more likely to be either be completely for them, or completely against them, then we’d be all the better for it and perhaps take further steps to that post-race world.
To conclude, compromise is the keyword. We need to compromise on collective identity for it poisons our debate to be seen and defined by your natural, uncontrollable characteristics; we need to compromise on the police force, for it can only do its job if it caters to the whole of society and the values that it wishes to be held towards; and Black Lives Matter need to compromise on some of their more politically contestable aims to make their overall fight more effective. A post-race world is there, if we want it, all we need to do is to ditch some of our lines in the sand.
Photo by Paul Lurrie on Flickr.