On Sept. 29, OBI's Democracy and Belonging Forum hosted this conversation between Yascha Mounk, a writer and academic known for his work on the crisis of multiracial democracy, and with Uma Mishra-Newbery, a global social justice and women's rights leader.
Hello, good morning, good afternoon, wherever you're joining us from today. My name is Miriam Juan-Torres. I'll be the moderator of today's conversations. Welcome to the second event of the (Un)Common Threads Series: Co-creating Societies of Belonging. As you may know, this is a series featuring conversations with diverse advocates, scholars, artists, business leaders, and other thinkers, all of whom share a commitment to belonging, even though if they might not agree on how to get there. If you enjoy this conversation, I encourage you to sign up to our E-news, which you can find on our website, democracyandbelongingforum.org, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at dandbforum to stay up on future conversations.
Before we begin, I'd like to thank our wonderful ASL interpreter, Amber Charles, from Interpret Educate Serve, as well as our comms lead who is in the background making sure that all of the tech works smoothly, so thank you very much to both of you. I have to admit, I've been very much looking forward to this conversation with Yascha and Uma, because I think that this is a very important conversation, a conversation that needs to be had from many different angles. Having conversations about democracy, its flaws, its strengths, as well as conversation on the role that identities play, how we do activism and political solidarity is extremely important, but it's also conversations that are often flawed, difficult or full of misunderstandings.
So, I'm really looking forward to the conversation that we will have today. This is a conversation that's also happening just a few days after Giorgia Meloni, the far right leader of Fratelli d'Italia in Italy has won the elections and she's poised to become the first female leader, female prime minister in Italy. It's also probably the most far right government that Italy will have had since Mussolini. We also see how the Sweden Democrats have become the second force in Sweden, it's also a far-right party. And this is also happening while in a country with a very, very different political system, Iran, women and men are protesting for the freedom of choice after the murder of Mahsa Amini, I'm sorry if I'm not pronouncing the name well, but there's an uprising too, against the authoritarian and totalitarian government.
So, I think this is all important background as well for the conversation today, because questions around democracy and activism continue to be at the forefront. And for many years now we have heard about democratic backsliding across the world. At the same time, we would be hard-pressed to say that what we call liberal democracies have ever guaranteed belonging for all, whether it's Europe or the United States. Also, group identities have been at the forefront of a lot of our politics and activism, more than perhaps before. But there are many questions that emerge to which the speakers today can also help us illuminate. Is it really possible to have stable multiracial democracies?
Or for those looking to advance belonging and marginalization based on group identities, why should we care about liberal democracy in it's current form when it's failed many people before? And how can we advance depolarization and make sure that we are centering the needs and concerns of marginal groups, and what roles should identities have? So, on a lot of these issues we will have our two fantastic speakers today contributing to this conversation. We have Yascha Mounk, who's a writer and academic known for his work on the crisis of democracy and the defense of philosophically liberal values. Yascha was born in Germany to Polish parents. He received a BA in history from Cambridge University and a PhD in government from Harvard University.
He's an Associate Professor of the practice of international affairs at Johns Hopkins University, and he's also a contributing editor at the Atlantic, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the founder of Persuasion. Yascha has written four books: Stranger in my Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany, The Age of Responsibility, the People vs Democracy, precisely on authoritarian populism, and also most recently, The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart And How They Can Endure.
Uma Mishra-Newbery is a global social justice and women's rights leader, transformative speaker, children book author and former Executive Director of Women's March Global, the initiator and facilitator of The Racial Equity Index and an organizational strategy and racial equity consultant with The Better Org. As a facilitator for The Racial Equity Index, Uma is working within a BIPOC-led and informed global anti-racist collective to help build the first ever index for racial equity in global development, an advocate for justice and greater racial equity. Uma also is a somatic abolitionist in training, working to further understand the impact of race on the physical body, knowledge she uses in her practice and her consulting work as well. And she's also the author of a children's picture book, Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers. I could speak way more. Both Yascha and Uma have incredible bios and have done a lot, but I'll leave it here. If there's anything else that you would want to add, please let me know. Hi, Yascha. Hi, Uma.
Yascha, I'd like to start by presenting a question to you. You've written a lot about authoritarian populism. I'm sure you've got a lot of requests over the past few weeks. I saw you were writing about Italy as well. But I'd like for us to get started a little bit with setting the stage. We've heard about democratic backsliding, we've heard about authoritarian populism, the far right, we should be worried, we shouldn't be worried as much. Would it be possible to tease out a little bit what are the trends and patterns? Are there any similarities of what we're seeing in the US, across Europe, in other places perhaps as well? Or are there any particular differences, and what do we need to understand?
Yeah, so first of all, it's important to understand what over time populism is and why this term populism is actually useful. And then perhaps I can say something briefly about the trends in the last few decades. The word populism is often used in a very undisciplined way. So it can be used for all kinds of different politicians. Sometimes it can just be used for saying that somebody has a robustly left-wing economic policy. Sometimes it's used for people like Donald Trump. So it can get confusing what it actually means. The way that political scientists have used the term for a long time, and the way that I think it's useful to talk about the term is to designate a set of politicians who use a kind of rhetorical strategy of saying the political elite are corrupt and self-serving. They just care about themselves or about some kind of outside group that they're in league with.
And I alone truly represent the people. I am the real voice of the people and I'm the only legitimate representative of the people. And so if you vote for me, I can come in and solve all of those problems. I'll fix everything. And the thing about this that makes it concerning is precisely this claim to be the sole representative of the people, because the heart of a liberal democracy is that you have an opposition that can do its work, is that you have a free press, is that you have a separation of powers, is that you might be able to say, it's really important you vote for me. I think I'm much better than the others. I have better values, I have better ideas. It's going to be much better if you vote for me. But you know what? If you vote for the other people, that's fine too, right?
They're legitimate. I might not like it, I might be unhappy, but that's okay. Once you break that fundamental aspect of our political system, things get very dangerous. And we've seen over the last 10 years that politicians who run on this kind of populist platform, once they get into power really do try to undermine all of the things that make global democracy work, as we've seen in the United States with Donald Trump and in many countries around the world: in Venezuela with Chavez and Hungary with Viktor Orban, in India with Narendra Modi and in many other places as well. Because they start to say, "Hang on a second, why is this court overturning some executive order of mine saying whether I have the constitutional power to do that? I'm the only representative of people. Let's get rid of them. Let's pack the judiciary with my followers. Why is this newspaper reporting on some corruption scandal?
"They shouldn't be able to do that. Let us put pressure on this newspaper to stop doing that or force it to change ownership," and so on. And so quite quickly you can get to these political systems in which some people have really concentrated power in their own hands. Now, some form of populism, to get to the heart of your question, has been around for a very long time. The term comes from the ancient Roman Republic and the populares, led at one point by Julius Caesar. That's the origin of the term. So this has always been an aspect of democratic politics, but we have had politicians who have respected the basic rules and norms of democracy for a reasonably long time, although there's other injustices in the system, in many so-called consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe and parts of Asia, like Japan and Australia and other parts around the world for a good number of decades.
And politicians who really challenged those rules were not particularly powerful in those places until about 10 years ago. And for the last 10 years, we've seen a very rapid growth of these politicians. I've mentioned some of those names, people like Trump in the United States, Orban in Hungary, Kaczynski in Poland, Erdogan in Turkey, as well as people who haven't yet won power but who are getting much more powerful, who are getting much closer to winning elections like, for example, Marine Le Pen in France. I think a few years ago we started to wonder about whether we've reached sort of the apex of populism. And in a way that is true because two or three years ago populists ruled in virtually all of the important democracies in the world. They were in power in the United States, in Brazil, in India and so on. I think what we're seeing now is some of those people losing power but often remaining a very serious presence in the political system, as is the case of Trump in the United States.
Some may be about to lose power and hopefully become a little bit more marginal, as might be the case of Jair Bolsonaro after the Brazilian elections. But at the same time we see populist politicians still winning elections for the first time in countries like Italy, which has often had populist governments, from Berlusconi to the Salvini Five-Star government we've had for parts of the last four years. But now we have a new populist with Giorgia Meloni as the head of that government. So I think now we're not at a steady state because things keep changing, but populists at this point rule in so many democracies that there's not much room for them to take over even more. And the question now is how much damage are we going to do to those democratic systems? And the answer to that is probably going to be different in different cases, and it's going to depend on the choices voters make, on the choices institutional actors make, on what all of us do over the last years.
Uma, you have firsthand experience with your working with the Women's March Global, but with other experiences as well, I'm sure, of working to hold governments accountable for their ongoing human rights violations, and also encouraging citizens to mobilize against far right too, to mobilize for the issues that we all care about. Also, in democratic context, but also in scenarios where, as I was saying, the far right has been increasing and also where it's maybe become quite difficult perhaps to also defend particular systems, where belonging in a lot of the democracies or the places that we've called democracies for many years have failed a lot of the populations, like marginalized communities. So I was wondering if you could speak to that experience as well, how it's been to work at a time in which the far right is mobilizing, is increasing its numbers of supporters, but also, as well, why should we care about these democratic systems or liberal democracies when it's failed so many people over the years?
That's a big question.
You have two minutes.
Never small questions when we talk about these topics. I think one of the most important things, and our elder at OBI says this a lot in terms of belonging, is that a level of honesty is required in order for us to really understand how we belong together and who is able to participate in this exercise of belonging. And we have to really look at, when we're talking about the rise of the far right, what does that actually represent? Where does that come from? And the roots of that system are very deep and they're also very rotten. There is a choice that's made or there were choices that were made in the building of these structures by a group of people that exported white supremacy and white colonization to other countries. So England, France, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, all exported colonization out to the world. Britain has invaded every country but 22 countries across the world.
So when we're looking at the roots of how systems have been built and how structures have been built and how governments have been built and who they have been built for, because let's not forget that white supremacy is, literally, this is the standard to which others' humanities will be measured. So the standardization, and across all systems, when we're looking at government, to finance, to education, to healthcare, these are the standards that are in place of the systems that have been built by a history rooted in white supremacy and colonization. We have to look at the roots when we talk about why democracy is failing us and why there is a rise of the far right. Let's talk about the rise of the far right and let's talk about the failure to offer belonging here. I mean, if we look again at those roots, there is a history of exclusion, there is a history of othering, there's a history of breaking.
And when we look at the principles of othering and belonging, we're looking at the history of breaking in terms of a hard break, saying that because this is the standard, these groups do not belong or are allowed to even participate in those democracies. In terms of the rise of the far right, wait, what was it? In 2012, in Renaud Camus, his book, The Great Replacement, Le Grand Remplacement, where he postulated that Black and brown immigrants were reverse colonizing white Europeans. We look at how Steve Bannon has taken everything that he's constructed in the US. He went, met with Nigel Farage, he went, met with the new PM of Italy. Everything, this exporting of white standardization, this identity-based politics that the right uses. It's this, we are clutching our pearls and we are going to say that it's an attack on families. Well, what do we mean by that?
It's an attack on the construct of white European families that we're seeing. So this idea that democracy has excluded people, it is very true, because it was built that way, it was designed that way. It was designed to be that way. And so, for me as an activist, this is where social movements are critical. Social movements exist because of the fact that groups have been historically marginalized and otherized within democracies. So social movements are critical to democracy because we hold democracies accountable. In my work with Women's March Global, we held a number of campaigns. We were a 501(c)(3) organization, so we couldn't be a political advocacy group, but we held a number of campaigns to encourage people to really reflect on when we vote for far right politicians, what is it that we're actually voting for? We're voting for hate.
So we ran campaigns, votar contra el odio, voter contre la haine in France, in Italy. We ran campaigns in Cameroon, in Brazil. This was a long time ago so I'm reaching in my memory now of the work that we've done. Really trying to encourage people to understand that it is not us, the people that are othering each other. It is a system that was designed, that is very much in place, that is continuing to polarize people, that is continuing to say, let's see how different we are and let's see each other as threats to one another. And so for me, social movements are the balm for that. Social movements are the remedy for that. We are the healers, we are the justice workers, we are the freedom fighters to ensure that we hold democracy accountable for never being designed to include us, but ensuring that we're included anyway.
Yascha. Are you going to reply?
Sure, sure. I'm happy to. I think that this story is actually too hopeful, or I would even go so far as to say too naive. And that may sound surprising because it sounds very stark, it sounds as though democracy has failed all of us in these deep ways and it was built to have this exclusion in the heart of it, and therefore we face this huge challenge. I think this is actually an unrealistically easy story because it implies that there's a clear bad guy, the people who built these systems and so on, and a clear solution, which is undo those systems and all of those problems go away.
Actually, I think when we look at the history of the world in a serious way and we look at human psychology in a serious way, we see that this isn't one set of people who have imposed this on the world, but that is something that's deep in our human nature, that when you look at the history of India, for example, you see an incredibly oppressive caste system and a lot of fights between would-be emperors of different religions, a lot of wars between different regions of today's India, which predates colonialism.
When you look at the history of Africa, you see a very long history of those kinds of tribal conflicts as well. And so I think actually when we try to understand why is it that the far right is not just appealing today in the United States with Donald Trump or in France with Marine Le Pen, but in countries around the world. In India, with Narendra Modi, in Turkey with Recep Erdogan, I would say in a way in China with Xi Jinping, who is a very clear Han supremacist. I think that we need to reach further than just the story of colonialism and the story of the exclusion of Western democracy, all of which is obviously absolutely true and an important part of a piece of the puzzle, and something that we need to fight against and overcome. So I think for me, there's two lessons from that.
The first is that actually you cannot understand the history of democracy if you don't put it against the historical background. And against the historical background, democracy has had many terrible flaws, especially in the United States with slavery, but in other countries as well. But it has also helped us to universalize the kinds of rights and kind of treatment that all citizens in those countries now receive. If you put it against the background of what came before democracy, what the world looked like before this idea entered it, I think you see that it has been more so, not just as much, but more so a force for good than it has been a force for ill.
And I think the other thing that that pushes you towards to say, all right, if actually we have this human tendency to say, here's my group, here are the people who belong to my group, and here are those others, here are those who don't belong, here are those who don't count, who are worse in some kind of way, or dangerous or evil or inferior, or whatever the story is that's being taught in a certain kind of local context, how do we build social and political structures that are able to overcome that tendency or at least to keep it in check? How do we build democracies, nations today that are able to say, hey, we might come from these different parts of the world, we might have different religious convictions, we might have some visible ethnic differences.
Nevertheless, we feel that we are fellow citizens who want to stand in solidarity with each other. And I think that's actually a deeper problem and a bigger challenge than it would be if the problem was just that there was some kind of preexisting great situation and then the set of bad historical actors have messed it all up and their systems are oppressing everything and if only we get rid of our systems and if only we undo that history, then suddenly we are back to the natural tendency of humans to love each other and get along. That's why I was sort of, with respect and slightly ironically calling that story actually sort of a little bit naive because I think that the problem goes deeper than that, the challenge is greater than that.
Uma, I don't know if you want to reply right away. If not, I'll ask a question. Great. At the institute we talk about othering and belonging, othering as a way of understanding the process of mechanisms that create the other and entrench marginalization. And I think that in a way this applies to this conversation right now as well, because othering can take many different expressions, and white supremacy is clearly one of them, with race being central in places like the US and as well in Europe as well as ethnicity and other forms of othering as well. I guess, even though it seems a little bit of a different understanding of where you're coming from and you're both in a way saying that we have really big challenges and big problems ahead of us, you're both talking as well about there's something that's ruptured or broken that's not serving a lot of people and we need to move forward.
So Uma, my question to you as well, thinking from the perspective of an activist, is where do you think we go from here? Do we need to build something together? You were mentioning, we're talking about healing from the perspective of understanding the origins of things and then maybe co-creating. So I'd love to hear a little bit more about what this means for activism as well, like the diagnosis that you're presenting or perhaps building also on what Yascha was mentioning.
Yeah, I mean, I think I take time to reflect on what people say before I respond. So I appreciate Yascha's comments. There may naivety in my view and my approach, but what's interesting to me is that I always am interested in when colonization and white supremacy is brought up. And I do a lot of facilitation around racial equity and racism, and the conversations around how white supremacy is housed within every one of our bodies, white bodies, brown bodies, Black bodies, Indigenous, how that is actually housed and how we move through our lives having ingested whiteness as a standard and what that means. And so I'm always interested in when an argument is presented as to how colonization has really informed the structures that are in place, because let's not forget those tribal societies that were in place were also wiped out by the British in many cases.
So what we're looking at in terms of India as a democracy right now is also reflective of that history of what colonization did and how colonization has been ingested by Indian people and how it's being represented now by the BJP and many other factions. Arundhati Roy has written about this to a great extent in terms of how our history has really informed where we are in Indian politics. But my point here is when we're bringing up colonization, what's always interesting to me is then the response that, well, we need to look deeper. There are other countries doing similar harms to people. I was having a conversation with a British person given the passing of Queen Elizabeth and how there was a response from the charity sector in the UK. There was a communication sent out to UK charities, especially government-based charities, saying, "We ask for you to be respective of the passing of the monarch and really not say any polarizing comments," even those that were based in social justice spaces within the UK.
And what's interesting about that to me is, we want you to recognize our humanity in this process of the passing of our monarch, but there is no actual understanding of what this monarch represents to the people that have been brutalized by British colonization, have had their land stripped of resources. We have underfunded, undervalued, completely removed resources from country after country after country in terms of when we look at wealth distribution in the UK and the EU. And yet we expect humanity to be returned to those same people who are now governing these bodies, that manage policies that affect so many people. So for me, and I feel like I'm losing my train of thought here, so forgive me. For me, going back to social movements, that is the space where we recognize that there are inequalities that exist that have not been built by us; we exist within them.
Democracy is vital for us because we have to participate in it. We have no choice. Those structures have been designed and we have been born into them. So it's not about dismantling for me, for me it's about accountability. How can we hold democracies accountable so that people who look like me, people who are Black and Indigenous and other people of color are represented in the policies that will affect my life and my children's lives and the lives of the generations after me? A great example of this is what just happened in California yesterday. A huge movement of farm workers pushed and have been pushing for months to be represented in policies in terms of equality in their movement. And that was led by union efforts of farm workers. This is a historically marginalized population fighting for their rights, and it took them years to be able to get to this place. This is the effect and this is the impact of social movements.
Thanks, Uma. I keep losing my train of thought in presentations and I think that whenever we get into rich conversations is often the case for me at least. And I think it's nice to be able also to pause and reflect to what we are hearing, so I appreciate that. Yascha, your last book talks about why diverse democracies fail and how to fix that problem. So I would love to hear from you about whether we can really have functioning diverse democracies where there's belonging for all, but also particular as well thinking about those group identities. And in the book you also talk about ascribed identities, such as race, gender, and the role that you believe they should play. And I think this is important as well because a lot of the activism that we're seeing nowaday is based on, or is influenced by group identities too. So it would be lovely to hear you speak from that perspective as well.
Yeah, thank you. And perhaps it sort of casts a different light on the interesting disagreements we have here. So when I started to really research and think about why it has often been so hard to build diverse societies in the history of the world and why they've so often gone terribly wrong across thousands of years and all kinds of different geographical areas, it seems to me that three sort of fundamental facts explain why it's hard to build diverse societies, and diverse democracies in particular. So the first has to do with the fact that human beings are groupish by nature, that our long evolutionary history has sort of incentivized us to form groups very quickly, often to treat members of our groups with great altruism, sometimes with incredible courage, with great sacrifice, but also to be capable of treating anybody who we consider as members of other groups with real cruelty.
Here's a really silly example of that. I teach at Johns Hopkins. It's a great school and a wonderfully diverse student body now; we only have about 20% of the entering class that is white. And my students figure themselves some of the most tolerant people in the world, and in some ways perhaps they are. But when I ask them a very simple question, whether they think that a hot dog is a sandwich or not, and have them debate the question of whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich for five or 10 minutes, and then I have them play a simple distribution game, the kids who think that a hot dog is a sandwich start to discriminate against the kids who think that a hot dog is not a sandwich. So there's something really fundamental in human psychology, where once you say, "Hey, we have this group of people who believe a hot dog is sandwich, this group of people who believe that a hot dog is not a sandwich," that actually is enough to make them treat outsiders less well than people who are members of their own group.
So that is just a fundamental aspect of human nature. The second part of that, of course, is that historically we've had all kinds of ways in which that has been mobilized, sometimes ways that are difficult to understand in retrospect. I studied history as an undergrad, but I still don't quite understand the difference between the Celt and the Hibernian and why it is that they had really bloody, terrible conflicts against each other. But a lot of the time, the worst crimes in human history that were forms of war and genocide and ethnic cleansing did posit members of a ethnic, racial, religious, sometimes national, linguistic group against a group that was defined as being outsiders on one of those dimensions. So when it comes to those fundamental sort of categories of identity, the capacity of organizing as a group and of denigrating and dehumanizing those who are members of other groups seems to be particularly strong.
And then the third challenge I think has to do with democracy. Because I'm a great believer in democracy I would like to think that democracy makes it easier to build not just diverse societies but diverse democracies. And in certain ways that is, I think, true, but there's also an important way in which it is not true because when you look at some of the multinational empires that have existed in the history of the world, the Ottoman Empire for example, Baghdad in the 9th century, Vienna in the 19th century, it didn't really matter what the size of my group was relative to the size of another group because I didn't have any power and you didn't have any power, so we both sort of had to trust the monarch to tolerate us. And as long as they sort of did that, that was fine. In a democracy, we are always searching for majorities.
And so especially if you get into ethnic voting patterns, and we're not able to break them apart, that becomes very dangerous because then people are going to start to say, well, I used to be in the majority because there was more of my kind of people, whatever that means in your local context, but now suddenly this other group has more immigrants coming in or they might have more children or whatever, and they might be the majority, and that'll change who's in power. That'll change the policies we have. That'll change whether or not the system serves me. So that's a real threat, that's a real danger. And we see, Uma has referred to the conspiracy theory of the Great Replacement. We see the way in which the far right is exploiting those kinds of fears in many countries around the world. So that, I think, is a fundamental difficulty of building diverse democracies.
That's why it's really hard. But to your question, yes, I think we can succeed, and I'm happy to talk a lot more about what it would take to succeed. But just to say two or three sentences, I think that means that we have to recognize that in a free society there will always be groups, there will always be people who define themselves by their ethnic or religious identity, who prefer to spend most of their lives in a community with their co-religionists, for example, or with people who share the culture of origin. That's perfectly fine, that's one of the great things about diverse democracies. But I also think that we desperately need norms, institutions, schools and universities, cultural associations that build commonality, but actually say, hey, what comes naturally to us as humans is to say, "I'm an X and you are Y, so we're different from each other."
What we need in order to sustain diverse democracies that actually work, where people can actually stand in solidarity with each other, is institutions which empower us to say, hey, you know what? We may be different in these respects, but we're all American, or we're all Britain, or we're all Nigerians, or we're all Guatemalans, or wherever else in the world we might be. And that I think is a really important thing to count as [inaudible 00:36:52] is really powerful human tendency to define ourselves by our differences.
Uma, a lot of your activism has been... Well, you led the Women's March Global, which obviously is built around women's identity. You're also now working with a BIPOC-led global anti-racist collective. So a lot of it relates to group identities, and group identities of communities that have been marginalized in these systems of oppression. I wonder if you could speak about the strengths of building these sorts of alliances. And I also feel that sometimes we talk about group identities as if it were just people of one particular group completely insulated. But I understand that, for example, in the Women's March, it was an alliance that encompassed a lot of people, many of whom were women. And I want to hope that in the anti-racist work that you do, there's also people who are not of color who are also joining the struggle. So I was wondering if you could speak about how these group identities operating in activism, the strengths, but also maybe perhaps the challenges that might present themselves.
Great question, Miriam. I will say this, democracy for me is a negotiation. However, with a big caveat: if that negotiation doesn't actually recognize people who are not Eurocentric white, who have historically ruled democracies around the US, UK, EU and perhaps other countries, if those that are different from what is the standard are not actually involved in that negotiation or respected or heard or visible, then groups like, for example, our BIPOC collective, The Racial Equity Index are necessary. Groups like Women's March Global are necessary. Groups like the European Network Against Racism are necessary. And even groups like Systemic Justice are necessary so that we understand and we make visible the people who have not been represented by those democracies. For us, when we organize, if we're just looking at organizing around our identities, for example, with The Racial Equity Index, we organize as a BIPOC collective.
And to your question, and you said, I hope that there are others that are included that are not of BIPOC identities, we actually don't have white people in our group. There is a very specific reason for that. White people have no racial agility, they have no understanding of the visceral nature of racism and how racism is housed in our bodies. Ta-Nehisi Coates says, and I'm going to get this wrong because it's coming off the top of my head, "Racism is a visceral experience. It cracks bones, it breaks teeth." White folks have zero racial agility or awareness of how race, how a person of color, a Black person or Indigenous person has to move through daily experiences, daily lived experiences of racial violence. So when we are gathering as a BIPOC group, fighting for racial justice and racial equity within the global development sector, because that is our focus, understanding the global development sector was built to reify and uphold colonization and white supremacy.
What we are saying is that we understand that this work has to be led by the people with lived experience of what racial violence actually means and what racial violence means for us on a day-to-day basis. Because the reality is that while we are organizing, while we are doing this work, every single day, we are still experiencing racism. So every single day we are still ingesting, our bodies are still moving through and housing and bracing how we show up in this world. And for us it is a means of protection, but also a means of community, of love and understanding and intentionality, of the fact that we are going to show up with our whole selves, we are going to be seen, we are going to be heard, we are going to be supported, and we are going to understand that we don't have all of the answers.
However, this is the community where we can reflect upon in a way that is representative of our identities and understanding of the context and the history and the struggles and all of those layers, because racism has weight and also has charge for us to make any effective change. And for me, those groups like ours within the global development sector are also critical within democracies. We see migrant worker struggles being led by migrants. We see movements like Si se Puede for the Dream Act led by people who are affected by the issue. This is critical. Democracy is a negotiation, but if we are not actually seen in the negotiation process, that's where social justice movements are critical.
So racism is a very clear and persistent reality in most countries in the world, and it certainly is in the United States today. And I think it's very clear that within the United States, the basic system of what it has meant to be a full citizen for a long time has been not so much white versus non-white as it was Black or non-Black, but certainly based on skin color. And so I think a lot of what Uma has been saying is right. Nevertheless, I think there's a real danger in positing this metaphysical division between white people on one side and people of color the other side. And then saying that people of color or BIPOC people will naturally have this experience of visceral racism and white people cannot have that experience of racism or of being colonized. I invite all of us to think about Ukraine at the moment.
Ukraine is a country that has been invaded half a year ago in an obvious attempt to recreate a kind of third Russian empire. It is a place in which Russian soldiers are treating Ukrainians with incredible inhumanity, as inferior people, committing mass atrocities. And I think by any American definition, Ukrainians are white, so are Ukrainians incapable of experiencing racism because they're white? Sorry to make this personal, but since you made it personal, were my ancestors who were murdered in the Holocaust because of the racist ideology of the National Socialists incapable of experiencing racism because by the complicated metrics of American identity today, you would consider them white? I think that this is at least simplistic and frankly a quite offensive way of talking about the actual nature of conflict between different groups in society today. So I think when we look at the United States, we should have a slightly more subtle image of what is actually going on.
And one of those things is that there's very important divisions between the group that is often called people of color or BIPOC, but actually it makes a huge difference whether in the United States somebody is a descendant of slaves, whose ancestors for centuries have been excluded in the most extreme way, who are much more likely in percentage terms to continue to suffer from real deprivation and disadvantage, or whether somebody, for example, is a descendant of relatively recent immigrants, whether it is from Kenya or Nigeria, whether it is from India or Pakistan, who comes from parents who came to the country on H-1B visas, who are actually likely on average to earn a lot more than the average white person today, better, who often come from the top of a racial or caste hierarchy within their own societies, so have actually had centuries of advantages within their own societies. That doesn't negate that even those people can experience real discrimination and real racism.
And that's something shameful that we have to fight against. But to me, this category of people of color or BIPOC that sort of puts without much more critical interrogation under one heading or under one category, the kid of a doctor or an engineer who emigrated 20 or 30 years ago from one of those countries and somebody whose ancestors were dragged to the United States in chains 300 years ago, I think obscures as much as it reveals. So despite all of the importance of understanding the nature of racism today, I don't think we will actually understand it if we stay at the level of these broad brush categories.
I want to take a moment to pause and breathe. I think all of us can always benefit from a little bit of breathing. I teach yoga after all as well. So if we can all take a moment to breathe for a second. Because these are very difficult conversations and a lot of us bring a lot of our personal histories into what we're talking about as well. And I think that oftentimes there's not an ultimate truth. We're also, I think, carrying the conversation a lot to the situation in the US. So if we can also try to situate some of these conversations within the context of Europe and the other parts of the world that we're talking about. And Yascha, you were mentioning the situation in the Ukraine as well.
This is one of the reasons why we wanted to host these conversations, to create the spaces for the expressions of these views. And our understanding of othering and belonging that I try to go to as well, I think that everyone wants to create societies where we all belong. There are systems of oppressions, there's individual prejudices as well. And as we were saying, othering can take different expressions, and those that are othered in Germany was Jews, Roma community, LGBT. In Ukraine, we're seeing a different situation, racism, how it operates in the US and in a lot of the European countries.
I would like to understand as well, whether we're thinking... Uma, I guess this is a question for you as well. This viscerally felt experience, there's many elements of it that probably it's impossible to empathize. There's forms of oppression that are not just tied to race, but other forms, as Yascha was mentioning as well. But can we build coalitions that are not based on just the group identities of those that are being oppressed? How does allyship work in these spaces?
Yeah, I mean, it's a good question. I have to say that there's much that I want to say, but I'll probably self center here a little bit for various reasons that I can maybe get into later. For me specifically, to your question around allyship, allyship is a verb. It's not just some stagnant ideology of "I believe in your cause and I'm your ally." Allyship means that you actually do something, that you... By do something, I don't mean co-opt. You don't co-opt movements, you don't co-opt the work of Black people or people of color, you follow their lead and you support them in the work that they are already doing. The solutions that are needed for the democracy that is needed today have to come from the communities that are most impacted by the policies that are in place that do not see them, do not support them.
And we can see this even, for example, if we take a look at France and the fact that they don't even measure race and they like to call their policies anti-racism, yet the rampant Islamophobia in France. If we look at the UK and look at the number of deportations that have happened to the Windrush generation there. When I'm talking about racism, I'm not talking about some US construct. This is an exported ideology that came from Europe. So we need to be clear in the fact that yes, I'm a somatic abolitionist and yes, our conversations on race are more advanced, not necessarily justice in terms of what is happening in the racial justice movement.
Clearly there's a long way to go. We have a better capacity and understanding to talk about race in the US but it still applies in terms of what is happening in the EU and what is happening in the UK. So for me, allyship is an understanding of can you educate yourself in how the communities are organizing, how they are showing up and what is needed by them, and then support them in that way? So don't come in and co-opt, really listen, really take the time to listen, educate and understand before action is taken. A lot of people move just to that first step, but the others are needed.
So I think this is an area in which we probably agree to a significant extent. I think that we need values that we can share and we need ideals we can share in a society. We need symbols we can share as well, but we also need a lot of on the ground work to actually facilitate the kinds of connections between people that can sustain that solidarity. Eboo Patel is a great interfaith leader who has a new book out a few months ago called We Need To Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy, where he talks about some of the same themes as my book, The Great Experiment, but from a much more sort of on the ground activist perspective. And I think that there's a lot of really powerful insights that he comes up with. I suppose I have two concerns about how the activist space or its model of solidarity can sometimes fall a little bit short.
So where I think it's important to think about what's the basis for solidarity is that there's two different ways of thinking about it. So one model of solidarity is roughly to say, hey, here's a group of people who are somehow recognized as being more disadvantaged or more oppressed. And the model for solidarity is that they sort of say what it is that should happen, what kind of policies they favor or what kind of remedies. And then there's a sort of ask for others to defer. So there's a sense of, look, if you care about social justice, if you care about progress, if you care about diverse democracies, then your job is to decenter yourself and shut up and listen and sort of say, okay, here are the people who are really affected, and you should sort of outsource your
judgment in a certain kind of way.
And that's a way that's become quite popular to talk about in the last few years in the activist space. And I'm quite skeptical about that as a recipe for success because first of all, only people who are already very, very, very bought in are going to have a motivation to say, okay, I'm going to defer in that kind of way. So inherently it only appeals to a small number of people. And then of course there's always a question of who actually speaks for a group, who actually is the legitimate spokesperson of a relevant group? And people will quite naturally tend to say, well, the person I agree with I think is the legitimate spokesperson, the person I disagree with, they're not the legitimate spokesperson. So even those people who are really motivated to build that kind of solidarity are going to cherry pick the spokespeople who they claim to be deferring to, but aren't really deferring to.
They pick those people in order to not have to go against what their ideals are. So I think actually we should aim for a more ambitious ideal of what political solidarity entails. And that in my mind is to say, we come through discussion and debate and political contestation as well to some shared set of aspirations and values and ideals. We actually say, hey, we have the same baseline idea that people in our country should be treated equally, that we should be treated fairly. And when there's convincing evidence that some people are not treated fairly, they're not treated equally, then that should outrage all of us, independently of which group we are part of. Even if it's not my group that's being treated unfairly, I should be able to say, hang on a second, I don't want to live in a society where this person over there or my friend or my colleague is being treated terribly just because they're from a different cultural origin or have a different skin color or a different religion.
So let's fight against that. And I think that is an ideal sort of vision of political solidarity that is much more substantial and that therefore it's much more capable of winning lasting victories. And then the second sort of worry, which is a little bit related, it's not about the model of solidarity, but it's about what actually happens, is that of course often you end up with activist groups which are funded by big foundations, which have a lot of money, or funded by billionaires who have a lot of money, that sort of claim to stand for the group that they supposedly represent. But then you realize quite quickly that they actually don't speak for those groups at all.
So in the New York mayoral election, a lot of the sort of activist groups in the social justice space had endorsed a set of candidates in the mayoral race that were sort of from the further left. Various candidates like Maya Wiley, some endorsed some other candidates. But it turned out that actually a lot of the people they claimed to speak for, in particular Latinos and African Americans in the outer boroughs in New York City, they all voted for Eric Adams who didn't have the endorsements of virtually any of those kinds of groups. And so we often see that disjunct between who do activist groups claim to speak for and what are the actual preferences of those groups.
And in a way that concerns me, by the way, we see that at a national level in the United States, where every Latino group sounds like a straight down the road, good progressive Democrat. And now in many polls, about half of Latinos prefer the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, and we see a real shift to the right among Latinos around the country. So that's a danger with activism, that it starts to actually lose touch with the communities that it purports to speak for in a way that I think can be dangerous.
I would love in my history of activism to have seen these multimillion dollar budgets, to be able to utilize them in the way that is needed. For all of the campaigns that we ran in Women's March, it was on a shoestring budget. We have the most minimal budget at The Racial Equity Index to do the... I'm laughing because it hurts. We don't actually have the money to do what is needed to do in order to create change. But it is interesting to me that that groups are being critiqued on their model of solidarity.
What is happening and what is the most powerful representation of the collective that I'm a part of is that there is an active effort of co-creation and understanding how we can show up for each other in our own and complete humanities so that we can be seen and reflected in our work. There is no model we are following. We are constructing the realities we want to see built, and also at the same time holding entrenched systems accountable. None of that, by the way, being financed by giant foundations. At least I haven't seen any of that money. So I would love to. But yeah, I'll stop there.
We have just a couple of minutes left. Yascha, you mentioned Eboo Patel. So this allows me to insert a promo for our next event, which is with Eboo Patel.
Oh, great. Look at that.
And I want to just give the space to you guys for any final remarks or contributions that you may want to make in the last couple of minutes that we have.
Just very briefly, it's easy to despair and it's easy to become very pessimistic. I do think that when you look at the history of the world, and not just the history of Europe or North America, but really the history of every country in the world, we see the huge costs, the huge risks, when diverse democracies fail. We see the wars and genocides that has led to. But I think that perspective also allows us to see some of the progress we've made in our own societies. It allows us to see that for all of the deep flaws of European countries today or of the United States today, we are actually doing a lot better than we were 50 or 25 or 15 years ago.
Not perhaps at a political level, not when I look at cable news or Congress, but when we look at what is actually happening in the breadth of society. And I think that should inspire us to try and hold onto democratic values, to defend them, to build more commonality with each other, to build more solidarity with each other on the basis of ideals that most people now in this country share.
Democracy is a negotiation, dissent is critical and vital, and social movements are the lifeblood of democracy. And holding democracy accountable to the people that are within social movements and that are also on the receiving end of all of the inequities that are represented in the policies and the structures that are represented in democracy. We need to continue building spaces where we can organize and we can be recognized for our whole humanity, with the understanding of how, especially from a somatic experience, how the impact of race, how the impact of all of the other systemic levels of violence that we have to move through are recognized, because it matters.
Thank you very much to both of you. I think that in this conversation, the title of this series is (Un)Common Threads, and I think that this conversation very much embodied that. I think there were a lot of agreement on some issues and obviously and in intentions as well. But in many respects I think that this conversation one of yes, but, and and. And I think that even in some of these agreements we heard about, there were truths and tensions, things that we're all struggling, but we're all building towards societies of belonging. So I'm really, really grateful for both of you for participating in this conversation, for bringing both your professional and personal experiences. And we're hoping that this conversation will continue in the future as well. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Uma. Thank you, Miriam.
Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you, Amber, again. Thanks so much.
Yes, thank you, Amber.