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World Press ( 7 Dec 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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World Press on Terrorism in France, Boko Haram and Islamist Separatism and Islamophobia: New Age Islam's Selection, 7 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

7 December 2020

• Responding to Terrorism in France

The New York Times

• Boko Haram and Islamist separatism in northern Nigeria

By Majeed Dahhiru

• Allegations of Islamophobia in the Labour party go far beyond one party donor

By Owen Jones

• Why Did Racial Progress Stall in America?

By Shaylyn Romney Garrett and Robert D. Putnam

• Our attitudes to race are complex. Our response to racism should be complex too

By Sonia Sodha

• Barack and Michelle: Scenes From a Marriage

By Timothy Egan


Responding to Terrorism in France

The New York Times

Dec. 4, 2020

In the wake of two horrific incidents of Islamist terrorism in France, President Emmanuel Macron and many of his countrymen have reacted angrily to criticism from abroad suggesting that French policies, and especially the French version of state-enforced secularism, somehow contributed to the lethal radicalization of a sliver of the country’s large Muslim population.

The French reaction is understandable. The beheading of a schoolteacher and the murder of three churchgoers in Nice by Islamist terrorists cannot be justified by any grievance, real or perceived. Any attempt to lay the blame for these horrific crimes on their victims, or on national policies, is perverse. France, a country with a deep commitment to human rights and a robust tradition of self-criticism, offers many legal avenues of protest — witness the Yellow Vest movement that has periodically convulsed France for two years now.

In the face of scathing criticism from Mr. Macron — expressed in a letter in The Financial Times, an interview with Ben Smith, the media columnist of The New York Times, and elsewhere — The F.T. and Politico Europe both removed articles questioning the role of French policies in Islamist violence. The core of the president’s complaint was that English-speaking countries that share France’s values were in effect “legitimizing this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic.”

It is not always fully appreciated outside France’s borders that the country is home to the largest number of Muslims in the Western world, more than 8 percent of the country’s total population. It also has a history of horrific terrorist attacks, including, in 2015, the raid on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the assaults on Paris cafes and entertainment halls that left 130 dead.

Furthermore, France’s approach to ethnic minorities differs from the American model in fundamental ways not often understood. The American way is basically to promote the coexistence of different ethnic groups and religions; the French model, born of the French Revolution, is a universalist one in which people of all races, religions and backgrounds are treated without differentiation as citizens with equal rights. France maintains no register of people’s ethnicity or religion.

A critical element of that model is the French concept of secularism, laïcité, a legacy of the French struggle against the power of the Roman Catholic Church. Whereas freedom of religion in the United States began as defense of religion against the state, France’s began with a defense of the state against religion. So French policies such as banning Muslim head scarves in school, perceived by many of the French as combating religious coercion, is often criticized in what the French call the “Anglo-Saxon” world as an attempt to forcibly impose French identity on immigrants.

To its critics, the French model does too little to improve the lot of Arab and African Muslims living in suburban public housing, the “banlieues” where youth unemployment runs sky-high and many of the Islamist radicals are incubated. Conditions there have only worsened with the coronavirus pandemic.

In a major speech in early October, Mr. Macron assailed the rise of “Islamist separatism” and promised a new law to defend France’s secular and democratic values. He also recognized the problem of the “ghettoization” of French cities where “we built our own separatism ourselves,” but the speech drew sharp criticism from French Muslims, including charges that it stigmatized Muslims, especially women and working-class Muslims.

These are issues that should be open to debate, both within France and among mature democracies. But the debate cannot cross into any notion that any victim of Islamist terror “had it coming.” Mr. Macron is right to reject any such suggestion.

But he goes too far in seeing malicious insult throughout the “Anglo-American media.” Serious news organizations in the United States, including The New York Times, have sought to offer full and nuanced reports on the terror attacks in France and on the French government’s policies. It was unfair of Mr. Macron’s international communications adviser, Anne-Sophie Bradelle, to suggest that The Times and The Washington Post said France was “at war with Islam.” Neither suggested this, nor argued that France’s core problem was that it is “racist and Islamophobic.”

But racism and Islamophobia are major problems in France, as they are in the United States, Britain and elsewhere in the Western world. So is Islamist terror, and the many issues of cultural integration, tolerance and competition posed by mass migration. These are the common challenges of the Western world, and no country has demonstrated a fully adequate response.

Under President Trump, the United States government has woefully abandoned its tradition of openness to immigrants and refugees, and the president has deliberately fanned racism and intolerance for political ends. French news outlets have not spared Mr. Trump and his followers in their coverage of his administration, nor should they.

The French media has also demonstrated a robust readiness to assail Mr. Macron’s policies, as it has done in recent weeks against the introduction of a “general security” bill that, among other things, included what looked like an attempt to protect the police from public scrutiny. After two incidents of police brutality caught on video, the bill was pulled back for a rewrite.

That’s what the news media does, at home and abroad. It is its function and duty to ask questions about the roots of racism, ethnic anger and the spread of Islamism among Western Muslims, and to critique the effectiveness and impact of government policies. When terrorists strike, however, there is only one response. On that front, Mr. Macron, France is not alone.


Boko Haram and Islamist Separatism In Northern Nigeria

By Majeed Dahhiru

2nd December 2020


In what can be described as one of the most horrific massacres of the highest number of unarmed civilians in a single attack in the last ten years of the unending Boko Haram insurgency, the mass killings of over 43 people of their kind in the rural farming community of Zabarmari in Borno state, north east Nigeria by one the world’s most deadly terror group, has left the human world utterly horrified with bewildering dismay. Slaughtered like beasts of feasts with their hands tied tightly behind, Boko Haram insurgents slit open the throats of 43 people, all of them farmers working in their rice farms leaving their lifeless bodies lying limp beside their decapitated heads. And by the time they were done with their murderous carnage, unchallenged by Nigeria’s security forces, the green rice fields of Zabarmari was turned red by the freely flowing blood of unarmed and defenceless Nigerian farmers that were left to die in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents unprotected by the Nigerian state.

Whilst the rest of the world is horrified by one of the most horrific and bestial mass slaughter of human beings in modern history, Nigerians are not as exasperated by the Zabarmari massacre because they have somewhat adjusted to the sad reality of living in the third most terrorized country on earth. Nigeria’s complex web of complicated security challenges, which has seen its northwest corner ravaged by trans-border bandits, farming communities in its north central parts pillaged by killer herdsmen and its north east axis over run by Boko Haram insurgents has reduced Africa’s most populous country to the continent’s largest human slaughter slab.

Ten years after the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2010; the Nigerian state has not been able to contain this deadly terror group but instead its security forces have been drawn into a prolonged war that has clearly become intractable. It is conservatively estimated that the Boko Haram insurgency has claimed over 47,000 lives and displaced over 2 million others in the North East alone in the last ten years.  After nearly a decade since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency, a lot of questions about the motive, aims, strategic objectives, recruitment, mode of operation and funding remains unanswered.

That the epic centre of the multifaceted security challenges confronting Nigeria, the biggest of which is the Boko Haram insurgency is undoubtedly in its northern half and specifically, the Muslim North, provides a credible lead as towards resolving the unresolved questions about one the world’s most deadly terror group. Boko Haram insurgency is a violent manifestation of the radical ideology of Islamist separatism upon which the mainstream theological frame work of northern Nigeria Muslim religion if firmly built upon. Straddling the southern parts of the ancient region of western Sudan, which was characterized by the 19th century militant Islamist reformist movements, the Muslim north of Nigeria, is an area encompassing the legacy theocratic city states of the ancient Kanem-Borno Empire and the Fulani Sokoto Caliphate.

Following the British colonial experiment of amalgamation in 1914, which brought the region and the rest of non-Muslim Nigeria under one administrative control to be government by a secular, constitutional and democratic system of government, fearing the loss of their Muslim heritage hegemony and power, the leadership of the Muslim made haste slowly in accepting the new modern reality especially, education. Considering it a Judeo-Christian heritage that was being used as a tool to neutralise their traditional Muslim ways of life by Western colonial powers, the Muslim north would be slow in embracing ‘’western’’ education and any other way of life it considers western.

Over half a century after the British colonial interregnum, which stirred Nigeria, a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country they created on the path of a modern, secular and constitutional democracy, which guarantees every Nigerian the right of religious freedom came to an end in 1960, the Muslim north slowly began to recoil and started a return backwards to its pre-colonial Muslim theocratic state of traditional administration. And when Salafism filtered into the region from Saudi Arabia through Sudan in the early 1970s, the robust Muslim heritage of its militant Islamist reformism of the 19th century made the Muslim north of Nigeria made a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of radical Islamist revivalism that was sweeping across the wider Muslim world.

The rapid spread in the Muslim north of Salafi version of the Islamic religion, whose cardinal doctrine is a return of Muslims to its own interpretation of what its self-appointed theological potentates considers being in conformity with puritanical prophetic tradition within a the legal frame work of a Sharia ruled global Muslim state, resulted into the mainstreaming of the radical ideology of Islamist separatism in the region. coming under the theological influence of Salafi clerics who continuously watered the seeds of radicalization for several decades by passionately preaching the virtues of a Sharia ruled Muslim state and virulently denouncing the vices of a secular, multi-religious, constitutionally governed democratic society and in the process creating a cognitive conflict between the Islamic faith of millions of northern Nigeria Muslims and the citizenship of Nigeria their country. These influential clerics go the extra mile to exhort Muslims to consider the struggle [Jihad] for the realization of the ideal Sharia ruled Islamic state a religious duty that attracts great reward in the hereafter. In this process, hate and intolerance against people of other sects or religion are virulently preached and are variously denounced by these clerics as apostates and unbelieving infidels.

Islamic separatism in the Muslim north has found expression in the mass hysteric agitation for the full implementation of the Muslim Sharia law in a region that is an incorporated part of a secular, multi-religious and constitutional democratic Nigerian country. notwithstanding the fact the constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees every Nigerian freedom of religion, which allows Muslim unhindered observance of Sharia faith [upholding virtue and abstaining from vice by personal conviction], the Muslim north considers Nigeria’s governing legal frame work incompatible with their Islamic until it is repealed and replaced with Sharia law [upholding of virtue and abstaining from vice by compulsion].

Unfortunately, the political leadership of the Muslim north have devised an ingeniously means of weaponising religion as a potent arsenal of political mobilization for their selfish end by preying on the religious emotions of their people.  Pretending to be in solidarity with the people in their aspiration for a Sharia ruled Islamic states, political leaders in the Muslim north pledged to impose Sharia rule in the states of the region if supported to power. However, Governors like Ahmed Yarima of Zamfara, Muazu Babangida Aliyu of Niger state and Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano failed woefully to realize the ideal Islamic state that their people yearned for despite imposing Sharia law in their state because they didn’t imbibe Sharia faith personally.

Boko Haram insurgency may have started ten years ago in 2010, the seeds of radical Islamist separatist ideology, which is its driving force, was sown several decades before and it is still being watered to blossom by Salafi clerics that are the dominant authoritative voices in the mainstream northern Nigeria Muslim community. Whereas, the Boko Haram insurgency is centred on the north east region of Nigeria, the Boko Haram ideology permeates the entire Muslim north with millions of latently radicalized Muslims ‘’Boko Haram’’ at heart. It is the prevalence of Boko Haram radical ideology of Islamist separatism in the mainstream northern Nigeria Muslim theology that is providing the oxygen in form of funding, logistics and recruits that are willing to fight for the realization of their ideal Sharia ruled Islamic state. Boko Haram insurgents are just putting to practice the Boko Haram ideology that has been preached for several decades, which political Islam has failed to achieve in the region.

The most sustainable solution to the Boko Haram insurgency is to begin a systemic reversal of the radical Islamist separatist ideology and the removal of its embellishments on the main stream northern Nigeria Muslim theology with the ultimate aim of reconciling the faith of latently radicalised Muslims with their Nigerian citizenship and restoring secularity to the region where religion and the state are separated. The continuous existence of Hisbah, the Sharia law enforcement police in some northern Muslim states like Kano, which has descended from arresting individuals on charges of blasphemy and destroying bottles of alcoholic beverages of tax paying Nigerian businesses to banning the use of the term ‘’black Friday’’ on radio stations is a cannon fodder for the continuous struggle of Boko Haram insurgents in the struggle to achieve their ideal Islamic state because it reinforces the belief in the psyche of many a Muslim that one cannot be ‘’Nigerian’’ and ‘’Muslim’’  The intention behind the activities of Governor Ganduje of Kano and his Hisbah approximates those of Abu Shekau and his band of killers.


Allegations Of Islamophobia In The Labour Party Go Far Beyond One Party Donor

By Owen Jones

4 Dec 2020

Nearly a decade ago, the Tory baroness Sayeeda Warsi declared that bigotry towards Muslims has “passed the dinner-table test”. This isn’t to say that other forms of racism and bigotry aren’t rampant, or indeed hardwired into British society and its institutions – such as the disproportionate levels of poverty or police harassment endured by black Britons. What it does mean is that people in this country can say virtually anything about Muslims – including those with power, social cachet and influence – without consequence.

One study from the Muslim Council of Britain finds that most newspaper coverage of British Muslims is negative, including 78% of stories in the Mail on Sunday. Rod Liddle, columnist at The Spectator, can write columns arguing “there is not nearly enough Islamophobia within the Tory party” and for elections to be held when Muslims cannot vote, and have his journalistic career remain intact. Boris Johnson, a former Spectator editor, can pen a screed comparing veiled Muslims to “letterboxes”, triggering a 375% surge in Islamophobic incidents, and still become prime minister. Half of Conservative party members can express the belief that Islam – a religion observed by 2.5 million Britons – is “a threat to the British way of life”, and no general outrage is triggered.

Most British Muslims support Labour, but their votes should not be taken for granted. A decade ago, the Labour MP Phil Woolas was ejected from parliament for lying about his Lib Dem opponent in the 2010 election – leaflets distributed by Woolas claiming that Watkins had “wooed” Islamic extremists and failed to condemn radical groups attacks were ruled by an election court to be deliberately misleading.

When the then deputy leader, Harriet Harman, said he had no future in his party, a mutiny of Labour MPs took place. This was not an isolated incident. Anti-Muslim sentiment remains ingrained in the Labour party, as revealed in a recent report by the Labour Muslim Network, which found that 29% of Muslim members and supporters had experienced Islamophobia in the party, 44% did not believe the party took the issue seriously, and 48% didn’t believe the party would deal with it effectively in its complaints process.

Which brings us to the case of the property developer David Abrahams, who funded New Labour reportedly to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds. After Keir Starmer wrote to wealthy former donors – Abrahams included – asking for them to resume their financial support, the property developer declared that he had set up a direct debit to provide Labour with cash. Since then, a litany of Islamophobic tweets has been exposed by the Guardian: from declaring he doesn’t “know how to divide political Islam from moderates and fundamentalists” because: “It is the very nature of the beast!” to declaring Israel’s neighbours “chose terrorism and invented suicide bombers”.

Labour has said it cannot find any record of new funds from Abrahams and will not accept any of his money, but an investigation is to take place given he is a member of the party. If any good comes out of this episode, it is to open up a conversation about how Islamophobia has been mainstreamed – including in many progressive circles – and must now be fought. After all, Labour is right to tackle antisemitism within its own ranks and the record level of anti-Jewish hate crimes in British society as a whole also needs to be confronted. Now that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued directives that Labour is legally bound to implement in order to tackle antisemitism, the party must confront its wider problems of racism, too.

As well as Islamophobia, black, Asian and minority ethnic Labour party staff members have expressed fears of a “hierarchy of racism”, not least after a leaked report suggested alleged racist abuse by Labour officials against black Labour MPs. Failures by the Labour leadership to unequivocally oppose the deportation of people who have lived in Britain since they were children – even after the Windrush scandal – only fuel such claims. Indeed, it is notable that Abrahams himself once tweeted that black South Africans he spoke to “preferred white rule as less corrupt and more viable and professional”, suggesting prejudices not confined to Islamophobia.

It’s worth reconsidering Warsi’s comments made a decade ago. If Abrahams isn’t expelled from the party, then what message is to be sent, both to Muslims and the bigots who menace them? Fears that Islamophobia is permissible, and even officially sanctioned, will have greater justification.

It underlines, too, how those within Labour demanding that the leadership dilutes its dependence on trade union funding in favour of wealthy individuals are inviting trouble. Unions are democratically accountable mass organisations with publicly transparent policy agendas. Wealthy individuals will open up their cheque books and declare, as Abrahams has, that he would be “happy to donate more” if the party commits to “the right policies”. Labour was founded to be the political wing of working people – the clue being in the name – and attempts to distance itself from these roots will prove morally hazardous.

Anti-Muslim bigotry is rampant in British society. Starmer’s team are right to refuse Abrahams’ money, and build on those foundations to confront a prejudice that infects Labour’s own membership. By kicking Abrahams out, the party can show British Muslims that there is no place for racism in the party, or the country. The decision isn’t a hard one.


Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist


Why Did Racial Progress Stall in America?

By Shaylyn Romney Garrett and Robert D. Putnam

Dec. 4, 2020

In the popular narrative of American history, Black Americans made essentially no measurable progress toward equality with white Americans until the lightning-bolt changes of the civil rights revolution. If that narrative were charted along the course of the 20th century, it would be a flat line for decades, followed by a sharp, dramatic upturn toward equality beginning in the 1960s: the shape of a hockey stick.

In many ways, this hockey stick image of racial inequality is accurate. Until the banning of de jure segregation and discrimination, very little progress was made in many domains: representation in politics and mainstream media, job quality and job security, access to professional schools and careers or toward residential integration.

However, on a number of other measures, the shape of the trend is surprisingly different. In our book, “The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again,” we examine century-long data, tracking outcomes by race in health, education, income, wealth and voting. What we found surprised us.

In terms of material well-being, Black Americans were moving toward parity with white Americans well before the victories of the civil rights era. What’s more, after the passage of civil rights legislation, those trends toward racial parity slowed, stopped and even reversed. Understanding how and why not only reveals why America is so fractured today, but illuminates the path forward, toward a more perfect union.

In measure after measure, positive change for Black Americans was actually faster in the decades before the civil rights revolution than in the decades after. For example,

The life expectancy gap between Black and white Americans narrowed most rapidly between about 1905 and 1947, after which the rate of improvement was much more modest. And by 1995 the life expectancy ratio was the same as it had been in 1961. There has been some progress in the ensuing two decades, but this is due in part to an increase in premature deaths among working-class whites.

The Black/white ratio of high school completion improved dramatically between the 1940s and the early 1970s, after which it slowed, never reaching parity. College completion followed the same trajectory until 1970, then sharply reversed.

Racial integration in K-12 education at the national level began much earlier than is often believed. It accelerated sharply in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. But this trend leveled off in the early 1970s, followed by a modest trend toward resegregation.

Income by race converged at the greatest rate between 1940 and 1970. However, as of 2018, Black/white income disparities were almost exactly the same as they were in 1968, 50 years earlier. Even taking into account the emergence of the Black middle class, Black Americans on the whole have experienced flat or downward mobility in recent decades.

The racial gap in homeownership steadily narrowed between 1900 and 1970, then stagnated, then reversed. The racial wealth gap is now growing as Black homeownership plummets.

Long-run data on national trends in voting by race is patchy, but the South saw a dramatic increase in Black voter registration between 1940 and 1970, followed by decline and stagnation. What data we have on national Black voter turnout indicate that nearly all of the gains toward equality with white voter turnout occurred between 1952 and 1964, before the Voting Rights Act passed, then almost entirely halted for the rest of the century.

These data reveal a too-slow but unmistakable climb toward racial parity throughout most of the century that begins to flatline around 1970 — a picture quite unlike the hockey stick of historical shorthand.

We draw attention to the unexpected shape and timing of these trends not as an attempt to argue that things are or were better for Black Americans than they might appear. Quite the contrary. Gains on the part of Black Americans — though clear and surprisingly steady during the first two-thirds of the 20th century — were due almost entirely to their fleeing the South by the millions during the Great Migration. Starting new lives in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia meant access to better health care, education and economic opportunities. But these destinations, too, were characterized by a persistent reality of exclusion, segregation and racial violence. It was Black Americans’ undaunted faith in the promise of the American “we,” and their willingness to claim their place in it, against all odds, that won them progress between the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s and the end of the civil rights movement in the 1970s. Collectively, these migrants and their children and grandchildren steadily narrowed the Black-white gap over those years.

In the last half-century, however, that collective progress has halted, and many who fought so hard for this progress have now lived to see it reversed. U.W. Clemon, an African-American lawyer who won a precedent-setting Alabama school desegregation case over 40 years ago — and recently took up a remarkably similar legal battle in the same county — summarized the historical arc well, saying “I never envisioned that I would be fighting in 2017 essentially the same battle that I thought I won in 1971.”

It is against this backdrop of stillborn hopes and intergenerational reversals that Black Lives Matter protesters have taken to the streets. The recent police killings have undoubtedly been sparks in the dry tinder boxes of over-policed Black communities. But those communities are also situated within a parched landscape of stagnant progress toward racial parity, half a century after the passage of landmark Civil Rights legislation, and a century and a half after Reconstruction. What to many white Americans are mere charts and graphs, to Black Americans are the contours of their genealogy.

But if Black Americans’ advance toward parity with whites in many dimensions had been underway for decades before the Civil Rights revolution, why then, when the dam of legal exclusion finally broke, didn’t those trends accelerate toward full equality? Why was the last third of the 20th century characterized by a marked deceleration of progress, and in some cases even a reversal?

We have two answers to these questions.

The first is simple and familiar: White backlash. Substantial progress toward white support for Black equality was made in the first half of the 20th century, but when push came to shove, many white Americans were reluctant to live up to those principles. Although clear majorities supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a national poll conducted shortly after its passage showed that 68 percent of Americans wanted moderation in its enforcement. In fact, many felt that the Johnson administration was moving too fast in implementing integration.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s rejection, in 1968, of the Kerner Commission’s recommendations of sweeping reforms to address racial inequality suggested that his fine-tuned political sensitivity had detected a sea change in white attitudes in the year since he — more than any previous president — had led the project of racial redress. This was a dramatic example of deliberate acceleration followed by deliberate deceleration, a pattern which mirrored the abandonment of Reconstruction.

And it is in that earlier period of American history where the second answer to the question of why racial progress stagnated after the civil rights era can be found, as made clear by new statistical evidence we present in “The Upswing.”

On the heels of Reconstruction came a period that Southerners called “redemption,” a violent project on the part of vanquished Southern elites to restore white hegemony in the wake of the progress Black Americans had made after the Civil War. Redemption coincided with the vast upheaval of industrialization and urbanization, when the United States more broadly plunged into the Gilded Age. Gross extremes of wealth and poverty, a tattered social fabric rife with factionalism and nativism, a gridlocked public square and a culture of narcissism were its hallmarks. The late 1800s was thus, by nearly every measure — including the stark retrenchment of nascent racial equality — the worst of times.

But as the century turned and the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era, America experienced a remarkable moment of inflection that set the nation on an entirely new trajectory. A diverse group of reformers grabbed the reins of history and set a course toward greater economic equality, political bipartisanship, social cohesion and cultural communitarianism. This shift and the long-run trends it set in motion are detailed in scores of statistical measures in “The Upswing.”

Some six decades later all of those upward trends reversed, setting the United States on a downward course that has brought us to the multifaceted national crisis in which we find ourselves today, which bears a remarkable resemblance to the Gilded Age. The wide array of statistical evidence compiled in “The Upswing” — ranging from the distribution of income pre- and post-taxes to bipartisanship in Congress and split-ticket voting and from civic engagement, church membership and social trust to parents’ choice of their children’s first names — shows that the Progressive Era represented a fundamental turning point in American history.

These interconnected phenomena can be summarized in a single meta-trend that we have come to call the “I-we-I” curve: An inverted U charting America’s gradual climb from self-centeredness to a sense of shared values, followed by a steep descent back into egoism over the next half century.

The moment America took its foot off the gas in rectifying racial inequalities largely coincides with the moment America’s “we” decades gave way to the era of “I.” At the mid-’60s peak of the I-we-I curve, long-delayed moves toward racial inclusion had raised hopes for further improvements, but those hopes went unrealized as the whole nation shifted toward a less egalitarian ideal.

A central feature of America’s “I” decades has been a shift away from shared responsibilities toward individual rights and a culture of narcissism. Economic inequality has skyrocketed, and along with it have come massive disparities in political influence and a growing concentration of political-economic power in the hands of a few billionaires. Polarization and social isolation have increased. Whatever sense of belonging Americans feel today is largely to factional (and often racially defined) in-groups locked in fierce competition with one another for cultural control and perceived scarce resources. Contemporary identity politics characterizes an era that could well be described as a “War of the ‘We’s’.” This is a reality that predated the election of Donald Trump, though his presidency threw it into sharp relief. And a new presidential administration will not by itself restore American unity.

It is difficult to say which came first — white backlash against racial realignment or the broader shift from “we” to “I.” Perhaps America’s larger turn toward “I” was simply a response to the challenge of sustaining a more diverse, multiracial “we” in an environment of deep, embedded and unresolved racism. But it is also possible that a broader societal turn away from shared responsibilities to one another eroded the fragile national consensus around race as all Americans began to prioritize their own interests above the common good. A selfish, fragmented “I” society is not a fertile soil for racial equality.

Indeed, the fact that landmark civil rights legislation passed at the very peak of the I-we-I curve suggests that an expanding sense of “we” was a prerequisite for the dismantling of the color line. Without what the historian Bruce Schulman calls the “expansive, universalist vision” that America had been building toward in the preceding decades, it is hard to imagine that such watershed change — so long and so violently resisted — would have been possible.

Through the “long civil rights movement,” as it has come to be called, Black activists had prevailed upon the white establishment to widen the “we” in important (though ultimately insufficient) ways across many decades. By the late 1960s, though the work of widening was not nearly complete, America had come closer to an inclusive “we” than ever before. But just as that inclusion began to bear tangible fruit for Black Americans, much of that fruit began to die on the vine.

The lessons of America’s I-we-I century are thus twofold. First, we Americans have gotten ourselves out of a mess remarkably similar to the one we’re in now by rediscovering the spirit of community that has defined our nation from its inception. America has turned the tide from “I” to “we” once before and we can do it again. And, to a greater extent than heretofore recognized, we made more rapid progress toward racial parity during the communitarian epoch than during the period of increasing individualism that followed.

But “we” can be defined in more inclusive or exclusive terms. The “we” we were constructing in the first two-thirds of the last century was highly racialized, and thus contained the seeds of its own undoing. Any attempt we may make today to spark a new upswing must aim for a higher summit by being fully inclusive, fully egalitarian and genuinely accommodating of difference. Anything less will fall victim once again to its own internal inconsistencies.

As Theodore Roosevelt put it, “the fundamental rule in our national life — the rule which underlies all others — is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.”


Shaylyn Romney Garrett, a founding contributor to Weave: The Social Fabric Project, and Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, are the authors of “The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again.”


Our Attitudes To Race Are Complex. Our Response To Racism Should Be Complex Too

By Sonia Sodha

6 Dec 202

Is a mass-produced jerk chicken burger a symbol of cultural appropriation or a celebration of British multiculturalism? This is an old debate that periodically resurfaces and so it was a couple of weeks ago when McDonald’s launched its latest festive offering.

In this case, a story that got echoed across much of the tabloid press was constructed out of a few random comments criticising McDonald’s on social media; it was journalists who built and amplified this narrative. But occasionally, others who should know better get drawn in, such as the MP who picked a fight with Jamie Oliver over his jerk rice.

I have long thought that reducing debates about racism to flippant questions about fast-food burgers and supermarket curry kits is damaging to the antiracist cause. But new research on public attitudes to racism by the Runnymede Trust and Voice4Change England helps us understand why.

The study is all the better for shunning mass polling as the primary way of understanding how the public thinks about race. Instead, researchers undertook two one-hour conversations with 60 people from a range of backgrounds. What emerges is both good and bad news for those of us who care deeply about ending racism. The good news is that the weight of public thinking is that racism matters, that it is something that is learned and education has an important role to play; also, that racism is part of our national history.

The less good news is that some people buy into the idea that racism is “natural”, that we all have an affinity with people who look more like us. There is a lack of understanding about the nature of structural racism; public thinking gravitates towards the idea that racism is about individual actions and responsibilities. There is a strong sense that there is no going backwards and that things will inevitably get better over time.

Yet in the 20 years since the Macpherson report, black people have gone from being five to nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people. And there is a strand of zero-sum thinking: the worry that tackling racial discrimination will inevitably mean majority groups giving things up.

Importantly, researchers found people hold beliefs that would be considered both warm and hostile to antiracism campaigns: it is possible for someone to believe both that racism is ingrained in human nature and will never change, but that we are making progress as a society, or that it is important we all do something about racism while at the same time worrying about the consequences for themselves.

The populist right is very good at activating the more hostile strands of thinking by stoking this idea that if a minority benefits, the majority must lose. When Conservative MP Ben Bradley calls the education of white, working-class boys a “taboo” subject, he implies that white, working-class children have been unfairly overlooked by people more interested in promoting the interests of minority children; if it were Asian or black children, “heads would roll”, he says (the lack of accountability for institutional racism in the Met suggests they wouldn’t).

By confecting this into a conflict between white and non-white children, he conveniently obscures the role of class. Far from being taboo, the class attainment gap for poor children, the vast majority of whom are white, was one of the key drivers of Labour education policy, which on any objective measure was far better than what followed, including Conservative chancellors slashing thousands of pounds a year in tax credits from parents in low-paid work and Tory education reforms that have done little to address the fact that working-class children remain far less likely to attend a good quality school.

The intellectual underpinnings of this zero-sum thinking lie in notions of “white identity” from academics such as Eric Kaufmann. Kaufmann argues that the rise of right populism is primarily the product of white communities’ opposition to increasing racial diversity. He attacks the notion that structural racism exists at all and encourages politicians to promote the need to maintain “white culture”.

But this is to take far too simplistic and patronising a view of the way white, working-class communities think about race. It cannot account for all the historical examples where a predominantly white labour movement built solidarity and common cause with campaigns for equality.

The Runnymede research shows that there are strands of public thinking that the right can activate to achieve its ends of sowing division. But there are also positive ways of thinking about race that antiracist campaigners can connect with and build on, sometimes in the same person and certainly within the same community. In particular, antiracism campaigners need to find ways to explain the often counterintuitive idea that racism is not just about individuals but systems. “We need to communicate to people that racism is something that’s designed into our system, which means we can design something better,” says Sanjiv Lingayah, the lead author of the research.

But there are also traps. Certain ideas risk playing into the damaging idea that majority white and minority interests are directly in conflict, which antiracism campaigners need to challenge. Cultural appropriation often fits into that category, as do terms such as “white privilege” and “white fragility”. Yes, there is an overall structural advantage to being white compared with being non-white, but, no, it does not build solidarity to imply that if you are white, you are automatically “privileged”. Yes, men who went to Eton may have to loosen their grip on the levers of power, but that would, frankly, be good for all the rest of us.

This research gets us away from reductivist, static accounts of public attitudes to race. It shows that, while there are aspects of public thinking that antiracists need to challenge, there is also a lot of positive stuff to work with. But to get lured into giving the impression that this is a fight between “them” and “us” is only to serve the agenda of the populist right.


Sonia Sodha is the Observer’s chief leader writer and a columnist


Barack and Michelle: Scenes from a Marriage

By Timothy Egan

Dec. 4, 2020

He walks too slowly, a languorous Hawaiian ambler. She’s a get-to-the-point woman, in gait and gab. He’s a politician. She has no use for the type. He gets tangled up in fancy talk. She cuts through the fluff. He smoked. She loathes the smell of cigarettes.

Can this marriage be saved? We know, of course, that it can. We now have more than 1,100 pages on the extraordinary lives of Michelle and Barack Obama, as told by themselves. The two books — her “Becoming,” published in 2018, and his “A Promised Land,” out last month — broke sales records, almost single-handedly rescuing the bookstores of North America.

The national ground they cover, like the country itself, is vast: Arriving at the White House  during the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. The heavy lift of expanding health care. The stone-cold barnacle of Mitch McConnell. Their own historic marker: the first Black president and first lady.

But behind their national identities, there’s also the private love story, and scenes from a marriage just as complicated as any other.

Indeed, long after people stop wondering how the Affordable Care Act came to be, they’ll likely be reading the Obamas as a marriage tutorial. Though he seems to get his way on his grandest ambitions, she frequently pushes back, saying their lives have to be about we, not me — or it won’t work.

It’s been a long time, and it is likely to be a long time coming before a married couple from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have as much to say about one of the central mysteries of life. I would have liked to have seen more of the interior life of the first lady Edith Wilson, after she essentially ran the executive branch following President Woodrow Wilson’s stroke. And who doesn’t wonder what went on behind the sad gaze of the long-suffering Pat Nixon?

The Obama marriage, as they tell it, reflects both the strains of their place in history and the contemporary aggravations of professional strivers — the hard balancing of dual careers. Seemingly opposites, Barack and Michelle actually complete each other.

At times, her subtle snubs are just right, as when the president bolts out of bed early one morning to receive the news that he’s been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. “That’s wonderful, honey,” she says, unimpressed, then rolls over to get more sleep.

He knows how lucky he was to find her, and how — at the peak of his power — he misses the bond from simpler times. He says, “there were nights when, lying next to Michelle in the dark, I’d think about those days when everything between us felt lighter, when her smile was more constant and our love less encumbered.”

Somehow, they defied the stereotype of those living their vows inside a political bubble — the wife with the adoring stare, the absentee husband who only seems to care. What’s more, their description of how the two became one and stayed that way seems, dare I say, authentic.

Here’s Michelle, a first-year lawyer by way of the South Side of Chicago, Princeton and Harvard Law School, on meeting, dismissing and then falling in love with the man who walked into her office one summer day. She’d heard he was cute, smart and ambitious. “I was skeptical of all of it. In my experience, you put a suit on any half-intelligent Black man and white people tended to go bonkers.”

And just to be clear: “He was refreshing, unconventional, and weirdly elegant. Not once, though, did I think about him as someone I’d want to date.”

But as summer went on, she fell for his weirdness and his wit, his tardiness and his tranquillity, and when the mystery tug at her heart became too strong to resist, she knew she was in trouble. “He was like a wind that threatened to unsettle everything,” she writes. She spends more than 50 pages in her memoir on the courtship.

By contrast, it takes Barack, a notoriously loquacious man, a mere four pages in a book of more than 700 pages to get from meeting Michelle to their wedding day.

Going into politics proved to be one of the biggest sources of contention in their marriage. “We began arguing more, usually late at night when the two of us were thoroughly drained,” he writes. “‘This isn’t what I signed up for, Barack,’” says Michelle. “‘I feel like I’m doing it all by myself.’”

Indeed, like so many women, she made a considerable sacrifice of her own career to ensure that the family they raised would be normal, and to help Barack become the most powerful man in the world — something he consistently acknowledges.

His wife, ever the pragmatist, and the more succinct of the writers, has the best explanation of how they have stayed together for nearly three decades:

“What happens when a solitude-loving individualist marries an outgoing family woman who does not love solitude one bit? The answer, I’m guessing, is probably the best and most sustaining answer to nearly every question arising inside a marriage, no matter who you are or what the issue is: You find ways to adapt. If you’re in it forever, there’s really no choice.”


Timothy Egan (@nytegan) is a contributing opinion writer who covers the environment, the American West and politics. He is a winner of the National Book Award and the author, most recently, of “A Pilgrimage to Eternity.”



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