Race, Obama, Jazz, Muftis, and Multiculturalism

Posted below is a letter from my friend in London, Lord William Rees-Mogg. Lord Rees-Mogg was a founding editor of Strategic Investment, the U.S.-based investment letter I edited for five years. His letter speaks for itself on the chances of a black President in America.

When I lived in London, I’d try and get together with Rees-Mogg about once a month to hear what he thought about American politics, the euro, history, or whatever was on his mind really. It was great for me because he could get me into places I’d probably never get into by myself, like the cafeteria in the House of Lords or the member’s dining room at the Garrick Club.

It was interesting to see that side of London. But my main interest was talking politics and financial markets with someone who’s seen a lot of both. What’s more, it’s always worthwhile to hear what an outsider has to say about your country, even if you don’t like what they have to say. The outsider’s perspective often reveals things that you might not notice as a native. I hope my outsider’s perspective on Australia will be valuable in the same way, by the way.

This week William wrote on race and American politics, which is good timing for a number of reasons. First, all the buzz in America right now in on Illinois Senator Barrack Obama, who coincidentally has a new book out called “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.” Say what you will about race in America, but I challenge you to find a Western or liberal country where black people have enjoyed as much political success as they have in the United States.

When I lived in France and England I can’t tell you how many times I was lectured about racism in America and how hateful American society was/is. This was usually from people who’d never been there, but had seen an episode or two of “Cops.” Is there racism in America? You bet. There are 300 million Americans. You’re bound to find some morons in the bunch.

But let me tell you about racism in Europe. There’s what I call “official racism,” otherwise known as multiculturalism. In Britain, this has had the effect of creating a society segregated by both race AND religious belief. Instead of people acknowledging what they have in common, multiculturalism encourages us to define ourselves by our differences, and then highlight those differences.

That’s all fair enough. But don’t be surprised if by encouraging this kind of diversity through government policy you get a culture increasingly divided rather than integrated.

What does it mean to be British anymore? Beats me. It’s not the language. It’s not the culture. It’s not the religion. It’s not even cricket or rugby. It might not be anything really, except maybe the Queen.

And France?

France is known for its strict adherence to the idea of equality. It was one of the three pillars of the French Revolution (liberty, fraternity, equality.) Though I love France, the France you see in downtown Paris is only the official version. Official France is for rich tourists, not black immigrants.

The “real” France, meanwhile, has been far less successful at creating an integrated society where immigrants can become part of “the French dream,” whatever that dream happens to be. It just doesn’t happen in France, at least not in ways that are obvious to me. Black culture remains on the outside looking in, except maybe in some sport.

Contrast that with the United States, where black jazz and blues musicians first created and then altered the face of popular music in the early and mid twentieth century. You find the same thing in food and sports. New Orleans, for example, one of America’s mostly culturally rich cities, gets a large part of its identity from its black, and, ironically, French roots.

In other words, the most visible parts of American culture that have the biggest impact on the largest number of people have been hugely influenced—even defined—by the contributions of black Americans. Where else is this true in countries with large multi-ethnic populations? Name me a place in Europe and I’ll buy you an Australian beer.

Is there a lot of racial conflict out in the open America? Of course. But it’s better to have this conflict out in the open than to have in smouldering in the suburbs, ready to flare up at any instant. Better to have open if uncomfortable discussions than to send the police rushing out on the weekends to put out dozens of small cultural brush fires.

Living in free societies means having complicated, sometimes contentious discussion with people who don’t agree with you. It means having those discussions without having the right to silence people who disagree with you. Sometimes people do things with their freedom that you don’t approve of. That’s the price you pay for living a free society.

It also makes perfect sense that free societies have to guard that freedom. Tolerating intolerance is stupid, frankly, and fundamentally challenges the existence of liberty, no matter who the intolerant party is. You don’t suspend your right to have intelligent judgment when you live in an open free society. You just make sure you are very careful and very open about discussing what the general rules are that guarantee a right to free speech without inciting the kind of hate that leads to more cultural troubles down the road.

Australia is better off having open and honest discussions about race now, before a larger problem emerges later. That kind of problem is emerging now in Europe. And it won’t be going away anytime soon.

Dan Denning

Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.

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