An acquaintance from my neighbourhood had had a recent operation, when my partner found her in the local shop. Everything had gone well while in the hospital, our neighbour asserted, even the fact that she “shared a room with a white woman”.
My partner was shocked by the comment, but asked for the reason why this might matter, to which the neighbour declared that she was “English through-and-through”.
Then, I was thinking, the UK is a multicultural society, and a society in which citizens elect their representatives.
Unfortunately, discriminatory views, as the one of the lady in my neighbourhood, have an impact in our lives in common and, therefore, in democratic life. Also, and most importantly, the question is: What can we do to make a difference in this respect?
The most powerful initiative that we can take in a multicultural society is to help develop our communities.
Maybe we were all raised with prejudices to a certain extent: sexism, racism, homophobia, or with discriminatory feelings towards people of certain cultures, religions, ages or impairments. We need to challenge prejudices, starting by our own.
If living together is a fact, and not a thought experiment, we need to work for and with the multicultural communities in which we live.
Even the most apparently homogeneous society is diverse, due to the particular place in which a situation is experienced. In order to strengthen the links among people, we need to establish dialogues, i.e. listen and engage in conversations.
What is more, we need to organise common activities and experiences, and to construct changes in the directions that we already share.
Activities with other parents in our children’s school, celebrations with the people in our street, and campaigns for youth clubs, allotments or community centres are examples of everyday activities that can contribute to social cohesion.
The fact that we live in a representative democracy does not mean that we feel or are being represented. Nevertheless, we can construct participatory democracies in our lives.
Ensuring everyone’s participation in decision making processes in families, groups and organisations constitutes an investment for living together.
We may take longer at deciding, but we would be slow-cooking our common future.
We still need to take to the streets together and raise our voices to establish what is important for us, in a society that is still far away from the construction of sustainable futures, the reduction of power imbalances and the achievement of social justice. To construct a democracy in which we all participate, we need to work together.
Facing the elections, we need to follow our values, not the image or the charisma of a candidate.
Signals to distrust are clear: campaigns that divide communities or that do not make clear how they plan to keep in contact with the people. We do not want to continue to sign blank cheques.
We need to challenge ourselves or others, as we live in a diverse society. If we scratch a little bit, it is rare that in contemporary UK, someone is ‘through and through’ anything.
Not only because of the history of the country (successive migrations, colonial history, slavery, among other past or present events), but also because of the continued interaction with the rest of the world: through the media, through travelling, and of course, through our communities, which are rich in diversity.