(GEORGE CURRY MEDIA)—At first thought, it seems impossible to logically connect—with a single word, no less—three striking political developments that occurred on the same day in the U.S. and Great Britain two weeks ago.
The two developments in the U.S. were the Supreme Court’s 5-to-3 ruling of June 23 upholding the use of affirmative action in college admissions, on the one hand; and a second ruling that resulted in a 4-4 tie, and thus let stand a lower federal court ruling striking down President Obama’s executive order that would have protected as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowed them to legally work in the U.S.
Of course, what happened in Great Britain was the electorate’s stunning vote that very day to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union. The so-called Brexit (British Exit) vote immediately plunged the country into a political and economic turmoil unprecedented in modern times.
Albeit the innumerable complexities that separately make each of these issues so contentious, there is one word that sums up the root issue connecting them.
That word is: integration.
Yes, that “old” word that had such explosive power in America for most of the 20th century, when it stood for the effort of Black Americans (and their allies among other Americans) to destroy the racist laws, policies and customs that prevented them from enjoying the full benefits of their American citizenship. After the Civil Rights Movement’s victories in the 1960s, it was succeeded by a host of other words and phrases that seemed to better fit the demographic changes, pressures and tensions new “out-groups” brought to the dynamics of American society.
That, however, doesn’t mean the word has lost its usefulness. For example, the continuing resistance of some to affirmative action is—no matter how much it’s cloaked in glib rhetoric about “color-blindness” and “fairness”—really just opposition to advancing racial integration beyond token numbers.
But the resistance of conservatives in America to resolving the crisis of undocumented immigration that’s been boiling here for nearly a decade, and a different immigration crisis that’s exploded in recent years in Britain and other Western European countries have raised a stark question that harks back to America’s Black-and-White racial crisis: Can the majority-White democracies of the West fully practice the tolerance the very idea of democracy preaches?
In fact, the controversy about “integration” now roiling America and Europe has a far broader context than did the 20th century American civil rights struggle—precisely because it’s provoked by a powerful worldwide integration movement.
That worldwide movement today is usually called by another name: globalization—and it’s overwhelmingly discussed as an economic force having to do with trade among nations, multinational companies’ business dealings in all corners of the globe and the movement of money on the world’s financial markets.
But the “integration” economists, politicians and pundits speak of when they refer to the world’s “integrated markets” is not just a matter of jobs and consumer and industrial goods and playing the money market. It’s a matter of a world’s worth of individuals and peoples, too, whose ability and desire and, for millions, dire need—provoked by the fact or the threat of war or reign of terror—to leave their native country is also a product of the push and pull of globalization.
In other words, just as the American Civil Rights Movement lowered the barriers to Black Americans’ (and other people of color, women as a group, and ultimately, LGBTQ Americans) participating more fully in American life, so globalization has done so on a worldwide scale.
For example, the creation of the European Union a half-century ago made it easier (and more profitable) for its member countries’ businesses to reach across national boundaries. It also gave those countries’ citizens the freedom to move and work in another member country without restriction.
In fact, globalization has unquestionably been a success by any measure. But globalization also has levied certain political, social and economic costs as the world transits from the old order to the new.
Three of those costs are a ferocious income inequality that has made the term “the 1 percent” a political epithet, the destruction of “old” jobs in many blue-collar and, as numerous professional-class workers are discovering, some white-collar fields, and an increased competition for jobs and a sense of economic and social instability among millions of people.
Those three factors have made it easy for charlatans and power-hungry politicians—such as Donald Trump in the U.S and some of the pro-Brexit politicians in Britain—to use the universal language of bigotry to persuade voters to give in to their worst impulses. They’ve fooled some into thinking that if they can just get rid of immigrants, put the “colored” in their place and impose the “old ways” of Whites-come-first on their corner of the world, they’ll be okay.
That’s a fool’s errand. But, unfortunately, you can fool some of the people all of the time.
(Lee A. Daniels, a former reporter for The Washington Post and the New York Times, is also a former editor of The National Urban League’s The State of Black America. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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