Thursday, March 8, 2012

Are liberals tolerant?

bradfordAfter a hard day, I zoned out with Channel 4’s Make Bradford British last night.  It’s a simple premise: go to a town with deeply divided ethnic communities (in this case, Bradford, England), select one strident representative from each major group, and lock them up together in each other’s houses for a few days.  Add cameras; hope for conflict.

It’s low-quality fare, edited to heighten the narratives and calculated to tweak viewer’s prejudices.  Still, there were some interesting takeaways beneath it all.

Self-proclaimed liberal Maura was paired with middle-eastern traditionalist Mohammed.  Within a day, the two had humiliated one another and Mohammed left the house, then the show.  The flash point was Maura’s insistence that he should share the housework with his wife, to the point of putting Mohammed into an apron for encouragement. “Some behaviors are just unacceptable,” she shrugged.

Is that a liberal attitude?

I would have said that liberals are, by definition, more tolerant than conservatives.  (Take the Dutch: famously liberal, actively tolerant.)  But if women are being cast into limited roles, children kept out of school, daughters placed into arranged marriages, all based on religion and tradition, would I be tolerant?

No, I would feel strongly that there should be fairness and equality, opportunity and compassion.  I might, indeed, be moved to intervene to achieve that.

The bright lines are still there, we are just differently intolerant?  Disturbing thought.

test resultEqually troubling was the show’s dogged insistence on everyone “Being British”.  In some sense, isn’t that jut replacing one ethnic identity with another?  Why not “becoming a community” or “understanding one another as people”?  I tried juxtaposing the show’s themes onto neighborhoods in Chicago: would there (could there) have been the same emphasis on finding common ground as Americans?

I think that we interpret the melting pot in a different way, traditions blending and strengthening, rather than being subsumed to some dominant identity.

But, especially given the tenor of politics these days, I may be idealistic: tolerance doesn’t’ seem to work as easily in the US or the Netherlands as it once did.

Honestly, the next night I went to hear a folk singer instead.


Anonymous said...

In these things, tactics matter, I think. The apron was unnecessary and if it had been a guy trying to persuade Mohamed, he might have been more receptive to the message. Having said that, history proves that integration is and always has been a generational thing and I think efforts to speed the process up remain fairly marginal. Many 17th-century Huguenots never learned to speak Dutch. Their kids did.
Interestingly, identifying as British is actually more popular among ethnic minorities than among white Brits, who tend to see themselves as English, Welsh or Scottish rather than British. ( p. 4 (the text, not the graph).

Frank, Leiden

Dave Hampton said...

Hi, Frank, and many thanks for your thoughtful comment! I agree that the apron was a thumb in the eye, as was the lesson in proper positioning of silverware (a British friend tells me that it was supposed to be ironic but I would have been indignant)

I'll give the report a read, thanks for the link!