A civilised society relies on the relationships between its members. It is one where people are not valued differently just because of who they are, where hate is not given a chance.
My work at HOPE not hate has been dedicated to challenging those who seek to create division and hate in our society, limiting the reach of the organised far-right and challenging the populist blame game. Over the last few years, I’ve travelled all across the country to talk to people about immigration, to understand how we can change the debate on an issue that had become a central fault line, in a society divided by Brexit. What I found, from Lerwick to Penzance, Carlisle to Basildon, was that these conversations ended up being about so much more than immigration.
We talked about hopes and fears, housing, school, work, mundane things like taking the bins out knotted in with anger at injustice, a feeling of broken trust with the political system. In once thriving industrial and seaside towns that had experienced decades of substantial decline, often where anti-immigrant feeling was highest, people spoke with a sense of fear, loss and resentment that was utterly unfamiliar to those in, for example, prosperous university towns.
It was much harder for people to have hopeful, optimistic feelings towards others, where people had little hope for themselves. More often than not, people’s concerns about immigration were shaped by a broader story of dissatisfaction with the possibilities for their own lives.
These were often people whose expectations of opportunity and security felt thwarted. Perhaps just as any of us might, the people who felt the balance of fairness was tipped against them, that they weren’t listened to or understood, that their life was not in their own control, looked for someone to hold responsible. They looked to those they didn’t or couldn’t trust, and blamed the external powers who they held accountable for this loss.
But how much we think we are owed in life, how much we think we ought to be listened to, is seen through our own individual lenses, shaped by hierarchies of power, be they class, gender or race. In these conversations, genuine suffering caused by economic neglect and political disinterest was often intermingled with outdated feelings of entitlement and social privilege. An idea that immigrants were ‘jumping the queue’ often stemmed from feelings of a dislocation of status and a rejection of progressive social norms.
The scales on the balance of fairness are weighted inconsistently, and sometimes what people feel they are entitled to is neither fair nor just.
Hate groups and unscrupulous politicians exploit this gap between entitlement and fairness. They prey on genuine hardship and the frustrations that accompany it, whilst pandering to people’s worst instincts instead of challenging and working through them. They stoke fear of others as a way of offering simple explanations to complex issues.
For a society to be civil, we need to be able to have difficult conversations about unequal distributions of power while building structures that support and value everyone in society, structures that don’t hold people back. It is about addressing unfairness without demanding that unfairness be inflicted on someone else.
A civilised society is a society that is resistant to hate, and it is made out of finding hope, dignity and value in our social bonds, in working to build relationships that purposefully include everyone, and putting solidarity and unity as a goal above all else.
Rosie Carter – Senior Policy Officer, HOPE not hate