Ethnic composition of countries has become more and more prevalent as time has gone on, in large part due to the increases immigration of people to different countries. The United States is a primary example of ethnic and cultural diversity in the modern world. However, the very ethnic diversity that countries such as the United States have built their future upon, is also the very reason that we see divisions within the countries that are based on race, gender, ethnicity, and class. The U.S. is built on its diversity and the different aspects of ethnicity and culture that have defined “the American dream”. As Jeb Bush himself stated “And we should be a welcoming nation. Our identity is not based on race or ethnicity, it’s based on a set of shared values. That’s American citizenship.” (4). Despite the promotion of ethnic diversity and inclusion in the United States and many other countries all across the world, we see numerous discriminatory practices conducted, or simply inability to coexist between different ethnic groups. Said Musa once stated that “Too often, customary practices and discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, race, religion, social status, or class are the root sources of pervasive inequality in many countries.” (4). We see this issue across the board in many first world countries. In the U.S. we see this issue in terms of racial and gender discrimination, while in Belgium, the other case that we will focus on, we see it in terms of ethnic divisions and the inability to intermingle and get along with one another. Ethnic diversity is a staple of modern society, and justifiably so, yet what can be done to remedy the divide that it so often causes within nations that leads to democratic backsliding?
The United States and Belgium are the two best cases to analyze in this particular issue because of their own issues with ethnic diversity and how they are still so different from one another, bringing about two different branches within the same issue. With the United States, the main problems arise in regard to racial tension within the country. This comes in the form of racism, police brutality and criminal justice issues with minorities, and in a more current case, a racist President (5). In many ways, racism is imbedded within the very structure and makeup of American society, whether it be in the schooling system, government representation, or life quality and job opportunities.
The perfect example of this divide between people of color and caucasians in the United States is that of the shooting of 17 year old Laquan McDonald. The shooting took place in 2014 and after a lengthy, almost four year long trial, the officer involved was found guilty. However the problem at the root was still prevalent as the relationship between the youth in Chicago, especially those in high crime neighborhoods is deeply fractured with the police as they do not feel protected by the cops (6). Furthermore, the basis of this mistrust is further solidified with the Department of Justice report that shows a history of brutality against minorities and people of color (6). When police brutality is focused and more likely to occur against people of color such as African-Americans or Latinos, then the system itself is promoting divisions on an ethnic level.
The American system, since the era of Lyndon B. Johnson has promoted “equality”, yet the system in place ignores the basic needs and calls the progress that has been made as an ideal, equal world. Lyndon B. Johnson stated in a commencement address at Howard University in 1965 that “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.” (7). American society has features of equality and equity, yet it fails to adhere to the true meaning of both. People of color have a tougher time gaining access to quality education, equal employment, and equal treatment on a welfare system (7). All of these issues of equity and equality based on ethnicity cause a fracture in the system as a whole, creating discontent that leads to backsliding and a distrust in the current system.
The same is the case in Belgium, although for slightly different reasons than that of the United States. The ethnicity problem in Belgium stems not from mistreatment of minorities or different ethnicities, but rather a lack of connection between the people of different ethnicities. Belgium is heavily divided based on ethnicity in terms of regions. The northernmost region of Belgium is Flemish, making up just over 57% of the Belgian population. The Walloons make up the southern region of Belgium, accounting for 32% of the population. The majority of the population is divided between North and South, Flemish and Walloon (1 and 2). This distinct ethnic divide within the country has led to constitutional reconstruction that shifted power to more regional levels, so that the North and South did not feel misrepresented by the national government.
Furthermore, interaction between the two regions is minimal and it is widely thought by many in Belgium that Belgium itself does not exist, only the Flanders and the Wallonia as two different communities. The difference in ethnicity and background seeps its ways into the daily lives of Belgians, whether it be at a local level, or a more national, political level (3). As a result of Belgium essentially being divided into two very distinct and extremely different regions, with little interaction and an uncommon language from one another, we see a weaker nation as a whole. The plethora of political parties that tailor themselves to only one of the regions or the other to gain power constantly move in and out of those very positions of power. Every election cycle members from a new party are elected whether it be the New Flemish Alliance, the Christian Democratic and Flemish, or the Movement for Reform, etc. These constant shifts in power, combined with a weak national government due to ethnic and linguistic unrest allow for democratic backsliding to make its way into the functioning system as a whole.
Although the U.S. and Belgium represent two very different case studies, the root issue that both of them are facing is the same. The remedy for these woes is not easily understandable, but it is there and it can be effective if executed properly. In the case of the United States, the inequality within the system needs to be addressed, which is especially tough considering the people that hold positions of power. Police brutality needs to be addressed and if minorities feel safer with the law enforcement and feel protected by them, then that issue will solve itself. It is all about establishing mutual trust between communities and the law enforcement within those communities (6). As for Belgium, the solution is simple, yet hard to execute. The two separate regions need to be incentivized to interact. Unless they intermingle, the issue at its core will not be resolved. These issues although caused by different factors, are reason for the same result: democratic backsliding. Both instill a sense of mistrust and misrepresentation that hurts the functionality and fluidity of the system which puts into question the solidity and effectiveness of the modern democratic world.
- (2019). Belgium: Ethnic Groups and Languages. Encylopaedia Brittanica.
- (2019). Belgium Population 2019. World Population Review.
- Traynor, Ian. (2010). The Language Divide At the heart of the Split That is Tearing Belgium Apart. The Guardian.
- 2019. Ethnicity Quotes. Brainy Quote.
- 2019. Structural Racism in America. Urban Institute.
- Okeke, Cameron. (2018). Guilty Verdicts are Not Enough to Restore Faith in Police. Urban Institute.
- Simms, Margaret. (2018). After 50 years of progress and protest, America is still a Land of Unequal Opportunity. Urban Institute.
- Belgium and USA Badges Background – Pile of Belgian and US Flag Buttons 3D Illustration. 123RF.