What are some ways in which people identify themselves?
Language and region are not the only features that give a distinct identity to people. Sometimes, people also identify themselves and relate with others on the basis of their physical appearance, class, religion, gender, caste, tribe, etc.
A Story from Mexico Olympics
Two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City's Medal Ceremony.
They had won gold and bronze, respectively. They attempted to raise international awareness of racial discrimination in the United States with this gesture. The raised clenched fists and black gloves were supposed to represent Black Power.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos had to return their medals because the International Olympic Association held both of them guilty of violating the Olympic spirit by making a political statement.
The silver medallist, white Australian athlete, Peter Norman, wore a human rights badge on his shirt during the ceremony to show his support to the two Americans.
They succeeded in gaining international attention for the Civil Rights Movement in the US. They were also honored by their alma mater - San Jose State University by installing of their statue in the University campus.
Origins of social differences - Social differences
Social differences based on accident of birth
We don't choose to be a part of our community. We are a part of it because we were born into it. In our daily lives, we encounter social differences based on chance of birth.
Differences are based on our choices
Some of the variations are the result of our choices. For example, Atheists are a group of people who do not believe in God. They have no faith in God or any religion. Some people choose to practise a religion other than their birth religion. Most of us choose to study a subject that we are passionate about and work in a field where we can excel. All of this leads to the formation of social groups based on our preferences.
Social differences divide similar people from one another, but they also unite very different people. People belonging to different social groups share differences and similarities cutting across the boundaries of their groups
Overlapping and cross-cutting differences
Social division takes place when some social difference overlaps with other differences.
If social differences cross cut one another, it is difficult to pit one group of people against the other. It means that groups that share a common interest on one issue are likely to be in different sides on a different issue.
Overlapping Social Differences
Deep social divisions and tensions can result from overlapping social differences. When social differences overlap, one becomes more important than the other, and people begin to feel as if they belong to a different community.
In Northern Ireland, for example, class and religion are intertwined. If you're Catholic, you're probably poor and have a history of discrimination. This overlapping of differnces has lead to conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.
Cross-cutting of Social Difference
It's easier to accommodate cross-cutting social differences. Cross-cutting occurs when groups with a common interest on one issue are on opposing sides on other issues.
In the Netherlands, for example, class and religion tend to intersect. Protestants and Catholics are about equally likely to be poor or wealthy. In the Netherlands, there are no conflicts.
What are the three determinants of outcomes of social divisions?
Three factors are crucial in deciding the outcome of politics of social divisions.
1. How people perceive their identities
It's difficult to accommodate people who see their identities in exclusive terms. It was difficult to reconcile Northern Ireland's differences as long as people saw themselves as either Catholic or Protestant. It is simpler if identities complement national identities. This aids in the group's cohesiveness.
2. How political leaders raise demands of any community
It is easier to meet demands that are within the constitutional framework and do not jeopardise the well-being of another community. The demand for "only Sinhala" came at the expense of the Tamil community's interests and identity in Sri Lanka.
3. How Government reacts to demands of different groups
Social divisions become less dangerous for a country if the rulers are willing to share power and accommodate the reasonable demands of minority communities, as in Belgium.
If, as in Sri Lanka, the demand is suppressed in the name of national unity, the end result is quite the opposite. Such forced integration attempts sow the seeds of disintegration.