While the Western world gleefully cheers about the Ukrainians and their fight against the Russians and excuses Ukrainian perpetuation of racism, I would like to know how many within the West are also willing to share in the suffering as this tragic situation escalates to possible nuclear war. Putin will not stop until a much larger, stronger force stops him. Cheering for glory and honor of underdogs is for movies. It is like cheering for the Spartans at Thermopylae, mythologized in Greek folklore and more recently the movie The 300. Yes, the Greeks eventually won but at great cost well beyond that small force from Sparta (which, in reality included nearly quadruple the number of Spartans).
Honor culture, national identity, and racism are central themes here as Ukrainians block access to evacuations for people of color in their country; people they have relied upon to support their economy yet stand to suffer as much if not more than they will under Russian attacks. First, honor culture is when force must be met with a stronger force to counter real or perceived threats or slights to social status; one must always appear to be perceived as strong. It is a decidedly masculinity culture that leaves little room for mediation. Second, national identity in Europe has often been equivalent to a dominant ethnic identity – common to shared language, cultural, and/ or religious beliefs. Multiple studies using group dominance theory conclude group identity often parallels racist, xenophobic beliefs in which people of color and those who don’t share the salient characteristics of the dominant group are marginalized.
I want to be clear: unnecessary wars, war crimes committed against civilian populations, and people forced to suffer indignities are all wrong. At the same time, World Wars I and II both started with Western world hubris and unlearned lessons regarding racism (imperialism/colonialism), political and economic power dynamics (capitalism, socialism, and communism), and glorification of myths related to national identity (patriotism). As the West consumes crafted social media images deifying and cheering a David versus Goliath confrontation, bear in mind that World War III, which may have already started, could be observed as having the same political, cultural, and economic origins as the previous two world wars.
Democracy is imperiled if we allow autocrats to operate with impunity. At the same time, democracy still suffers from the cancer of racism which has clouded the ability to discern truth from fiction and has limited the ability to contextualize the present with history. To save democracy, we must not only confront the external threats but also treat the disease that is so intertwined and normalized within our daily interactions that we are hard pressed to acknowledge it’s existence. Democracy can only be saved by truth telling, reckoning, and reframing that which we think we already know. Not doing so reminds me of the line: “So, this is how democracy dies; with cheers and applause.”