Here’s something I wrote on narratives around race, terrorism and Britishness for the Independent .
Archive for May, 2013
Today has kicked off in a spectacular way. This blog post I wrote a few days ago was cross posted on another blog (with my permission) and accompanied by a different headline and a picture (which I didn’t see until it was too late).
As a result, editors of a magazine that’s been linked to in the post threatened legal action to one of the editors on the site that hosted my work (their blog image was used in to illustrate the piece).
This of course, then raised more awareness of the piece. More people read it, and in this context the reaction to was it was pretty negative. Legal stuff aside (I can’t take responsibility for changes I didn’t make), I thought I would take the time to respond to criticisms I’ve received today. I somehow knew that the initially overwhelmingly positive reaction I’d received in response to this post was too good to be true. And I wanted to address these criticisms in a medium other than twitter, which generally isn’t conducive to discussion. I have to write this on my blog as it’s unlikely that I’ll be in the same room as all of the people talking about this any time soon.
The changed title on the cross post has led some critics to believe that I am implying that particular individuals are white supremacists. I hope this video from Jay Smooth clarifies my position on this. I also hope you can see past that and try to engage with the big problems regarding race that I raise in the post. They are everyone’s problem.
1. I agree with what you are saying, but white supremacy evokes visions of Nazis, bovver boots and skinheads. Aren’t the words you use a bit extreme?
I’m not really in to making the words I use more palatable to white people in order to pre-empt their upset, but I’m going to attempt to tackle this question because I think it is genuinely well-meaning and there is some engagement there. Perhaps white supremacy to some might evoke images of Nazi salutes; much like the word misogyny might evoke imagery of domestic violence and gang rape instead of street harassment and ignoring women. Arguably, the histories of the two oppressions are different. I use white supremacy in the very literal sense of favouring whiteness, Othering those who are not white and prioritising white interests. At its most pervasive, this supremacy posits itself as the ‘norm’, whilst all things associated with blackness is the Other. This also means the cultural invisibility of the interests of those who are not white. This is the only terminology I can use to describe structural racism. Again, I need to hammer home the point that racism, much like sexism, is structural. This leads into the institutional; which in turn leads into the interpersonal. Racism doesn’t exist in acts or even inherently in individuals per se, it’s the mood music of a society that is still plagued with endemic structural racism. In which some benefit from this mood music whilst others are crushed under the weight of it. White narratives are dominant. And there are always deliberate efforts to perpetuate this. Black narratives are rendered invisible, are ridiculed, or reviled (much like mine is slowly becoming). Feminists have the word ‘patriarchy’ to describe what they consider male supremacy. There is not yet one for white supremacy so the phrase will have to do for now. Edit: I must also note that if I did create a new word for it, it’s likely I’d be accused of academic elitism, incomprehensible language and so on. I really can’t win.
2. You are unreasonably making a big deal out of nothing/you are just trying to make a name for yourself
Though I kind of wish I could say this was the case, when I wrote the post in question I’d just experienced an interpersonal incident of racism that was a bit upsetting. Luckily it was quickly diffused, I had gone to bed, but I couldn’t go to sleep because I was thinking about it too much. I wrote that blog post in the dark on my phone, until I didn’t have any words left. What seems like an overreaction is often a straw on the camel’s back style response to a series of microaggressions. As for making a name for myself- I honestly don’t care if people know my name or not, I just hope they take my message seriously.
3. You have upset people/Sometimes they get things wrong/This is a ‘libellous implication of white supremacy.’
I’ve paraphrased the above comment in quotation marks from Vagenda’s twitter, of which they unblocked me today (they had blocked me many, many months ago when I first started to challenge racism in feminism). In my post, I linked to Vagenda’s article in which they constructed a lacklustre defence of a high profile white feminist in an attempt to absolve her from the criticism she was getting about a remark many considered racist. She was getting a lot of criticism at the time, some of which I agreed with, some of which I didn’t, and I think Vagenda tried to address it all in one article without actually addressing the offensive thing that was actually said. They didn’t engage with the topic of race and racism. This was an article in which they positioned critics such as myself as ‘armed with an MA in Gender Studies and a large vocabulary to match’, and of ‘fracturing feminist dialogue’ with ‘issues of race, class, religion, sexuality, politics and privilege’. I hope I’m not considered a narcissist by coming to the conclusion that I think this attempt to discredit critics were aimed at me in particular. The coincidental nature of this turn of events is almost uncanny- I’m currently studying for a part MA in Gender Studies alongside part time work, and I don’t hide this fact online. What I found distinctly unsettling about that post was its class and elitism implications. I’ve (somewhat precariously) taken out a loan to do this degree, my family isn’t wealthy, and although the BBC’s class calculator might describe me as an emergent service worker, I’m pretty much just bog standard working class. In terms of the implication of white supremacy, I think the bottom half of the original post and the beginning of this post addresses our conceptual clash on this. Edit: People often get things wrong when it comes to discussions about race and power. Sometimes they say ‘I fucked up’, they apologise, and everyone moves on. Sometimes they don’t do this.
Finally, I’m going to bring this post down to the very kernels of what we do know- society is structurally unequal, and power is often concentrated in the hands of white people much like it is often concentrated in the hands of men. With this is mind, when I write something that forces white people to critically assess how their actions and language contribute to this culture, I find it extremely disingenuous that Vagenda position themselves as the victims in this furore.
A conversation about race, racism, white privilege and white supremacy (all distinctly different things) is so desperately needed in the UK. I am reminded of an incident in 2012 when the conviction of three of Stephen Lawrence’s killers almost sparked that meaningful discussion, with an elevation of black voices, only for it to be derailed and hijacked by accusations of reverse racism against one of the country’s few black female MPs.
The post that I wrote has been shared a lot, has been cross posted on different blogs, and is evoking responses like this one, and this one, which I would never have imagined. I’m so glad my writing has the power to change minds, that it is playing a little part in questioning inherently unequal structures. I’m particularly overwhelmed by the number of people who’ve got in contact to say they resonate with the experiences I documented. I’m very relieved to know I’m not alone. But I have to reject narratives that attempt to divert this conversation into one of white victimhood.