This is an open letter to Ian Dunt, editor of politics.co.uk, in response to this article on identity politics from 24/05/2015.
Dear Ian Dunt,
Having read your article on identity politics and finding it riddled with ignorance I thought I would take it upon myself to dissect it, hoping this might offer you another perspective on racial issues.
Firstly, “address the rise of identity politics”? What do you mean? Surely it’s a good thing that people are active on issues regarding gender, sexuality, ability, etc? Surely it’s a good thing people are increasingly aware of their privileges? Identity politics doesn’t “kill solidarity”, identity politics kills oppression. Is your idea of “solidarity” allowing marginalised people to continue being oppressed? Does fighting oppression “kill solidarity”? A big part of solidarity is learning how to be a good ally, which includes knowing when it’s your turn to speak.
Your idea of “solidarity” appears to be what Martin Luther King referred to as “negative peace”, something that white liberals/moderates were guilty of wanting, due to being comfortable with their position in society, as opposed to genuine equity.
You feel it is “untenable” for Bahar to remain in her position for using the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #killallwhitemen. Since feminism’s inception, feminists have been labelled “man-haters”. This is a silencing tactic, so now feminists are reclaiming it. And what if feminists did hate men? Do they have the social and political power to replace patriarchy with matriarchy? Do hashtags such as #killallmen cause two men to die in the UK every week at the hands of their female partners, or for men to walk around with the constant fear of being sexually assaulted by women on public transport every day? This is tone policing, another silencing tactic. Maybe, instead of telling victims how to respond to their oppression, we ought to actually fight that oppression?
I’ll refer you to Jessica Valenti.
You claim people on the left “inject that political argument into the word ‘racism’ so it cannot be used any other way.” Racism is inherently political. And who originally defined racism in the dictionary? Did any people of colour have a say? You claim the left (and by implication people of colour) have “politicised” the definition. To you this is a “political view”, to people of colour this is daily life. The dictionary is not objective, neutral or unbiased. Your dictionary definition of racism creates a false equivalence, which not only undermines people of colour’s lived experiences, but neglects the power dynamics which are crucial to understanding and fighting racism. You accuse the left of trying to redefine the word. May I suggest you watch Roots before commenting on the definition of racism again? I would argue that the racism in Roots is the “original” meaning of the word.
You say the left wishes to “semantically disenfranchise those who have a different view.” When views perpetuate oppression they are not just views. This is not about whether someone prefers cats or dogs, this is about oppression people face every day. Your privilege allows you to see it as “just a view”. By making such statements you only further prove your ignorance.
We know a lot of (white) people are baffled when when they hear others say people of colour can’t be racist. Does that mean it’s people of colour’s duty to make white people understand? Decolonisation must be a conscious and continual process. Your lack of the word “white” would suggest you need to get stuck in to that process. White people have to accept that they have been conditioned to be racist (this does not mean they are bad people) if they want to get over their racism. This is by no means an easy process. You dismiss these issues as “silly semantic games”. To you they may be, but to those affected they are everyday life.
These ideas seem “silly” because they challenge the racist status quo. Of course the idea of fighting racism, racism which has been necessary for a society to function for centuries, will be ridiculed by that society. Of course it will be rejected seem “incomprehensible” by those who have to modify their attitudes and behaviours. Are you really in a position to be advising people of colour and their allies on how to fight racism?
While we’re on language, I needn’t explain why it’s a good thing it’s not so common to hear white people say they’re “going down the paki shop” anymore.
Your comments on mixed race relationships are where things really get icky:
You fail to acknowledge the power dynamics behind what you seem to consider only as “vitriol”, without examining what that vitriol is. Can you blame marginalised people for being resentful of the social and political power the privileged have over them? When privileged people lump marginalised people together it’s oppression, when marginalised people lump privileged people together it’s a survival tactic. There is a very big difference.
Many older people of colour have only recently started having positive experiences with white people, after generations of oppression. The nicest, most trustworthy white people in centuries exist today. Can you see why some families might be overprotective?
“Ethnic minority women will often have fathers who angrily tell them not to date anyone who is white.”
“Will often have fathers”? That’s very careless writing at best. Firstly, as I mentioned above, there are very understandable reasons why some people of colour are afraid of white people. The parents of an East Asian woman might be wary their daughter’s white boyfriend has “yellow fever” and/or believes the stereotype of the submissive/subservient East Asian woman. We only need to look at the popularity of mail order brides and sex tourism in East and South East Asia to see this is a very legitimate concern. I’m not saying this is right, but surely you can empathise, no? One only needs to overhear conversations about women of colour by white men in pubs or on public transport, to be aware of how they are racially fetishised in our society.
“If they’re Asian, they usually don’t like them being black either. Let’s call that what it is: racism.”
“Usually”? Like it’s a worse problem in the Asian community than in the white community? You’re basing this on what, exactly? That sounds like quite a racist assertion to me. Yes, anti-blackness exists among all races and ethnicities – including the black community. This is a product of white supremacy. When non-black immigrants of colour settle in predominantly white countries, despite the racism they face, many are grateful for one thing: at least they’re not black! Many assimilate by internalising this racism: “When in Rome!” So please, don’t try pinning this problem on the Asian community, because its roots are in white supremacy. I am not saying it’s right, I am not saying that non-black people of colour shouldn’t be held accountable for their own anti-black racism, but I am calling out and asking that you dig a little deeper.
“Let’s call blocking white people from political meetings what it is too: racism.”
No, blocking white people and men from meetings specifically dealing with issues related to being a woman or non-binary person of colour is not racism or sexism, it’s a way of ensuring that those people have their voices heard and can talk openly with other people who will understand their issues. That is not to say that white people should not be included in any conversation about racism, but they do not need to be in all of them. This happened to be one of them.
No one’s race has “been given primacy over the content of one’s character”, but the content of their words will be largely influenced by their race, because their race will influence their life experiences. So how dare you label it a “highly capitalistic and right-wing vision of humanity”. Call it that when (almost exclusively) white people stop chanting “all lives matter” and stop trying to justify police violence on black people in clearly racist incidents. This is a common misinterpretation of Martin Luther King Jr. (almost exclusively) from white people, usually to justify a “colourblind” vision of the world.
Your lack of understanding on racial issues is patently clear when you misinterpret Yomi Adejoke’s quote. Hopefully you will realise this when you read up on anti-racism theory some more. Solidarity is not about everyone being involved in every conversation, it’s about allies knowing how to be good allies.
It appears you are more concerned with justifying your own colonial attitudes we are all conditioned to have in this country, than actually admitting to yourself that maybe you don’t understand these issues, and that you ought to examine the role you play in white supremacy and patriarchy.
Throughout your article you have proven why it was necessary for Bahar Mustafa to hold a meeting for women and non-binary people of colour only. The reason is that entitled privileged people turn up, demanding to have a say in their issues, believing they are putting forward ideas and imparting wisdom no other privileged people have before. Marginalised people are fed up having to deal with privileged people undermining their lived experiences and trying to turn them into a debate, demanding to be educated, simply because they have not educated themselves and because they lack empathy.
If you were a GCSE chemistry student, would you have any business being in a lecture for undergraduates? Inevitably you would waste a lot of time by trying to cover issues the rest of the class is well beyond. Marginalised people have already been held back enough.
We accept exclusive clubs in all other sections of society, so why is it such a big problem when women and non-binary people of colour want some space?
Throughout your article you have been speaking as though you know best, without considering that maybe you just don’t get it. This is the very same mentality that justifies colonialism. May I suggest you read Rudyard Kipling’s the White Man’s Burden? Can you not see why people of colour are wary of white people “having a say” in their issues?
May also I recommend you check out the work of Jayne Elliott – a white woman who is fully aware of her privilege and has used it not to tell people of colour how they should deal with racism, but to tell white people how to deal with their own racism. You see, Ian, that is the problem, you have been lecturing people of colour and their allies on racism, without first checking your privilege.