Friday, 1 May 2015

The astonishingly rapid descent of The Independent newspaper into tabloid trivia and anti-intellectualism – previously the domain of The Daily Mail – makes it difficult to critique without falling into their trap. By taking a minor incident too seriously, The Independent distorts wider issues, encouraging dumbing down and confirming the public distrust of media and, well, ideas in general.

But I'll bite. Let's look at this article...

Goldsmiths Students' Union diversity officer explains she cannot be racist or sexist because she is an ethnic minority woman

Yes, okay. Here we go. Incidentally, the advert surrounding this article is for 'face-fillers'. I think that is a cosmetic thing for women. There are a a bunch of women saying how face-fillers are really cool... the advertising algorithm strikes again. A person reading about a feminist woman must want cosmetic surgery.

Anyway, to the article! I'm not sure who to condemn first: the diversity officer who misuses post-colonial theory to defend her reasonable request, or the journalist who decided that this was an issue worth publishing. To be clear, the story is: student has slightly confused ideas about prejudice, and said something to her fellow students that could be seen as a little rude.

But since The Independent thinks this is serious, let's examine the diversity officer's rampage of political correctness gone mad.

Step one: Bahar Mustafa sets up an event for Black and Ethnic Minority Students.

Step two: She asks white men not to attend 'with a winky face emoji,' as The Independent's po-faced prose puts it.

I don't see a problem here at all. It's for BME students. She talks about it being a non-binary event, The Independent's reporting doesn't make it clear whether white women would have been welcome, and the backlash against her is neither attributed to anyone nor explained. Just says she was accused of being sexist and racist against white men.

Okay, I know the post of diversity officer will always wind up certain people. I know the idea is political correctness gone mad but... can't people organise events and decide who gets to come? If Mustafa wants to invite any creed, any colour, any group, she can. And if I happen to be excluded from her invite, and I don't like it, why don't I have my own party? I could do a winky emoji and tell her she can't come round to my house that night.

So, roughly, I support her right to do this, say this, and think whoever turned it into a media storm is a bit... uptight and silly.

Step three: Mustafa defends her position, using a particular argument about the nature of racism that does not really defend her behaviour, but makes her seem to be a self-righteous snob. And she hands the kind of people who like to talk about political correctness gone mad a massive stick to beat her with.

I, an ethnic minority woman, cannot be racist or sexist towards white men, because racism and sexism describes structures of privilege based on race and gender.
Yes, that is a definition of racism and sexism. But it isn't the only one accepted as valid. An alternative would be prejudiced judgement of an individual's qualities on the colour of their skin, or sexual identity. That's the one Mustafa is being accused of, and that is the one she could answer directly.

"And therefore women of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist because we do not stand to benefit from such a system.

"In order for our actions to be deemed racist or sexist, the current system would have to be one that enables only people of colour and women to benefit economically and socially on such a large scale and to the systematic exclusion of white people and men, who for the past 400 years would have to have been subjected to block colonisation.”

This is where I disagree - although not with the substance of her claims, only whether they are a relevant defence of her decision, and whether she is trying to establish her intellectual credentials rather than clarifying her decision. 

This opens up an entire new front in the discussion, one that can be easily dismissed by those seeking to attack anti-racism and anti-sexism. As I mention every single time I thought about Jim Murphy, freedom of speech is not being taken away from someone who gets to complain about it on television, and privilege includes getting your words heard and spread across the media

Sadly, Mustafa went on to use a 'kill all white men' tag on Twitter - she said it was a in-joke, once again demonstrating a pretty poor grasp of public argument- making any defence of her position even more difficult. 

She had the right to decide who turns up to her events - why didn't she just say that? Why did she try to rationalise her decision within the context of a post-colonial theory that is popular, and valid, within wider academic and political contexts, but comes across here as being, well, arrogant and privileged. And maybe I ought to not have an opinion, being pretty privileged myself, eh?

here is another opinion on this.

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