Reverse racism does not exist

Elsa Maishman 21 May 2015

A petition calling for the dismissal of Goldsmiths Student Union’s Welfare and Diversity Officer, Bahar Mustafa, from both her role and from the continuation of her degree has generated a vast division of opinions after receiving 1500 signatures. Mustafa has been branded a ‘racist misandrist’ online following her attempts to hold a meeting for BME women and non-binary individuals, whilst explicitly excluding those who are white and/or male, and also following a series of tweets from her official Goldsmiths’ twitter account such as “#killallwhitemen” and labelling one individual as “white trash”.

First and foremost, I stand by the proposal that Mustafa should have her title as Diversity Officer removed. One issue with her behaviour which has – worryingly – not been met with overwhelming protestation, is her use of the phrase “white trash” – a classist slur, originating in the early 1800s as a pejorative against white individuals from less fortunate socioeconomic backgrounds. As a self-proclaimed intersectional feminist and a representative of oppressed groups, Mustafa should be more than aware of how harmful this deprecatory language can be, and to use it on an official twitter account associated with Goldsmiths University is, quite frankly, precipitous. As for those who reprimand her exclusion of white males from a campus-based event – yes, there are certainly benefits to including those from privileged groups in discussions about oppression and praising their support as allies, such as gaining their cooperation and support in the feminist movement – however, this is a problematic misconception of feminist responsibilities.

Feminists have no obligation to educate ignorant individuals who are unaware of their own privilege. They are within their rights to withdraw from debates, conversations or arguments with those whom they perceive as privileged. When Mustafa called for a meeting for BME women and non-binary people only, she was not inciting racial hatred. She was not inciting misandry. She was providing a safe space for those from oppressed groups to discuss their (perhaps traumatic) experiences without being confronted with the presence of a member of that oppressive group. As Diversity Officer, it is likely that her role is centred on representing those from oppressed groups and ensuring that their voices are heard – something that white, cis males have very little problem with.

I find arguments that Mustafa is a ‘racist misandrist’ particularly tedious. A BME woman cannot, by definition, be racist. Racism is a force of institutionalised, hegemonic and ideological inequality, established through the combination of privilege and power – therefore, it is illogical to suggest that ‘reverse-racism’ exists, as white people stand to benefit from systemic racism and are not oppressed by it. The arguable discrimination that manifested itself in the form of Mustafa’s tweets is in no way racist, but in fact simply demonstrative of an anger towards those who perpetuate and benefit from a racist system – she was not advocating any form of racial inequality, but rather, expressing extreme frustration. This by no means justifies Mustafa’s actions and sentiments, and I support the movement to remove her from her post as Diversity Officer. However, I ask individuals who have jumped to demand that she also be removed from her degree and university (which will subsequently have detrimental impacts on her future careers and job opportunities) to consider their own privilege, what could have possibly moved a young woman of ethnic minority to vent this frustration towards an oppressive group, and what they could possibly do to change this perception of such a group – and do it.

 

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below, or email comment@tcs.cam.ac.uk to pitch a response.