Patrick Benjamin expresses his opinion on recent events with Bahar Mustafa and writes in her defence.
White men seem to have a problem when someone like Bahar Mustafa shows any resistance to the societal favouritism that swings overwhelmingly in their favour; ‘we’re fine aren’t we? Let’s just keep things exactly as they are, and quell any attempt to increase social equality?’ The sad truth is, too many people are worried that their authority is being challenged.
This is exactly why white men should not feel oppressed or threatened by tweets such as #KillAllWhiteMen or even the casual use of #misandry, (which in Latin literally means man hate), because it’s a humorous, ironic play on the worryingly broad assumption that all feminists must be man haters, bent on castrating the entire male population so they can keep testicles on their mantelpieces. Unsurprisingly, this is not the case, and the LGBT community freely uses these terms to poke fun at those who think it is.
Surely Bahar shouldn’t have to face losing her job for tweeting a widely used contemporary jibe directed towards the misconceptions of feminism. Surely this kind of sharp commentary is exactly what the country needs in order to address the ignorance surrounding the issue. Unfortunately, frighteningly large amounts of people have missed the irony, including this guy below.
Bahar’s national scrutiny began when she organised a safe space meeting for non-binary and BME women. The definition of a safe space according to geekfeminism.wikia.com is, ‘a term for an area or forum where either a marginalised group are not supposed to face standard mainstream stereotypes and marginalisation, or in which a shared political or social viewpoint is required to participate in the space’. If you are a white man and were annoyed not to be invited to the BME women only meeting, you are misinformed. As a white male at a BME women’s meeting, you’d be as useful as a childless person at a group session for single parents, you aren’t part of that demographic and you do not experience the same problems.
Us white males do not live in a society where we have been historically oppressed and marginalised; as a result, we do not experience the same societal obstacles and prejudices that BME women do today. Safe spaces do not incite divide, they attempt to address a divide that already exists. To assume that a safe space for BME women is somehow anti-white is to assume that there is a level playing field, that all races and genders experience the same amount of prejudice and judgment. Given that this is simply not the case, the safe space organised for BME women only and Bahar’s defense of it cannot be seen as racist.
As for people who say ‘if it was the other way around, and white men held a meeting excluding BME women there would be an uproar’, this is true, because white men don’t experience the same level of sexism, racism and micro-aggression as minority groups and there would be no need to hold the meeting.
Many of the articles covering the events of the past month have been sensationalist, personally focused and haven’t engaged in any meaningful discussion surrounding the issues Bahar raises. Much of the criticism to which she’s been subjected centres on her personally. Much of it also makes under-informed judgments that entirely miss the point. It is a great shame that press on a national level seek to demonise individuals to push their own political agendas, and the individual focus on Bahar masks the wider collective problem and implementation of racism.
Many people’s working definition of racism is too simplistic and individualistic. To suggest that individual acts of discrimination based on skin colour are definitively racist is insensitive to the term ‘racism’ and all that it encompasses, which is anything from the slave trade, to disproportionate university admissions, to interpersonal acts of race-based favouritism in the classroom, to asylum seekers being left to drown. Racism is a social structure, a way of thinking, a subconscious preconception of values, ingrained through the historical presence of racial oppression and colonisation.
It appears that Goldsmiths SU operates a race and gender policy that is beyond the understanding of national press coverage, and by extension, their readers.
The simplistic, ahistorical definition of racism used by the anti – Bahar camp is fundamentally flawed. Perhaps we should adopt the definitions of author and social activist, bell hooks*, who chooses to avoid confusion by using the terms ‘white supremacy and patriarchy’ instead of ‘racism and sexism’, as they both refer to a structural imbalance whereby positions of power are held by white men.
I’ve heard arguments that because Goldsmiths University has a larger proportion of females in the student body than males, that this means they are the majority and should not feel oppressed. However, the ratio of those in power is what really matters, there are fewer women than men in senior positions at Goldsmiths, and therefore they are represented by a minority. With the lack of senior figures who hold their beliefs, it makes perfect sense that a safe space was created where they can discuss problems they have experienced on campus.
I end with a quote from the executive editor at Cracked.com that sums up the natural tendency toward simplistic definitions ‘The big flaw in humanity is that we always cling to short-term comfort over long-term prosperity (because we see ourselves as individuals, instead of part of a whole), and certain classes of people were benefiting from doing things the old way, even if humanity as a whole was not.’
* bell hooks chooses not to capitalise her own name