It was such an encouragement to see so many of you at the UK Black Lives Matter talk held on campus on 7th November, 2017. It suggested to me that many of you do genuinely want to understand structural racism and perhaps see what role you can play in undermining it.

But I have to say, I was pretty disappointed by your handling of the young white man who asked a question suggesting that black people are just naturally dumb.  

Your attempt to shush him was, to my mind, disgraceful. And I say this as a black man.

Sure, he dabbled in the white nationalist trope that Asians, as a group, seem to have a higher average IQ than say Whites (as a group) and Blacks (as a group).

Sure, he was obviously wrong. The idea of the average IQ of a group is weird on its face. It says nothing nearly as interesting about the individual members of the group as white supremacists think it does. Bill Gates (who has a net-worth of $90B) and I have an average net-worth of $45B. Does that mean I have a net-worth of anything close to that? The same applies to IQs.

 

Like one of the BLM activists said when asked how they deal with racism, “I pick my battles”. But it is I who picks them, not you.

 

Besides, assuming he were right the fact of the matter, the assumption typically hidden beneath such arguments, that the smarter you are the better you are, to put it nicely, needs proving.

The merits (or lack thereof) of his arguments aside, though, I found it incredibly disturbing that you tried to shush him. And I can’t help but wonder why.

Were you trying to protect those black women from him? Don’t you think they could handle it themselves? Don’t get me wrong, I can see why you would want to protect them. Racism is incredibly dehumanizing. I know this because I live it. But I decide to answer (or not answer) racist comments aimed at me without white people to help me. Like one of the BLM activists said when asked how they deal with racism, “I pick my battles”. But it is I who picks them, not you.

Were you virtue signaling to black people (“look at me, am good!”)? My advice, please stop clutching your pearls in the face of blatant racism. Much worse forms of racism have been perpetrated by pearl-clutching liberals. It doesn’t make you look as good as you think it does. What you need to do is use every such occasion to ask yourself serious questions about your own assumptions, your own beliefs, which may not be as viscerally repulsive, but may contribute to perpetuating white supremacy no less. Think of it this way: when you are in a lecture and someone’s phone rings, you don’t scream at them; you use the opportunity to check to make sure your own phone is muted.

Were you afraid you’d have your bubble, in which all is well in Britain, busted, and you might have to listen to his arguments and think about them? Now, let me ask you this, how would you respond to racist tropes against black and brown people if you do not know what they are to begin with? Imagine you were in a situation where a white supremacist challenges your liberal views on race and you’re unable to hold your own against them! You would have done black and brown people more harm than good, all because you shushed a young man who was about to offer you an opportunity to hear their arguments and prepare yourself for them.

Were you ashamed of him? Were you ashamed that a member of your race was disgracing you? That is a dangerous place to be in. You have nothing in common with him (I suppose). The fact that you are both white doesn’t mean you are responsible for anything he does. He is not your brother, or cousin. It would make sense for you to be ashamed of him if he were. Or could it be that lurking somewhere in your subconscious soul is believe in a basic tenet of racism, namely, that people of a race, simply because they belong to that race, share a kinship with each other? This is a good reason to interrogate your assumptions.

To sum up, I don’t believe you are all racist. I just think that you aren’t really sure what anti-racism means, because you haven’t spent a ton of time thinking about it. I know it’s fashionable to be anti-racist. I know you think you get extra brownie-points if you show how viscerally repulsed by racism you are. But do us all a favor and approach it with more seriousness than you showed at that amazing talk.

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Johnbosco Nwogbo

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  • There is a perverse and very circular logic at work in this somewhat patronising article. The young man who asked the question at the Black Lives meeting apparently suggested that Asians, on average, have a higher IQ than both whites and blacks. I suspect that he was talking through his hat – but to argue that the act of putting Asians at the top of the IQ tree is “a white nationalist trope” is several leagues beyond stupid.

    But let’s move on. The author clearly intends us to understand that the audience had a white supremacist in its midst who was then ‘shush-ed’ by other whites in the audience. They were wrong to do this, says the author. Why? Well, the one reason he gives that I wholeheartedly agree with is that shutting down offensive speech of any sort simply deprives you of the opportunity “to hear their arguments and prepare yourself for them.”

    The other reasons he gives are rather less laudable. He moves on to argue, in essence, that white people have no right to counter racist comments. It seems only black victims of racism are allowed to do that and – in Johnbosco’s case – he can do it “without white people to help me”, thank you very much. Put another way, It’s his victimhood and he will tell if, when and whether you can express an opinion or offer support.

    But there’s an even bigger reason why white people should stay quiet. The author generously says white people shouldn’t feel ashamed of a white supremacist because, after all, they are not responsible for anything he does. But note Johnbosco’s masterful use of the dangling and slyly accusatory parenthesis in the following sentence: “You have nothing in common with him (I suppose).”

    Ah yes, he supposes – and in doing so betrays his true point. The real reason white people should not confront racists is that – despite his earlier rote assertions to the contrary – they are probably racists too. They just just don’t know it. You whites, he opines, must take every opportunity to interrogate “your own assumptions, your own beliefs…[that] may contribute to perpetuating white supremacy.”

    And then he really gets into his stride: “…could it be that lurking somewhere in your subconscious soul is believe (sic) in a basic tenet of racism, namely, that people of a race, simply because they belong to that race, share a kinship with each other?”

    I couldn’t agree more. Judging people by the colour of their skin and lumping them into an otherwise undifferentiated blob – White, Black or Brown – is the very essence of racism. And yet that is precisely what this author has spent hundreds of words doing in his article. This kind of reductive, racialised and venomous discourse is beneath contempt and should have no place at Sussex University.

    • 1. Making the factual statement that Asians top of the IQ tree (to whatever extent that is a factual statement) is not “a white supremacist trope.” And, saying that it is would not necessarily be “several leagues beyond stupid,” but I could grant you that it would be mistaken. But that is absolutely not what I say in my essay. First, my essay is addressed to people that were present at the talk. You might even call it an open letter to them. I don’t know if you were there. But if you were, you’d have noticed that the statement by the young man was made in an apparent bid to throw doubt on the existence of any systemic and systematic oppression of black people. It was employed in such a way as to suggest: “if your bad outcomes are a result of systemic oppression, why isn’t this other minority (Asians) not getting similarly bad outcomes?” Now, anyone who follows the white supremacist movement knows that this is indeed a white supremacist trope.

      2. You are actually right, I am implicitly assuming that all (or, at least, a significant majority of) white people are complicit in white supremacy and racism. I understand that that is a controversial statement, and a model in the US apparently lost her modelling contract for saying it. But its being controversial doesn’t make it wrong. I am supposing that you believe that there is systemic and systematic oppression and/or victimization of black people in this country (and around the world). Well, how do you suppose such a systemic and systematic oppression could take place without the unconscious and/or implicit complicity of even well-meaning white folks?

      3. Of course saying this does not mean that white people who are unconsciously complicit in perpetuating white supremacy (black oppression and victimization) are malicious in doing so. The assumption that one is suggesting that they are malicious is what, I think, normally causes outrage. But that is not always what’s being suggested. Indeed my article seems to assume that the white people to whom it is address are not malicious, and would therefore be interested in evaluating their own assumptions about the world perchance they hold beliefs that contribute to the problem. I also assume they would be interested in challenging and changing those assumptions. That’s the very definition of good faith.

      4. All what I have said above assumes that your agreement with me that “Judging people by the colour of their skin and lumping them into an otherwise undifferentiated blob – White, Black or Brown – is the very essence of racism” means that you agree with me that black people are subjected to significant amounts of victimization on account of their race (I am also supposing that you believe racism exists). I did so in good faith. But if you don’t agree that such victimization exists (or that the only victimization that exists is the one in the minds of black people) then I don’t have much to say to you. Clearly, to believe that you could not possibly have been conscientious enough to read up on the issue.

      • So, to summarise:

        You ARE calling “all (or, at least, a significant majority) of white people” racists. Hiding behind vague and weasily words like ‘complicity’ and ‘systemic’ in no way reduces the staggeringly insulting and, indeed, racist impulse of your assertion.

        I stand by my own belief that “judging people by the colour of their skin and lumping them into an otherwise undifferentiated blob – White, Black or Brown – is the very essence of racism.” And, yes, I am happy to concede the all too obvious reality that black people are subjected to significant amounts of victimisation on account of their race.

        But please don’t mistake that for ‘agreement’ with the point of your article, which was to suggest that it’s never acceptable to reduce an entire community to the colour of their skin – unless that colour happens to be white. Inverted racism is racism nonetheless and it deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms because, like all reductive racist formulations, it is a lie.

        Worse, it polarises and separates potential allies in the fight against racism, you and me, on the basis of nothing more than our melanin levels. It also allows the debate to skirt around and ignore other vile and somewhat uncomfortable forms of racism such as the black-on-black (specifically Caribbean on African) violence that led to the death of Damilola Taylor, and to the simmering antipathy between some Asian and Caribbean communities that resulted in the Birmingham riots of 2005.

        These matters are too important to be left to virtue-signalling. There should certainly be no place at Sussex University for promoting a kind of grievance-based intellectual Apartheid that perpetuates racist thinking instead of challenging and changing it.