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.