A belief that one’s own racial or ethnic group is superior, or that other such groups represent a threat to one’s cultural identity, racial integrity, or economic well-being; (also) a belief that the members of different racial or ethnic groups possess specific characteristics, abilities, or qualities, which can be compared and evaluated. Hence: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against people of other racial or ethnic groups (or, more widely, of other nationalities), esp. based on such beliefs.
You might assume that the welfare and diversity officer at Goldsmith’s University student’s union would understand the definition of racism. Yet it was a comprehensive misunderstanding of this definition that landed Bahar Mustafa in trouble.
The 28-year-old from Edmonton, north-east London, was set to appear at Bromley magistrates court on 5 November to face two charges, the first, “sending a communication conveying a threatening message”, and the second, “sending a grossly offensive message via a public communication network”, both between 10 November 2014 and 31 May 2015.
Luckily for Mustafa, police confirmed on Tuesday that the case has been discontinued. The charges were widely criticised by free-speech groups in a social media campaign using the hashtag #IStandWithBaharMustafa when the charges were first announced in October.
Mustafa was initially accused of racism for asking white men not to attend a students’ union meeting intended for ethnic minority women and non-binary attendees (in other words, those that do describe themselves as male or female).
However, she was then separately accused of using the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen on Twitter. Her account has since been deleted.
You would be forgiven for thinking this story is a piece of sensationalism. After all, creating a safe space at a meeting intended for minorities is understandable, even admirable.
Where the story took a really disappointing turn was in Mustafa’s reaction to the charges. After many reports in the press, Mustafa read the following statement to students at Goldsmiths:
“There have been charges laid against me that I am racist and sexist towards white men. I, an ethnic minority woman, cannot be racist or sexist towards white men, because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender. Therefore, women of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist, since we do not stand to benefit from such a system.”
Of course, no one can successfully argue that white men aren’t privileged, socially speaking. It’s a disturbing and persistent Western problem: white males have a disproportionate amount of power and influence, which they in turn use to maintain their white, phallic ruling class.
Studies into this phenomenon have been plentiful. A 2009 Harvard study found that African-American applicants with no criminal record were offered jobs at a rate as low as white applicants who did have criminal records.
More damningly, a 2003 study found that identical CVs were roughly 50 percent more likely to result in an interview if the applicant’s name was stereotypically white.
However, despite these studies, the above Oxford definition proves that Mustafa’s statement is full of holes: you can, in fact, be racist towards anyone.
Firstly, you are not incapable of prejudice just because you do not stand to benefit from a system. Take the example of The Femitheist manifesto, which posits that the global male population should be reduced by 90 percent through a mixture “manipulating gender or sex, prenatal sex discernment” and “sex-selective abortions”.
I firmly believe in a woman’s right to chose. But having abortions solely to prevent males being born? That’s undeniably sexist discrimination. Yet people support the idea.
Secondly, an attack does not lose its racial motivation just because you aren’t privileged. This is an objective fact: if, hypothetically, a woman of colour murders a white male because, in her own words, she “wants to kill all white men”, the murder would be racially motivated.
But perhaps the most disappointing thing about Mustafa’s statement is that it perpetuates binaries.
I class myself as an intersection feminist, someone who believes that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary:
“The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender […] creat[es] overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
I strongly believe that one prejudice leads to another. This holds true in real-life: the work of intersectional feminists such as Patricia Hill Collins have observed that where we find misogyny in society, we tend to also find racism and homophobia.
As an intersectional feminist, I cringe when I read statements like Mustafa’s. Even as a joke, #KillAllWhiteMen falls under racism defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against people of other racial or ethnic groups.”
Equality won’t be achieved by telling anyone who isn’t a white man that their words and actions can never be racist or sexist. As the idiom goes, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
In order to rid the world of prejudice we must tackle it in all it’s forms – not, as Mustafa believes, excuse it in certain circumstances.
Image Credit – Bahar Mustafa by unknown