A guest post by Chebs Guevara
In an almost laughable online controversy that has gathered momentum in the last few weeks, Bahar Mustafa – Goldsmith’s Diversity Officer –has been subject to criticism, hostility, a petition calling for her removal and even demands for her to be arrested after tweeting familiar-to-many slogans such as “kill all white men” and requesting that the aforementioned (still alive) white men do not make their presence felt at meetings intended for women and non-binary people of colour.
So far, so standard – but it’s not just your usual opportunistic and unapologetic racists and misogynists that are taking this and running with it. Men on the left have also spied an opportunity to take a kick at the much-maligned “identity politics” of intersectionality – a word initially used by Kimberlé Crenshaw that describes the ways multiple oppressions can overlap and interact with one another – and all those that would dare to organise without their imposed ~solidarity.
As a trade union activist I will never understand how people can completely comprehend the need for workers to organise in a space free from employers, yet bristle at the prospect of other marginalised groups doing the equivalent. No matter how sound we find you as a white guy in Spoons at the weekend, your interests as a dominant group can and are likely to run contrary to those experiencing oppression on the grounds of gender and/or race who are seeking to reclaim power from this dominant group. The dynamics of a space that you feature in are likely to reproduce the inequalities we see in society at large. It’s basic stuff.
It is not only Bahar Mustafa’s integrity as an activist that has been called into question, but also her professionalism -ooooh! I could go into how helpful it is for activists to adhere to the PR-focused, HR-managed structures of corporate life but hopefully to most it’s head-bangingly obvious that this is a daft criticism founded on tone policing and respectability politics that can only weaken and co-opt the struggle. Again, for people who would love to relieve Bahar of her duties and her dignity at any opportunity –those who are invested in opposing the struggle she represents – this approach is unsurprising, however if you consider yourself on the left and are making the same arguments I’d suggest an urgent re-evaluation (or relocation, to the bin).
“Kill all white men” as an internet meme has not made white men more at risk of feminist vigilante violence. No sensible man would argue that he feels at risk of this. The purpose of throwaway slogans like it, as far as I can see, are to provide a little humour and distance when the truth of the situation is too dire to stand close to. Women are being killed by men, in terrifying numbers. When yet another example of the patriarchy custard pie-ing us arises, we can sigh and say “kill all men” and roll our eyes… or we can let ourselves be overcome on a routine basis by the everyday dehumanisation and death that we actually, literally face.
Now let’s address false equivalences. If you said “kill all women” that wouldn’t be funny – you’re right – because of what I have just explained. If a white women – like me – tweeted “kill all black men” that would also be unacceptable because of our privilege and complicity in a racist system which sees black men (and women and non-binary people) at increased risk of violence. These ideas are not alien to the left and to pretend otherwise is to be intentionally obtuse. When we say “eat the rich” we don’t get a barbecue started, and we understand that a rich person saying “starve the homeless” would have a significantly different vibe, leaving a much sourer taste than even a chargrilled David Cameron.
The usual left unity argument is that how are white men supposed to stand in solidarity with a movement which excludes them from events and even makes them the butt of a joke once in a while. Well if your solidarity is predicated on being made to feel comfortable in another’s struggle it is domination disguised as benevolence. Unity on the left should not depend on the marginalised compromising their safety, their self-care and their struggle. White people should feel uncomfortable in movements against racism. Men should feel uncomfortable in feminist spaces. Because only when you take this discomfort, analyse its origin and fully engage with your own feelings of entitlement can you ever contribute in a meaningful way. Only then will your life be potentially spared when we finally kill all white men.