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The racism of some anti-racists

This is a cross-post from Tom Owolade

Certain assumptions pervade the thinking of particular progressives. They assume because they use the term ‘racist’ a lot, pander to critical race theorists, and lament the malignancy of western culture, they can’t be racist. They assume that using the term “Uncle Tom” – and its variants, including “house nigger” and “native informants” – is perfectly consistent with their credentials as anti-racists. They’re very wrong.

Because inherent in those terms is a sinister implication: ‘if you disagree with how I think a brown person should think, you’re still a nigger’ – a slave subordinate to the interests of white people. ‘If you disagree with me, you can’t be thinking for yourself’ is the message.

Notice how clunkily it removes agency – depersonalising and dehumanising in turn. Notice how its implications are both racist and arrogant. Racist in supposing that your racial identity should dictate how you think and what you think, rather than being contingent on those two factors. And arrogant in supposing that ‘only blacks who agree with me are doing so out of their own volition’. The idea that a person of colour can disagree without being conditioned to do so is too objectionable to these anti-racists.

The zealotry of these anti-racists means that they cannot, ironically, countenance a plural society – because brown people, believe it or not, can be progressives, conservatives, liberals and fascists. The beliefs of black and brown people do not derive from their identity like a linear well. They are human, and as human should be free to believe whatever they want without accusations of treachery.

Liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims are tarred with this foul brush. In a Bath university conference, organised by academics who believe the greatest threats to the world are neocons and Zionists (interesting), a speaker called ex-Muslims native informants because they have the temerity to oppose Islamic extremism more stridently than they oppose the West – the same West which, as a matter of fact, has given them the freedom to criticise Islamic extremism without facing death or jail. If, as a Muslim or ex-Muslim, you don’t hate the west and Israel, and don’t despise Sam Harris with equal fervour, the value of your opinion is greatly diminished. Maajid Nawaz found this to his great surprise.

The white author of a book and a litany of recent articles on Islam, Nathan Lean, mockedthe white Sam Harris for writing a book on Islam. This is idiotic enough. What makes it spectacularly idiotic – And Lean probably knows this – is that the book is written inconjunction with Maajid Nawaz, a practicing Muslim. Lean – understandably not trying to make himself look even more idiotic, but willing to risk looking like a twat – ignored Nawaz in his condemnation of Harris. Then, after some prompting, referred to Nawaz as Harris’ “Muslim validator“.

Now is probably a good time to mention that Lean’s book on Islam was a critique of the “Islamophobia industry“, therefore it is reasonable to suppose he considers himself staunchly anti-racist. But how can an anti-racist use the term “validator”, blithely denying a person’s agency, depersonalising their thoughts and mind and critical faculties, decoupling that individual from their humanity? The righteousness conferred by simply stating you’re an anti-racist doesn’t preclude you from saying racist shit, and shouldn’t absolve you from the opprobrium this merits. You have to demonstrate you’re an anti-racist, and Nathan Lean has failed miserably to do so.

Hari Kondabolu, a comedian from New York, started a hashtag called#bobbyjindalissowhite, in response to a speech given by the Louisiana governor where he said:

I’m done with all this talk about hyphenated Americans. We are not Indian-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans, rich Americans, or poor Americans – we are all Americans.

Kondabolu, apparently distraught by this shocking statement, released a set of tweets about the whiteness of Jindal which were apparently funny.

Like this one.

And this one.

And this one.

This one is well worthy of a gravestone I’m sure you’ll agree.

These tweets demonstrate that this form of racism is grounded in portraying minority views held by black and brown people as inauthentic and dissent as betrayal. This racism has been allowed to fester for too long and it is finally flowering, and it is foul and it is ugly. It carries with it the pernicious idea – which I thought was long buried – that individuals shouldn’t be individuals but effectively stereotypes: the west-hating Muslim, for example. Let’s bury it, consign it to where it belongs; the obscure conversations of a few obscure racists. First of all, let’s start by challenging it.