The Case of Goldsmiths Diversity Officer Print

Published: 15 June 2015

Country: UK

By Adil Yilmaz

Bahar_Mustafa_at_GoldsmithsGoldsmiths student diversity officer Bahar Mustafa has caused controversy after she advertised an event for BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) non-binary students only. A number of Goldsmiths students started a petition to remove Mustafa from her position, but failed. The authorities were called in to investigate possible hate speech against white men on Mustafa’s social media accounts.

Some of the UK mainstream media outlets blamed her for excluding white students and portrayed her as a racist pushing an anti-white agenda, actively discriminating against white male students. Mustafa responded saying that she cannot be a racist, because she is an ethnic minority woman.

 

In a public statement at a Student’s event, Mustafa explained: ‘There have been charges made against me that I am racist and sexist to 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 and therefore women of colour and minority gender cannot be racist or sexist, since we do not stand to benefit from such a system.’

 

The statement further agitated mostly right-wing mainstream media actors who attacked Mustafa for her ‘outrageous’ claims in articles with polemic titles such as ‘Student who Banned White Students From Diversity Event Insists I Can’t be Racist’.

The same media outlet offered a stage to one of the initiators of the petition against Mustafa. As a white male student, he expressed concerns over white people being discriminated against as the result of a ‘leftist political agenda’ pushed by ‘people like Mustafa’. The student claimed that violent radicals do not have a place in a Judeo-Christian society and reminded the interviewer of the ‘tremendous beauty [white men] have caused in the world […] despite the history of violence’, swiftly sweeping hundreds of years of colonialism and ongoing white oppression under the rug.

The Huffington Post and Daily Caller took part in the media campaign discrediting Mustafa’s character by questioning her ‘novel’ definition of racism. In their articles, they quoted definitions of racism from Meriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary, claiming that ‘dictionaries do not appear to agree with Mustafa’s novel definitions of sexism and racism […] None of these definitions makes any mention of ‘structures of privilege’’. The media outlets used these definitions to fortify their accusations of ‘reverse racism’ against Mustafa.  It is rather worrisome to see how major media outlets fail to gasp the complexity of social issues such as racism and sexism and opt for superficial research for articles in online dictionaries instead of reading up on substantial literature on the topics.

If the Huffington Post and Daily Caller had done so, they would have come across a more differential definition of racism that indeed recognises privilege (and the power resulting thereof) to be a crucial component, making an analytical distinction between racism and prejudice. Renowned critical race studies scholar Pat A. Bidol came up with a formula for racism in 1970: ‘Power + Prejudice=Racism’[1]. Scholar Judith H. Katz elaborated on this formula in her handbook for anti-racism training: ‘It is important to push for the understanding that racism is 'prejudice plus power' and therefore people of color cannot be racist against whites […] People of color can be prejudiced against whites but clearly do not have the power as a group to enforce that prejudice’[2].

Detaching power and privilege from the equation not only results in an inaccurate definition of racism, but it also reduces racism to individually based negative perceptions of particular racial groups, thereby making hierarchical societal relationships that systematically oppress BME populations invisible.

[1] Bidol, P. A. (1970) Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level, Detroit: New Perspectives on Race.

[2] Katz, J. H. (1978) White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-racism Training, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.