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On White Guilt and Social Justice : Put Human Rights First

RogerWhite guilt is understandable: but it should not stop us seeking Human Rights for all

European colonisation killed over a hundred million people. Industrialization allowed pillaging on a scale never before imagined. The Slave Trade, The Sykes-Picot Agreement, the partition of India and Pakistan, and the tortured histories of colonised countries impact to this day the lives of countless millions of people.

Today, the US has the highest per-capita prison population in the world, disproportionately black. People of colour face discrimination and harassment that most white people will never comprehend. Westerners live in prosperity while wars and terror and drone strikes tear through Africa and the Middle East.

© Chris Manno. Used with permission

Frustratingly, many don’t seem to understand the depths of the colonial legacy. Or if they say they do, they don’t take it seriously enough. Crazy, I know.

You know what else I think is crazy? Forgetting that in the West we have it pretty damn good. Mostly. We may be governed by lizard monsters funnelling wealth to the top 1% of the top 1% — but we have the means to take it back, if we can only get our acts together.

This is not helped by a section of social justice advocates arguing over ridiculous things.

Some are upset about Justin Bieber having dreadlocks — despite many black people, surely, not giving a flying toss about it.

Here is where I am going to be controversial.

If social justice activists insist that white people can’t choose whether or not to have dreadlocks, without that by itself being racist, then they’re going to look intolerant and petty.

If social justice activists claim that giving up “free speech” wouldn’t be so bad, but can’t link that to the regular hacking to death of secular bloggers in Bangladesh by Islamists and the murder of “blaspehmers” in Pakistan and even Glasgow, then they are going to look like apologists for religious oppression and murder.

If social justice activists campaign for the rights of Muslim women to wear the Hijab and the Niqab voluntarily, but can’t condemn women being forced to cover up by law in Islamic countries, then they are going to look as if they only care about feminism if it’s for women in the West.

If social justice activists pretend women have it worst in the West, while not being able to condemn the sexual mutilation of little girls because these little girls are not white, then they are going to look like they’ve lost sight of reason.

If social justice activists don’t realise that they have to actually engage with and persuade people who don’t agree with their politics and aims and objectives, and instead declare everyone else racists and transphobes and islamophobes, then they’re in danger of looking like a cult.

If social justice activists dismiss anyone who even asks questions about immigration as fascists, but can’t condemn political Islamism which calls for the death penalty for apostates and Sharia law, and if they allow those calling for secularism or a tolerant Islam to be labelled “traitors” in the war against the West, then they are going to look like collaborators with the most conservative, most regressive forms of religion.

And if social justice activists think the way to resolve arguments is to shout each other down, and enforce ever more stringent and exclusive rules of behaviour, and ban each other for disagreeing, and be unable to have a civil conversation outside of safe spaces, then they’re in danger of becoming an irrelevant circular firing squad.

As ‘recovering academic’ Rani Neutill asks in her must-read piece on trigger warnings:

Do students of a radical nature think that if they are seeing eye to eye with the most extreme conservative element of the population that they are doing something right? Fighting for something positive? Participating in something different?

The rights we have in the West for women, LGBTQ people and other minorities have been fought for long and hard. Let’s work to extend them to everyone.

But what do I know? Tell me what you think.

By , Media lawyer turned startup founder.


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