For a long time the human factory farm that we call the State education system here in the UK has been doing an awful job of teaching people how to think. So the recent scandal at my old university involving the current Student Union Welfare and Diversity Officer, Ms Bahar Mustafa, is not particularly surprising, although it is quite disturbing.
Mustafa, 27, got into rather a lot of hot water last week when she requested that white people and men do not attend an event on ‘diversifying the curriculum’. Her comments caused such controversy that a mainstream London newspaper picked up on the story, which eventually made its way to my Facebook feed.
She’s had a great deal of angry criticism from thousands of people on the web, but no one it seems has addressed the incoherent reasoning in her statement of refutation, which I would argue is what we should be most concerned about. But before we address her arguments it’s important to make the following point.
Setting aside for a moment the perversity of a university’s Officer of diversity insisting on a lack of it at an event concerned with it, discrimination per se (of all kinds) is not in the same ethical category as theft or murder. This is because discrimination is not an action that prevents others from peacefully using their own person or property as they wish, which means it is not an act that should be prevented by the legal use of force (because to do so would be to contradict and violate moral and legal laws against the use of violence). This means discrimination, wherever it is morally objected to, should be responded to in peaceful ways, such as protesting, boycotting etc.
Given that the event was apparently organised by someone else, Mustafa may or may not even have had the ‘authority’ to say who could come to the event, let alone insist white men didn’t come, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that she did and that many students at the university considered this to be morally wrong, and to be unacceptable behaviour from the Welfare and Diversity Officer.
Here’s what Mustafa said in her defence:
“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.”
“Reverse racism and reverse sexism are not real. “We will not be silenced; we are militant. The world is not ready for minorities to challenge the status quo, but resistance to our resistance is futile.”
There’s a video of her statement on YouTube. At the end she is applauded by a group of people (mostly women) standing in solidarity behind her, and a few of them rub her back in a congratulatory manner as if she’s just done something incredibly brave. It’s all rather self-aggrandizing, and clearly she seemed to enjoy the attention.
Unfortunately for Mustafa, her own actions are all the reason and evidence we need to refute her argument that she, as an ethnic minority woman, cannot be racist – and her broader argument in the same vein.
All humans engage in purposeful action in order to exchange their current situation for one they feel is more desirable or beneficial. More specifically humans employ means according to ideas to accomplish ends. This is a self-evident or axiomatic truth just like the statement ‘I am alive’. Any attempt to refute it proves it to be true. On this sound premise we construct our argument.
Racism and sexism are ideas. Means, such as discrimination, are employed according to these ideas in order to accomplish an end which the acting individual feels is more desirable or beneficial – i.e. non-interaction with a particular sex or race, or the segregation of races and sexes.
Mustafa, an ethnic minority woman, employed the means of discrimination according to her ideas (whatever they were) in an attempt to accomplish the end of having no white or male attendees at the event. She would not have pursued this course of action if she believed that it would not be beneficial to her or others. If she had accomplished her desired end, then she would, by definition, have benefited – because all action is aimed at benefit.
Therefore, her argument that ethnic minority women and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist is false (assuming that her definition of benefit is the standard one – i.e. well-being, advantage or good).
Through basic coherent reasoning we’ve shown that it is possible for anyone to act in a racist or sexist manner, regardless of their ethnicity or gender. Therefore it is possible for minority women and minority genders to be racist and sexist towards white people and men – and indeed anyone.
There’s another way to look at her argument and expose its flaws. To believe that minority women and genders cannot be racist or sexist is a racist and sexist (or gender-ist) belief itself, because it’s based on the false premise that people from these groups possess characteristics or abilities that make them unique or superior to other groups. Which is precisely what racism and sexism is.
Mustafa effectively stated that: “I cannot be racist or sexist because my ethnicity and sex make it impossible.” But it’s clearly ridiculous to claim that skin colour and gender make it impossible for someone to perform the action of discrimination. The intellectual equivalent of believing that black people can’t do hand stands or that women can’t drive cars.
If Mustafa is anything to go by, then goodness knows how often this kind of dogmatic, divisive and shameful behaviour towards ‘white people’ and men is happening in universities across the UK – all under the banner of diversity and equality. I know one thing for sure, it will lead to no good.
There’s little logic behind having a ‘diversity officer’ in the first place, but if universities insist on having them, then people like Mustafa, who possess that dangerous combination of a lack of critical thinking skills and a belligerent zeal to make the world a better place, are the very worst candidates for the job.
Mustafa’s actions are a reminder of a profound truth: the only way to socially engineer any given vision of ethnic and gender diversity is to deliberately and positively discriminating against certain groups of people solely based on their ethnicity or gender. Which is precisely why it shouldn’t be attempted.
Racism and sexism is a weed that has been shrinking and wilting for some time now, but giving minorities an exemption from widely held moral principles and allowing them to be racist and sexist towards the majority can only give life to a new shoot of the same problem. If this episode at Goldsmith’s college in London is at all indicative of what’s happening on university campuses throughout the UK, then it seem our centres of higher education have become society’s most fertile breeding grounds for racism and sexism. Which is surely the ultimate corruption of the institute of the university.