Safe Spaces are for White Men

by Maya Goodfellow

The campaign against Bahar Mustafa started a month ago, in an article in the Spectator. Although they picked up the story up from student newspaper the Tab, the conservative magazine was all too aware that putting this young woman and the complaints against her under the spotlight would garner a good deal of attention. And unfortunately, it has.

The Spectator Xmas Party

The Spectator Xmas Party

Writers at the Spectator turned their fire on the Welfare and Diversity Officer at Goldsmiths because she decided to put on anti-racism event for women of colour and non-binary people. But (and this is what the Spectator has taken umbrage with) she asked that men and white people not attend. This was met with outrage. “She’s a reverse racist”, it’s “racial segregation” her detractors cried.

Mustafa has responded with a truth lost on them, namely that reverse racism and reverse sexism do not exist. They’re mythical labels. That’s because racism and sexism are rooted in a history of oppression, which continues to shape the way women and people of colour live today. But as Yomi Adejoke describes in her article ‘We need to talk about safe spaces’ “it appears that, in a world where the default is white and male, comprehending why something for once may not and should not concern you simply isn’t possible.”

Meanwhile there are structures in place that privilege and value white men purely by the virtue of their gender and race. Of course there are exceptions – white men who are discriminated against – but when we’re talking structures and histories, we live in a world that judges and subjugates women and people of colour. So prejudice exists, but reverse racism doesn’t.

Nevertheless, the illogical accusations thrown at Mustafa have raged unabated. To the point that a petition has begun to circulate, calling for Mustafa to be removed from her post (this campaign also highlights Mustafa’s use of hashtag #killallwhitemen, I’ll leave that for someone else to address). The level of misunderstanding has reached a sad crescendo; there will be a vote of no confidence against her, which could result in her losing her job.

All I can think as I’ve watched this unfold is: if only the people taking part in the campaign against Mustafa exercised the same outrage over structural racism. They could take their pick over which form of racism to get most angry about: racial discrimination in the job market; in universities, both selection processes and once applicants make it in to their hallowed halls; or, what about the microagressions people of colour face on a daily basis. The list is painfully long.

Instead, the attacks launched against Mustafa – that she is a racist – underscore the point she was originally trying to make in creating a safe space for people of colour; that racism is not well enough understood by those who don’t experience it.

This represents the brick wall with which intersectional feminists are faced. A lot of white people – in particular men – don’t get racism and they certainly don’t want to have their privilege questioned. So they retreat into their safe space, which, luckily for them, is everywhere. They retreat into their privilege by lecturing people of colour on discrimination, without realising how ludicrous that is. And amidst all of this, they haven’t for a moment thought why we need to have a safe space to begin with.

So let me explain, and I’ll keep this short. We are forced to exist in a society where we are the minority, the ‘other’. We’re always reminded in subtle but damaging ways that most spaces (think certain careers or residential areas, for instance) are supposed to be for white people. We are seen as a disruption. It gets tiring attempting to navigate our way through this world and often it’s hard to see how we can change it. So at times we want to come together and discuss these issues in a place where we feel wanted and valued. Until white people begin to understand this, we’ll continue to need these spaces. And that’s why #ISupportBaharMustafa.

Photos from 21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear On A Daily Basis

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Maya Goodfellow is a journalist and political commentator. She primarily writes about British politics and has worked as a researcher for a think tank. She also writes about international affairs, with a particular focus on conflict studies. Find her on Twitter: @Mayagoodfellow

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13 replies

  1. “Mustafa has responded with a truth lost on them, namely that reverse racism and reverse sexism do not exist. ”
    That’s actually an untruth based on a fallacy. The word racism means any sort of prejudice based on race. Modern fringe leftists have been attempting to convince the world that “racism” only means systematic oppression. Which is one meaning of a word that has multiple meanings. The social justice crowd has adopted the definition of racism made up in the early 70’s as if their newer definition somehow erases or made incorrect the way the word had been used up to that point. But what makes a definition is us. and the word “racism” is still used by the world outside of University sociology programs and blogs to mean prejudice based on race of any type including systematic but not limited to systematic.
    If you can’t understand that words have multiple definitions and that one isn’t more correct because it is used in a certain field of study then you are too stupid to be in college. If you still believe this shit past the age of 25 you are probably on your way to being a sociology professor yourself.

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  2. It’s because the left is associated with crap like this that it’s losing elections Europe-wide. And a micro aggression effectively is ‘I think this is racist’. If you contradict my view – you’re a racist. Being asked where you’re from is a universal question asked everywhere – a mixed race child in India or China or Indonesia will be asked it or even about ethnicities and linguistic groups within the country.

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  3. The concept of “spaces” appears to be a relatively new, and completely unnecessary. Twenty years ago, when I was in college, people with similar interests and goals simply got together and met to exchange ideas. An on campus group would put up a flyer for a meeting of the GLBT student group, or the Young Republicans, or the swimming club, or the astronomy club. The mistake Ms. Mustafa made was to specifically exclude certain people. There was no need to do that. I doubt white men were lining up to attend a meeting for women of color/non-binary people. Consider if a conservative campus group advertised for a meeting to discuss conservative ideas but said no trans people allowed. Trans people most likely had no intention to attend, but now because they said no trans people, everyone would be up in arms. Just have your meetings. Don’t go through the unnecessary exercise of excluding people who wouldn’t attend anyway. This brings me back to the idea of spaces. “Spaces” is a silly concept. If you want to meet alone, just invite people over to your house or find a quiet place in a park where no one else is meeting. There is no reason to create artificial spaces. There is space all around you. Get people together and go for a long hike to a place miles away from everyone else or find an empty study room in the library. The possibilities are endless.

    Ms. Mustafa’s greater mistake was to claim she can’t be racist or sexist because she in an ethnic female. First, she is white, not an ethnic minority. Second, she has fallen prey to what appears to be an internet hoax concerning the definition of racism. I cannot find any credible source that defines racism in the manner Ms. Mustafa does. I see that definition repeated on Twitter and Facebook quite often, but nobody can cite to a source. Definitions of words can’t simply be changed to suit your personal goals and interests. I’m reminded of the scene in Mean Girls where Gretchen keeps trying to get others to use “fetch” to mean cool or awesome, and Regina says, “stop trying to make fetch happen.” The definition of racism is well established. A new definition is not going to happen just so people can justify their own racism and prejudices.

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    • ‘Nobody can cite to a (credible) source.’
      Uh, the *people* defining racism based on lived experience are ‘sources’ – unless of course you think the production of knowledge is only valid and ‘citable’ when the people behind it are, I don’t know, white, male, and dead (as most ‘sources’ tend to be)?
      Nobody is ‘changing’ words to suit experience. Racism isn’t this fixed, static thing; it evolves with the times it is perpetuated in. To continue to insist that the people who *experience* racism adhere to a definition theorised by people who were likelier than not inherently racist is…I’ll let you pick the word.
      And the concept of ‘spaces’ is neither new nor unnecessary. Ever heard of a HBCU?

      Liked by 3 people

  4. As a white man in the US my “safe space” is f!@#ing everywhere. If I’m banned from an anti-racism event, how does that affect me? I only know about systemic racism in an academic sense. I’ve never experienced it myself. My voice there would not be needed or appreciated. “#killallwhitemen” is unpalatable to me (who wouldn’t feel a little uncomfortable reading a statement like that aimed at their demographic?) but I seriously doubt it’s going to incite anyone to harm me or any other white man. White men need to take some of their own medicine and grow that thick skin they’re always talking about when they make off-color jokes.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Surely the situation is more nuanced than that? what about the white poor, the white LBGT and the white disabled? I think we need to further promote the idea that inter-sectional tribalism works in every direction while oppression always is enacted from a position of power. Your white, male safe space is particular to your circumstances as well as your hegemonic position; rather than taking some of your own medicine – a suggestion that encourages further tribal animosity – suggest a different discourse.

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  5. I thnk you can object to Bahar Mustafa’s daft arguments without falling into the trap of calling it ‘racism’. After all the original argument that racism = prejudice + social power only exculpiates Mustafa of the social power part of the equation. It is still a shitty prejudice that makes her a poor choice as a diversity officer.

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  6. There are few places where institutional and structural racism are not endemic and the whole concept of ‘reverse racism’ is flawed from the start because of the power relations involved; that much is absolutely true and clear. But racism is not the sole provenance of white societies and nor is it always between people of widely different appearance or culture. Not only can individual people of colour be racist but whole nations of PoC can be racist – expressed as national exceptionalism or religious truth as easily as out and out racism. From the Holocaust to Rwanda and from ISIS to the shunning of boat people we see these tribal power struggles enacted as our history and our daily news. It so happens that the hegemony of the white male in UK society produces racism of a certain flavour but that does not mean that individuals of colour can not be racist within that milieu; but it does show that fighting fire with fire is a fools game in the long run. What we need are modes of discourse that always try to inform and never mock – it’s not at all easy.

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  7. I think that to sidestep the #killallwhitemen issue and allude to it as a “misunderstanding” is a massive hole in this article. People like Mustafa undermine us all and I don’t think she should be defended just because she identifies as one of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There is no misunderstanding.White people understand racism very well.They just choose to pretend not to, and black people should stop giving them a pass by constantly explaining why they need (for example) a ‘safe space’. The laws to segregate and disenfranchise people of colour were not made by people of colour and they will not be dismantled by people of colour.The issue here is that white people are afraid of the advancements they see because they have become victims of their own propaganda.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “The issue here is that white people are afraid of the advancements they see because they have become victims of their own propaganda.”

      This is ludicrous doublespeak racism. Either we judge people by the content of the character and their actions, or we judge them by their race and their gender.

      Which option do you prefer?

      Like

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