Rethinking Violence

by Aisha Mirza 

In 2001 I was sent to my first day of secondary school with the instruction that I am clever and beautiful and that if anyone hits me I am to hit them back ten times harder. Survival knowledge. But I still close my eyes during battle scenes. You know. I don’t like violence, I don’t choose it. It makes me feel sick. In fact, I still haven’t watched the video of the McDonald’s employees beating a man who called them “fucking pakis” while they were at work last Saturday night. I haven’t watched it because I do not want to expose myself to the physical attack, nor have to endure the psychic violence of witnessing racial abuse…again. I haven’t watched it, because I don’t need to see it to know they are heroes.

When I first heard this had happened, streets away from where I had gone to school in Bow, a heavily South Asian part of London, I felt simultaneously exhilarated by the bravery of these men, and guilty for feeling that way. I forced myself to mask my happiness that a racist has had his comeuppance by making excuses for him. He was drunk. Maybe his wife had just left him. Maybe his dog had just died.

I instinctively put myself in the white man’s shoes because that is what people of colour, particularly women, are taught to do. We are taught to make sure the whiteness around us is always comfortable, even when it makes us uncomfortable, even when we are in danger, even when it comes into our place of work, baying for our blood, screeching so loudly our ancestors are woken. I feel guilty for my joy, and then I remember that there is nothing scarier than an angry white man.

It seems that for the most part we can all agree that racism, explicit or not, is “bad” and “sad” and tut, tut, “very unsavory”. However, there is a reluctance in discourse to see it as violence, indeed, a type of violence that wounds and tears and leaves scars buried so deep you cannot see them, so complex that when they do burrow to the surface, no-one has any idea where to fucking start. But it’s OK, because sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me, right?

The reluctance to acknowledge non-physical forms of violence makes sense. To do so would force all of us, who think we are pretty good people because we haven’t punched anyone in a while, to dig a little deeper. To accept all racism as violence would also categorize the actions of the staff in McDonald’s that night as self defense. But those men are not allowed that dignity.

There is a racialised mental health crisis in the UK, whereby people of colour have acutely increased challenges to their mental health, and less access to support. Yet somehow in “detained populations”, people of colour are massively over-represented, with compulsory admission rates, specifically of Black people, to inpatient psychiatric units, almost three times greater than those of white patients. In other words, we must deal with our pain respectfully, or get locked up.

To me those men are heroes because they didn’t suffer in silence, or “do the right thing”. In every news report I have read, the white man’s violent behaviour has been “alleged”, his “racism” in air quotes. This is part of the centuries-old project of colonial disbelief and denial of race-based oppression that keeps people of colour stifled, doubtful, behaving. Just last week two Muslim women in London had their hijabs pulled off by men in public, with no-one stepping in to help. The men in McDonald’s are heroes for drawing a line in the sand. They are heroes for providing catharsis for all the black and brown people who can’t fight back. They are heroes because they will suffer for this, and they are heroes because that white man will not try that shit again.

Welcome to the front line of racism in 2016. Talking is really nice, conflict resolution is really cute, but it is not our job, as the receptacles of racist violence, whether physical, verbal or silent, to make the redemption process creative or fun for you. It is the white person’s job to simply not do it in the first place. Until then, people of colour have a right to self-defense in a world where no one else is going to stand up for us.

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 Aisha Mirza is a writer and counselor from London living in New York. You can see more of her work at

4 thoughts on “In Defense of Self Defense: Why The MacDonalds Workers are Heroes

  1. What about when my Asian friend is glared at by other Asian women because she does not wear a hijab? What about when she is told by an Asian man that she should not let her son have white friends because that would be better for him and better for her irrespective of the fact they are all great friends of her son and have been since childhood? What about when she is called a whore by Asian men for having white friends. She fasts each Ramadan, prays 5 times and reads from the Qur’an each day, donates to many charities and is a loyal and faithful wife and a fantastic mother but she faces bigotry every day from those of her own race and religion for living her life without judging others. What about when her children and called names and bullied by other Asian children because their mother doesn’t wear a hijab? Is bullying OK when it’s Asian on Asian or can only white people be bullies? What about my other Asian friend who was elected to the local council and when people from her community came to her house they congratulated her husband and ignored her even though SHE was the councillor through her own hard work and not him? What about when I am given filthy looks by Asian neighbours in the streets of my home town for daring to marry a North African man who happens to be Muslim whilst I am not? What about the Asian taxi driver who refused to acknowledge me purely because my skin is white? What about the ones (very few, but some nonetheless) who will gladly take my money but will not even answer my “Good morning”? Are my friends and I as much victims of violence as the McDonald’s employees? My friends because they are the same ethnicity and myself because I am not?
    When we are in my husband’s country I am either treated as a circus act to perform at will because I have bothered to learn the language, told “say that again” for the amusement of strangers, or treated as some sort of pariah for being married to my husband and not being brown, or as something to stare and leer at when in the streets. I have lost count of the times men who are complete strangers to me have physically brushed their bodies against mine whilst I am shopping (sexual assault) or put their arms around me and been offended when I tell them not to do that. Because I am white I am obviously open to all sexual advances in their minds. Is this racism and violence?

    Yes, the man in question was undoubtedly racist but racism is present in EVERY race. Bigotry is rife in all walks of live and it is up to us all to accept that, no matter what our skin colour, what religion or none we follow, how much or how little we have in our bank accounts and where on this planet we happen to have been born that we ALL have far more in common than we have differences. Only when we realise that and stop playing ourselves off against each other will racism be a thing of the past. In ALL races.


    1. you must go ahead and forgive all these people that upset you to no end, for they carry much worse scars than those few small issues you’ve encountered, courtesy of generations of racial,tribal and ethnic profiling from your people.


      1. Well done in proving yourself a bigot. ANY racism is abhorrent whether that racism comes from a white person or a person of colour. For every bigot there are many more who can actually see past the colour of skin and to the person inside. Sadly there are many who will hold on to the actions of those long dead and blame anyone and everyone alive today for their own ills. Most people know only too well that the actions of the past were reprehensible. None of us can change the past but we can all work together to put it where it belongs (i.e. in the PAST) and work together for a better, more equal and understanding future for us all.
        Unfortunately racism very definitely does still exist but it is by no means a one way street. Despite the lies peddled, people of colour are just as capable of racism as white people and people of colour are just as capable of racial, tribal and ethnic profiling of other people of colour. Genocide is certainly not limited to Europe and has been wide spread in Asia and Africa. Even today there are those trying to wipe out entire ethnicities/cultures just because they differ ideologically or they are from a different tribe. But that can’t possibly be racism because there are no white people involved! Of course, apologists refuse to accept that brown is just as capable of violence, hatred, bigotry, mass murder and genocide as white yet racism/bigotry/intolerance wears many hats.

        An even more massive “well done” in completely ignoring the fact that my friends suffer bigotry and abuse every single day from those of their own cultural background and skin colour just because they refuse to closet themselves and they accept any person, no matter what the colour of their skin. AS far as they are concerned the person inside is far more important than the colour of their skin. Maybe one day you will realise that.

        Next time I am in my husband’s country and I am sexually assaulted just because I am white, so must be ‘begging for it’ in the minds of the unenlightened men who actually think that way, maybe I should punch them in the face and kick them in the crotch so I too can be considered a hero. Oh, but that would make me just another violent, thuggish white person wouldn’t it? Double standards also exist!


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