Decolonisation and White Fragility
I

t has happened again, someone has dared to question the status quo and as a result, feathers have been ruffled.

Whiteness and its Fragility.

Recently, a group of students at Cambridge University came together and wrote an open letter to their institution asking for a diversification of their curriculum. My understanding of this request is that they wanted their curriculum to reflect the diversity of the student base, and indeed, the wider national make-up. Of course, considering the status and importance of the University of Cambridge, it wasn’t at all difficult for someone to get wind of what was happening, and from there, it was only a matter of time until the press would get hold of the matter.

Surely enough, the demand, or rather, the suggestion to diversify the current curriculum caused a massive uproar among what I would assume to have been white, male editorial boards. If these outrages did not have serious repercussions on those people that they target, I would probably be laughing right now. I find it quite amusing how easily threatened well-established curricula seem to be, or why they would need such a fierce defence from established journalists, bloggers, and writers amongst others.

I wonder why whiteness has become so fragile, and why the mere suggestion of the inclusion of others is perceived as an existential threat to traditionally white institutions. The inclusion of non-white scholars to a curriculum does not equate to the exclusion of white scholars from that curriculum. If our curricula are as magnificent as we say they are, will the inclusion of non-white scholars reduce their magnificence? I mean, is there something I’m missing?

The inclusion of non-white scholars to a curriculum does not equate to the exclusion of white scholars from that curriculum.

White dominance has always been built on the fierce suppression of others. There has never been space for sharing, inclusion, or true and honest communion when whiteness was present. The white establishment has always followed fierce and brutal submission. We have been socialised to believe that white establishments are symbols of white strength, dominance, and superiority. These beliefs are, up until today, still deeply embedded in the cultures of former colonies of white nations, and everything ‘white’ is still perceived to be ‘right’.

Is it possible, though, that with the advancement of globalisation and mass migration, whiteness seems to be increasingly threatened and its strength put to the test? I often wonder if the air of ‘civilisation’ and ‘humanity’ that the white establishment likes to give itself has contributed to the increased numbers of outbreaks of what I can only call tantrums (cf. Piers Morgan’s reaction to Munroe Bergdorf on his show, the recent example of the smear-campaign of Lola Olufemi by The Telegraph etc) – because unlike in centuries past, it’s no longer practical to openly use violence to suppress those unsettling and fiercely questioning voices.

Freedom of speech – just not for black people, especially black women

I recently attended a talk at the National Archives on the Black Power Movement and the State in the UK, and the speaker said something very interesting that deeply resonated with our current climate. He said that the British police was usually hesitant to use force against black women – while they were obviously much harsher when it came to interactions with black men. Looking at the current trend of smear campaigns against black women, I couldn’t help but think about that comment.

We are, in fact, less likely to hear about the physically brutal treatment of black women by the police, the state, etc. Racist acts against black women also appear much less often and much less openly in the public eye. What we do see, though, and what cannot be denied, is a very dangerous eagerness to publicly shame, smear, harass, and threaten black women on social media platforms, in newspapers, on TV, etc.

These ‘virtual’ or ‘intellectual’ attacks on black women mostly seem to happen when the women in question refuse to remain silent about the problems in our society. Esme Allman’s remarks about black men, Munroe Bergdorf’s comment about  ‘all white people’, and now, Lola Olufemi’s efforts, were all taken out of context at the detriment of the said women. These instances show that black women are easy and welcome targets, and their actions, I think, are sometimes taken as ‘excuses’ to finally be able to express deeply rooted racist ideas and ideologies, which have so far been silenced by our society’s much valued ‘political correctness’.

I feel like these outbursts show that ‘whiteness’ is fragile – that white people are so used to being ‘the norm’, ‘the standard’, ‘the benchmark’ that even an attempt at advocating for inclusion has the power to deeply shake the established status quo and expose the racist underbelly of the giant.

I wonder if these reactions are due to the underlying knowledge and extreme fear of what Langston Hughes exemplarily expressed in one of his poems:

“Negroes – Sweet and docile, Meek and humble, and kind: Beware the day – They change their mind.”
– Langston Hughes