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Edutwitter, Witches and whiteness

The journey towards understanding structural racism still requires people of colour to prioritise white feelings.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

In the wake of UK edutwitter's #ListGate, a well-known edutweeter, Greg, published another blog piece about racism. As a fellow racialised-as-white educator, I feel obliged to take the time to address it. So I will (again).
One of Greg's main arguments (see image) is his contention that the concept of white supremacy is flawed because its circular reasoning results in those accused of holding white advantages as guilty because of their very denial of them. In the time-honoured language of male righteousness, Greg uses the analogy of witches to demonstrate his point.  But of course, anyone who is reasonably well-read in this area knows that the in-admission of one's complicity in racism (i.e. the inequitable distribution of power, choice, social mobility, and proximity to justice, violence, morbidity and mortality) is not a singular, reductive feature of whiteness. Moreover, the rejection of one's complicity in a dominant social group is, for some, a 'comfort blanket' of ignorance and for others a knowing act of racialised hegemony. Given Greg's open admission that he is 'not an expert', that he has shown no evidence of wider reading in the discipline, and apparently struggled so much with my last blog piece that he physically "couldn't finish it" (despite inviting me to write it), my assumption is that Greg sits astride these two positions, in a state of ideological, wilful ignorance (AKA - you guessed it - a state of whiteness).

Another error by Greg here is one that is very common with his followers, and is a developing pattern within his writings. For these reasons, I refer in this piece to 'Greg' as a heuristic term representative of the 'every(white)man', in the hope that they may be spurred to learn more about racism (#NotAllMen #NotAllWhiteMen #Meninist #ReverseRacismGone4Eva #CantBelieveIt #IWannaRun2U).

'Greg' says that a challenge to whiteness "can be dismissed on the basis of your race". Not so 'Greg'. This is incorrect; rather it is challenged on the basis of one's whiteness (or 'socialisation-into-whiteness'). Of course, whiteness is associated with levels of melanin low enough to 'pass' as pink-beige (or perhaps gammon-tinged) in skin tone, but they are not the same thing. Neither is any of this predicated on race, which is a concept that doesn't exist despite racialisation/racism being absolutely real.

Related imageBut back to his analogy. Which analogy? Why, his witch analogy, of course. 

Here are my counter-analogies that may help those amongst us who are 'Gregs' (not the excellent high street bakery, who have the double gg - big-up @GreggsOfficial, massive fan of the vegan sausage roll btw).

Counter-analogy 1:
If you tell your kids in the playground that the piece of apparatus in the image (above) is a 'fireman's pole', your actions are sexist and support gender inequity. You may protest all you like, offering excuses and mitigating circumstances. You may think it's insignificant. You may also be an otherwise exemplary model of equal gender rights activism. Or you may say that you "can't be sexist, as you have a mother" (check mate libflakes!). Either way, that particular singular action was sexist, albeit closer on the patriarchy continuum to say, choosing the pink straw for your daughter's soda, than to say, denying women as a group their bodily autonomy.


Counter-analogy 2:
If you plan an event with an activity on the first floor of a building, but don't think to notify delegates that wheelchair users would need to be assisted with evac-chair use in the event of an emergency, then your actions are ableist. Despite one of your best twitter buddies being a wheelchair user and coming to your defence. Despite the fact that your intentions were 100% good, and you just weren't aware of this beforehand and have been really, really busy trying to put on a good event for everyone, and it's been really vewy vewy hard, and now it's weally stressful that this issue has been raised, and ohmygod why should I bother doing this, sniff sniff, I don't make a penny from it...

Counter analogy 3:
If you believe and teach (as a Greg-follower stated) as a fact that there is a 'Black gene for sporting prowess', then your beliefs and actions support white supremacy. Whether or not you deplore the KKK, or would never vote for Farage, or have done charitable work in Uganda, for example.

Counter analogy 4 (last one, I promise):
If you are an English teacher who thinks it's a factual truth that Shakespeare's works are *the* singular pinnacle of literary endeavour in human history, and teach with this mindset and a limited awareness and appreciation of non-Eurocentric curricula, you are canonically biased in a manner that is derived from colonial racism.

And so it is with teachers who cannot understand or admit that their actions may support white supremacy.

And so a challenge to the Greg (Ashman, not Proops, or Rusedski) and the 'Gregs' amongst us (again, not the bakers, but feel free to get involved, I'm not 'bakist'...but whilst we're here: when's that vegan donut coming @GreggsOfficial? Huh? HUH??):

Will 'Greg'/Greg join a twitter book group for the purpose of reading Ibram X. Kendi's 'How to be an Anti-Racist'?

What better demonstration of intellectual honesty and educational principles could there be for the Gregs of twitter than seeing these confident, thrusting online emperors of edutwitter engage in reading a Pulitzer prize winning author as part of their professional development?

Who knows, the Greg (not James, or Peck -RIP-) might even decide to write a book review of it, as he was happy to do recently for a website notorious for its promotion of racial pseudoscience and use of poor sources.

I'll finish by repeating that we're only going to defeat racial inequities by moving forwards together, allowing people to atone for their previous errors and doing the work that is necessary to develop our individual and collective racial literacies (and dismantle capitalism - best save that for another blog, comrades).

Yes, I've been a bit 'spicy' on here (salt and pepper counts, right?) with 'Greg', but I am genuinely interested in what good may come from him/them reading @DrIbram's latest book.

-END-

Appendix

Further notes on Greg's blog piece:


More whiteness: declaring a view other than your own an "ideology", but never owning an ideology yourself; seeing changes to the status quo or being answerable to often silenced groups as "imposing things on everybody else"; propagandising critical studies as a "cult" (see the "grievance studies" label of the far-right political leaders in Brazil, Turkey, Poland, and the ramblings of Canadian Psychologist Dr. CleanYourRoom VonLobsterKnob.




Good to know it's not just Joe Biden who uses racialised epithets as placeholders for 'Black'. Here we see Greg use "challenging" and 'urban' in lieu of 'Black' kids. If Greg did mean to highlight the disproportionate over-representation of racialised-as-BAME children in low SES areas due to systemic racism, then maybe say that?

And working in these schools may well be more socially-conscious...But if your thinking going into them is to make a difference because the objectified other is in need of correction, and that correction is towards elevated norms associated with whiteness, then you'd still be complicit in racism, albeit with 'good intentions', 'not a racist bone in your body', and with a white saviour complex. Sure, some good would come from your actions, but so would harm too.

One cannot just reject a definition because you don't like it. That would make one an idiot. It's like me saying I don't care what you [expert in linguistics and etymology] think but I [not an expert in it] choose to define 'myriad' as specifically referring to the number 10,000, and I will only use it as such. Despite its meaning developing over time to mean 'an indeterminate number of very many'. Or arguing against climate emergency without being a scholar in it, reading any of the necessary literature, or having experienced rising sea levels devastating your home. Ignorant, arrogant, and anti-intellectual. 500 years of scholarly activism dispensed with a shrug, and choosing (what luxury!) not to use the current consensus definition of racism because it would dissolve his argument, and perhaps hurt his feelings.

See also Greg's admission that he is not an expert in this area but still feels sufficiently entitled and competent to reject the experts' definition of racism. Can one bottle this arrogance? (And then throw it in the recycle bin?).

No. No you could not define these white privileges (unearned advantages) as "rights". That would be explicitly white supremacist.

Imagine: "Hi, you there at the bus-stop! My name's Greg, and I have a right not to be stopped and searched as frequently as you, based on our differing skin colours. It's my right, you see. Yes, yes I know race is a lie and has no biological relevance, but them's the breaks...Toodlepip!"

Also, no: reverse racism does not exist. Prejudice against racialised-as-white people does, but not racism. [Inserts handy video clip. You're welcome]





One wonders what Greg tells his students who need to read about a topic he's teaching...


Thank you for showing us what your followers know about the research, evidence, and terminology within the field of anti-racist activism. I am sure it is a valid and reliable sample and in no way represents the ideologies and interests of your followers.

Final note:
If you consider yourself a member of what Greg describes here as a "small" community of antiracists, please do give this blog a share on twitter ;-)

Comments

  1. hi some nice points here;

    one point i want to pick up on which is not really relevant to this immediate debate but indicative i think of the discourse of people who position themselves as only looking at the content of an argument rather than the values associated with an argument i.e. that only people you are arguing against are ideological : )

    the issue is the first one you write about - what you term circular reasoning of the concept of white supremacy and what Greg Ashman terms as unfalsifiability status of this concept - it is interesting to note this difference between the two terms - circular vs unfalsifiability;

    when I read this point from GA's blog I too wondered why he did not use the term circular, even GA goes onto say that unfalsifiability "is hard to get across" so I was wondering why not use circular instead as you do?

    one reason is that linking to such a term (falsfiability) can be seen to bolster the user's credibility in some way even if such a concept was not meant to be used in such a way (e.g. falsifiability is meant to see if sets of statements are empirically significant in some way not whether such statements are true or false - http://nathanoseroff.com/files/papers/popperdemarcation.pdf)

    anyway i thought this might be worth mentioning
    ta
    mura

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent point Mura, and I hadn't thought about that as previously as you have identified, thank you.

      Delete
  2. Hello Michael,

    I'm glad to have discovered your blog and to be following you now on Twitter. You might have vaguely seen me trying to reasonably explore ideas and counter some of the vitriol in the thread that Pran's tweet was screen-shot from. I'm a very comfortable middle-class white male closing-in on 50 who is surprised by how much this area is suddenly starting to mean to me, and I want to learn a lot more. For example, I've really appreciated in this post you helping me see the difference between 'whiteness' and being white, which I hadn't grasped before. Certainly I can see that the interface between the academic expansion of terminology in this area, and the lay-person's everyday understanding of the traditional use of terms is quite a complication for people who are coming at the issue without really already noticing its existence in their own lives.

    Two things:
    Firstly, please could I take part in the Twitter discussion group for Ibram's book...? I'm going to order it now either way.

    Secondly, much as I tried to defend Pran's tweet during the thread, and make some sense of what I thought he might actually have been saying, I've got to confess that your explanation in your post still hasn't quite helped me. It seems to me to still require the 'white supremacy' thesis to be unequivocably and demonstrably true due to other evidence, before people's denial of it counts as actual evidence of the state of their conscious position within it. Even then, I'm not sure it can be taken as evidence of the existence of the actual concept, just perhaps support for the notion that - if white supremacy is real - it normally acts unconsciously in people, and that the act of someone denying it certainly doesn't disprove that it's there (any more than denial by burglars that they 'did it' should be taken to mean they didn't - though they might not have).

    I did almost DM Pran for greater clarification on this, but he seemed pretty embattled, and I assumed his tweet had been loosely worded and taken out of context.
    However, would you be able to point me to some further writing on this? It feels to me slightly at the moment like a priest being asked to evidence the existence of God, and them quoting scripture in response - if you see what I mean. I'm concerned that those people clever enough to spot the circularity of the logic are more likely to close their minds and harden their hearts to the issue than to suspend disbelief and open themselves-up.

    Anyway - thanks again for your post.
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Chris. IMO first off, it's great you're engaging in this area. Secondly, it's good that it is with a measured approach.
      As an atheist/humanist myself, I understand when people have issues believing in something that that they feel does not have enough evidence. However, there is so much evidence for the systemic racism of white supremacy that one could only deny it if one was ignorant of it, or decides that the inequities are the fault of the disadvantaged group, either by genetics or culture, or both. Both would be acts that support white supremacy: the former more well-intentioned than the latter. An example: after accounting for differences (qualifications on entry, poverty, parental ed etc) there remains gap in good degrees awarded to BAME students. Researchers have referred to it as 'unexplained', yet there is so much data showing that a significant factor is how BAME students are treated by universities. So, we can see that white supremacy both causes the disproportionate opportunity for BAME students AND attempts to censor or obfuscate it by naming it as "unexplained".

      Delete
  3. Thank you very much for this response Michael - it's completely on my wavelength.

    I am personally convinced by the evidence I have seen (from a variety of sources) for the existence of systemic racism from white supremacy (and the logic behind it - I'm well versed in cognitive biases and the operations of other forms of un/subconscious functioning), but I'm not well versed enough in the details of the research and breadth of evidence supporting it, and I want to be.

    Nevertheless, would it be fair to say that Pran's tweet at the top of yours and Greg's blog could be alternatively worded: "Denial of white privilege / supremacy is a well documented symptom of white supremacy, which acts to further support it"...?
    I know this might sound like it's just saying the same thing, and I should be asking Pran this, but I'm wanting to get away from the knee-jerk comparisons with the guilt of witches!

    Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete

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