Last week, Torontonians gathered in front of the US consulate to protest the Muslim ban the Trump administration attempted to implement. As with last year’s Pride parade, the spotlight was grabbed by Black Lives Matter. And that’s fair game. BLM’s membership and concerns overlap with those of Muslims just as they do with the LGBTQ community; and effectiveness in staying visible is what one would expect from a successful activist movement. One would also expect something provocative, something controversial to occur, because the news hates a boring protest, and if nothing happens, nothing is written.
So what we got is a typically inflammatory statement from BLM Toronto co-founder Yusra Khogali, calling the prime minister “a white supremacist terrorist.” Well then. It is fair to say that Canada was founded upon white supremacy. Colonialism, while motivated by greed, was justified by pseudo-scientific rationalizations and intellectually bankrupt attempts to prove the inherent superiority of European people. And it is fair to say that Canada remains the beneficiary of this historical program of white supremacy and owes its wealth to the destruction of civilizations here and elsewhere through its origin as part of the British Empire. It is also fair to say that those considered white today, do not suffer the same impediments to success that many people of colour do. While this may be contentious to some, I know I’ve never feared for my safety of my life around a police officer, and I suspect that is true for most people who share my complexion. So, one could argue that Justin Trudeau, as leader of this nation, inheriting the legacy of white supremacy we have yet to fully come to terms with, is indeed a white supremacist. But if he’s a white supremacist, what am I supposed to call Steve Bannon? How about a little bit of nuance? And “terrorist”? Admittedly, the definition of terrorism is always loose, and usually politically motivated; but what policy, specifically, is she referring to?
No matter. In the end, those words probably got more people to pay attention to a local display of opposition to the alarming authoritarian leap happening down south. And a protest is not an ideal forum for nuanced discussion or persuasion; nobody ever said it was.
But as with any time when Khogali publicly speaks, the media, particularly right wing outlets, dredge up her older statements. There was the time when she tweeted, ““Plz Allah give me strength to not cuss/kill these men and white folks out here today,” which no serious person would take as an actual threat, but clearly represents someone uncomfortable with her newly found role as a public figure, and yet to realize the value of carefully chosen words. I suspect anyone who claims to be offended by such words to be merely borrowing the terminology of civil rights to justify their own lack of empathy for the marginalized. Maybe I’m wrong.
But the dredging doesn’t stop there. Back in 2015, she wrote on Facebook, “white skin is sub-humxn,” and “white ppl are recessive genetic defects. this is factual.” Why’s that? Because, “melanin is directly linked to the strength of neuro systems affecting capacities like intelligence, memory and creativity / melanin enables black skin to capture light and hold it in its memory mode which reveals that blackness converts light into knowledge.”
And that’s just ridiculous. And it’s offensive.
This is not reverse-racism, because ‘racism’ does not simply mean bigotry. This does not make me feel hurt, oppressed, or marginalized because I am white according to the concept of what whiteness is these days. I’m not going to borrow the terminology of civil rights to claim my privilege is under attack in some whiny reactionary outburst of white fragility.
But it is stupid. And it is belligerent. And belligerent stupidity offends me about as much as racism; the two are not unrelated. And I know that every time I get into a conversation with other members of my “sub-human” race, it’s things like this that become the greatest impediment to having a frank conversation about social justice.
To be sure, black activists have no obligation to make white people feel comfortable about confronting the racism in our society. In fact, making people uncomfortable is what any force for positive change should do. But there’s also something to be said for not being an asshole, especially to people that you may want to be on your side.
Two-level game theory comes in handy here. The idea is that in any negotiation, the two sides have to reach an agreement that is not only palatable to both parties, but also an agreement that will be palatable to their constituents.
When the centre-left politicians that BLM is ostensibly trying to sway consider drafting policy that will be acceptable to the movement and its supporters, how can they do so if they have to then ask their voter base to continue to endorse them after appeasing an organization that puts someone with such ridiculous public statements front and centre? The answer is simple, they will not. They will do the bare minimum to make those who sit on the fence on reforming law enforcement believe that they have addressed the issue of racist police practices; thus satisfying their milquetoast progressive wing and not scaring their fiscally conservative swing voters who dabble in social liberalism.
While I support BLM as a whole, I can’t help but feel sad when I see stuff like this. There is a strong current of progressive dissent running through the world right now, even as reactionary authoritarian nationalism is simultaneously on the rise, and all I see here is a squandered opportunity. Those whose who agitate for change when it comes to race, class, and the environment all face the same opponents, and largely share similar values. If the Right could unite such a disparate camp of circus freaks: flag humping Jesus jerks, white supremacists, the Isreaeli lobby, people who want smaller government, people who want a stronger military and police force, working class job hunters, and billionaires; surely the Left could unite those who support social justice and varying degrees of egalitarianism.
Neither Black Lives Matter, nor Yusra Khogali are as polarizing or divisive as many of their critics claim. The poles were staked by race theory and the divisions were perpetuated by the establishment, in various forms, most noticeably by law enforcement. But flipping the script of race theory to establish a new pseudo-scientific justification for the arbitrary sorting of human beings into illusory races will do nothing to bridge that divide.
Admittedly this can largely be read and dismissed as the criticism of a holder of privilege whitesplaining activist strategy to the marginalized. I’ve seen this counter-argument quite a bit. And that’s just fine. You can undermine me, but you can’t undermine an argument with an ad hominem rebuttal. Not if you’re a serious person.
One can assume white-skinned leftists are all virtue-signalling, safety-pin wearing deadweights who only make claims to being allies in the search for social justice to better identify themselves as members of their liberal tribe. That would be erroneous. Many on the left want to challenge income inequality and class, and guess what? Where do you think the race divide comes from? Some are not looking to be accepted as allies, but looking for who they can ally with in common cause. Black Lives Matter is unequivocally an ally. Yusra Khogali is not. The contradiction there is worth noting.