The social protection surrounding political differences
A couple of old university friends regularly take to Facebook to thrash out their political differences in long threads featuring memes and articles. I often read along as someone who enjoys political debate but rarely comment. These exchanges though heated, are prolific in the use of the like button and often culminate in comments reaffirming their continuing love for one another in a way that is endearing. It used to make me smile. At some point it started to make me feel frustrated. It has started to read as privilege. Two well-educated white men’s political divergences are protected in this world of ever increasing threat for any other, be it women, people of colour or transgender individuals.
Then last week one shared an article on Facebook defining the neoliberal. Like many other of my centrist, liberal (in social values not the parliamentary party) friends they have found themselves since the general election and Brexit talks increasingly marginalised. Who’d have thought that the centre would be the ones uncatered for, but the world is polarising and sharpening our differences.
I won’t share the article as often I do, because more than anything it is not a great piece of writing to read even if you are searching for a way to define yourself as a marginalised neoliberal. There are better articles out there. The author attempts to redefine the term neoliberal, nothing wrong with defining your terminology, but it is not accepted academic or even journalistic practice to take a term and then make up your own definition for it. That is the fast route to getting your argument relegated to the intellectual equivalent of Siberia.
However it is not the political economic argument I took issue with. Rather it is the use of the terms “natives” in contrast to migrants as in the natives here in the UK, and “non-whites”. No this is not me being sensitive as a non-white British native (I hope the author includes me as my birthright allows), but the increasing realisation that problematic language surrounding race is either getting worse or we are reaching a situation where it can no longer be tolerated.
The women of colour Instagram accounts I follow are awash with interesting commentary of the liberals who regale their POC friends with stories of racist relatives they endure at family events as they smile and let it pass. The Guardian Weekend last Saturday noted the uncool trend of “Bro-flakes” older, straight, powerful men taking offence to wokeness with a collective eyeroll as the appropriate response. Is it just me that thinks this is no longer an acceptable response?
After the attacks this weekend in Charlottesville it is clear that we no longer live in times of uncomfortable tolerance but one where white supremacists are emboldened enough to act. Is it those racist relatives holding burning torches in the street? It is certainly a powerful, old, straight white man refusing to condemn the violence of the white nationalists. It is not even something we can dismiss as an American problem after two black men in the last month have died in police custody here in the UK. We are no longer concerned of how to live the best life but how we are going to live at all.
In these uncomfortable times we need to be aware that language that alienates those that do not fit the white, male mould can be used to disempower us even when unintended. I do not appreciate being categorised as a nonentity (non-white) just as I believe that the term native is completely senseless in describing the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, being as it is a multi-ethnic society anyway — Scottish, Irish, English and Welsh — with a large proportion of the population being born to migrant (first, third, second generation) parents. Indeed it is only the Welsh who truly have a stake in claiming some kind of native ancestry being Celtic, the English and Scots being largely of Anglo-Saxon and Viking descent respectively.
There was a time (though increasingly I’m struggling to remember it) where I could let these things go. When I did not mind making jokes about my gender or skin colour. Where I was also protected by my privileges of class and education. Now I’m beginning to live in fear. If not for my life then for my rights, hard fought and hard won. Historical periods of crisis are where taken for granted justices are challenged, what the lessons of history teach us is that in these times we need to be ever more vigilant. Defend all our social rights and not let things slip by when they can be used to disenfranchise us. It is hard on all of us (white men included) but it is the most hard on the ones without a platform, without power. Who cannot access the protection that privilege offers, of being able to say exactly how you feel and not be dismissed as being too sensitive.
Even in the fear I will offend two of my old friends who I hold dear I am saying this now. Watch what you share, check your privilege and come back with arguments that do not subtly undermine us. We all need to be woke now, for if you are not you will end up on the wrong side of history, the side that let it slide. We can no longer tolerate casual racism while our very existence is no longer tolerated. They are coming for all of us in the end who believe in liberal social values, this is what we must now protect. Everything else is secondary.