#KillAllWhiteMen? You must be joking

Bahar Mustafa, the welfare and diversity officer at Goldsmiths, is facing a petition for her removal after she allegedly used hate speech on social media.  Apparently she used the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen.  Critics say this is inciting violence:  “Too befuddled by theory to know that killing is wrong“.
Obviously, someone elected to a position of authority and responsibility should be more diplomatic in their use of language so its probably right that she should be asked to step down.  But the story is a useful way to restate a point about ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege’ that I touched on a while back when Diane Abbott was accused of racism.
Its this: My white male privilege is such that when someone tweets #KillAllWhiteMen, I assume is a joke.  I read the hashtag and my natural reaction is that she’s indulging in hyperbole.  Banter. I get to make that assumption because I don’t live in a society that demeans or belittles me because of my race or gender.  Nothing in the mainstream culture or media undermines me or makes me insecure because of my phenotype or chromosomes.
Black people do not get to make that assumption.
Women do not get to make that assumption.
LGBTQ people do not get to make that assumption.
When any of these people see comparable hashtags (posted, usually, by white men) the threat feels real, and their outrage in response to such message is real and justified.  Conversely, when there is an angry backlash against people like Mustafa on petition sites and newspapers like The Daily Mail, the outrage seems (to my mind) quite false: a mask donned in order to better fight the culture war.
None of this is to defend Bahar Mustafa or to suggest that routinely posting antagonistic messages is admirable.  Rather, its just to point out that context is important.  While laws should be blind to race, gender and sexuality, our society and the interactions within it are not.  Words that bite in one context may be toothless in another.
Indeed, changing contexts mean there will be situations where white men would indeed feel menanced by a hashtag.  For example, if it were tweeted in Paris on 7th January, right after the Charlie Hebdo murders, messages like #KillAllWhiteMen would take on on a whole new meaning, and I’d think again.

4 Replies to “#KillAllWhiteMen? You must be joking”

  1. Agreed – unwise use of a professional account.
    On a personal one, no problem.
    Someone tweeted me yesterday “Sexist bitch. Get in the fucking kitchen and make me a salad”
    I retweeted it laughing, then blocked them. They were replying to an article I’d shared, which was a few examples of “why men’s rights activists are no use in standing up for men’s rights” or something like that.
    Now, I assumed he was an MRA abusing me. So he’s insta-gone.
    Only a few minutes later did it occur to me that perhaps he was joking and I could’ve looked through is timeline.
    But why should I – turn up in my mentions swearing at me and being sexist, I’m not giving you the benefit of the doubt.
    Because, as you say, most of the time – it’s not a joke.

  2. I partially agree and see where you’re coming from, even as a straight white male myself. It’s obvious satire.
    She’s now been charged for it. I believe from a jurisprudential point of view, it is important in order to follow the concepts of rule of law that this context you speak of (in terms of the race, gender, etc of the speaker), is actually not into account. Here’s why – one can not be granted special privileges to the law, hate speech is hate speech under the statutory provisions of the UK (I don’t live there). If open to such context, who decides what is hate speech or not? The judiciary? That leaves the door open for very wide interpretation and ambiguity, and ultimately in some cases it will be difficult to ascertain truthful statements from satire.
    The notion of judges deciding one persons claims as “hate” speech and the other’s as a “joke” enables a special group of elitists (mostly white men by the way) to determine what words are permissible in society and what are not.
    Also, I feel the Tweet really let her community down, especially Allied men willing to fight alongside her. It’s difficult to determine whether she despises them too, or not.

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