We Need to Talk About Bahar

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In case you missed the headlines, by the time of writing, a petition to sack Goldsmith College’s Student’s Union Diversity Officer has reached over 19,000 signatures.

The debate, which has actually been bubbling since February, centres on the fact that Bahar Mustafa, the Welfare and Diversity officer for a London University Students’ Union has been organising anti-inequality events (sometimes with free pizza) and employing the concept of ‘safe spaces’ to justify telling men and white people that they aren’t welcome.

Back in the day, I saw enough self-involved sectarian shenanigans in my own student union to guess that Mustafa has probably been revelling in the sort of petty personality politics that, ordinarily, no-one outside of her immediate campus peers would take any notice of.

Granted, you’d like to think that a 27 year old graduate with a Masters degree would be wise enough to know better (even if she does still live with her parents) but let’s face it, many of us will probably concede to being something of a self important twat during our college years and I suspect that her recent interventions are unlikely to herald the end of western civilisation as we know it.

The main reason I’ve taken an interest in the story is because I thought it would be interesting to contrast the way some of our (so called) ‘equality champions’ in the (so called) liberal UK media have covered the story in comparison to last week’s media manufactured Mad Maxipad Kurfuffel.

For example, in the same week that one of their columnists stuck an unreserved boot into the man-o-sphere in general and male rights activists in particular because one person writing on an obscure blog got the hump over the trailer for the new Mad Max movie, the Guardian’s coverage of the ‘No whites and/or Irish’ controversy on their own doorstep has been comparatively restrained.

To date none of their usual opinion makers seem to have any opinion on the matter whatsoever, leaving Jessica Elgott sole contribution: Goldsmiths students divided over event that excluded white men to belatedly report (some of) the facts.  Elgott’s report stayed (reasonably) on the fence about the rights and wrongs of the matter, which in itself is noteworthy given the facts that have come to light so far…

In case you’ve missed them, those facts are that a full-time Diversity and Welfare Officer (who’s job duties include the implementation of her employer’s equal opportunities policy and the effective administration of the Student Hardship Fund) faces a vote of no confidence over the allegation that she has encouraged and expressed hatred based on race, gender and social position.

Over and above the BME women only events kurfuffel, she is reported to have regularly contributed to the #killallwhitemen twitter hashtag; called someone white trash on the official Goldsmith’s Student Union account; actively oppressed the voices of disabled students; made a cross section of students feel intimidated, unsupported, and unrepresented; and lead an occupation of the students union in a protest which may or may not have caused £30,000 worth of damage.

“She (if that is her preferred gender pronoun) has made it very difficult for white cis males on campus who feel like they can’t say anything for fear of retribution. the irony that she (or they) think that they are diversifying the student community in the name of feminism and multiculturalism is laughable. Anonymous Male Student

Mustafa’s retort to these complaints is nothing short of brilliant and worthy of one of Herman Melville’s lesser known creations.  Whilst generously conceding that it was ‘unprofessional‘ to describe someone as ‘white trash‘ on a work account, she dismisses all allegations of sexism and racism by explaining that, as an ethnic-minority woman, she ‘cannot be racist or sexist to white men, because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender’.  Oh and, the #killallwhitemen thing is just the way queer feminists express themselves these days.  So jog on essentially…

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And in fairness, is it any wonder that one of our modern day gatekeepers of equality has the confidence to declare herself entirely exempt from the Single Equality Act given the responses from some other extremely influential and privileged gatekeepers.

Goldsmiths University itself has largely sought to distance itself from the whole unsavery situation, saying the diversity officer was “not an employee of the university and is not a student” and therefore essentially it is the independent Student Union’s problem to deal with.

Meanwhile the Students Union have issued a statement making it clear that they ‘stand in solidarity with Bahar Mustafa‘ and even go as far as expressing their disappointment about the eventual u-turn on the ‘no whites’ approach.

Self-defining spaces are so important because the reality is it is not possible to have the discussions that need to be had with your oppressors in the room. Only students who have experienced specific oppressions know what solutions they need and it is important that these students are given the space to direct this. Whilst allies in defeating oppression are appreciated, it is important in discussions and organisational meetings that the individuals that are experiencing oppression are the ones leading their liberation [and] define how they want to work before involving white allies. UCLU Statement

Meanwhile over at the Independent they reckon that a groundswell of support is emerging online for goldsmiths diversity officer and report that the hashtag #supportbaharmustafa is trending on twitter.

Anyone who’s read my analysis of the #questionsformen phenomenon or engaged their own Schofield-senses by bothering to take a cursory glance at the internet for themselves will not be surprised to learn that the truth of the matter is slightly more, shall we say, nuanced.

The fact of the matter is that if the #supportbaharmustafa hashtag is trending anywhere outside of the Independent’s immediate wifi zone, it will most likely be because of the number of tweets expressing opinions such as these:

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I’m sure there will be more inspired observations to come but so far the star prize has to go to the Commissioning Editor at Independent Voices who speaking as-a-white-man is surprised-more-women-arent-tweeting-the-hashtag-killallwhitemen.

The brilliantly named Max Benwell poses various relatively irrelevant questions to any white men who happen to still read the Independent, such as: have you ever been stopped and searched for no reason? [yes], has someone shouted a racial slur at you [yes], or treated you as somehow inferior to them because of your race? [yes] before summing up by suggesting that  “the most radical, the absolute, most revolutionary political act a white person can do is shut the fuck up”.

Mad Max is certainly not one to sit on the fence and takes the opportunity to voice his unequivocal approval and support for the madcap decision to bar anyone that’s not a non-white female from attending an event organised to ‘celebrate racial unity’.

So for his benefit I’ll conclude by explaining why some people might have genuine reason to take offence at the prospect of being left out in the cold while others discuss “diversifying our curriculum”  and claim ownership of the ‘protest against inequality‘ from the exclusive comfort of their conveniently safe space.

Setting to one side the, apparently always fair game and much maligned, white male ‘oppressor’ sub-section of 21st century student society, I remain unconvinced by Max’s polite suggestion that a large proportion of the LGBT student community, many, many disabled students, mature students, minority faiths and any members of the BME community who happen to self-identify as male (or non binary but with predominately male sex organs) should just chill out and sip a nice cup of ‘shut the fuck up‘.  But then again I’m not a complete and utter DONGLE.

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