Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My White Privilege, My White Ass

I consider Tarek Fatah one of the good guys and a handy one to have around. When someone tells me there are no truly moderate Muslims I usually ask if they read Tarek Fatah’s book Chasing a Mirage. They will say, no, and the argument will then end up going somewhere else.  Evidently, there are Muslims in the West who are quite happy with the Western secularist society and value its civility over the Islamist medievalist mindset that now dominates the OIC and most of the social and cultural setting of the countries where Muslims are a majority. That quite apart from the most virulent strands of jihadism that have now flooded the Web and social media and thereby acquired global following.  That there are few Muslims like Tarek Fatah is a problem but not one he and those like him can do much more about than what they are already doing, ie. putting their finger on the backwardness and nasty nature of the politicized version of their faith.  So far so good. 

      Unfortunately, it appears Mr. Fatah has a different ideological hobby-horse, one that comes from his affiliation with the Left.  The Left has traditionally tried to push social agenda, which is ok, and push with it methods of accelerating the project of social justice which, as a rule, is not ok.   It is not ok because the perception of what is socially just comes often mixed with appetite for crude revenge against those who stand, or appear to stand, in the way of progress.  Often this appetite is not altogether self-conscious but it is there and palpable if you just happen to be on the wrong side of the nomenclatura.  On top of the list is the ubiquitous charge of racism.  

     Mr. Fatah’s take seems somewhat watered down but nonetheless I take issue with it.  He tries hard to avoid the term racist and racism, and even condescends to admit that some anti-racist people are white.  But, he maintains white privilege exists, and claims to have evidence for it.  He points as an example to the case of a white lesbian couple where one of the women was impregnated by mistake by a black man’s sperm and which is now suing the lab for a pile of money.  It is not clear immediately where the privilege comes into play in the couple insisting they have been injured by the error. The other examples have to do with the amount of news coverage that the ISIS and Boko Haram beheadings of non-white people, compared to that of Americans and Brits.  Again, Mr. Fatah’s perception that this to do with the privilege of whites seems hopelessly tangential.  He argues white racism but does not want to admit it. So he misuses a narrower term used for maintaining special (privileged) status of the white race.  The charge is far-fetched. The news of the butchering of the Chinese student Jun Lin by his boyfriend Luka Magnotta in Toronto was bigger news in China than elsewhere not because of a “yellow privilege” but simply because he was Chinese so they were more interested than they would be if he was, say,  Indian.  But if Mr.Fatah wants to hear some really sorry tales of indignities that the non-Chinese suffer say in Hong Kong all he has to do is ask. It starts in restaurants, where the gwai-lo’s (faceless devils, as the whiteys are called there) will be served out of turn.  I think Mr. Fatah makes the classical mistake of reading the natural human propensity to favour members of their own family, clan, nation, race over outsiders of these groups as evidence of discrimination, and with respect to the last of these, as a member of a racial minority in a very hospitable country like Canada falsely equates with some specific social “ill” which he chooses to call white privilege 

   Yes of course, we all have some horrifically banal tales of discrimination but some of us just have built a natural thick skin against it and would not dream creating political issues out of it. Especially, since in the bigger picture, these are minor irritants.  I remember working at the Department of Health in the 1990’s where charges of nepotism were regularly raised against this or that group. Indeed it defies logic that say one large family from Punjab would produce five biologists (or 55.6% of the senior researchers in the division) specializing in water pollutants capable winning a fair competition against all other applicants from all other ethnic groups in the cultural mosaic of Canada . Especially since three of them were not even biologists.  This was corrected eventually when complaints piled up, but all the same. Nepotism exists and doubtless some of it will enrage people trained to see injustices only to their own kind.  They will look for causes which are simply not there.

    I also find interesting the rationale that the columnist invents for the existence of this noxious phenom of white privilege. He says, it is not the fault of the person born white.  It is the product in part of what he calls white accomplishment. It goes like this: from Socrates to Thomas Payne, the Wright brothers to the Nobel Foundation, our contemporary civilization, undoubtedly has a (white) European foundation. Thank you very much, I think I am speaking for all us white folks when I say we are flattered to death.  But wait a sec !  Could it not just have happened that the cultural genus of a rational organization of society opened up in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean. No ?  It did not happen because the people there were white. Or did it ? Actually, if the racially obsessed feels the content of melatonin in one’s skin is a measure of cultural and scientific accomplishment, then the darker Europeans would be closer to madam Blavatsky’s Aryan stock of India than to the paleface of the Franks, Teutons and Vikings.  No-one of any intellectual weight claims, or has ever claimed, in this white privileged Europe (or America), that the superiority of this culture is due to the race of its practitioners. And strange as it may sound it is because reason has no colour (or for that matter, gender) identity.  Indeed, it is by no accident that the white European age of Enlightment’s first work of note, Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes happened to be a biting satire of the excessive cultural self-approbation. Interesting that the genius chose the backward Persians to pillory the French for their lack of enlightened governance, eg. Usbek’s appraisal of the French king: The king of France is an old man. We have no instance in our history of a monarch that has reigned so long. They say he possesses to an extraordinary degree the talent of making himself obeyed. He governs with the same ability his family, his court, his state. He has often been heard to say that of all the governments of the world, that of the Turks or that of our own August sultan pleased him most, so greatly he affected the oriental style of politics.   

     So, there is no white privilege as far as I am concerned and to look for it one will have to blind oneself to the obvious: such terminus technicus is around only to assert that other races deserve to be more privileged than the paleface.  One only needs to take a look at the affirmative practices of the federal and provincial governments (graphically conveyed in the pictures above) to get the idea who and what purpose the scheme serves. In the communist country I grew up in, they called it nomenclatura.  Of course, it was not racial but class identity, but if you think the the commissars intended to remove discrimination by way of preferential policy to certain social segments, you are simply wrong. They only wanted to reverse it!

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