• After my rant last week versus CBC Radio and their use of an unreliable moral compass, the broadcaster has been kind enough to immediately vindicate my accusation. In particular, CBC Radio Vancouver’s The Early Edition—which brands itself a champion of anti-racism—cheerfully interviewed an alleged anti-racist, Masuma Khan, who had helped herself to a race-based criticism of white people, and now defended herself by claiming that it is impossible for someone of colour in Canada to be racist against white people.

    Now, it may seem that I am enjoying a bounty of low-hanging fruit by taking on such a silly notion that only certain races can be racist. However, I have accepted the challenge because this “can’t be racist” argument is catching on with certain “progressive” groups who enjoy essentializing race. More importantly, I notice that our hoped-for-defenders in the mainstream media rarely point out the obvious troubles with defining racism by race. As ever, I find this lack of critical response to be worrying: without interrogation, bad ideas surely have a better chance of flourishing.

    And so my fingers ranted out an email to CBC Radio’s Early Edition criticizing both Ms. Khan for crimes against the dictionary, and her interviewer, Rick Cluff, for not raising a single eyebrow of skepticism towards her creative vocabulary.

    As usual, I have not received a response from CBC Radio to my criticism, so I publish it here.


    Dear Rick Cluff:

    On November 28th you interviewed University of Dalhousie Student Union executive member Masuma Khan who had been accused by her university of racism after she had publicly used the term “white fragility.” She defended herself in your discussion by arguing that:

    (1) She cannot have been racist, because “We know… racism [against white people] doesn’t exist in a North American context.”

    (2) The criticism she received demonstrates a double standard against her because of her race: “freedom of speech,” she said, “has been all too selective, and… freedom of speech really only counts for those who are privileged.” And:

    (3) Since her “fragile” commentary, she was threatened on social media, and this proved the very insult that started the controversy. “White folks…” she explained, “they just showed how fragile they were with the way that they responded to my message.”

    I understand that your interview style is to be polite to your guests and rarely to challenge them, and I appreciate that easy-going presentation. However, I think that, as a publicly funded broadcaster, you have a duty to ask a skeptical question or two of someone who advocates race-based criticism, and yet denies not only that she participated in racism, but also that she could ever be a racist because her race makes it impossible.

    Those are some extraordinarily claims that should not be taken on faith. So, for the record, I would like to provide a few counterarguments to Ms. Khan’s.

    (1A) The stated notion that it’s impossible to be racist against white people [in North America].

    In the week before this friendly interview, you spoke with a farmer who said that he and his cohort were having trouble with thieves who, he surmised, probably think it’s no big deal to steal from a big farm. And you replied, “But theft is theft.”

    Theft—the taking of something [without permission] that is not lawfully your own—is indeed theft. That is the fact of the word. Of course, such thieves might argue that stealing from a farmer, or better yet, from a big corporation, is not as bad a type of theft as, say, helping oneself to the wares of a small convenience store. Indeed, in spite of repeating your aphorism, “But theft is theft” several times, you asked the farmer if he thought perhaps some of the thieves took from his bounty because they “needed to.” So you were making a distinction regarding the level of moral failing based on the possible poverty of the thieves. Yet, you did not relent from your insistence that theft is theft. And I submit that, in spite our society’s celebration of mythical figures like Robin Hood who steal from the rich to give to the poor, most of us, like you, are unwavering in our insistence that we call a thief a thief. This I believe is because we realize that if we start claiming that stealing is only stealing if it’s particularly harmful then we will find ourselves at the top of a slippery slope that may send us into moral and legal (not to mention linguistic) chaos.

    By that same instinct, I am bewildered by your unwillingness to gently question the equally untenable notion that certain races cannot be racist towards others. Racism is racism. Ms. Khan criticized a group of people on the basis of the colour of their skin and so, I’m afraid, the racism app has, by definition, been activated.

    Now, as with ranking the wrongfulness of different types of theft, Ms. Khan is welcome, if she likes, to argue that racism against a “historically privileged” race is not as harmful a brand of racism as that which insults a race whose member faces do not tend to decorate our money. But that cannot negate the fact that demeaning a particular group of people on the basis of their race is racism. To argue otherwise—without any hint of push back from an interviewer from Canada’s publicly funded broadcaster—is to bring us closer to Orwell’s warnings against doublespeak, where “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and now “racism is anti-racism.”

    (1B) The implied notion that it’s not a moral flaw to be racist against white people.

    Ms. Khan is attempting to ridicule her cake and eat it, too. She wants to criticize a particular race of people without having to wear that annoying label of being a race-based critic. It is an intellectual cheat that we would not allow in any other context:

    “Hey, you just punched me in the face.”

    “No, I didn’t. I’m smaller than you, so we know for a fact that it is impossible for me to punch you in the face.”

    I refuse to give up my dictionary so easily, and instead I would like to respond to the claim Ms. Khan is trying to hide within her doublespeak: that racism against white people isn’t so bad because, after all, white people are privileged, so they can surely handle the occasional slur and still have plenty of advantages left over.

    I cannot deny that modern anti-white racism in Canada is currently insignificant when compared to, say, Jim Crow segregation laws formerly in place in the United States. Yet, if we allow racism against white people to go not only unchecked, but unacknowledged, we are playing with a flammable agent. We already live in a world where the NDP who lead British Columbia and the “Liberals” who lead Canada discriminate against white candidates for office. You’re of course welcome to defend racial quotas based on what I assume is your moral position that governments should look like their citizens, but the problem is you didn’t need to make any argument to defend those racially discriminatory practices. The Canadian media has asked almost no critical questions about this renunciation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” of “a nation where his children would “not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

    It is not my contention that white people experience more racism in Canada today than other races do, but I am noting that racism against white people is not only mainstream (“Oscars so white”), it is systemic (“Preference given to candidates of colour”), and vicious: we often hear comedians and pundits merrily dismiss many important (and diverse) thinkers because they are “Dead white men,” or if such men are inconsiderate enough to still be alive, “Old white men.” Such essentializing is a powerful manoeuvre in the game of racism, as it reduces complex beings to a single supposed flaw (in this case, that white minds are antiquated). Such demonization of a particular race keeps our compassion for its members at bay, and allows us to expand our dislike for the lot of them without the discomfort of guilt.

    (2) The notion that Ms. Kahn experienced a racial double standard against her freedom of speech.

    Despite my contempt for Ms. Khan’s race-based arguments, I support her calling upon her right of free speech to defend herself against her university’s attempt to discipline her. Unless Ms. Khan was bullying individual students in her charge and/or discriminating against them in action (i.e. excluding them from participation in events), elected university student leaders should be free to express whatever opinions their electorate will tolerate. And the university’s attempt to quash her for expressing morally suspect notions is worrying: if universities are not a place where ideas can be freely expressed, where can such open dialogue occur?

    But, while I defend Ms. Khan’s right to free speech, her claim that she was treated worse by her school because she is not white baffles incredulity. I was, I admit, surprised to see a Canadian university (usually a stronghold of “progressive” politics) hold to their misguided “hate speech” restrictions even though it was against a person of colour. But they still eventually dropped their claim. Mr. Cluff, can you really, within the deepest honesty of your heart, believe that if a white Student Union executive member had uttered a race-generalizing remark towards people of colour that he or she would have made it to the end of their sentence without being removed from office?

    If you’re struggling to accept the obvious answer, please ask yourself this: if you were to describe people of colour with any negative word on CBC airwaves, do you think—in today’s climate where just criticizing the racially “progressive” notion of “cultural appropriation” is taboo on CBC—you would have a job the next day?

    In contrast, you gave a sympathetic interview on Canada’s public broadcaster to a woman who openly uses the phrase “White Fragility,” and, correct me if I’m wrong, but your livelihood remains intact. This isn’t to say that I think you should lose your job for being nice to Ms. Khan, but I do contend that Ms. Khan’s claim of a mainstream double standard against her brand of racism is self-evidently false.

    (3) The notion that threats by individual white people says something about white people in general.

    I am sorry Ms. Khan received threats: she did not deserve them.

    Violent threats against anyone for their choice of language is, of course, morally disastrous. However, if you speak with Ms. Khan again, could you please let her know that receiving threats is not uncommon for people who are publicly controversial (it happens, I’m afraid, to people from every corner of the political rainbow). Nevertheless, such violent language against Ms. Khan no more redeems her racism than white nationalist Richard Spencer was redeemed by the so-called anti-Nazi who punched him the face.

    The good news is most people do not threaten those with whom they disagree; unfortunately, it only takes a small percentage of citizens to use violent language to make one feel as though we live in a violent society. But I hope Ms. Khan can take some comfort in knowing that most Canadians—even those who don’t like her choice of language—do not approve of the violent rhetoric she received.

    Regardless, Ms. Khan’s contention that those threats “from white people” prove the very fragility she was accusing white people of, is more racism. She is generalizing from the bad acts of individuals to accuse the racial group to which they (allegedly) belong. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you surely would have condemned such generalizing bigotry if it were aimed at people of colour, so the fact that you did not question Ms. Khan’s anti-white generalizing once again disproves her argument that there is a double standard in Canada against her version of racism.

    My hope here is not to persuade you to blacklist the Masuma Khans of our society. I think the public discourse would benefit from CBC Radio talking to more people with controversial opinions. And I’m not suggesting that you change your style to a more combative one that argues with your guests; however, I do contend that, as a publicly funded broadcaster, you ought to at least put forward these most basic of counter arguments when you’re speaking with those who are attempting to renovate not only our moral compasses but also our dictionaries.

    Sincerely,

    Seth McDonough


    SETHBLOGS NOTE: If you’re interested in reviewing the source material for this essay, I have set up my transcription of Mr. Cluff’s interview with Ms. Khan as the first comment on this post. You can currently also listen to the interview on The Early Edition‘s Archives starting at 2:20:49 on November 28th.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 8:31 AM

  • 3 Responses

    WP_Modern_Notepad
    • SethBlog Says:

      As promised, here is a transcript of the interview of concern between CBC Radio’s Rick Cluff (RC) and Dalhousie’s Masuma Khan (MK).

      RC: Dalhousie University student union executive member, Masuma Khan, made headlines this summer calling out what she sees as “white fragility” on her Facebook page. Now this Muslim Canadian was supporting Indigenous protests against Canada 150 Celebrations, but white students complained about reverse racism, and the school called for a discipline hearing. Khan started to receive harassment and death threats, and Dalhousie has since dropped the complaint, but Khan still is receiving threats. She is at the University of the Fraser Valley today for a student event addressing campus racism, but first she joins us on the line from Abbotsford. Good morning!

      MK: Good morning.

      RC: Welcome to BC.

      MK: Thank you (chuckles).

      RC: You just had your first face-to-face with the president of Dalhousie University since that university dropped their complaint against you. What’s your relationship like with the administration now?

      MK: I mean: it’s very awkward to be—you know, to have to work with an administration that has put you through so much violence, and hasn’t really listened to you, or prioritized your safety, so I think it’s very difficult to navigate, but you know I am here to work with the administration for the students. You know, they voted me in so regardless of how difficult these situations can be, you know it’s my job and my duty to these students who voted me in to work with the administration, so I’ll continue to do that until my term runs out.

      RC: The complaint has been dropped. Did they give you a reason why they dropped the complaint?

      MK: No. Not really. (Chuckles.) I think it’s very safe to say, or I guess most people can see that they dropped the complaint after they received a lot of pressure from the media and faculty, but even so, like I wasn’t aware that the complaint was withdrawn. Other students knew before me. They sent a campus memo, I guess, addressing it, and didn’t actually contact me, and in this memo, they said that they had been in contact with both parties, which they obviously lied about, because I had no idea that they were withdrawing the case.

      RC: You received a number of violent threats. How did the university address that issue with you?

      MK: Well, my lawyer—I guess you can see this on twitter—tweeted one of the threats that I had received to the president of Dalhousie, and she basically asked, “What is the way that my client can respond to this in a respectful manner?” because they had an issue with when I was calling out racism in the way that I was, and he in his tweet, he said for us to go to the human rights and equity service at Dalhousie rather than going to the police, so that’s how much the administration really showed how they prioritize my safety, so yeah.

      RC: But how did that make you feel when little action was taken to protect your safety?

      MK: I think it just… it made me feel like Dalhousie didn’t really appreciate all the work that I have done and all the work that I have contributed to Dalhousie as just a student and I have been involved in the campus before I was a vice president. It really showed me—just like with dentistry that Dalhousie prioritized, you know, like rapists over survivors. They prioritized racists over you know someone who is going through racism and like racialized folk so I wasn’t too surprised because this is just the same trend that the administration really follows so I don’t know it just makes me feel like I really don’t matter to the administration and it’s very—I guess they only care about me for like face value.

      RC: Let’s be blunt about this. The complaint against you was that you were being racist towards white students. You’re born in this country…

      MK: Yup.

      RC: You are a person of colour. How do you think people might have reacted had you made the same statement as a white woman?

      MK: I think they wouldn’t have reacted in the way that they reacted to me as a women of colour because, you know, it would have been coming from their community, and they wouldn’t have, you know, had these like racist, violent message towards, say, if I was a white woman. And, it’s similar to, I guess you could look at the Laurier case, and how, when this white female TA grad student was basically opening conversation for transphobic rhetoric, all—a bunch of white folk, including Proud Boys, ran to her, you know, side, and basically was like, “This is free speech,” but when it comes to me, you know, calling out racism, systemic racism, and fragility and privilege, you know this is the kind of conversation that white folks are, you know, they just showed how fragile they were with the way that they responded to my message, right? So I think the response would have been very different had I been a white woman.

      RC: What does your situation say about the right of freedom of speech on our university campuses?

      MK: I think freedom of speech is all too selective on campuses, you know, I think it only goes to show that there’s only certain forms of freedom of speech that are accepted, which I think is extremely ridiculous, right? Because we know that racism and systemic racism is, in fact, a fact in its reality, but folks are like, “No, you know, that doesn’t exist. Racism doesn’t exist. I’m not racist.” And it’s like I’m not saying that you specifically are racist, but you can’t tell me that racism doesn’t exist to someone like me. You can’t tell me that Islamophobia doesn’t exist, and that’s a constant conversation that I have when, you know, talking about these issues, I’m met with this dismissiveness that, “No, no, that’s not the case. Genocide never happened in Canada,” and it’s like, no, you know, Canada was founded on the genocide of Indigenous people. Let’s be real. It’s a historical fact. It’s an imperical fact, and how can you dispute that, so even with freedom of speech, and academic freedom, you know, you can’t bring up subjects that have already been debunked. So if I was to bring up the fact that the world was flat, for example, that is, that’s not the kind of conversation we can make space for in the university because we know that the world is not flat, right? So, when we’re talking about racism, and folks are like, “But no: reverse racism. We know reverse racism doesn’t exist in a North American context, so, yeah, I think freedom of speech has been all too selective and I think freedom of speech really only counts for those who are priviledged, yeah.

      RC: Masuma, thanks for your time this morning.

      MK: Thank you.

      RC: Take care. B-bye.

      MK: Bye.

      RC: Masuma Khan, a member of the Dalhousie university student union speaking at a students only event at the University of the Fraser Valley later today.

    • Janice Fiamengo Says:

      Bravo, Seth. Patiently reasoned and crystal clear, as always!

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thanks Janice! Patience is definitely a required virtue for this topic.

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