If you haven’t done so already, please read this blog by me https://makingkidsclever.wordpress.com/2019/12/27/why-im-no-longer-speaking-to-antiracists-about-race/ and this response by @AntiRacistEd https://www.theantiracisteducator.com/post/the-structure-is-rotten-a-response-to-mills-and-his-antiracists before reading this one. Without a careful reading of both of the above blogposts, this one will not make any sense.
Initially, I didn’t want to reply to @AntiRacistEd’s response to my blog as I didn’t see the point. I found the blog claimed I said too many things that I didn’t to warrant a response. I thought people would see through these and pretty much ignore it. Yet, seeing just how many people were praising Hashim’s blog as if my arguments have been masterfully and meticulously dismantled and as though I’ve had to waddle off with my tail between my legs, I couldn’t resist replying. So here goes. If you can, have this blogpost, and my original blogpost open in different tabs so you can see for yourself. I think the things I said and the points I was making were perfectly clear in the original post, but it seems not. I will repost the @AntiRacistEd blogpost in its entirety here, paragraph by paragraph, and respond to the sections in bold where I think Hashim has misrepresented or misunderstood me.
Criticising racism in education is certainly tough for anyone willing to take on the challenge. From students being called racist names and ignored by their teachers, BME teachers feeling sidelined and unappreciated by their overwhelmingly white colleagues (especially in Scotland), children whose first language is not English being seen as more of a burden than deserving a good education, racist exclusions policies, and a wholesale failure to place any emphasis on a culturally responsive pedagogy instead of the usual multicultural melting pot love-in (which has been shown to more mask than actually challenge racism), tackling racism is only getting harder. Oliver R Mills, a primary teacher from the south of England, has recently written a blog entitled “Why I’m no longer talking to antiracists about race” which nestles neatly in amongst these challenges in asserting that anti-racism in education has “gone too far”1. This piece is a response to that blog which gained some traction and appreciation amongst people on social media. Hence the necessity to respond.
- At no point do I use the words “gone too far” so I don’t know why these words are in quotes. Even so, I do not think anybody who carefully reads my blogpost could infer or deduce that as my argument either.
Mills makes a series of points in his post, two broad ones among them that “antiracists” wield too much power in education to routinely silence those who do not adhere to their “doctrine”2, and reverse racism is a sorely ignored injustice3. He sees white people as the real victims in all of this4. For me, this fits into the far-right turn across many spheres of life from politics, to the media, and popular culture: racism is now more explicit, and more reflected in the policies and rhetoric of the powerful than has been for a long time. With this is a concurrent rise in insecurity among the powerful, and subsequent demand that all structural critiques of racism be silenced 5. Interpersonal racism is still bad of course (even though the most powerful in the land can still get away with it), but asserting it as a structure is dangerous folly. The blog from Mills slots into this overall contemporary mood. This article will have a focus on two arguments that are made by Mills: “wokeness” has gone too far and wields a totalitarian power, and that white people (and specifically men) are one of the most marginalised groups in society6.
2) My argument is not about antiracists wielding “too much” power. It’s not about wide-scale power balances at all. My criticism is about isolated actions, namely how some people who call themselves antiracist use fear and shaming to scare people into silence. I don’t think I once directly or indirectly refer to the amount of power of antiracists or “antiracists” wield as a group.
3) I don’t think there is such thing as reverse racism. It’s a nonsensical term. There is just racism. I don’t get where the sorely ignored injustice argument comes from. The vast majority of people, even teachers, would agree with me that non-white people can be racist, so, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend I buy into the term reverse racism for a second… If so many people believe that non-whites can be racist, how is this commonly-held belief “sorely ignored?” I argue two things in the blog that may have caused the writer’s incorrect deduction here. Firstly, as mentioned already, I believe that non-white people can be racist and I come back to this point numerous times in the blog. Secondly, the reactions of the “radical left” or “extreme left” (I’m not using the word woke anymore where possible) to things people say are often influenced by the race and gender of the person saying it rather than what the person actually says and they will often react with scorn or tolerance depending on the biology of the speaker. See the bottom half of paragraph 11 where I give an example of this.
4) No, I don’t.
5) I don’t do this. Racism in all its forms is worthy of discussion. I’d place systemic racism at the top of the priority list for discussion.
6) How anybody could read this blog and take from it that I’m claiming this is beyond me. This point is too stupid to argue against. If I’ve missed something and this point from the blog writer is true please let me know. You might have to explain it to me. Sorry about that.
From the deliberately provocative title 7 (echoing Reni Eddo-Lodge’s excellent book about not talking to white people about race), it is clear from the outset that Mills does not intend to sympathise with activists making structural critiques of racism8 . Instantly there is a binary set up between white people on one hand, and “antiracists” on the other. These activists have carried out a campaign of “linguistic scare-bombing” against anyone who dare stand against them, and that they have committed a semantic corruption by steering away from a true, dictionary definition of racism. There are repeated comparisons between antiracists and totalitarian dictators who carry out public executions9, that they are an intellectual elite inimical to the interest and capabilities of “proles” like him, act like a gang, are cult-like, and that the terms they use like “whiteness”, “white supremacy”, and “white solidarity” are not ideas come about through struggle and lived experience10, but are rather tools to silence those on the other side (white people). In the section on the problems of “wokeness”, Mills asserts that antiracists ignore the salience of wealth (and implicitly class11) when it comes to power, and, above all, they are uninterested in liberal, rational values of debate and discussion (even when he says near the end of his piece that he “has no interest in engaging” with anyone who thinks his piece is racist – it’s telling how far his own belief in these values extend).
7) Fair comment. When I was thinking of blog titles, as soon as I thought of this one I knew it would be the one I chose. Just bear in mind the difference between the “antiracists” I refer to in inverted commas as opposed to everyone who would consider themselves antiracist. We’re looking at a sub-group within antiracists here. Like separating hooligans from football supporters. The “antiracists” are the hooligans (bad) while the antiracists are the football supporters (good or neutral mainly, some bad).
8) My blog was not about structural racism. I would read any book and listen to almost anyone talk about structural racism. The blog was about, among other things, the use of scare tactics to silence people with the “wrong views” regarding racism. I spent 20 minutes talking to someone who calls themselves antiracist at an educational event. I didn’t agree with him entirely but I spent far more time listening than I did talking. The idea that I don’t care about structural racism or am unwilling to listen to alternative views is false. I’m unwilling to engage with people who can’t argue properly, people who resort to insults or people who use threatening behaviour.
9) Read this for yourself. There is one comparison and it’s clearly not a literal comparison. It’s about the use of very public deterrents to get people to do what they’re told. I am comparing historical totalitarian approaches to control to those used on Twitter by the extreme-left.
10) I don’t claim this at all. They’re good words, and I give their true, original definitions before discussing each further. For argument’s sake, I do think white privilege, white guilt and white supremacy are all genuine, observable and rationalisable concepts, even the definition of white supremacy as a system of allowing white privilege to be upheld rather than the traditional belief of white supremacy as a belief in white superiority. I’m not so sure about whiteness and white solidarity, but again I define them according to the books I’ve read about antiracism from authors who identify as antiracists. My point here is about how some who call themselves antiracist use these words primarily or solely as a means of linguistic scare-bombing as opposed to being used to genuinely discuss observable or covert examples of each term.
11) Working class and middle class are now almost indefinable terms. A working-class community in Clacton-on-Sea will have a different set of views to one in Toxteth which will have a different set of views to one in Cowcaddens which will have a different set of views to one in Woolwich. Likewise, working class is not as directly correlated with low-income as it once was. Those who take one of the traditional working-class skilled-professions, such as plumbing, pipe-fitting and plastering, are likely to earn more than those with some traditionally middle-class jobs such as teaching and nursing. Because class is so hard to define and so hard to deduce nationwide generalisations from, I don’t see the point in doing so. In my opinion, affluence is the single greatest influence on oppression and prosperity.
In long passages of weighty, winding prose12 Mills seems to be on some kind of personal, emotionally-charged crusade13 against antiracists (including some on Twitter who he refuses to name in his subdigs14 against them) who he believes are the biggest threat to any ideas of freedom he possesses15. This is in spite of the odd nod to the existence of institutional racism16, and acknowledging the need to improve education on the British Empire and colonialism – both points of his that quickly fade away with each equation of an “antiracist” with a bloodthirsty hangman17.
12) Is this a compliment?
14) I don’t believe in public shaming.
15) I didn’t say this.
16) Read the opening paragraph. I couldn’t make it clearer that I believe this to be true. To refer to such explicit writing as “a nod” is disingenuous.
17) Another really silly statement. I was planning to write in-depth about my views on colonialism and the way the British Empire and British military history are taught. I might do one day. However, many antiracists have made it clear that white people have no place in writing about curriculum changes involving race, colonialism or empire. Even a thoughtful article in the TES by David Russell which seemed to argue the same points as many who want to #decolonisethecurriculum was widely denounced by some who call themselves antiracist. Because he is a #WHITEMALE, he had no right to write the article and his “white gaze” is completely unwelcome. Stay in your lane David.
There is too much to address his points one-by-one, so I will focus first on his contention that antiracists and the “woke”18 are the real ones in power and use it to totalitarian ends19. This clearly ignores that racism is real, and political and cultural elites are becoming ever more brazen in their racism. Think, perhaps, of the Conservative government and their very thinly veiled nods towards making Britishness synonymous with being white, racist exclusions policies in schools, and the rise in hate crimes on people of colour. Like always really, people of colour have most to lose out from a rightwards swing in society and that is again coming to pass. These antiracists that he contends have gone too far are, quite rightly, putting pressure on whiteness and its structures of power20.
18) Criticism of my use of the word woke is the one criticism of the blog that I think is fair, and it was made by a few people in the immediate aftermath. While there once was a sweet point where the word woke could define a particular ideology and set of norms, it seems to be becoming a word that can be used to describe anyone who cares about things beyond their individual bubble. I’ve heard someone describe fast-food chains as woke for releasing vegan options. Woke and wokeness will soon become the new “PC gone mad.” I also agree that it was disrespectful to use a word grounded in civil rights activism in a blogpost that discusses activism.
19) I don’t know where “the real ones in power” comes from? I talk about an isolated form of power which mainly revolves around arguing on Twitter and the effects linguistic scare-bombing has on reputations. This is straight from the intersectionalism playbook of taking a comment completely out of the context it was written about.
20) You can put pressure on structures of power without linguistic-scare bombing and threatening the jobs of those who disagree with you. I have been massively critical of the Conservative government. I have also been critical of the piss-poor Labour opposition they managed to breeze past so easily.
It seems like his real problem is that racism and other acts of discrimination are being called out, and that more people are recognising that racism is a function of power used to preserve the benefits of those racialised as white21. There is a more concerted movement (even in the face of a resurgent far-right) who are asserting the fact that racism is not an aberration in our enlightened history, but rather inbuilt to The Enlightenment and the various ideals many hold dear. For example, commentators have critiqued the worshipping of free speech which is routinely used to discipline people of colour into acknowledging the right of racists to being heard22, while simultaneously contending that any critique of this is tantamount to thought control and, again, “linguistic scare-bombing”. Antiracists have worked tirelessly to expose these historical roots of racism, and critique a liberal antiracism that would assert racism as more of an aberration than an essential feature of contemporary democracies. This liberal strand (and one that predominates today amongst political and cultural elites) asserts that racism is a problem of individuals and not societies (or structures).23 Racism is pathologized as individual failures and never as symptomatic of larger structures of power that pervade all spaces, political ideologies, ways of thinking and believing. Charles W. Mills writes of “The Racial Contract” and that “white ignorance” incentivises white people to not “see” racism because it is something they gain privilege from.
21) My problem is that grown adults are telling other grown adults what they are allowed to think and are allowed to do and are resorting to bullying tactics to get their way. I would not want to silence anyone. Anyone can have an opinion on anything. Their opinion may not be as well-informed as others, but that does not mean they cannot put their opinion out there.
22) The use of worship here is OTT. I value free speech and more importantly freedom of thought. I do not worship it. If I had to choose between a society where even the most abhorrent views are allowed to be aired and challenged versus one that is strictly authoritarian, controlling and punitive when it comes to speech and opinions, I would choose the first one. For what it’s worth, I am glad of the legal distinction between free speech and hate speech and am pleased to see Boris Johnson’s proposals to strengthen this.
23) It is unlikely I will ever buy into this definition. What’s being defined here is systemic racism. Racism is a complex topic with many “sub-categories.” I cannot envision systemic racism becoming the standard definition for the word racism, nor would I want it to. Despite three attempts to convince me otherwise (in a blogpost that’s had almost 6,000 unique views), and a lot of smug comments on Twitter mocking me after @AntiRacistEd posted this blog, I am still adamant that non-whites can hold racist views and act in a racist way and that whites can be victims of racism at the hands of non-whites.
On the other hand, Oliver Mills’ critique of woke culture and quotified “antiracists” says that these features of racism simply do not exist24, and that any structural critique is just an excuse to have a dig at white people25. White people are the new victims of society, not racialised minorities (for whom, amongst the qualitative, there are decades of quantitative data to prove their structural disadvantage)26. He makes this contention through a comparison between public race “scandals” involving Benedict Cumberbatch and Sara Jeong, who he holds up as an example of where people are too quick to criticise white men of racism, but are completely permissive of women of colour when comments about white people are made27. Mills correctly recognises that certain readings of his blog would brand him a part of the “alt-right”. It has all the hallmarks of a Spiked opinion piece crossed with MRA saltiness28. This is the milieu that believes that everything is PC-gone-mad, the whites have been ignored for too long at the expense of ethnic minorities29 (see the recent furore over scholarships at public schools, and Stormzy’s Cambridge scholarships for evidence), and that this activism should be seen as the preeminent threat against western democracy. As a person of Pakistani heritage, Mills’ racism hit me in the face when he equates people using the word “whiteness” to people being called pakis in the street30. I have felt the violent impact of that word in countless different settings, and it is obvious that “whiteness” does not come with it the threat of being punched in the face or echoes of empire and being made to feel like the permanent other.
24) I don’t say this. Just read the first paragraph again.
25) I don’t say this.
26) I don’t say this either. White privilege is real. Often overstated, but real.
27) I’m not even sure what point is being made here.
28) “This guy ain’t no muthafucking MC, I know everything he’s ’bout to say against me” (Mathers 2002).
The Spiked and alt-right jibes were predictable. One of the reasons I read Spiked is it is an antidote to the extreme-left views that dominate Twitter, even though I wouldn’t claim to be a fan of the website and I certainly take certain writers (Brendan O’Neill) and certain topics (environmentalism) with a pinch of salt. I don’t know exactly what makes my writing style similar to Spiked, nor have I seen a definition of “alt-right” that matches my viewpoints on anything. Yet, the extreme-left are predictable and I knew these labels were coming for me simply because I had dared to put my head above the parapet and go against the doctrine. It has happened to others before me and it will happen to others after me. Again, if someone can do a breakdown of the hallmarks of Spiked opinion pieces and compare these with my writing, and/or can explain why I’m part of the alt-right, that would be lovely.
29) I don’t say this in the blog, nor do I think it. If you can’t argue about what someone has written, just pretend they’ve written something else.
30) Look at what I actually wrote here in paragraph 9 which is about the term “whiteness” and how this term has evolved from its academic origins. I argue that now it’s often used to make jibes and generalisations about people based on their race. Look at what I actually wrote. At no point do I suggest whiteness jibes are equal to the p*** jibes that were completely normal to hear when I was a kid. I simply point out that the “whiteness is… [insert negative generalisation here]” comments remind me of the “p***s are… [insert negative generalisation here]” comments. The comparison is about how it is wrong to make negative generalisations and stereotyping based on race or skin colour. Of course, the negative comments that people made in the 80s and 90s about “p***s” were far more powerful and damaging than the “whiteness is…” comments, which I’ve only seen on Twitter so far. Just look at what I wrote and what words mean, seriously.
Equates: consider (one thing) to be the same as or equivalent to another.
Reminds: cause (someone) to remember someone or something.
I think the use of the word equates in the @AntiRacistEd blog as oppose to reminds (which I actually wrote) is deliberate.
Reverse racism is not real31. Racism must not be confused with adjacent but very different terms like prejudice – racism is a system of disadvantage. There is no centuries-long legacy of the countries of white people being colonised and brutally exploited both then and now, proven record of institutional racism against them in, for example, the police, or mobs of people out to kill them (like, say, the days of paki-bashing Mills equates to his own hurt). It is hard to see the disadvantage for someone like Mills. He mentions having unpleasant Twitter exchanges, and people being reported for comments being made on social media. It is all the more bemusing when considering the actual effects of calling out racism in education: marginalising, a freeze on the ladder of promotion, and further abuse32.
31) Reverse racism is a meaningless term. There is only racism and that involves, among other things, prejudicial and/or discriminatory actions, systems and practices based on one’s race.
32) You say actual effects as if I don’t think there is systemic racism in education. I think there is. We might disagree about the scale of the problem or how to go about tackling it, but we agree there is a problem. Again, I don’t think anybody reading this blog with a genuine attempt to understand my viewpoint and arguments could believe that I am denying there are problems with racism in education. The only disagreement here is in how we use the word racism. I use it as a blanket term and then more precise terminology depending on what I’m talking about (e.g. institutional racism to discuss racism in institutions), whereas you use it only for systemic racism and use other words like prejudice for inter-personal racially-motivated incidents and beliefs around race that I would call racist.
As a primary teacher like Mills, I find stances like his deeply troubling as well as plainly racist33. Even with a nod or two towards racism34 being a thing, the weight of vitriol reserved for people who fight against it35 shows up a clear hate for those who correctly say that anti-racism hasn’t gone far enough in righting the persistent racial inequalities we see across society today. This jettisoning of solidarity at the expense of prioritising hurt, white feelings36 is one that I sincerely hope we do not see further in education in Britain. To do so would erode any gains we have made thus far. We must maintain that racism is a British institution, a structure upon which the country was built, and must be fought against as such37.
33) I don’t think my views/stances are troubling or racist. Far from it in fact. I think people like me are less racist and are doing more to challenge racism than some of your mates who would call themselves antiracist.
34) More than a nod or two. Be fair.
35) You’ve missed the distinction between antiracists and “antiracists” in the blog. I have no beef with the vast majority of people on Twitter with antiracist in their bios. The blog challenges an ideology more than it challenges people. For clarity, I want to live in a society that is free of racism in all forms, I just don’t think that some who call themselves antiracist are going about it very well and are doing more harm than good. If that’s not your takeaway from the blog I don’t know what to suggest; you have spectacularly missed the point.
36) This is becoming a common trope. It’s not about hurt white feelings. It’s about the fact that linguistic scare-bombing and other scare tactics used by the radical-left can lead to people losing their jobs, often for nothing more than writing and sharing list of educators they like, or hosting a 3-person podcast. I couldn’t care less if what I read hurts my feelings. I care about having a job.
37) This is where discussions about the role of empire and how the British Empire is taught should be happening, but they’re not because of a cultish ideology that shuts down any opposing view without discussion, and even agreeable views if the person holding said views has the wrong colour skin.
I did initially plan to leave this blogpost up for a while and then deactivate my account following threats I’ve had to “end me,” “doxx me” and the many “this guy should not be a teacher” comments. I have changed my mind on this. However, I still have problems with the way educators are using Twitter and I have been feeling less positive about Twitter recently. Edutwitter peaked about three years ago and has been in rapid decline in the last eighteen months or so. There was a time where almost no subject was off-limits. People could argue ferociously about a topic, come to a compromise or agree to disagree and then talk about something different the next day with no lingering malice or personal hostilities. Now everything is overwhelmingly negative and dystopian. Everything is tribal. Everything is about winning. My name has been marked by some as a bigoted “alt-right” “trad” who shouldn’t be in education. I can’t comment on a topical post or thread about things like behaviour or curriculum without someone having a dig about something completely different. I miss having chats about serious topics that didn’t turn into insults or threats after about 10 tweets. I miss being able to chat about light-hearted things without someone popping up with a radical-left linguistic scare-bomb because they think someone involved is being oppressed. Unless you perfectly curate your timeline using blocks and mutes, Edutwitter is rubbish now. If you don’t want to be insulted, you can either toe the radical-left line or talk about things they know/care little about, like football, or boring things like scones.
People who know me in real-life will be surprised that I considered giving up and letting the radical left “win.” Looking back, I’m not taking the threatening DM I received seriously. Even if it was genuine and I ended up physically attacked, the consequences in the long-run are unlikely to be damaging. I don’t even mind the insults much. I am well aware that, to some, by not buying wholeheartedly into their doctrine and especially the racist vs anti-racist dichotomy, I am in their opinion, racist. I am not racist but they are entitled to think that if it fits their worldview. I would rather they didn’t smear me with this on Twitter, but at the end of the day, calling someone racist doesn’t have the same impact or mean as much as it once did due to how often it’s banded about over trivial things. The only tactic available to those who dislike me or think my views are problematic which worries me is the threat to my employment. So many teachers have felt that their face did not fit at a school or that they have been forced out. Some line-managers will look for any excuse to discipline a member of staff they want to get rid of. This was my experience last year and it required very good legal advice (edapt ftw) to get my old headteacher to back off a bit. Teachers are very well-protected legally and a vengeful comment from some div on Twitter is unlikely to get someone the sack, yet a claim that somebody is racist or any other of the many linguistic scare-bombs could make someone’s employment status shaky and vulnerable. Threats to doxx anonymous people or grass people up to employers should not be taken lightly. People who do this are potentially starting a chain of events that could leave someone homeless.
I sincerely hope Hashim from @antiracisted has read this blog and understands that his riposte is not in any way a fair or accurate counterargument of what I actually wrote. You don’t need to agree with me. If you want to do a counter-counter riposte, go for it. Just respond to the things I’ve written this time.