‘You are not alive to please the aesthetic of colonized eyes’
– Ijeoma Umebinyuo
An interesting thing happens when fully-assimilated BME in the West engage in politics, whilst retaining and proudly displaying their multicultural and racial identities as minorities—they become characterised as ‘radical’ and disruptive to the everyday function of society. Here are examples of how various politicking non-white figures have been portrayed:
- Prior to Sadiq Khan becoming mayor of London on May 2016, Khan suffered from smear attacks by Zac Goldsmith. Goldsmith’s attacks included ‘Sadiq Khan won’t stand up for London’s Tamil community’ and ‘his party supports a wealth tax on family jewellery,’ with the latter based upon the uncomfortable, racist assumption that this taxation is a defining political issue for South Asians. Goldsmith also branded Khan as a ‘radical,’ belonging to ‘a Labour party that thinks terrorists is its friends’.
- The newly-elected first Black Muslim president of the NUS, Malia Bouattia, depicted as an ISIS supporter for having been against a 2011 motion condemning ISIS, because of its apparent wording that demonises all Muslims, despite later supporting a revised version condemning ISIS and Islamophobia. She has also been criticised as anti-Semitic despite publicly declaring her stance as anti-Zionist due to Israel’s continued violation of human rights by its continued military occupation of Palestine.
- Piers Morgan on the Daily Mail states that ‘Jay-Z’s not the only one who needs to be nervous about Beyoncé, ‘the born-again-black woman with a political mission.’
- There are conspiracy theories surrounding Obama’s birthplace, US citizenship and religion—numerous enough to have Wikipedia pages of their own.
See a trend? Great. From student politics to city politics to presidential politics and to politics in the arts, BME are vilified and are reduced into discourses around their racial and religious identities, considering these as transgressive simply because they exist. This simultaneously echoes the conservative belief that Islam fundamentally breeds violence and the liberal belief that the same religion not only thrives within murder, racism and sexism but that Muslim countries desperately need to undergo drastic moral reforms in order to become as civilised as the West. These two sides of the same coin create a dialogue of racist humanism, perpetuating the notion of the ‘otherness’, that people who are Muslim cannot integrate in Western society, for they carry the perceived backwards morality and tradition of their family and ancestral background.
During Trump’s campaign two different incidents have occurred: in one, a group of activists goes to a Trump rally wearing ‘Muslims for Trump’ t-shirt and relatively normal clothes (caps and jeans); they were met with acceptance. In another a woman wearing a hijab and a t-shirt donning ‘Salam, I come in peace,’ silent and still, was violently jeered and then escorted out of the premises. The implication is clear: to appear as white as possible, to suspend your cultural and religious identity is the only way to assimilation.
This same kind of racist construction of the otherness causes deaths of BME to be desensitized; non-white bodies are treated as spectacles of this ongoing tragedy that cannot be stopped. We needed the sensationalised death of Aylan Kurdi in order to realise the horrors of the Syrian Civil War and the people behind the statistics. This mentality extends to how BME are perceived in the West. Mike Brown’s corpse becomes a commodified parade of ghetto tragedy, not by the institutional racism that prevents poor black Americans escape their poverty, as he becomes a white male poet’s literary fetish and a white female hipster’s art exhibit.
It is also this subversive multiculturalism that is defined as an attempt to ‘overthrow white domination’. Isn’t that pretty great?
‘I’m a Londoner, I’m European, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband,’ Sadiq Khan said in an interview with the New York Times. And it is basically that. It is time to realise that today’s Western, postcolonial, globalist society is not a melting pot but a salad bowl, that today’s society is composed of many different cultural, religious and racial identities that work in unison towards a vision of acceptance that celebrates diversity, that does not infringe upon the rights of vulnerable minorities.
We cannot suspend our identities any more and be content in being treated like second-class citizens. It is important to defend ourselves against discriminatory government policies like the PREVENT agenda that encourages racial profiling and the normalization of racist ideals by discriminating against BME based on their appearance or names. Maybe multiculturalism is inherently radical, because we, in the right side of history, can bring power back to communities who have been feeling disenfranchised. BME or not, it is our human duty to cease this discrimination and oppression.
Featured image © Greg’s Southern Ontario Flickr