I too shall start this piece with full disclosure – in case it wasn’t obvious already. I am of African heritage, specifically Ghanaian, and identify as Black British. Therefore, rendering me underprivileged and a minority in British society.
Whilst its commendable that you advocate diversity for the sole purpose of the exchange of ideas, this is harrowingly similar to the rhetoric your ancestors used to justify colonialism and the ‘exploration’ of the savage lands. Diversity is not and should not be an embellishment of your ‘progressive society’ nor liberal beliefs. It will not mask your racism nor your white privilege, but it is rather the uncomfortable notion that we are all equal though we are different. It is the painful truth that your skin colour, sex, ability but to name a few, does not make us inferior.
And we the peoples are tired of having to constantly blast this on a megaphone.
I applaud your intellectual curiosity and endeavour when reading that one Wikipedia article on the origins of BME and then whitesplaining it so well for us. I know I speak for many ethnic minorities when I say that I found it so refreshing that yet another white person took it upon themselves to educate us about our own identities and history. This is the same way I felt when a talk on ‘African philosophy’ held by the Philosophy Society was given by a white professor. However, allow me to highlight your inconsistencies.
‘White’ and ‘Coloured’ were not used in the same manner in US law. The word ‘coloured’ was used always explicitly, whilst ‘men’ was always synonymous with white. BME is fundamentally different to the word coloured as it does not reinforce historic racist ideals of white superiority, but rather allows us to recognise our identity in a society which is not our ethnic motherland. BME does not dismiss the capacity for a British identity and is not simply premised on the ‘logic of colour’. The definition of who is a minority includes those whose voices are underrepresented in society and are systematically discriminated against due to their heritage, and so BME can include certain groups of people who may have lighter skin such as Arabs.
So, don’t worry, this us and them divide which you worry BME is creating would not lead to a white genocide.
Again, your acknowledgement of the role BME plays in addressing social inequality is praiseworthy, yet it always becomes about the white man. It is true that white working-class men are also at a socio-economic disadvantage, but to accredit that to the BME initiatives is dangerous and quite frankly reckless. As members of the BME community, we recognise the sad reality that we will always face institutional racism and in response, we actively create and seek out initiatives to level the corporate playing field. And so maybe the problem is not positive discrimination, but the confident assurance in which white males believe opportunities should be handed to them.
Unfortunately, we cannot and we will not hide our excellence.
BME people do have different cultural backgrounds and in some cases struggle to ‘fit in’ into British society. This is not the same for white minorities. I will acknowledge that is also a potential problem which they might face, assimilation into British society is not as much of a challenge to them as it is to those of BME heritage. Western cultures are similar and have many intersections. In addition, the level of education and exposure on the cultures of white minorities from Europe far exceeds that of the cultures of BME people. British people can immediately identify a prominent writer, thinker, musician, artist or historical event from the countries of white minorities, but how easy is it for them to do the same with the countries where people of BME background hail, without resorting to stereotypes and racist remarks?
Furthermore, initiatives such as ‘Why is My Curriculum White?’ are not racist, but unpleasant for the white man. Initiatives such as these seek to highlight the lack of representation in the curriculum and debunk certain stereotypes it reinforces. For example, why do we learn about slavery as if its genesis was the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade? Why do we not talk about Dublin being the slave trade capital of the world in the 11th century? Why do we only study Western philosophy? Why do we debate whether the Civil rights movement could be described as terrorism but accept the Crusades as heroic acts of progress? We hail the work of Emmeline Pankhurst as representing a minority group in the UK, yet we do not do the same for Stuart Hall. Even our curriculum at university features Russian history heavily such as the Cold War and the Bolshevik revolution. Education should not have an agenda. It should seek to be as objective as possible.
The BME attainment gap is more structurally rooted in society and government policies rather than at the face level of transition into higher education. The cycle of poverty applies in this case and there is a pattern of underfunding of basic social amenities in areas with concentrated BME populations which in the long run, make it harder to progress into higher education. Returning to the first point, diversity does not function as a means to achieve commercial profit. Diversity in the workplace should be a given naturally.
To be colour blind is to assume whiteness in everyone and this is what you advocate when you call for the removal of labels such as BME. We need BME officers in order to continue to platform the voices which you yourself have acknowledge are readily silenced. Socioeconomic disadvantage should be addressed, but it is not mutually exclusive from having BME platforms – they should be considered simultaneously. Idealistically, we can see everyone as an individual and labels would be superfluous, yet society has not evolved to that point. It is neoliberal to assume that Labels such as BME were initially enforced on us by society, but they are readily being reclaimed and looking at this from a sociological perspective, generalisations are sometimes necessary in order for our collective voices to be heard.