It is incumbent on minorities to remain civil and calm when pushing back against discrimination rather than on the offensive party to face up to any upset or their own ignorance.
As movements for equality have gained traction — be it on the grounds of gender, race, religion, or some other personal characteristic — individuals from minority communities are rightly now feeling freer to speak out against those who perpetuate harmful stereotypes, whilst the societal majority are encouraged to introspectively examine their own privilege. Whilst this practice has encouraged discussions on topics like White privilege and intersectionality, it has also revealed much about the entrenched beliefs behind people’s instinctive reactions to such exchanges.
All of us — minority or not — are a product of our upbringings and surroundings on some level. The existence of every individual’s unconscious bias is the very reason for many re-evaluating their perceptions of different communities. Included in this is the expectation that minorities adopt a quasi-deferential approach to addressing any negative perceptions of them, as if there is a need to be grateful for the concessions that have already been made or that there should be a conscious effort not to ‘rock the boat’ or alienate those who disagree.
This attitude is adopted not just by the privileged White members of society, but often also by minority communities themselves, who internalise this expectation as a result of their own experiences. An example of this is the difference in attitudes between the younger generations of Gen Z and millennials protesting and advocating for what is often controversial social change, and those of an older generation who tend to either do so on a much less conspicuous level or keep disgruntlements more private. The latter do so through no fault of their own, and indeed every person is free to act as they wish, but it is frequently a result of adapting to repeated microaggressions and years — if not decades — of witnessing the terrible consequences for those who are vocal in their criticisms.
Rather than the burden being on the privileged party to proactively apologise or correct their intolerance or ignorance, the nature of such confrontations and entrenched inequalities means that the burden is on minorities to calmly use facts to explain why such an opinion is both inaccurate and harmful. Of course, discussions should always remain as polite and as devoid of personal insults as possible, but the jarring nature of expecting a person or community to remain as level-headed as a teacher explaining something to a child when it comes to discrimination is clear.
Harmful tropes hit the very core of an individual’s identity or belief system. There is a certain sense of superiority or patronisation when someone criticises a minority group, stating that they ought to be grateful for what they have, or should not have raised their voices or expressed anger, as if berating a child who wants more sweets.
Concrete examples of how this manifests include opponents of Black Lives Matter and critics of feminist movements. An example that illustrates this particularly starkly is in the case of the British MP David Lammy, the current Shadow Justice Secretary. As a prominent Black male left-wing politician, he often faces abuse from many sides and has spoken out against the divisiveness of society — indeed, he has even written a book on tribalism. When hosting his radio show at the beginning of this year, he received widespread attention for his response to a caller who stated that Lammy could “never be English” because of his skin colour, which meant he was ‘only’ “African-Caribbean”, and compared Britain’s cultural diversity with pollution. Responding with a quick history of the British Isles and his own heritage, David Lammy MP explained why ‘Britishness’ has nothing to do with skin colour and why a person can have multiple cultural identities without them being mutually exclusive.
Lammy was justifiably widely praised for his response, but many on social media at the time quickly questioned whether he would have been praised if he had reacted more negatively — which would have been entirely understandable. Remaining poised in the face of bigotry is always an achievement, but the fact remains that such bigotry inevitably exposes a superior complex of minorities ‘not understanding’ and the pressure on minority individuals to embark upon a long history of their community and identity to contradict prejudice — a practice that becomes exhausting for almost every minority individual who has to do the same thing repeatedly over the course of their lifetime.
At JAN Trust, we are very aware of the inherent double standard in minority communities being expected to constantly correct prejudice with grace, and actively work to empower marginalised Muslim and ethnic minority communities, whether through our educational opportunities or our innovative programmes educating mothers and young women on extremism and hate. We take our advocacy work very seriously, as our aim is to give a voice to the voiceless, and expose societal inequalities to reduce the likelihood for vulnerable individuals to face such microaggressions.