Steven Shakespeare: White Pride Now Passes as Serious Political Commentary

Jenkins at 'Policy Fight Club'
Jenkins being silenced and oppressed. Photo credit: Policy Exchange

Poor Simon Jenkins. He is part of the new oppressed. Yes, white men over fifty are now apparently the victimised ones. These ‘pale, stale males’ are blamed for Brexit and for Trump and expected to feel guilty about it by the promoters of ‘identity politics’. Now Jenkins knows – he knows! – what it must have been like to be a black person 20 or 30 years ago. But do not despair: the old white man will rise again, and get his own back.

No, this is not The Daily Mash or The Onion. This is what passes for serious political commentary in these times. And it would be easy to dismiss it as the bitter rantings of a reactionary.

But there are a couple of things worth noticing here. Most obvious is the simplistic logic of inversion: if discriminating against blacks or women is unacceptable, so is discriminating against whites. It is the fallacy of an abstract individualism, ignoring the structural power relationships that produce these divisions and identities in the first place.

For instance, ‘black’ and ‘white’ do not exist in some timeless state. Those categories are freighted with a history of domination and dispossession. So when resistance to that history is articulated, it cannot just be directed against individual ‘bad guys’. It must name, critique and struggle with the machines that generate that history, the deep structural (and often unconscious) forces that were born in the cauldron of colonialism and slavery.

However, on Jenkins’ logic, when black people resist the violence visited upon them by a white-dominated system, they are victimising white people. When women call out misogyny and sexual abuse, they are emasculating men. Uppity black people and men-hating women: these are the familiar figures through which the existing systems of exclusion sustain themselves.

Of course, this has all been going on for a long time. But something new has entered into mainstream discourse, now that Trump, Brexit and their like have emboldened more virulent forms of hate.

The wave of recent hate crime has not been directed against older white men (unless they were specifically identified as immigrants). But the facts are of no concern to Jenkins. Notice how he makes his own the words of Shakespeare’s Jewish character, Shylock: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” By usurping these words, Jenkins is evacuating them of any specific reference to actual, historical acts of dehumanisation, or to the resistance they evoked. Those Jews, black people and women who have fought to have their humanity recognised are rendered invisible. The free-floating mantle of victimhood – like Shylock’s words, shorn of all context – comes to rest on the white man.

Jenkins’ final paragraph is instructive. It is overtly threatening: old white men ‘will have their revenge’. He is happy to shoulder the burden of civilization and tolerance, as white people have always done (‘Call us hideous and disgusting if you want, they will say, and we shall honour your right to offend us’), but he is ready to exact his pound of flesh. ‘They’ turns to ‘we’ as he states ‘We have our pride. We are going to be around for longer and longer – and we are going to cost you dear’.

There it is: white pride. A white pride that has always gone hand in hand with professions of white victimhood, intended to justify that pride’s inbuilt violence. When the white race fights for itself, it fights for universal humanity, for tolerance and civilisation. Whiteness is the identity that transcends all those nasty and hurtful identity politics. It’s good to be white.

These tropes of white nationalism and supremacism are insinuating themselves into the mainstream. The answer cannot be to ignore this process, even less to pander to it, because that only justifies the narrative that there is something about whiteness or maleness per se that is being victimised. The starting point has to be that this is a lie. It is an act of violence against memory and solidarity, and it provides a fig leaf for all the bitter racists and men’s-rightists who believe that this is their time.

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