Islamophobia: On the British War of definition and seeing the bigger picture

We told you the threat is white supremacy. You ignored us.

– Randa Abdel-Fattah

Outside Muslim communities of the ‘West’, it has been a heftier then usual year for reflecting upon Islamophobia. Transnationally the world came to a halt on March 15, 2019, when an Australian white supremacist in Christchurch New Zealand, bridged two mosques in tragedy, gunning down 51 people at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. If this experience of horrific violence was not already tragic enough, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the ‘terrorist’, live streamed the first of the two attacks on Facebook, so that even in death his victim’s final moments were no longer their own private experience.* Even in death their bodies were not their own.

What followed across the world was immediate remorse, with cries and well wishes and rhetoric of solidarity extending across the Pacific and the Atlantic, the world, to the tiny island nation. Intersections of racial experience were meaningfully drawn together as the black New Zealand Maori Council called for a nationwide haka, allowing this indigenous dance to be performed alongside Muslim calls to prayer in both commemoration of the dead and solidarity. A series of media clips circulated, showing Maori and non-Maori communities together – eyes wide, mouths open, arms firm and out, in a traditional dance of war. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s photos circulated alongside these viral moments, Ardern often donning a black hijab in mourning. Days after the attack, and the mosque visits, still donning black dress, though this time unveiled, on March 20th Ardern directed her attention outwards to the world, calling for a global fight to root out racist right-wing ideology. This ideology has another name–white supremacist violence–but we don’t often say it for fear of offending ‘white’ people.


A screenshot of Brenton Harrison Tarrant’s manifesto. Tarrant is said to have published the 74 page manifesto online prior to committing the Christchurch atrocities.


It appeared across the pond in the United Kingdom that some British government parties were already prepared to answer Ardern’s call. In doing so, they were also now ready to respond to a more localised appeal being made by British civil society: pay attention to Islamophobia at home.

The Liberal Democratic party were the first to adopt the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia on March 18th, 2019. This definition and the propping up of it had been in the making since late 2017.  Being launched during national Islamophobia Awareness Month as part of a report launch and press event, facilitated by the leading race-equality think tank, Runnymede, and the APPG on British Muslims; their official definition of Islamophobia is the following:

…any distinction, exclusion, or restriction towards, or preference against, Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life (Elahi and Khan 2017:1).

This definition was further elucidated via the works of several established academics in the United Kingdom who contributed their research to the 2017 Islamophobia – 20 years on, still a challenge for us all Runnymede report so as to facilitate a better of understanding of this specific understanding of Islamophobia and its application in the United Kingdom. The report and its 10 recommendations in  the areas of British government policy, labour and employment, health care provision, security infrastructure, and criminal justice are outlined here.

On March 20th the British Labour party followed suit and also adopted the APPG’s definition. The APPG on British Muslims seemingly made a reference to the Christchurch attacks in their endorsement of this political move by Labour, writing that “We have seen the grave dangers of allowing Islamophobia to go unchallenged and therefore words are not enough”. Though it appeared, that these moves of empathy by British parliamentary parties were stalled in early April, even though attacks on British Mosques  remained consistently reported by the British Media, moves in the lobby for the adoption of the APPG on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia continued.  On April 26, 2019, co-chair of the APPG on British Muslims, MP Wes Streeting announced that all parties of Scottish parliament had moved to adopt the APPG on British Muslims definition together. Streeting provided a press release as proof. This event occurred no less than 5 days after a series of bombings occurred in churches and hotels  throughout Sri Lanka, killing at least 270 people and wounding, 450. It was later realised that these Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka were retaliation for the Christchurch attacks.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims was established on 18 July 2017 to build on the work of the APPG on Islamophobia.


It appears that the British terrorism police are  only now beginning to realise what this political lobby means for them. Outlined in the 2017 report, recommendation 8 of Runnymede’s [and  the APPG on British Muslims’] recommendations  for accounting for Islamophobia in Britain, states that:

There should be a full independent and fully transparent inquiry into the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The government should recognize its statutory equality obligations as set out in the public sector equality duty (PSED) in the implementation of all counter-terrorism policies. Counter-terrorism measures must not lead to discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, religion, descent, or national or ethnic origin, in purpose or effect (Elahi and Khan 2017:3, bolded by the authors ).

Unsurprisingly, due to the controversy that always was and continues to  be the conditions of the British Counter-Terrorism and Security Act; often colloquially referred to as Prevent; as of May 15th it is now being reported that “anti-terrorist operations would be hampered if Theresa May bows to pressure to create an official definition of Islamophobia” (Kennedy 2019). Reportedly coming out of a written intervention, “seen by the Times” composed by Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the adoption of an official definition of Islamophobia by the British government is being argued to risk “exacerbating community tensions and undermining counterterrorist policing powers and tactics”(ibid). Though it is has been less than 24 hours, it is being reported by Buzzfeed and the BBC  that Theresa May has already made a decision in favour of Hewitt’s stance. Entities such as the Muslim Council of Britain are calling Hewitt’s position one of misunderstanding. Others such as MP Naz Shah and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi are calling out the manner in which Hewitt is choosing to intervene, pointing out how in a climate where there are already concerns of discrimination,the National Police Chiefs Council is purposely bringing “terrorism into the discussion about tackling Islamophobia”  (Wickham 2019).

It appears in the war to define Islamophobia, British society is beginning to forget about New Zealand. Ardern’s call for a global fight to root out racist right-wing ideology seemingly is drowned in a sea of white noise: as the repetitive question “ But what about the terrorism?” is being chanted back to Muslims chanting in response “Islamophobia is racism”. The intersections of solidarity by the Maori and Muslims, both blackened and dehumanized in New Zealand’s history by white supremacist structures and perpetrators of an explicitly populist yet white supremacy complicit agenda – are seemingly lost in the row to have the APPG on British Muslims’ understanding of Islamophobia be institutionalised. Parties making media headway in this fight­– appear to be lost on the fact that whether or not the British government fully endorses this specific definition unfortunately does not determine whether the British government is stepping in a truly long-term effectual direction of stomping out Islamophobia.  The subject of Islamophobia in both the British and global landscape and its key element, the element that ties Britain to New Zealand in the first place –white supremacy–has all been but ignored in this debate.

The question of the bridge between the UK and New Zealand has been and continues presented as a ‘Muslim problem’, as even the APPG on British Muslims and their supporters are undertaking methods of strategic essentialism. They are thus overlooking the subject of white supremacy: a political, economic, and social system of domination where non-white people, Muslims and perceived to be Muslims alike– are more easily and readily subjected to  physical, mental, and systematic violence (Diangelo, 2018). Not addressing this issue in the foreseeable future is likely to  halt true effective progress in the effort to counter Islamophobia. S.Sayyid & AbdoolKarim Vakil (2017) emphasise a similar stance in their own critique of the 2017 Runnymede  report and its exemplification of Islamophobia seen below:

Failure arises from the insufficient attention paid to the category of racism…Reading racism from the prism of bigotry and its cognates renders racism as a ‘boo word’ rather than an analytical tool. It evacuates the dimension of power, empties out the category of racism, and opens the door for charges and counter-charges of racism to circulate between and within Muslims, Muslim communities, and ethnic minorities, with little sense of the structural overdetermination of unequal social relations.

While it may be argued that pushing the government to adopt a formal anti Islamophobia stance is a necessary first step in the effort to counter British Islamophobia– it should be remembered that the British government continues to see racism as a matter of morals rather than a structural problem attached to its colonial legacy. This is the same government that is too fragile to accept that its institutions and national memory are linked to whiteness in manner that is still ongoing. This uphill battle for the British government to adopt a specific understanding of Islamophobia might be too premature. If the right tools are not in place, the same British government that may even one day adopt this definition  of Islamophobia, may all the while still deny its ongoing complicity in why and how Islamophobia  continues to exist.

Eyes wide, mouths open, arms firm and out in a traditional dance of war–this struggle of definition will continue while others like Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the Muslims of Christchurch, and the Maori of New Zealand, watch and wait.


*terrorist in quotations is used to make reference to the ongoing debate as to whether  framing white supremacist violence as terrorism when trying to invert the double standard granted to Daesh inspired violence, truly aids efforts to address racism and racial violence.

On the cop who didn’t shoot… In response to Scott Gilmore

“One must apologize for daring to offer black love to a white soul.”

– Frantz Fanon (1952) , “The Woman of Colour and the White Man”, Black Skin, White Masks

“Yesterday at 1:30  in the afternoon”, as Scott Gilmore writes, “a  white van leapt the curb and careened down the sidewalk with no warning”…

“We can only imagine the beginning, the shock of seeing a van hurtle over the sidewalk, the horrible noise and screams. We don’t have to imagine the end, though; most of us have already watched it.”

Scott Gilmore’s article, published for Maclean’s magazine the same day  Alek Minassian  wrongly took ten lives, injuring 15 others, is written with astonished reflection. It paints a bare picture of a  moment that is difficult to grasp, let alone imagine despite the fact that the videos are now viral,  a moment amongst a chaos of media coverage focused on the intent and admittedly important consideration of ‘who is Alek Minassian ?’

Gilmore’s piece narrates and queries a moment of silence amidst the white noise of fear and loss,  where a police officer engaged with Minassian directly, having a seemingly one-on-one encounter with the attacker. Here, according to widely shared video recordings, Constable Ken Lam had a life-altering choice: to shoot or not shoot a potential (solely referencing the continued  debate on whether Alek Minassian  should be declared a terrorist) terrorist suspect .

There may have been explosives in the van. Lam wouldn’t have been able to know. Minassian may have been further armed in a detrimental way. Minassian asked to be shot in the head. Yet Lam chose not to shoot. Lam, essentially, chose life.

I am in Canada presently conducting fieldwork on the topic of racialisation and counterterrorism.  I am attempting to view the present of the past and to analytically examine ongoing discussions concerning M-103 on the study of systemic racism and religious discrimination and Bill C-59, a bill meant to address the controversy of Bill C-51, and that will establish 3 new  Canadian security acts:

  • The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency Act (NSIRA Act);
  • The Intelligence Commissioner Act (IC Act);
  • The Canadian Security Establishment Act (CSE Act)

Therefore, the unfortunately interconnected issues of race and terror are constantly on my mind thanks to my research and present engagement with Canadian policymakers and counterterrorism experts. Nonetheless, I could not help but read Gilmore’s essay with a tinge of  some feeling I could not and still cannot properly explain with anything else but a question. The same question that Gilmore poses to his readers:

“What was he [Constable Ken Lam] thinking in that moment when he engaged Alek Minassian?”

Was he thinking about Minassian’s race or ethnicity?

I pose that question, not because I am aiming to be provocative, but because numerous Canadians were clearly wanting to know the racial and ethnic attributes and migrant history of Alek Minassian yesterday. They still want to know now. Not only were there accounts of Minassian being “wide-eyed, angry, and Middle Eastern”, accounts that were notably disproportionately  retweeted in contrast to accounts of Minassian being ‘white’. But, in the aftermath of the attack ( which we are still in), various members of high social media status , including Faisal Kutty of the Canadian Cross Cultural Roundtable on Security have gone as far as to express sentiments seemingly of relief that Minassian was white, or citing Kutty’s choice in twitter language,  using his own hashtags, #VanDriverNotMuslim , #VanDriverNotMiddleEastern.

I, like  Kutty and many other Muslims and/or people of colour held my breath yesterday, hoping the perpetrator  was not Muslim or a person of colour. Not because of the upcoming election, which has and will likely deal with the topic of counterterrorism  and the specific subject of the Liberal Party’s approach to terrorism. Not because Minassian’s whiteness is somehow preferred over discussions of  toxic masculinity or mental health (though Minassian’s mental health is notably only becoming a factor as his societal identification of being ‘white’ is further being reinforced).  Also, it should be noted, on an academic note, that continuously within public discourse on terrorism when the perpetrator is found to be ‘white’, in most instances their whiteness tends to serve as a barrier to fruitful discussion, and to neutralise analysis of the role of racialisation in counterterrorism and security (i.e.  Canada continues to view the role of phenotypically white terrorist actors as episodic, separate from Canada’s history of White Migration Policy and previous institutional endorsement of  white national identity).We, academics and society alike, don’t like to talk about white terrorism despite the necessity of this conversation.

I hoped the perpetrator Alek Minassian was not Muslim or a person of colour so that we, as academics, individuals, and policymakers, could finally discuss why the rest of the world  expected, if not wanted, Alek Minassian to  be.

As I write this blog piece there are conversations still ongoing  where Minassian’s  suggested whiteness is being contested. This is so, even though a possible motive for his attack has been brought forward, where Minassian’s  possible anger at being rebuffed by women is being suggested as a reason to why he was prone to violence ( this needs to be further examined, though it will not be highlighted in this essay).

Minassian’s possible  Armenian ancestry and  the subject of whether Armenians are white has also come into play. This development in conversation is important. The evident societal insecurity over how whiteness and the privilege of being white could possibly connect  to this incident of terror plaguing Toronto, needs to be addressed and considered more. The question of ‘why the Canadian public and politicians (we will see how they respond in the upcoming days), need a non-White, religious, and cis-gendered male to be the face of terror in order for their world views to stand still?’ is an important question that needs answering. Why are we confused and in chaos when the face of our terror is white?

Furthermore, why should we be proud that Lam did not kill Minassian?  Several Canadians are notably expressing how considering Minassian’s actions, Lam did not kill him ,  and for that we should have pride. Some Muslim identifying commentators going as far as to express pride and patriotism, in being Canadian as unlike in Westminster, as unlike in  Münster, as unlike in Nice, the perpetrator did not die and we as Canadians chose to let Minassian live and face his crimes.


As taken from facebook, shared by from the original post by Together Against Hate

It is strange to be made to feel this way about your country.

To be presented with the idea that a police officer lawfully carrying out an arrest in the face of extreme peril, somehow  represents what people with your passport stand for. To be presented with the notion, that you should be proud that the officer did not shoot while the rest of the world was watching. That you should be proud, that this time, out of many, the officer did not unlawfully kill a subject of terror; when around the world and in Canada, unarmed visible minorities  who have not done what Alek Minassian has done, who have not asked aloud to be shot, do not walk away.

Postcolonial scholar Frantz Fanon writes in his (1952:87) work Black Skin, White Masks, referencing  Sartre:

“ ‘They [the Jews]have allowed themselves to be poisoned by the stereotype that others have of them, and they live in fear that their acts will correspond to this stereotype. . . . We may say that their conduct is perpetually overdetermined from the inside.’ All the same, the Jew can be unknown in his Jewishness. He is not wholly what he is. One hopes, one waits. His actions, his behavior are the final determinant.”

As a person holding my breath yesterday, waiting to know if the face of Canada’s terror would once again be that of  a Muslim-identifying perpetrator, or  a Colten Boushie,  or a Pierre Coriolan, it is difficult to read Scott Gilmore’s narration of the cop who didn’t shoot.

Most honestly, this is because there is an unquiet  understanding in Gilmore’s essay, that we should be amazed that Ken Lam,  another human being doing service in the name of  the law, laws said to uphold the lives of all of us equally, let a visibly violent Other who may or may not have been ‘white’ ( we are still too desperately trying to figure this out- was he really and truly ‘white’?), live to see today’s trial. Scott Gilmore’s essay is difficult to read because it emphasizes the reality that  we ( particularly people of colour)  are not expected to make it to the next day, and that Minassian was gifted something by Lam, something that he was undeserving of.

Alek Minassian was not ‘Middle- Eastern’ and was not ‘Muslim’, or so we, those Muslim and POC Canadians finally breathing a sigh of relief will say, ignoring the problematic nature of these labels, our anxiety waning. Yet,  in that moment, where and when Ken Lam faced Alek Minassian, can we as Canadians, Canadians who continue to contest whether our policies and laws regarding crime and terrorism are systemically racist,  honestly say that Alek Minassian’s race would and does not matter to us?

In the upcoming days we will wait and see what happens.  We will see  whether the rest of us, like Lam, will pause before acting  in the face of terror and loss or whether we will altogether forget that Lam did not shoot, and move forward as though he did.




Fanon, F. (1952). Black skin, white masks. United Kingdom: Pluto Press.

Whitewashing Britain: On the question of ‘when should we say ‘white’?’



The world, in a sudden emotional conversation, has discovered that it is white… Suddenly white folks had become ‘painfully conscious of their whiteness’, ‘the paleness of their bodily skins…fraught with tremendous and eternal significance’.” 

W.E.B Du Bois -The Souls of White Folk (1910:339)


It has been a month now since the “Unite the Right” protest occurred Friday and Saturday, August 11th to 12th, protestors contesting the removal of a statue commemorating Confederate icon General Robert E Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia.The nature of this event was momentous, as since the 2016 election, political commentators have been repeatedly discussing- if not shouting over- the relevance of white fragility, privilege, and supremacy to the Trump presidency. Those who believe in the importance of race to contemporary politics have been facing a consistent wall of continuous denial by an opposition willingly engaging in every excuse, whether it be fear of terrorism, distrust of Clinton, or the anguish of the working class, to deny the importance ‘white positioning’ in politics.And then Charlottesville occurred, bringing every political commentator denying the relevance of ‘whiteness’ to their knees.

Heather Heyer, a ‘white’ woman died at the hands of white nationalist protestors, who were vocally calling for ‘White power’ whilst sporting polos and tiki torches. All of these events being sparked as result of the seemingly far off actions of terrorist Dylan Roof, who sported the white supremacist Rhodesian flag, as he gunned down a church in the name of ‘a white race war’ in 2015, thus prompting state governors to begin the process of removing statues commemorating the confederacy, and the events that we see now in the first place.

For those who have previously read my writing particularly, with my most recent article for E-IR, they will know that my understanding of whiteness is primarily theoretical. For me, white supremacy refers to the structural and hegemonic conditions of world politics which uphold white privilege: “the differential treatment and socio-political advantages accrued to white/European persons due to their assumed transparent competence and humanity” (Shilliam, 2016: 293). Today I bring this topic up again, the matter of ‘whiteness’ and the continuing popularity of the phrase ‘not all white people’, said either openly by academics/students opposing the usage of the term ‘white’ in the classroom, or implicitly in the uneasiness and prejudice faced by academics who choose to discuss or even allude to whiteness professionally on panels, in interviews, in journal articles, in books– because I want to discuss this question:

How and when should we say ‘white’ when discussing racial matters?

We have always needed to do this. For example, I, as one of many students of colour, attended a conservative institution, with quite a publicly racist history, yet where race talk was openly discouraged. In my department of political science, race was matter of quote-on-quote domestic politics and therefore not an international affair or “race was a social construct” (which is true) and therefore racial difference did not exist (wait- maybe we are moving too fast?) and thus was not a relevant or necessary part of classroom conversation.

Then again, to say we were not allowed to bring race into things- is maybe too harsh. Discussions of race were allowed for example, when we were critiquing the extreme views of Samuel Huntington or Robert D. Kaplan. However, looking back now it was particularly concerning that our lecturers never considered it relevant to discuss the racist views of Immanuel Kant or Adam Smith, those scholars they upheld as foundational thinkers in the study of international politics.

On the very rare occasion that a student became aware that Kant had some concerning views about upholding the ‘white race’ or that Smith’s theorisation depended tremendously on perpetuating the existence of ‘savage’ nations – we were told that the scholar in question, was a ‘man of his/her time’. We were told that it was impossible to disregard the wisdom of every political thinker who espoused racist or sexist things because for centuries this was a normal, common, and natural part of political explanation.

At the age of eighteen, I nodded at this, often accepting my teacher’s word as gospel. Yet, the issue was never far from over. In seminars I repeatedly faced more problems, because well- I made my other classmates uncomfortable when I spoke. I kept bringing race into things in ways that I was not meant to, and discussing things like ‘whiteness’ out loud.

For the record, this has not changed. Even now when I dare to utter the word ‘whiteness’ in an academic setting or public platform, or when I refer to the existence of white supremacy … I have problems. I am met with uncomfortable stares, requests that I don’t amalgamate a group of peoples that are diverse (these same colleagues often finding no qualms with giving me a heads up that they dated lots of black girls back in college) … verbal abuse or my personal favourite – accusations of reverse racism. It is amazing that despite the entirety of available literature on the subject of race, racism, and its history and global implications, that there are still people who, rather than picking up a book, instead rest on their fragile belief that centuries of violence directed towards vulnerable others- can simply and suddenly just go in ‘reverse’.

But with an event that had a confirmed 740 people rallying in support of ‘White America’, with police estimating a record of two thousand to six thousand people in attendance, and with a spectacle entirely focused on contesting the legitimacy of the ‘American Confederacy’ and the pro-slave side of the civil war- is it now acceptable to utter the word “white” when we discuss racial matters?

Some would be surprised- but here in the United Kingdom- the answer still seems to be ‘No’.

The most recent example of this in popular culture presents itself as Piers Morgan arguing with a very well composed fashion model, Munroe Bergdor, over a social media post, which saw Bergdor sacked from her L’Oreal campaign.

In the social media post in question, which was written in an immediate response to the Charlottesville protests, Bergdor wrote the following:

Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people. ‘Because most of ya’ll don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour. Your entire existence is drenched in racism. From micro-aggressions to terrorism, you guys built the blueprint for this s***.’Come see me when you realise that racism isn’t learned, it’s inherited and consciously or unconsciously passed down through privilege.’ Once white people begin to admit that their race is the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth… then we can talk.’

The first time I read Bergdor’s comments I was shocked. To be clear, this was not because of her language or the content of her message. If you replace ‘white people’ with ‘Europeans’ in this message, I doubt Bergdor’s  comments would have  been seen as so shocking.

Currently, at this moment academics internationally are contesting an article published by the journal Third World Quarterly (TWQ) where scholar Bruce Gilley, makes “A case for colonialism”.The reaction has been incredible. There currently exists an online petition calling TWQ editors to retract the article in question, with 1,409 supporters in counting so far.

In my engagements with people both in the United Kingdom and Canada- I have always met people delighted to converse with me over how ‘colonialism’ is the cause of the world’s problems and over how we have to “decolonize” everything. Even within academia, it is increasingly popular in politics to acknowledge ‘colonial logics’ and how this impacts our knowledge bases. I appreciate this shift in dialogue greatly- always- as long as it is inclusive of intersectionality and race. I question how many academics condemning Gilley’s work are also willing to acknowledge the racial and supremacist nature of it as well- or whether it too- Gilley’s essay- is also not about whiteness?

No, what shocked me about Bergdor’s comments was her audacity and willingness to say what she said on a public platform.

I am in the early stages of my PhD and I have only been engaging professionally with other academics for about two years. Yet, I am already vividly aware that people of colour, particularly those in lower or unsecure positions of academia, are always vulnerable. There are many risks for speaking the way Bergdor chose to, even without the cursing. Though several academics remain bravely outspoken, I write this with Kehinde Andrews in mind, it is a constant fear that speaking your mind as a person of colour can lead to a lack of safety or security.

To be a student of colour operating in university environments- you are frequently encouraged to maintain a low profile. You are constantly encouraged by others to stay relatively silent, particularly on public platforms, until you are secure enough and occupy a high enough position of power that you can defend your beliefs without risk or you are capable of falling back on something else.

Bergdor was not an academic, but she was so fired, and many academics also face that same jeopardy or other forms of abuse when choosing to discuss whiteness.

But many others don’t.

Back in March of this year I had the pleasure of interviewing historian Dr. Kathleen Paul, author of Whitewashing Britain: race and citizenship in the postwar era. I had been chasing this opportunity to meet Dr. Paul for around two months, and had been extremely excited to meet her over Skype.

For me, Dr. Paul was a complete rarity as a scholar. As an author of a book that examines the migration policies conceived and implemented by the successive British governments operating between 1945 and 1965, Paul’s academic career began and ended far too quickly, with Whitewashing Britain being her sole publication. I had been greatly interested in speaking with her because of her arguments in the book, particularly because of her audacity to label the British government’s actions so openly as ‘whitewashing’.

The premise of Paul’s (1997) argument was simple and focused. According to the standard account of why the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 came into existence, popular racism against migrants from the “New Commonwealth” countries of India, Pakistan, and the West Indies, created Britain’s “race relations problem” and compelled Harold Macmillan’s conservative government to alter the once expansive formal nationality policy that allowed free entry into the United Kingdom to all British subjects, and to introduce legislation in 1962, designed to stem the flow of “coloured immigration” into Britain. The official picture thus shows a liberal elite forced by an illiberal public to change the formal nationality policy….

Paul’s research findings proved this to be a lie.

Focusing on government policy making directed towards the four migrant groups of: (1) British Stock Emigration (Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa), (2) Displaced Persons (Eastern-European Refugees), (3) Irish Migrants, and of course (4) British Coloured Subjects, Paul’s archival research finds that it was an illiberal political elite not an illiberal working class that led to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1962. It was British policymakers who intentionally spent billions of pounds, going out of their way to enforce, naturalise, and legally construct policies dictating a singular “white-washed” vision of British national identity.

In her preface, Paul (1997:xii) writes that racialisation “created a fundamental contradiction between an inclusive legal nationality policy- the formal definition of who had the right to enter the country- and an exclusive constructed national identity- the informal notion of who did or could belong”. Over the course of seven chapters, Paul (1997) makes the case that as a result of British policymakers actively working their racialised understandings of population into existence, each aforementioned migrant group were made to experience Britishness in a different way, with their access to wealth, education, and privilege fundamentally conditioned by where British policymakers perceived them to be in the hierarchy of whiteness and subsequently presumed Britishness.

Paul’s archival research supports the argument that historically for both Labour and Conservative politicians, phenotypic whiteness defined British identity.

Her research proves that both Labour and Tory political elite once subscribed to racialised understandings of the empire populations, and that members of both parties deemed race to be a static genetic characteristic. For both Labour and Tories, the ‘real’ UK population was presumed to be white, and the real Jamaicans were presumed to be ‘black’, so that white Jamaicans, “poetically”, were true descendants of UK residents, and coloured ‘descendants’ were not (Paul,1997:22).

For both Tories and Labour politicians, from 1945 to 1965, white skinned British subjects were believed to be different in terms of physical attributes, culture, intelligence, and other constructed features, and thus presented to be different from ‘coloured’ subjects, who were ultimately deemed ‘colonials’, separate in mind, body, and blood.

I do not say blood lightly. Paul (1997) has an entire chapter dedicated to how British, Canadian, New Zealand, and Australian governments went out of their way to circulate thousands of doctors, labourers, young men, and women…so as to emigrate ‘British stock’, and transfer ‘British blood’ to the more under-populated areas of the Commonwealth, all in a claimed effort to keep the British empire strong through ‘whiteness’. As Paul (1997:43) writes:

“Though physically distant, these component parts of the empire were to be integrated with the “mother country” through race, blood, and nation, mediated by the new means of telecommunication and transport. The metaphor of the imperial family ruled, and the rhetoric of politicians from both major parties resounded with references to “kith and kin,” “blood,” and “family.” Such language suggested both strength-for what could be stronger than a family constantly replenishing and extending itself?- and intimacy-for what could be more intimate than a family?”

For a Canadian such as myself, the book in its entirety is a fascinating look into British and Canadian government practices, and into how policies of today, like the British tier visa system came into being (the British visa system was originally established so as to keep darker subjects out), and of why, in my own personal instance, it has been extremely difficult for me to attain British citizenship despite being born to a British mother.

Yet, what was even more interesting was actually talking to Dr. Kathleen Paul herself.

Dr. Paul was incredibly kind, endearing, and patient with me. Despite now being a director of Florida State University’s London campus- she eagerly answered my questions with a passion that I had not expected from someone who had stepped out of academia so long ago.

The most important part of our conversation, for me, was Paul’s own view on the existence of race. For instance, in our hour long conversation, Dr Paul repeatedly insisted on saying the phrase “so-called race” as we spoke. An example would include the following quote that mid interview, physically made me laugh, as Paul said:

“And so my interest in migration… developed into this interest in so-called race, and the idea that the world’s population had been racialised, in a way, building on my 19th century knowledge, that I knew was a product of this theory of scientific racism, that had no more basis in science than the moon being made of cheese.”

Mid interview, in an effort to ensure that Paul was aware of her white privilege while speaking …I politely asked her to clarify her statements. I asked her why she said “ so-called race” instead of race. Dr. Paul responded with the following:

“It is very specific [her choice to say so-called]. It is. Because I don’t believe that race exists in the way that the media or the common understanding would have us believe- that there are distinct finite races to which people can be categorised as belonging. I think that race is a social construct that has been created so that we think “Oh it must be real. It’s definite. It’s absolute.” But of course it isn’t. It is a creation of society as certain attributes are given, to certain groups, as those groups could never mix. But we know from biology that it is not real. It does not exist. Now, I say always at this point to my students that racism exists. And racism needs to be tackled through such schemes as affirmative action, and I will explain why I believe that to be an appropriate way to try and compensate for the disadvantages that racism based on a belief that race exists has brought. But I do not believe in race.”

This response wasn’t enough for me. I clumsily asked her to follow up her response, explaining to Paul, that as result of my theory background, hearing her say “so-called race” still made me uncomfortable, though it was clear her intentions were purposeful. Over Skype, Paul could clearly see my uneasiness, and kindly followed up her response in a way I had not been expecting, saying the following:

“No, I do get that. I do understand it. And I feel -to be honest- it is very easy for me, as I white person, to say race doesn’t exist, because I am not the person who is suffering the results of the belief that race exists. So I do – I do understand that it is easier for me. I suppose I hope I- I – I partly hope I address it by always emphasizing that racism exists. And that -I know – And we talk about why people believe races exist- and what attributes they would ascribe and why and where the ideas come from. But I can never understand what its like to be black. I can’t. The closest I could ever come, and its not the same, is the oppression that as a woman I am conscious of. But I don’t believe at all it’s to the same level […] But why do I insist at all -in saying that it’s [race] a social construct. Because I hope that if enough people say that, it will become the accepted common knowledge. I believe it is accepted in scientific circles. But we need to do more to make it apparent to as many as possible, to government bodies, to people in the street…that the differences that people perceive are really only a question of perception, that there is not an absolute that says there are certain people in one group and I’m in another. So, I suppose that is why I continue with it, because I hope it will make an impression. But I do recognize that it is easier for me to say that, as one who does not suffer racism.”

This answer was more than satisfactory for me.

Paul was a white British woman who as a doctoral student writing and researching in the early 1990s, with no background in a discipline that required her to study race and ethnicity- had taken the time to read Floya Anthias and Nira-Yuval-Davis (1992) Racialized Boundaries: Race, nation, gender, colour and class and the anti-racist struggle. Paul set out to discuss ‘whiteness’ in a way that many academic and political commentator continue to shy away from to this day. Some might believe it is counter productive to commemorate her efforts as I have done here in this essay, but I believe it is incredibly important to do so. It should be a normal expectation and endeavour for white scholars to vocally recognize their privilege and account for it in their work- like Paul did in 1997 and continues to do in 2017- yet many don’t- and it is to that extent that I respect her and those that do.

To discuss race relations without discussing whiteness, for me, allows for an incredible void to persist in how we pursue racial justice. One cannot discuss blackness without whiteness. This is not about a blame-game. It is about saying what is needed to be said so that we can encourage better dialogue and learning. At present, I cannot discuss whiteness in an open accessible way to my students, colleagues, friends, or family because I am not ‘white’. Yet the politics of whiteness and white supremacy continues to restrict my behaviours, my freedom of movement, my work environment, and my livelihood. I am a Black Muslim woman. It is white supremacy that continues to cause me to be scared to attend the Mosque in my hometown. It is white supremacy that makes me fearful of police enforcement. It is white patriarchy that makes me afraid of walking alone at night. And it is white supremacy, again, that prevents me from discussing this reality in a classroom or a paper, because I am genuinely worried of the repercussions that I may face. Yet, there are others like Dr. Kathleen Paul, like Marilyn Lake or Henry Reynolds, like Steve Garner, like Robert Vitalis, and many other amazing academics who responsibly acknowledge their racial privilege and speak on it.

So how and when should we say ‘white’?’

Charlottesville has showed us that whiteness, regardless of those who don’t want us to say ‘white’, isn’t going away, so how can we white-talk or white-splain in a way that’s productive and inclusive of everyone who has something at stake- particularly when discussing politics.

Should we rap it out? Well…maybe taking the Macklemore approach isn’t the best way of doing things.

Still, I would love to know what you think.

Thank you for reading.





Paul, K. (1997). Whitewashing Britain: Race and citizenship in the postwar era. USA: Cornell University Press.

Shilliam, R. (2016). “Race in World Politics”. In J. Baylis , Patricia Owens, and Steve Smith (eds.). The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 285-301.


Reclaiming ‘race’ in postcolonialism: A personal reflection on the politics of the racial experience

Happy Wednesday.

I had the amazing opportunity to write for @Writers of Colour as part of their Academic Space of Media Diversified. This piece of writing was based on my own personal reflections and considerations and so far the feedback has been really insightful. I hope this piece of work is helpful to others writing on the politics of pedagogy in their subjective curriculums. We should always ask questions when learning, particularly about what is omitted from our lesson plans and texts, and why.

Please see the essay attached.

Thank you and best regards,


Media Diversified

Written by Amal Abu-Bakare and edited by Xavia Warren

This past October, while reading Homi Bhabha’s TheLocation of Culture, I came across the following poetic verse:

“I am standing here in your poem-unsatisfied.” (1994:xxi)

Originating from Eastern War Time, a poem by the radical feminist Adrienne Rich, this verse was highlighted by the famous literary critic and postcolonial author as an important example of a ‘peculiar political stance’ not to be undermined.[i] For myself, Rich’s words invoked a personal reflection on my own political stance, as a person of colour trying to locate myself in the academic field of International Relations (IR).

IR is the scholarly pursuit of knowledge about the international: its politics, its history, and its events. I originally pursued this area of study whilst trying to understand my own politicized experiences as a racialized Muslim woman growing up in the post-9/11 era. Despite a Eurocentric…

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The ‘Whiteness’ of alternative facts

Many individuals were shocked and appalled by Kellyanne Conway’s, counselor to President Trump,  statements yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press”. Here,Conway claimed  that  the White House had put forth “alternative facts” to ones reported by the news media about the size of Mr. Trump’s inauguration crowd.  While Chuck Todd seemed literally unable to stomach Kellyanne’s conversation ( it was exceptionally  hard to watch Conway pretend Saturday’s marches  were about Obama and not Trump..yes, we all know Trump  just got into office but he has  been tweeting for what feels  to millions of women-globally- like forever… ), major news outlets such as the New York Times tackled this Trump reality update head on, claiming that while ‘alternatives’ were interesting- maybe knowing the real facts,would be more useful?

Would it actually  be more useful  though? It is all well to criticize the new administration’s willingness to put forward an ‘alternative reality’ when it sees fit, but it needs to be recognized  that this is a daily reality for people of colour, paritcularly racialized women of colour, when confronted with allegedly ‘real facts’ about the way politics works and the true innocence of western neo-liberal democracy when it comes to racial inclusion/exclusion. Here are two  ‘alternative facts’, we’ve been subjected to this past year on either side of the atlantic:

  1. The  American election was not about gender or race, it was about ‘class’:

‘To those ignored, suffering people, Donald Trump is a brick chucked through the window of the elites. ‘Are you assholes listening now?’- David Wong

Though this excerpt  from, may not be representative of informed news journalism, with the sentiments of this humour post shared 255613 times on Facebook alone it is highly representative of what the general public chose  and continues to accept as fact. As noted  by Eric  Sasson,  while it is factually accurate  that many rural voters who once  backed Obama in 2008 and 2012 , voted for Trump this past election, these voters  made up only 17 percent of this year’s electorate. The voters Clinton really lost—the ones she  truly needed behind her —were college-educated whites -> White men went 63 percent for Trump versus 31 percent for Clinton, and white women went 53-43 percent, so when you see signs like …


that is what they are candidly referring to.

2. Brexit was also about the working class and not really about race…

“By forcing Britain to quit the EU they have given a bloody nose to an elite that views them with contempt”- 

Across the pond, the revenge of the rural voter rang a similar bell in the hearts of political commentators speaking on the  Brexit crisis ( everything is still not fine). Some went as far as to openly downplay race alogether, as seen in Adrian Hart’s elqouently titled piece here, where ‘reverse racism’ for Hart might even be the real culprit. However,  referencing Professor ‘s commentary in her interview with the Sociological Review on ‘From the UK referendum to the US election: Class, Race and History’ , both race and class  have played an intersecting role in the history of the United Kingdom, particularly in relation to the development of mulitculuralism. The idea of Brexit voter’s wanting their country  back, a notably predominately white-working class-island country, played a major role in the Brexit vote, yet in itself is a myth, as Bhambra explains in her interview. This is because, according to Bhambra, citizens of colour, those of  ‘darker nations’, have always been a part of Britain not predominantly  as’ immigrants’ or ‘refugees’, but as people with legitimate claims to rights and benefits. Historicaly, within Britiain, irregardless of whether you were born within the United Kingdom or its colonies, you have almost always  been granted the right to citizenship. Such factoids could explain why those with a higher level of education, voted to remain within the EU. Maybe it is because they have a better understanding of their own history?


This is not to suggest that you need to attend university to know more about who belongs and who doesn’t, but rather to  point out,  as Bhambra rightfully does,  that  with an informed  critical analysis of history  it becomes clear that race and class are not oppositional forces. To suggest that Brexit voting had nothing to do with race, is to ignore the hard truth that the history of class in the UK (and the US) is heavily racialized.

I am currently reading Richard Dyer’s  (1997) book  called  WhiteIn his chapter on the matter of whiteness , he writes

‘White people have power and believe that they think, feel and act like and for all people; white people, unable to see their particulalrity, cannot take account of other people’s; white people create  the dominant images of the world, and don’t quite see that they thus construct the world in their own image…”  ( Dyer, 1997:9).

I find this quote  significant as a racialized  person  presently watching the news and witnessing the anger and frustration on social media over the falsifying of facts in the wake of this new administration, since political news coverage has been, in my  opinion inclusive of  ‘alternative facts’ for a very  long time.  As a person  rotating between the United Kindom and North America for the past 12 months, witnessing  two  full campaigns  against ‘Muslims’, which has come to mean ‘Muslim looking-Foreign -Refugee-Maybe?’ more than anything else, witnessing a continued insistence that ‘black lives matter’ is an American problem only or even  a continued disbelief in racial bias being part of the problem  altogether despite the overwhelming amount of evidence , and lastly  witnessing a UK MP murdered over her pro-immigrant stance ( in the alleged race war ongoing in the UK) alongside multiple hate crimes occuring in the United Kingdom, the United States, and my native country of Canada….all the while still being told by colleagues/friends/students that I see ‘race’  only because I want to see ‘race’.

Why should we now be surpised that a politician who seems almost religiously guided by, surviving and thriving on  white privilege , now sitting in the oval office one of the world’s most powerful thrones, also feels powerful enough to challenge reality itself?

Maybe it is about time an institutional fall-out over ‘alternative facts’ comes knocking on all our front doors, rather than those of the select few who have had to sit patiently through a year of denial in conversation?


This blog is a product of multiple emotions and anxieties over matters of race, sexuality, colonialism, terrorism, and other conflicts that I am currently coping with as result of beginning my doctorate at 24 years of age.  As a student of IR hoping to be an eventual academic, I am pursuing this writing project as a way of trying to mentally map my thoughts and anguishes in relation to my frustration with the state of international politics and the study of international politics. What do I mean by this?

I mean as a person pursuing the study of IR theory, a field still popularly marked by assumptions such as:

  • A  eurocentric belief in the utmost  significance of the nation state( government and institutions alike ) and the reinforcement of political explanations that center around  the nation state, its formation, and the history of its formation ( all from the eurocentric perspective no alternatives)
  • A  belief in a  natural state of anarchy existing outside the fault lines of states (Thank you Hobbes)
  • That that there are  two main strands of IR, Realism and Liberalism, and then there exists everything else ( This last assumption is mostly true in the North American study of IR not the UK)

With all these assumptions, there has been a lot missing for me. As a Saudi-born Nigerian-Canadian, there was an issue of national belonging that did not accord for me. As a racialized person existing in post 9/11, my experiences as a both  Muslim and ‘Black’ person were not reflected in my material. The issues of race, rape culture, and religion that I discussed in my  social and activist circles were not reflected in my reading material, even though they seemed relevant enough for international/national policymakers to regulate, so that my body and existence as a person was able to be sensationalized in the media at a moment’s notice.

After 5 years of studying IR in North America and the UK ( 3 years in one and 2 1/4) I now realize that there are three reasons that  I am insecure about my pursuits. What if…

  • The reason my personal encounters with international politics may not be reflected in IR is because I  have been reading/studying the wrong material?
  • The reason my personal encounters with international politics may not be reflected in IR is because they are instead encountered in other and maybe even more progressive disciplines like sociology, anthropology, global development studies?Maybe I should be studying them instead?
  • The reason my personal encounters with international politics may not be reflected in IR is because IR was not meant to reflect my experiences?

This last insecurity is the focus of my blog: What if IR was not meant to explain and acknowledge my experiences?

My resolution for 2017 is to try and force ‘my personal’ into the political, specifically the internationally political, so as to see what happens. I will re-evaluate come December 2017, and see where I am.