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The problem with white saviours Ostentatious meekness doesn't make you a good person

"This isn't about you." (Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

"This isn't about you." (Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)


September 13, 2021   6 mins

There is a logical fallacy called the Kafka Trap. It describes the condition of always being wrong. If you are accused of something, and you deny it, that denial is taken as an admission of guilt; only a guilty party would go out of their way to deny an allegation of wrongdoing. Alternatively, if you say nothing in the face of the allegation, that’s also an admission of guilt: your silence means you have accepted the allegation.

Many describe Franz Kafka’s disenchanted fables as tragic. And this is certainly true. But they are also farcical. To watch someone being relentlessly wrong can be grimly enjoyable — as long as you’re not the person in question.

The term white feminism, as it is commonly used today, is a classic example of the Kafka Trap. If you show too much interest in the lives of people of colour, you risk being accused of white saviourism — which is another way of saying you have a suspiciously condescending attitude to people of colour. But if you don’t show enough interest, you are insufficiently intersectional. You only care about the white, middle-class cisgendered women in your social circle.

White feminism is a classic example of the Kafka Trap because whatever you do is either too much or not enough. You are never right.

Joanne Harris, a bestselling novelist, recently wrote a blog post entitled “White feminists, I’m looking at you”. Harris describes white feminists as “women who ‘don’t see’ race, and who think that counts as a virtue” and are “quite happy to see women abused, as long as those women are different from their own privileged circle of friends”.

She argues that white women are too defensive when they get accused of racism: “I get it. It’s easier to focus on the words and what they mean, rather than the reason they were used in the first place. So stop thinking about the words, and think about what you did, instead. Consider whether you said or did something that was harmful.”

But whether something is harmful in the first place surely depends on the meaning of words and the content of what was said? Otherwise, what justification would there be for saying the thing was harmful?

Harris’s blog insists that her white female readers should be thoughtless. Instead of reflecting on the situation at hand, they should simply listen to their critics. In short, she wants them to acquiesce to any charge of racism levelled against them: “This isn’t about you”, she states. “No-one cares why you caused harm. All that matters is that you did.”

But is it true that no one cares why someone caused harm? If someone who is, in general, an intelligent and lovely person caused me harm, I would be especially curious to know why they did. And conversely, if I caused someone harm, I would want to know how. But then again, I’m not a white woman; passivity is not for me.

Apart from being an exercise in incoherent pontificating, and a text that instructs a group of women to fulfil archaic gender roles, Harris’s blog is also narcissistic. If no one should care why a white feminist caused harm to a group of people, why should anyone care what a white feminist like herself has to say about any of this?

In principle, Harris is encouraging greater tolerance. She says that white women are not perfect, and that she includes herself in this: “White feminists, I’m looking at you. White feminists, I’m looking at me.” But this ostentatious meekness presupposes that everyone apart from white feminists will be acting in good faith: if white feminists are not perfect, why should we assume everyone else is? In truth, no one is perfect.

But if you only insist on the imperfections of one group of people, that provides the perfect backdrop for the Kafka Trap. Whatever they do will always be judged by a harsher set of standards.

In her blog, Harris is perhaps referring to Kate Clanchy, a writer and teacher who was recently denounced on Goodreads and Twitter for the way she described some of her students in her memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. Three writers in particular — Chimene Suleyman, Monisha Rajesh and Sunny Singh — condemned the book for its use of racist language and the hurt this has caused people of colour. Clanchy described one student as having “chocolate-coloured skin” and another as possessing “almond-shaped eyes”. Clanchygate, as these things often do, descended into chaos. Those three critics of Clanchy unpardonably received racist abuse and trolling on Twitter.

Before this summer, I only knew Clanchy as a teacher on Twitter who shared viral poems of her students. When I first heard about the incident, I was gently bemused by it. The first real shock came when Picador, Clanchy’s publisher, announced she would be rewriting sections of the book. Something was not right here — the book was only published two years ago, not fifty or even twenty, and it would have been read by countless people at the publishing firm.

I don’t think the publishing industry is staffed by people who are indifferent to racial prejudice. So what could have gone wrong? The novelist Amanda Craig, a defender of Clanchy, suggested on Twitter that the book would have benefitted from sensitivity readers — people of colour who are paid by publishing companies to ensure any description of ethnic minority people is not offensive.

But the problem with sensitivity readers is that people of colour are not the same: what is offensive to one black or Asian person is perfectly fine to another. It assumes that there is a correct line on such matters, and only a select elite of people of colour can establish it. But I don’t want a clerisy of ethnic minority people to shape what I read; I want editors to do their job and ensure the book is as good as it could be.

An example of a person of colour who was not offended by the descriptions in Clanchy’s book is one of her former students: Shukria Rezaei. Writing in the Times, Rezaei pointed out that “in the book, she describes one of her pupils as having ‘almond-shaped eyes’. Critics labelled this description patronising, insulting, offensive, colonialist and racist. This upset me. I am that girl with the almond eyes. I did not find it offensive”.

She added that “almond eyes” is “a term that I have often used in my own poems. My almond-shaped eyes are at the core of my Hazara identity”. In other words: context matters. And in reading both the testimony of her former students and the book for myself, I came to the conclusion that the imputation of racism made by Clanchy’s online detractors was unjustified.

Clanchy entered Rezaei — and many of her other students —into poetry competitions; Rezaei had just immigrated from Pakistan (but her family is originally from Afghanistan) and didn’t speak good English. Clanchy found Rezaei funding to stay in school for an extra year because her immigration status was unsettled. And Clanchy found Rezaei scholarships and helped with her university applications.

Rezaei is not the only young person of colour Clanchy has helped. In her Times article, she quotes Asima Qayyum, another former student of Clanchy’s, who says:

“Kate gave us platforms we never expected. She fought for us to be in rooms and places we had never been welcomed in before and made sure people heard what we had to say. I know first-hand how cruel and completely unacceptable racism is in any form, and from my experiences it’s not something I’ve ever associated with Kate. I just want people to know and hear from a student who has worked with Kate for almost ten years that my experience with her has impacted my life in so many positive ways it’s unimaginable.”

In a recently published open letter to The Bookseller, a group of Clanchy’s former students characterised by what they call “multicultural diversity”, describe their personal experiences of Clanchy as one of “unequivocal care and support, always, for us as poets and as people”. On the topic of whether Clanchy is exploiting them, they say: “Kate’s promotion of our poems does not take away our agency: we do not speak through Kate, and she does not presume to speak for us”.

If the claim of “listen to people of colour” is meaningful then it needs to include voices such as Clancy’s former students in any estimation of her. Yet all too often “listen to people of colour” means listen to a select group of people of colour, take their word for writ, and suspend your critical faculties: what else can help explain how a publishing company that hitherto passionately supported an Orwell-prize winning book can acquiesce after an online backlash?

Some may argue that Clanchy is guilty of a type of white saviourism: the privileged English teacher condescending to refugee students. This would be a cynical distortion of what is evidently a generous woman trying to do her best to encourage marginalised young people to thrive. Some of the descriptions of her students in the book did make me cringe a bit, but reading the entire book did not leave me with the impression of a racist. Quite the opposite. Clanchy is genuinely enthused by living in a multiracial England.

Yet the Kafka Trap enables an English teacher who has gone out of her way to help refugee students thrive to become paralysed by the accusation of racism. Any further response from her would be used as evidence against her.

Joanne Harris addressed her piece to white women, but the Kafka Trap has severe implications for anyone who believes there is an important distinction to be made between clumsy writing and racial prejudice. Between imperfect women (and remember, no person can be perfect) and people complicit with racism. And between those of us who believe in tolerance and those whose minds have been degraded by a politics that speaks the language of compassion but is in practice vindictive.


Tomiwa Owolade is a freelance writer and the author of This is Not America, which is out in paperback in May.

tomowolade

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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

We used to have a name for ‘sensitivity readers’ -they were called ‘censors’ and for someone who grew up with heavy censorship, I can attest to the heavy damage this exacts on a society.
The Kafka Trap seems to sit at the heart of critical race theory. I am sometimes amused when people I know support CRT (without understanding it) and deny being racist in the same breath – they are eventually in for a beating.
I found this a very good if depressing article – we need opinions like this to become widespread so that we can bring some sanity back into the discussion.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

There was another article (I believe on the Spectator) not long ago where they explained what a “sensitivity reader” is. From my understanding it isn’t a censor, but someone who has a better grasp of certain issues (say the depiction of lives in a Brazilian favela) to make sure the description is accurate, especially if the author is no expert on the matter.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

It is the thin edge of the wedge, will amount to subjective decisions and will cause more harm than good – and we all know it.
Even the author takes a pop at it: the problem with sensitivity readers is that people of colour are not the same: what is offensive to one black or Asian person is perfectly fine to another

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I have just thought that if they employed ‘technical readers’, it would be more justifiable. Nothing vaguely subjective or opinionated, just facts.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

I think this is what they are.
Look at this, from Spectator TV:
https://youtu.be/o9pXRYqS60w
From 58:33

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I watched it and can understand the point of what I called a ‘technical reader’ – which addresses facts. You have them in film – technical directors. Definitely sensitivity readers – especially if employed by a publishing house (more so than the author themselves), will become one of those careers that creates ever more people creating problems – to ensure longevity of the career and the Sensitivity Industry.
In American Dirt which they reference, a technical reader could have picked up the name Luca being not typically Mexican. Then again, the storm was not really about Luca (and let’s be honest plenty of people now call their children by ‘foreign’ names). The storm was around cultural appropriation – that Jeannine Cummins had the audacity to write a book set in Mexico when she was not ‘Latinx’. I saw some of the storm of vile and intolerant comments this book generated. Of course the pertinent thing that was lost on the ‘woke’, was that it brought more sympathy to Mexican refugees than anything else before or since.

Jim Cox
Jim Cox
2 years ago

Yes. The wokesters in their narcissistic way miss the point, as usual. They care not for anything or anyone except attacking “deplorables”
wherever they appear. The game is rigged. No matter what the targeted person does or says, it is then attacked as further proof of the wokesters’ thesis. So yes, I do not approve of having whole panels of arbiters(censors) pass judgement on anything published.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

Deleted

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

But there are no such thing as facts anymore. Everything is completely relative in today’s upside down world, which is leading us to this insanity.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

WTF??? What on earth have I said to deserve 4 downvotes.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Haha. And I wasn’t even one of them. I think people are generally saying that they don’t want sensitivity readers or anyone of their ilk anywhere near decision making.

Jill Corel
Jill Corel
2 years ago

Correct!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Damn right we don’t.

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

God only knows

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Yeah not sure why that got that many downvotes?!
Yours was just a statement about what could be meant about sensitivity reader – not liking it doesn’t change that fact so seems a bit harsh. That said it does seem to be a euphemistic description for someone employed to ensure that what is being written is “on message” – basically a sensor in non-Newspeak

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I suspect it’s that your assumption – “[not] a censor, but someone who has a better grasp of certain issues (say the depiction of lives in a Brazilian favela) to make sure the description is accurate” is pretty much exactly wrong.
A sensitivity reader is absolutely not there to ensure accuracy. He’s there to ensure inaccuracy by enforcing political conformity instead.
If you wrote a novel in which a character suggested that transwomen are surgically and hormonally mutilated men who are no more women than shop dummies are, the sensitivity reader’s job would be to make sure that no such depiction ever saw the light of day. There’s one acceptable view on transsexuals and it isn’t that one, therefore it is to be silenced.

Marian Baldwin
Marian Baldwin
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Now it’s up to 20 negatives…quite confusing I admit! Guess when explaining one’s interpretations, one needs to also state their position on the subject. Agree with the others…..people are just against censorship!

Jim Cox
Jim Cox
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I think people are so disillusioned by the biased censoring taking place already on social media that they down voted not you but your idea of a technical analysis panel, thinking that
necessarily it would be corrupted and not impartial. If such a panel were truly unbiased, it would not necessarily be a bad thing.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

If say, Fredrick Forsyth, was writing a scene set in a favela he would certainly talk to experts about what life was like and get them to check his drafts for factual or atmospheric mistakes. That is standard for successful novelists.
It is unlikely he would give the job to a left-wing fanatic, ultra-Woke “sensitivity reader”. However innocuous they may try to appear, they are in reality the usual, dreary upper-class revolutionaries trying to scold and censor the rest of us.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Exactly. I hope Andrea reads your response.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

You’re confusing a censor with a fact checker. Hence the downvotes.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago

Even then I would argue nowadays that so-called fact checkers are abusing their positions. See the main platforms’ (FB, Youtube, Twitter) use of “fact checking” as a means to shut down non agreed viewpoints.

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
James Graham
James Graham
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Oh ha ha ha ! ‘Better grasp of certain issues’ – do you think publishers have the wherewithall or the interest to keep someone up on Brazilian favelas (are there any other kind?) on staff on the odd chance a book comes through?
It’s entry level editorial. 90% females (because they’re more sensitive, aye !) with a college degree, maybe two but definitely at least one course in Racism, Colonialism – they gotta know the lingo. Real world experience not necessary. It’s nicey-nice censorship.
Who knew almonds were evil ? You’d better not ask.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

Indeed: the Lord Chamberlain was a sensitivity reader, and the abolition of his post in the 1960s was rightly seen as a great moment for literary freedom. We are currently going backwards very, very quickly.

Last edited 2 years ago by Stephen Follows
Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

Sanity will only prevail when either a) people stop taking offence or b) companies start ignoring those who take offence.

The first is impossible, but I pin my hopes on the second. If the publishers just ignored the shrieking, or better still, replied with: In a free country, you are free not to read a book, but not free to prevent others from doing so.” – we could put all these offence merchants in the rear-view mirror at last.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

I would like publishers to be considerably blunter. I have visions of Faber & Faber telling the blue-haired scolds to far cough.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

However, you should remember that only individuals can TAKE offence – the listener or reader is doing the interpretation, NOT the speaker.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ann Ceely
Ian nclfuzzy
Ian nclfuzzy
2 years ago

““This isn’t about you”, she states. “No-one cares why you caused harm. All that matters is that you did.””

This is the fundamental principle behind much HR policy around grievance and bullying these days.

Intent is irrelevant. Outcome and offense taken is all that matters to pronounce one guilty. It’s Orwellian.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian nclfuzzy

If I even THINK of corporate HR now that I have left corporate behind, I realize that I still get rankled.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian nclfuzzy

It’s also vicious. If someone has hurt another’s feelings (which is what ’caused harm’ means here) then we should care why they did it. Perhaps they were recently bereaved and grieving and not as sensitive to others as they would usually be. I was in that position once and the way I was treated was close to inhuman given my situation. My skin crawls when I read this stuff because I’ve experienced its wickedness. It happened over twenty years ago but I still feel violated. But then, I’m a white female so my feelings don’t count.

Last edited 2 years ago by Judy Englander
Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

I was bullied for a time at work and it was painful. However, as you say, we should care why people do it. It is also important not to take offence where none is intended but, perhaps, just talking the issue through.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

I didn’t bully anyone, Judy. A colleague from the West Indies said something to me which I didn’t hear properly because of her accent. So I apologised and said why I didn’t understand what she was saying. I was being too frank for my own good and I knew it but because of my state of mind at that time I thought ‘what the heck’. I was then accused by several people of racism. They all knew I was grieving a double bereavement.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

It is just ludicrous that it has come to this.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

That’s the beauty of this while thing…talk a lot about racism, “hurt feelings”, but all it does is to excuse race based discrimination, nastiness, lack of consideration for genuine cause for sensitivity such as a bereavement.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

It gets worse. All my accusers were in the ‘caring’ professions.

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Lawyers?

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago
Reply to  D Hockley

Don’t laugh – cancer nurses training to be psychotherapists.

jckcalhoun
jckcalhoun
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

and if you were a white male middle aged person your feelings would count even less.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian nclfuzzy

Actually, we don’t even know the outcome, if the person or people was/were offended. He/she/they may feel empowered by telling lies about great offense being given, and how that’s taken seriously.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian nclfuzzy

Grievance mongering leads only to genocide. Many different examples exist from the 20th century – from the Kulaks to the Jews, the Armenians to the Rwandans 
. Millions slaughtered after being successfully scapegoated for the short comings of the lives of others. Sickening toll and yet nothing was learned, nothing, despite more people than ever attending university and school than ever before. The shocking truth is that it is these schools and universities that are the sowing grievance and resentment. When is this going to stop?

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago

The Kafka Trap is the entire basis for White Fragility by Robin Di Angelo. It posits that all white people are racist, whether they intend to be or not, and that any denial of racism is proof of racism – “That’s what a racist would say”.

It is not just white feminists that get caught up in this trap, it’s all white people who are foolish enough to engage with Wokism.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

The problem with Political Correctness, Wokism, whatever has always been the same one:

The most intolerant people are the most readily offended.

By criminalising and punishing offence, you are handing power to the most intolerant.

Is that what you want?

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

I am a white feminist. I am also a woman because I have a female body; I don’t recognise any other type. I don’t give a damn if I offend people. My personal integrity is more important.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

If your post had to be approved by a sensitivity reader before appearing, only the first five words would stand. The rest are thoughtcrime.
Oldthinkers unbellyfeel Ingsoc.

Julia H
Julia H
2 years ago

Isn’t the concept of a sensitivity reader who is a person of colour “paid by publishing companies to ensure any description of ethnic minority people is not offensive” racist in itself? I was always taught that holding up an individual person of colour (we called them black or Asian back then) as a representative of the whole group of such people was an example of racial stereotyping and thus dehumanising. Do I need re-education?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Julia H

“holding up an individual person of colour (we called them black or Asian back then)”
From now on, I will be calling people who aren’t white “non-white”.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Good luck with that.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Julia H

What’s always puzzled me is why “people of colour” is OK but “coloured people” isn’t.

Oliver Elphick
Oliver Elphick
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Somebody wanted to be offended and had to invent a reason.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It’s particularly absurd in that the supposedly offensive word appears in the name of that revered US civil rights organisation, the NAACP. However, the professional offence-takers like to keep liberals on the hop!

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The first puts the emphasis on the fact that they are people, the second on that they are coloured.

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago

Nigel Farage interviewed an award winning Indian born chef/restauranteur on GB News a few weeks ago and asked him about his experience of racism in England. His response was that he hadn’t been discriminated against in England, but he was very aware of racism in India. He told the story of a relative of his who ‘didn’t like’ her son because he was dark skinned. The caste system in India is pretty grim from all accounts. I’ve just been listening to some poetry from a Sri Lankan doctor friend of my brother’s, who is now in Australia. It is largely about his feelings of ‘otherness’ and he warns his own son that his life will be hard because he will always be different. This in spite of the fact his own parents were distinguished medics in the UK and his relatives in Sri Lanka are equally privileged. It’s impossible to know someone else’s experience, and maybe we just need to accept that humans are shaped by their culture but are also fundamentally tribal and will inevitably ‘identify’ with a culture or group. Perhaps the mistake is imagining that anyone’s ‘identity’ is innately superior, or more free of prejudice, than another’s?

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

With regard to racist/colour-conscious attitudes in India, it is significant that skin colour is, or certainly used to be, mentioned in matrimonial ad.s in Indian newspapers. Thus ‘fair-skinned’ or (not quite so good) ‘wheatish’ were given as desirable features in a bride. Racism and various forms of ‘othering’ seem to be present in all human societies, and for honest discussion of the issue we need to admit this.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

The obsession with skin colour and preference for less dark skin is certainly a peculiarity but it’s nothing to do with caste ( it’s a preference seem for marriages within the same caste for instance). And also, not restricted to Indians…common in Blacks as well, though strangely enough that’s not considered “racist”

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

‘..common in Blacks as well’: indeed! Shaka the Zulu king – who, incidentally, didn’t seem to think Black Lives Matter! – was favoured because of his fairer skin.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

“common in Blacks as well”
*common in blacks as well

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

The noise about “caste” in India is just an example of how racism against high performing groups like Indians is “allowed.”

I grew up in India. In several decades, across multiple cities, schools, jobs etc I didn’t see or hear a single case where someone was discriminated against or mistreated due to caste, and very rare adverse comments on “lower caste” – which in turn was typically resentment due to massive reservations based on caste.
Incidentally, apart from those enormous reservations, the person who wrote the constitution, current PM, President…all from supposed “lower caste”

Of course it’s bad in backward villages or certain specific communities. But that’s the dying, declining part of India

The obsession with caste, is in stark contrast to the mute acceptable of savage religion based discrimination next door.
Just like people here can’t stop talking about Sati (banned and extinct two centuries back) but not about actual mass scale FGM happening today….or why individual, one off rape cases in India gain more attention than mass grooming gangs right here in the UK.

If you are a non white group and the West are complaining about how awful you are at “human rights” or “women rights”…that reflects positively on your group.

Last edited 2 years ago by Samir Iker
Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Never heard of Sati, but I’ll look it up thanks.

Frederick B
Frederick B
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

The burning alive of widows on the husband’s funeral pyre. Suppressed by the British – another of the evils of colonialism.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Frederick B

Actually not suppressed by the British but by Indian reformers and local.Rajput rulers.

Incidentally, pre 12th century there wasn’t much popularity for this practise.
Guess why it became so common around this time?

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Yes, I’m sure that prior to colonialism India was a progressive wonderland for women.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

Also spelled “suttee” and other variations in English in colonial times,.
Not to be confused with sate/satay, which is grilling on a stick and then dipping in spicy peanut sauce.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago

As in so many things, the sauce makes all the difference.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago

Oh dear, your comment made me guffaw with laughter. What the hell is wrong with me?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

Often spelled as “suttee”.

David Harris
David Harris
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Friend of Sweep?

Christopher Thompson
Christopher Thompson
2 years ago
Reply to  David Harris

Bye bye everybody. Bye bye.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

My worry is that this kind of race baiting white guilt bullcr@p will result in more actual racism. A good friend of mine, a lovely kind hearted person, confided in me recently and said ‘I think I might be becoming a racist. A group of black people walked towards me yesterday and instead of smiling and saying hello like I normally would, I avoided them in case they were BLM supporters who hate white people’.
She is now seeing colour and threat when she didn’t before. She is only seeing it now because she’s having it pumped into her that she’s white and automatically a racist, therefore she’s their enemy. She’s worried for her safety basically because she’s no longer just a person she’s a ‘white’ person and fair game for attack.

Dawn McD
Dawn McD
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Exactly. This is exactly what the BLM/CRT people want, paranoia, divisiveness and mutual suspicion and hostility. If more people don’t wake up and see that this is not just “fighting against racism,” the Marxists are going to win.
I have a good friend of almost 40 years, and when I asked her to watch the Chris Rufo interview about CRT on Triggernometry she Googled his name first and went running to the MSM for permission, essentially, to watch the video. She watched it, suitably armored by the NYT and the New Yorker against him, and got back to me explaining that “he was on Fox News and Tucker Carlson, not MSNBC. I’m not a fan.” She also forwarded me the New Yorker piece on him, which was the nicest of the several hit jobs published.
She topped off her response by offering to put me in touch with her cousin, “who knows a lot about the history of racism in the U.S., Jim Crow, Trail of Tears,” etc. Stuff I already know, and totally beside the point. She doesn’t get it. She will not listen. She will not come out of the bubble.
I’m afraid. If the legitimate anti-CRT movement, the people who want this country to continue down the path of classical liberalism, cannot get people’s attention, the white people who do notice what’s happening, who are becoming angry, will be very vulnerable to the clutches of white supremacist/nationalist movements, and these people are truly bad news. One of them has already been interviewed by Carlson, taking advantage of the moment, and Carlson himself doesn’t seem to understand the difference between one group and another. This is bad.

Fennie Strange
Fennie Strange
2 years ago

An excellent, thought-provoking article, but I’m still not clear why I should give a button about what Joanne Harris thinks.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Fennie Strange

Given what this article uncovers, I think that what Joanne Harris thinks deserves to be ridiculed.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

Read Thomas Sowell. It isn’t white saviours that are the problem according to Tom, it is the black saviours like Obama, who he says is the worst President in US history. Community leaders like Obama have to create the belief that the group they identify with are being oppressed even when they are not and what better characteristic is there to identify the oppressors than skin colour which we can all see immediately without a second thought. We only have to look at the people promoting white oppression, like the multimillionaires Obama, Oprah and Meghan to see how how oppressed they are and how little they really care and do for the people they claim to be helping. They only help themselves. The same applies in every area where a leader claims to know best.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Yes. And similarly those women who press for female quotas on company boards. Who do they really want to help? Other women in general (most of whom have not the slightest interest in becoming company directors)? Or rather themselves, who – entirely coincidentally, you understand – are itching for more status and more pay?

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Too right!

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I’m not sure most women – or men – have no interest in being company directors, especially given the pay scale. But the vast majority of both genders simply don’t have the qualifications.

Alyona Song
Alyona Song
2 years ago

all too often “listen to people of colour” means listen to a select group of people of colour, take their word for writ, and suspend your critical faculties…” – a painful truth. These select groups have permeated academia, government bodies and large corporations. Look at overzealous HR departments pushing heaps of the “progressive” ideology onto employees. However critical thinking lays bare the shallow and self-serving intent of those “progressives”.

Richard Riheed
Richard Riheed
2 years ago

This an excellent article. Depressing and true: I have a lot of experience of dealing with corporate HR and all the s*** they churn out. Now this culture is getting it’s teeth into publishing. Are we going to get a 21st century version of Bowdler?Starting to re-read Arnold Bennett’s ‘ The Old Wives Tales’ Will it be struck off in years to come as it is a man writing (brilliantly) about the lives of two women? (Unlikely, but will probably come with a ‘warning’ to readers that this was written in a time when, etc, etc.).

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Riheed

Yes, Bowdler lives! I’m sure that there is a certain Joseph Conrad novel which will never again appear on school or university reading lists.

Lord Rochester
Lord Rochester
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

The horror. The horror.

Penny Swan
Penny Swan
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

It’s being borrowed from my school library!

Penny Swan
Penny Swan
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Riheed

Thrilled to hear that you are reading TOWT Bennett should be much better known, what a great writer.

A S
A S
2 years ago

I got my master’s degree in environmental science in the US in the early nineties – most of my co-students were ex-peace corps Americans. I recall I found it near impossible to make friends (despite being very gregarious) as everyone seemed hyper “culturally aware” of me and didn’t seem to behave in a natural way. Many people seem to like that and enjoy the attention of people who are fans of “ethnic” folk from whatever your part of the world happens to be. Even as a very young person, I felt really uncomfortable with it (it was not until many years later I actually understood it). I just wanted to be treated normally and regarded without preconception – even if it was a supposedly caring and sensitive preconception. It essentially boils down to intensely stereotyping people. Sadly, just as I despise it, many like it – especially when those stereotypes are undeservedly positive ones.

Last edited 2 years ago by A S
John K
John K
2 years ago

As usual, it’s about power and control.

And well paid jobs.

If you deny you are (racist, transphobic, whatever is the current pile-on), that proves you are (whatever they want to bully you about).

And whoever does the accusing gets a job policing the (generally imaginary) “hurt”.

So now we have “non-crime crimes” which the police love wasting time on.

Kafka-esque doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago

People who are convinced that they are always right while everyone else is always wrong, especially those who disagree with them, used to be called psychopaths. Now they appear to be called “sensitivity readers”.
As far as “almond eyes” are concerned, in my day they were considered to be very beautiful. I had a 100% white friend who had lovely blue, long-lashed, almond-shaped eyes and I was green with envy!

Paul Davies
Paul Davies
2 years ago

I wasnt a racist, but after the past 2 years of unrelenting one sided insults because of my skin colour, I am now

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
2 years ago

This is not going to stop. Every university and most big corporations now have staff (in the case of universities – dozens of staff) dedicated to ferreting out wrongthink. Their livelihoods depend on everyone being racist or some other kind of ist. We are going to have to wait an entire generation for the children of the current crop of university students to reject the quasi religious views of their parents. Arguing with them is no more effective than arguing with truly religious people – their views are based on faith. How they enact those views will reflect their character. Unfortunately ostentatious religious fervour attracts a certain type of character.

David Yetter
David Yetter
2 years ago

Long before I heard the name “Kafka trap” as a name for that sort of reasoning, I had proposed what might be called “Yetter’s razor” (though I’d be happy to credit some previous proposer of the idea if one can be cited before the early 1980’s) for dealing with any sort of argumentation that proposes that either accepting or denying a proposition are both proof of its truth: to wit any such argument must be rejected out of hand as prima facia invalid. (I had originally proposed it as an argument for rejecting Freudianism.)

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago

Kate Clancy is obviously not racist. It is a sign of the insanity to which we have sunk that the proposition that she is racist is being debated here.

J Hop
J Hop
2 years ago

So, let me get this straight. You can’t use the terms “chocolately skin” or “almond eyes” because those things are bad and are considered insults? And this is the non-racist stance? I’m just trying to wrap my head around the clown logic here.

Rod McLaughlin
Rod McLaughlin
2 years ago

Well yeah, but this is all a bit 2020. The author seems to be trying to reason with woke ideologues, but we know that is impossible. People who address identity groups like “white women” should be dismissed out of hand.

Keith Merrick
Keith Merrick
2 years ago

I think the best way to judge if Kate Clanchy is suffering from White Saviour Syndrome is to look at how good the poetry of the immigrant women she promotes is. If it’s dire then she probably does have lower expectations for them.
I can’t see why describing eyes as ‘almond-shaped’ is considered by some to be racist. But then again I can’t see what’s wrong with ‘chocolate skin’. The former is only ever used in a positive sense and the latter is, at worst, neutral. If someone were to say I had skin the colour of a Milky Bar and eyes like hazel nuts I wouldn’t be morally outraged, honestly.

David NebeskĂœ
David NebeskĂœ
2 years ago

Kafka’s trap (as we know it from Kafka’s novel The Trial) is something a little different than the author describes. The essential part of Kafka’s trap is an accusation. If you are accused, denying proves guilt, ignoring the accusation proves guilt, and of course, confessing also proves guilt. If you are accused, you are trapped and guilty. The Kafka trap is a feature of the system that makes accusations against specific, usually randomly selected individuals.

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

Begs the question “Who set the Trap?” And why? Gaslighting should join the seven deadly sins to my mind.

Penny Swan
Penny Swan
2 years ago
Reply to  Zorro Tomorrow

It’s already there – it falls under Pride – the worst of all, as it leads to regarding the self as a higher authority than God.

Helen E
Helen E
2 years ago

This is hilarious!
”Critical race theory” is exactly a Kafka trap (for whites in the US) and exactly as you just described:
You are accused of being irredeemably racist, simply because you are white—(Door No. 1) if you deny the accusation, you are irredeemably racist; (Door No. 2) if you ignore the accusation (that is, if you don’t actively endorse CRT ideology), you are irredeemably racist; and (Door No. 3) if you confess, then you are irredeemably racist.
Here’s the bonus part of the blog the article mentions (“white feminists I’m talking about you”)! If you are white & choose the implied escape provided by Door No. 2, that is, if you DON’T simply ignore the accusation, and DO actively endorse the idea of other white people being automatically, irredeemably racist (like the benighted woman in the photo, pun intended), then you, too, are STILL irredeemably racist! Hooray, prizes all around!
Genius! It keeps getting better!

Last edited 2 years ago by Helen E
David NebeskĂœ
David NebeskĂœ
2 years ago
Reply to  Helen E

According to Franz Kafka you are not accused because you are something (guilty, white, whatever….). You are accused because the system exercise its power over the masses. And yes, it is what CRT proponents do. Nobody is safe from accusation. Even black people can be (and have been) accused of “whiteness” or lack of “blackness”.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
2 years ago

Can any sensitivity readers out there help me please – what is the correct term to describe this ethnic group? I thought “coloured’ was now considered an offensive term and yet ” and yet “people of colour” is used throughout the article and presumably in the original Joanne Harris article being commented on.
I’m just an ignorant middle aged middle class white person who’s confused and needs guidance 🙂

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Wise

There is no ethnic group comprising “people of colour” since we all have a skin colour even if we are ethnically white, or Caucasian. The only truly white people are albinos who have an unfortunate congenital defect in that they do not produce melanin that gives skin, eyes, hair etc. colour. They can be found among all races.

Julia H
Julia H
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

It follows that proselytising on behalf of the pseudo religion that is CRT is not only an act of anti-white racism but arguably an act of disability discrimination (albinos are more susceptible to eyesight problems).

Tris Torrance
Tris Torrance
2 years ago

I don’t use social media, so most of this vapid and rather pitiful self-absorption just passes me by. And then I pick up Unherd, and here it is – an unexpectedly “high viral load” of the utterly boring, self-obsessed culture of today. The product of of self-absorbed trivia-obsessed people who have nothing better to worry about. The sort of people about whom it used to be said that “they need a damn good war. Then they will know what is worth worrying about..”

I just behave myself as I was raised to do. No doubt I upset, “hurt”, or offend some people from time to time. I really couldn’t care less what others think of me or anything that I say or do. I suppose that is one of the advantages of getting old. In turn, people sometimes upset, “hurt” or offend me. I don’t care much about that either. It’s just a part of life. “…Words will never hurt me” is what I was taught, and it has stood me in good stead for many decades.

I can feel a subscription cancellation coming on. Not because the writing is bad, or boring. But because I am becoming uncomfortable at the possibility of sharing head space and time with people who may think that any of this ridiculous nonsense is remotely important or interesting.

Last edited 2 years ago by Tris Torrance
Julia H
Julia H
2 years ago
Reply to  Tris Torrance

You are of course entitled to your views. This stuff should be entirely marginal and unimportant but, since you don’t spend time on social media and are possibly also distanced from the world of paid employment, you need to know that intolerance of other people’s views is becoming normalised and entrenched within institutions such that ordinary people expressing ordinary and erstwhile uncontroversial opinions can now be hounded out of their jobs because someone claims to have taken offence. The effect is chilling and oppressive, and quite at odds with the culture that many of us have grown up in. So it matters that we continue to speak against censorship and self-censorship. You are not obliged to join in.

Dave Corby
Dave Corby
2 years ago
Reply to  Tris Torrance

This is the position that will be impossible in the days of a social credit system. There is no possibility of not caring what other people think. If you do not comply then many everyday facilities are taken away from you, like travel and buying certain goods. (People are having their credit cards cancelled already, and cash not accepted in some places.)
I only hope we can stop such a thing happening for our children and grandchildren.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

So if the choice is between being saved by a white person and not being saved at all, why would you choose the latter?

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

because you are a racist… ha..ha .ha

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago
Reply to  hugh bennett

Well, quite. Complaining about white saviours is just the modern equivalent of the bloke in the geriatric ward refusing to be treated by an Indian doctor.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago

Look, it’s not as complicated as the author suggestions. There are too many Master of Fine Arts graduates and too few openings. It’s a problem of elite overproduction. So, if you are an MFA graduate looking to start your writing career, you hustle. If you are from a minority of some kind, you use your minority status to edge out the (white) competition.

The most recent author to be at the receiving end of this hustle is Sally Rooney – who was accused recently in a high-end review of being racist for writing about white people… the book in question is set in a country where 90% of the population is white. I mean, what else could she write about?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

There is an excellent dramatization of the CRT Kafka Trap, called ‘Get Some’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S06nIz4scvI

“Get some, Get some, Get Some!! Anyone who runs is a VC, anyone who stands still is a well disciplined VC, Hahaaahaaa, Hahaaaahaa”.

Last edited 2 years ago by Galeti Tavas
David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

VC. Viet Cong?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Absolutely – everyone not one of ‘Us’ is the enemy. ‘Intersectionality’; everyone is either the Oppressor, or the Oppressed – and there is no redemption. And I am the Oppressed, and You are the Oppressor, and so I need some ‘Equity’. a lot of it.

where in the clip I posted he just said it with 50 caliber machine gun bursts – but same thing.

Fennie Strange
Fennie Strange
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Thank you for asking for clarification: to me VC stands for Victoria Cross, which clearly did not make sense in context. It would have taken me a very long time to guess my way down to Viet Cong.

Fred Bloggs
Fred Bloggs
2 years ago
Reply to  Fennie Strange

Venture Capitalist, obviously.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Fennie Strange

The link is the famous clip, ‘Get Some’, is in Vietnam from ‘Full Metal Jacket where the helicopter side gunner shoots anyone who they fly over. When asked how he can shoot women and children he says ‘Easy, just don’t lead them so much Hahaaa, hahaaaa’, – – – – ‘Ain’t war Hell?” hahaaa, hahaaa’

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

We don’t generally know about “Get Some” because we’re not for the most part American, and decoding acronyms can be quite tiresome.

Alex Rettie
Alex Rettie
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

And now you’ve learned two things, but feel the need to complain.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

The article photo is excellent. What is it about masks that makes protesters look so sanctimonious?

Tris Torrance
Tris Torrance
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Masks have become the new “political wearables”

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Tris Torrance

Indeed, they do seem to have become the signifiers for a set of unpleasant allegiances: BLM & woke racism generally, gender fascism, and FBPE-type Remainer rabies.

Michael James
Michael James
2 years ago

Absence of intention is a defence in law. Insane people who do harm are not convicted; an unintended killing may be manslaughter but is not murder. Would these puritanical speech terrorists want to change that?

Last edited 2 years ago by Michael James
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Why do you insist on capitalising ‘black’ but not ‘white’? Why do you do it? What does it achieve?

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

Back in the 20th Century liberals decolonised Black Africa before they were ready. African leaders went to Oxbridge picking up possibly the worst ideas and were vulnerable to the Soviet influence of the times. Preserve us from white saviours who kindly free lobsters into freshwater lakes.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
2 years ago

How about people like myself who doesn’t believe the colour of someone’s skin creates their personality?

Stuff like the people you grew up with, the abilities you were born with, the places you’ve lived, the experiences you’ve had etc etc etc., make you the person you are.

Too much agonising and name-calling is happening these days.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

“Incoherent Pontificating”. A wonderful phrase for today.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
2 years ago

Thank you Mr Owolade for making an effort to stand up for a compassionate teacher.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

As you say, Tomiwa, this is incoherent pontificating and as such, best ignored. I’m afraid articles like this only give it oxygen.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago

If you are accused of something, and you deny it, that denial is taken as an admission of guilt; only a guilty party would go out of their way to deny an allegation of wrongdoing. Alternatively, if you say nothing in the face of the allegation, that’s also an admission of guilt: your silence means you have accepted the allegation.
I think the author is aware of what determines a kafkatrap but IMO hasn’t spelt it out in the quote above. A kafkatrap is determined by the structure or form of the claim such that it is unfalsifiable. If someone accuses you of something that is, in principle falsifiable, then it isn’t a kafkatrap. Most kafkatraps involve claims or accusations about a person’s mental state that are in principle unfalsifiable. Hence the accusations of having the mental states of {-isms}.
Thus … being accused of white saviourism — which is another way of saying you have a suspiciously condescending attitude to people of colour … might be used in a kafkatrap because the mental state of white saviourism can be bound in the specific form of an unfalsiable claim for it cannot be falsified.

Last edited 2 years ago by michael stanwick
Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

I presume that the people who decided to publish Clanchy’s book have all resigned never to work in publishing again.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

If you want to understand what this is all about, read James Bowman’s Honor: A History.
See, honor for men is the reputation for courage: the brothers-in-arms that fight together and don’t run away.
But honor for women is chastity, or more generally being a perfect Good Little Girl. And the game that women play with each other is accusing the girl next door of being a Mean Girl. This works perfectly well with all the women living on a street. They can always get insulted by a neighbor and determine never to speak to her again.
But in the public square things are a bit too rough and ready for 100% Good Little Girls retreating into Safe Spaces at the least sign of trouble.
But things will get worse before they get better.
Meanwhile, I can’t believe that you played the Race Card on me.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago

What happened to “To Thine Own Self Be True”? Bacon’s Idols, particularly those of the Theatre, seem to be everywhere one looks. It does seem a silly waste of time to self-censor in the forlorn hope that some entirely subjective offense won’t be triggered. And why should anyone care what some stranger thinks? A circle of people, a class, have rules and conventions peculiar to them, and one understands how to “belong”, should one care to. But who in their right mind would want to belong to everything? Anyone “acceptable in part to all” is probably pretty weak sauce.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

Stop listening to anyone who shouts “racist!” In almost every situation it’s a cynical and calculated ploy.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago

Not sure I find the title relevant. I thought the article is about someone who is NOT a white saviour.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I think the article’s title is best understood as an elision of “The problem with criticising so-called white saviours”.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

A very good article, expressing much that needed to be said.
I am however puzzled by the expression “ostentatious meekness”, as I didn’t think those two descriptions can sit cheek by jowl?
Anyone care to enlighten me?

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

Maybe same as ‘performative humility’ or ‘virtue-signalling’ (if you were fundamentally ‘virtuous’ you would be unlikely to tell the world how virtuous you are)?

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

Rhymes with “pontificating weakness” Same effect.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

Deleted

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
Mo Brown
Mo Brown
2 years ago

Of course this thing has evolved into a Kafka trap as its only foundational principle is something like “I’m a good person vis a vis you being a bad person.”
I think that’s a pretty concise way of understanding white wokeism.

Last edited 2 years ago by Mo Brown
Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
2 years ago

I am in 2 minds about the Clanchy issue. On the one hand, I hate Wokedness. On the other, I am concerned about the use of race- or colour-based descriptors even when no offence is intended, for two reasons. The first is that, even when innocently intended, such usages can perpetuate a way of seeing people through their race, ethnicity or cultural background (eg, humorous comments about Irish people’s combativeness or propensity to drink). The other reason is that there is, objectively speaking, little reason to refer to someone’s appearance in a context in which that appearance is irrelevant (eg, referring to the shape of someone’s eyes if you’re discussing their writing ability).

Rod Hine
Rod Hine
2 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Magee

Stick to the first “mind” – just hate WOKENESS. If you go down the other rabbit hole you’ll ban writers from including any description of their characters for fear of offending some pillock. That will make fictional literature really worth reading, won’t it!