Knowledge is power. While that’s true, those who choose a deliberate blindness to facts, suggests that a lack of knowledge is also a comfort, and empowering for some at the expense of others.

It’s that liberality with other people’s existence which is under challenge, and which should be challenged.

hope and glory
A far-right group gather to protest against the decision not to sing the words to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the close of the Proms 2020. A decision taken because of Covid-19 precautions – think about it. See:

Now, I know there will be an inevitable gritted teeth, ‘but what about class?!’ moment here, or ‘don’t make fun of people with poor mental health’ or ‘they are the exception’ or any other disavowal and excusing of this kind of behaviour. And all that does is mask it, excuse it, give it a free pass and allow it to flourish.

There’s only one response to all of that – park your knee jerk prejudices and read on.

What situations like this expose is the willing complicity of those who advocate the ‘two sides’ notion of ‘debate’.

The idea that a person’s colour, sexuality, way of being – immutable facts of their lives – are somehow open to debate is risible. Especially when the ‘neutrality’ of those doing the judging is held to be sacrosanct; invariably white people (in the case of race) or cis het (in the case of sexuality or gender identity).

The idea that ethnicity, say, or sexuality, or class, is something that belongs to another person and that yours is somehow neutral is utter nonsense. 

Look at BAME – Black and Minority Ethnic. What does that mean? Is there a BAMEland where everyone not white originates from (the majority of the world’s population therefore!)? The term illustrates perfectly the way that whiteness is given a diversity, room to breathe and express itself to its fullest, while every other colour range or ethnicity is placed in a stranglehold of a restrictive term – BAME – which denies all diversity, range, human expression, to those held down by it.

Furthermore, the demise of meritocracy and the ascendant power of established elites and those already very privileged in positions of power in our society means that a kind of ‘fascism’ has become normalised.

Think about it this way – ask yourself, what passes for conversation around a dinner table in a very diverse household as compared to one that isn’t …

In one, perhaps, there’s an acknowledgement and positive celebration of race, ethnicity, sexuality etc. In the other, norms are fiercely upheld and ‘a little bit racist/sexist/transphobic’ views are routine, normalised.

This acceptance of ‘a little bit of racism/sexism/transphobia’ moves the mythical ‘centre’ of debates towards reactionary mores.

How can people who normalise giving equal space to white supremacists or any other champions of extreme normativity ever claim to be neutral?

Think about it.

When you pitch someone as ‘just a bit racist’ you immediately agree that there is a scale of racism which is acceptable. And in so doing you make those arguments legitimate. The same goes with sexism, homophobia … it’s a long list.

Google has existed for a long time, use it, get an education.

No one is ‘woke’. But there are people whose self-serving, nasty, thick-headed ‘sleep’ in ignorance is a choice. Don’t be that person. Simple.

There you have it. Knowledge is power.

Knowledge exposes the ‘two sides’ fallacy for what it is, a means of ensuring normative supremacy – whether that’s white supremacy or heteronormativity.

The myopia of the ‘I see both sides’ theory limits what we say to what is ‘understood’ or ‘seen’ by an increasingly limited pool of human experience and therefore ‘knowledge’. By definition in such a circumstance, we are denied the power to tell it like it is. And this is because those who ‘see both sides’ are exactly the same people who ‘don’t see race/sexuality etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum’.

The tension between the seen and the unseen

Those who have fought for liberation or recognition of some kind have questioned, deconstructed and analysed the systems they have been subject to in great detail. They’ve had to in order to survive.

Those who have profited from those systems, even while espousing opposition (but doing nothing) never had to do the same work – they have never made the effort to the same degree. Furthermore, their ignorance, wilful or not, is compensated, paid as a reward for not disturbing the status quo. 

This speaks volumes about what is seen and what is not.

Those who have fought systems of power for liberation or recognition function on many levels constantly. They – we – are hyper-conscious.

We don’t have the luxury of ‘switching off’ in majority white/heteronormative [insert here] scenarios. We know there will be an attack at any moment. And we know that these attacks happen in myriad ways ‘unseen’ by the perpetrator or their cohort. Because their ‘sight’ is all that’s needed to validate truth, there is no truth other than that which they ‘see’. It opens up the whole ‘you’re being too sensitive’ response, or ‘that’s not what I saw’ if you dare to react or stand up for yourself – then, you’re being ‘too aggressive’.

Their limits govern our depth.

Their absence of knowledge limits our power.

Yes, knowledge is power. But we should never forget how power functions, and how those who profess to be neutral are in fact complicit in the execution of power. Their ignorance can no longer be called ‘unconscious bias’.

diversity inclusion anti racism

This piece is part of a series which builds on discussions I was part of in Autumn 2019 at The Royal Academy and Queen Mary.

Read more here:

Further Reading/Listening