Yusra Khogali, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Toronto, has been in the news recently for calling Prime Minister a “white supremacist terrorist.” She’s had a few other interesting things to say as well in the recent past. She asks Allah to prevent her from committing violence. She refers to whites as genetically defective. She’s really angry. And, from what I know second-hand about racism and misogyny, I don’t blame her.
We can argue about the strategic usefulness of deploying inflammatory public rhetoric, shorn of context and explanation, that divides and excludes—I do, as a former union leader who knows what draws people in and what doesn’t—but that isn’t the issue. Khogali is expressing the anger of the oppressed, she has a right to do it, and she is accountable only to the people in her movement. White folks calling for her removal as a leader rather make her point. They would prefer that oppressed people remain polite and respectful and use their indoor voices at all times: otherwise these outside commentators feel uncomfortable. But put up their discomfort against the everyday racism, the personal and institutional violence, that is a Black person’s life experience, and there is simply no contest.
Besides, the content of her most recent remark bears a little attention. As others have noted, you can indeed argue her case against Trudeau. White supremacy is not just the ideology of Nazis. Terrorism is more than shooting up a mosque or a nightclub. Trudeau’s refusal to accede to a court ruling and two compliance orders by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal continues to victimize First Nations children simply for being First Nations. Canada’s Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia is obviously terrorizing a lot of civilians in Yemen at present. Trudeau’s massive export of light armoured vehicles to the Saudis, not to mention the Canadian military training that goes with it, will only encourage further interventions, as well as enabling the House of Saud’s bloody rule at home.
Discomfort is the point at which we privileged white folks can either move forward or stay in place. Confronting and reflecting upon our own socialized attitudes is not infrequently unpleasant. This isn’t a moral matter: we aren’t necessarily “guilty” of anything. Most of us simply sleepwalk in our privilege. But when we’re called on it, we should be willing to learn.
Well, here is what I have learned, for what it’s worth. Khogali’s remarks take place in a context of oppression, and they should be interpreted in that manner. She’s not just another talking head on a reassuring TV panel show: she’s a pissed-off Black activist, every atom of whose being is engaged in resistance. Must we expect that she follow polite rules of discourse established by the very society that oppresses her? Very little real-world resistance is drawing-room. A lot of it can be raw and ugly. And the white liberal response is too often to wag a finger. They liked Martin Luther King for his non-violent resistance; Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, not so much.
But here is what King himself had to say about them:
First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. ~Letter from a Birmingham Jail
When I read Khogali’s commentary, I’m not surprised or offended. Asking Allah to help her check her rage is hardly worth the ink spilled by affronted pundits attacking that Tweeted prayer. As for the alleged genetic defectiveness of white people, I have no reason to believe that she is not entirely sincere about that amalgam of pseudo-science and mysticism, but I can’t help being struck by its ironic effectiveness. She is holding up a cracked mirror to hundreds of years of white pseudo-science about “race” and Blacks in particular, and just look at the shock and outrage she’s been causing among the chattering classes. Three or so remarks! Imagine the emotions they might have caused to well up in us were the historical tables turned.
None of this is to say that anything goes, particularly if one is attempting to build a mass movement, but, rather, that we should try to understand how what we might regard as rhetorical excesses are generated by the very system that is now clutching its pearls. Can the subaltern speak? You betcha. And we won’t always like what we hear—but that’s the whole point, isn’t it?