Dr. Richard Dawkins recently linked to an article about a woman at a UK university who challenged the UUK (Universities UK) regarding guidelines allowing for voluntary gender segregation during certain kinds of gatherings. Fair enough, but a Muslim woman replied to his tweet with the following:
Many people have expressed the same concern with a very, very wealthy and influential white male telling minorities how they’re supposed to feel about their worldviews and religious community, and one of Dawkins’ sycophants (the white male to whom Salya was responding) decided to make it worse:
In other words, unless her position on the matter matches that of these two white males, yes, Salya absolutely does need to be told how to feel about Islam. Salya returned the volley:
To which Dr. Dawkins replied with his characteristically naive rhetoric:
What Dr. Dawkins apparently doesn’t know is that racism and sexism are about power and oppression, not about judgments and insults. When Salya says you cannot be racist to a white person, or sexist to a male, what she’s saying is that those comments cannot reflect or reify oppression. Salya’s words can never oppress Richard Dawkins, but Richard Dawkins’ words can absolutely oppress Salya, particularly when he insists that the right to represent Muslim women belongs in the hands of white atheist males. Just look at how many of his 879,500 Twitter followers came out of the woodwork to rhetorically brutalize her. Who has more social leverage in this situation? Who needs to be aware of the effects of that leverage? This is made all the more ironic by the fact that it’s just that power and oppression against which Dr. Dawkins ostensibly fights. That he’s willing to leverage his white male privilege directly against the perspective and integrity of one of those for whom he pretends to advocate in the interest of defending the inerrancy of his own broad characterization of Islam shows his interests lie not in the people, but in his own opinion. His conceptualization of Islam is the priority, not that of actual Muslims, and certainly not that of a Muslim woman, who evidently needs to be told how she’s supposed to feel about her religion by these white males, who—in their etic and antagonistic perspective—know better.
I’m not trying to step in and protect Salya. She’s capable of doing that herself, and she knows much more about this than I do. Dr. Dawkins, however, appears to know as little about racism and sexism as he does about the sociology and psychology of religion, and I suggest he learn to check his privilege.