Op-ed: A lack of empathy

The Burkean’s racist article is a systemic issue, not a fleeting news item

Inequality is a fact of life, and, yes, the statement “not all are born equal” is true in some sense, if you examine how students are experiencing life as an ethnic minority in Trinity. The Burkean recently published an article that completely twists the narrative of inequality, and attributes it to genetics and intelligence rather than circumstance. This clearly reflects the privilege that the author and editors of the Burkean have. Inequality exists because of historical and existing structures that continually propagate it. The contents of the article itself are not worthy of comment, and only reflect the ignorance of the writer. Clearly it comes from a position of no comprehension of the impact of imperialism and neo-colonialism. It is discourse like this, that encourages racial hierarchy, that can have disastrous consequences for students. The Burkean as a “publication” needs to be held accountable for publishing such a piece, the purpose of which can only be to instigate hate.

Louis Hoffman and others were happy to stand behind the Burkean when they published articles in support of transphobes, misogyny, and in constant defence of “free speech” and “dissenting viewpoints”. They stood behind the need to have a debate on “Middle Eastern Women Need Western Feminism” despite this being the same argument as “not all are born equal”, just couched in less explicitly racist terms. Instead, it was framed as “cultural differences” between Western people and the underdeveloped, incompetent Middle East. They argued that their right to free speech was above Middle Eastern women’s right to defend themselves. Let’s be clear, none of them cared about the rights of Middle Eastern women.

Since the article was published, the reality is that everyone is concerned with covering their own tracks and giving a platform to people who had set this up – such as a University Times op-ed from founder Louis Hoffman – rather than confronting the history of harmful ideas that have come from the Burkean. The article was clearly racist as it made biological, Nazi-esque arguments. But up to this point, everything had been regarded as a matter of “free speech” and a “marketplace of ideas”. Moreover, the Burkean has further defended its actions rather than remove the article. There is an immense responsibility that any editor has for the content that is published, and the tone of the publication which can be traced to its genesis. Hate speech in any form must not be tolerated. I am appalled by the lack of response from TCDSU regarding this. Even though the Burkean claims to not be based in Trinity, this is where it started.

As TCDSU Ethnic Minorities Officer, I received several complaints from students who felt insulted and betrayed by the contents of the article. They know it’s not based on any knowledge but it still is painful to see that there are people in our society, and our college, who do think in such racist terms. Had this article been attacking white Irish men or women, there would have been an uproar but, because this is about a minority that is not represented enough, a few shares on Facebook are enough and two weeks later, no one cares that the article is still up.  

Racism exists, just because you haven’t experienced it, doesn’t mean you can’t act against it. Just because they didn’t say a racist slur doesn’t mean racism didn’t occur. It cannot be tackled just by ethnic minorities. Everyone needs to stop excusing racism in order to end racism. An article like this is not okay. A debate topic that is inherently racist is not ok. Using the n-word and getting away with it in 2018 is not ok. All the emails I receive about students facing racism, sometimes from their own friends, is not ok. We must become aware of what we’re saying, and if you think you’ve made someone uncomfortable by your actions or words, don’t let it go, apologise and it will make a huge difference. College life is not easy for anyone so be empathetic and kind towards people of colour who do experience racism in order to make our college a safe and equal space for everyone.

Navika Mehta

Navika Mehta is a former Features Editor of Trinity News. She is a PPES graduate.