Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

Solidarity with Bahar Mustafa: the need for safe spaces

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sisters Uncut stand in solidarity with Bahar Mustafa, student diversity officer at Goldsmiths who is being targeted by a petition calling for her expulsion from the university and the revocation of her degree. Her supposed crime? Promoting safe spaces and expressing legitimate rage and resistance to white male supremacy.

This vitriolic petition is symptomatic of the entitlement that underscores white male privilege. Sisters Uncut believe this entitlement should be challenged at every opportunity if we want to live in an equal world.

The petitioner accuses Bahar of ‘stirring up racial hatred’, because she:

1) Wanted to create a safe space in her meetings, so posted on Facebook:

“If you’ve been invited and you’re a man and/or white PLEASE DON’T COME just cos I invited a bunch of people and hope you will be responsible enough to respect this is a BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) Women and non-binary event only,”

The petition’s claims are ludicrous. In the white supremacist patriarchy that we live in, safe spaces are vital to liberation movements. They provide marginalized people relief from the oppression and bigotry they are forced to navigate every single day. They provide strength, validation and a supportive space for effective organising against oppression. Women and people of colour spend their whole lives being interrupted, undermined and dominated by white men. Safe spaces are the only places where their voices are not silenced, interrupted or interrogated – and where they can lead their own movements.

Sisters Uncut has a strict safe spaces policy: our meetings and actions are open to self-defining women – including trans women – as well as intersex and non-binary people. We know that in a society where women are subject to horrific rates of domestic and sexual violence, they need spaces where they feel SAFE to organize their own movement for liberation, as well as express their hurt and anger. And they have the right to do this amongst other women without being tone-policed, patronized or criticised.

We recognise the need for women-only spaces, as well as women of colour-only spaces. We are intersectional feminists who believe that oppressed voices should be front and centre of our movement. These tactics are part of the necessary work to be done; when the rest of the world is fundamentally unequal, safe spaces temporarily redress the balance.

2) She tweeted using the hashtag #killallwhitemen

Hashtags do not kill people; institutional and structural oppression – including police and male violence – do. The author of this petition fixates on the hashtag ‘#killallwhitemen’ in a context where two UK women are murdered each week by men and specialist black and minority ethnic women (BAME) refuges and services are being closed due to austerity cuts. This petty fixation is indicative of both his privilege and his ignorance. #Killallwhitemen is a tongue-in-cheek, legitimate expression of rage and resistance, and the fact that white men are using this to derail conversations about structural oppression and violence against women is laughable and infuriating, but not surprising.

It is highly improbable – in fact it barely merits mentioning – that the white male author of the petition against Bahar truly believes the use of hashtags such as #killallwhitemen stirs up racial hatred or in any way constitutes a threat towards him or other white men. If he does believe such a hashtag constitutes a threat towards him and other white men, we hope he recognises that the “risk” of being killed by a feminist is not a danger that white men have to negotiate in their daily lives. On the other hand, women, especially women of colour and communities of colour more broadly, do have to negotiate the danger of deadly violence – both in their homes, on the streets and especially when they speak out.

Women have a right to express their anger, pain and frustration at the daily racist misogyny they are forced to negotiate in order to survive in our society. Whether that pain and frustration is to the taste of oppressive groups is entirely irrelevant. Women have a right to express their resistance to oppression without white men policing their tone or de-legitimising their lived experience by demanding that the way women organise is suitable for them.

Allies know when their presence is constructive to a liberation movement and when it is not, and they respect the safe spaces we create. The people that are offended by our policies that exclude them on the basis of race and gender are not allies to liberation movements. Their criticisms are illegitimate and should not be given any attention.

Furthermore, we are alarmed by the petitioner’s comment regarding the murder of Lee Rigby, a victim of male violence who has nothing to do with this. The petitioner says that the UK is seeing “white people attacked in their own streets by radicals”. We are deeply alarmed by the claim that streets – and public spaces in general – are owned by white people. This sentiment only reinforces the all-too-common public violence committed by the police and other state agents against people of colour. As a direct action group that regularly reclaims public spaces in order to empower ourselves, Sisters Uncut believe that the streets belong to everyone and are not solely the domain of white men.

Finally: saying that Bahar’s actions would constitute hate speech is at best laughable. At worst, it invokes the same measures that the racist British state uses to criminalize, silence and commit violence against people of colour. We stand united with Bahar, and with all groups seeking to end sexism, racism and state violence.