Opinion: all voices are equal and we should not segregate them
By Max Hunter
There is a spectre haunting our universities. It has many forms, and its aims are too diffuse to be known- even to itself. It sprung from a place of good intentions, and many of its effects have been, and continue to be beneficial to the health of our society: to its self-awareness, its sense of justice and equality.
But you can’t observe modern politics without getting the impression that it has somehow gotten out of control. When minority voices are segregated from the voices of everyone else, and when these voices are elevated to some kind of mystical pedestal: that is when we know that liberalism has begun to eat itself. A struggle that started with the admirable, fundamentally humane task of achieving equal rights, has now set itself the unfathomable task of re-defining what those rights are. Our dialogue as citizens has been segregated into distinct arenas – and access to any one of them requires validation by some dubious criterion. Whether that criterion is gender, race or sexuality doesn’t matter. What matters is that we no longer care what someone has to say: we care who they are to be saying it. To all of us, that should set alarm bells ringing. It should fill not only students, but every pedestrian, tax-assessor, brick-layer or journalist with fear. Because we have been down this route before, and we all have something to lose.
To see such a venerable institution as The Student falling prey to this trend is truly saddening. This year the paper piloted its new Voices section. The quality of writing has so far been outstanding; even a cursory glance will convince the reader that these are voices that we desperately need to hear. The problem, as any good post-modernist will tell you, is the structure. Even the existence of such a section carries the idea that some voices are more worthy of attention than others; and that so far they have been barred from participation in the paper’s numerous other sections by…what? What exactly has stopped the timely, well-written content that features in this section from being published elsewhere?
The only thing that distinguishes these ‘voices’ from the voices of everybody else is that they are deemed to have some kind of mystical, indefinable quality: that they come from sources usually (or at least historically) repressed by the power structures that dominate society. That these voices have been repressed, and continue to be repressed in some places, is a historical truth, and sometimes a present-day tragedy. The question we must ask ourselves is this: do those structures still play havoc with this paper’s editorial structure? Are these voices so under siege that they need a segregated arena of their own, entry to which is qualified by a magical criterion that no one understands? Finally, we must recognise that there is a price to be paid in pursuit of this goal. When some voices are deemed more worthy than others, we have started down a dangerous path.
A response: some voices need to be elevated as they are not equal
By Karolina Zieba and Dhruti Chakravarthi
In light of the perpetual political turmoil that shadows over global societies, there has always been a huge power fluctuation. Voices of communities across the world, in our very own university, have been immobilised and terminated. ‘Voices,’ an outreach initiative taken by The Student to provide minority groups a platform and safe space to vocalise their views and opinions from a contrasting lens has expanded the diverse thoughts within our society. ‘Voices,’ as an initiative, is not segregating one group from another. It is recognising that we, The Student newspaper, as a largely white cisgender society, have a strong subconscious prejudice.
This safe space has been created for individuals, who might be harmed by that bias, to express their views. It is a response to a segregated society that has been constructed largely by white men, where some voices that were deemed unworthy have been suppressed.
To be able to claim what fundamental equal rights should look like to repressed communities and where their voices should be heard, by a writer identifying as a cisgender white male is beyond unacceptable. To perceive voices, which have been historically stifled and deemed unworthy, as being put on a “mystical magical pedestal,” reflects how the writer continues to view our communities from almost a colonial lens as being “exotic” and “oriental.” To perceive voices that are being shared in a safe space, as such, is a privilege in itself. To take advantage and claim this to be a valid argument to demolish a safe space, is a privilege that a huge majority of society cannot even imagine having.
Our dialogue as citizens has been segregated into distinct arenas. Arenas set by white, straight, wealthy, able-bodied men that were meant to exclude anybody else. When brown people are searched at airports or structural racism prevents a qualified black person from being chosen for a job, those ‘dubious criteria’ affect them in ways that a white man has the privilege of overlooking. Gender, race and sexuality matter to the eyes of the world. Gender, race and sexuality affect people’s lives. Individuals identifying as straight do not have to come out to their families and friends, painstakingly calculating whether losing their loved ones is worth it. Cisgender people do not have to worry if their doctor will help them transition. And thus, undoubtedly, identity affects our relationship to achieve privilege and power in society; it is not separate from the words that come out of our mouths. We cannot separate the art from the artist. We don’t buy Les Femmes d’Alger, we buy a Picasso. At least the wealthy white men who created dubious criteria, putting themselves ahead of everybody else, can buy the Picassos.
We are scared. We are scared for the lives of trans-women of colour whose life expectancy in the United States is barely between 30 and 35 years. We are scared for the minorities who experienced hate crimes at an increase of 17 per cent in 2017/18 in England and Wales from 2016/17.
Looking into any lecture hall at the University of Edinburgh, it appears that some voices are more important than others. In 2016/17 just a mere proportion of 7.9 to 10 per cent of students identified as BME and 11 per cent disclosed a disability. We desperately need to hear those voices and this is why they need to be elevated and be given a safe space. Pretending as though everyone is equal while being aware of the reality is not the way to equality. This is a way of denying minorities the words to express their existence and expecting them to silently assimilate into a prejudiced structure. The foremost step to solving the problem is identifying and acknowledging the harms that have been done from a panoramic perspective.
And we do, as The Student, acknowledge that we are a heavily white, straight society. We have prejudices we want to become conscious of.
We will not pretend that we came out of the womb woke, blessed with a clear understanding of what every minority experiences. The structure of our society might be what’s barring minority voices from participating, but we are working to solve that.
These voices are so structurally under siege that they need an arena of their own; a safe space that will instil a sense of comfort and inclusion, make the privileged aware of the kind of daily trauma they do not have to face. We are not here to decide if someone is unequal enough to get their own section. We, in our minimal efforts, are attempting to make a space for those who haven’t gotten enough space everywhere else. ‘Voices,’ as an initiative, it is not the end-solution. We still observe patterns of inequality in all realms within our society on a regular basis. We have not solved racism. We do, however, try to be conscious of the biases within the society and address it.
A long time ago, wealthy white cisgender men treaded on an unforgivable path where they decided that it was their voices and opinions that were more worthy than others. The Student’s initiative is not the beginning of the divide and we certainly will not be the end, but we also will not stand by idly and watch it happen.
Image: Free-Photos via Pixabay