BY EFFIE DEANS
The SNP are going to encourage Scottish teachers to take a white privilege test. It will no doubt be a rather odd sort of test, because no matter what you answer it will turn out that you do indeed have white privilege. There will be no set of answers that you can give that demonstrate that you don’t. It therefore won’t be a test at all, such as an exam which it is possible to pass or fail. There will only be the option to fail, after which you will be expected to feel guilty for existing.
White privilege is the idea not so much that all white people are materially privileged. Clearly some black people are financially better off or have other advantages over some white people. Rather white privilege is the idea that even a down and out drug addict living on the street has white privilege over a black millionaire because in our society he does not face racism. He may have all sorts of disadvantages and may face all sorts of other prejudices, but it is not because of his skin colour.
White privilege therefore is inherent in being white in a society where there are black people. The SNP’s goal is to “eradicate racism in wider society”. But there is a problem here. If Scottish teachers and the Scottish public in general denied that they had white privilege, this would constitute evidence of their racism. But then if it is impossible to eliminate white privilege the goal of eradicating racism becomes impossible and self-defeating. A Scotland without racism would also be without white privilege, but if any Scot claimed not to have white privilege, he would precisely thereby demonstrate his racism.
The SNP also thinks that racism is a social construct “invented to justify the murder, exploitation and brutalisation of the peoples, lands and resources of the Global South for centuries”. If this means anything it must mean that racism in some way does not exist in reality, but rather is constructed or invented by human minds. This must mean that when white people first went to say Africa, they initially thought the people living there were just the same as us. We didn’t notice any inherent difference, but in order to murder, exploit and colonise them we invented the concept of race and with it racism.
But there is a problem for the SNP not merely to do with the implausibility of this story. If racism was invented so that white people could invent a distinction that is not real between them and people living in Africa, then clearly Scottishness must have been invented too in order to create a distinction between people living here and people living in for example England. If there is no real distinction between black people and white people, then still less can there be a real distinction between English people and Scottish people. Why then does the SNP wish to make these people independent from those people when they are really the same?
If race is a social construct, then so too must the concept of one people being distinct from another people – one nation being distinct from another. But this fatally undermines the whole SNP project. It would mean that there wasn’t really a Scottish nation or a Scottish people. But this would make it entirely arbitrary to set as your goal the creation of an independent country full of Scots.
But perhaps worse than this, imagine if two of the heroes of Scottish history were asked to take the white privilege test. Robert the Bruce and William Wallace would have to pass it. There were few if any black people living in Scotland at that time. If you disagree with this, we could go back further. Logically Bruce and Wallace could only have white privilege if there were black people, they could exercise their privilege over.
But this has the unfortunate consequence of making white privilege a matter of the presence or absence of black people in society. For centuries Scottish people had no white privilege or very little, until the time when black people arrived here. But this makes white privilege a consequence of black immigration. The easiest way to eradicate it would be if we did not have multiculturalism, but instead lived in a monocultural society similar to that in which Bruce and Wallace lived.
I can think of no organisation that has more white privilege than the SNP. Every leader of the SNP has been white. Every one was born in Scotland and had Scottish parents. SNP voters are overwhelmingly white as are SNP MPs and MSPs. When Scottish nationalists march all under one banner, they are all white. The SNP looks back to a time when Scotland was independent. But at that point the whole population of Scotland was white. Every important Scottish historical figure, battle or declaration involved exclusively white people. The languages that the SNP wishes to protect, Gaelic and Scottish, are spoken by white people almost exclusively. The SNP discriminates between immigrant languages such as Polish and Urdu and indigenous Scottish languages that were spoken when only white people lived here. To privilege the indigenous over the immigrant is racist. But what is Scottish nationalism other than to celebrate and attempt to recreate the sense of nationhood that historically was created by indigenous Scots? If any organisation in Scotland has white privilege it is the SNP.
I didn’t realise quite how extreme the SNP has become while pretending to be moderate and reasonable. First it wants little boys to be able to declare that they are little girls without informing their parents. Now it wants to import the whole apparatus of critical race theory, which was invented by American academics, into Scotland.
The problem with this perspective on race is fundamentally its divisiveness. While maintaining that racism is social construct it creates a system where white people are guilty of racism merely because they exist. It doesn’t matter what you have done, how kind you have been to other people, every white person is guilty of murder and genocide because we were born with white skin. If we try to deny our racism, this is taken as evidence that we are indeed racists.
It creates two classes of person. White people have original sin imported from their ancestors being colonisers and slavers. Black people on the other hand are born without sin, incapable of error, but victims of white oppression. This is a caricature of both races. Worse it puts a gulf between us that is impossible to overcome. We barely share the same humanity.
If racism is something that white people are born with and their white privilege something they cannot eradicate, then quite soon white people might respond to charges of racism with indifference. After all, if I cannot help my white privilege why should I be concerned about it anymore than I am concerned about the colour of my eyes. Critical race theory thus becomes an obstacle to tackling racism.
The SNP is no doubt simply ticking woke boxes, without understanding the logical consequences, but a party that depends wholly on a Scottish identity that was created exclusively by indigenous white people, needs to check the coherence of its own ideas as well as its own privilege.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.