Weaponising victimhood

Trevor Phillips once said to me – only half joking – that newspapers should have identity correspondents, just as they have economics or environment correspondents. Certainly there appears to be an inexhaustible appetite on the part of media outlets for stories that focus on social divisions, real or imagined. Usually these are framed as moral parables featuring virtuous victims, usually female, ethnic minority or gay, and contemptible wrong-doers who are male, white or straight. Sometimes the perpetrator is institutional – often, as with the Windrush generation controversy, the British state itself.

The common denominator with all these stories is the simplistic conclusions that we are supposed to draw. Men are beasts. Whites are oppressors. Britain is bad.

There are many other incidents of mistreatment or conflict in our society that never make headlines because they don’t feed these narratives. A trivial dispute between neighbours; an act of unkindness by a shop keeper; a sick joke by a colleague – all bad but hardly worthy of general concern. Unless there is a ‘social justice’ angle that can be divined (or manufactured), no one else gets involved.

Even where there are genuine problems or injustices worthy of wider attention, the true essence of the issue is often obscured, sometimes willfully, because some politically motivated people are determined to recast it in accordance with their agendas.

Recently there was an awful incident at Nottingham Trent University involving a young black female student called Rufaro Chisango who made a recording, whilst in her bedroom in a hall of residence, of drunken fellow students yelling racist taunts in the corridor. The dormitory manager was initially slow to respond but the University acted swiftly once she posted a video on social media and it went viral. National newspapers got involved and there was a massive outpouring of sympathy.

A lot of people then tried to claim that the incident proved that racism is rife in higher education. But is it?  Even if there were a dozen groups acting like this in universities each year, it would still be a tiny percent of the entire student population. It is not news that people can be really horrible to each other, even well educated university students but it’s certainly not the experience of most ethnic minority Britons or foreign born students that they experience this sort of behaviour regularly, if at all, at university.

By and large, most young people are pretty tolerant and positive about diversity. People do insult each other racially, usually behind each other’s backs (and of course ethnic minorities can be racist in this sense too – I know Asian friends who laugh at ‘goras’) but it’s not commonplace and much of it is jocular, even if in bad taste. The evidence from a recent NatCen survey shows that just one per cent of the country admit to being “very prejudiced” against other groups and most of these are older (24 per cent admit to being “a little prejudiced” but invariably when this survey is mentioned the two figures are rolled together and it is reported that 25 per cent admit to being prejudiced).

I suspect that many young people have become so inured to anti-racist education in schools and colleges, that they have come to see PC as an ironic joke in itself, like calling someone ‘gay’ as an insult. The kind of laddish, offensive comments that young people sometimes make should also been seen in the context of hyper sensitivity around language – a lot of young people rebel against taboos almost as a matter of course. That doesn’t make it right but it suggests something else is going on.

The second story which was framed to make us believe that Britain was a racist cesspit was the Windrush scandal. The Government’s attempt to impose a hostile environment on illegal immigrants inadvertently caught a small group of older people of Caribbean heritage who had not needed papers when they first arrived in Britain as they were deemed citizens in the first place (and all Commonwealth citizens in the UK had been granted indefinite leave to remain in 1971). The state’s bureaucracy didn’t treat them with care or make the presumption of innocence usually afforded to citizens. Their experiences were deeply distressing and were the fault of officials working under a badly designed process; a process that should have been more sensitive to these historic groups who might struggle to prove their status. 

But was this really about race as many commentators have judged? Stories exist of foreign-born white people experiencing a similar level of Kafka-esque misery at the hands of the Home Office, and the top three countries for forced deportation are all white European: Romania, Albania and Poland. The real lesson is not one of racism, as in the deliberate targeting of ethnic minority groups, rather it is that the process of immigration enforcement needs to be improved.

Unless one believes that any constraint on illegal immigration is inherently racist then some kind of ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants is inevitable. Obviously, being an ethnic minority (in the sense of your parents or grandparents originally being from another country) means a greater risk of being affected. But this is a question about citizens and non-citizens, and how the state should police the distinction. 

None of this is morally clear-cut, but there is a lazy instinct on the part of some commentators to put Britain in the stocks and throw rotten fruit. This agenda is not driven by immigrants themselves, most of whom – Windrush nothwithstanding – have a broadly positive story to tell about their experiences of Britain and can at least speak with a sense of balance and perspective.

Rather it is driven by people who are acting according to a political agenda, who want to seek out and seize upon any instance of racism as proof that Britain (and the British people) are stuck in some neo-imperialistic mindset. They claim to act on behalf of the underprivileged and yet despise the attitudes of those working class people (white and ethnic) who express concern about issues like illegal immigration. I don’t doubt that some are well intentioned, but some seem to be more driven by their own prejudices than the reality of people’s lives. 

Munira Mirza

Munira Mirza Written by:


  1. May 12, 2018

    It is not just victimhood that has been weaponised, but evolved human nature itself, which is inherently tribal and territorial & thus naturally inclined to nativism & xenophobia, which the state deliberately incites, via mass immigration and DIVERSITY, in order to claim a spurious moral authority for itself by condemning.

    DIVERSITY is now part of the West’s age-old strategy of divide and rule (largely subconscious or obsured by Orwellian doublethink), whereby society is divided into a morally superior, now supposedly non-tribal, unprejudiced, “colour-blind” and xenophilic elite, on the one hand, and the morally inferior, naturally (evolved human nature being what it is) tribal, prejudiced, not colour-blind, but nativist and xenophobically-inclined masses, on the other, who must submit to the authority of and domination by their “moral superiors” (a moral animal like ourselves can be manipulated and controlled by a regime of moral rewards & intimidation as well as by one of material/physical rewards & intimidation).

    It is, in effect, a modern, secular replacement for the power-political role of medieval church ideology. Original sin (disobedience of divine, i.e. priestly/state authority) has been replaced by “racial prejudice” (the natural human inclination – like original sin – to identity with members of one’s own tribe, race or ethnic group, which was made responsible (wrongly) for the Holocaust and equated with the evils of Nazi racism), and which only submission to priestly/academic/state ideology and authority can save us from eternal damnation for, not as heathens and heretics, as in the past, but as bigots, xenophobes, nativists or racists.

  2. Alex Cartwright
    May 13, 2018

    Only a total bigot could write such an ill-conceived article which at its root seeks to underplay genuine problems of race discrimination in Britain.

    To seek to minimize real peoples lives into statistics. To suggest that a real issue is being ‘weaponize’ draws from a particular right wing narrative that remains in denial about racism and discrimination and it’s damaging effects on society.

    There was nothing inadvertent about the creation of this policy, it was implemented recklessly and warnings were given about the impact on the very people now suffering and affected. As usual with the right and the Tory’s it was a price worth paying to translate rhetoric into bad policy.

    Throughout the article it is you that concludes all of Britain is bad or racist or similar silly assertions you make. The complainants, the victims, simply assert that the subject matter of their concerns is the issue not the wider society. They want the policy changed and implemented by people who are conscious of the country’s history and diversity and will act with care.

    It is likely your take draws from a feeling as a white male that you are victimized in some way or stained by these incidents. But you are only victimized to the extent you and the white media victimise Muslims or black people for the sins of their ilk. However it is more of a feeling than fact. I suggest you’d rather not hear about these incidents because in your ivory tower you’d like to believe racism doesn’t exist or as you incorrectly suggested ethnic minorities are racist. You are of course fundamentally wrong. Minorities can be prejudiced but are rarely racist because they do not hold the institutional power positions that racism requires.

  3. Zahid Malik
    June 16, 2020

    This is a very subjective article. What about the array of laws (including money being spent on deradicalisation) against Muslims due to the actions of 0.99 per cent of radicalized muslims. This article trivialises the deep rooted institutional racism that is inherent and is constructing a theory that totally denies the inequalities. The article is more of an anecdotal attempt to sweep racism under the carpet by highlighting the few BAM that have been copted in to the system.

  4. June 16, 2020

    The Guardian today provided a link to this blogpost as being by Munira Mirza (a muslim woman, so not a white male at all). But how does the Guardian know that as there appears to be no credit on this post as to who it is by?

    • AIB
      June 16, 2020

      We have changed the website design and are updating how we attribute authors in a different way.

  5. The Windrush debacle was really an example and result of a particular type of personality who cant make it in the commercial (real?) world then gets hired by ‘the government’ and then applies their lack of talent and laziness ..and most important of all , authority beyond their ability without consequences to apply rules as benefits them rather than for the purpose and original aim.
    The examples are rife, from a fully salaried (and presumably still employed, probably promoted…see above about consequences.) who , with complete conviction stated that a 9 year old girl made ‘informed decisions ‘ about ‘sleeping’ with 30 or so middle aged men, to covering up the killing of several teenage boys by a ram attack that was dressed up as a road traffic accident (record time for charge to court appearance to conviction for a , compared with terrorist murder, minor road traffic offence..) to ..well, I;m sure you all could think of similar situations where the bottom feeders fail….

  6. Bill Parsons
    July 4, 2021

    Munira attempts to say that the focus on racism is out of proportion. Heresy! That won’t do at all. Some comments here teeter on hysterical.

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