Trigger warnings for discussions of racism, sexism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, and rape.
So a Polish ‘far-right’ magazine wSieci published its most recent edition with a picture of a woman, wrapped in the European flag, clearly in pain, being roughly grabbed by several dark-skinned arms, under the title “Islamic Rape of Europe.”
The cover actually prompted me to want to talk about what the concept of “Europe” even is, and whether it’s still useful today, but I wanted to start off with some caveats that are already proving longer than expected, so I think I’ll break this into two posts. First, the super depressing discussions of racism and political correctness. Tune in next week for part two, which will mostly be pictures of maps.
First, the cover is both racist and sexist. Not open for debate. Islam is a religion, not a race, and European is not synonymous with white. That woman could be Muslim and all of the arms grabbing at her both European and non-Muslim. Also, women are in constant danger of rape and sexual assault, but these attacks are much more likely to come from their own communities or even from direct blood relatives, and non-white women face a higher risk of sexual assault and rape than white women [depressing stats]. Limiting immigration is no more effective for reducing the rates of sexual assault as it is for reducing our carbon footprint or rebalancing the economy – it’s possible it might make some very small difference, but there are definitely better places to start.
Second, the racism and sexism depicted here are part of a much broader tradition in white supremacy – the claim that racism is necessary to protect white women (there’s a good primer on the subject for the American context here). Again, not open for debate and also complete nonsense. Firstly, as a white woman, I don’t exist to serve as an baby incubator for my race. Secondly, again, presenting rape culture as a race issue is just straight up false – rape and sexual assault occur predominantly within existing power structures. Indeed, the race component of rape runs the other direction – as we’ve seen time and time again in the relationship between ‘fratboy culture’ and the frankly terrifying rates of sexual assault on college campuses, the *more* privileged a group is, the more likely they are to assault someone, probably because they’re not used to having their choices questioned.
Finally, the cover is not just politically incorrect, although a truly shocking number of websites and news outlets have called it just that. It’s worth pointing out that the term ‘politically correct’ doesn’t even really mean anything – or more to the point, is often used to harken back to a period of ‘forced’ multiculturalism that never actually happened. As discussed here, the term started out as a literal description of the potential political outcome of personal choices, particular consumer choices, akin to the modern concept of buying free-trade goods or ‘buying local.’ The adoption of the term by mainstream media and the American right more or less parallels the very limited attempts at increasing multiculturalism and reducing public displays of racism and sexism in the late 80s and early 90s – basically the most ‘politically correct’ we ever were as a society was Captain Planet and Sesame Street.
The use of the term by mainstream media also did much to pollute the distinction between censorship (that is, a government action that serves to silence dissidents) and backlash (ie responses from people or organizations that have no government backing). People can be offended by racist language and, as a group, decide to ban it from workplaces or educational institutions – that’s still not censorship because the government wasn’t involved.
The problem with labeling something like this magazine cover as ‘just politically incorrect’ is that it both diminishes this image’s connection to the history of white supremacy and *way* raises the bar in terms of what isn’t ‘just politically incorrect.’ So long as we have this middle category of ‘diet racism’ (to steal a term from College Humor), it makes it easier and easier for us to desensitize ourselves to racism. After all, no one wants to be ‘too P.C.’ By couching the discussion in these terms, white supremacy is able to make itself the victim, that making it seem as though being disgusted by this image and what it represents is a personal choice or a sign of hypersensitivity, or, worst of all, censorship of free speech (which again, it could only be if I were a government and I were banning this image).
The power that white supremacy has in cultivating the narrative in this way is exactly why we should all be scared by its continued strength in North America and its re-emergence in Europe – by its very nature, white supremacy already has considerable social and cultural privilege defending it, and by co-opting language of victimhood and oppression, it cuts off the last remaining outlets to dissent we had to address it.