Ending Racism by Enrollment Rather than Privilege and Guilt

Following is the latest from another round of replies on the same thread on Medium that I posted about yesterday. This is a rich discussion even though there is a bit of talking past one another.

  • I am challenged on whether I am diluting the original author's experience
  • I claim that writing about racism implies a goal of changing the system
  • I lay out my ideas on how discussion of privilege is often, "an underhanded way of slandering people and “being right” without affecting any real change"
  • Why I think guilt is not enough to affect change and instead we need to enroll everyone

I’m going to start by talking about what we agree on.

Miss Matti’s piece as written is perfectly fine as it is and no one is asking her to change that piece. As written, it moved me to care enough to respond.

My response isn’t neutral. I did challenge a perception. And I did make a suggestion. It’s my right to do this just as it is her right to put into words how she felt about her direct experience. It’s also her right to ignore me if she thinks I am a waste of time.

I would like to clarify that if Miss Dominique Matti feels discouraged or diminished in any way, by any word of what I have written, I will gladly apologize to her directly for this. Not that she should care about what I think other than the extent to which I make sense (which is exactly the extent to which I care about people).

You are right also that Miss Matti may not be interested in changing the system with her piece. But her writing isn’t neutral either. And it just so happens that we are agreed: We do not care to have racism exist at all. Let’s squash it.

And what good would it do to end racism if the system remained exactly the same? Changing the system is implied. This is what I see as the larger purpose.

Yes, I am presumptuous to assume she would care to hear my thoughts on the matter. I am fine with that.

You are right that I have my own purposes. I desire to defeat tyranny in all its forms, including the tyranny imposed upon Black Americans. And I intend to be really nosy and I get involved in discussions that don’t concern me directly but are interesting nonetheless. I intend to challenge perceptions when I think they do not serve the larger purpose.

Maybe I need to check this, because maybe I’m being discouraging or shutting people down. I am taking that to heart as a part of your message to me.

A Pet Peeve: Privilege and Guilt

I will also own that discussions of privilege and guilt are generally a pet peeve of mine. This is not always the case, but I find that it is common: discussing privilege is used as an underhanded way of slandering people and “being right” without affecting any real change.

Here’s how this game works: I declare someone in power and comfort to be privileged. I talk about how my people are suffering. If the privileged react, I know I’m right and I shut down anything they say as [xxx]-splaining. If they don’t react I say that they’re ignoring me/us because of their privilege.

It is sophistry: Heads, they lose. Tails, they lose.

But… The system stays the same. No one grows. No one learns. No new connections are formed. No compassion granted. None given in return.

Well, I don’t say that all Muslims need to change because of the actions of the militants who decide to kill. (Though I do try to encourage that they live-and-let-live more loudly).

And I don’t say that all White Americans deserve to feel guilty because of the actions of police officers, but I do encourage them to take on the system and challenge their own default perceptions.

Some White Americans will read Matti’s piece and experience guilt, as we see in the comments. Others will blame a system they didn’t choose, and accept no personal blame for it, and move on to the next article. I can’t say that they are totally wrong to feel this way.

Most discussions of privilege qualify as half-truth at best. And the act of name-calling detracts from the goal of offering an opportunity to reflect and change and act. It detracts from enrollment.

Enrolling Everyone

> Why should “white Americans” be included in a struggle that only people of color, especially Blacks are engaged in everyday?

Why do straight people go march in the pride parades? Why do Christians speak out in defense of Muslims after a deadly attack?



The best within us.

Squelching racism and changing the system needs to happen diligently and on all levels of society. Your words.

They are good words.

We, who care enough to combat racism, should be enrolling everyone to challenge their own racism and to care enough to work to change the unjust outcomes in the system.

Some people will need to be convinced that it is urgent and actionable to join the cause. This is why I made my suggestion in the first comment. I stand by my choice.

Matti’s voice reaching across all divides will be stronger than mine because her struggle is not one I am engaged in everyday.


You are as thought provoking as ever, Mr. Clay Rivers. I don’t expect you to agree with everything I have said. Ultimately, that’s what’s interesting about discussion.

I hope you can grant to my bits of writing the kind of open acceptance that you grant to Miss Matti’s original piece. These are my authentic responses and they come from what I hope are the best parts within me. I have no intent to shut anyone down.

I know I am not neutral, but hopefully you won’t mind if I take your advice also and write “whatever I want in any way that I want for whatever purposes I choose” as well.

Maajid Nawaz at Oslo Freedom Forum

Notes and Quotes from Maajid Nawaz at Oslo Freedom Forum:


  • #Islamism is the desire to impose any version of Islam over society. (distinct from Islam, the faith.)
  • #Jihadism: The use of force to spread Islamism
  • There is a misdiagnosis about what we are dealing with. Today, we are dealing with it like an organized crime gang: take out the leader and deal with the gang.
  • We cannot kill/shoot/legislate our way out of this problem.
  • You cannot kill an idea. (Killing Osama bin Laden did no more to kill jihadism than killing Malala did to kill her ideas.)

...it's not new and has support within the communities

  • How on earth is it possible that 6000 born-and-raised European citizens go to join the worst terrorist group that history has ever known if not for the fact that there was level of support within the communities for this ideology?
  • This ideology has been propagated for decades in Europe.

...and we have to give ourselves permission to talk about it, even though we fear being labeled bigots

  • The solution is to give people permission to have this conversation. (The danger lies in not wanting to appear as an anti-Muslim bigot, or a racist, or an Islamophobe.)
  • The alternative to talking is violence and conflict as we have seen for the last decade and longer.

...we can challenge intolerable acts whomever we think we are, and we don't need to be Islamic scholars to do so

  • You do not need to be black to challenge racism
  • You don't have to be gay to challenge homophobia
  • So none of you should be told that you cannot condemn stoning a woman to death or throwing gays off of tall buildings or chopping off body parts.
  • You don't need to know anything about the Quran... nor the Hadith to condemn stoning a woman to death

...and now that we are free to talk about this, here are some things we need to come up with:

  • Let's work together to build these 5 things that the civil society needs to push back against this theocratic ideology: Ideas, Narratives, Symbols, Leaders, A Goal. (The violent jihadists have all of these.)


Here's how to talk about Islamist extremism without invading countries or pretending it doesn't exist, freestyled in 10 mins at the Oslo Freedom Forum

#Solidarity #Tyranny

Tyranny: "cruel and oppressive government or rule."


"cruel and oppressive government or rule."

The opposite of a "Live and Let Live" philosophy is one of tyranny. Tyrants rarely include "tyrant" in their self-conception. They think they are doing good by changing the world according to some ideal. But neither "the greater good" nor some idea of "the will of God" transforms tyranny into liberty. Oppression can never be individual freedom.

When we consider the maxim that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions", we should remember that both of the justifications itemized above are often used to force others to behave in certain ways. Entire countries have become enslaved by regimes expounding these exact justifications.

Organized religion tends toward tyranny unless specific effort is made to banish it. (Incidentally, this is true of organized government). You can see the difference between the ones that make the effort and the ones that do not. Consider the stark difference of modern day Buddhism as compared to the Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages.

Political Islam, also known as Islamism, makes no effort to banish tyranny. Neither does certain variants of American Christianity. They are the forward deployments of the forces of tyranny.

They deserve our rebuke and our material opposition. These are the enemies of liberty until they work to banish every vestige of Tyranny from their ethos.