“White lives don’t matter.” When Cambridge University academic Dr Priyamvada Gopal tweeted this, the context was straight — reject the resistance to the anti-racism Black Lives Matter movement. She followed up with another tweet, meant to call out caste privilege: “I’m a Brahmin. My Brahmin life does not matter.” Both unleashed a torrent of online abuse, fake profiles and hate speech that has not stopped over a week since. Now, wading through police and legal work in response to the attackers, the author of anticolonial resistance chronicle ‘Insurgent Empire’ tells TOI’s Chandrima Banerjee that such attacks come from a place of denial. Q: What had you meant by the ‘white lives don’t matter’ tweet?Priyamvada: The full tweet was, of course, saying that white lives don’t matter ‘as white lives’, meaning it was not whiteness that should give you the right to have your life respected. Ironically, I was explaining that it is precisely because all lives matter that white lives should not be given additional value since they are already the most highly-valued in Western societies, often at the expense of black people’s lives. It is important to remember that my tweet did not come out of nowhere: it was responding to a racist White Lives Matter banner being flown over a football stadium at the very moment players were taking a knee to honour George Floyd’s racist death. Q: A similar debate was stirred in India after your ‘Brahmin lives don’t matter’ tweet. Have you faced such attacks before?Priyamvada: Yes. I’m very familiar with attacks from the Hindu right, I’ve been subjected to them many times before. What is interesting is that many Indian trolls and abusers wrote to me defending white supremacists, calling me a ‘shame’ on India and using not just misogynist slurs but deeply casteist ones. It confirmed my view that Hindu rightwingers and white supremacists have a lot in common: both, of course, fancy themselves Aryans. Q: One section said you had “given in” to imperialist notions about oppression and hierarchy when you spoke about caste privilege…Priyamvada: It comes from deep denial, a failure to understand how colonial discourse works and how deeply colonial a construct Hindu nationalist and chauvinism itself is. Equally, like white supremacy, Hindu chauvinism relies on a denial of an oppressive past and present. Caste was used by colonizers inasmuch as they largely collaborated with Indian upper-castes but it was not a colonial construct — that much is well established. Q: Did both attacks, in a way, end up justifying what you had started out saying? Priyamvada: The attacks were a beautiful example of exactly what I was identifying: whiteness as a hate ideology that depends on a race hierarchy. Lots of hate mails said openly ‘White is best’ and ‘Western civilisation is superior’ and ‘White lives matter more’ — exactly what I was criticising! Q: Several fake accounts using your name came up and a barrage of misleading tweets followed. You, on the other hand, could not access your own account after the ‘white lives’ tweet. Do social media platforms, by design, favour certain kinds of discourses over others? Priyamvada: I think digital media platforms have two problems: the first is that they are not intelligently run. Second is that there are many bigots who work in the tech industry, both from India and in the West. They help skew the picture. Twitter is not as bad as Facebook in that regard but still fails to make distinctions. A simple verification ought not to be such a big problem. Q: Why has there been a simultaneous surge in global politics that derives legitimacy from other-ing?Priyamvada: Rightwing ideologies in the present-day are intimately connected to the history of European imperialism and its collaboration with what we might call ‘indigenous tyrannies’ in many places, including India. Colonialism’s most important ideological legacies are ‘race’ and ‘nation’ and the tying up of the two. This means that right-wing politics across the globe shares both a commitment to rapacious global capitalism as well as extreme nationalism based on ideas of homogeneous race or religious communities. To the extent that exploitation of land, resources and labour is a global phenomenon, rightwing formations across the globe ally with each other usefully. Q: What comes in the way of a Muslim Lives Matter or a Dalit Lives Matter movement from taking off in a meaningful way in India?Priyamvada: I think we saw the beginning of such movements last year. But in India there is a much greater level of denial within the liberal and upper-caste middle-classes as to the extent of Hindu and Brahminical or savarna caste supremacy than there is of racism in Britain or America. Remember the immediate backlash when Twitter’s Jack Dorsey was photographed standing next to a Dalit Lives Matter banner. Why should we not insist Dalit Lives Matter unless we are somehow in deep denial? Where BLM (Black Lives Matter) has a number of white allies in the USA and Britain, the equivalent movements in India draw upon only a small pool of caste Hindu allies … The problem of ignorance, willed and convenient ignorance around Dalit and Muslim lives in India is a key obstacle.


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