Being white shouldn’t cancel out my opinions

WORDLESSLY, an exclusion zone has been installed around the majority.

No sound is allowed to emanate from this cone of silence.

Unless we identify as being part of a marginalised, ostracised minority group, we are expected to hold our tongues in public debates.

As if we should be happy with our excessive good fortune and cushy station in life and shut up.

The prejudice against the majority is getting worse to the point where, in some debates, it is as if we are expected to apologise for breathing from lungs that are the same in all humans.

It is disturbing. And it is wrongheaded.

I was involved in a discussion on racism on Channel 9's Today show on Tuesday.

Regardless of the meatiness of the topic or the points we raised, many keyboard warriors seemed to home in on the composition of the panel: me, the host Sylvia Jeffreys and WA federal politician Anne Aly.

Notable, apparently, was that we were all female and all - at first glance, anyway - white and light-haired. What place did such a collective have discussing racism, commenters wondered aloud.

So much privilege, so little life experience.

Never mind that Aly is Egyptian-born and Muslim, nor that skin colour can be an effective invisibility cloak for a person's heritage.

Never mind that the positions taken by the panellists were considered or that the debate featured a diversity of views.

We were female and fair skinned. This was enough to render our opinions moot.

Frankly, it wears a little thin.

No person has a say in the skin they are in, their gender, whether they are able bodied or not, where they were born or their family's socio-economic situation.

But that does not mean they should be excluded from debate and discussion if they are from a majority grouping.

They should not have to apologise for or defend the personal characteristics they have no control over.

But members of majority groups are increasingly sidelined and dismissed in important discussions that help us define ourselves and what we stand for as a community.

In Plato's Crito, Socrates argues that we should not regard the opinion of the majority by default, but only the opinions of those who are wise or knowledgeable.

While I have no truck with reflexive, uninformed brain bubbles floated often on comment threads, those who engage in the nuances of a topic are surely allowed to voice a view even if they do not have a vested interest in the topic or if their opinion is not one we share.

Civilised, respectful discussion is vital to helping us mature and because the majority is so often shut down before they are allowed to begin, society is sadly lacking in practice.

Informed opinion is not the bastion only of those to whom the topic directly applies.

We should not have to scramble to find some characteristic, as if it is a gold ticket to enter the wondrous ideas factory.

I can have an opinion on same-sex relationship issues even though I am not gay or be concerned about animal welfare even if I am not a veterinarian.

Anne Aly, Sylvia Jeffreys and Jane Fynes-Clinton discuss racism on The Today Show
Anne Aly, Sylvia Jeffreys and Jane Fynes-Clinton discuss racism on The Today Show

I can have clear view on obesity despite not being overweight and on halal certification even though I am not Muslim.

But of all the contentious topics, the biggest majority exclusion zone is erected around race and religion.

People of Anglo heritage are often forced to state they are anti-racist, almost as if the default position is that they are prejudiced.

The term 'anti-racist' is based on what we are not, not what we are. This makes it a weak starting point for any discussion.

Acknowledging the privilege that is built into being part of the majority group is important, but we should not have to seek out other parts of our identity to be considered valid, such as being white and having a disability, or white and gay.

Even if we are none of these things, our considered opinions matter too.

Diversity of skin colour should be celebrated. Difference should be noted and enjoyed. Respect should be plentiful and mutual.

To aim to be colourblind is to avoid difference rather than recognise and value it. It is undesirable as much as it is impossible.

I prefer a society where people can embrace the prevailing, majority standards of a culture while maintaining their own personal identities.

I love a 'tossed salad' society.

As it stands, the irony of the discrimination against those who are part of the majority is aching. The only thing deemed less worthy than being white and female is being Anglo and male.

Perhaps I should feel grateful for small mercies.

Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton is a journalist and University of the Sunshine Coast journalism lecturer.