The conference, aimed at raising awareness about “the importance of anti-racist action in the UK” took place at Pleasance Theater, owned by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, on Saturday.
It was organized by a group tellingly named ‘The Resisting Whiteness Collective,’ which describes itself as a “not-for-profit grassroots organization of QTPOC [Queer and Trans People of Color] activists.” While touting the event, the group said that it wants to make it “as accessible as possible and therefore have free tickets available for those who would like to attend.”
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However, it seems not everybody was welcome. The rules published on the conference’s official website state that if an attendee is white, they will have no right to ask questions, at least publicly. The rule, introduced to “amplify the voices of people of color” said that “priority will be given to questions from people of color in the audience.”
“If you are a white person in the audience and you still have a question after the panel has ended, please feel free to share your questions with a member of the committee or our speakers then”
While some argued that the attempt to muffle voices of a particular group, in this case white people, is tantamount to the racism that the “collective” so fervently opposes, another controversial rule sparked comparisons with segregation practices.
The “safe spaces” rule states that one of the two rooms “available to anyone who needs to remove themselves from the conference” due to anxiety issues or just to take a break is off-limits to white people.
“The Braid room is a safe space for only people of color, and the Cheviot room is available for anyone who needs it,” the rule states.
The controversial event was thrust into the national media spotlight earlier this week after outspoken media personality Katie Hopkins denounced the university’s decision to host the gathering on Twitter.
Her tweet has opened the floodgates to similar accusations against the university, with many arguing that by throwing its weight behind the event, the school is endorsing racism.
“You’re hosting ‘Resisting Whiteness,’ is that not similar to ‘resisting blackness?'” one commenter asked.
Another Twitter user suggested that the group has “a hidden agenda… [to] stoke race wars.”
Responding to the backlash, the university said that the organizers had agreed to revise the “safe spaces” policy to “ensure [the] event is compliant with our values.”
They did appear to have watered-down the wording of the mic-access rule that had originally stated: “We will not be giving the microphone to white people during the Q&As.” However, if there were changes to the “safe spaces” rule, they are not reflected on the event’s official webpage.
While many chided the organizers, others sided with the “collective,” arguing that “reverse racism” does not exist.
A bookshop that helped to arrange the event took a swipe at the critics, saying that they had “willfully misunderstood” the group’s intentions.
“Resisting whiteness is not about white individuals, it is about whiteness as a pervasive system of oppression – both social & political – a system that needs resisting & dismantling,” it wrote.