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Artillery Row

Mr Darcy’s new gig

Perhaps “white privilege” exists after all?

In recent times, the term “white privilege” has become an innate part of our vocabulary. Naturally, many things during the course of history experience a “re-brand” and let’s face it, “racial inequality” is just so last season. We have decided therefore to ditch this term for a much more accusatory concept. A concept which seeks to inform, or rather, “school” white people that regardless of their class or social standing, their skin colour will always afford them certain benefits that ethnic minorities will not gain from. I take issue with this assertion for many reasons, mainly because it ignores poverty and I view it to be one of the more depressing and divisive tools of the ongoing culture-war.

Thank goodness John is no longer a threat now that he knows Mrs. Bennet managed to marry two of her daughters off

This week, however — I dread to say it — but I have seen clear and startling evidence of its existence. Not only is it a bizarre example, but it demonstrates how white societal privilege can be dangerous and is an ingrained part of the system. In addition, it shows that we are yet to take right-wing supremacy, which is on the rise and growing geographically, seriously. According to the head of MI5, right-wing extremism is now a major threat facing the country and “more than a quarter of serious terror attacks thwarted in the final stages are linked to neo-fascist and racist groups.”

It has been reported that a young Nazi sympathiser who downloaded bomb-making instructions has been sentenced to read classic novels including Pride and Prejudice instead of the usual maximum jail sentence (15 years) for an offence of this nature. On 11 August this year, Ben John was found guilty by a jury of possessing information likely to be useful for preparing an act of terror. However, despite copying more than 10,000 rightwing and terror-related documents — some containing instructions on how to create homemade weapons and explosives — the judge concluded that he was “not of the view that harm was likely to have been caused” and that it was probably “an act of teenage folly”. Apparently, John, the former De Montfort University student will have to return to court on a regular basis to be tested on his knowledge of classic literature after avoiding jail “by the skin of his teeth”.

It’s certainly an interesting form of punishment — literature in this case is being used as a form of immersive rehabilitation. Of course, if one can be radicalised by words than assumedly they can also be de-radicalised by them. But, would the judge have been as lenient and considerate had John been a Muslim extremist? I am inclined to think, no. I also believe that in this scenario the public would have been audibly outraged and for good reason. Imagine if Salman Abedi, the perpetrator of the Manchester Arena bomb attack had been given a copy of Twelfth Night to keep him on the straight-and-narrow prior to the horrific carnage he inflicted.

Only a few months ago, Ataubaq Taj was sentenced to 6 years in prison — 5 of which are to be spent in incarceration for possessing propaganda material relating to Islamic State. Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Meeks of CTPNW stated that: “While there were no known plans for Taj to put into action the material he was consuming, it was nevertheless alarming that he was storing so much of this dangerous digital media on his devices”.

The difference in judgement between Taj and John is alarming, difficult to ignore and quite insidious on two levels. On the one hand it suggests that white terror suspects are given the benefit of doubt based on the colour of their skin, but it also hints that attacks carried out on the white populous are deemed more important than if they were to effect ethnic minority communities. Here, we see the very real and ugly side of “white privilege”.

Our great literary canon is not being used to educate John, but is acting as a reminder to him, that white people are apparently “civilised”. For goodness sake John, Mr. Darcy had no time for terrorist preoccupations, he was far too busy dismissing fine young women of an evening. Here, the convicted has been afforded this luxury because his whiteness is closely aligned with its goodness. We are much more disposed to being sympathetic towards right-wing extremism because it is something we, as white people, have the privilege of ignoring. I’m sure many Jews and Muslims will feel safe in the knowledge that John is no longer a threat now that he knows Mrs. Bennet managed to marry two of her daughters off to wealthy men.

I do hope that these incredible novels can rid young Ben John of his hatred and predisposed liking for violence. Of course, the cynic in me says it won’t. Those who have shown an interest in committing acts of brutality — regardless of race — need to be monitored closely and given a jail sentence with immediate incarceration both for deference and for the public’s safety. White privilege is not some abstract notion of which we must pick a side, it appears that it is at the heart of our society and, seemingly, our legal framework.

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