Dr Priyamvada Gopal stirred public outrage after she tweeted “White lives don’t matter. As white lives,” which saw angry white people demanding her resignation from her post as an academic in Cambridge University.
Dr Gopal faced threats, abuse, and even death threats from white people who felt slighted by her criticism of systemic white supremacy.
It all started after someone flew a barner over a Premier League football stadium, which read “White lives matter Burnley.” In response, she tweeted on Tuesday “White lives don’t matter. As white lives” and “Abolish whiteness.”
And speaking with Guardian, she said that her tweets were opposing the concept of whiteness – the societal structure that presumes the superiority of white people – and not attacking white people. But this had been misunderstood by many and used as a tool by others, she said.
When she had said “White lives don’t matter. As white lives,” she had meant their value should be inherent and not linked to ideologies around race, she said. “Whiteness does not qualify someone to have their life matter; the life matters but not the whiteness.”
She added: “You cannot oppose Black Lives Matter with ‘white lives matter’ because they are not comparable. Whiteness is already valued but blackness is not.”
A petition to have her removed from her post claimed her “statements are racist and hateful and must not be tolerated” by the university.
However, yesterday, Cambridge University threw their weight behind her, saying:
The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial and deplores in the strongest terms abuse and personal attacks. These attacks are totally unacceptable and must cease.
— Cambridge University (@Cambridge_Uni) June 24, 2020
Gopal urged the university to encourage quality of public debate on race, highlighting that many of the abusive messages sent to her had been based on a flawed understanding of the nature of racism in the UK.
“I would like to see the university take the lead in getting the public discussion on race in the UK to be more complex and rich than it is. So, instead of a statement on freedom of speech, actually saying that there is something to be said about a critical look at whiteness,” Gopal said.
A Cambridge University spokesman told Guardian: “As well as the university’s ongoing access work to increase diversity in its student intake, Cambridge … is working to address racial inequalities in collaboration with students, academics and professional staff, including the university’s race equality inclusion champions.
“We are aware of the magnitude of the problem and are working on improving our support services for staff and students – recognising, investigating and challenging barriers to recruitment, progression and retention of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and students.”