You probably never heard of Yusra Khogali before.
As the co-founder of the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter, Khogali is used to being an outspoken leader for a movement that has seen more publicity than nearly any other activist group in North America over the past two years. She has been at the forefront of nearly every racialized controversy in Toronto and is one of the most visible members of the organization.
And now, respectfully, it is time for her to resign.
Yusra Khogali (centre). (Photo: Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Now, normally my white skin would admittedly preclude me from even suggesting that a black activist should hang up the megaphone, but Khogali has made a habit of directing violent, hateful language towards people with white skin, so much so that I feel comfortable calling her out. She once mused that just by having white skin, white people are sub-human. She tried to qualify that statement by saying white people did not have a high amount of melanin, which prevents them from absorbing light, and with it a sense of moral clarity.
Now, maybe if this was her only controversial statement all could be forgiven, but this is a pattern of hate that can't be ignored any longer. In April 2016 Khogali tweeted "Plz Allah give me strength to not cuss/kill these men and white folks out here today. Plz Plz Plz."
The tweet was widely covered, and many media outlets faced scrutiny for focusing on that tweet instead of the issues black communities are facing. This was and is a legit criticism of the media. Black people are treated unjustly by the criminal justice system at all levels, and the press is almost as bad, and that's why I support the underlying credo of BLM.
But that can't absolve Khogali from being held accountable for constantly inserting hate speech into the ether of Toronto activism. If I were a member of BLM, I'd hopefully understand that her words are harmful to the movement's stated goals of ending institutionalized racism, and the more she speaks the less credibility the movement carries.
There is a strange trend that some activists use to provide themselves cover for engaging in hate speech. They say that because the system they live under has racial problems, they should be absolved from being held accountable when they make violent, absurd statements, especially against whites.
To saddle Trudeau with a label as hyperbolic as "white supremacist terrorist" is to engage in a kind of activism that belittles your own cause.
Recently, Khogali labelled Justin Trudeau a "white supremacist terrorist" for not changing our refugee policy as a response to Donald Trump's executive order that would temporarily halt the flow of refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Trump's decision is controversial even among Republicans, but to saddle Trudeau with a label as hyperbolic as "white supremacist terrorist" is to engage in a kind of activism that belittles your own cause.
I get it, being controversial gets people talking and spotlights the issues you are trying to champion, but that strategy only works if you do not place yourself in the centre of the controversy. You are not absolved from being held accountable for hate speech just because you hate Donald Trump and want Trudeau to take action on the refugee file.
It's patently counterintuitive to believe this is a viable tactic, and BLM should either force Khogali to the background or martyr her as a way of trying to maintain the momentum they found after they forced Toronto Pride to give them a seat at the table last year. Instead, after winning that controversial fight against Pride, BLM likely squandered the gains made with the public and may even face a Pride team not comfortable with having a person so vitriolic occupying a spot side-by-side with Pride leaders.
Members of Black Lives Matter sit and block the Pride Parade from the normal parade route. (Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
And to be honest, I really don't care if this comes off as "whitesplaining." That's a word designed to get white people to shut up about important issues. It's part of the lexicon among some activists that doesn't serve the greater good, which is supposed to be justice and equality for everyone.
But if you continuously isolate and vilify white folks -- without crafting your language in a way that separates actual racists from white allies -- how can you ever expect to grow the movement to a size where the system would have no choice but to change for the better? Moreover, how do you reconcile using divisive, prejudicial language to describe an entire race of people when part of your fight is to stop white people from doing the exact same thing?
It is time for that individual to go.
Let me put all my cards on the table here: I am pretty sure it is privilege that stops me from caring what Khogali says about white people. I honestly don't care if she thinks I am sub-human, or that she needs Allah to stop her from killing me. And I don't really care that she called Trudeau a terrorist, even though that statement is asinine and evidence of a sloppy intellect. None of that bothers me at all, because it isn't as important as the issue that does resonate with me -- that non-whites need a justice system, and a society for that matter, that treats them with dignity, respect and as equals.
So when an individual at the helm of what could be a transformative movement distracts the public with hate, it is time for that individual to go. And if she really believes black lives matter, that's exactly what she will do.
Because optics matter, too.
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