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Dismantling global white privilege by Chandran Nair

/ 09:07 PM January 14, 2022

(Editor’s note: We are featuring this book review by Cyril Pereira of Chandran Nair’s book “Dismantling Global White Privilege” 224 pages, Paperback, US$24.95, Jan 2022, Berrett-Koehler Publishers)

Acutely aware he is smoking the hornets’ nest, Chandran Nair lobbed videos ahead of his book, to declare he is not anti-White, anti-West, nor seeks to blame all the ills of the world on Western racism. He calls for a rejection of the Entitlement, Exclusivity, and Exceptionalism, that buttress global White privilege. Nair’s stated intent is to expose the White Lie, and alert us to the decline of White dominance, toward a less unfair global world order which China is set to lead. 

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Nair unpacks the ultimate taboo subject – the White Man’s historical pillage of the rest of the world. He explains how colonial piracy from the 16th Century captured lands, resources, and subjugated natives. Following the seizure of land came the evangelic conversions to Christianity, and an education system to train the natives as docile labor and clerks, to cog the wheels of administration. That was an efficient, self-serving arrangement sold to the colonized as a generous, civilizing mission.

White invincibility

WWII destroyed the myth of White invincibility when the Japanese whipped Britain out of Malaya, Singapore and Burma; ejected the Dutch out of Indonesia; and dislodged the Americans from The Philippines. In one sweep, the Japanese swatted the arrogance of Whiteness. That was cathartic for the local populations. It steeled them to confront and reject the post-war return of the colonial masters.

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The Americans dropped two nuclear bombs on Japanese civilian populations to avoid invading Japan and risking more American lives. That halted the Pacific war. The British and the Dutch returned to repossess their colonial territories but met unexpected native resistance. Independence was not given to Asia or Africa – it had to be taken under brutal repression, in most cases.

Nair points out that White privilege and dominance did not end with the lowering of their flags and eviction from colonial possessions. When the natives reclaimed their countries, the American-led Western alliance imposed an institutional matrix of control through the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, etc. That rigged game continued unchallenged till China emerged as an alternative global anchor for trade, finance, and political defiance.

Facilitating the post WWII global reset, says Nair, was the soft power of American movies, TV serials, music, Western news distribution agencies, and Western (mainly American) media. Generations of teenagers cheerfully adopted American music, fashion, and idolized Hollywood heroes as the good guys, while Russians, Chinese, and Africans, were caricatured as villains. American post-war affluence, trade, tertiary education, political dominance, and overwhelming military might, set the agenda for international relations through the remaining half of the 20th Century. 

Colonization of the mind

The more insidious Western control, asserts Nair, is the colonization of the mind. The first generation of Commonwealth independence leaders were schooled at British universities. Many were lawyers who drafted their independence constitutions on the Westminster model. They wanted to be accepted by their former colonial masters as brown, black, and yellow Englishmen. The elites adopted Western clothes, fashion, and lifestyles, as the “gold standard” in sophistication.

Colonial history is written by Western historians, glorifying the experience. The consequence of that was denigration of local culture, language, and social values. A new generation of Asians and Africans are correcting that. Counter-history from local perspectives is being produced, on the white-washed ugliness of White rule, looting of natural resources, and brutal suppression of the ruled. Nair sees his book as advancing that wave to expose and dismantle White privilege. 

The book references extensive research done by Nair’s team of Asians and token Whites, in his NGO known as GIFT – Global Institute for Tomorrow – which trains young Asian executives from government agencies and national corporations, via a combination of tours, projects, and mix of classroom and outdoor teambuilding exercises. It is meticulously annotated with references to articles, academic papers, and books, for every chapter, as discussion starters. The book is designed for White privilege re-education in schools, universities, and civic study groups.

Sports, Fashion & Climate Change

Nair covers a wide range of sectors to show how White privilege distorts, including global sports, fashion, and climate change. Apart from fan abuse of non-Whites in spectator sports like soccer, rugby, hockey, basketball, tennis, etc. the structure of professional agents, press publicity, TV coverage, and sports management, entrenches White domination. The headquarters for the Olympics, Soccer, Rugby, Tennis, etc., are located in Western capitals.

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Nair speaks from personal experience of racist slurs as a Malaysian national youth hockey team player; at university in the UK; and in Hong Kong, against White teams. His Asian club hockey teams (skilled Indians and Pakistanis) regularly beat the Whites in Hong Kong. That would not go without the richest racist abuse on and off the pitch, mostly good-natured. To his credit, Nair went on to coach the Hong Kong hockey team for seven years.

Black models allowed on fashion runways for the global brands had to conform to certain hairstyles and preferred skin tones. This industry too was White privilege fortified by fashion editors, glossy magazines, photographers, agents, cosmetic brands, and advertising agencies. It was a White world where non-Whites were grudgingly allowed, if they “fitted-in.” Token blacks have been put into high-profile editor and designer positions, as a response to widespread criticism. 

Nair has been involved in environmental management for thirty years. He finds the posing by Western nations as climate-alarmed and castigation of non-Western societies as climate-irresponsible, mirror the White Knight complex. Global seminars organized by Whites feed Western news media the “White Lens” skew of working hard to save a planet being ruined by China, India, and other non-Whites.

The carbon footprint of the USA is 15.2 metric tonnes per capita, while China stands at 7.4mt and India at 1.8mt. Australia is at 15.5mt, Denmark at 5.8mt. But if you are fed Western media out of COP26, you would think the non-Whites are consigning planet Earth to hell. The desire to control the narrative on climate change is also a belief in “silver-bullet” technologies America and its allies hope to invent, that would solve environmental problems at great profit to the West.

Nair states that three major issues – organized religion, gender politics, and technology, have been left out of the scope of this book, for later treatment. His personal statement “… the thrust of this book draws on my life experience, one that rarely escaped the tentacles of White privilege” indicates the pain of the topic. 

Nair was a student in the UK late 60s when Stokely Carmichael’s Politics of Liberation and the Black Power movement resonated. He was a saxophonist with Black bands in South Africa, personally witnessing the brutality of the apartheid regime. I expected an angrier polemic to match Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth (1961) but Nair’s is a scholarly work, lacking the fire and passion of revolution. Chandran Nair is too corporate for that.

Cyril Pereira is a Malaysian in Hong Kong for 37 years. He was publisher of Asia Magazine, operations director at SCMP, and now guides data journalism at China Daily (HK)

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