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The dangers of stereotyping: critical lessons from the Uyghur genocide

By Mamtimin Ala - posted Friday, 28 June 2024

Racism and terrorism are the two primary hegemonic discourses and categorisations used as stereotyping on a global scale. Stereotyping is the process of incorrectly, restrictively, and derogatorily categorising someone as belonging to a particular group, community, people, or race. It utilises fallacies of hasty generalisation, oversimplification, pattern attribution, historical revisionism, and inherent prejudice to justify hatred and violence towards the targeted group.

In this discussion, we will focus on terrorism and racism as stereotypes being misused and abused by briefly exploring the similarities between the tragic example of Uyghurs and the emerging dangers for white people targeted by the current extreme anti-racism views and ideas in the US and elsewhere.

Since 2001, China has exploited the hysteria of September 11 and distorted the nature of any legitimate resistance against its colonial rule in East Turkistan, including peaceful protests, as acts of terrorism. This tactic has resulted in portraying Uyghurs as potential enemies of the state while positioning China as a victim of this alleged terrorism. It has further justified heinous actions aimed at eradicating Uyghurs once and for all. To this purpose, China has established numerous concentration camps under the direct command and oversight of Xi Jinping, claiming to re-educate Uyghurs and "cure" the supposed terrorism "virus" infecting their minds as the modus operandi of the Uyghur genocide.


Uyghurs have long recognised the precariousness and absurdity of their situation as Chinese colonial forces' assimilation policies in East Turkistan become increasingly harsh. If Uyghurs oppose Chinese rule, they are punished as terrorists; if they choose not to resist, they are condemned to a silent death. Both options inevitably lead to the collective destruction of Uyghurs, despite their attempts to maintain peace with and conform to Chinese rule. Uyghurs are trapped in this impossibility, unable to escape or save themselves from the control of this stereotype.

Let us now shift the focus to racism in the US, which has had a much longer, more complex, and more deeply rooted history compared to terrorism. Until recently, racism was often attributed to specific perpetrators in history, such as white slave owners, particular individuals, or groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, and mainly to the racism of whites against blacks and other non-white people. However, currently, there is a profound shift in the space of racism in that whites are considered by some extreme anti-racist activists as historically, collectively, and inherently racist. From their perspective, what connects white slave owners in the past and contemporary ordinary whites is the continuity of white privilege and a system of power that sustains whites' rule. This perspective suggests that being white automatically implies innate racist tendency and its current continuation among whites, consciously or unconsciously, whether they accept or deny it.

The alarming similarity between this stereotypical perspective and the one held by Chinese communists about Uyghurs is apparent. Here are some key similarities between China's stereotypes of Uyghurs as terrorists and whites as racists.

Firstly, both stereotypes are politically motivated and supported by biological determinism. The Uyghur stereotype asserts that any Uyghur, regardless of age, experience, or personal beliefs, has an unequivocal predisposition to terrorism as collectively built in their genes. China's solution is to justify the punishment of all Uyghurs as real and imaginary terrorists through forced re-education, effectively carrying out genocidal assimilation-to eradicate this genetic "defect."

Similarly, some extreme anti-racists and anti-whites in the US and other Western countries believe that being white is an inherent predisposition to racism, whether actual or potential, and that it is like cancer, which should either be cured or removed, as Susan Sontag infamously stated that "the white race is the cancer of human history." Donald Moss states in his article, "On having whiteness," that "whiteness is a condition one first acquires, and then one has-a malignant, parasitic-like condition to which 'white' people have a particular susceptibility. The condition is foundational, generating characteristic ways of being in one's body, in one's mind, and one's world."

This stereotypical view of whites, despite claiming to end white racism against other races, is paradoxically another form of racism in and of itself, by generalising and absolutising specific characteristics of a particular racial group and applying them indiscriminately to all members of it, namely whites. In both cases, whiteness or being white is considered malignant, repulsive, symptomatic, and abnormal.


Secondly, both stereotypes are hardly escapable. The stereotype tightens like a noose as you try to escape. The more the stereotyped person tries to escape through explanation or denial, the more robust, harsher, and accusatory the stereotype is applied to them. In the end, whites and Uyghurs similarly find themselves caught in this absurd game.

Within this colossal absurdity, it becomes clear that white people cannot escape the burden of white guilt unless they display their white fragility and plead amnesty for crimes committed by their ancestors, as Ibram X. Kendi states, "The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination." Despite the use of the oxymoronic term "anti-racist discrimination," which contradicts itself by defining racism with discrimination that it rejects, this viewpoint traps them in a cage of history-a guilt trap-which only perpetuates hate but not forgiveness: they are eternally condemned.

The most profound irony is that in the US, where individual freedom and rights are most defended, there is a bizarre and irrational claim to stereotype a white person as part of a collective history and behaviour, considered oppressive, guilty, and continuing, forcing them to claim responsibility for a crime committed even before their birth, retrospectively. Robin DiAngelo unashamedly admits this point in her book, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism: "I am breaking a cardinal rule of individualism-I am generalising" [italics hers].

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About the Author

Dr Mamtimin Ala is an Australian Uyghur based in Sydney, and holds the position of President of the East Turkistan Government in Exile. He is the author of Worse than Death: Reflections on the Uyghur Genocide, a seminal work addressing the critical plight of the Uyghurs. For insights and updates, follow him on Twitter: @MamtiminAla.

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