Khashoggi: a beneficiary of “borrowed white privilege”?

One would think that a Saudi, being from the Muslim Middle East, would be counted as a “person of color”. But apparently there are de-melanizing factors that can elevate the low “privilege” of those from the region. Three of those factors include being a journalist, working in the West, and getting murdered by the Saudis, or so says Khalid Albaih in the Guardian article that just appeared (click on screenshot below).

Albaih, identified by the Guardian as “a Sudanese artist and cartoonist living in Denmark”, argues that Khashoggi had “white privilege” because he lived and worked in the West, and that’s why his murder “counted”.

Before his very short assertion of Khashoggi’s “privilege” (which apparently didn’t keep the journalist from getting killed), Albaih proffers the usual tirade about the colonialist “white savior” West, claiming that this “savior” mentality has in fact buttressed the “rise of young white nationalists”

With the help of the prosperity it has hoarded from its gruesome past, two world wars and providing its citizens with a whitewashed version of history, blinding them to western states’ manipulation of “third world countries” and support of authoritarian governments, the postcolonial west was able to rebuild its idea of itself as the self-righteous protector of human rights, free speech and democracy. I believe this is one of the main reasons for the rise of young white nationalists who imagine that the white race is superior because it has singlehandedly made the world a better place, while everyone else is trying to steal some of its hard-earned civilisation.

I doubt that white supremacy has been fueled by the self-image of a postcolonial west in this way; rather, it’s been strengthened by the election of Trump and other right-wing governments, which itself is due to various factors, including economics as well as the failure of Europe and the U.S. to produce a sensible immigration policy.

After his rant, Albaih gets down to business: Middle-Eastern journalists (including himself) who move to the West have been “protected” by white privilege, which apparently is a sort of mantle you get when you land in the U.S. or the U.K.:

Long before the refugee “crisis” that swept Europe after the Arab spring (challenging its self-righteous self-image), most artists, intellectuals, free thinkers, opposition leaders and journalists from the “third world” had, like me, headed west, not only for education but for protection. To be protected by white privilege, even if it’s just by association. And this has only served to further the west’s white saviour mentality.

No, Mr. Albaih, you’re protected not by “white privilege,” but by the fact that you’re no longer living in countries that don’t have freedom of the press, or will kill you for criticizing the government or even being an atheist or an apostate. That has nothing to do with white privilege, but with the fact that Western countries are safer for dissidents and critics.

At the end, Albaih pens a few brief lines on Khashoggi’s “white privilege”:

The extent of the power of white privilege, even if only by association, came as a surprise to most world leaders, including Donald Trump, who were pressed into taking action following the murder of the Saudi Washington Post journalist “who is not even an American citizen”, as Trump said during a press conference.

While the Saudi regime imprisons thousands of nameless dissidents and kills millions in Yemen, the whole world knew of one name, Jamal Khashoggi. That is his association with white privilege in action. There are thousands of Khashoggis out there – working, dying – but none will count like he did. But what the focus on him did achieve, thanks to his associated white privilege, is to help bring all of their stories to the surface.

Only under an extremist “victim mentality” can one impute knowing Khashoggi’s name to the fact that he donned the mantle of “white privilege.” No, he was known because he was a journalist who wrote regularly for the Washington Post, and because he was murdered in a particularly horrible way.  There are reasons way beyond white privilege for the fact that we know Khashoggi’s name but not the names of those who are murdered or imprisoned by Saudis, Iraqis, and other repressive regimes. Why do we know the name of Asia Bibi? Did she have white privilege? I don’t think so; she hasn’t lived in the West. What about Malala Yousafzi? Not much “white privilege” there, either.

People like Asia Bibi and Malala become public figures because their stories somehow get out, and by so doing call attention to the odious ideologies that dominate countries like Pakistan. The fact that the nameless multitudes that unjustly languish in the prisons of the Middle East remain nameless is not because they lack “white privilege,” but because they lack publicity. We all know they exist, and that the Saudi regime oppresses women and dissidents, but we don’t know the names of the victims. That’s because of their government’s desire to keep this stuff under wraps. They tried to keep what happened to Khashoggi under wraps, too, but it didn’t work because he was a journalist.

But there is one “non privileged” Saudi whose name we know. That’s Raif Badawi, a dissident and journalist who “counts” not because of white privilege, but because his wife fled to Canada, from where she campaigns ceaselessly for his release.

At any rate, Khashoggi’s white privilege didn’t protect him, did it?  He met the same fate that would befall any Saudi who was a public critic of their government. Nor did his “white privilege” lead to any changes in how we regard Saudi Arabia, so how did it “count”?  If we had a President and a Republican Party truly concerned with human rights, we would be imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia not just for the murder of Khashoggi, but for its terrible treatment of dissidents and women.

What is with the Guardian, anyway? I know it’s largely an Authoritarian Leftist paper, but this is beyond the pale.



  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I feel with this Guardian author that I have no other choice, in reference to his use of “white privilege” but to quote the Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”.

    • Blue
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      O, Ms MacPherson, .that. is just precious !

      I that quotation ! So apropos !
      to a lotta.lotta. word using – nonaficionados !

      ps There is another of that film’s quotations that, too,
      is appropriate. From its Mr Montoya as well !

      • XCellKen
        Posted November 26, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        “Say hello to my little friend” ???

  2. andrewilliamson
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Conflation of Western and white. That’s just silly.

    If one were to argue privilege, it’s far more accurate to argue he had both “journalism privilege” and its corollary, “left privilege.”

    Since media outlets protect their own, and because they lean pretty hard left, it is unsurprising that his death has received so much attention, relative to bad things that befall others, all the time.

    It doesn’t hurt that the story itself is gruesome and juicy.

    • Rita
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      So, “media outlets lean hard left”? Wow! Is that you, Donald?

      • Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        Yes, I was a bit surprised by that comment. Certainly in the UK much more of the media is leaning rightwards than left.

        • tomh
          Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

          Same in the US.

      • Historian
        Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Where have you been? Don’t you know the media is the enemy of the people? The godfather so sayeth.Undoubtedly, Mr. Williamson is referring to Sean Hannity.😎

      • andrewilliamson
        Posted November 26, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        Just going by intuition and some quick reading of stories on the topic by NYT and WaPo.

        Though now that I’ve dug further, looks like half claim to be independents, with Democrats and Repubs at around 28 and 7, respectively.

        “Hard left” was a poor choice of words, as I didn’t mean to imply journalists were socialists; rather, that they skew left of center. Which I think the data out there seem to support. Judging by WaPo and NYT’s stories, anyway.

        • Davide Spinello
          Posted November 26, 2018 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          You served as a convenient distraction.

        • Posted November 26, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

          I agree. The great majority of journalists are liberals and on the left. But don’t believe hard left applies to the mainstream media, which is simply left.

          • Davide Spinello
            Posted November 26, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink


            The problem that I see is the following: it is is easy to articulate what is wrong with Fox News, where in my opinion the majority (not all) the content is quite laughable with several incursions into alarming. However there are many media venues on the liberal side that still have an aura of respectability that largely apply to their content, but they still tolerate and promote blatantly racist, misogynist and you name it content as long as the targets belong to the appropriate group of pre-defined villains.

            What I find disturbing is not that highly reputable liberal media publishes racist content, but rather that they publish racist content because it became culturally respectable.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 26, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          Because the most well known media outlets are liberal doesn’t meant the majority are liberal. Talk radio, for example, is dominated by right-leaning outlets.

          I’ve seen a study, though unfortunately I can’t remember where, that says the majority of media in the US actually leans right.

          • andrewilliamson
            Posted November 27, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

            I don’t identify with the right or the left, but do believe, based on what I’ve seen (it’s also conventional wisdom, afaik) that mainstream journalism leans left.

            You are correct, afaik radio in the US leans right. It caters to Republican-majority communities better. Major city newspapers and most tv news stations (other than Fox) lean left, though. And the Internet appears to be a free-for-all.

            I used WaPo and NYT (definitely left of center) as my sources, which anyone can review with a 15 second Google. I can’t address a study you’ve seen, but “can’t remember where.”

            Happy to review actual counterevidence.

            I’d add that I also think that the left-leaning media outlets have historically been much closer to center than the major outlets on the right (Fox, Limbaugh, Breitbart). It makes sense to me that Fox has been farther away from the center, to provide a counterweight to ABC / CBS / NBC on the slight left.

            I also believe that these left-leaning mainstream outlets are, along with the center of gravity of the Democrats, moving farther away from the center.

            I’m not so sure what’s happening on the Republican side. For years, they too were shifting to the extreme. I don’t think that dynamic has changed much, but I do see them picking up refugees from the center and center-left as the US left continues to drift towards the extreme.

            (I don’t see an equivalent phenomenon of the left picking up centrists. This is purely my subjective observation, tho.)

            Back to this story for a second: I’m pretty sure the Guardian leans left. Hence my point re:journalism privilege and left privilege (by now reiterated by many other commenters, though not in the same words).

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    “With the help of the prosperity it has hoarded from its gruesome past, two world wars …”

    Dunno what history books Albaih has been reading, but the onerous reparations required by the Versailles Treaty that ended World War One mired the losers in an era of economic deprivation (which helped launch the rise European Fascism) and didn’t help the victors avoid a world-wide Great Depression a decade later.

    The decade after World War Two was a boom-time for the US economy, but the UK was still going through a period of shortages and rationing. And continental Europe might still be stuck in an era of turmoil and deprivation had it not been for the Marshall Plan — probably the most forward-looking move (and, in the long term, biggest bargain) in American foreign-policy history.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Britain is actually still paying back loans made to it by the US during WWII. (Well, they were just a few years ago. That may have changed now.)

      • Richard Bond
        Posted November 27, 2018 at 6:16 am | Permalink

        The last payment was in 2005, sixty years after 1945.

  4. Davide Spinello
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I wonder where this idiocy is coming from…

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Albaih’s piece is confused and inchoate. He has feelings and anxieties about the state of the world and his lot in it, and a vague sense of the direction they’re coming from, but he seems unable to reason his way back to connecting them to any concrete, meaningful circumstances or events.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I suspect Albaih lives in a confused version of reality that makes white always associated with the bad guys no matter what and it makes for delusional outcome. Who killed Khashoggi, his own people. Why, because that country has no regard for human rights or anything accept what is good for the dictator. And why does Khalid Albaih live and work where he does? I’m guessing not white previlege. A really mixed up guy.

  6. rickflick
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    There are two absurdities to note. The writer himself who seems clueless, and the editors of the Guardian who only know how to entertain readers worst tendencies( $caching*$).

  7. Posted November 26, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    If this Sudanese author is so much tormented by the white privilege that is all around him and that he has even acquired by association, he can book a flight to his homeland, where he will be in a good position to struggle against “western states’ manipulation”.

  8. Mark R.
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    There are thousands of Khashoggis out there – working, dying – but none will count like he did. But what the focus on him did achieve, thanks to his associated white privilege, is to help bring all of their stories to the surface.

    Huh? I don’t recall reading about all of the “thousands of Khashoggis out there, working and dying”. Because, as Jerry already pointed out, those regimes keep the thousands of Khashoggis under wrap. Or maybe I missed all the surfacing stories?

    • Davide Spinello
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      You just missed a few years of “studies” that unfortunately have metastasized.

  9. CAS
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Gosh! When will we see demands to lower the penalty for killing people steeped in “white privilege”. After all, it’s just a revolutionary act reclaiming stolen power.

    • Posted November 26, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      I expect that to happen st any time. Calls for that have already gone out.

  10. Kelcey BURMAN
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Shame this journalists/cartoonist ‘white privilege’ didn’t endow him with razor sharp analytical skills.

  11. revelator60
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Albaih should check his own privilege in writing for the Guardian, where he has been given the power to parrot the views of the paper’s editorial board and character assassinate the victims of illiberal regimes.

  12. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Abaih is partly right in that if some, say, nondescript third-world citizen went into an embassy and never came out again, it might not be noticed.

    But I don’t think it’s because Khashoggi had ‘borrowed white privilege’. It’s because he wrote for a leading newspaper, because somebody had the embassy bugged, because there was CCTV of him going in, because his girlfriend raised the alarm, because the Turkish police promptly investigated…

    But I see PCC already said that, at some length and better than I just did.


  13. BJ
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    “There are thousands of Khashoggis out there – working, dying – but none will count like he did. But what the focus on him did achieve, thanks to his associated white privilege, is to help bring all of their stories to the surface.”

    So, all those white people in, say, Russian prisons, who suffer as well, don’t count because they’re…not white? Oh, wait, that can’t be right. This is what happens when your ideology makes no sense, but you continue to try and force it onto any and every situation.

    I could quote and then criticize nearly every single sentence in this article. I mean, this is hilariously bad; it’s as if this journalist is an extremely obviously Poe. I can’t imagine someone writing a parody article that would be better than this one.

    • BJ
      Posted November 26, 2018 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, I shouldn’t have called the writer of this article a “journalist.” They’re a very special artist. Very special, indeed.

  14. BJ
    Posted November 26, 2018 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    “With the help of the prosperity it has hoarded from its gruesome past, two world wars and providing its citizens with a whitewashed version of history…”

    Holy crap! I had no idea our history had been so whitewashed, and myself so brainwashed, that I didn’t even know we started the World Wars! How did I not know that it was the Allies who attacked Germany and instituted that Holocaust? I’m so glad I have Khalid Albaih to educate me on these important issues.

    Like I said before: hilarious. This whole article is just hilarious. I’ve never seen someone try this hard.

    • TJR
      Posted November 27, 2018 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      The west clearly stole human rights, free speech, democracy and the rule of law from the third world.

  15. Posted November 27, 2018 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    Khashoggi is of ‘ethnic’ Turkish origin as I understand, his grandfather was a doctor to the royal family, his uncle an infamous arms dealer. Now I am not sure whether Turks can be considered one ‘ethnicity’ or not – probably not, but I thought that the Turks taking up the case was more to do with Erdogan wanting a political lever over the Saudis than any care for ‘white privilege’ or journalism. Had they been more closely aligned I have no doubt they would have helped cover up this murder.

    It seems to me that Albaih is grumbling about the reality of the old adage (attributed to Stalin but appearing in Remarque), ‘One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.’ It is very hard to rally around a mass tragedy such as Yemen, which is faceless, but human nature needs an individual to create a deep sympathy.
    There is a second point, that it is also a cliche & I do not know if it is true or if there has been research on it, but if a white child is missing or kidnapped it makes the media more excited than if a black child is. I have no idea if that really is the case but it seems that Albiah has that impression.

    The Guardian is woolly neoliberal beyond belief these days – perhaps it always was, I have never been a big fan of it. I think their environmental news is very well covered, but I do not like the way the Observer, a paper I have always bought, has become the ‘Sunday Guardian’ & lost its own voice.

  16. BJ
    Posted November 27, 2018 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    “…I thought that the Turks taking up the case was more to do with Erdogan wanting a political lever over the Saudis than any care for ‘white privilege’ or journalism.”

    Absolutely. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are part of opposing power blocs in the ME, and Turkey is using this as leverage. I think they were hoping to get more out of it.

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