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activism Book reviews book shops Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

The Problem with Wilful Blindness

There was a time back in the last century, when I gave credence to the idea of ‘colour blindness’ as a way of solving racism. It turned out to be a way of convincing yourself it had been solved – if you happened to be white British, that is. While we were being virtuously, wilfully blind, assuming everything was going to be rosy from now on, Liverpool was in turmoil, and school kids were passing around those “Boot Boys” novels. Many of us had completely blinded ourselves to the renaissance of fascism.

It doesn’t work because we don’t have a level playing field. I can see that you are black and act as though it doesn’t matter, but you can’t see that I’m white and act as though it doesn’t matter. I can pretend we’re the same colour, and the problems disappear – from my view. Not from yours.

But now, we have another form of wilful blindness to deal with. Understandable, and well-intentioned, a horde of would-be progressive academics, activists and politicians – to give a random sample: Dawn Butler, Philip Pullman, Owen Jones – and now Margaret Atwood apparently – are pretending to be sex-blind.

As with race, the problem with pretending to be sex-blind is that women have very real, very practical problems that can’t be catered for and can’t be funded unless our sex is recognised. The police, pretending to be sex-blind, record cases of ‘women’ committing violent and sexual crimes, and every time they do it, the statistics that women’s services depend on for their funding get hazier until they become worse than useless; women’s health and wellbeing groups are trying to get by without using any of the words that clearly denote the female condition, and as a result, the grounds for their funding and the efficiency of their outreach go down and down; and teaching on sex and gender has gone the same way – now so far from reality that we have a generation of young people who really cannot tell sex from gender.

What we need to know

Black people can’t escape the problems of being black unless we sort out our institutions and our racist cultural heritage, and we can’t do that unless we see, and talk about, the realities of colour.

It is not wrong to talk about, learn about, and formulate rules about, colour – in fact we need to.

Women can’t escape the problems of being female unless we sort out our institutions and our sexist cultural heritage, and we can’t do that unless we can see, and talk about, the realities of sex.

It is not wrong to talk about, learn about, and formulate rules about, sex – in fact we need to.

Like many people, I’m busy reading up on anti-racism now, because I realise we really, really need to talk about it and sort out the injustices going on around us. I was hoovering up Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” and agreeing with every word… but I ground to a halt on page 181. Feminism, she tells us, must work to liberate everyone. Yes, in a sense. I do believe that if we can deal thoroughly with sexism, we will all be living in a better, healthier society – but, to revert to my first example, does that mean we should be yelling “all lives matter” when black people have something to say? I don’t think so.

Eddo-Lodge says that feminists should be thinking about “disabled people, black people, trans people, women and non-binary people, LGB people and working class people” – well yes, but am I allowed to add “if they’re female”, or is she doing the “all people matter” thing at feminists?

Reality matters

Having included absolutely everyone in the worklist for feminists, Eddo-Lodge then illustrates her statement by saying feminism will have won when we’ve ended poverty, and when women are no longer required to do two jobs by default (meaning the care and the emotional work as well as the money-earning – true, but that’s about female people, isn’t it?). Feminism must combat sexual violence (that is, almost always, males attacking females). Feminism must combat the wage gap (because females earn less). And it must be class conscious (true, absolutely, unequivocally true). And she says feminism must be aware of “the limiting culture of the gender binary”.

And she’s lost it. Feminism is, and has always been, grounded in challenging the social rules and practices based on ‘gender’ – that is, the social constructions that tell us how males and females should behave and should be treated – constructions that are different in different cultures, but that have some commonalities (based on sex). But like many commentators, she’s translated that into telling us we must also disregard sex – wrong. Then she slips from ‘sex’ to ‘sexuality’ and tells us feminism must recognise that sexuality is fluid – well, that’s a whole nother argument and I’m not going to go into that one here but the key point is that reality matters.

Eddo-Lodge tells us that feminism, like anti-racism, has to be “absolutely utopian and unrealistic, far removed from any semblance of the world we’re living in now”. And here, at last, we have the key to a clash that’s been causing endless pain and furore in recent years. Yes, we must deconstruct race and racism. But colour won’t go away, because people are different colours. That’s reality. We must deconstruct GENDER and sexism – but we can’t deconstruct sex, because biology won’t go away. That’s reality.

Rejecting reality in order to be wilfully sex- or colour-blind means blinding yourself to problems that need our attention. If you want to help find solutions, please don’t do either.

Reality matters. Sex matters.

Racism, sexism and classism are the errors to be corrected.

Do please read Eddo-Lodge’s book – it’s excellent, except for page 181. We need to think about, and act on, what she’s saying.

And if you haven’t already, do please go to J K Rowling’s website and find out what she actually said about sex. It is exactly what we need to be saying, and exactly what women are being repeatedly punished for saying.

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activism book shops Labour Politics prejudice Uncategorized

Read this, Sir Keir

We need to tell our politicians something…

Sir Keir’s recent comment on BLM (which he corrected apparently, after a lot of shouting) demonstrated that he can’t see why Black Lives Matter have made many of us want to change everything. He can’t see why people want to change or educate our institutions, including the police.

He’s a long way from being the worst on racism – just look at those Tories – remember Theresa May, Amber Rudd and their development of that ‘hostile environment?’ Remember the list of revolting, racist comments Boris Johnson has to his name?

I know many of us are busy learning to be anti-racists now. I see the books by and about black people leaping off the shelves in the bookshops. If you haven’t done so yet, please do some reading.

If you’ve started already,

please do this now

Get a photo of yourself holding up a book you think would help Sir Keir understand. Spread it all over social media with these tags…

#BlackLivesMatter

#ReadThisSirKeir

And then save the photo somewhere where you can find it again so that every time a politician does or says something that demonstrates they just don’t get it yet, you can post it again, with their name on the tag.

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activism Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

White woman thinking

Do you remember your personal experience of #metoo? Does it bear some lessons we can use to learn anti-racism?

All the stories

#metoo was a celebrity thing at first, but then it started flowing around social media and those posting their experience, and those reading those posts, began a journey. For me, it was a slow realisation that whilst I’d been ‘pretty lucky’ (a friend pointed out a story that started “apart from the usual groping…”) – although I’d been pretty lucky, I had never realised just what a morass I’d been ‘rising above’.

That morass included quietly accepting the blame for all the shame or confusion I suffered – of digging it quietly in, dodging the consequences of “don’t get yourself into trouble” – but not successfully dodging them – of growing up with a feeling that I ‘handled things badly’, or ‘put myself in the way of harm’.

The backlash

And then came the #notallmen and the #getoverit and the outright aggression from men – and yes, some women – who took any talk of female oppression as an insult to any and every man. We’re seeing all that now in the ‘all lives matter’ responses to BLM.

It hurts

I still clench my fists and cringe when I remember an incident from decades ago – I cringe, and send up a prayer of thanks to a woman I’ve only met once, the woman who stepped in and saved my then teenage daughter from a situation I’d been completely blind to – blinded by the horrible familiarity of unhealthy male attitudes everywhere I went.

I’m not blind to sexual exploitation any more.

#metoo was an excellent learning experience for women. It helped bring us together, and empower the latest wave of feminism. Despite the scary bits, I don’t regret it for a moment but what I’m thinking about now is how raw, undermined and vulnerable many women felt at the time. To participate, you had to speak your pain. To really spread the word, you had to speak your pain in public, on social media, in all the places that would invite the backlash, that would remind you of, and put you in the sights of, the people who want to hurt you.

#metoo was an excellent learning experience for men. Many men did get together and have enlightening conversations, and discuss what was going wrong, and how to help put it right. Even if it made them feel uncomfortable.

Black Lives Matter

Many of us are engaged now in a very similar exercise – we’re learning what’s missing from our history, and in finding out that “I’m not racist” isn’t enough. We have our ‘L’ plates on, and we’re learning how to do anti-racism. That’s great, but it does mean that we have our attention very much on ourselves – what can we do, what do we need to know, etc etc

Black feelings matter

But this morning I read some messages from black women about the emotional toll black people are currently suffering from all these statements and actions. Of what a slog it is to unburden and analyse a lifetime’s defensive reaction to racism, of how many times they’ve already had to try and explain, of the anxiety caused by the attention on them, and the anticipation of the inevitable backlash…

So – if anything I’ve said here about the experience of #metoo resonates with you, please use it to inform yourself about how black people might be feeling right now. We need to tread carefully, we need to be aware of all the stirrings of lifelong struggles that have common elements, but may be far more intense than we realise for some around us.

We need to be honest, and kind, and humble and do a lot more active listening than maybe we’re accustomed to.

Resources for learning and activism

I haven’t been through all the links yet but this looks useful.

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activism Hastings media Politics prejudice

What’s with all the whitewash?

Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart says we mustn’t whitewash our history.

In a recent interview conducted by Hastings in Focus, Hart repeatedly used the term ‘whitewash’, apparently to criticise the taking down of offensive statues. This felt really bizarre to me, because listening to political conversations around the place, the term ‘whitewash’ appears to have two almost opposite meanings. One is to cover up the wrong-doings and the shady bits where we’re half-aware of corruption and injustice, the other is to deliberately or unconsciously remove the contributions and experiences of black and ethnic minority people.

Which does she mean? Statues are official markers of how a country, city or organisation sees itself. They mark up the kinds of people citizens are expected to know about and honour. That is why the ritual of pulling down statues is a global, traditional custom to mark a sea-change in a population’s awareness and attitudes.

Perhaps that important piece of information has been ‘whitewashed’ out of our history curriculum. Let’s consider it now.

Colston

The people of Bristol have long been campaigning to remove that statue they recently, famously, threw in the river. As per usual, the establishment was slow responding – it’s always easier for those in office to leave something where it is than to make a potentially controversial change, so the people did what people do – they picked up the mood of the moment, and removed the statue themselves. Problem solved.

That wasn’t whitewash as in hiding our history. It led to a week in which vast numbers of people across the country were talking about our history of slave trading.

That wasn’t whitewash as in ‘airbrushing out’ black history. It helped black people start talking about how deeply British glorifying of slave traders has affected their own families, and led to more white people trying to understand those feelings and their still-manifest consequences. It was a fantastic, nationwide history lesson.

Churchill

In my lifetime, I’ve seen at least three big demos where the Churchill statue in Parliament Square has received the attention of ‘political artists’. Sitting where it does, right opposite the seat of our parliament, it’s the perfect subject for a protesting movement to use to display their message about an unchanging, unresponsive establishment.

That’s not whitewashing as in airbrushing out corruption – it’s done on demos that are highlighting that corruption. And it’s not whitewashing as in ignoring black history – quite the opposite, in most cases.

What Hart was trying to say

 “We’ve all got history. We don’t whitewash it,” she reckons if we know our mistakes, “we make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Right, let’s learn something

Ms Hart says she was grateful the “march in Hastings was peaceful” she says there was “horrendous violence all over the country” she says the agenda is to combat racism but “all the violence is undermining that message” that the “conversation is not about racial equality, but violence and statues.”

She says “We have a history in this country, we can’t brush it under the carpet, she says “we’ve got to learn from the past.” She says “It’s up to local communities to decide what they want to do with a statue.”

What can we conclude from Hart’s words?

Firstly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what BLM did in Hastings. Yes, it was very peaceful and very well organised. The main event was not a march – was there a march?

Secondly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what happened anywhere in the country. Where was this horrendous violence? There were a few unfortunate incidents in the London demo, the worst of which happened in, and many think were caused by, a reckless police charge. Other than that, the only violence I’m aware of came from a crowd of completely not BLM white blokes who ran rampage in London the next week, for no very clear reason and among other things, tried to goad police into a fight. I conclude Hart is part of a tradition that takes any rumour of violence and seems to vaguely suggest black people were to blame.

Thirdly, when she says “the conversation is not about racial equality, it is about violence and statues”, I realise that she is only talking to the people who have not yet grasped what BLM is about – because it is only those people who insist on talking about violence and statues, rather than about what is happening to black people in our country. so be warned –  our MP and her following have not even begun to get the message about BLM. We need to keep that conversation going, and really, deeply learn what people who want to teach anti-racism should be doing in Hastings and Rye.

She is right about one thing. We must not brush our history under the carpet. It is a very racist, sexist and classist history, and we urgently need to sort out the consequences of that.

What Sally-Ann Hart said about refugees

What Sally-Ann Hart said about child poverty

Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP

Hastings Black Lives Matter event…

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activism prejudice Uncategorized women

My last word

..because as fast as I use them, people try and make them mean something else.

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activism Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

Who do we give in to?

That’s the kind of question 21st century feminists should be asking, is it?

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activism Labour media Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

About last night… (#expelme night)

Dear long-suffering lefties, do you want to know why so many women are angry…

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activism Labour Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

Pledges for Gender-Non-Conformists

That is, pretty much anyone except Barbie and GI Joe.

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activism economics Election Labour media Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

What I did at the weekend

That which unites us is greater than that which divides us…

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activism Corbyn Election Labour media Politics prejudice Uncategorized

The Labour Party: should I stay or should I go?

I’m an outsider by nature – I hate party politics. Whether it’s best to fight for sanity from within or without is a lifelong poser.