Poem: Meditation on Matthew 25: 31 – 46

Stranger, be not afraid –

come in, come in, the table is laid.

I see thee be weary, please sit yourself down

You are tired, you are thirsty  – come, see now

you can rest from your worries and

your burdens lay down.

 

Stranger be not afraid –

come in, come in the table is laid

I once too arrived here, a stranger like you

Be assured you can lay all worries down too

Find here a place where from sorrows released

Where indeed you are known, and loved – be at peace

Stranger, stranger

Why do you beg, for some crumb of food,

for these meagre dregs? Stranger, begone

for I shall not share; but in my great mercy

I will at least, leave you alone

to beg on the streets.

 

 

Those with most power are not the least

(Though they claim the title –

but God knows, and God see’s)

and though the world tells us – turn the stranger away

God calls you out now: hear God say

When you shared nought with the stranger, you shared nought with me.

 

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Who Are Your Acceptable Victims and Who Do You Choose to Believe?

It is some time since I last wrote anything in long form – and whilst it has been mere months in reality, I look at the glare of the blank white screen, eagerly consuming the the letters I type, and I smile at it like a long lost and much adored lover. I have missed writing intensely, but for many reasons it has been a long way down my list of priorities.

But I’ve had some thoughts crystallising in my mind of late.

I was at my PIP assessment today and I wanted to scrub myself with a wire brush after.  I’m sure the chap who conducted the assessment is nice to his old Mum, and he seemed like the type of bloke who has a muscular, slightly ugly mutt at home he adores, and he wasn’t… unpleasant as such.  Its just that he hasn’t had to sit on my side of the table and would probably be personally offended if I had told him I found the whole process utterly dehumanising. Because it wouldn’t matter how nice the person conducting the assessment is (or how truthful they may, or may not, turn out to be).

When you go to these assessments (or – if you need one, and have jumped the endless hoops you are required to jump through to get one – had a home visit), you go as the person with the disability/disabilities, and/or chronic illness, and/or mental health issues. Your physical/medical/mental health has prevented you from working for a whole host of reasons, the vast majority of which are not your fault. Nobody asks or wants to be disabled, chronically ill, depressed, addicted, be involved in life changing accidents, or the (repeated) victim of crime – or whatever unexpected life altering thing it is that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming. You sure as hell don’t want to be in that office discussing whether or not you wet yourself, or cannot with the best will in the world fill in a form without hyperventilating.  And you would rather gauge your eyes out with a rusty spoon that sit there hoping the assessor will decide you are sick enough for some small amount of help, but you hope for it anyway because the alternative is being told you aren’t sick enough and should be working, and you’ve probably half killed yourself working for longer than you should of already, because you anyway live month to month and the roof has to stay over your families head.

You are only at that assessment because, metaphorically, your house is burning and the flames won’t go out.

But the benefit system as it is now is based on this simple premise: you have to prove you are on fire.

Its archaic – literally. The powerful, demanding that the powerless (who cannot conform to the prescribed behaviour set out by the powerful) prove their truthfulness/need for assistance by performing the claimed ‘weakness’* to the satisfaction of those with the power to help.

(*In this context, it is the powerful who perceive and promote the disability/illness etc as a weakness in a negative context. The idea of illness/disability/sexual and/or gender difference as a weakness or failing, is promoted by the powerful to maintain control).

Yet no matter how archaic it is – and to some extent, irrespective of the ideologies attracted to this method of achieving and maintaining power and control – it perpetuates, re-invented in some new form every few decades, but surviving largely intact and otherwise unchanged no matter what century it is.  And there is an uncomfortable truth at the centre of that.

**********************

When I was writing more regularly about my experiences of rape culture, I was then – and remain now – utterly perplexed by how normalised it is for victims and survivors not to be believed.  There are those who would tell you that its simply hysteria to suggest that sexual abuse, assault, and rape are as much of a problem as they are. And whilst it means that those who should be taking responsibility are not, it is not the expected intransigence, arrogance or duplicity of a system that will of course seek to protect itself, that causes most perplexity. Or even, arguably, is the most difficult thing to resolve.

There is an extraordinarily simple reason why a rape victim needs to hear the words “I believe you”.  If you believe them, then (setting aside, just for a moment, the positive impact on the victim), you have acknowledged that there is a problem. If you have acknowledged the problem, you are more likely to accept the problem needs to be resolved. If you accept the problem needs to be resolved, you are more likely to look positively at what will resolve that. Because whilst prevention is better than cure, you still need the cure.

But since prevention is better than cure – what happens if you believe that most people would rather swallow a bottle of castor oil than lie about being raped or abused, and that (however uncomfortable it might make you feel), the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence are telling the truth?

What happens when we all acknowledge that? And what’s stopping that?

***********************

The thing is – it isn’t just rape victims who need to be believed. That’s not the only systemic abuse problem. For disabled and chronically ill people the benefits system is inherently abusive, predicated as it is on the presumption of guilt. For Black/of colour/LGBTQ+ disabled and chronically ill people the problem is still more pronounced.  The politics of belief around chronic illness and hidden disability is a minefield. You are reduced to someone who has to permanently prove yourself innocent of a crime that never occurred, far less was ever committed.

But if we accept that most people would rather work than put themselves through the Dickensian benefits process, and we believed disabled and chronically ill people, then would we really continue to tolerate and normalise the thousands upon thousands of disabled and chronically ill people dying, every year?

What happens when we believe black people and people of colour about racism, and about how we as white people, need to address our internalised racism and do something about it?

What happens when we believe trans women and trans men, believe that they are who they say they are and that they receive the abuse and discrimination they are telling us they receive?

What happens when we believe the refugees who tell us of the brutality and wars they are escaping?

What happens when we actually do think of the children, and believe them when they say they are being abused?

What would happen, if we chose to believe them all?

***************************

The uncomfortable truth is this: we choose to believe the victims we are comfortable believing. And we choose to acknowledge the oppression’s we are comfortable enough to acknowledge.

And whilst its the system that sells the lie, it only keeps working because people keep believing it. And all of us do, at one level or other: some people will believe disabled people about the how the benefit system is killing people – but not a person of colour when they say that something is racist, and won’t believe the refugee escaping war and brutality; and some people will believe disabled people and people of colour, but won’t believe that trans women are women and trans men are men . Or they will believe a person can be gay – but not bi. Or accept all that, but won’t believe that the respectable man up the road with the good reputation could possibly be an abuser, and will tell you how terrible it is that he has to live with that accusation…

And the still more uncomfortable truth is this – because we choose to believe some people are living under oppressive systems, but do not, cannot or will not believe the same of others – the cycle of abuse across the multiple layers of society continues. It might be chipped away at, in piecemeal fashion – but you only have to look around you to understand that the foundations of that system remain as strongly entrenched as ever, and that all we have successfully and systemically managed to do is disbelieve black people, rape victim, the disabled, trans people, LGBQ people, women, the sick and refugees.

We believe who we are comfortable believing. We believe those who don’t challenge our world view – and we definitely don’t believe those who challenge more profoundly our view of ourselves. We believe those we perceive as being acceptable to believe.

And we can choose to ask ourselves why we don’t believe the black person, or the disabled person or the trans person, or the refugee – and then answer that honestly, or not.

Because belief is a choice. So the perplexity remains.

 

 

When the EDL Came to Colchester and What Came After – Reflections on 22.05.2016

“So many people forget that the first country the Nazi’s invaded was their own.”

Abraham Erskine, Captain America: The First Avenger

In a real sense of course, it is not strictly true: after all, to suggest that the Nazi’s invaded their own country requires you to ignore 300 years of history. From the Enlightenment that brought a new wave of racist anti-Semitism, to the increasingly anti-Semitic nature of mainstream media in Germany at the turn of the 20th century and how all this helped pave the way for the growing influence of Hitler in the 1920’s. His first failed attempt at a coup in 1923 with General Eric Ludendorff didn’t prevent the formation of the Brownshirts (SA), his eventual rise to total dominance, and the building of Dachau, the first of the concentration camps, in 1933: it was less an invasion than it was the collective failure of a societies moral compass and its loss of humanity for the lives of others.

Considering how much had to happen for Hitler to take control, it is far more accurate to say that at the very least it took a great many people to look the other way – and to keep looking the other way – for the Nazi’s to come to power.

But if you are naïve enough to assume that everyone is going to stand up to white supremacy and fascism, and challenge it every time they see it, then I think I understand the sentiment.

********************************************************************************************************

Last Sunday, 22nd May on the third anniversary of the brutal murder by extremists of Lee Rigby, the English Defence League had what they called a ‘memorial’ and wreath laying for the 3rd year running at the Colchester War Memorial outside the Castle Park, despite the Rigby family repeatedly calling on the EDL (and similarly Britain First and any extremist political group using the murder for their own agenda), to refrain from doing so.

Local groups, who have recently organised to help to actively welcome refugees, arranged for a friendship picnic for that afternoon and during the morning local people, unions and other groups stood in defiance of the EDL’s racism, bigoted rhetoric and the utter disrespect shown to the memory of Lee Rigby and his family.

The morning went as was expected: the police kept the 2 groups apart (13 EDL and 50 locals): the locals chanted and speeches were made. The EDL did their thing, and then were escorted away: some locals – myself included – walked over to the memorial and one of them picked up the wreath the EDL had lain, and talked about how it would be more respectful to remove it. The police asked the person who had picked it up to put it down (which they did). Unforunately that incident was reported in the local press rather inaccurately.

During the friendship picnic that afternoon, the EDL (who had been escorted out of town) returned to try and intimidate the many families there, knowing the police would not be present.  A good summary of the day can be found here.

EDL wave flags at children in Colchester Castle Park 22.05.2016
EDL wave flags at children in Colchester Castle Park 22.05.2016

 

A number of local people since then have been subjected to online and offline abuse, intimidation and harassment: for reasons I cannot discuss at this time, I am all too well aware of it. And whilst the threats and intimidation (which have also been targeted at people who were not in attendance at either event that day) is appalling, without justification and (of course) rampantly misogynistic in much of its practice, what is important is what those of us here in Colchester who seek to stand up to the racism that comes from outside of (and within) its Roman walls, learn from it.

Firstly, the abuse that has been metered out to local people – almost exclusively from people who do not live here – is, whilst frightening and unpleasant, not as violent or as relentless as that which our Muslim neighbours, and the families who have come as refugees in need of shelter, are exposed to every day.  The dominant narrative, that Muslims are dangerous and that refugees are invaders who will steal our homes, lives and identities, is a lie that is meant to dehumanise and demonise; it is meant to frighten our neighbours who are Muslim, our neighbours who have escaped bombings, depravation and fear: it meant to set them apart from us.  We might think that the intimidation of the last week gives us a flavour of that: it doesn’t. Being treated as traitors is not the same as being treated as not human.

Second, the abuse and intimidation, online and offline, (and which has been orchestrated by people almost exclusively from outside of Colchester), is a silencing tactic: the message is clearly – shut up, be quite; if you stand up to our racism and bigotry in your own home town, we will try and shut you down. Whilst the EDL (and similarly other extremist right wing groups) are very practiced at presenting a ‘respectable’ face to the police ahead of any organised event, this cloak of respectability in reality drags fear and violence in its wake. During the demonstration in September, plastic pigs heads were waved, and lots of chanting called openly for the burning of mosques – at the very same time that a mosque in London was under attack from arsonists.

Thirdly – Colchester has been increasingly targeted by right wing extremists for a few years now, and we as a town and community must confront this and recognise without flinching that there are reasons for this. Whilst much of that attention is coming from outside our town, there are many within it who believe that refugees should be feared, who think that we as a town lose by providing sanctuary to others, who cannot even believe that refugees have any real reason or need for that sanctuary in the first place.  If we can stand up and say no to the most violent and extreme of racists, then we must not be afraid to say to our friends and neighbours: we are never so impoverished that we cannot share what we have with people who have less.

Because whilst it is tempting to see the right wing extremists who come to march through our streets as invaders (and when they mostly come from outside the town, I certainly understand the inclination), they exist not because they lack freedom of thought but because people are willing to look away and say: ignore them – they will just go away if you ignore them.

But that is not true. History teaches otherwise, and whilst the conditions that allow for unchecked Islamophobia are specific to the era, the use of scapegoats by those violent extremists who wish to dominate society unchallenged, is not.

If the local authorities allow the threatened march in July (and I believe absolutely that they would be very wrong to do so), it will feel less like an invasion if we – as a town – stand up together and say: your violence, your hatred and your bigotry are not welcome here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trigger Warnings: Used by People Who Enjoy Thinking Clearly – On Stephen Fry, And Why I Am Angry (But Not Offended)

Content Note for discussion of abuse, rape and IPV. This post discusses the recent interview – and subsequent ‘apology’ – by Stephen Fry which has received so much criticism. I urge you to read the powerful and courageous responses by Waitingirl13 and Lubottom, and this open letter to Stephen Fry by Tom Leavesley (Ambassador for Survivors Machester). These similarly come with a content note and trigger warning. 

I also recommend that you read this by Scott Burnett, since Fry’s attack on trigger warnings and ‘infantilism’ was in the first instance focussed on the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which has been repeatedly misrepresented in the media and elsewhere by white British intellectuals and media commentators.

I am angry – it’s the kind of anger that initially flows like burning lava from the volcano and radiates heat for days and weeks afterward. I am angry because people with large media platforms, influence, power and the privilege that affords are repeatedly berating victims and survivors of abuse and rape for using – and requesting the use of – trigger warnings and content notes for written, oral and visual materials that reference abuse and rape. This has been largely directed at university students, but is increasingly common in public discourse and on social media. We are told that to use and request these is to want to be treated like children. We are berated for how they, supposedly, make debate and the free flow of ideas more difficult. We are accused of threatening their free speech.

What I hear is: “You victims are a problem. The way you say you need to manage your lives as a result of this abuse is an issue for us. It’s inconvenient, its troublesome. You are inconvenient – you are troublesome.”

And some of the strongest, most intelligent and generous people I know are having to justify something that they should never have to.

Like many others, I need trigger warnings and content notes. Their existence means I am less likely to experience panic attacks, nausea, migraines, nightmares or night terrors or – conversely – insomnia. All or some of those things happen when I experience flash backs to the abuse that was done to me as a child, or the rape and intimate partner violence I endured at the hands of an ex partner, or the emotional and psychological abuse I experienced during my marriage.

These things are real. They happened – and they had a profound effect on my mental health. Trigger warnings and content notes don’t change the reality of the abuse and violence I have encountered: very simply, they advise me that something I am about to read or see or hear might trigger those effects on my mental health that were the result of the assaults, violence and psychological abuse. Using them means I am more able to, for example, think clearly, unencumbered by panic attacks or nightmares.

They do not tell me I am going to be bloody offended.

Stephen Fry is a national icon. People love him – they love him for his bon viveur, his wit and his intelligence. He’s the host of choice for the BAFTA’s, for all those reasons. He makes intellectualism accessible. He has also been, for three years, the president of MIND, the best known mental health charity in the UK: following his own very public mental health battles, people now look to him as the public face – and voice – of awareness of mental health issues. When Stephen Fry talks about mental health, people trust that what he’s saying is right.

It should therefore be startlingly simple to understand (with a bit of clear thinking), that when Stephen Fry says that the feelings of abuse victims are ‘self pity’ and that ‘self pity’ is an ugly emotion, that a great many people will take on board the idea that victims and survivors are full of self pity and therefore ugly: and that is an outright lie.

One more lie to add the lies and myths about and abuse that we are constantly having to fight: because make no mistake, victims and survivors don’t just have to manage the results of what the abusers did – we have to do so in the face of a society that finds countless and innumerable ways to blame us, shame us, and at the same time, disbelieve us.

Yet understanding what trigger warnings are is not rocket science. Victims and survivors of abuse are not the only ones who need trigger warnings, and trigger warnings come in many forms – a warning about flashing lights before a television programme for example is helpful to those who suffer particular types of seizure.

Fry’s ‘apology’ for his words, therefore, ring hollow because we were not ‘offended’ by what he said. But horrified? Yes – horrified that someone whom the public trust to deliver factual information about mental health should say something which damages public perceptions and understandings of a community of people who already face from society such a lack of understanding and support. Fry’s words were not offensive. They were destructive and damaging.

What amazes me – when I see and hear all these supposedly clever people complain that ‘free speech’ is being attacked or that trigger warnings (and safe spaces) prevent people from being able to think (when the reverse is in fact the truth of the situation) – is that they are apparently not clever enough to find new and different ways to talk and think and grow ideas that do not, in the process, repeatedly re-traumatise victims and survivors.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Hate Speech is Not Free Speech – I Don’t Want EDL’s Phoney War in my Town

[CN/TW for racist/violent hate speech]

The EDL in Colchester 26th September 2015
The EDL in Colchester 26th September 2015

This past weekend, the right wing extremist group the English Defence League marched down the High Street of my town.  Over the last four years Colchester – a garrison town which has seen rapid growth, and has a University which also brings in a large number of international students – has been increasingly targeted by the EDL for ‘protests’ which have usually involved gathering at the War Memorial in a display of faux patriotism, most recently in May in ‘remembrance’ of Lee Rigby (against the explicit wishes of the Rigby Family).

Any time this racist group appears in our town I am horrified, but I am not the one who is the target of their hatred, their violence and their desire to eliminate.

I am not the target of their phoney war.

Let’s just make something clear before I go any further, because this is important: if there were no such thing as ISIS, or any other of the tiny minority of radicalised Muslims in existence, these people would still hate Muslims.  They don’t really care about Lee Rigby, certainly not enough to respect his families wishes, but they really hate Muslims. They don’t actually care about child abuse, because they aren’t protesting against the non-Muslim men that abuse children at all. They just hate Muslims. They can stand in front of a war memorial and give Nazi salutes, and nobody should be surprised because they don’t care about the Muslims who worked to save victims of the Nazi’s and who fought and died in both World Wars at the behest of this country. They hate Muslims, and they will use any situation, manipulate and lie about anything, in order to proclaim their hatred.

They are, very simply, racists and theirs is a phoney war. They want to live in a world where they are surrounded only by other white people and their desire to make that a reality, at any cost, makes them extremists, radicalised by racism and a hatred of Muslims. It’s that simple.

It would be disingenuous at best for any authority allowing a full scale march to do so within a ‘free speech’ context: when plastic pig heads are waved openly, and violently Islamophobic chants are made including threats of mosque burning at the very moment a mosque is on fire, it is dangerous for authorities to allow what was in reality hate speech , and incitement to hatred.

(Video’s of the march, the speeches and aforementioned chanting are here and here. Despite the official line, this was not a peaceful event.)

Hate speech is not free speech – the hate speech of the type given free reign on the streets of my town (or any town) is violence: it is sanctioned bullying, a licensed attack against Muslims and a tacit approval of extremism.  The EDL might suck up to the police to claim a veneer of respectability, and the police might imply that the onus of preventing ‘violence’ lies with keeping counter protesters away from the racists (ain’t it grand how ‘free speech’ works?), but the real violence – the real trouble – is the fear that the EDL are allowed to try and generate, and the aggressive intimidation which they are freely allowed to voice.

It would not be a denial of free speech to prevent them from marching in such a manner again. They lose no rights in being prevented from screaming their racist obscenities.  They would still have their hang outs on line and in some dank corner of some rat infested back ally to grumble freely between themselves about ‘Muslamic ray guns’.

But if the steps that we as a society take to say that trying to make other people hate each other because of their race and religion is wrong: let’s not let them march down our streets.

 

 

On The Violence and Transmisogyny of Christian Men and White Feminsim: Putting Ideology Before Love (TW/CN)

This article will discuss the violent, transphobic and transmisogynistic responses to the transgender community by – specifically – Meghan Murphy, Owen Strachan and Matt Walsh. The articles they produced, and which have rightly been received with revulsion by many, are linked using ‘do not link’: but given their content, I urge care and caution. 

Some time ago I was struggling to find the words to express what I saw as the parallels between anti-trans radical feminism and conservative (evangelical) Christianity: I recognised in both the desire to maintain the gender binary, the dismissal (in words, and in silence) of our black and of colour trans sisters, and the rigid ideology that grips tightly to a biological binary view of human beings. But my thoughts struggled to translate to words.

Dianna E Anderson, writer of Damaged Goods, whose experience living within, and studying, Christian Purity Culture adds a vibrant and vital perspective to the faith and feminist conversation, put it into words in a recent post on her blog, noting the similarity between the fundamentalist Christian thought process she had internalized during her years within that, and Radical Feminism, describing one as the ‘Church of Biblical Womanhood’ and the other the ‘Good Church of Radical Womanhood’.

In the last of couple of weeks, attacks have been made against the transgender community, one under the guise of feminism and others in the name of Christianity (and I would again urge caution before reading those articles by Meghan Murphy, Matt Walsh and Owen Strachan).

Murphy, like Sarah Ditum before her, targeted Laverne Cox: Walsh and Strachan targeted Caitlyn Jenner* following Jenner’s public revelation that they identify as a woman. There are notable parallels between their arguments; the premise from which both camps start is a conviction of the rightness of their own rigid ideologies; both camps understand patriarchy in the same black and white, binary manner (even if they come to that from different sides); both hold to an understanding of unity which is restrictive and prescriptive of womanhood (one through the idea of ‘shared womanhood’ and the other through their own understanding of Christ); both are rooted in a structural racism and colonialism from which they make no effort to divest, and both end up in a place where trans women – particularly black and of colour trans women – are met with brutal and violent resistance in word and thought, which is so often the pre-curser to violent deeds.

I want to refrain from analysing the reasons for these parallels too deeply right now, partly because there are writers out there who are doing a far better job of this that I would be able to, and because it is the distressing impact on women that is my own first concern: trans women are dying (TW) facing abuse and brutality (TW) and when both Christians and feminists – both of whom believe in the need for human liberation – express that same violence against human beings, and exclude, marginalise and de-humanise trans women in their praxis they do so because they have placed rigid ideology above the very liberation they claim to stand for.

The impact of this is real, and costs lives. The pain it inflicts is incalculable – and the message received constantly is that this is the price expected to be paid for the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ of straight, white, cis gender men and women.  It makes gods of those who fit the binary – and expendable pawns of everyone else.

When Christian men and the feminists they supposedly oppose demand adherence to ideologies which require the same blood sacrifice from the same group of human beings – then the question is not ‘is the price worth paying’?

***

Some suggested reading for you:

Black Girl Dangerous

No Shame Movement

Sarah Moon

Joan’s Pants

Dianna E Anderson

*This article was written prior to Caitlyn Jenner revealing her new chosen name, and so has since been updated accordingly.  My apologies for any offence that may have been given for not updating this post sooner.

#IBelieveHer – In Defence of Radical Belief pt 2: Why @SpikedOnline Is No Champion of Free Speech

Brendan O'Neill - saving the world for straight white men one article at a time.
Brendan O’Neill – saving the world for straight white men one article at a time.

 

All of the articles linked to require a trigger warning and content note for mentions of rape, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and racism. I have used ‘do not link’ for most of them.

And so we come to Spiked Online, edited by Brendan O’Neill, whose journalistic outpourings can also be found in the Telegraph and The Australian.  He’s a ‘libertarian’, which means that he has no interest at all in liberty for anyone except white heterosexual men. 

It doesn’t really do to read too much (if anything) over at Spiked – the need to stand under a shower afterwards and scrub yourself raw isn’t one I choose to indulge that often, and generally Spiked sits in its own corner of the internet, attracting similarly like minded folk as they complain endlessly about how their rights to be pseudo-intellectual straight white male arseholes are always being attacked. And since we live in a democracy, even pseudo-intellectual straight white male arseholes need somewhere to go and let off steam without bothering anyone too much.

So I usually ignore the BS but O’Neill has set himself as the great champion of free speech: it is with a total lack of surprise that I find that this not to be true.

It probably doesn’t help matters very much that O’Neill clearly has an issue with women (who should just shut up) and homosexuals, (who he thinks are big old meanies). Not surprisingly he’s pretty transphobic  and is prickly on the subject of racism too: he thinks that talking about racism is a Very Bad Thing That Will Make It All Worse.  His libertarian views are, therefore, rooted in making sure that everyone stays white, male and straight and where people are unable to comply with this, he is simply trying to make sure that if they insist on being women, queer and black that they do so as quietly as possible and without making too much fuss about it.

Brendan O’Neill is a patriarchal monolith, and so it is no surprise that his understanding of free speech is shallow: he also has something of an obsession with mobs despite the fact that he couldn’t identify a mob if one were coming at him with flaming torches and pitchforks – which is what, in his latest missive, he imagines women campaigning against rape to be. He also imagines that they wear white sheets, gather at Klan-type rallies and are responsible for general fear-mongering and man-lynching.

#IBelieveHer is his latest target in his quest to prove how dreadful women are; after one of Spiked journalists  made last months dismal offering on Ched Evans (“he should be allowed to rehabilitate! but without rehabilitating! because he claims he’s innocent!” – a truly Gordian knot of thinking which is dumb in a faintly irritating way), O’Neill is clearly frustrated that we women are not taking on board the message that we are a ‘mob’ who should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. He has therefore decided to monster us in the most trigger-happy manner he can: by making women who choose radical, victim centred belief analogous to the KKK.

Let that sink in for a moment.  O’Neill is saying that women who protest against rape, who choose to believe the victim when statistically speaking they are probably telling the truth, and who want some sensitivity shown to the victim should they decide to report, are to men what racists are to black people.

(Historical note: the KKK raped – and encouraged the raping of – black women with the same ferociousness with which they lynched black men. So for O’Neill to use this premise is pretty disgusting and appallingly a-historical).

It should be immediately obvious – to anyone with firing synapses – that O’Neill doesn’t understand the structural nature of oppression, and at best couldn’t care less about the widespread nature of rape, abuse or domestic and intimate partner violence. Heaven forefend that liberation from oppressive structural rape culture should mean that he has to show them some consideration!

In O’Neill’s world, challenging the rape myths which shame victims and stop them from coming forward is not a free speech issue – but those who try and change that culture are threatening free speech: it is the vengeance of the dreadful harridans who are out to deny freedom to men everywhere! Trying to get justice for rape victims and speaking out about the low conviction rates isn’t free speech: it is mob rule, the tool of horrible harpies who want men’s heads on a spike as a warning to all! We’re making them out to be rape apologists, and their feelings are hurt!

Or something.

Free speech does not extend, in O’Neill’s world, to the women and children who are abused or on the receiving end of domestic violence, but can’t speak out because society shames them, and sends them implicit and explicit messages that it is all their own fault. Free speech does not extend to black people speaking out against racism, to people who want to express their gender identity, to people who simply want to choose to marry, or who want to not be raped.

In O’Neill’s world, freedom and liberty are not for those people at all.

Brendan O’Neill and Spiked are not qualified to champion free speech because they do not believe in free speech. #IBelieveHer does not threaten free speech and any argument that it does is implicitly based on a desire to protect male privilege.

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Borg Drone – Shedding My #liberalwhitelogic

Seven_of_Nine
Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager

Here’s the thing about The Borg (and if you’re not a Star Trek fan or a sci-fi geek and you don’t get the reference, here’s a link to a nice little précis) which I have lately been pondering on – they are a pretty decent parallel for Liberal White Logic.

Liberal White Logic has many sects and many schisms within those many sects – in the secular variety there is Conservative Liberal White Logic (sometimes self-referred to as ‘compassionate Conservatism‘); there is ‘Liberal’ Liberal White Logic; there is Feminist Liberal White Logic; there is Social Justice Liberal White Logic.  You get it in religion too – the Everything-Should-be-Nice-for-Everyone-Have-Cake-and-a-cup-of-Tea-Anglican-Liberal-White-Logic is the one I am most familiar with of course (and I’m really am going to have to find a shorter name for that).

Whatever the superficial differences, certain key traits mark out Liberal White Logic in all it’s guises (and vices):

  • Magical Intent
  • Colour Blindness
  • Self-Delusion
  • Assumption
  • Appropriation
  • They are bloody everywhere

The Borg had all of these things (and I realise that with at least one of the above points I am likely to be considered stretching it a bit but hey, it’s my blog and I’ll stretch the point if I want to).  You see the thing is, in the context of Star Trek the fictional science fiction programme, the viewer looking from the outside in has no problem in distinguishing The Borg as the ‘bad guy’, even if you feel a degree of pity for the individual drones whom you know are often there against their will.

The Borg do not merely invade other worlds – they eat them up and absorb that world in to itself until there is nothing left of the world that you might recognise of it. The Borg absorbs, assimilates, those who were once individuals until there is nothing of the individual left and there is only the collective Borg. The Borg want everything because The Borg assumes all things belong to it – because The Borg seek ‘perfection’ (and in some implicit way must therefore be perfect).

The viewer sees this and knows that it is wrong. The viewer has no problem recognising this as evil.

In a feminist context, let’s consider Eve Ensler for a moment – and purely for the purposes of this post, cast her in the role of the Borg Queen. No doubt some might consider this a bit harsh, but it seems a reasonable way to illustrate the point, particularly in the light of the whole appalling ‘Congo Stigmata’ thing. (For a whole host of other reasons why Eve Ensler is such a good example of the worst kind of Liberal White Logic, I would suggest you read Lauren Chief Elk, Mikki Kendall and Prison Culture to get to grips with what I am referring to. In fact, read those first because these are the voices of the women most directly harmed by all this).

Ensler is quite possibly the pinnacle of the worst that our collective Liberal White Logic ends up producing, although she is certainly not unique:

Magical Intent:

Like many ‘charitable’ white people, Ensler has (or appears to have) good motives: she wants an end to violence against women in the Congo, and has spent time with these women. She seems to have concern for their welfare. Her intent seems good; and because her intent is good, this surely means that she is beyond reproach or incapable of anything that might be deemed colonial or racist?

Have you read those articles yet?  If you have, can you see the problem? Can you see the appropriation, the centring of herself, the consumption of these women’s lives for her own benefit?

Colourblind:

I don’t doubt for a moment that Ensler would tell you that she doesn’t judge someone by their skin colour and would certainly tell you she is not racist. But when she is appropriating and consuming Native women’s struggles, the pain and horror of the women of the Congo – do you think she is recognising their individual and communal histories and cultures? Do you think she is respecting these when she takes it upon herself to ‘speak’ for them? Do you think a white saviour is not racist?

Self-Delusion:

Okay, I will admit that I am not convinced that Ensler suffers from self-delusion: call me a cynic but given how much and how many have questioned her methods, her tactics, her language, her approach and her overall behaviour (and have done so directly), I am not convinced that Ensler is at all naive about what she does.

But if she really is that naive, if she really does not understand the impact her actions have upon the women who must deal with these things – the she fools herself to a massive degree, and in order to continue to do so has to shut out not just the voices of those who seek to question her, but her own voice too.

Assumption & Appropriation:

These two really do go together – as I have already touched on, our White Liberal Logic is as imbued with colonial assumptions of superiority as the right wing demagogues we more normally fool ourselves in to associating with such thinking. The only difference is, we think we have to ‘save’ People of Colour, directed by the narrative that People of Colour are too starved, war-torn or poor to save themselves.

It is barely a step from that to the appropriation of the cultures (honestly do you, or does someone you know, have a ‘dream catcher’ in their home?), and the consumption of their heritage and their lives.

photo of Eve Ensler from the Guardian.(photo from The Guardian).

Honestly, if we – if Eve Ensler – were fully recognising the humanity of People of Colour, would this be happening?

They’re Bloody Everywhere:

One Billion Rising is almost upon us, again. There really will be millions (though maybe not a billion) ‘dancing for justice’. Millions who have not questioned Ensler’s organisations Liberal White Logic – millions who think that getting up and dancing is what justice will look like for the indigenous women whose own day of vigil and remembrance for the missing has been appropriated by ‘V-Day’. Millions who have perhaps bought into Ensler’s assertion that her own cancer was the result of Congolese women ‘entering her’, who have not questioned her desire to watch a Congolese woman’s surgery and then talk about that anonymous woman in terms of ‘holes’.

But this is the thinking I was spoon fed and weaned on, like every other white western woman: this seemingly well meaning, liberal ‘hippy’ thinking which is as guilty of the colonial, oppressive, self-centring racism that those right wing bogeymen of old are.

We white liberals look at them, and pat ourselves on the back for not being them. 

But we are. And we are everywhere. We are the Borg – resistance is futile and you will be assimilated.

Or maybe not. Maybe we will question ourselves more closely – maybe we will take a long hard look at what we’ve believed without question before, maybe we will stop thinking it is always about us and step back. And listen. And hear. And recognise – and learn.

On cookies, motivations and why no platform is a good thing

Over the last several weeks certain discussions coming across my twitter timeline have caused me to particularly notice something, which I otherwise might not have: when a woman of colour talks about white women ‘looking for cookies’ from them, I tend to check to see if that’s what I am doing because in such a context cookie-hunting would be appropriative, and even flat out racist; it would be a way of consuming women of colour, something that we white women have been doing for far too long.

But when a white woman says it, my response is usually different: it feels manipulative, as if listening to women of colour, and accepting that when they say something is racist, well it’s racist – is a betrayal of feminism.

(If you aren’t sure what ‘looking for cookies’ means or refers to, think of it as approval and reward).

I am not here for anything that could be even a little bit racist, or appropriative or colonial: but I am white and therefore part of a political and social structure which is racist.

I don’t want cookies. But I do want to do what is right and in order to do that I have examine myself thoroughly, look at my thought processes and actions and words honestly, so as to identify where I may racist or colonial. And if a woman of colour says that something is racist – then it’s not for me to doubt that.

Perhaps not having a platform, not having an audience whose approval I seek to maintain is a good thing. Maybe it means that by being part of the crowd, hidden, un-noticed gives me a freedom to see things more clearly because of it.

Because I am picking a side: it’s the side that I cannot help but pick. And I’m not picking it for cookies.

Am I Being Naive.. Isn’t An Ism Always An Ism?

Shouldn’t be as simple as this:

  • If a Person of Colour (PoC) says that something which has been said, written or done is racist – then it’s racist.
  • If trans*/transgender person says that something which has been said, written or done is transphobic/cis-sexist – then it’s transphobic or cis-sexist.
  • If a physically or mentally differently abled person says that something which has been written, said or done is ableism – then it’s ableism.
  • If a LGBTIQ person says that something that has been written, said or done is homophobic/queerphobic – then it’s queerphobic.
  • If a woman says that something which has been said, written or done is sexist – then it’s sexist.
  • If a Woman of Colour (WoC) says that something which has been said, written or done is both racist AND sexist (intersectional) – then it is, and further more if she also says that we white women need to stop using the word we should respect that.

I will grant you that this is awfully simple stuff. Which is why some might see it as naïve, or be able to provide a whole smorgasbord of reasons why some those might not always apply.. but really – shouldn’t it actually be as simple as this?

Isn’t anything else just an excuse?