In Formation

Beyonce-Knowles-Pepsi-Super-Bowl-50-Halftime-backup-dancers-zana-bayne

So…I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not a member of the Bey-hive but I’m not archly against Beyonce. I find her music fun but I’m not expecting her to be everything for me as a Black woman and a feminist.

Nevertheless I found it bewildering that without exception, the British press reported on her Superbowl performance as “race baiting” or “stoking a race row”. I would hazard a guess that they all subscribe to the same news agencies. But…even so, to reflexively take that editorial line without question in their news pieces (there have been a range of comment pieces) shows how such overt Blackness is seen as a negatively provocative and threatening, even by the liberal media (looking at you, Guardian).

Of course, the performance was political and made reference to the Black Panthers and more than a passing nod to current movements such as Black Lives Matter. This was done even more explicitly after the show when her dancers gave the Black Power salute and held up a sign in protest about the death of Mario Woods at the hands of the police. Taken together with her new video dropped the day before, Formation, it was all political. The fact that was instantly read as inherently threatening a race war and prompted hyperbolic comment from people such as Rudy Guiliani, who interpreted it as an attack on the police, shows that the politics are still salient.

It’s something I’ve been turning over in my mind as I look at the rise of Bernie Sanders in the US and Corbyn over here. These old Socialists, derided as dinosaurs and dreamers by their own parties and most of the media, have captured the imagination of a great many young voters. It’s galling for Clinton that younger women are more likely to support Sanders. Of course, they shouldn’t plump for Clinton just because she’s a woman, but it’s interesting that her historical run (as a woman who actually stands a chance) hasn’t lit a fire.

And as with Corbyn, I’m with Gary Younge in that I expect the reaction to Sanders’ rise to be dismay, hysteria and ridiculing his supporters. In the UK, no one has stopped to ask why Corbyn’s ideas and some of his ideals have traction. Could it be that the problems he’s identified – with capitalim, privatisation, austerity etc- are still crying out for a solution? As with Sanders. And….the Black Panthers. The conventional wisdom goes, well, capitalism won, it’s awesome and we’re all doing fine. Oh, and we’re post-racial now, too, so why the Black Panthers thowback?

To an extent, their reaction to the apparent resurgence of these ideas (and I would say that Black politics has never gone away, just retreated from the spotlight perhaps – that’s not to say that many activists have not been campaigning or organising in the time before Black Lives Matter – and nor is that the only movement in town) is illuminating. If these movements are redundant are the ideas have been defeated by progress, why the panic?

Maybe the renewed fire in these movements is because the solutions advanced for the problems they identified have been found wanting –  and the cosy political consensus isn’t interested in solutions because they don’t see the problem.

Could it be that we had a financial crash in which no one was held responsible but for which everyone else but in particular the poor, disabled and the young have had to pay? Could it be that politicians have waxed lyrical about cutting welfare and gleefully shredded the social safety net while increasing corporate welfare and being pathetically grateful when the likes of Google deign to pay some tax because the mood caught them on a Friday afternoon? Could it be that the issues the civil rights movement was fighting for – voting rights, economic inequality, housing, policing, social justice – have seen progress but are still outstanding? Black Lives Matter is articulating all this for a younger generation of digital natives.

Which brings us back to Beyonce. It was a risky performance (for a very mainstream bankable performer), but the fact that it resonated (horribly for some, gloriously for others) shows that these conversations are live, right now. I also find it interesting that her Formation video roots itself in New Orleans – an article I read recently on Black Lives Matter pointed out that the backdrop to the movement isn’t just police violence but a post-Katrina political context.

I won’t go into the detail of her performance at the Superbowl and the Formation video- the visuals, the representation, the politics, the blackness – not when so many others could do and have done it so much better. Like these two women:

One: “On Jackson 5 Nostrils, Creole vs Negro and Beefing over Beyonce’s Formation” by Yaba Blay:

A work as racially and emotionally charged as “Formation” is bound to cause tension. And because Beyoncé so often evokes something very personal, we need to approach one another with more care and caution. After all, it is very possible to enjoy the “Formation” song and video and take issue with it at the same damn time. Because we’re human.- Yaba Blay

Two: “Beyonce and Forms of Blackness” by Michelle R Smith:

When Beyoncé does something like turning out the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show, and black people start arguing about whether that was a “good” thing or a “bad” thing, we’re not really arguing about Beyoncé’s performance.

I mean, yes, some people love her singing and dancing, and others don’t, but that’s not really the root of the conversation, I don’t think.

I think what we’re really arguing about is how we want to see blackness represented in the media. And underneath that I think we’re arguing about what we really think black people need to be doing with themselves and doing about our collective “situation.” – Michelle R Smith

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Look!

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has a whole tumblr dedicated to him looking at things.

David Cameron has his own (definitely more benign) tumblr dedicated to him looking at fish while on holiday.

Something that’s not so benign (though from a media perspective, somewhat clever I suppose) is David Cameron’s habit of pointing at things and making policy announcements. Lots and lots of them.

What’s missing is details on exactly how he’s going to get this all done. Case in point: This weekend he (rightly) slammed institutional racism in the UK, warning “educational institutions, the police, the military and the courts they were the focus of a new effort to tackle social inequality fuelled by “ingrained, institutional and insidious” racism.” So far, so good. And you could say that the details will come.

But what’s also missing is some joined up thinking. Today, alongside figures that showed a 23% pay gap for Black graduates, measures came into force requiring private landlords to check the immigration status of their potential tenants. Predictably, industry experts (as immigration experts have been saying since this idea was first mooted) have warned that these measures will discriminate against those with foreign names, the young and less well-off.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) said its members faced a difficult choice: they could “take a restrictive view with prospective tenants, potentially causing difficulties for the 12 million UK citizens without a passport” or “target certain individuals to conduct the checks, opening themselves up to accusations of racism”.

Incidentally, this is in a rental market where there is already a problem for ethnic minorities, who are routinely discriminated against.

The Guardian reports: “Dr David Smith, policy director at the RLA, said: “The government argues that its ‘right to rent’ plans form part of a package to make the UK a more hostile environment for illegal immigrants. The evidence shows that it is creating a more hostile environment for good landlords and legitimate tenants.”

These are policies that Cameron has actually implemented.

Enough looking. We should be joining the dots.

 

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Dogs and Dentists

No cavities. The perennial teacher’s pet in me was cockahoop after my dentist appointment today which was a roaring success compared to previous encounters…

…like the time he pulled out my wisdom tooth. Or that time when he diagnosed my sore jaw as an episode of Victorian-style hysteria which is specific to women around 30 years old. (apparently, this is a thing, ladies).

But the thing that made me laugh out loud today was this Very British (true?) story about a man and his dog trying to help someone trapped in a car boot. These are the things that make Twitter worth it.

 

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Things that Make no sense

I feel like this could be a theme for 2016: #thingsthatmakenosense .

Early contenders from this week so far, which could also be filed under “Wow, that escalated quickly”:

  • B.O.B. really seems to believe that the earth is flat. Like, for reals, you guys. Twitter told him. B.O.B repelled all takers. Even renowned scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson told him. Then B.O.B released a diss track about him and Tyson’s eponymous nephew issued a reply. I actually like B.O.B. but I’m going to have to file his music under “guilty pleasures” along with Blurred Lines on the grounds of sheer ignorance. Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.
  • How Google paid the UK approx £130 million in back taxes and is going to pay Italy roughly the same amount even though the Italian operation is less than a tenth of the size of the UK one. Part of me is quite pleased that Osborne’s attempt to gain political capital by touting this “deal” has rebounded spectacularly
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Agenda Setting and Mondays

I’m still a social sciences nerd so I was intrigued to read a short post on Conservative Home about how the Prime Minister is dominating the news cycle.

If there is one thing this government likes to do it’s make policy announcements. Set speeches. Signal this or point towards that.

The year started with a blaze of such announcements, from immigration to economics (pro tip: we are totally heading for some sort of second crash and Osborne is putting clear water between him and any falling masonry) and social affairs. The latter has mostly been the PM looking prime ministerial, usually framing these issues through the lens of security. Most recently, saving his fire for Muslim women who can’t speak English.

The tactics are interesting. He takes something that’s not necessarily unreasonable and puts crazy rocket boosters on it. Case in point, the English issue.

Should everyone speak English? Yes. Because it matters in terms of access to opportunities and playing a full part in society, being part of the community around you. There was an opportunity to talk invite people who can’t speak English being part of “us”; or, rather, to be even more a part of us. They already are, of course.

Instead, while having cynically cut funding English language services that were designed to help people in this exact situation, Cameron singles out Muslim women, frames the whole issue in terms of radicalisation as if they are the reason some young people are joining Daesh when countless mother’s hearts have been broken by this, and then throws some (but nowhere near enough to replace what he cut) money at it.

Cue discussion and think pieces for days.

He gets to look tough to the ring wing and leaves the rest of us wading through the nonsense, fighting to tease out the nuances with a deliberately naive right wing press insisting, “Is it unreasonable to want everyone to speak English?” No, but…

Turns out this is a well-deployed media agenda-setting tactic:

“These Monday initiatives have three main purposes.  First, to get the media to report and comment on Government plans that are not about the EU referendum, thereby reminding voters that it has other reasons to be here.  Second, to show people that the Prime Minister is still in office and still in charge.  And, third, to tackle issues that are important to him.” – Paul Goodman

And for those nerds interested in process:

Sunday provides an opportunity to brief bits of the speech or article or initiative to the Sunday papers.  Monday brings the address or piece itself, together with a photo-opportunity for the cameras.  By the afternoon, the blogs and oped-pages are filling up, and the mix of outraged commentary, analysis and counter-intuitive support can be guaranteed to drag on into Tuesday.  Tiger mothers – back in the jungle?  Strengthening cohesion or stigmatising Muslims – what do you think?  That’s three days worth of coverage.  Voters won’t remember much of the detail, if any, but the thrust of Cameron’s case might just linger a bit in their minds for a while.  And as long as it’s one that’s not offensive to them then it’s mission accomplished for Downing Street. – Paul Goodman

Oh, and that fight we’re all having? Well, that’s part of it too. Unfortunately, these games have real-world consequences. Muslim women are statistically most likely to suffer from Islamophobic attacks. Being singled out negatively on the biggest political stage, linked with people’s fears of Daesh and radicalisation, only serves to further alienate them.

But,  it depends whether you’re really trying to help or just cynically posture, using Muslim women as a foil:

Number Ten itself admits that it’s hard to make an impact if you don’t provoke a row: “there has to be some grit in the oyster,” as one Downing Street source put it to me. – Paul Goodman

 

 

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So 2016 started like this

…But I’m back now. hokw4mhwgapmu

It’s going to bite

I really love this winding down before the end of the year. On the one hand, no different to any other day except for the significance we’ve accorded it in our calendar. On the other, an enforced period of reflection that does a world of good.

So, what of next year? Many good things to come, no doubt but also: it’s going to hurt as cuts start to really bite.

A few things to bear in mind as we traverse 2016 and people (including Tory voters, the odd minister and a lot of the media) act at turns surprised and occasionally angry.

  1. Local government cuts are savage and will start (continue) to hit basic services. Apparently we all agree we shouldn’t really pay taxes, and government shouldn’t really do anything, but we also really like bin collections and councils ensuring that we have enough services when we need them. Well, grab your popcorn.
  2. Women’s support services are hard-presssed and BAME women’s support services have issued an emergency call – a report by Imkaan reveals that a number will be forced to close unless something is done. And while we’re all pleased (read: confused and conflicted) to use our periods to pay for women’s services with the tampon tax (because women’s problems are women’s problems), the fact remains that it’s not enough. If we take the welfare of women seriously then the government needs to put money behind these vital lifesaving services. Or…men need to get periods too.
  3. Inequality is a problem. And it’s only getting worse. Even John Major said so – and look at the nifty charts that back up his assertion)
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The 1.5 per cent

No, not the richest among us.

That would be the 1.5% of UK television made by a Black director. I’m just going to leave that here.

This is actually a stat from research  published last month by Directors UK (yes, still working that bookmark flex)

“We found that BAME directors are not only critically under-represented and under-employed in UK television as a whole, but that they are being given a far smaller proportion of directing opportunities in many key programming genres. Some of the most popular drama, comedy and entertainment shows had never been directed by a director who is of black, Asian or minority ethnic background – including all programmes within our sample from the following genres: period drama, chat show, game show, performance, reality, panel show, sketch comedy, and children’s comedy and entertainment.”- Directors UK

This matters. A lot. The entertainment industry is powerful; it’s where we tell our stories and have them told back to us, where issues are explored, mores challenged, issues aired. It’s not the only place, but it’s one of the most influential.

Our storytellers matter.

The report has recommendations too. It’s so easy to focus on on-screen talent, because it’s the most visible, but what goes on in the backroom is just as, if not more important because it shapes how these stories are told. It’s also a much less transparent process, merely by dint of the fact that these creatives are rarely seen.

 

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Marginal Church

So, this is new. I don’t often write about faith or church and it’s mainly because I’ve been searching for the language. But I think I’ll be writing a bit more on this theme in 2016.

A few days ago Vicky Beeching, the theologian and LGBT activist, posted this:

We (the church) need to stop doing this. In one tweet, Vicky poignantly showed how it feels to be marginalised and dehumanised by your community.

The world at large is still not a safe place for the LGBTQI community – the Home Office’s own figures showed a rise in homphobic hate crimes last year. The church should be a welcome haven that affirms the humanity of every individual, not fuelling homophobia.

As a starting point.

It’s not just about welcome; it’s about feeling at home.

As Dianna E Anderson writes, if your church is not for the marginalised, operating on the margins, then you’re doing something, but it’s not church; “If your church is not of the marginalised, then you are not of the church”.

Addressing the complaint that from some quarters that the church is becoming marginalised in popular culture she writes:

Here’s the thing: I believe that the church is the haven of the marginalized. It is not the powerful seeking to maintain power. It is the world of those outcast by society, the poor, the hungry, the destitute, the spurned. Jesus himself decried political and statist power within the church, and focused on the margins, calling women, working class men, tax collectors, lepers, and the disabled. Church is – or should be – the home of the marginalized.

Although her post if focused on the American Church, I believe there is a lot that’s relevant to the debate here.

 

 

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