On Community

communityI’m currently watching season 2 of Community. I’ve been told to watch this show for years and years, but never got round to it until now.

It’s brilliant. Delightfully quirky with a whip-smart script, lots of pop culture references and just surreal enough to keep things exciting.

A group of misfits meet at Community college and end up in a study group that soon becomes a tightly-knit…community. They have all sorts of weird adventures and it’s one of the few shows to make me laugh out loud. I don’t know if things are going to decline over the seasons (there are 6) but so far it’s up there with some of my comedy favourites like 30 Rock or Brooklyn 99.

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On Reconciliation

There are a plethora of posts online marking the end of the decade. Some celebrating the ‘glow-up’; others about careers, deaths, births….and politics of course. We’ve had a lot of votes and a fair few prime ministers. But now, it’s the Boris era.

After his stunning general election win, I think we’re looking at at least a decade of Tory-majority government. We’re about to find out if the Lib Dem claim that they were a check on Tory excesses is true. But if headlines are to be believed and Johnson is planning to hike the minimum wage substantially, then his government might be full of surprises that will be aimed at making inroads into Labour territory in more ways than one and help many people who need it. The crown of “One Nation Tory” awaits (possible breakup of the union due to Scottish and Irish dissatisfaction with the Brexit settlement notwithstanding.)

I’ve seen a lot of reflections from voices in the Church about reconciliation. This is good. People are tired of bitter, divisive politics and the agonising grind of a paralysed parliament. One thing that Boris’ decisive win does is give him a mandate for his version of Brexit – and one that parliament cannot ignore.

The Church has an opportunity to offer a space for people to start to heal the wounds of this polarising period. That was the topic of a recent episode of Godpod, a podcast from St Paul’s Theological Centre, which highlighted a new book by regular contributor Graham Tomlin, Looking Beyond Brexit

I will read the book, but one thing was missing from the great discussion on disagreeing well was justice. (It may well be addressed in the book but the discussion focused on bridging disagreement and the Church as a meeting place and resource for this.)

I agree that we must disagree well. But reconciliation cannot sidestep the lingering question that has been raised by the dehumanising language and racism that has been expressed in this general election and indeed, since the referendum. Who gets to call the UK home? For migrants and ethnic minorities, this has been a painful period.

If the Church (or indeed anyone) wants to really talk reconciliation, this has to be addressed or else it’s papering over a wound. It’s uncomfortable but I think the church has the language and the theology to meet this pain and help us chart a way through. There is also the Church’s own recent history; the establishment of the first Black majority congregations was a result of racism and exclusion the Windrush generation faced when they tried to worship at Church of England churches.

This is the humbling forge in which the work of reconciliation can begin: the wound must be seen and lamented; people must be seen, heard and comforted as we work to come together again.

My problem with starting and ending with calls to “disagree well” is that it can seem a bit trite. For many of us, this has been a frightening time that threatens our very place in the country and our sense of belonging and home. It is not a matter of simply taking a different view; some decisions have felt like a fundamental statement on who we are as a nation, what we tolerate and who has a place among us.

The Church of England is capable of understanding this. For many in the Jewish community, the prospect of a Labour government under Corbyn was a threat to their sense of belonging – and the Archbishop rightly spoke out in support. Others now fear that the election result will further entrench the Tory immigration policies that are ripping away their sense of home. This is not an unfounded fear; the Windrush scandal, which is ongoing as the law has not changed, is drawing more and more people into the dragnet. People have died in distress, whole families are being told that the only home they know is not one at all.

It is not enough to disagree well. The Church must call out injustice where it exists. Policies such as the hostile environment must be challenged. What EU citizens are experiencing now is an expansion of that policy and the anti-migrant mood it seeks to promote.

Without justice, there can be no peace. As a black Christian and a naturalised citizen, I am happy to agree to disagree well on questions such as Leave/Remain or the General Election choice of party. However, the Church must acknowledge that where injustice is taking place, the road to reconciliation cannot sidestep it.

Because it’s the heart of the matter. Reconciliation should not be a salve to enable people to feel comfortable again while others continue to feel the sharp edge of hostile policies and discourse. Otherwise it’s a cheap imitation that does not reach deep enough to truly transform in the way that only Jesus can do.

*I’m back. I had quite a busy year, but I managed to sneak in a wedding to my love at the end of the year and close out the decade with sweetness.

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How to Spot a Racist

What does a racist look like?

In the UK, we tend to think of racism as solely in interpersonal terms and as a person’s full-time preoccupation. It makes it harder for us to understand when a racist is anyone but a knuckle-dragging skinhead who wants to murder black people all day long.

So, Bannon’s recent overtures with senior Tories are (rightly) criticised, but are somehow being seen as a massive turning point here – as if some of his interlocutors, the architects of Brexit, weren’t at the very least comfortable being racist-adjacent if it won them the Brexit referendum campaign.

Everyone understands that Bannon is a racist, and it helps that he looks like the loathsome creep that he is. Conveniently, he is is conventionally unattractive – as if the peeling skin on his face is an outward sign of inward rot.

The reaction to him is different to the bemused humour that has greeted young hipsters who are affiliated to the alt-right. They are young, often conventionally attractive, dress well, went to good schools, come from middle class homes. But you can have all that and be a racist.

Racists can look like Bannon.

They can also look like a chummy, jocular guy with a good education. The kind of guy you’d share a laugh down the pub with; a witty, quintessentially clumsy Brit bumbling along with a cup of tea for a fawning media pack.

Mr Johnson. The man with a track record in casual racism, whose recent Burka comments are being attributed to his conferring with Bannon – as if Johnson needed the help. Instead of being held to account he is forever infantilised, and would appear, from much of the reporting, to have been led astray into real racism by one of the architects of the alt-right.

Racists can look like a member of your family who loves you but doesn’t like the other black people.

Or the wife who votes for Trump because she doesn’t realise that the “illegals” include her own husband. (He got deported.)

Yes, there are some racists who thinking about it all day long and it is the guiding value in everything they do.

But I think that for the many other people there are unexamined prejudices, abiding inconsistencies (yes, you can have black friends/lover/family members and still hold problematic views). Furthermore, racism, or racial anxiety is the most salient issue for them only once in a while – it’s a not a full-time gig.

In many ways, that’s worse. If you’re endangering me and people like me and you’re doing it all the time, I can see you coming. I can engage with you head-on.

But if it’s that you just don’t care….that your racism flares up like an occasional fever, it’s harder. The fact is, as a minority I need you to build the alliances for my own survival and sometimes you may come on board.

But equally, you might once in a while vote for someone like Trump because “economic grievances” and “someone spoke Polish at my local shop” and “the church is empty and while I’m not going to go I don’t like the gurdwara that’s being built nearby”…basically… you just don’t have skin in the game and gambling with mine doesn’t cost you anything.

And I’m still thinking through how to engage with that.

 

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Immigration and church

The news in Christian circles this week that regular churchgoers are more likely to be tolerant of immigration than those who attend infrequently reminded me of analysis of Trump’s Christian base.

There, it was found that those who identify as Christian and attend church regularly are less likely to support Trump than Christians who do not belong to a church community.

Christians are of course, not too dissimilar to everyone else, and I find it interesting that exposure to a community of faith, and perhaps, crucially, people in that community who are different to you, seems to make a difference.

Depressingly, in both situations, the proportion of (predominantly white) Christians supporting Trump and against immigration in the UK is still high.

I’m not saying that you can’t be rightwing and a person of faith; far from it. But when the advancement of that agenda is powered and endorsed by, and in some cases deliberately dressed in racist and xenophobic language and imagery, which is a best cruel and at worst dangerous, I do wonder about the entreaty to love our neighbour.

It seems so simple, but it’s actually really hard. You don’t choose your neighbour. They are often inconvenient and may be very different to you or even unlikeable, but we are called beyond tolerance to love.

Love.

 

It’s costly and difficult and challenging but it’s meant to be our thing, isn’t it?

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Sister survivors with Superwoman Steel

“You created an army when you violated us…Your actions have had me by the throat for years. I’m ready to be released from your clench.” – Tiffany Thomas Lopez

For the last few days, I’ve been reading the witness impact statements from the sentencing of disgraced former US Olympic doctor Larry Nassar. They’ve floated across my timeline, and I’ve often caught my breath at their courage as one by one, the women and girls waive anonymity to speak.

The things they have to say are harrowing. But their testimonies, the sisterhood of survival between them and the words of the compassionate judge have been inspirational.

The BBC write-up of those days in court is a long read, and a difficult one, but it’s worth it.

From the BBC story:

A crime writer in her spare time, Judge Aquilina’s words were a powerful force throughout the hearing. She described the women as “sister survivors” and “warriors” who had demonstrated “superwoman steel.”

“I didn’t want even one victim to lose their voice,” she told the court, as she explained why she was prepared to let the hearing go on for as long as it took to hear all of the survivors who wanted to speak.

The survivors, in turn, responded. One after the other waived their anonymity and came to realise this was a chance to take charge of their own story.

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Bra Hugh

At 78, Hugh Masekela has succumbed to prostate cancer. I remember the last time I saw him, a few years ago at Hackney Empire – perhaps in 2013 or 2014. He had to sit for most of the performance, but his brilliance, rhythm, humour and sparkle was undimmed. I loved the music (obviously) but it was the riffing in between the songs that I adored. He told anecdotes – funny, raunchy, moving, political – and you could imagine him in his heyday.

He was a rare talent and a principled fighter. Rest well, Bra Hugh.

Here is a link to his last interview.

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Baby Randall

 

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Last night, Sterling K Brown won big at the SAG Awards, the first Black winner in the category of Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series for his part as Randall in This is Us, the show that I adore. I don’t want to like it, because my job is quite intense and so I prefer my TV funny or action-packed and distracting rather than emotional and touchy-feely but it is just so good. Damn you, Sterling! He’s one of the reasons the show is so good.

But the image that has been playing on my mind is the mini-meme that’s been going around of the actor that plays young Randall on the show, Lonnie Chavis, looking at (?) Yara Shahidi of the show Blackish. 

I’ve seen other tweets in which people riff on the theme of baby Randall ‘checking out’ Yara Shahidi and for some reason they’ve made me a little uncomfortable.

Lonnie is 9. Admittedly, I don’t know much about kids and I was a very late bloomer, but there’s something redolent of the Daily Mail’s leering at ‘barely legal’ pre-teen girls for me in the rush to make this a sexual thing.

Maybe he’s in awe (she is gorgeous) but maybe he’s just daydreaming as he waits his turn on the red carpet for the photo opp. The meme isn’t all over the place, but I’ve seen enough tweets to notice it and feel a bit uneasy.

And I think the fact that he’s a little black boy, who don’t really get to be little boys for very long, is why this unnerves me a little.

He’s just a kid. Let him be a kid for as long as we can, because the world doesn’t often let that happen.

 

 

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Truth and Daring

Three for Monday:

One The story of the UKIP leader dumping his girlfriend for racist messages she sent about Meghan Markle bears all the bizarre hallmarks of the public conversation on UK racism. For instance: the appearance of racism is somehow worse than the crime. The fact that the leader of an openly racist party is dating a white supremacist should not be surprising; yet, he is forced to distance himself from her beacause while it’s OK to lead a party that has espouses racist policies, her comments that Markle would “taint” the Royal Family were too blatant. Furthermore, in being perceived as attacking the Royal Family, she also disrespected that most British of institutions, the Royal Family; and part of the UKIP brand is their version of patriotism. As always, racism is seen as a personal character flaw than a systemic issue. It’s easier to deal with the blatant racist than examine UKIP and its place in the political discourse as the balloon floater of racist ideas (that are then doubled down on by mainstream politicians).

Two MLK Day and the death of Cyrille Regis, the pioneering black footballer who endured racism to play the game he loved. It has been interesting to read the tributes to him; his courage was admirable. Being MLK day I did think about civil rights more generally and sports and protest. I think the public threshold for black people opposing racism is low – you can only speak out so much. Be persistent (in the mould of Kaepernick in the US for example) and it’s funny how the troublemaker tags start to get handed out.  It’s easy to forget that Martin Luther King was not that popular in his lifetime for his stances on Vietnam and capitalism, let alone race and in some ways he has since been sanitised in death. In the US, his memory is often invoked as a rebuke against anti-racist campaigners like Kaepernick, who have their protests policed and condemned for being confrontational by those who forget that in its time, the non-violent protests were (necessarily) difficult and confrontational and unpopular too. I realise I’m conflating two different eras, sports and countries here, but Rhian Brewster’s experiences of racism as a young player right now are a testament to the fact that while the naked hate of Cyrill’s era is thankfully a thing of the past, we still have a way to go towards eliminating racism in UK sport and society.

Three This thread on immigration policy, which shows the link between bad policies and rhetoric on immigration, and public perception and anxieties on the subject:

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from Remain to Return

In the dying days of 2017, Lord Adonis resigned spectacularly from the National Infrastructure Commission.

The reason given was the government decision to bail out Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise. Adonis warned that this set a bad precedent and benefitted only the owners and shareholders of the respective companies, and was inexcusable at the best of times, but especially now given Brexit.

Brexit. So… Adonis is not a fan. And here is why I say he resigned ‘spectacularly’ – his letter was excoriating on the PM’s handling of Brexit, coining a phrase that may indeed prove prophetic one day:

“If Brexit happens, taking us back into Europe will become the mission of our children’s generation, who will marvel at your acts of destruction”

I’m not sure about the ‘if’ there – Brexit will surely happen, even if it’s a damp squib rather than the ‘independence day’ that Farage envisions.

One thing we do know: it will hurt. Whether people will attribute this to the reality of Brexit and the PM’s bungling is unclear – after all, they accepted the Tory line that a global financial crisis was somehow Labour’s fault and have been happy to scapegoat immigrants for everything that has ever gone wrong in the UK.

Adonis was blunt about the bungling:

“Brexit is a populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump. After the narrow referendum vote, a form of associate membership of the EU might have been attempted without rupturing Britain’s key trading and political alliances. Instead, by allying with UKIP and the Tory hard right to wrench Britain out of the key economic and political institutions of modern Europe, you are pursuing a course fraught with danger. Even within Ireland, there are set to be barriers between people and trade…

…A responsible government would be leading the British people to stay in Europe while also tackling, with massive vigour, the social and economic problems within Britain which contributed to the Brexit vote. Unfortunately, your policy is the reverse. The Government is hurtling towards the EU’s emergency exit with no credible plan for the future of British trade and European co-operation, all the while ignoring – beyond soundbites and inadequate programmes – the crises of housing, education, the NHS, and social and regional inequality which are undermining the fabric of our nation and feeding a populist surge.”

Predictably, he’s the latest ‘traitor’ of Brexit – a phrase that’s being thrown around to anyone who dares to voice concerns about the reality-defying promises that politicians are making about Brexit and the breakdown in democratic processes and accountability that is being allowed to pass in its name.

When it comes to this year’s predictions in politics, I’m nailing my colours to the mast:

  • The last Remainers will accept that Brexit is a case of ‘when’, not ‘if’. The Return campaign will start to think long-term. (They will be called saboteurs and be scapegoated (along with immigrants) for everything that goes wrong with Brexit.)
  • Prime Minister Theresa May will stay in post. She will continue to pick unnecessary fights with her fragile majority, but the Tories know how to stay in power – the 1922 Committee won’t come for her.
  • After much bluster, we will accept most of the EU’s terms on transitional arrangements. Terms that we’ve known about for months, that have been published online for anyone to see, but that we will feign surprise about.
  • Corbyn will stay. On a war footing.
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Prince Harry, Meghan, and the Immigration rules

I wrote this for the Independent. Right now, I’m at 26,000 shares and at least 500 Twitter interactions. I’m not usually able to do a hot take, so this was an exhilarating experience (and clearly my most successful article ever in terms of engagement)

I haven’t read the comments.

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Update: as of 1 January 2017, 61k shares. Whoa.

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