Sex Biscuits

Two things make me growl at my TV/radio/computer screen: when politicians witter endlessly about “hardworking families” (reinforcing an idealised community unit and the myth that only the lazy/feckless suffer hardship) and the ridiculous level of female political commentary.

I know that there are brilliant female political analysts out there; sadly the media seems to think women’s opinions begin and end with Mumsnet. They are a constituency that deserve to be heard, but everything seems to boil down to the infernal biscuit test (that Gordon Brown inexplicably “failed”) and whether a candidate (male) has sex appeal. It wouldn’t be so bad if this was one of many strands of commentary. But no, it’s magnified by the chattering classes and becomes the one of the barometers for how electable someone is.

It’s ridiculous and frustrating, though it’s interesting that Corbyn seems to have a weird sort of popularity. To be fair, Miliband did too, apparently. Which shows how useless this all is.

I like Corbyn. The apocalyptic New Labour/general commentary around him is interesting, especially as someone like Nigel Farage, a right-wing radical who is largely preposterous, is treated with a level of deference and the bellweather of popular opinion. If Corbyn is radical (and I’m not sure he’s as radical as they all make out) why is he the dangerous one? For wanting no tuition fees? For questioning the welfare cap? (sidenote: I’m following the Catholic critique of and argument with Iain Duncan Smith over his welfare vandalism policies with great interest).

At least Corbyn stands for something. Unlike so many who think that they need to cowtow to the minority who voted in the Tories in order to win again. Win for what, guys? There is a sense of entitlement there, as if Labour is due another go at the wheel to manage UK plc. There is no vision of what they’ll do when they actually get there. And Sunny Hundal, in his article on this, misses one crucial point. He posits that Corbyn’s way is a losing one because voters rejected it last time round. They didn’t. Ed Miliband had a couple of solid policies, but Labour’s messaging was safe, even cowardly. It was mean and small, echoing the Tory frames of reference. And why would you vote for Tory-lite when you could have the real thing?

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In Praise of Brothers with no game

The internet has been great for flattening (up to a point) the inequalities in media access for marginalised groups – perhaps a better way of putting it is, platforms like Twitter allow a space to reply but also to champion different agendas. But it’s not all reactive.

The internet is also a site for creativity and audience building. I first got into Black web series with Issa Rae’s funny and witty series Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, charting the (mis) adventures of J, an awkward Black girl. It has a great cast of quirky characters and some sketches that are (too) true to life.

Then I discovered the British comedy Brothers With No Game. Better than Entourage and with a specific British flavour, it’s a comedy series about four guy friends who have no game. Everyone has *those* dates, and BWNG unpacks it all in snappy 12 minute episodes. It can also be unexpectedly touching, dealing with issues such as unemployment and heartbreak – all from a guy’s perspective. And unlike Entourage, it manages to do it without being sexist and the female characters are allowed to develop personalities, with the women on BWNG an essential part of the story.

One of the female characters who appeared in a couple of episodes, Venus, went on to star in an eponymous show on dating and London life, Venus vs Mars, picked up on Sky Living. I really enjoyed it; it has a similar humour to BWNG; warm and engaging, with plenty of in-jokes that you just don’t get on mainstream TV. There are other shows in the BWNG stable, it’s great to see the outfit championing strong content, particularly from women.

So, I suppose this post is in praise of BWNG in particular and Black-produced web series in general. My favourites:

One. Brothers With No Game:

Two. Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl:

Three. Venus vs Mars:

Would you recommend any more?

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At the Sharp End

It begins. This week, The Guardian has a series of reports showing that the BAME community is at the sharp end of the cuts, based on research from the Runnymede Trust.

“The Conservative budget risks widening Britain’s racial divide by making millions of minority ethnic people poorer at a faster rate than their white counterparts…with one of the worst affected groups being British Muslims”

“Runnymede’s study has built in the fact that the national minimum wage will rise to £9 a hour in 2020. But changes to tax credits and other welfare payments will hit minority ethnic Britons harder than their white compatriots.”

And that’s not all, folks. Weak enforcement of the Race Relations Act means that legal protections that are supposed to highlight disparities like this and put a brake on damaging policies are reduced to a box ticking exercise, as Kehinde Andrews highlights in a comment piece on the research.

“Not only is the Race Relations (Amendment) Act completely ineffectual, it has now become an active device for institutions to cover their discriminatory tracks.”

This is a snapshot at the intersections of economic inequality and race – it’s an intersection on a sorry road that has the rich speeding ahead and the poor increasingly sidelined, as Aditya Chakraborty devastatingly outlines in his recent article on holiday hunger and the need for free meals for kids in the school holidays, a Victorian problem making a shameful comeback.

Usefully for the government, these differences are portrayed in the media overwhelmingly as personal failings, obscuring the systemic nature of some of these problems –   hence the push to have benefits withdrawn from the overweight or drug addicts who refuse treatment, another useful sub-group to browbeat with our self-righteous cudgels. As usual, it’s a reductive narrative. If someone is obese or a drug addict, it’s rarely as simple as telling them to stop, no matter how much they may want to. And those issues are often symptoms of deeper dysfunction.

Runnymede’s research points out that here too, ethnic minority children will be plunged further into poverty after the Budget, at a rate faster than their White counterparts.

“The report warns that child poverty among minority ethnic groups may be even greater after the 2015 budget. It says: “Black and minority ethnic households are more likely to be living in poverty. This is particularly notable for BME children, with nearly 50% of Pakistani children and over 40% of Bangladeshi children living in poverty, and all BME groups having higher poverty rates than white British children.”

If there is a need for shame in this whole debate, it should be felt by all of us. Especially those who voted for this.

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Re-Up: Austerity pits young against old

As the Budget continues to unfurl its catalogue of horrors, I thought it would be good to re-up this excellent article by Aditya Chakraborty: “This Battle will Define Us: We Must Protect our Children from Austerity.”

The landmark study of the social effects of David Cameron’s austerity was produced at the start of this year by a team of academics led by Professor John Hills at the London School of Economics. They found that the biggest victims of the spending cuts made since 2010 were children, and their parents: “Tax-benefit reforms hit families with children under five harder than any other household type. Those with a baby were especially affected.”

It was published before the General Election. Spoiler alert: We didn’t.

Sadly, it’s still relevant and all the more frightening because an unfettered Tory government is galloping ahead with its plans. Osborne is so confident that he’s challenged Labour to back the spending cap, capitalising no doubt on the disarray within Labour about whether they’re for or against poverty.

And Labour seems to have no idea what to do about it.

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Who Won?

I was appalled, but not surprised, by Harriet Harman’s decision, as interim Labour leader, not to oppose the Budget measures on the welfare cap. 

Even though they will continue the work of reversing Labour’s strides of reducing child poverty. (Not that we’ll know, given that the government is simply going to change the way it classifies poverty, to make this obfuscation more convenient)

Even though they are the Opposition.

She’s right, the Opposition aren’t there to reflexively oppose everything. But, these welfare reforms are supposed to be the antithesis of everything Labour stands for.

Right?

*crickets*

It brings me to something that has occupied my mind since the election. Who won? On the face of it, given that we have the first Tory-majority government for about 17 years – the Conservatives? Their majority is slim.

Certainly not Labour, though the election was theirs to lose.

And judging from the Budget: not workers, unions, the poor, the disabled, the young (snapshot: higher minimum wage for only over-25’s, while simultaneously housing benefit, university grants have been cut)….I need to take a moment for the young people of Britain. It’s staggering, and indeed frightening, that we’ve collectively agreed that shafting the future of the nation is acceptable. In today’s Times Camila Batmangeligh of Kids Company talks about how young people are being refused specialist care due to budget cuts. Whatever you think of the current scandal at Kids Company – her charity is not alone in speaking out about the dangerous cuts being made to the welfare state and social fabric.

The old did quite well. More flexible pensions among all sorts of other sweeteners – oh, and the price of the free TV licence for over-75s being shunted onto the BBC from the DWP. But…I refuse to submit to the seductive generational battle being set up between old and young.

As we slash and burn everything to “balance the books” – on the backs of the aforementioned groups, shaking down the most vulnerable for small change to meet the projected £12 billion of cuts,.corporations are sitting pretty on about £93billion of corporate welfare.

Who won?

The elites – corporate, political and otherwise well-heeled wealthy types.

And Labour, in the throes of a moribund leadership contest, can’t muster the wherewithal to consider that this is still a battle worth fighting. They’re “listening”, apparently. People voted for diverse reasons, but I’d bet my hat that a minority really voted for a ringing endorsement of the Tory plans. If they had, the majority would have been more substantial. In actual fact, the only party with a ringing endorsement was the SNP. Nationalistic yes; but also progressive, anti-austerity and principled. They are currently the only left-wing party in the UK.

Labour is conceding dangerous ground. Having already allowed the Right to misdiagnose the cause of the financial crisis, it is now allowing the flawed “solution” to hold the day.

What frightens me is that this is not just an ideological game, played with cool hands and wry smiles (Hat tip to George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith); this is about people’s lives. This is about the future of the nation. The changes being made now will reverberate for generations. And the false “consensus” has doomed an entire generation of young people, especially those without the family networks and wealth to insulate them from the worst effects of austerity – to a bleak future.

Labour lost the election. And the future is theirs (and ours) to lose too.

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Three on Race and Charleston

Three great pieces of analysis on Charleston and race, incidentally all by women *fist bump* What unites them all, for me, is the blunt honesty therein. And how each of them speak to this situation but also wider, into the present, the past and the everyday.

ONE The Cost of White Comfort by Chenjerai Kumanyika . A very honest reflection from Chenjerai on how the work of healing post-Charleston is more vexed than it might first appear. I feel that she also speaks to a wider, universal truth about Black minority survival – something that’s articulated in lesser degrees in smaller, more mundane interactions – and one that’s as applicable to the UK as the US.

“Survival for black folk during slavery, Jim Crow and well beyond necessitated thousands of small demonstrations of pleasant compliance toward white people. This didn’t just mean crossing the street when a white person approached; it meant keeping your eyes down while you did it. It didn’t just mean stepping off the curb for a white person; it meant smiling as you did it.

Today, it means that when I discuss these shootings with my white students and my heart is bursting at the seams with outrage and grief, I must keep my voice and gestures gentle and calm and validate my students’ most hurtful comments so they don’t feel personally indicted.

And it means not just acquiescing to unwarranted police interrogation and arrest. It means being friendly, even gracious, throughout the ordeal. Black survival has so often depended on white comfort.”

TWO I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore by Chloe Angyal. A hardhitting analysis of how the concept of White women’s purity is often marshalled as an excuse for racist violence to be perpetrated on Black men and women. And a good reminder that Black women are so often the bottom of the proverbial pile when conceptualising womanhood in this way. This has been said time and again by Black feminists, and this timely intervention by an ally is welcome.

“[the attack at Emanuel AME] was also the latest in an unbearably long line of lethality meted out in the name of white womanhood—in my name, and maybe in yours. In the name of my purity and virtue and perfect femininity. We must not ignore the role of white womanhood in this act of white supremacist violence, or in any other. We must not find a way, yet again, of avoiding talking about whiteness. And until white women decide that we will no longer be used as an excuse for violence, until we decide that we will no longer tacitly condone and benefit from the violence, we will continue to have blood on our pale, “perfect” hands.”

THREE Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof by Roxane Gay. I love Roxane Gay long time. Her book, Bad Feminist is up there as one of my favourite feminist reads. This article, with excerpts from a longer interview, is thought provoking. While not detracting from the right of the families and church community in Charleston to offer forigiveness, she explains why she can’t. I admire the families for their grace, and I can only hope and pray that I would have the courage to do the same in their position. So, in that sense, I disagree with Gay, however, what she speaks to is a more political forgiveness, or how Black people’s forgiveness is used to move the conversation along and forego any deeper analysis of events like this. On that I absolutely agree with her. Forgiveness must not excuse us from the hard work of excavating this attack and the White supremacist system feeding it – it’s beyond just one man. Furthermore, the onus is not on the minority to make the majority feel comfortable (it ties back quite neatly to Chenjerai’s piece in this regard).

“In the bail bond hearing, the judge was talking about how there are two sets of victims: the families of the nine slain and then Dylan Roof’s family. And I was stunned because he spent more time talking about Roof’s family and what they must be going through. And that really, for me, exemplified the power of whiteness. And we’ve also seen a lot of this expectation that as black people, ‘OK, we forgive this so that we can move on, so that we can heal.’ But I don’t think that it’s our job to forgive anymore. I think that it’s time for reconciliation on the part of people who enable this kind of racism.”

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Shut up and Dance with me

A little whimsy. A mash-up of some great movie dances. (I said I have writer’s block, not that I’ve lost my sense of humour)

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The Wetsuitman

This moving article was tweeted by Migrant Voice today. It’s not just an intricate, heartbreaking story, but it’s also beautifully presented. The Wetsuitman – Dagbladet.

Last winter two bodies were found in Norway and the Netherlands. They were wearing identical wetsuits. The police in three countries were involved in the case, but never managed to identify them. This is the story of who they were.

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Reading through Writer’s block

I am in a bit of a rut, to be honest. I was heartened to read that writers as accomplished as Musa Okwonga find themselves in this space too. I loved his post on how it can be a good thing. He mentions allowing your creative well to replenish. The thing I’m struggling with is that there is so much going on, so much to say, that I’m almost struck dumb in the face of it. And these are heavy things, knotty things. Like Charleston.

So, I’m reading. I’ll post the links to some great articles below:

Why Charleston was not a Hate Crime – Media Diversified.

Take Down the Confederate Flag Now – TaNehisi Coates in The Atlantic

The Connection between Dylann Roof and white-supremacist regimes in Africa runs through the heart of US conservatism– Africa is a Country.

How Rachel Dolezal overshadowed the story of Arnesha Bowers – Identities.Mic

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