Monthly Archives: January 2015

OK fine

I was going to ignore it.

So, Benedict Cumberbatch used the word “coloured” in a well-meaning comment about how it’s easier to find work in Hollywood as a Black actor, rather than the UK. I think Joseph Harker put it best in the Guardian – he didn’t mean to offend, but it shows that he moves in rarefied circles:

“To criticise Cumberbatch is missing the point: his comments betray the whiteness of the whole industry, and its representatives should be the ones apologising today.”

Now. I didn’t even break stride over this a few days ago, but I have been a bit taken aback and the explosion of posts – overwhelmingly by White authors – in the media since. We’ve had the “What’s the big deal?” articles, the well-meaning liberal whitesplaining articles “It’s not a nice word, guys. This is why the Blacks are irritated” and the obligatory “PC gone mad” brigade.

That’s all good and well, but it reinforced the image of the absurd lack of diversity in the commentariat that is so beautifully illustrated in the Evening Standard’s election line-up (previous post). That’s the real problem, not Cumberbatch’s clumsiness or lack of racial sensitivity.

This was the Evening Standard’s response when challenged on that by Media Diversified today. (And just like the point about the structural problems with diversity in the film industry, Harker gets it right again. Where are the “established” Black experts?)


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Second Chances

Every morning I wake up to the radio – either World Service or Radio 4. There’s something about the intimacy of radio that I find so much more affecting than TV, which seems more passive, somehow.

Usually I half listen as I get ready and dash out the door. But this morning a report on the release of child soldiers from a militant group in South Sudan made me sit down and listen to the very end. (It also made me cry, which is reassuring as a video of a panda playing with a ball yesterday left me unmoved. So I’m not stone cold to the bone, apparently.)

The children, as young as ten, were being released because of a deal struck between the militant group and the government. What was so arresting was the reporter’s description of the happy children going over to be received by UNICEF, still dressed in their fatigues. They sang, they danced. The reporter marvelled at how young they were…and how much younger they looked. It was a beautiful story of children getting another chance to be kids, to start their lives over. I cannot begin to fathom what they’ve seen and been forced to do.

A couple of days ago I read a blog by barrister Colin Yeo about how the good character requirement is being used to refuse citizenship to hundreds of children, including 25 children aged 10-13.

“What could the 25 children aged 10-13 have done to be refused on character grounds? Or, to look at it another way, what child can truly be said to to be of “good character” (the statutory requirement) at that age anyway?”

“Citizenship is turning into a key battleground for protecting individual rights. Citizens enjoy reasonable protection against arbitrary interference with their rights by the State. Non citizens do not. The State is responding by refusing citizenship to wider class of people and by taking it away from those it considers “fifth columnists”.” – Colin Yeo

All of these kids has their own story. Who knows what they’ve experienced? What can we say about their character at such a young age? And how can it count against them in a decision that will affect the rest of their lives?



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Election coverage for London

CaptureThis is the Evening Standard’s election coverage team. Congratulations to them all, I’m sure they’re all good at what they do and it’s great that we have three women on the panel –  but where are the ethnic minorities? This is London’s paper and the line-up looks nothing like the city. How can you provide comprehensive election coverage with these voices missing? If ever an election required a little less groupthink from the media, this was the one.

I could go on about diversity, the media, politics… But for now: *face palm*

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So, the far left in Greece (nice change to type those words) has won the election and has formed an alliance with the far right to renegotiate the country’s austerity package. Hmm. They may well succeed at that but I don’t know how the coalition will be able to agree on anything else.

What lessons, if any, does this hold for the UK? (Not that Labour is within sniffing distance of being left of anything, while the Tories tilt madly on the UKIP tide.)

The Centre may not hold

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It all counts

The Sun has put bikinis on Page 3 rather than bare breasts, and in the process provoked a flurry of feminist articles. For every article celebrating the victory, there’s another saying it’s not that big a deal, and there some pieces by women saying it’s anti-feminist to deny them the choice of posing in the Sun because it’s not objectification…and there are others saying those women aren’t quite aware of their subjugation.

My take is that it matters. It’s a modest victory and that’s ok.

Representation matters. To say that this does have significance, albeit largely symbolic, is not to say that it’s the most important campaign or that those who support it only care about this one thing. And even if they do, there are so many other important campaigns on issues like FGM, for example, for people to get stuck into. Equal pay. Violence against women. Refugee women in detention. So many other things, and they all matter, like lots of cracks in a wall.

Sometimes we’ll take out some huge bricks and other times we’ll put cracks in it. There is merit in the point that some of the less well-known and more difficult campaigns are often the most grave.  We’ll keep working.

But it does all matter. So well done, No More Page 3. Next!


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Time Lapse Hair styles

I’m a bit late to this party, but I loved the video of 100 years of Black hairstyles – especially the 1940s and 1990s styles, which I love for vintage nostalgia and (in the case of the 90s obvs) the lived experience!

Here it is side by side with the White version – it appears they were Part I and II of a series. Love it!

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Mermaids and Sea shores

This morning I caught up with my Saturday paper. I love my weekend paper but it’s so big that I tend to read sections during the week as well. In the Guardian Review, Jeanette Winterson reviewed The World’s Wife, a collection by Carol Ann Duffy. I enjoy the work of both authors, so it was a real pleasure. As usual, I was struck by Winterson’s turn of phrase. She described poetry thus:

“Poetry is a pleasure.

Sometimes people say to me, “why should I read a poem?” There are plenty of answers, from the profound – a poem is such an ancient means of communication that it feels like an evolutionary necessity – to the practical; a poem is like a shot of espresso – the fastest way to get a hit of mental and spiritual energy.

We could talk about poetry as a rope in a storm. Poetry as one continuous mantra of mental health. Poetry as the world’s biggest, longest-running workshop on how to love. Poetry as a conversation across time.”

She’s right. Later in my day I would stumble across a work by one of my favourite poets, Hollie McNish, Mermaids and Sand (Ocean Floor)As the best art points us towards truth, she highlights the compassion deficit in Europe towards those who die on the seas trying to make it to safety. The International Organization for Migration announced last week the the numbers last year topped 170,000. Syrians were the most numerous, followed by Eritreans.

“The emergency is not in the number of people involved or a risk that they will overburden Europe, a bloc of countries with a population of about 500 million people…the emergencies are the conflicts, instability and great uncertainty in a number of countries close to Europe, which people are fleeing. If we put these numbers in perspective, we’ll see that Turkey is hosting about 1.8 million Syrian refugees, and Lebanon (a very small country of 4 million people) is dealing with over one million.”

“We say go back. There’s no space for you here.” – Hollie McNish


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Run Girl Run

CaptureA couple of adverts that made me smile today:

The “This Girl Can” campaign from Sport England, aimed at encouraging women to take up sport and overcome any worries about not looking pretty or jiggling around while doing it.






And Diet Racism. For people who aren’t openly racist, but who silently support the structure.

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The Criminal Migrant

Pop Quiz: Which group of people do we reserve indefinite detention for in the UK?



*drum roll* It’s migrants. Specifically, those who cannot be deported to their home countries. As the charity Detention Action puts it:

“Across Europe, migrants are wrongly detained when they cannot return to their countries of origin.  Only the UK detains them indefinitely for years.  20 unreturnable migrants tell their stories of detention.”

Think about it. Your life is suspended and you have no idea when you will again be free.

It’s a cruel irony that many of those detained here like criminals are actually people fleeing persecution. Yesterday, the charity Women for Refugee Women, which has repeatedly flagged the mistreatment of female asylum-seekers detained at Yarl’s Wood, released a new report, I Am Human, detailing the abuse suffered by a number of women at the hands of male guards at the centre. Often these women are already victims of sexual abuse.

From the Guardian coverage of the report:

“Women detained in the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre are routinely humiliated by male staff who monitor them while they are dressing, showering and using the toilet, or are naked in their rooms…”

Unsurprisingly, a number of the women interviewed were on suicide watch at some point during their time at Yarl’s Wood. Serco, which has the contract to run the centre, had its contract renewed for another eight years despite multiple allegations of sexual assaults on detainees by staff.

According to the Guardian:

“In June 2014, the centre’s management said 31 allegations of sexual contact had been investigated and a number of staff were dismissed.”

I actually don’t have a pithy ending to this post. I will just point out that while the government is happy to hobnob with Angelina Jolie and talk about violence against women, it refused the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, access to Yarl’s Wood to investigate these allegations when she visited last year.

The government got a lot of positive press for the conference with Jolie. I’m sure a lot of good came out of it. But if you’re judged by the company you keep, it should speak volumes that the Special Rapporteur has drawn parallels between the UK’s behaviour on Yarl’s Wood and Bangladesh’s refusal to let her inspect a notorious refugee camp:

“If you look at my Bangladeshi report, I was denied entry to a refugee camp and I have made a note in my report, in the same way I will put in the UK report that I was denied entry to Yarl’s Wood.”


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I’ve been a fan of Roxane Gray since I read Bad Feminist. She’s thoughtful and honest, unafraid to wade into the grey areas and tease out nuance.

I found myself nodding along to her recent article for the Guardian on the Charlie Hebdo aftermath:

“There are times when silence equals consent, but is the loss of someone else’s life really such an instance? Is it reasonable to assume that if je ne suis pas Charlie, I tacitly endorse terrorism?

I believe in the freedom of expression, unequivocally – though, as I have written before, I wish more people would understand that freedom of expression is not freedom from consequence. I find some of the work of Charlie Hebdo distasteful, because there is a preponderance of bigotry of all kinds in many of their cartoons’ sentiments. Still, my distaste should not dictate the work the magazine produces or anything else. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo – and writers and artists everywhere – should be able to express themselves and challenge authority without being murdered. Murder is not an acceptable consequence for anything.

Yet it is also an exercise of freedom of expression to express offense at the way satire like Charlie Hebdo’s characterizes something you hold dear – like your faith, your personhood, your gender, your sexuality, your race or ethnicity.

Demands for solidarity can quickly turn into demands for groupthink, making it difficult to express nuance. It puts the terms of our understanding of the situation in black and white – you are either with us or against us – instead of allowing people to mourn and be angry while also being sympathetic to complexities that are being overlooked.”

Increasingly, on Twitter, I find myself at a loss for words. Twitter is great for pithy, quick responses, succinct bursts of outrage or joy. Most of the time I revel in the robustness, the rambunctiousness of it all. But sometimes it seems inadequate. I didn’t really tweet much about events in Paris because I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t be trite – but there’s more to it than that. I didn’t really say much because beyond an immediate expression of grief and dismay I knew there was a lot that I was still working out. Gay captures this need for a ‘pause’ perfectly:

“Life moves quickly but, sometimes, consideration does not. And yet, we insist that people provide an immediate response, or immediate agreement, a universal, immediate me-too –as though we don’t want people to pause at all, to consider what they are weighing in on. We don’t want to complicate our sorrow or outrage when it is easier to experience these emotions in their simplest, purest states.

The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more I want to pause. I want to take the time to think through how I feel and why I feel. I don’t want to feign expertise on matters I know nothing about for the purpose of offering someone else my immediate reaction for their consumption.”

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