Category Archives: News

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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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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Thoughts and Prayers and…

Maybe it has always been the case, but after the mass shooting in a Texas church earlier this month, I noticed a backlash to politicians trotting out the phrase “thoughts and prayers..” – especially politicians who in the next breath went on to affirm, as always, that an epidemic of mass shootings has nothing to do with a need for better gun regulation in the US.

Time Magazine took an interesting look at language, cliche’s and grief which noted that

Politicians (and journalists) have long turned to cliches because of the nature of their work. It’s grueling and repetitive, often requiring them to communicate a message to a whole districtful of people, if not an entire country. They generally want to do this in language that won’t be misconstrued, that doesn’t leave them vulnerable to attacks, that feels familiar. Cliches aren’t just overused because they’re clever; they are also safe. You can assume people will know what you mean when you use rhetoric that so many have used before you, even if it is stale as old toast.

However, it also pointed out that the backlash may have something to do with the fact that:

Repeating the same language can even feed into the feeling that mass shootings are becoming normal and unworthy of deep, sustained attention, much less legislative action.

I’ve noticed some religious people offended at the backlash, taking it as more evidence of an increasingly sceptical world when it comes to spiritual matters. But I think there’s more to it than that. Grief takes you beyond yourself. Everyone responds differently. Some will find comfort in other people’s prayers, others will not – and that goes for those who are spiritual or religious as well as those who are not.

But I do think that those of us who are part of faith or belief communities who trot out cliches and then decline to take any action in the face of gun violence – especially Christians, who tend to be the most high-profile offenders, need to sit in the backlash and feel the burn.

We should burn if we offer people cliches instead of transformative action. Prayer is not meant to be a passive act. If you are really praying about the issue of gun violence, if you are truly in a dialogue about it with God, then I don’t know how you can not be changed by it, especially if you are a policymaker who can take meaningful action.

Prayer is not meant to be a wish sent up to heaven, it’s a dialogue – and one that should charge you to do something. We are here, fragile flesh and bone, with hands and feet to transform the world we live in, supposedly for the better. I don’t understand how politicians can claim to be praying one moment, and cling blindly to the ideology of guns the next, as if somehow this is a sacred issue that was enshrined once in law and can never be reopened again. And do so in the face of such overwhelming suffering of their fellow citizens.

The backlash against the cliche of thought and prayers is richly deserved. Maybe shame will do what prayer and compassion apparently cannot.

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New Tings

This has not been a good year for blogging. But I haven’t been dormant; far from it. I have done some great panel events at Universities, I have written some new work coming at politics from a slightly different angle and I have been working on (supervising the building of) a new website.

So, here is my new (est) ting:

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I will keep working out my thoughts on here, like a newsletter into the ether, but I will start collating my work on the new site and hopefully showing my portfolio in a more holistic way.

 

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Where does it hurt?

I don’t have a hot take in me for the events of today: the Turkey attack. Germany’s. The news that UK-made cluster bombs are being used in Yemen. Amnesty’s report accusing the Burmese military of perpetrating crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.

Right now we need the arts more than ever: poets, comedians, artists, sculptors, writers, painters…

So a poet then, with the words for these times:

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.” – Warsan Shire

 

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Top Trumps

So, that happened.

As I’m writing about it in other capacities, which I will post here later, all I’ll say for now is this:

  1. It’s the done thing to say that not everyone who voted for a racist (misgoynist, fascist…) is racist (misogynist, fascist..) themselves. Ok. But these attributes were clearly not a deal breaker, which means you are….racist-adjacent? I think that nuance has been lost on the KKK, who are now loud and proud, alongside your garden-variety casual bigot. It would be great if less time was spent trying to carefully whittle out the nuances of the Trump voters and coddle their feelings and more time spent looking out for the minorities who feel thrown under the bus – or, perhaps even challenging racism as emphatically NOT the response to any grievance, real or perceived. NB: Loss of privilege is not persecution.
  2. It wasn’t a working class revolution. Nor was it about the “left behind”. The one thing that trumped every identity (Christian, women) was whiteness. But apparently, this isn’t white supremacy. So… is this white supremacist-adjacent? That nuance has been lost on minorities, who overwhelmingly voted for decency (and yes, email scandal or no, I’ll take average politician over cinnamon Hitler).
  3. We need playwrights, artists, poets and comedians more than ever to tell us the truths we need to hear. The New Yorker’s 16 essays on Trump’s America is a good start.
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The Briefing Room

On Thursday I was on the BBC’s Briefing Room programme talking about Black Lives Matter UK. For those that listen, my intake of breath towards the end wasn’t deliberate and sounds more dramatic than it was meant to be!

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