Category Archives: Politics

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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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.

Capture

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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Still I Rise

For Black History Month, I wrote about Maya Angelou and what her work means to me for Migrant Voice.

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Patients not passports

When the government talks about British values, think about deliberate cruelty of Universal Credit:

“Already the evidence from Citizens Advice is that UC is pushing people further into debt. The National Landlords Association has just reported that four out of five landlords are now reluctant to let to tenants in receipt of housing benefit or UC. Food banks are buckling under the strain. Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that if all the cuts made to UC since it was first mooted were reversed, up to 1 million children could be kept out of poverty. As it is, they calculate lone parent families will lose a huge £2,380 a year on average by 2020. “

Then consider the hostile environment.

Today the government introduced up front charging for foreign nationals using the NHS. They already pay a £200 surcharge on top of taxes. And they already pay for hospital treatment. Now, this extends to NHS community services and will have to be paid in full before treatment is given.

And who is likely to be targeted, in a country where we don’t routinely carry ID documents? Those with foreign names, accents and anyone who “looks foreign” – whether they are British or not.

Doctors are protesting because they quite rightly want to focus on providing care, not checking people’s immigration status. But Theresa May’s endless border continues to encroach on community life – and what started as a regime primarly targeted at non-EU migrants continues to suck ever more Europeans and Britons into its net.

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I speak Navajo

I will say it again: I love BBC World Service. The programming is of such a high calibre. I still think their coverage of the Ebola crisis was second to none – they stayed with the story months after the headlines had moved on, letting Africans tell our own stories, with dignity.

This morning I caught the beginning of another great programme: I speak Navajo. It starts with the story of a young woman who discovered that her grandfather and great grandfather’s voices were being held in recordings at her university library, the journey she goes on to get them back, and the story of her tribe and that of others.

These are voices you don’t often get to hear, languages I have never heard before, stories and myths from a culture that survived deliberate attempts to obliterate it. It’s a haunting, mesmerising listen.

Christians Doing the Most

I say this as part of the community, as a member of the tribe.

Christians can be hypocritical, judgmental, cruel, tin-eared, venal, and all the other adjectives for the base things humans do.

We can also be loving, sacrificial, compassionnate noble, kind and all the other adjectives for the inspired things humans do.

Then there’s this:

Whiskey.

Tango.

Foxtrot.

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How Language Betrays Our Thoughts on Equality

I am having a nerdy week. So to kick it off, here’s a fascinating TED talk on how language betrays our thoughts on equality.

Language matters to me a great deal. I believe that one of the scariest things about this “post-truth, post-facts” age is that the language we use is slipping. It’s not the vintage racial slurs that are back in fashion; what’s sending my bat senses mad is the framing of issues around equality – be it racial, gender etc.

These are being framed as an “elite” concern and it’s not just the right, it’s liberals too, who are talking down “identity politics” like it’s a merry game we’ve all been playing in the last few years for our own amusement, and now it’s time to get back to the serious business of dealing with class and economics. (and Whiteness as the default. It’s not said, but the erasure of other groups is a whitewashing.)

It’s frightening though how that then informs what is “authentic” and worthy of political action. So, working class people of colour are erased in favour of dealing with white working class grievances. Which are just presented as neutral working class.  This authenticity dovetails into the discussion on nationalism which is only celebrated for its imperialism; any efforts to colour in the picture with the contributions of people of colour and indeed the effects of this imperialism on other people’s globally is seen as somehow inauthentic and invalid. Identity politics again.

Who we consider authentic has a bearing on citizenship. As we expand the hostile environment and move the endless border to encroach ever more on the lives of citizens – the rental market, at the doctor, where you are asked to perform citizenship again and again it throws into stark relief who is more likely to be considered “foreign” and therefore singled out. Every time you’re singled out it’s a reminder that you don’t belong, regardless of what your papers may say.

So, language matters. Framing matters too, because it shapes how we discuss the matters at hand. The right’s biggest victory has been in reframing the discussion on immigration, citizenship, belonging, Europe etc and liberalism’s failure is in trying to win on that turf.

We need to mind our words. They betray what we’re really thinking.

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