Tag 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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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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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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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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Poor Imitation

I am an avid fan of the Eloquent Woman blog, which I’ve mentioned here before. And in a thoughtful post, the speech trainer Denise Graveline reflects on Melania Trump’s disastrous speech in which she plagiarised Michelle Obama:

“No matter how you vote, I think it’s a shame that this happened to a woman speaker on only her second speech of the campaign. The Republican National Convention had just 34% female speakers on the stage, with this speech the most prominent by a woman. I’m ending the week feeling as if Melania Trump was not, at a minimum, well supported for this now-famous speech, in both the speech preparation and the spokesmanship about the controversy. In the end, this major stumble at what might have been the start of a high-profile speaking career is going to dog her steps going forward. Should she become First Lady, she might well want to avoid speaking publicly, which would be a big step backward for that role. This will frame her media coverage and her credibility. Her unfavorable rating was high going into the convention, and it will only increase now. And it should. In the end, the responsibility for a speech begins and ends with the speaker, no matter how many speechwriters you throw under the bus.” – Denise Graveline

In a subsequent post, Denise looks at the Melania memes. I like this post because although I’m no fan of the Trumps and I think Melania pales in comparison to Michelle Obama, she makes some good points about women in public life and how some of the mocking of Melania tips into slut-shaming and misogyny. Even if we disagree with her, she should be heard (and vociferously disagreed with).

“Even if we don’t agree with what she might say, we shouldn’t be about silencing her… I still plan to hold her to account for her words or her delivery, if those become a problem at a policy level or provide a poor example.” – Denise Graveline.

I think her post is a good reminder that as we go into the next eight years (I guess) of Trump, we should not shy away from challenging him and his policies, but we should be mindful of not letting that tip over into something more nasty. And while Melania married a dangerous bigot and is unelected, she will still be part of the Trump infrastructure in the White House so we should not discourage her from speaking. As the proverb goes, we should let them hang themselves by their own petard.

As the unparalleled current FLOTUS said, “When they go low, we go high”.

 

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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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