Category Archives: racism

Go Read a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman

I hesitate to say this because I am white and I am English, but I am calling bullshit on much of the discussion I have seen about Go Set a Watchman. The discussion about this book  should not be about whether or not it should have been published or whether or not it’s a good book. The discussion should be about racism.

We should be talking about institutional racism (a subject the book raises explicitly and addresses unsatisfactorily). We should be talking about what we do when good people we love expose themselves as racists (the central topic of the book and presumably of Lee’s life, and one it addresses discomfortingly). We should be talking about what we do about changing racist communities we are part of (again a central topic of the book, and one it answers weakly). We should be talking about being a White Ally, especially about being a bad White Ally, and about racism in the Northern States (all things the book exposes, possibly without meaning to). We should be talking about hindsight bias and revisionism, confirmation bias and blind-spots (again, exposed on every page). We should be talking about the links between the easy assumptions of class superiority that Lee makes and the racism she rejects.

These are the elephants in the room and the fact that the conversation is not about any of these things tells us so. And the more that people make the conversation about other subjects, the more they are sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “la, la, la I can’t hear you”.

So, yes, the book should most certainly have been published and yes my friend it’s worth reading. I will go further – I think you should read it because of Charleston, because of Portland, because of Ferguson, because of Mark Brown, because of Trayvon Martin, because all of this is happening now 50 years after Lee drafted the manuscript and submitted it to a publisher.

Is it well written? – Yes, but not as well written as Mockingbird. Get over it.

Will it change your view of Mockingbird? I don’t know.

It changed my view of Mockingbird, though I want to read that book again.  I now think of it as a fairy story and as a dangerous one at that because it’s a way for people to say “Oh, I’m not a racist, I’m Atticus, or Jem, or Scout”. I now see the artifice in Mockingbird: I see Scout’s clear-eyed wisdom as artificial, no six year old was ever that wise. I see also the naïveté in the assumption that Atticus and the Finches could possibly not be racist in a society where people owning other people was still a matter of living memory. It’s hard to read Watchman as a draft not a sequel but at one point in Watchman the adult Jean Louise says to Calpurnia “Please, I’ve got to know. Did you hate us?” and shivers go up your spine as the silence lengthens. Having said that, I link below to clearer-eyed reviews of Mockingbird which see it in a more nuanced light.

Did Lee give full and knowing consent? – I don’t know. She seems worryingly vulnerable, so possibly not. I am however certain that circumstances have given us a double gift, and we should read Go Set a Watchman, engage with it, and be grateful.

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I’ll ride with you Charlie

Thank heavens I’m English, for truly we & the French are the only people worth being in Europe just now.

There’s no doubt, however Brutal it sounds, that they must be wiped out & sat on once & for all; they are only savages apparently, & as such have no place in Europe.

There are my grandfather and his brothers, fighting the Germans in the First World War.

And from To Kill A Mockingbird:

“Miss Gates is a nice lady, ain’t she?”
Why sure,” said Jem. “I liked her when I was in her room.”
She hates Hitler a lot…”
What’s wrong with that?”
Well, she went on today about how bad it was him treating the Jews like that. Jem, it’s not right to persecute anybody, is it? I mean have mean thoughts about anybody, even, is it?”
Gracious no, Scout. What’s eatin’ you?”
Well, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates was— she was going’ down the steps in front of us, you musta not seen her— she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it’s time somebody time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themelves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home…”

I refuse to let Fundamentalists edge me towards racism or fear of believers. And by ‘Fundamentalists’ I mean yesterday’s murderers of the #CharlieHebdo cartoonists, but also those who have a fundamentalist or absolutist response to that outrage and who make things worse, not better.

I am not my grandfather.

#IllRideWithYou

#JeSuisCharlie

#JeSuisAhmed

John Donne, Meditation 17

As others see us

Which of our attitudes will horrify future generations?  What blind-spots will show up large and clear for all who follow us to point at in sneering horror?

I thought about this because of the discordant notes I found as I read the pre-war letters of the Mitfords and a couple of light-weight romances about English middle class life in the 1930s by Angela Thirkell.   The Mitford letters are in a class of their own and Unity’s breathless descriptions of Hitler are almost beyond comment.   But Thirkell shocked on a more banal level, with its casual, almost colloquial anti-semitism (the heroine’s publisher is good at business and has dark hair,  legacies of Jewish ancestry), its incidental acceptance of ritualised brutality (a  schoolboy who has a toy called “foxy” which is the tail of the fox that blooded him, mounted in to a silver handle), and the assumption that driving a car into a ditch is nothing more than carelessness (perfectly normal because you are drunk or showing off).   Oh and the entirely unironic statement that someone was  “adored by her servants”.  Yeah. Right.  

So which of our assumption and norms will chime as discordantly on our offspring’s ears?

  • Our casual consumerism.
    Our economic woes already makes this seem e
    xtravagant, it won’t be long before it is in poor taste and finally becomes unfashionable.  The question is whether the economy will recover enough before the oil runs out for the indulgences of the previous decade to occur again.
  • Sweatshops.
    I hope future generations judge as as harshly for buying clothes made in sweatshops, wearing them once and throwing them way, as we judge those who opposed Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish slavery. 
  • Recreational travel.
    The idea that responsible, intelligent people who can see the climate changing before their own eyes would indulge in recreational travel without compunction will, surely, be as abhorrent as … oh fill in your own exploitative and selfish horrors here.  And so much business travel is unnecessary that it’s no more than an indulgence.
  • Personal transport.
    Says me.
  • Plastic cutlery and plastic packaging.  
    Our hydrocarbon-starved progeny will  curse us for taking something as rare and unrenewable as oil and turning it into something indesctructable but used only once, and tossing it away into landfill.
  • Landfill.  
    The mines of the future.  Hey kids, curse our names, eat our shit.
  • Our dual standards around obesity, dieting, size zero and BMIs.
    Next time you are in a supermarket, count the magazines by the till that are running two cover splashes, one on the dangers of anorexia or dieting, and the other jibing at some poor famous neurotic’s gain in weight.
  • Our hypocricy about the sexualisation of childhood.
    Same as above.  Newspapers simultaniously run “string-em-up” rants about paedophilias and drooling comments like those about the then 15-year old Charlotte Church’s breasts.
  • Our simultanous delight in technology and indulgence in pseudo-science.
    My mind’s run out of things to say.  Just read any ad for cosmetics or the incomparable Dr Ben Goldacre.

Ach, that’s enough to be going on with.

Incidentally, it isn’t just about when people live it’s also about how they react to their times:  Thirkell is particularly insensitive to the darker side of the 1930s but her conteporary Margery Sharp had a much clearer understanding of the social and political nuances of the times she lived in.

Yelping about babies and bathwater

Every now and again I back myself into a conceptual corner and sit there yelping in confusion and distress.

I realised very clearly the other day just how subversive feminism actually is. I’m not sure that women can live financially and professionally independent lives without un-weaving society around us. I don’t think we can have our cake and eat it. It’s an unsettling thought – particularly from a position of feminine freedom and privilege.

But feminism is good – right? I mean it’s freedom and self-actualisation isn’t it? How can that be wrong?

But communities are good – right? They’re caring and supportive networks of people reaching out to help each other. When communities fall apart we end up with underclasses and gang warfare and drugs and knives and guns.

Shit! I’m turning into a Daily Mail reader before my very eyes.

I’ve always known communities aren’t necesarily either caring or supportive. There are too many places in the world where you can’t be gay or trans or bi, where you can’t be a woman and educated, where you can’t be poor and ill, where you can’t be an atheist and hold office for me to think for a second that communities are safe places to be. But on the other hand, we are social animals and we do need some glue to hold us together: if you are a round peg, then those round holes and cosy and snug.

What I hadn’t realised is that if you are a woman and you don’t suit the community you are born and raised in, then you will either damage yourself or undermine that community.

I realised this when I had lunch with a friend the other day. The friend is Asian, 30ish, educated, professional and has a strong stream of self-determination in her temperament. So far so westernised. She is also a sincere believer in her religion and a committed member of what she refers to as “my community”. Her religion, her family and her roles as a daughter and aunt are part of her identity. But she doesn’t want to become another one of the submissive women she sees around her, tucked in to an arranged marriage and made bitchy and manipulative by boredom. She wants to be herself within her family, her friends and her religion, and respected for it. It’s like looking back in time to the 50s or the period before the first World War. My friend’s position is very much the same as that of my grandmother’s sister a century or so ago who left home to become an actress: to do that she left her family, any hopes she had of marriage, her friends and the places she knew. These things are more common than not in the West now, and we forget how hard they were.

My friend wants to have her cake and eat it, and I don’t think she can. Communities function best when men work and women don’t (oh, goddess, the Daily Mail) because men bond when they are active and women bond when they talk. This isn’t how it should be, not in a society of human beings where the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are more or less taken care of. But darwiniansim sucks and it’s an observable fact that communities start to fracture when more than a few of the women work, and communities where the men don’t work fall apart. Social cohesion happens when women share conversation, motherhood and domesticity and men win bread or hunt mightily.

You can see why this thought has left me yelping. Unfortunately we can’t wrap ourselves up in warm value judgements about social justice, ethics and how things should be: this is a matter of wiring.

So women like me, my grandmother’s sister and my Asian friend, who aren’t mothers, who work in predominantly male environments, who have friends of both sexes, who network rather than gossip, we pick away at the glue that holds communities together.

And women like my friend and my grandmother’s sister have to choose between cutting off one part of their identity of suppressing another. Individual western women are luckier: we don’t have such strong and cohesive communities and families to constrain us. But collectively are we worse off?  They are not there to support us either, because we’ve torn them down pay-cheque by pay-cheque and latch-key by latch-key.

Which means that the mad feminists of the 70s who said that the patriarchy were inherently opposed to wimmin’s freedom were right.

The mad feminists AND the Daily Mail?

Shit.

Beauty and the Beasts – Big Brother again I’m afraid

Hopefully this will be my last post on the Big Brother Bullying thing. I saw very little of the actual programme, but thanks to YouTube I’ve seen gory snippets and the eviction interviews.

Shilpa

In her exit interview, Shilpa struck me as being prudent, diplomatic and politic. She had no idea what the British public thought of the bullying, no idea how supportive it was of its local stars. Sure, she’d won, but at that point of course she had not seen the whispering that went on behind her back, so she did not know just how unpleasant Danielle, Jo and Jade had been about her. This is not to say that she was not telling the truth in her interview, but I doubt that she was telling the whole truth. She struck me as someone who was behaving with extreme caution based on very few cues. I find her grace, self-possession and poise to be admirable.

Jade

By far the most illuminating thing Jade said in any of the three interviews I found on YouTube was “I don’t know any (no?) other way to fight”. The only way she knows to express disagreement is by screaming foul-mouthed abuse. I find that both shocking and plausible. It makes me feel sorry for her, but crucially I am sorry for her for different reasons than she is sorry for herself. If she does want to grow up then her starting place is right there. It depends on whether her “advisers” have the maturity themselves to hear what she said in that interview, and find appropriate professionals to help her. (I did find myself wondering just how badly she had pissed her agent off, to make him or her recommend Celebrity Big Brother to her. You can see the stitch marks all over this).

One other thing which was interesting though was she said that she had no idea that she was a leader. She said that she could see it in the videos, but she had not seen it in herself. It is just possible that in the right hands that could be used as the positive point to start building some self-respect and adult responsibility.

You see, Jade reminds me of a three-year-old, in particular in her interview with an obviously uncomfortable Dermot O’Leary and in an interview with an invisible News of the World interviewer. She kept on wailing how sorry she was, but her subtext appeared to be “I’m sorry, please like me, I’m sorry, please like me, I’m sorry, please like me.” She seemed to be eaten by insecurity rather than guilt. Now I don’t recommend guilt as an emotion, but it is at least the first step on the road to remorse on to responsibility and adulthood. She has now checked into the Priory with “depression”. I am sorry, but acute unhappiness is not depression. I’ve been in both spaces. They are very different. She is in the “Mummy make it go away” phase which – to be honest – one should have grown out of by the age of 9. Again, this is not to say that she isn’t honestly desperately miserable right now, but she seems incapable of accepting that the situation is of her own creation.

Danielle and Jo

Danielle and Jo show the self-awareness of logs, I am afraid. Or maybe they have just marginally more self-control and self-respect than Jade, and are simply not wailing all over the red-tops. Danielle did do a very whiny interview in the Mirror, saying that Big Brother hadn’t shown her being nice to Shilpa, unfortunately this was only after she had been told to shape up in the Diary Room, and she seems completely unaware that being nice does not wipe out being nasty. Incidentally, if Teddy Sherringham did decide to end their relationship while she was in the house, then he most certainly should not have said so in public. It just makes him seem as shallow and nasty as the long-legged shit-smelling beauty herself.

Jo I find the most interesting. She denies that she has done anything wrong, which shows that she is herself standing up to the bullying of the press and the other meedja.

Both Danielle and Jo said “I giggled because I was nervous” – so someone briefed them well before those interviews. Most people with nervous giggles have no idea they are doing it.

Ach, it’s all nasty, shallow and unpleasant. But plaudits for Shilpa who “had the grace to hold herself when those about her crawled”, and hold herself in a way which neither Marilyn nor Diana ever managed, for that matter.

I wonder if she’s a gay icon yet.

Jade Goody to be interviewed by police

Police to talk to Goody over ‘Big Brother’ racism row
Hertfordshire police said yesterday that they are trying to interview Jade Goody about allegedly racist comments aimed at Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty during her stint in the Big Brother house. So far the 25-year-old has been unavailable for the inquiry … There was further bad news for Goody when she accused of “legitimising” bullying in schools ….
The Independent
Also the BBC

I said that Channel 4 was thinking in legal terms not ethical ones. As another example, the editor of the News of the World waited to resign until after the jail sentance was handed out to his journo. No point in doing the decent thing if you can get away without it, is there?

It seems that today’s cynics know the laws about everything but have values about nothing.

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Right and wrong, black and white

Channel 4 seem to be happy to broadcast what they term “cultural” and “class-based” bullying. It seems they did almost nothing to stop Jade Goody and the other housemates bullying Shilpa Shetty. This suggests to me that the reason that they wouldn’t broadcast “overtly racist behaviour” is because racist actions are illegal. If they are basing their decisions on what is and is not illegal, then they are ignoring questions of morality, ethics and human decency. I wonder, did they take the advice of Lawyers or did they go to their Public Relations people? Did they take anyone’s advice at all?

So why IS bullying ok when racism isn’t?

Racism and BullyingBullying and racism overlap in a venn diagram: not all bullying is racist and not all racism is bullying. So far, so obvious.

There are legal structures around racism, of course; racially motivated attacks in the UK carry greater sentences than mere thuggery and you are legally protected from racist bias in the workplace.

Presumably racist acts are illegal because it is relatively simple to legislate against them. After all, it is the action which is legislated against, not the attitude. It is racial, (or sexual or homophobic) discrimination which is illegal, not racism, sexism and homophobia. In all conscience, it is hard enough to prove discrimination in a court of law or a tribunal.

Racism is a prejudice that cannot speak its name. No-one in their right mind is going to stand up and say “I am a racist” – witness Mel Gibson’s retraction of his anti-Semitism last year. People will however ascribe the most appalling bigotry and prejudice to “cultural differences” and get away with it. Call me naive, but I fail to see why prejudice based on “cultural differences” is morally any better than racism. It is not as socially unacceptable, and it is not legislated against, but it is – surely – just as bad morally. Channel 4 has used this get-out-of-jail-free card itself, and allowed Jade Goody and the other housemates to use it, thereby perpetuating the pernicious myth that it is ok to express prejudice based on another person’s culture “because that isn’t racist”.

I really have to conclude that Channel 4 is morally bankrupt. It seems to me that the only reason they stepped in at all is that racial harassment and racial discrimination are illegal. If they weren’t illegal, I suspect that they would not have stepped in.

It seems that they do not know the difference between right and wrong, only the difference between black and white.