Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The vote for white privilege

America's election of Donald Trump represents a number of things in my mind..... as I shared with anyone Black, White, Republican, Democrat, Conservative or Liberal who cared to listen today, the results were evidence that Americans hate Black People, Latinos, Gays, Female Leaders far more than they love their country.

I say this unapologetically because they made a decision to take the biggest gamble with someone who has zero experience, has never held an elective office, and who has said and done the most despicable things we have ever witnessed in American politics. This apparently was because they couldn't bring themselves to vote for a woman with decades of experience who not only promised to represent but has a track record of representing the most vulnerable members of the American population which includes the so-called White majority who feel left out and is "hurting".  America rejected the candidate that said there is a place for all of you and embraced the candidate who said there's only room for those who are like me - white male and privileged.  In a nutshell, America chose Hate over common decency, pragmatism, optimism, stability.

I also think that fundamentally the election results are a reflection of the sense of entitlement that White America feels - the rhetoric of "I'm hurting so it must be the fault of the Blacks, the Mexicans, the Muslims, the Syrians, the Gays - they are to blame for my factory closing and a new one not being opened in its place". They are to blame for the death of the manufacturing industry despite clear evidence that this industry is dying all over the world. It is the sense of entitlement that prevents White America from taking a long hard look at itself and asking how can I adapt to fit into the modern, digitized, fast-paced world. And it is white privilege and pandering to it that makes politicians promise to bring back long derelict factories and manufacturing jobs rather than providing clear evidence of worldwide trends and providing alternatives for the so-called left behind masses to adapt to the new world we live in and specifically to globalisation.

Today, I lost it and spoke through tears as a colleague - a White Liberal - tried to explain to me that Hillary could have done more to reach out to those who felt disenfranchised, who felt that the economic growth that Obama has achieved against the odds, has not benefitted them. I lost it because I believe that the only way to appease these people - the Trump voters - would have been to tell them that their grievances, their anger, their hurt was all that mattered. Simply repeating her pledge to fight for all Americans, in particular the poorer ones by making the wealthier pay their fair share, was not a strong enough message. Leaning further left than President Obama, was not enough for the White silent majority because in actual fact their rejection of Hillary Clinton and embrace of Donald Trump was never about jobs, or the economy or a rebellion against the establishment. It was a retaliation against a changing America, against a black President - in the words of political commentator Van Jones, it was their "whitelash".  The mere fact of having a Black President, who is undoubtedly one of the most successful presidents this country has seen, was more than their racist selves could handle.  Their sense of entitlement is so strong that they found a champion in a man who embodies all that is wrong with the world. He made a promise to them and no one else and they fell for it hook line and sinker.

But even we give White America the benefit of the doubt and agree that they have been ignored by the Obama administration - suffering in silence, we would be disingenuous if we don't also address the plight of other groups in society that have a lot to complain and lash out about.

Let's start with Black men for instance who have a one in three chance of ending up in prison. Let's process that for one moment - growing up in America, these are the odds that black boys face - if the statistics don't seem realistic to you, then please take a moment to watch Ava Duvernay's documentary, 13th.

Then there's the average college graduate in America, who have been told all they need to do is to work hard - they've done that, four years of an undergraduate degree, followed by a postgraduate degree, unpaid work experience...because they recognise that the world competitive and they have to do all that it takes to set themselves apart. They'e taken out loans and now they face the reality of a job, any job that simply pays them a living wage - their dreams deferred in favour of stability.  They earn a salary that covers their crippling student loan repayments, with just enough left over to live....not plan for a future....just live, one pay cheque at a time.

Then there's the American Muslim, who subscribes to the American dream with such fervour but has decide whether they are willing to openly display their religious beliefs for fear of exclusion or worse, retaliation. Their reality is one of having to jump through hoops to prove their loyalty to the country of their birth or nationality and the resignation to the fact that they will be racially profiled at the airport, and will be blamed every time someone that claims to share their religion commits an atrocity. They will be judged for not doing enough, they will carry the shame of that person, and be accused of not condemning the actions loudly enough.

Let's talk about the so-called middle class for a moment, a phrase which means very little other than a way politicians seek to appease Americans by suggesting those who belong to this group are an example of some kind of success. The reality though is with less and less job stability and greater income disparity, the middle class is constantly struggling to make ends meet and is more often than not, a pay cheque or two away from homelessness.

Last but by no means least, can we please address the elephant in the room - the Native American - the only group that can legitimately ask for their country back - the level of injustice  they face at every stage of their lives is astounding - 1 in 4 live in poverty, they lack access to healthcare and have a lower life expectancy rate. And yet everyone acts as though they don't exist and each year we celebrate taking their country away from them and retell the lies of American history erasing any agency they had in the future of their country.

So White man or woman who is hurting, please take a number and get in line. Not only is gap between rich and poor growing in America, it is growing all over the world. The difference between the USA and other parts of the developed world is that people in other devloped nations can take comfort in the fact they have access to a decent education and free or affordable healthcare - two areas that President Obama made his focus and that your President Trump will single-handedly destroy.  I'm sorry but I refuse to give you the benefit of the doubt when you claim to be justified in rejecting excellence in favour of insanity because you're are hurting. On the one hand you claim to be anti-big government but yet expect the government to fix your situation? What happened to pulling yourself up by your boot straps? Isn't that the same thing White America has been telling the descendents of those it once enslaved for decades, without even the slightest irony? 

The truth is you voted for Trump because you believe that the government is here to serve you and you alone to the complete exclusion of others!  And that is precisely what Trump sold - it is what he represents to the majority of White America! A leader who will fight for them, place their interests ahead not only ignoring others but to the detriment of others. Isn't the adage, God Bless America....and no one else?.

Your vote wasn't a protest vote against the establishment, it wasn't about electing someone who tells it like it is - it was purely and simply about restoring White America to "its rightful place" - a place that has no room for anyone that looks different or thinks differently.

My only hope is that Trump will show you that, like you, he  is a selfish, shallow racist-misogynist who cares about no one but himself!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Dear America (specifically those of you who respond to the movement "Black lives matter" with "All lives matter"),

This morning as I listened to NPR's newscast, I heard about a fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer and thought it referred to the one that took the life of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge two days ago but it actually referred to Philando Castile in Minnesota just yesterday. 

On my morning commute, I watched the video of the fatal shooting in Minnesota and wept. I tried with all my might not to weep but I couldn't stop myself from sobbing and wiping my tears and sobbing some more. 

It made no sense to me - why would you shoot someone after giving them instructions and them following your instructions? Why would you shoot someone multiple times before assessing whether they are an imminent threat to you? Why would you handcuff their partner who again posed no threat and who remained calm throughout the whole incident which resulted in death of her partner in front of her child? Why would you treat her like a criminal when you should be getting her assistance? I don't understand it! 

And to those who want to sweep these extrajudicial killings under the carpet, let me ask you this - how many more black men and women need to be killed by enforcement officers before you acknowledge that there is a problem? Before you stop this crap about all lives matter knowing full well that your race is not endangered?

As a black foreigner living in America, I am apprehensive about driving around the country as I feel that makes me vulnerable to arbitrary stops by the police that could end up being fatal. I am apprehensive about my husband driving wearing a hood, walking, standing outside a hotel, simply living in full view of armed police officers because who the hell knows what the next reason will be for a black man to be killed. I am apprehensive about my son misbehaving in school, messing around in a playground, being in a certain neighborhood, being the naughty 10 year old he sometimes is, because God knows what could happen in a country that has zero tolerance for black children. 

I am sick and tired of hearing white people, black people who think they're exempt from police brutality try and justify it - he should have taken off his hood, he shouldn't have been out at night, he shouldn't have been selling loose cigarettes, she shouldn't have answered back to that cop, he shouldn't have been playing with a toy gun, he shouldn't have had his music on so loud, he shouldn't have run! These are not valid defences for murder - so stop focusing on the victims and start focusing on the perpetrators. 

Black lives matter because they are endangered - because many people in America do not value them - because many people in America think they can be taken away - because many people in America's justice system believe there should be no accountability for those who kill black men, women and children. 

So let me remind you that Black lives do matter. They matter and we will continue to remind you of this in the hope that it will some day register with not just the killers but also with the apologists.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The unintended consequences of our democracy

Many of us are still reeling from the UK's vote to leave the European Union - and by all accounts even those who voted to leave are having second thoughts or had secretly hoped their votes wouldn't count for anything.  Apparently some of the leave voters explained that theirs was a protest vote to send a message to the UK government and the EU. Sadly their gamble landed the whole country in a big mess and reversed a 43 year old relationship sending the world stock markets nose dived losing about $2 trillion dollars. And by all accounts for as long as there is uncertainty, the chaos will continue and it will continue to affect us all. For me, what became abundantly clear from the fact that we now have to deal with the repercussions of a British Exit caused by the Reckless, the Stupid, the Uninformed and the Xenophobic, many of whom acted on the blatant lies and the fear-mongering of those leading the "Leave Campaign", is that democracy ain't all it's cracked up to be.

To quote a friend - on why the F David Cameron would gamble with our lives and our children's future - "What the hell do we elect politicians for if it's not to make choices?" Therein lies the problem - the notion that the people should be consulted on every decision especially one so major is just absurd. The reality, as we are now witnessing it, is that we should never assume that everyone who has the right to vote, gives it the level of seriousness or solemnity that it deserves. For some people a slogan "We Want Our Country Back!" is enough to send them into fits of nostalgia about bygone days of the British Empire when their beloved nation successful managed to invade  90% of the world. For others it's those "bloody foreigners coming here and taking our jobs" despite the fact that reliable sources including the Conservative government's own reports note that employment trends have been the same for decades and that the most important factor for unemployment rates has been the economy rather than the influx of immigrants. And let's face it with an unemployment rate that has in fact fallen to 5%, we're 0.3% worse off than the US and 0.8% worse off than Germany. There are the claims about our national health service (NHS) and the strain being a part of Europe has brought on it, yet independent sources note that EU immigrants make a more positive contribution to the NHS than UK natives both in terms of the jobs they occupy and the contributions they make when they work. And then there are those who feel that we have inherited Romanian/Polish/Bulgarian criminals who have apparently brought with them a wave of crime and it's all because the EU has forced us to accept them as Europeans instead of regarding them as less desirable than our Western European pals. The reality is that national crime rates are down and they fell significantly in areas of the UK that has experienced mass immigration from eastern Europe.  There's also this claim repeated so often by Boris Johnson (the leader of the "Leave Campaign") in spite of its inaccuracy, that the EU is threatening our sovereignty because we don't get to determine everything that happens with our money and within our country. The reality, however, suggests otherwise - in fact Section 18 of the European Union Act 2011 stipulates that EU law has effect in the UK only because UK law so provides and in a 2014 case, the UK Supreme Court ruled that in the event of conflict between the country's fundamental constitutional principles and EU law, UK courts should give priority to our fundamental constitutional principles. 
But let's put fact and law aside for a moment and simplify the argument - when you join anything, be it a gym, an education institution or let's even say a religious cult, there are rules by which you have to abide in order to secure your membership or affiliation. So why would it be any different for the largest economy/trading bloc in the world? Why would we assume that we can reap the benefits - 48% of our trade in April 2016 - without adhering to the rules that go with that relationship? The even greater irony is that  many of those rules despite what the leaders who are so concerned about your welfare would have you believe, have actually benefitted the ordinary UK citizen including the numpties who voted to leave:
  1. According to a 2011 Government report, being part of the EU single market may have resulted in benefits of up to 6% higher income per capita (about £3,300 a year per household);
  2. Membership in the EU has allowed UK citizens to study, work and access social benefits in all EU countries;
  3. The EU has strict rules that requires its members to ensure the cleanliness of drinking water, and of the water in which we bathe;
  4. The EU Climate and Energy Package is a set of rules that compel EU states to meet key targets including a 20 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions and a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency;
  5. Under EU law, it is illegal to make an employee work for an average of more than 48 hours a week; 
  6. Temporary Agency Workers Directive aims to guarantee that those hired through employment agencies get the same pay and conditions as employees in the same business doing the same work;
  7. The EU Court of Justice has ruled that individuals have the right to demand that search links remove links with personal information about them, if that information is ‘inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive’;
  8. Low cost airlines and coach companies have flourished because EU law has reduced the bureaucratic burdens imposed on them by national governments.
  9. The EU has scrapped mobile roaming charges within its borders meaning that British travellers can make a call in France without facing exorbitant and unfair roaming fees when they return home;
  10. The EU has reduced the costs for deploying high-speed electronic communications networks and investments in broadband networks supporting high-speed internet and regulation of the use of wireless technologies, such as 3G and LTE.
The claim that the EU is undemocratic because we don't get to control those who make decisions that affect our lives is the same claim that people who did not vote for the Conservative party but are being governed by them or did not vote for Brexit but now face the prospect of no longer being part of the European Union can make. It's called democracy. Just because you're outnumbered doesn't make it any less democratic. As far as the 28 member unelected EU Commission is concerned, the reality is that the country does have a say in their selection - they are nominated by their government and serve a term of five years. Simply because every Tom, Dick, Harry and Tracy of the British population isn't consulted during that term doesn't make the process undemocratic. To put it simply we elect our leaders, they make decisions on our behalf including a decision to select those who will make decisions in the EU. 

In all the Brexit hysteria, those who campaigned to leave on lies and half-truths fail to acknowledge the role Britain itself has played in the world and why many immigrants and children of immigrants have every right to claim a home in their former "motherland". That the first and third largest immigrant groups in the UK come from a former British colony (once a single nation) should come as no surprise given the fact that India and Pakistan (formerly known as the British Indian Empire) were plundered by Britain for decades with the spoils still present in British Museums and on the Queen's head, makes an even stronger case for them claiming Britain as their home. 

But beyond that, the fear of immigrants simply does not reflect the reality - there are over twice as many Irish immigrants in the UK than there are Nigerians immigrants. And despite the use by UKIP of an image of Syrian refugees arriving in their thousands, which was in fact a photograph taken of refugees arriving in Slovenia, Britain has granted asylum to just over 4000 Syrians refugees since 2011; nearly 10 times less than Germany! 

The UK referendum on EU membership proves that the brand of democracy that the Western World peddles so faithfully and so condescendingly all over the world, simply does not work without an educated and informed voting population and without an outright ban on misrepresentations by politicians campaigning for one side or another. As things stand, uninformed voters make decisions based on headlines without reading the fine print or fact checking, and the rest of the country, and because of globalisation, the rest of the world, has to deal with the repercussions. Elections are not practice runs and democracy should not simply be about one woman/man one vote - decisions that affect our economy, our future and our children's futures cannot be treated like an episode of X Factor. Now that we are faced with the reality of a British exit, even if unintended by some, that will no doubt force the EU to do some soul searching,  we can only hope that the next UK leader will do the same. At the very least when faced with the choice of gambling the country's future in exchange for a majority rule, they will ask themselves the question - should a decision of this magnitude be left in the hands of the British population? 

Monday, 29 February 2016

The 2016 Oscars or When Chris Rock lost his Integrity

Why do I get the sense that people who ought to be able to stick to their principles, increasingly demonstrate that when the chips are down, they choose awkward acquiescence over confrontation, which while difficult, at least demonstrates that they still possess that rare quality called Integrity. Let me explain..
The Oscars happened last night after a social media campaign that seemed to finally bring home the message about the lack of opportunity and recognition given to actors/directors of colour in Hollywood. 
The #oscarsowhite campaign seemed to finally get the Academy to pay attention.  An announcement reassuring the public that they could and will do better. It was a start and many of us felt that maybe things would change for the better.
And then on the night of the ceremony,  someone in their infinite wisdom thought it would be better to make light of the campaign by reducing it to a series of disrespectful gags. We went from a campaign that included a poignant message to a case of "it's those blacks complaining again". In the words of Chris Rock "not everything is about sexism...not everything is about racism".. as he made a case that the #askhermore campaign was oversensitive because in his opinion, there was nothing sexist about reducing a woman's red carpet interview to an episode of "let's dress Barbie". In Chis Rock's words - the reason why the interviewers don't ask men is because they're all wearing the same thing. I assume that the racism portion of his argument referred to lack of awards not necessarily meaning that the Academy is racist. Perhaps like Charlotte Rampling, Chris Rock thinks it may simply mean - black people were terrible in films this year In other words let's all (women and people of colour)stop being so damn paranoid. 
Then there were the short videos - remakes of the year's nominated films with black Hollywood stars who joked about being the real stars of the films or more deserving than the white actors who starred in them. 
And as if all that wasn't enough for us to get the message from the Academy, there was the "let's end Black History Month on a low note" part. This is the one where Stacey Dash known for her "Stop complaining about slavery and asking for special treatment black people and just work harder" philosophy was brought out to wish us all a Happy Black History month. The same woman who has argued that there is no need for a Black history month. So the message I can only assume was let's ridicule things that matter to you black people. Wow...thanks Academy!!
Oh and did I forget to mention Chris Rock reducing Jada Pinkett-Smith's very valid boycott to a jibe about the insignificance of her opinion because she was not invited anyway. So essentially no one cares what you think because you are not even part of this prestigious club that I've been invited to. It's like the Mexican Trump Campaigner advocating for 'the wall' now that he's on the inside of the good ole US of A.  
Before I forget, there were also the interviews of black cinema-goers all of whom had only watched "Straight outta Compton" and none of whom had heard of or seen any of the nominated films. So in other words - why the hell should you be given awards for serious films when all you ever go and see at the cinema are Madea films? 
As I watched these clips from last night, I couldn't get over the total and utter disrespect shown by the Academy and Chris Rock. On the one hand the Academy  promised to do better while on the other telling Black people to stop their complaining because let's face it, worrying about who won best cinematography meant we weren't being lynched anymore. It's the whole #firstworldissues thing. Such a privilege to be able to sit in the same room as white people watching Brie Larson give an Oscar-worthy performance - why do we continue to bite the hand that feeds us?
The more I think about the Oscars - though I promise not to after finishing this piece - the more infuriated I become. The Academy just gave us a big F you and they got Chris Rock to hold their middle finger up for them. 
I hope upon reflection Chis Rock will see what a disservice he did to his fellow actors - those with genuine and valid concerns who either boycotted or voiced their concerns. By allowing the Academy to reduce their protests to skits and gags that suggest either sour grapes (cos you weren't invited) or petty squabbling (cos look how far you've come), he has undermined valid arguments about deep-seated racism that allow an unapologetic celebration of white privilege and continue to allow those in power to do nothing to create a level playing field for all. 

Sorry Chris but sometimes it IS sexism and sometimes it most definitely IS racism. It's sad that you can't face up to these issues without dismissing those with the courage to do just that!