Tag Archives: race

Suarez got a longer ban for biting than racism

Football is a passionate sport. There’s none quite like it. If religion was the opiate of the masses, football is the methadone. It can elicit the most extreme of reactions from the most conservative of people, tears from the most stoic of men, and scenes of jubilation unrivaled by most sports. Children and adults unite in adoration and appreciation of a club, a player, or an awesome goal.

Sport, perhaps, is one of the few places along with finance, politics and celebrity where indiscretions and flaws can be overlooked and tolerated on the basis of talent – and this is especially true of football, where triumph over adversity is part of the story of many to have played the game – Pele and Maradona, for example. It’s full of romantic tales – local boy done good, rags to riches. All of these only serve to enhance the popularity of this pastime.

When Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield during their boxing match in 1997, taking a chunk of his ear with him, the punishment for this was a $3 million dollar fine and the rescindment of his boxing licence in Nevada, a move that was upheld by subsequent states, effectively banning him from boxing in the USA. Though the ban was later overturned, he would serve over a year out of the sport, returning to the ring in 1999. Overwhelming opinion was that biting was unacceptable, even in a sport where success is determined on your ability to hurt your opponent physically.

So we fast forward to now, and Liverpool & Uruguay player Luis Suarez, who has just been banned for nine international matches and four months of all football-related activity by the world football governing body FIFA, following his bite on Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s game against Italy at the World Cup.

It’s not the first time Suarez had bitten an opponent on the field – in fact, it was his third such transgression. Previous bans of seven and 10 matches respectively had failed to overturn his penchant for using his teeth on the field of play. This time was different; this was on the world stage, in a World Cup which promised to be marred by political unrest in the host nation but, to FIFA’s relief and advantage, had been relatively controversy-free until the Suarez incident. An international ban would not be enough of a statement to make. A strong sentence was necessary. Children bite. Animals bite. Adults should not bite. Professional athletes should not bite.

Football often is a great mirror of society. All the flaws of the latter can be found in the former. From the stands to the pitch to the administrative bodies, football has a sexism problem, a racism problem, and increasingly a class problem, with the working class priced out of a sport that they helped to elevate to such heights.

Opinion has been divided following the ban. There are those, such as the Uruguayan team, the  press and even Maradona, who think the punishment is too severe for the crime. There are also those who think the ban is just, as it is the third time in four years he has done such a thing. Controversial stars are part of the allure of sports. They elicit polarising and extreme opinions from those who hate and love in equal measure. Yet every so often there are controversies we are unable to overlook.

Whilst this was a third bite, and as unacceptable as biting is, Suarez has actually been found guilty previously of a far worse crime – racially abusing an opponent on the pitch.

For that, he served a mere eight-match ban – a ban which was met with indignant howls from fervent Liverpool fans. A ban which – in the press as in the stands – revealed that football, much like society, still had a racism problem and it couldn’t be confined to just the supporters; it was now playing out on the pitch.

In any other profession, were you to be found guilty of racially abusing a colleague in their place of work you would not have a job to come back to. That Suarez was not only able to return to his job a mere two months later, but would go on to be seen, through the eyes of a few high profile journalists, as redeemed is part and parcel of the problem, and why we find ourselves here again with this deeply flawed player.

Significantly, this third bite and subsequent ban has not been enough to impede on Suarez’s career options. The player is rumoured to be in talks to move to Barcelona in an £80 million transfer, the club seemingly unbothered by the non-apology for the incident offered by Suarez, where personal responsibility was absolved in double-speak. “I’m sorry my teeth hit you when we collided” isn’t quite “I’m sorry for biting you” but at least an apology of sorts emerged, despite previous claims at the time that he was a victim, not the perpetrator. Patrice Evra is still awaiting an apology for being racially abused.

In the aftermath of Suarez’s racial ban, many were subjected to some of the worst racial abuse online. Abuse that came from challenging the media and journalists that this, unlike his previous biting or cheating at the World Cup in 2010, would have far more serious repercussions to just excuse as another indiscretion.

And so we return to football mirroring society. When we fail to properly hold people to account for their actions, not merely because they’re high profile or role models, we do a disservice not just to the game, but wider society. We reinforce injustices across wider society, and allow them to play out.

For this reason, we can accept the ban as retrospective justice of sorts and properly examine why we so often overlook that which would not be done so in most professions.

Perhaps, had racism been treated as seriously by the FA as biting has been by FIFA, if fans and journalists had engaged their sense of morality rather than looking for the easier story and resorting to tribalistic tendencies, then Suarez would not have been predisposed to bite a player for a second time, let alone a third.

Jude Wanga is a human rights campaigner, activist & freelance writer. Follow her @JudeInLondon

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Brown beauty: from TV to the high st the beauty industry is still racist

As a woman of colour who finds great joy in wearing lipstick, I’ve long understood that that some make up products were off limits to my skin colour. Foundation and concealer samples provided free with women’s magazines would smear, chalk-like on my skin. There was a universal skin colour aimed at consumers, and I wasn’t it. But there were other products- mascara, lip gloss, nail polish- that I could buy without a feeling of unease.

Still now, women of colour have to consider paying three times as much as our white counterparts for makeup products that match the colour of our skin. What’s stocked in lower end shops such as Boots and Superdrug does not cater to us. So, if we’re into make-up, we head to the brands that cater to professional make up artists who work with all kinds of faces- MAC, Nars, and Bobbi Brown, to name a few.

We’re consistently reminded that our attributes are not the ‘norm’ – the norm being white, of course. This attitude is endemic. Turning up to take part in television interview recently, I was sent to hair and makeup before appearing live on air. There was no concealer available for the colour of my skin, and no comb for the texture of my afro hair.

So it wasn’t a surprise that some of the UK’s most well-known beauty brands ignored the existence of women of colour attending the Afro Hair and Beauty Show on May’s bank holiday weekend. Instead, the show was chock full of not just hair companies, but smaller, independent brands too. There are products from high street companies that women of colour buy from regularly, yet for some reason, our interests are considered niche. It doesn’t seem to make business sense ignoring a large concentration of women in the same venue all weekend, all of whom would have been more than likely to buy products if the brands were exhibiting.

The Afro Hair and Beauty Show isn’t anything new, and there aren’t many reasons to ignore the show, beyond ignorance and marginalisation. 2014 was the show’s 33rd year in business. I can understand the reasons behind its existence – mainstream brands were not, and still aren’t acknowledging women of colour. Whilst it’s important for women of colour to organise separately until we have adequate representation, it’s no longer acceptable for those who dominate the industry to tune out black women’s efforts.

Afua Adom, a journalist working at Pride Magazine, summarised the problems succinctly in an interview with trade website Features Exec. ‘It’s sad to say, but some companies (namely Topshop) and PRs still aren’t keen to send us images or clothes for shoots because they are just, to say it simply, racist. Just because we are a magazine for black women doesn’t mean we don’t reach a huge number of people. It’s silly and makes them look really small and petty.’

And so magazines like Black Hair, Pride, and Black Beauty continue to exist. Black media isn’t just about politics; it’s about creating the representation that’s denied to us. Black women beauty bloggers are organising separately from the mainstream movement and the parallels to the historical splits in feminism are undeniable.

Ever resourceful, it’s up to women of colour to organise and kick up enough of a fuss until we are heard. With the explosion of successful beauty bloggers online in recent years, it was black women on twitter who came up with the idea of a weekly beauty discussion on Sunday evenings. Scroll through the hashtag #brownbeauty at the right time of day and you’ll enter into discussion on co-washing, hair texture, or hand creams. It has recently evolved into a website, Brown Beauty Talk, edited by marketing guru Ronke Adeyemi.

Ronke explains to me why she set up Brown Beauty Talk. ‘ We saw a gap in the market for a platform, a dialogue for women of colour to discuss beauty – topics like choosing the right shade of foundation, or transitioning hair from relaxed to natural… We also try and do a bit of lobbying with mainstream brands.’

With consumer influence transferring from traditional beauty editors in the press to bloggers and vloggers reviewing products online, the insulated, echoing whiteness of the PR industry reveals itself. It is public relations professionals who work on behalf of beauty brands to try and gain as much coverage as possible. Just 2% of people working in the PR industry identify as black or Asian.

Echoing Afua Adom’s comments on Topshop, Ronke says ‘There’s a massive disconnect between us and the decision makers… black bloggers still aren’t being invited to PR outreach events. We have a long way to go. Just look at Stylist Magazine – it doesn’t reflect the multicultural city it’s distributed in. We actually approached Stylist a while ago, and we asked ‘where are the women of colour?’ They were astounded. They didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.’

At the root of the problem is the question of who gets to participate in constructions of femininity. Whilst I can get behind feminist critiques of the restrictiveness of femininity, it’s important to examine who gets to access it in the first place. There’s no denying the beauty industry is institutionally racist. Brands that do not cater to black skins in the West sell skin lightening creams in other, blacker parts of the world. When femininity is still considered the arbiter of womanhood, we have to hark back to abolitionist activist Sojourner Truth who, in 1851, asked ‘ain’t I a woman, too?’

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a black feminist writer and campaigner based in London. She is Contributing Editor at Feminist Times, blogs at http://renieddolodge.co.uk/ and tweets @renireni

Photo: Wikimedia

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The ‘Model Minority’, like the ‘Virgin/Whore’ dichotomy, is man-made

Most East Asian people living in the West are aware that we are considered a “model minority”. Asian children study hard, we are told. They do well in exams. They shine in Maths and Science classes. They go on to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers, excelling in their chosen field and enjoying high levels of success. Racial discrimination? Nonsense — everyone knows that if you work hard enough, there’s nothing stopping you from achieving just as much as white people do.

Right?

Well, no. In study after study, the idea that East Asians have somehow managed to rise above racial oppression through hard work and a positive attitude has been debunked. The media may squawk about the achievements of East Asian students yet, when entering the workforce, Asian American women will make 40-50% less than their similarly qualified white classmates. In the UK, East Asians are rendered nearly invisible, with TV and theatre providing extremely limited opportunities for actors, other than painfully stereotyped, minor characters.

Among the Asian American community the poverty rate is 12.1 per cent, compared to the white community’s 9.9 per cent, and rising to 27.4% among specific South-East Asian groups – a fact that is conveniently ignored by those seeking to uphold Asian people as a shining example of success and sprinkle us with empty praise.

So where does the model minority myth come from? As it turns out, it was deliberately and carefully created by politicians in the 1960s, as a direct response to the African-American Civil Rights Movement, which was taking large strides towards combatting racial discrimination and segregation. The message was unambiguous: “As a person of colour, you have only yourself to blame if you do not succeed. The Asian community succeeds through hard work, not by demanding political change. Why don’t you be more like them?”

Sadly, this campaign proved extremely effective and many in the Asian community actually believed in it, leading to the growth of offensive, anti-black sentiments, as in the infamous book The Triple Package by Amy Chua, where she argues that inherent characteristics determine the success of different races, while ignoring structural inequalities.

Being a woman of colour, this tactic of ‘divide and rule’ to uphold oppression is strikingly familiar to me, and is a perfect example of white supremacy taking lessons from the patriarchy. The concept of ‘good minorities’ and ‘bad minorities’ echoes the ‘virgin/whore’ dichotomy, where ‘good girls’ are distinguished from ‘bad girls’, and taught to fear and despise them.

‘Good girls’ do not wear revealing clothing. ‘Good girls’ do not get drunk. ‘Good girls’ do not sleep around. ‘Good girls’ are self-sacrificing and self-effacing. In return, ‘good girls’ are promised the approval of men. Men will respect you, they say. Men won’t hit you, or rape you, or kill you. No, that only happens to ‘bad girls’. ‘Bad girls’ who sleep around, who get drunk, who lead men on. ‘Bad girls’ were asking for it. What did they expect? They have no one to blame but themselves.

When it comes to female success in the workplace, the same tactic rears its ugly head. The figure of the ‘strong, independent woman’ is held up as an example to all women, a promise of what women could achieve, if only we could be more like them. Observe Sheryl Sandberg, witness Marissa Mayer. These women negotiate, they take opportunities, they demand a seat at the table. Countless books have been written about how female leaders can succeed; too many ignore the need to demolish discrimination and barriers that hold back all women, and focus instead on what the individual woman should do to circumvent these obstacles while leaving them perfectly in place for the next woman to navigate.

Needless to say, the concepts of the ‘good girl’ and the ‘strong, independent woman’ are just as flawed as the construct of the model minority. You may be wildly successful in your career, even become the highest paid woman in your field, but what you earn will still be a mere fraction of what your male counterpart does. Similarly, the most certain predictor of rape or male violence occurring lies with the attitudes and decisions of the perpetrator, and is not determined by what the victim is wearing, or how she is behaving.

These lies are an insidious tactic wielded by the white supremacist patriarchy, in an attempt to focus our attention away from structural inequality and towards individual responsibility. It strives to tear asunder the unity of the oppressed classes, encouraging us to blame one another for our own oppression. It fosters antagonism between people of colour, dangles the promise of white acceptance over the heads of East Asians in exchange for their complicity in maintaining anti-black oppression, teaches girls to view their sisters with contempt, and tells successful women that women who do not rise to their level are simply not good enough. And while our attention and blame is focused within, the white supremacist patriarchy continues to thrive without.

The parallels between these tactics are stark and for me show why we cannot compartmentalise sexism and racism, fighting one and then the other as if they were separate and distinct issues. White supremacy and patriarchy are embroiled in a nefarious alliance, feeding off and nourishing each other to uphold oppression. They are unified and, if we wish to combat racial and gender oppression, our efforts and solutions must be too.

Joy Goh-Mah is a feminist writer based in London. She blogs on issues related to feminism and race at Crates and Ribbons, and is a part of Media Diversified. Follow @CratesNRibbons.

Picture source.

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‪#‎GenderWeek: Race shatters the idea of a shared female experience

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Safe spaces exist in political circles for safety and security away from oppressive attitudes – sexism and racism, to name a few. When structural inequalities permeate daily life, it is a relief to spend time with others who get it. Some safe spaces invite allies to join; others come with conditions of exclusion. Those exclusions are applied to those who don’t have similar lived experiences, who are more than likely to engage in oppressive behaviour. Women-only spaces are an example of this, gay clubs another, but each holds its own flaws.

Exclusive spaces are not limited to the politics of liberation. Work places, school places and social spaces show time and time again how exclusionary spaces are informally created. Those who are similar to one another tend to gravitate towards each other. Exclusive spaces tend to expel difference, and they tend to lack a power analysis. Exclusive spaces are not always safe. They can reinforce power and collectively punch down on a regular basis. They can be echo chambers that resist challenge and the possibility of growing. Trans exclusionary feminist spaces are the latter.

Women-only spaces have always been a contentious issue in feminism. There’s a strand of politics in feminism’s broad church – often called trans exclusionary radical feminism – that argues that trans women are not women, thereby excluding them from women-only spaces. Further still, some of these feminists compare trans women to white cultural appropriators. Rachel Ivey, of US based radical feminist and environmentalist group Deep Green Resistance, compares trans women to cultural appropriators in a 40 minute radical feminist manifesto on Youtube.

But writer Savannah G deconstructs this argument in a great post on Autostraddle, saying:

…these things are not analogous because cultural specificities have to do with a group of people forming, over time, a local context and traditions. There is innumerable evidence that undermining such cultural specificities (through colonization, globalization, etc.) leads to mass-scale human suffering, and is in fact virtually always a component of genocide.

Neither woman-typical nor man-typical clothing resides in the same realm as such local cultural specificities. A person with a penis wearing woman-typical clothing does nothing to undermine “woman culture” nor vice-versa. For example, when women began wearing trousers more commonly in the latter half of the 20th century, they did not do so as a result of male cultural coercion or colonization. Instead they did it out of a component of liberation: it’s called, given your local context, wear whatever the hell you want.

Racism is too often misused as a hypothetical metaphor to illustrate the injustice of some other issue rather than being an injustice in itself. In liberation movements there is a trend of comparing inevitably overwhelmingly white movements to fights against racism. Indeed, comparisons to racism often imply that the complexities of racism are widely understood – they are not – and that the struggle has ended, when it most definitely hasn’t.

Cis black women and trans women of all races have a lot in common when it comes to feminism. We complicate things. We disrupt women-only spaces. When we call attention to the power disparities between women, we shatter the idea of a shared female experience. When we have access to women-only spaces, we draw attention to the pre-existing hierarchies in place that haven’t disappeared just because of a sense of ‘sisterhood’. When we challenge racism and transphobia in feminist spaces we’re both often described as the same things: self-interested, divisive, bullies. By raising the problems of racism and transphobia in the feminist movement, we become the problem.

Black feminist contributions to political movements are often written out of history by our white counterparts. So are trans women’s. When Nancy Fraser wrote in the Guardian that feminism what becoming too capitalist, she excluded the anti-capitalist works from women of colour such as Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Himani Bannerji, Avtar Brah, Selma James, Maria Mies, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Silvia Federici, and Dorothy Roberts. Stonewall, now a charity that explicitly only advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, was initially a riot in which cis and trans LGB people fought side by side.

bell hooks called this phenomenon “white people fatigue syndrome“. This is the problem with these limited politics – there is a collective ‘forgetting’ that is inherently exclusionary. As a former English Literature student, there are more than a few comparisons I can draw with the exclusion of white women from the literary canon. They were forgotten. We are forgotten.

The transphobia displayed in some radical spaces is as conventional and conservative as the transphobia displayed in wider society. “There’s this widespread view of being transgender as a deviance or a perversion,” Gigi, aged 17 explains to me. “For example, the reactions trans people face when we want to use public toilets.” This culture of suspicion is repeated in the exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces. There is no difference. Women-only spaces aren’t safe if they impose the same hierarchical structures we aim to resist.

Both cis black and transgender women share an extra layer of having to fight for our humanity. Our existence is intersectional. We straddle awkward gaps. When it comes to the battle grounds of equal pay, gender quotas, reproductive rights, neither of us are the acceptable face of what it means to be a woman. We raise these points in feminism and we disrupt women only spaces.

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a black feminist writer and campaigner based in London. She is Contributing Editor at Feminist Times, blogs at http://renieddolodge.co.uk/ and tweets @renireni.

Photo: Google Images Creative Commons

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Hollywood still male and pale

In November we published an infographic produced by the New York Film Academy on female representation in Hollywood films. Their latest infographic looks at Black film and finds, to the surprise of no one, that Hollywood is not only still very male, it’s also still very white – despite 2013 and 2014 representing strong years for Black filmmakers.

New York Film Academy takes a look at black inequality in film

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Hackney’s Active Citizens

Shoreditch Trust delivers the Active Citizens programme in partnership with the British Council. The programme aims to increase the contribution of community leaders towards improving the environment around them, setting up enterprising initiatives to solve problems and creating sustainable change both locally and globally. They hope to encourage in their participants:

  • A strong sense of your own culture and identity
  • Knowledge and understanding of your local community
  • Project planning, leadership and management skills
  • Responsibility towards sustainable development
  • Recognise value in, and work effectively with, difference

Last month Editor Deborah Coughlin and Deputy Editor Sarah Graham led a workshop for the Active Citizens programme. Our workshop focused on how young people living in Hackney today can make themselves heard – how they can communicate effectively about issues that affect them, whether that be in a newspaper article or in a letter to their local council.

We asked everyone on the programme to think of something they feel passionately about that they would like to change; their concerns ranged from voluntary work while on JSA, to the lack of access to employment in theatre, and the abundance of cheap junk food on sale in their area. We then asked them to go and find one fact or quote on the internet that would back up their argument for change, before presenting it back to the group. The results from the workshop were amazing, with some of the participants feeling they could argue their case effectively for the first time, and we all came away feeling empowered.

We asked Active Citizens if they would allow us to print some of the resulting pieces to see what Feminist Times readers make of their arguments.

 

Kenneth Grinell, 26 years old, trainee chef

Kenneth

What I care about: support for job seekers on training courses

Recently I have been frustrated with the unemployment figures in the country vs the systems put in place by our government to aid people in finding work. My biggest gripe would have to be that people, like myself, who are attending a training course (non-paid) in order to gain employment in their desired field, are not entitled to get Job Seeker’s Allowance if the course is over 16 hours per week. This catch 22, that a lot of people are caught in, penalises those who are actively looking for work for no good reason. If the benefit is called Job Seeker’s, they should not discourage the public from doing so.

According to FE Week, “The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) has called for a new look at how the government’s flagship youth unemployment scheme will affect Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA).” They are also in talks with the DWP regarding the 16 hour rule. Although the various government departments are working together to solve this problem, no deadline has been given for a resolution.

Meanwhile, companies such as CDG (Careers Development Group), who have been hired because of the failing job centres around the country, are sending the unemployed on courses such as, “Employability Skills”, which exceed the 16 hours per week rule and provide you with a qualification that is not exactly sort after. This is only worsened by the fact that George Osborne announced his “work for dole” scheme, as stated by Channel 4 news. This basically means the long term unemployed will have to do 30 hours of community service per week, almost double the allowance for a trainee course. A fact they failed to mention in his party’s manifesto prior to their election. To me this is more of a hypocrisy than a democracy.

 

Lara Rodriguez, 19 years old, Open School East Student and Active Citizen

Lara

What I care about: young people being ignored by the government

Being a young adult in London is extremely difficult. We are not being heard. Danny Dorling (New Statesman 2013) agrees: “If you are young in Britain today you are taken for a ride”.

We are already at risk of growing up and being worse off than the previous generation. The younger generation are not being made aware of changes that are being made that will affect us; personally, I think it’s because the government does not target the younger generation as a voting primary, thereafter we are left in the dark.

Instead they target the older generations, who they know are keeping tabs on current events and are aware that their views matter and need to be heard. In 2010 only 44 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted in the General Election, compared to 76 per cent of those aged 65 and over. Watchdog has also revealed that 56% of voters aged between 17-24 are yet to be registered.

Compulsory voting would help keep away from this biased targeting and, according to the Think Tank IPPR: “Voting should be compulsory for your first election”. Even Shadow Lord Chancellor Sadiq Khan is considering making first time voting compulsory; this would be a very beneficial step to give young people their rightful voice to be heard, especially if the Labour party (if elected) plan to move the voting age to 16.

 

Marvin Davidson, 26 years old, Engagement and Training Programme Coordinator

Marvin

What I care about: Black History in education

I believe that it’s unfair to have Black history folded into such a small segment of the UK’s  educational curriculum where it’s all covered in the space  of a month (October). The majority of Black History in most westernised countries is fixated on slavery with little focus on or mention of inventors, leaders, change makers, scientists, freedom  fighters. I believe that there are numerous BME people who have made significant contributions to British history and place shaping – they are either mentioned briefly in Black History month or not at all.

I believe all children should be taught more about BME history and about what happened before and after slavery which hopefully might empower more BME children to see themselves in other positive lights.

I woud also challenge London’s museums and galleries to not only exhibition the work of BME citizens in one month of the year but to integrate this information into permanent collections and museum and gallery policy.

Significant leaders include the founder of Britain’s first black weekly newspaper The Westindian Gazette, Claudia Jones – a feminist, black nationalist, political activist, community leader, communist and journalist.

The Runnymede Trust has developed a Real Histories teaching resource to support and encourage cultural diversity.

According to the Guardian, “one of the recommendations of the 1999 Macpherson Report on the Stephen Lawrence case was a: “National curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism,” in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society. This is something the vast majority of teachers would unreservedly support whatever our views on the new curriculum. Yet we need to be clear that the draft national curriculum for history, if it comes into force, is very likely to set this cause back at least a generation. In fact it is hard to see how the Department for Education can have taken into account its legal obligations with regard to equality when devising it.”

 

Renalzo Palmer, 24 years old, trainee commi chef

Renalzo

What I care about: youth unemployment

I have recognised the struggle young people have to face in today’s society in order to find work. I believe if there was more opportunity for disadvantaged young people to access apprenticeships and structured volunteering that actually lead to employment or a career our government statistics would be a lot more acceptable.

This is a report from Newlonfusion.org in February 2013 stating that “there are over 954,000 16-24 year old in England who are not in education or employment (NEET) representing 1 in 5 of all young people of those (about 13%) live in London.”

I am a trainee chef at Shoreditch Trust and this is where I recognised the important work that is being done to help deprived young people in London. The Trust opened a restaurant to train young people like me to have the necessary skills needed in the catering and hospitality industry, which has been running successfully for 5 years now.

Renalzo

Trainees on Shoreditch Trust’s Blue Marble Training scheme at Waterhouse Restaurant, Hackney

 

Samuel Santulu, 25 years old, Assistant Producer/Session Musician

Samuel

What I care about: youth club closures

I believe that many children and young people in London really benefitted from youth clubs and investment in structured activities including myself. When I was a teen I witnessed a lot of my friends deteriorate when our club got shut down. Street life became a normal thing for them and older people took advantage of the young people.

Is there a link between funding cuts for local authorities and closure of structured youth clubs and activities? Youth clubs could be a safe haven for young people to go to when they want to socialise.

Evidence:

Professor John Pitts, who has researched gang behaviour for more than 40 years, says the “annihilation” of youth services, coupled with academies likely to favour middle-class students over disadvantaged children, could further disconnect young people from society and result in more entrenched gangs. “Services are not just being taken away from young people, they are being taken from poor young people,” he said. (Guardian, July 2011)

Hackney riots: ‘The message when youth clubs close is that no one cares’. Half the borough’s children live in poverty. Missing, too, are the summer courses that kept minds and hands busy. Many youth projects across London’s inner city estates have closed down due to funding cuts. Yet the capital dominates the child poverty statistics, with far higher proportions of poor children than other European cities – 44% of Hackney’s children live in poverty. For Candy, 14, on the Whitmore estate off Hoxton Street, that’s a poverty that sees her sleep each night under a coat on a bare mattress on a bare floor. “Sometimes we have food, and sometimes not much,” she says, opening an old, scratched fridge. Her mother is asleep on a plastic-covered sofa in front of an old TV. “She is not very well, she gets depressed,” explains Candy. Next door three children under nine are home alone. Their mother will feed Candy when she gets back from work for keeping an eye on them.” (Observer, August 2011) 

 

Timoney James, 23 years old, trainee commi chef

Timoney

What I care about: immigration

I’m particularly passionate about the balance of fairness and equal rights in obtaining a visa to work in the UK; I believe there is as huge deficit in terms of measuring how many people and family’s lives are being affected as a result of unfair immigration policies.

Evidence:

“The parliamentary group says immigration rules are too restrictive and a review is needed. New financial rules for migrants from outside the European Union are tearing UK families apart and causing anguish, a group of MPs and peers have said. They said thousands of Britons had been unable to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK since July 2012, when minimum earnings requirements were introduced.Children have also been separated from a parent, the parliamentary group said.” (BBC News)

To find out more about any of the projects run by Shoreditch Trust, visit http://www.shoreditchtrust.org.uk or follow @ShoreditchTrust

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Call yourself an “Intersectional Feminist”?

At one point, intersectionality seemed to be the hot feminist topic of 2013. In a ping pong style game of comment pieces, this was that sticking point that wouldn’t be silenced. But with a liberal press dominated by white feminist voices, there was a lot of pushback and misrepresentation, with very little right to reply.

It was a relief, then, when Dr Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw came to London recently giving a number of public lectures and a much needed defence of the concept. Currently teaching at Columbia Law School and UCLA, it was Dr Crenshaw who first gave the word life. In 1989 she named intersectionality – the gendered racism and racialised sexism that many black women had been articulating for decades, in her paper Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. In 1991, she wrote Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.

At her talk at the London School of Economics last week, the roots of the word were made public to a transfixed, full housed lecture theatre. It didn’t start out as a grand theory of power, the audience were told. It was an effective tool to help black women who were made invisible by US law.

When I sat down with Dr Crenshaw in the US Embassy a few days earlier, she explained why her law studies led her intersectionality. “That work started when I realised that African American Women were… not recognised as having experienced discrimination that reflected both their race and their gender. The courts would say if you don’t experience racism in the same way as a man does, or sexism in the same way as a white woman does, then you haven’t been discriminated against. I saw that as a problem of sameness and difference. There were claims of being seen as too different to be accommodated by law. That led to intersectionality, looking at the ways race and gender intersect to create barriers and obstacles to equality.”

It’s not only intersectionality that we can credit Dr Crenshaw for bringing to the public consciousness. Her writing in critical race theory was part of the body of work that formed the movement. With similar but also wildly different historical contexts, Critical Race Theory hasn’t taken off in the UK the way it has in the US. But we are making progress – with the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Research in Race and Education being a brilliant example.

I ask Dr Crenshaw to define Critical Race Theory. “We look at how historically, groups are organised against each other. We look at the ways certain outcomes are rationalised by a discourse of meritocracy, which doesn’t take into account the racial ways in which merit has traditionally been shaped and focused. We look at the geographies of race in particular societies, and what does that have to do with what people have access to, as a matter of ‘just life’, and what things people have to fight for in order to get. We look at things that are relevant to race as a process.”

“Historically,” she says, “people are raced. When you’re born, you’re not inherently anything. But you’re born into a society where your family has already been circumscribed, the group that you are part of has already been labelled; the country from which you come has already been framed as outside. All of these things are reproduced by laws, decisions and culture that don’t even have to say race in the specific in order to create it.”

Not unlike gendered social constructs, Crenshaw’s interrogation of what it means to be what we are labelled throws objectivity into the air. “We call it critical because we don’t naturalise race. We’re not illiberal when it comes to race which will mean ‘oh if we just ignore everybody’s race then everything will be fine.’ We’re critical of the social structures that produce race. We theorise how it gets produced, and more importantly what are some of the things that need to be done in order to dismantle those structures.”

So when was her light bulb moment, I ask. When did she realise she was a black feminist? “I realised this would have implications for me… when I was in kindergarten. We had a kindergarten teacher who put together all of the fairy tales into this song called Thorn Rosa. Everyone had a role to play. It was a little bit like Snow White, or Cinderella, or Goldilocks. All the kids would be around in a circle, and when it was your turn, you’d go into the middle of the circle and do your little thing.

“I played the horses, and the mice, and the dwarves, and the witch, and every other role, waiting for my chance to be Thorn Rosa…. We got to the last month of school and I started getting worried. I was like ‘I think my chance as Thorn Rosa is about to slip away!’ So I started pulling on the teacher’s skirt every day, asking ‘are we going to do Thorn Rosa today?’ We got to the last week of school and I was really on it. I was like: ‘I want to be the princess; it’s my turn to be the princess!’

“… I got this sense that I was somehow getting a message that I just didn’t have the same right to be Thorn Rosa as all of the little white girls. I needed to maintain the denial that there was some difference between me and them.

“This was the last day of school for everybody; we were supposed to be celebrating. I threw myself on the couch in the living room, just sobbing. All I could say was ‘Thorn Rosa!’ So the teacher came and explained – she came in, tried to calm me, said there’s more time next year. In the back of my head, I knew, ain’t no next year. Thorn Rosa is over for me.

“I think that was my point of departure. Knowing that there’s something about this black thing, and there’s something about this girl thing, that isn’t working out for me in the way that it’s working out for Sally down the street… That hurt hard. I knew what that was about. I’m not going to overinvest anymore… but I’m not going to accept it, either. I think that was sort of a ‘aha!’ moment for my black feminist budding consciousness.”

This anecdote reminds me of being about seven years old, so I relay it to her. I was one of the few black children in my class. I had a teacher who would walk through the classroom during art and say “don’t forget to draw those beautiful blue eyes.” I’d go home incensed, telling my mum “my eyes aren’t blue! What is she trying to say?”

“I think some of this stuff comes from really early on,” Dr Crenshaw replies, knowingly. “Either your fear of it, and the constant running from it, or your encounter with it, realising this is what it is, and that’s not right, and I’m not going to stand for it.”

I ask Crenshaw if she is aware that across the UK, many are now identifying as intersectional feminists. “Yeah,” she laughs. “I heard about that about four months ago. That intersectionality was being used as an adjective or a noun – a kind of feminist. It’s interesting. I’ve never called myself an intersectional feminist. I’m a black feminist that does intersectional work. I don’t have a strong sense one way or the other about how people self-identify.”

Yet, on this concerted effort to name a different kind of feminism, Crenshaw is optimistic. “I know that some people say ‘why do you have to call yourself a black feminist?’ Why can’t you just call yourself a feminist that does work that acknowledges the role of race in shaping the lives of women? So I do think that there is something being signalled by what you choose to call yourself. I hear that that signal is about one’s openness and inclusivity.

“I tend to focus more on what is the praxis. Can you tell the difference from an intersectional feminist project or organisation from one that is not, by the scope of the things that are done, by the analysis that looks at gender in relation to other systems of power and privilege? By the practice of how the groups that work together are constituted? I can image that there are intersectional feminists that actually do intersectional work, and intersectional feminists that are not doing that work. There are feminist groups that don’t call themselves intersectional that do the work.

“It’s useful to acknowledge that there is at least a move in consciousness away from the belief that just saying feminist necessarily entails articulating a perspective and a set of values that do attend to race, and culture and class and sexuality. That’s a move that wasn’t done 30 years ago, and it wasn’t done 20 years ago. I think that there are pieces of it that are worth thinking very carefully about. But the end of that can’t simply be ‘ok, yay, it’s all on a banner’. It’s about what is enacted under it.”

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a black feminist writer and campaigner based in London. She is Contributing Editor at Feminist Times, blogs at http://renieddolodge.co.uk/ and tweets @renireni.

Image: PBS Youtube

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Congo Stigmata: The day Ensler crucified herself

There’s been plenty of criticism of V-Day recently, most aimed at Eve Ensler’s account of examining the body of a Congolese woman who was undergoing a fistula operation, as the result of injuries sustained from being subjected to rape as a weapon of war. In this account, about her own battle with cancer, Ensler quotes a friend as saying: “It’s like you’ve got Congo Stigmata… The women have entered you.” She continues to say that one of her doctors has said: “These findings are not medical, they are not science. They are spiritual.”

This account led to me withdrawing my support and co-operation with the organisation, which had begun in 2009. I believe that V-Day has done some vital work and continues to make great progress in Congo. But there have been some very serious mistakes too, which have resulted in me and other women questioning future involvement with them.

I have seen the work done by V-Day in Congo, both when I have visited and when I have read accounts of what is happening. I also understand there is an urgent need for work to continue. The care people show at grassroots level is very genuine and there are many successes in the story of V-Day & One Billion Rising. City of Joy, which was built by women to help women who had gone through trauma to heal and recuperate, is a stunning achievement: a safe house for women discharged from Panzi Hospital following operations for horrific injuries. A place where they can learn skills such as reading and growing crops, helping them to become self-sufficient before returning to their villages.

V-Day also affords the women of Congo a platform to speak. When much infighting amongst feminists these days relates to the platforms privileged women have and the platforms marginalised women are denied, it is important to recognise that V-Day enables otherwise silenced women to speak out. By helping the voices of these women to be heard, it also gives the women a chance to draw attention to the problems they want to and influence the help they are given. The reporting on the situation in Congo is often removed from the lived experiences of its main victims – women – to focus on the male-dominated politics. In this respect the work of V-Day, and other charities like it, is simply invaluable, but it is not without its issues in the way it is implemented.

This is not the first time criticism of appropriation has been leveled at the campaign or the organisation. Other women of colour have expressed issues with Eve Ensler’s organisation, notably Lauren Chief Elk’s open letter to Ensler which was widely shared last year. Lauren Chief Elk’s issues with Ensler related to V-Day’s treatment of Indigenous women in Canada, and the letter details her experience in raising that criticism.

In Congo other forms of exploitation affect some of the women whose stories are hotly sought after this time of year. They want to tell the world their experiences and make everyone aware about what is happening in Congo, how they are involved, and what they can do to help. But the fact is that for all their suffering, they are not being adequately compensated. Journalists take these stories to earn a living. Of course, journalists do need to be paid, but there is a glaring disparity when the women interviewed are sometimes paid for their time in grain alone. To these women, this falls woefully short.

Women interviewed in Congo mostly give their consent willingly, often having the situation explained to them by a translator. But just because consent is given at the beginning, it does not give journalists and campaigners free reign to do what they want afterwards. Out of a sense of decency it should be treated with appropriate respect.

These are fairly obvious examples of exploitation, deliberate or not, and work is needed to eradicate them, but they are not necessarily the most egregious. One of the worst examples was, as I said, by Ensler herself in her recounting of a woman’s surgery. The descriptions were pornographic and dehumanising. It debased the woman having surgery and Ensler at the same time. It called into question whether Ensler saw the women in Congo as her equals. These women are not projects for ‘white saviours’ to help or projects to learn from. They are not living cadavers. For me, Ensler’s piece recalls the colonial practice of human zoos, black bodies offered up for white consumption, or the citizens of New Orleans coming to see the tortured slaves of Delphine LaLaurie.

To fail to think of these things as she wrote the article is illuminating of Ensler’s worldview. It’s easy to see how one could not think of these issues when making such a decision – white privilege and white supremacy would not continue dominating were it otherwise.

Another criticism faced was the use of dancing and the framing of a “joyful revolution” by One Billion Rising.

When I filmed my BBC 3 documentary The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women in 2009 on rape in Congo, I was invited to take part in dancing in the grounds of Panzi Hospital, where Dr. Denis Mukwege performs the types of fistula operations that Eve described in her article. It was incredibly uplifting and rooted in local custom. From the women, for the women, by the women. For some, it was a brief respite from their thoughts.

Inviting women to dance does prevent us from focusing on the root causes of the suffering highlighted by One Billion Rising, but dancing and singing are essential to Congolese culture. We sing and dance for many different occasions, for many different reasons. When my uncle died, as the family gathered to mourn, my aunts would frequently sing – hymns, tribal songs and dances that expressed their emotions. Whilst I agree that a joyful revolution alone will not solve patriarchy, I don’t see the problem in attempting a shared experience through dance.

We must remain mindful of the power imbalance between us and the women in Congo, carefully choosing which stories we share and how we share them. It is hard to think that the woman who gave consent for Eve Ensler to witness her surgery would have agreed had she known that she would have been reduced to her bodily presence, her “hole” as Eve described it, and not her experience or soul.

It seems clear the bureaucratic level of both OBR and V-Day need urgent overhaul. When a movement this big and this important only ever focuses on a figurehead, there’s a huge problem. The organisation’s work does not need a sole spokesperson; it is strong enough to speak for itself. On this, the media must also take some responsibility and so must OBR and V-Day, by remembering that the people who should be heard, and who should fundamentally provide direction, are the women they are trying to help.

Jude Wanga is a human rights campaigner, activist & freelance writer. Follow her @JudeInLondon

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The politics of skin lightening

Vanity Fair was last week accused of digitally lightening the skin of ’12 Years A Slave’ actress Lupita Nyong’o. Reni Eddo-Lodge looks at the impact of Eurocentric white supremacist beauty ideals on young women of colour.

When I was very little, probably younger than six years old, I asked my mum when I was going to turn white. It seemed very clear to me then. In the media I consumed and the narratives my young brain had absorbed, the good people were white and the bad people were brown. Fast forward ten years and, as an awkward teenager, my brain was consumed with wanting to be pretty. I would pull at my cheeks in the mirror. “I might be black”, I would think to myself, “but at least I’m alright looking”.

Like that ever rigid gender binary, the rules of the world seem concrete and absolute when you’re young. If I hadn’t started challenging those roles, I would probably be spending my entire life trying to chase them in a sorry effort to assimilate.

77% of women in Nigeria, the country where my grandparents were born, use some form of skin lightening products. It is against this backdrop that Nigerian-Cameroonian singer Dencia has released her new line of skin lightening creams, named Whitenicious. The product’s press release says the cream can be used for  “dark spots from acne, wounds, hyper-pigmentation and bruises”, yet in the promotional pictures Dencia looks several shades lighter than her original skin tone. Whitenicious sold out within 24 hours of its release.

Dencia has received a lot of criticism for releasing Whitenicious, but her move just capitalises on a skin lightening industry that is already thriving in Africa, Asia and India. It is an industry in which big multinationals make millions from the prolific, insidious nature of white supremacy.

Every woman of colour has battled with Eurocentric, white supremacist beauty ideals at some point in her life. These ideals act as the yardstick on which every woman’s beauty is measured by. With so many of our daily interactions dogged by patriarchy, this isn’t just beauty for beauty’s sake. Beauty is currency – and for too many of us, it’s interchangeable with self-worth.

Unlike Nigeria, the UK’s white supremacist ideals aren’t so aggressively marketed to women of colour. Instead they exist in a screaming, gaping absence. A woman of colour can walk into her local high street shop searching for makeup, only to find that the UK’s most readily available brands do not cater for the colour of her skin.

The absence starts young, with white, blonde Barbie dolls upheld as our first image of womanhood. Them we fixate on pop stars as our role models. You’d be hard pressed to find a successful black woman in that industry who doesn’t pass the paper bag test. The paper bag test was a system of exclusion, determining who was light enough to enjoy the fruits of high society in early 1900s black America; if you were darker than the brown paper bag, you were not invited.

It was Alice Walker who first coined the term colourism, and it was social scientists who concluded that this kind of discrimination was commonplace in countries that are based on a ‘pigmentocracy’ – where wealth, power and status can too easily be determined by the colour of an individual’s skin.

In communities of colour, many attribute the use of skin lightening creams to self-hatred. White people in the UK often attempt to draw some equivalence between skin bleaching and self-tanning. But the reasons behind skin bleaching are political. Despite people of colour making up the majority of the world’s citizens, globally, the colour of power is white.  This pursuit of power and status goes hand and hand with a systematic denigration of self.

It’s too simplistic to reduce the use of skin lightening creams to self-hatred or low self-esteem. That argument places the responsibility of accountability on the individual partaking in the practice without acknowledging a racist structure that preferences light skin over dark. These ideas of empire have taken root in the hearts and minds of everyone. It’s no longer about countries that have suffered colonisation – these ideals are recreated and reinforced, becoming a daily truth.

Politically, the demand of assimilation has always been levelled at those of us whom the structure doesn’t fit. In skin bleaching, this assimilation moves from rhetoric to imprints on flesh.

Image courtesy of @ReignOfApril on Twitter.

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#lifeofamuslimfeminist: Noorulann Shahid on how it began

The hashtag #lifeofamuslimfeminist was started by Twitter user Noorulann Shahid (@YxxngHippie). It began trending on Friday and maintained momentum throughout the weekend, offering solidarity and an insight into the experiences of Muslim feminists. We spoke to Noorulann Shahid about how it all started, and then look at some of the key recurring issues mentioned on the hashtag.

Feminist Times: Why did you start the hashtag?

NS: The hashtag was actually started accidentally. I was venting on Twitter and explaining the difficulties Muslim feminists face. When I originally identified as a feminist and began reading feminist literature, I had lots of Muslim men and women telling me that Islam had given me all the rights I’d ever needed and that feminism was a Western concept that had no place in Islam. So I had to prove that feminism and Islam were not mutually exclusive and attempt to de-stigmatise the f-word amongst Muslims.

As I continued in my journey, I found mainstream feminism to be quite hostile as it was dominated by white feminists who had lots of misconceptions regarding Islam and the hijab. Mainstream feminism shuns most minority groups such as women of colour, queer and trans* people so the idea of Islamic Feminism did not fit their narrative; they saw Islam and feminism as incompatible.

So essentially the hashtag began with me trying to explain the frustrations I faced as a Muslim feminist – navigating between Muslims telling you you don’t need feminism and mainstream feminism rejecting you. When this happens, there is nowhere you can position yourself comfortably. And it really just took off from there and snowballed.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.51.58

FemT: Did you expect it to take off like it did?

NS: Honestly? No I didn’t. I didn’t start off with the intention of creating a successful or trending hashtag, it began organically but took off exponentially. It began with me venting on Twitter through my smartphone and I never expected anything this big to come of it. But I’m so glad that it did because it has been so fantastic to connect with lots of Muslim feminists (mostly female, I have to say) but also lots of supportive non-Muslim feminists. I had no idea that there were so many people who shared the same sentiments as me due to the difficulties I usually encountered with Muslims and the concept of feminism.

FemT: Why do you think it struck such a chord?

NS: Women were using it to say, “look we know our Islamic rights, but these are just not materialising in reality. We are fed up of being held back by cultural patriarchy, misogyny and sexism- sometimes disguised as ‘Islamic’ and we’re not standing for it anymore.” Most Muslim women are very educated and know about the rights they are entitled to, but are frustrated that they are being denied them for various reasons.

I had, perhaps accidentally, created a (somewhat) safe space for women to engage with each other and talk about thei issues that they were facing daily in their lives, homes, community and society as a whole- such as gender roles, identity, double standards, behaviour, policing of their clothes by men and other women, sterotypes, cultural appropriation, intersectional feminism, misogyny, sexism, sex education, being outspoken, and much much more.

FemT: What impact do you think it’s had on other Muslim feminists, and on non-Muslim feminists reading the hashtag?

NS: In terms of Muslim feminists, think it’s given us all a much-needed sense of unity and togetherness.  It’s enabled us to connect with each other and have some great interactions about the challenges we face and how we can go about tackling them. I think it’s also been therapeutic in a way as it’s allowed us all to vent. I have a feeling that a lot of Muslim feminists have perhaps felt like they haven’t been able to talk openly about prejudice, oppresson or patriarchy as they worry that it might be used against them by Islamophobes or other groups who staunchly criticise Islam.

In terms of non-Muslim feminists, I’ve had so much support and positive feedback from them. A lot of them were telling me that they respect my choices as a Muslim woman, lots were telling me that the hashtag has been so educational and eye-opening for them. The hashtag provided them with real stories, anecdotes and experiences of Muslim feminists and it was great to have their support and see them sit back and observe.

 

Featured image via Twitter

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A year in Black Feminism

It’s been an interesting year for black feminism, with a very current spotlight shone on black feminism as a political identity, and eagerness to openly discuss what this means. The sudden popularity of intersectionality has resulted in very public discussions of day to day manifestations of white supremacy, and honesty about structural racism and exclusion.

However, we have not come to this point without a great personal cost to the black women who have stuck their necks on the line to challenge the status quo. As the year draws to a close, I’d like to pay homage to some pivotal moments for black feminism in 2013.

Featured Image: Leyla Hussein on the Cruel Cut.

1. FGM hit the headlines

Daughters of Eve (Leyla Hussein, Nimko Ali and Sainab Abdi) is dedicated to end the practice of female genital mutilation, a practice that disproportionality affects women and girls from the African, Asian and Middle Eastern diaspora. In June of this year, Daughters of Eve teamed up with the NSPCC to launch a helpline to protect girls at risk from the abuse. In November, Leyla Hussein broadcast a powerful documentary about the abuse with Channel 4, entitled The Cruel Cut, taking FGM to the front of public consciousness. A Daughters of Eve’s petition, aimed at decision makers in the Home Office, is rapidly nearing the 100,000 signatures required to see the topic discussed in parliament.

2. Intersectionality went mainstream

Just a year ago, you’d be hard pressed to find an article discussing the personal impact of structural racism in the mainstream media. Now, an increasing number of women are redefining themselves as intersectional, as the broad church of feminism recognises a need to embrace a critical analysis that includes, but is not limited to, gendered oppression. 2013 saw high profile cases involving white female pop stars such as Lily Allen preaching feminism but using black women’s bodies to make a political point.

Earlier in the year, Mikki Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen trended on twitter, inadvertently serving as a tool for black women to air out some of the issues from years of putting up with racism and whiteness in feminist spaces. There is still a long way to go and much self-reflection to be had before all our feminisms are truly inclusive, but this year saw a tidal wave of change.

3. Muslim women said no to FEMEN

Topless Ukrainian group FEMEN bared their breasts in a number of protests this year, but their activism has been consistently marred by Islamophobic themes in their messaging. In May, FEMEN organised International Topless Jihad Day- a protest against what they called Islam’s mistreatment of women. But Muslim women swiftly bit back, culminating in a popular Facebook page called ‘Muslim Women Against FEMEN’. On the page, they said ‘We have had enough of western feminists imposing their values on us. We are taking a stand to make our voices heard and reclaim our agency.’ Then, in August, Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina Sbou left the group, telling the Huffington Post: “I do not want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organisation.”

Muslim Women Against Femen

Image courtesy of Muslim Women Against Femen

4. Southall Black Sisters took on the UK Border Agency

For decades, Southall Black Sisters have worked with immigrant women escaping for abusive relationships, and their work recognises the impact political attitudes to immigration have on the lives of these women. This year state approved racial profiling resulted in document checks at tube stations. White men in uniforms yielded their power to stop and search anyone who looked vaguely ‘illegal’ – a physical act of othering that stoked racial tensions in a context where the likes of the EDL’s Tommy Robinson and UKIP’s Nigel Farage already get disproportionate airtime on our television screens. When a UKBA van parked up outside their office this year, Southall Black Sisters fought back with direct action, and when the Home Office launched its anti-immigrant ‘Go Home’ campaign, SBS organised a mass protest.

Feminist Times visits Southall Balck Sisters protest against current immigration policy. from Feminist Times on Vimeo.

5. Dark Girls premiered in the UK

Dark Girls, a US-based film about the impact of white supremacist beauty ideals on black and brown women and girls across the globe, was released. In September, Dr Jude Smith Rachele, CEO of Abundant Sun brought the film to the UK. The film’s premiere ignited conversations about the consequences of beauty ideals, even bringing a short discussion of the topic to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. For black women, Dark Girls stirred memories of shadeism in our own communities and the importance of principled resistance to toxic beauty ideals that were never meant for us in the first place.

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a black feminist writer and campaigner based in London. She blogs at http://renieddolodge.co.uk/ and tweets @renireni

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TV (and Oprah) changed my life

Much praise has gone to the handling of the horrifying case of the three Lambeth slaves by Freedom Charity, the organisation the alleged victims reached out to, and the Police. But little praise has been directed towards the powerful catalyst at the heart of their consciousness raising, the spark that made the women feel they would no longer be held captive, that gave them the information to seek help – and that was TV.

ITV’s ‘Forced to Marry’ went out at 10.35pm on Wednesday October 9th, part of the same Exposure series that also outed Savile. This episode followed undercover reporters as they stung Imams in mosques around the UK who were prepared to marry 14 year old girls. It is reportedly this program that the three women watched and that motivated them to escape their situation.

You often hear people on This Morning’s couch say “well, if this helps just one person”, but it blows my mind when I am reminded of the powerful, messiah-like change TV has the capability of catalysing. Live Aid is a perfect example of this; Russell Brand on Newsnight, well, didn’t quite change the world but hey.

We know the change the Savile programme instigated for the hundreds of victims who suddenly felt able to come forward, bolstered by TV legitimising their experience. What the establishment, thousands of individuals and the BBC had kept hidden for years, one programme split open in under an hour.

Looking back at my own life I can see how television has had a powerful revelatory effect. Whether in my home life or as part of my education, it’s given me knowledge and tools that I didn’t get on the streets of Worthing.

In the 80s That’s Life taught me that violence and sexual abuse were bad and that children could call a new number – Childline. For the first time children were told they had rights through the television, and from that moment every mum and dad had to be more conscious of their parenting.

The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince, Simpsons and Roseanne taught me about race, sexism, body politics, sexuality, feminism, gender, politics and class. When Marge served up the Blinky to Mr Burns I learnt how one mum can make a big stand against the most corrupt and powerful. After watching Sandra Bernhard coming out in Roseanne I went to school feeling confident that being gay or lesbian was totally cool and fine by me, even though the education system I was in hadn’t quite cottoned on to that.

The biggest impact by far though was by Oprah. I’m not even sure how I watched her because we didn’t have ‘satellite’ – it was too expensive. Regardless, Oprah remains this dreamlike yoda figure from my childhood, omnipresent, but I never met her.

Oprah’s shows taught me about racism – she interviewed skinheads and neo nazis live on her show, was subjected to abuse, and all the while kept dignified as it got personal.

Oprah’s shows taught me about weight, eating, emotions and female body image – she’s been in full view, fat, thin and embarrassed in public by failing repeatedly.

Oprah taught me about sexual abuse by telling the world she had suffered. Then there’s a million other stories and ideas she’s helped spread in the world; imagine if she had been a monster. Imagine if Jeremy Kyle was that successful?

TV can be a much maligned medium, and no wonder with the likes of Geordie Shore, Ibiza A&E, Celebrity Undertaker clogging up so much time; sometimes it can seem like the whole schedule is taken up with guilty pleasures. (TV commissioners take note: I made up Celebrity Undertaker and have the entire pitch waiting for you if you want it.)

People are jumping ship. They don’t need to glue themselves to the Gogglebox for an evening when they can watch what they choose on Netflix or LoveFilm. But the wonderful thing about old fashioned telly was you were kinda stuck watching whatever Aunty or the others put on for you, and it’s that unwitting viewing that has the power to change. The wealth of ‘choice’ actually may be restricting our growth because don’t we just pick the same thing again and again.

Things I caught by accident the first time around – Louis Theroux, The Thick of It, Father Ted – I’ve been watching again and again. I’ve stopped discovering and am now merely consuming and regurgitating the same fodder because I trust it.

In a wonderful quote from Dr George Gerbner in a 1982 issue of Presbyterian Survey he notes that: “most people watch TV by the clock, not the program. They are more faithful to it than to church.”

Much like with the church, we don’t trust telly anymore. I don’t think we are too sure about how seriously the people behind it are taking the role of mass influencer. If TV seemed more aware of its power to raise consciousness, and this came through in the programming, then maybe people would give themselves over for a whole evening like they used to, and learn something they weren’t looking for.

Image courtesy of Alan Light

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VIDEO: Southall Black Sisters Demo

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) yesterday staged a demonstration against UKBA’s “Go Home” posters and immigration bill outside Eaton House, Hounslow, in West London.

A group of around 30 activists from SBS and other organisations gathered outside the Immigration Reporting Centre at Eaton House to “campaign against the racist targeting of the most vulnerable in our society,” many of them wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Do I look illegal?”

Writing for Feminist Times last week, Chitra Nagarajan, who is on the SBS management committee, said: “Politicians and media organisations reflect back a racist anti-immigration viewpoint to each other and make it seem like the norm. They continue to blame immigrants for economic woes. The government cuts the funding, housing and services available to immigrants. Their stated aim is to create a hostile environment that makes life unliveable… All of this has meant a heightening climate of fear for many, including women who have been subject to violence by their partners, whether or not they have leave to stay in the country.”

In August Southall Black Sisters protested against UKBA’s immigration raid in a Southall shopping centre – part of a series of tactics including the notorious “Go Home” vans and racial profiling at train stations across London.

Following a successful legal challenge by the Refugee and Migrant Forum East London (RAMFEL), UKBA shifted the message of their “Go Home” vans to Glasgow, Croydon and Hounslow, using a picture of a destitute person and the slogan: “Is life hard here? Going home is simple.”

On their blog, prior to the demo, Southall Black Sisters wrote: “there have been calls for inquiries and investigations into the government’s tactics. There is also a growing appetite to build an anti-racist movement. If the government can revert to the racism of the National Front’s ‘go home’ slogans of the 70s then we too can invoke the spirit of solidarity that underpinned the anti-racist movements of the 70s and 80s. Join us in demonstrating against the Government’s anti-immigration campaigns. We will not tolerate underhand tactics used to instil fear and divide us. Let us return to the streets and make our voices heard. We need to fight for our rights.”

They certainly made their voices heard, with a vibrant scene of drumming, chanting and supportive honking from cars passing on the main road, as you can hear in our video footage!

Feminist Times visits Southall Balck Sisters protest against current immigration policy. from Feminist Times on Vimeo.

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FiL: Lola Tinubu on BME women and secularism

Lola TinubuLola Tinubu has been a human rights advocate for 12 years, working as a legal representative for migrants and refugees. Many of her cases include victims of domestic violence, female genital mutilation and LGBT clients. She is a feminist, atheist and co-founder of the London Black Atheists (LBA). The LBA provides a supportive environment for black and others who have left religion or are leaving religion. Religion is central to black communities and atheists tend to suffer isolation and hostility. The LBA is a social and support group.

When and why did you become an atheist?

It’s always difficult to explain. I think I became an atheist in about 2007, through science. I was born into a Seventh Day Adventist family and I went along with it for a long time but I was confused. I would ask my dad questions and never get any satisfactory answers. My dad liked science and the science of the universe, so I started watching science documentaries with him. Through that I learned about the big bang and realised that what I was taught can’t be true. In the same year, Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion came out and I read it. I felt traumatised by the book and started reading more and more.

What are the particular challenges facing BME women as atheists?

When I became an atheist I suffered from depression for a year. It’s really difficult because everyone you know believes in God. It’s almost like religion is the fabric of society – everything revolves around religion, even your social life and language. When I became an atheist I was alone – thank goodness for the internet because I started looking for atheist groups, which gave me my own social network. It’s a very difficult thing because you’re looked at like you’re evil; people will be careful around you because they think you will bring God’s anger on them. It can be very isolating but now – I think because of the kind of person I am – people have accepted me for who I am.

Is atheism more compatible with your feminist politics than Christianity, and do you think religion is inherently incompatible with feminism?

Absolutely. Part of what I’m going to say on Saturday is I’ve always been a feminist since I was five years old. I didn’t understand why my parents, when they both went to work and would came back at the same time, why my mother would always be in the kitchen and my father wouldn’t. I would ask him why are you not in the kitchen with my mum? He would tell me because that’s what the Bible says. Why? He couldn’t give me any acceptable explanation. I felt from a young age that I am not less than a man. Secularism is the only way to ensure equality. I used to say to my dad, the Bible says submit in love – you should be serving my mum if you really are the head of this family, but men don’t interpret it that way and religion gives them a lot of leeway.

By extension, is a more secular society automatically a more feminist one? 

What I’ve seen so far is that the names you tend to hear and the people that tend to speak about humanism, most of the time it’s men. I don’t know whether history has something to do with it, or whether it’s because women are not putting themselves forward. London Black Atheists was started because whenever we went to mainstream atheist events we wouldn’t see black people. There are five of us – three women – and we play equal roles. I don’t know why in the mainstream you tend to have men. It’s something that was women need to have a look at.

How can we ensure feminism is central to secular politics?

I think people are afraid to identify themselves as feminists – even women who believe in feminism goals and aims. I think we just need to put ourselves forward more, and write more articles and books. We need to organize events that have to do specifically with feminine issues and then invite the men – I think we need to be more specific and more vocal.

What are your biggest priorities for the feminist movement?

I don’t know where to start! I think feminism needs a rebrand for the younger ones to understand that it’s about equality and you not feeling that your worth depends on how a man values you. I have a daughter who’s 22 and I was shocked to discover how she feels about feminism.

Lola is leading a workshop on the shared challenges and experiences of BME women engaged in secular feminism, along with Gita Sahgal of the Centre for Secular Space, at Feminism in London conference this Saturday, 26 October.

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Why immigration is a feminist issue

Government policies are intensifying in anti-immigrant focus. The draft immigration bill contains proposals to charge immigrants for using the NHS, force landlords to check the status of tenants and require checks before opening a bank account or being issued with a driving licence.

Struggles around immigration should be a central part of the feminist movement. These laws and policies are the cutting edge of black communities’ experience of state racism with women particularly affected.

In the 1970s, immigration officials conducted ‘virginity tests’ on South Asian women who arrived in the UK to marry fiancés. These state sanctioned sexual assaults were based not only on biological myth but also on racist and sexist stereotypes.

In its early months, the Coalition removed legal aid for non-detention immigrants, including women who had experienced domestic violence. After a legal challenge from Southall Black Sisters, it announced an amendment to cover domestic violence cases but what of other vulnerable women?

These policies, thirty-five years apart, are just two examples of the injustice of immigration policies and how they affect women.

Racist and classist laws and policies aim at keeping the wrong people out and letting the right ones in. Plans to introduce a £3,000 deposit for visas will not affect American tourists but mean none of our family, with their Indian passports, will be able to attend my brother’s wedding in England next year.

Politicians and media organisations reflect back a racist anti-immigration viewpoint to each other and make it seem like the norm. They continue to blame immigrants for economic woes. The government cuts the funding, housing and services available to immigrants. Their stated aim is to create a hostile environment that makes life unliveable.

The most common word used to describe ‘immigrants’ in newspapers is ‘illegal’.  Statistics are often inflated, speculative and without sources. The counter-narrative of people living as friends, neighbours, family, classmates and colleagues is seldom highlighted. Neither is support for immigrants and their rights.

All of this has meant a heightening climate of fear for many, including women who have been subject to violence by their partners, whether or not they have leave to stay in the country.

In the light of these deliberate attempts to create a racist anti-immigrant electorate, the broad-based backlash against vans driven around London with the message ‘go home or face arrest’ and the race profiling spot checks is welcome. Recent months have also seen an upsurge in mobilising.

From asking for help to go home (to Willesden Green) and distributing leaflets informing people of their rights to organising a protest against spot checks that made Southall a no go area and bringing a court challenge against the campaign, people are taking action.

The ‘racist vans’ were just the visible tip of a very large iceberg. Their messages have now moved from the streets to places out of the public eye, such as signing on centres in Croydon, Hounslow and Glasgow.

Southall Black Sisters is organising a demonstration on 24th October at Eaton House (581 Staines Road, Hounslow, TW4 5DL) where the ‘go home’ posters are being displayed – see here for details. All feminists need to support women migrants by allying with these campaigns and actions. The struggle for the rights of immigrants should be one that concerns us all.

Demo against UKBA 'Go Home' Campaign

Chitra Nagarajan has worked to promote and protect human rights, especially those of women, in China, the United Kingdom, the United States and countries in west Africa for over ten years in both professional and personal capacities. She currently works on issues of human rights and peacebuilding in Nigeria but remains linked to activism in the UK. She tweets here and blogs here.

Images courtesy of Southall Black Sisters.

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Trinidad carnival image

Twerking? Dat is jus’ winin’

I must confess having to look up this “new” dance craze now universally known as Twerking. Imagine my surprise to find this American choreographer on YouTube explaining exactly what to do when I thought to myself “but at home dat is jus’ winin’”.

Yes winin’. Please don’t ever call it “winding”, you will be laughed out of town by the Caribbean diaspora. I admit it is more than just winin’, but even so it only employs other moves we have already been familiar with for years in the West Indies. It’s more of a winin’ down, drop, drop, drop it, booty clap, booty clap. Boom ting. Get it? No? Me Neither.

Even growing up in the Caribbean doesn’t mean you can automatically pull off advanced dancehall queen moves such as these. One must practice and I chose to spend my time perfecting barre chords and not winin’ on my head (look out for that one, it’s coming) but to each their own. As far back as I can remember it has been utilised in every dancehall video I have ever seen. Go YouTube badass Patra videos from the 90s.

So why is everyone suddenly so interested in what they call “twerking”? Well, we have Miley Cyrus to thank for the newfound interest the dance which hails from West African Mapouka, it’s as old as the hills.

I watched that performance and I was more surprised by the fact Robin Thicke can’t sing that song live at all. Seriously, like at all. What else was surprising is that there was a general consensus that this ridiculous performance was shocking. I barely raised an eyebrow.

But is twerking anti feminist because Miley got it all wrong? I’d hate to think that someone would think of me as anti feminist because of my culture.

As a Trinidadian living in London I’ve learned the hard way that some things don’t cross over, culturally speaking. I had to make a personal rule of “not dancing like a Trinidadian in clubs around London”. Whenever I demonstrate, all my friends agree it is akin to “dry humping”.

I argue that that is just how we dance, even with strangers, it means absolutely nothing! Have you seen any Carnival footage ever? But it’s gotten me into trouble more than once – a girl ended up crying at Leeds Festival because of my moves, hence the rule. One culture’s status quo is another’s scandal.

When it comes to appropriating culture that is not your own, I think it helps to ask: is this helpful or hurtful? Am I merely bringing an already existing art form to the masses with love and respect or am I shamelessly exploiting it for YouTube hits?

Take Madonna. Madonna is obviously not a South Asian woman but during her blissed out yoga phase she started sporting saris, bindis and henna. As a woman of East Indian descent I feel included and normalised when a superstar like her brings it to the mainstream.

If it’s about celebrating culture and honestly tipping your hat, how can that be a bad thing? I for one want to live in a world where we are constantly learning, sharing and enriching each other’s lives. That includes the twerk, the bad and the ugly.

 

Dana Jade is a musician, activist and founder of ClitRock which raises money and awareness to combat FGM.  Find out more @Dana_Jade

Photo courtesy of sfmission.com

 

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Bijli logo

White Meat, Brown Men, Red Blood

Bijli (Lightning) is a South Asian feminist group from Birmingham. This statement was written in response to the recent cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by South Asian men.

Amidst the incendiary claims of Jack Straw – that Muslim men preyed on white girls as ‘white meat’, it was always difficult to judge exactly at what point we should step into the ring to make ourselves heard.  Who will hear us and what will they hear?

We have been incensed and appalled by the horror of the collective, organised sexual abuse and exploitation carried out by Pakistani and other men in Rochdale, Telford and Oxford.  The failure to protect young vulnerable girls from sexually predatory men is a complex one and raises a number of issues which we feel have been eclipsed by the media’s focus upon these specific cases.

The men’s behaviour has been discursively packaged as being the result of pathological Muslim cultures in which these ‘hyper-sexualised predators’ are assumed to operate systematically by the tacit support of their communities; such negative propaganda and stereotypes continue to contribute to the inferior status imposed upon us as communities, to treat us as the ‘other’.

This elides the manner in which male power controls and uses informal and formal means to exploit, rape, violate and silence women across all cultures.  It is this male and racist power that has also omitted the voices of women from the minority communities, some of whom have also been victims of this abuse.

In July 2012, a small meeting was held under the aegis of the University of Birmingham in which Pragna Patel from Southall Black Sisters presented some thought provoking ideas:  Was it right that the men had preyed on white girls in favour of protecting their own?  Was it all a racist conspiracy against Muslim men? How did men make sense of what they had done? How did their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters make sense of it?  How were we, as part of Muslim and South Asian communities to make sense of the events?  To what extent was our culture and religion implicated in these men’s actions?

Some say the facts presented themselves: Pakistani men had used and abused white girls and then boasted that their victims were ‘fair game’, but also maintained that the racist media had blown the whole issue out of proportion. We could not ignore the fact that male sexual exploitation of women and children is widespread amongst men of all social classes, cultures, races and religions.  Neither could we ignore the fact that these men came from some of the most deprived English areas, already renowned for the ‘riots’ and clashes between Asians and the BNP, as well as the police.

Trafficking of women is a lucrative industry requiring extremely little outlay.  It is therefore an industry which becomes rife when vulnerable women are easily accessible and manageable. Hence, such activity is found in the poorest areas of Britain and the world, where there is an extensive supply of girls and women that can be preyed upon or beaten into submission by drugs, alcohol, and paltry presents.

Whilst the majority of the players on the scene (the police, local  authorities and the care system) steadfastly maintained that ‘culture’ and ‘religion’ were not significant factors in this issue, some in the media insisted that there was a strong cultural, if not a religious element in the equation. A particular culture does not define these crimes; male power does.  So if  culture is paramount, that culture is male.

There is a long history of collaboration between male interests, usually upheld by self-appointed community leaders in minority cultures and state agencies of majority cultures.  This alliance has often left Asian women at enormous risk when struggling against domestic violence. It was the same alliance that had left white girls abandoned on this occasion.

We cannot ignore the possibility that the men may have specifically targeted white girls. whom they perceived to be more sexually available and promiscuous than Asian women whose sexuality is fiercely regulated and controlled by men.  We cannot ignore also, how the media savvy white men also preyed upon young vulnerable girls, whilst pulling the wool over their community’s eyes for decades, nor how sex-tourism permits white men to exploit many Asian, East European and African women.

What appears to be a double standard on the part of these men is not hypocrisy, but is two sides of the same coin – in both cases it is about the sexual, psychological and economic control – the oppression and exploitation of women.

The failure of the police, social services and other agencies to take action against not just these men, but all perpetrators up and down the country for decades if not centuries, is symptomatic of a society that pays little regard to the dignity and worth of women.

The liberalisation of the sex industry has been fuelled by sex trafficking and minimal action has been taken against sexual exploitation, both within Britain and across the world. Britain has been one of the last countries to sign up to the European Convention Against Trafficking and offers minimal protection to women who fall victim to modern day sexual slavery.

The silence on these issues and the global failure to protect women subjected to sexual abuse is not unique to just Islam or ‘Asian’ cultures; it highlights a more endemic and fundamental problem with oppression of women by men throughout the world in all cultures and religions: as slaves, concubines, mistresses or wives.

We applaud the findings of the Rochdale Review and hope that it will find its way to diligent and effective action to provide protection and to more vigilantly tackle sexual abuse in society as a whole.

We welcome that in Oxford a special team was set up to look at the overall intelligence provided by these girls against the 7 men over a period of 7 years rather than merely looking at each individual girl’s experience as an individual complaint.

We are a group of women in Birmingham who are concerned, angered, outraged and disgusted by the events of past 2 years and don’t want to remain silent. We applaud the courage of the women who came forward as witnesses in the recent trial. We want to highlight women’s strengths and condemn those men, whether Asian, White or other, who had no human affinity with the girls.

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