Letter from Limburg #7: I’m racist too.

o-racism-facebook

Dear Blighty,

We live in very sensitive times.  We have seen a rise in nationalist and populist movements in the USA, the UK, here in the Netherlands and in other European countries too.

It is usually in times of strife or depression, be that economically or societally, that electorates put their support behind nationalist movements.  They are driven by discontentment with the status quo and feel a need to blame someone or something else.

Too often the recipient of this blame is the ‘other’, the ‘threat’ to their national identity.  Minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals, and those others who are different to the majority are usually first in line to be blamed for the ills of that society.

The reality that too few are keen to admit is that people who support nationalist movements are almost always, as part of their belief, driven by a degree of racism.  It is their inability to move from the cave-man-like tribalist that believes that their group, whatever that group may be, is the best, simply by virtue of the very simplistic fact that this is what they happen to have been born into.  Every other group is, based on this juvenile logic, therefore a threat and, simply because it is not their group, not as good.  Its a very crude and basic view of the world in which we live.  Which is perhaps part of the appeal.  Its basic.  Its simple.  Simple minds and all that.

The truth is that I’m racist too.

Racism = the FEAR or HATE of another race.

OK, I’ve never expressed a hate of anyone because of their race, but I do sometimes fear.

There are most certainly times in my head when I have the audacity to express, albeit silently to myself, stereotypes and prejudices.  Sometimes I walk past a group of black youth and feel slightly scared or threatened.  I get scared when a bearded Muslim man steps on a train with rucksack.  I can also be sexist too, tutting to myself when waiting, excessively, for a female driver to parallel park correctly.  For whatever reason these fears and prejudices exist, probably fed to me entirely through media depictions that have solidified such stereotypes rather than any real innate sense of tribalism I might possess.

Hell, in my head, I’ve murdered, beaten those I disliked, laughed at funerals, loud farted in the middle of school assemblies, screamed expletives during a vicar’s sermon…  I also distinctly remember being very curious to know what the reaction would be if I kicked my grandmother when she greeted me at her door.   Our heads can be dark, sinister places at times.

But here’s the difference:  I am able to rationalise, more importantly, DISMISS the thoughts in my head as being wrong and inappropriate and, actually, because I am an intelligent, thoughtful and considered individual, know that, even though these thoughts crossed my mind, I don’t actually agree with them.

The difference between me (and most other considered, rational, intelligent beings) and most people who choose to support nationalist movements, is that we can assimilate and sift through the information in our heads so that it doesn’t cause us to make bad decisions or do wrong things in our actual, real, physical lives.

While the idiot in my head might get slightly frustrated that I couldn’t fully understand the Polish shop keeper when he served me, I don’t let that idiot control my sense of what is right and wrong by hating all Polish people/Europeans/immigrants, wishing they weren’t in the country, voting for LEAVE in the EU referendum or supporting a nationalist movement like UKIP.

We all have demons and idiots running around inside our brains.  You can listen to them, sometimes you can even have a joke with them, but don’t let the idiot inside your head become the idiot in your mouth and body.

You can be a better person than the idiot we all possess.

And so can you, Blighty.  But sadly, you possess a few too many.

Good luck with that,

Benedict x

“Blackface” or face facts?

11038009_10153278490885804_5763906660812048695_n_Fotor

Is this the ugly face of racism in 2015? Is it an offensive representation of an oppressed minority designed to spread hatred and incite discrimination?

No, of course not.

It is the talented work of make-up artistry to create striking and beautiful imagery using the human form as a canvas for a creative exploration into the abstract and original.

I commend the Icon Awards , headed up by the brilliant Michael Xtina Macfarlane for using this imagery to help promote the LGBTIQ recognition of achievements event. An event designed to celebrate diversity, revel in our differences and bring us together through our shared interests and passions to wish to live in a vibrant, tolerant, open-minded and colourful Scotland.

I also commend the organisers for not bowing down, or pandering, to the possibility that some idiot somewhere might deem the fact that black body make-up is used as a racist act. None of us should ever have to fear the wrath of the mis-guided bullies who put more effort into causing the problems they aim to help than actually trying to solve them.

Let’s begin with a few (very) basic facts:

– black people are not actually the colour black.
– black people do not have black palms.
– black people do not have gold-tipped fingers, nor golden lips.

Again. Some idiot. Somewhere.

Sure. I am a white (well, actually some shade of pink, depending on how much fake tan I am wearing at any given time) man.

Maybe I am therefore not the best qualified to discuss the oppression, perceived or otherwise, of afro-carribbean people. But I suspect that neither particularly is a caucasian Scottish lesbian – not that any of these negate anyone from being able to comment, of course.

However, I’ve had just a little bit of exposure (indirectly and directly) to what ACTUAL racism really is, as having been:

– a lover to 6 people who would describe themselves as either black, asian or mixed-race, including my current partner (they are, FYI, half-tunisian, half-Haitian, Barbadian, 2 Jamaicans and one Bengali).
– a foster son who is Pakistani
– a niece who is half-Chinese
– a teacher in several schools in inner and outer London, all of which where white students were a minority.
– founder of the school’s Jewish Society (I’m not even Jewish!)
– Head of Citizenship and PSHE where tackling racism and other forms of discrimination were an important part of the curriculum.
– not to mention the single-most important motivation for me having chosen to study Politics at university and drove me to be involved in social change was when I learnt about the Holocaust in school at the age of 13.

I will not be lectured to about racism by some jumped-up, small-minded, militants with a few too many chips on their shoulders and time on their hands from the EUSA who shamefully pull out the race card in an attempt to bring them and their associated Free Pride event a little publicity boost. (https://eusaliberation.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/eusa-bme-liberation-group-statement-on-the-use-of-blackface-by-the-icon-awards/)

It is pathetic, sickening and immensely depressing that people like myself, who are passionate about fighting the ugly face of racism in all its forms, who have worked tirelessly in schools and in the media to tackle discrimination and hatred and yet produce a (thankfully) minority of moronic young people who have zero understanding of identifying real racism when it occurs, but waste their time, efforts and brain cells on attempting to whip up controversy and irresponsibly banding certain acts ‘racist’ when nothing could be further from the truth.

I encourage social change.

I welcome activism from all people, students or otherwise.

I always believe that you must question everything and not just accept things the way they necessarily are.

But make your objections mean something. Make them worthwhile. Take on a fight that really exists against a threat and an enemy that needs to be defeated. Don’t light fires of hatred and create divisions where only tolerance and peace exist. Your ignorance about the real, lived experiences of racism and your attempts to promote an agenda of bitterness through twisted, mis-guided interpretations of what is and what is not racist, not only demonstrate the depths you are prepared to go to raise a little publicity for yourself and your cause(s), but also show you to be nothing more than a bully, prepared to impose your warped version of racial ‘harmony’ on people who have significantly more understanding and, in many cases, experiences of what it is or isn’t, than you could ever begin to appreciate.

Its not because you’re white that I consider your contribution to the race debate irrelevant, for we all have a responsibility to identify and tackle REAL racism when and where it occurs.

Its because you’re an idiot.

Is it racist to ask you to turn your spine sideways?

hawaiiname

There aren’t many times that my son and I burst out laughing simultaneously while listening to the Radio 4 midnight news together.  Come to think of it, there aren’t many times we listen to Radio 4 together.  Much to my son’s annoyance, on the odd occasion he hasn’t already turned the dial to Radio 1 or Kiss FM, when we are in the car together, I do subject him to the national institution that is BBC Radio 4.

Tonight’s news ended on a story about a lady in Hawaii who had been fined for not having her name correctly written on her driver’s licence, despite the fact the licencing agency was not able to fit the final character within its 35 letter limit.  Janice Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele is equally frustrated that the final ‘e’ is not able to be included on the official documentation, but state officials are urging her to change her name.  What caused my son and I to break out in a brief fit of giggles, as well as the news reporter’s two attempts to (pretty successfully, I must say) read out the entirety of Janice’s last name, was her final comment:  “officials have suggested using her maiden name: ‘Worth’.”

It always amazes me how attached people do get to a name, particularly a last name.   For several reasons, my son opted to change both his names by deed poll.  But while others see a name little more than an identifier, others see it as deeply attached to their personal and cultural identities.

The story of Janice Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele reminded me of my time as a teacher and the array of names I encountered while working in the multi-cultural setting of various east London schools.  There is, of course, a lot you can tell from someone’s name.  On several occasions, I would go through the register greeting students in their various native languages based on what their last name might be.  Usually this was a reliable method, but occasionally there were anomalies.  Then there is the issue of stereotyping and making assumptions based on names, which could lead you into awkward situations.

In one of my attempts to be a more humorous teacher, when giving out new folders at the start of the year to the students, I would ask them to write their names on the card in the middle of the spine of the folder, then I would add “if you are Sri Lankan, you may have to turn the folder on the side to do this.”  Most students would titter at this comment, a few would gest that I was being ‘racist’, although the majority of Sri Lankan students were impressed that Mr.Garrett even recognised what a Sri Lankan surname was, let alone to be able to take the ‘micky’ out of it.  The fact is, many Sri Lankan and Tamil last names are long, several syllables long in some cases –  although nowhere near as long as Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele.

For your information, the longest name ever goes to Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfe­schlegelstein­hausenberger­dorffvoraltern­waren­gewissenhaft­schaferswessen­schafewaren­wohlgepflege­und­sorgfaltigkeit­beschutzen­von­angreifen­durch­ihrraubgierigfeinde­welche­voraltern­zwolftausend­jahres­vorandieerscheinen­wander­ersteer­dem­enschderraumschiff­gebrauchlicht­als­sein­ursprung­von­kraftgestart­sein­lange­fahrt­hinzwischen­sternartigraum­auf­der­suchenach­diestern­welche­gehabt­bewohnbar­planeten­kreise­drehen­sich­und­wohin­der­neurasse­von­verstandigmen­schlichkeit­konnte­fortplanzen­und­sicher­freuen­anlebens­langlich­freude­und­ruhe­mit­nicht­ein­furcht­vor­angreifen­von­anderer­intelligent­geschopfs­von­hinzwischen­sternartigraum, Senior.  Rather sensibly, he would go by Hubert Blaine Wolfe+585, Sr. .  Now, there’s a man with a bit of common sense!

Why aren’t there any Asian footballers?

asianfootball

Another one of my little awareness projects from my time as a teacher:

“I’m not really a great football enthusiast.  I know little about it.  But I do know that there are few, if any, Asian professional footballers.  In fact, after some quick research today, I discovered there are/have been only five within recent years.  Why is this? I put this question to several students and investigated responses given by some of these five players.  Each time, the responses are the same: our families don’t take it seriously, dismissing it as a waste of time and favouring more professional routes for careers; and the racism that permeates football at so many levels is particularly vicious against the Asian player.  The white male often feels weaker against the physical prowess of a black player, but sometimes sees in its Asian colleagues an easy victim who is often the recipient of racial slurs and stereotyping. Also, the lack of role models currently in the game breeds a cycle which means few young Asians see it as an achievable goal.  The argument that it is because Asians are not naturally talented at football is not acceptable.
 
If I’m not really into football, then why do I care?  I care because everyone deserves an equal chance in life in every sector of the community and in every industry.  Football is just my current whinge that possesses a clear gaping hole within certain ethnic minority representation. Next time it could be your industry – so watch out!  (Like anyone actually reads these blogs anyway.)
 

Stop the BNP – vote!

stopthebnp

When I was still a teacher, I was publicly told off by the Headteacher for placing posters around the school urging students of a voting age, and others, to pressure their parents to vote in order to prevent the BNP from winning a seat.  Of course, as a government employee I was supposed to be impartial and fighting against discrimination and hatred, when it emanates from a legitimate political body, is not the responsibility of a teaching professional.  It didn’t, however, prevent me from writing a little blog on my old website, that went like this:

“Save laughing at, and feeling superior to, the idiots who vote for, and the air-wasters who belong to, the British National Party, one feels powerless to do much about them.  In much of the country they pose little threat.  But in the London Borough of Redbridge, in neighbouring Barking & Dagenham and in Epping Forrest, they are unfortunately a real, and in some cases, growing force.  What can you do to stop them?  Simple!  Get out there and vote in every election you can.  It doesn’t matter who you vote for, as long as its not the BNP.  Use your vote wisely – stop the BNP!  Visit www.stopthebnp.org.uk “

Lay off the Muslims!

Here’s something I recently found from an old blog I started a couple of years when I was known as nothing but a good ol’ high schooL teacher.   Just thought I’d share it with you.  I’ll be digging up some other things from my past to see if and how much sense they make today and if, indeed, I still even agree with them:

Pakistani_boys

“We’ve seen the underachievement of young black males.  We’ve heard about the inner-city white working class boys who aren’t making the grades.  Well now its Muslim boys raising a cause for concern, at least in the London Borough of Redbridge.
Of course  ‘Muslim boys’ is as homogenous a group as ‘black males’ was/is.  Encompassing all our young men whether Sunni or Shi’a, Turkish or Saudi, Pakistani or Bangladeshi.  And yet, what do they have in common?  A religion and a demonisation of specifically Muslim males which was at its height in the aftermath of 9/11 and continues to permeate society.  Islamophobia is ever-present and for British-born Muslims, society emits an array of mixed messages.  For some of them, their families tell them they are not Muslim enough, not Pakistani enough, while the media warns against becoming overly-islamised and tells us that places like Pakistan are the breeding ground of Jihadists and the Taliban.   British-born, British-raised Muslims, sometimes who have never even visited their country of family origin face these images and perceptions every day.
Muslim boys are constantly, whether it being a serious term of offence or merely a joke among their peers, labeled as ‘terrorists’.  Simply possessing an Islamic name makes them target of increased suspicion, checks and interrogation by police, immigration officials, customs and other security services.
For most people in this country, Islamophobia means nothing. There are no Muslims in the Northamptonshire village from which I hail.  But for the sake of our Muslim boys, who are decent, innocent young souls, lay off the demonisation, lets give them something to be proud about, welcome them as part of our community and lets work with theirs and not against it.”

An Eye For An Eye… when it suits.

On Tuesday night, a report, by Fran Abrams on BBC Radio4’s ‘File on 4’, revealed that, of 200 local councils that were asked, 191 of them disclosed that there had been over 400 allegations of physical abuse at madrassas throughout Great Britain.  Despite the huge number of allegations, only 10 cases had been to court and only two resulted in convictions.  On top of this, the BBC also discovered 30 allegations of sexual abuse over the past three years.

MADRASSAABUSE

As those of you know who have been following me and my and my foster son’s campaign, ‘Azadi’, to, as one of its aims, bring an end to violence in madrassas in this country (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/13956), these allegations of abuse come as no surprise to us.  However, what comes as a surprise and shock to me is the ongoing reluctance by many of those in the Muslim community to do anything about it.  Its actions are echoing the decades of abuse in the Catholic church, where, for many years there, as with the madrassas now, the attitude was to sweep it under the carpet and ignore it.

There are many in the Muslim community who even perceive it as quite normal and acceptable behaviour, some parents even encourage it.  When I spoke to some former students of mine who had attended madrassas, some who still do, and asked about physical abuse, the response was “yes, it happens, so what?”.

There are those who argue that the Imams and teachers at these madrassas are only carrying on practices which are commonplace in such educational institutions in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, indeed where many of them are born and have spent their training.  However, yet again, this is an example of a religious group’s actions which, although may be tolerated by some or even many within its own community, is at loggerheads with the values of the system within which it now chooses to reside.

As a result of the inaction (and wide-scale acceptance) by much of the Muslim community to allegations of abuse, victims rarely report the crime.  Indeed, as Fran Abrams discovered, there are even cases where victims have reported abuse and subsequently been ostracised by the community, despsite instances where the defendant was found guilty.  In other cases, victims who initially make allegations are pressured into dropping them for fear of community reprisals and bringing dishonour onto the family and their community.

Whatever the official numbers of physical and sexual abuses in our country’s madrassas, Nazir Afzal, the chief crown prosecutor for the North West of England, said he believed the BBC’s figures represented “a significant underestimate”.

What is happening in many British madrassas is a national disgrace and, furthermore, a disgrace to a religious community that is often the first to point its finger when, the so-called, ‘morals’ of others do not fit in with its own.  For a religion that believes in the principle of “an eye-for-an-eye”, it appears only to come into practice so long as, whatever is revealed, does not bring its own religion into disrepute.

Recently, I was publicly criticised, in the Ilford Recorder, by a parent of a former student of mine, a Dr Anwar Hussein, who stated that he is:

“very angry that my child, with hundreds of other minors at Beal High, was subject to a teacher who was engaged in working in the adult sex industry, which, as a follower of Islam, I find highly immoral, repugnant and completely unacceptable and incompatible with my religious beliefs.” 




Without wishing to remind Dr Hussein that this is neither a Muslim country, nor is my former employer, Beal High School, a Muslim school, it might also do him some good to hold a mirror to his own community and ask why so many of those who share his ‘religious beliefs’ find it acceptable to tolerate activities that go against our shared British values.  He chooses to live here.  I choose not to follow Islam, or any religion for that matter, thank you very much.

Personally, I believe that whatever my child’s teachers do outside of the classroom is entirely a matter of their choice, but the moment that teacher beats my child with a stick or touches my child in a sexual manner at any time (not to mention within the school time!!!), then I will be pulling that child from that school and bringing forward allegations without a second thought AND not giving a stuff whatever those in the rest of my community think or care about it!

Of course, Dr Hussein is an exception to this rule.  He would be one of the few within his community who would be brave enough to speak up and take a stand against the actions of some of his fellow religious compatriots.  Of course he would, I have no doubt.

Meanwhile, yesterday my son came home and revealed to me that one of his good friends, a fellow Pakistani, is due to be ‘married off’ in February next year.  The girl is 17 years old and, despite her parents wishes, does not want to be married.  Indeed, she has other plans for herself.  The parents are moving to Saudi Arabia and are insistent, prior to their move, that their oldest daughter is to be married.

It riles me to the core that so many parents, particularly, although not exclusively, within the Asian community, feel that it is their right, as a parent, to dictate the romantic and sexual lives of their children, not to mention the education and career.  These are parents who, in many cases, have chosen (for whatever reason, often economic) to live in this society, to breed in this society, to bring up children in this society, knowing full-well what the values of this society are, and yet to impose, on their British-born children, values that go totally against the values that we in Britain instill in the minds of our young British citizens.

For many years, I have been a strong supporter of multi-cultural communities.  I still am.  I have done and will always fight racism and discrimination wherever its ugly head appears.  Well over half of my friends and associates are either born elsewhere or of foreign parentage.  And, believe me, there are many cases where I would rather a foreigner as a neighbour than an ignorant, insular, inbred Brit, as so many of us are.

I also share great empathy with the many ethnic communities who originate from lands that were formerly of the British Empire.  I recognise how this country took advantage of your lands and peoples for its own selfish benefit; how you were made to believe that the Queen is your Queen, London your capital city and that you also are as British as a British-born man.  And yet, the reality, when you arrived on these shores, has been very different.  I recognise those wrongs and the mistreatment that you have been subject to for many years on these islands.

However, lets make it very clear: religion is not race.  Religion is a matter of belief and choice.  This choice, at times, you must have to justify and should be discriminated for.

Britain should absolutely open its arms to those who wish to live here and become proud, responsible citizens of this land.  But it should also make itself very clear to new arrivals, that, while they are welcome to live freely on these isles and to choose to do, to themselves, and believe, within themselves, within the privacy of their own home, whatsoever they choose (as long as it is within the laws of the land) that there are certain values of being a resident and citizen of Britain that they should respect:  those of liberalism, equality and democracy and an absolute respect for the rights of the individual (rights which extend to children too, believe it or not).

If, for whatever reason, your own values do not gel easily with those values that we hold dear in this country, well you have a choice:  to either adhere to those values or to choose to reside in another society that shares your values.

At school, I regularly had a form member and member of my Religious Education class, who happened to be Muslim, tell me how he believed that homosexuality was a sin and how all homosexuals should be executed.  This child’s parents were born in Pakistan, lived in Holland for many years and then decided, with full knowledge of the value system in our country, to move here.  My response to this student was always the same, “while I respect that is your opinion, you must recognise that this is not an opinion that is widely shared in this country. If you believe it so strongly, that it is so important to you to live in a society that shares that value, then you should choose, when you are old enough, to move yourself to a country where homosexuality is illegal and a capital offence.  It is neither of those things here and nor do we wish it to be.”

The only thing that inflicting your own values and beliefs on your child will do, is to bring resentment and misery into their lives and possibly a schism in your parent-child relationship that could last a lifetime.  Is that what you really want?

I have seen too many families ripped apart and children disowned because they tried to flex their individual rights muscles or did something that brought dishonour onto their family or their community.

Nothing is more important to me than my child.  I don’t have a biological child.  I have a child I am looking after because his own parents thought it was more important to have the words of the Qu’ran literally beaten into him thousands of miles away in a madrassa in Pakistan.

And where is that family now?  They too have fled to Pakistan for fear of what their son may say and how this may damage their own reputation and family ‘honour’.

Is this the love of a parent?
Is this a community who really cares?
Is this the sign of a community who really thinks the legal activities of teaching staff outside of school are more horrific than the beating and molestation of their children within one?

An Eye-for-an-Eye?
If only.  We would see a lot of Imams and parents beaten black-and-blue by their students/children.
If only they would be so brave.

Britain deserves its immigrants

British Passport with Microchip

While in a particularly argumentative mood on my Facebook profile, one of my FB friends posted the following:

 

“Ok Johnny, debatable subject for you! Do you think that the NHS would be more stable had our government not taken in countless (by their own admission) thousands of “immigrants” who, not only have contributed sweet FA to our economy, but “work” the system to the extent that the elderly British citizen, having worked all their lives, therefore are fully paid up members of society, have to wait months for medical treatment because, and, lve witnessed it, “immigrants” complain that they are not treated first because, l quote, “doctor make me wait because l am not English”….plus the fact that in some cases “immigrants” know they will get the full support from the Racial Equality Commisson.”
Here was my response:
Right, here goes. Let me start by stating that my view on immigration in this country is perhaps a little warped but perfectly logical. I will get to the NHS later, but first it is important for you to understand my overall view on immigration for you to see how I then relate it to the NHS. 


Let me also state that I have no vested interest. As much as I would like to, I have no traceable foreign blood as far as we know. On my Dad’s side, for at least 100 years and on Mother’s, for well over 500. So, despite realising that we are all immigrants at some point or another, and as much as I sometimes wish not to be, I am as 100% British as I suppose anyone who is 100% British can claim to be. 


So, that gets that out of the way. 


However, I recognise that for hundreds of years, the British state, under several monarchs and successive governments, travelled around the world, conquering strange lands, ‘colonising’ ancient civilisations and peoples, enslaving them, pillaging their lands, forcing them into enclaves and ghettos, ripping them from their families, killing them with their diseases, their alcohol and with the barrel of a gun. 
It is because of this ‘colonisation’ and exploitation that Britain became a world superpower, in both might and wealth, and still today we are living off the riches and the reputation that those ‘golden’ days brought us. 


Unfortunately, the past cannot be separated from the present. As far as I see it, if Britain ‘suffers’ more than it gains because of waves of immigration, then it is no more that what it deserves. I see it simply as a come-uppance for its centuries of assuming that ‘might is right’ and ‘right is white’. 


Of course, I get frustrated by some of the impacts of immigration. I find some immigrants rude, lazy and arrogant.  But give me one immigrant like that and I will show you ten ‘indigenous’ Brits who are like that and frustrate me even more.  A young black boy in a gang, who exerts behaviour that can only be described as ‘anti-social’, of Jamaican decent is still, although it is no excuse for his behaviour, dealing with the ripple-effect of the slave-trade.  Whole generations of men ripped from their wives, their masculinity lost and their collective ability to understand how to be a decent father, as opposed to being forced to being a seed-spreader by their slave owner, is still one of the main reasons why many young black boys lack the male role models that can instill the sorts of values that we expect and tolerate in the West.  A white boy like that, is just, very often, a lazy shit who, like his parents, thinks the world owes him something.  It doesn’t. 


So, as for waiting to be served by the NHS, I’m afraid, as much as it may frustrate me, because impatience is human nature, my logic and understanding, much like that with the Jamaican gang member above, tells me to grin and bear it.  As for your point about immigrants not contributing to this country, I think you will find that they have, first of all, and without serious numbers of immigrants coming into the country and having babies, you and I will be out of a pension, coz the natives just aren’t popping enough!!!!