Here’s an article I wrote for the Telegraph last week about “Blackface” at university. Have a read!
Last year I spent Christmas in Nigeria, a place where people enjoy the good weather by spending their copious amounts of free time lounging in courtyards debating about politics and current affairs. One afternoon I found myself in the middle of one of these debates, concerning the issue of homosexuality and whether same-sex marriage would ever be accepted in Africa.
“It is fundamentally wrong!” one male guest said, “How can I be expected to accept something that is so unnatural?”
His sentiments were shared by the majority of our guests, so much so that when my liberal Dad quipped that he saw no problem with homosexuality and had friends and colleagues who were gay back home, one guest refused to shake his hand out of fear that he too would be ‘contaminated’. Although their horror was slightly amusing to me at the time, it also provided me with somewhat of a revelation. Homosexuality in Africa is a moral issue rather than a political one.
When Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed his country’s anti-gay bill into law, various officials spoke out in condemnation. US Secretary of State John Kerry likened the legislation to anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany and Sweden, Norway and Denmark suspended their financial aid to the country as a result. Other African countries such Nigeria and Cameroon have also been subject to similar criticism. The message is clear; the west has adopted a pro- homosexuality agenda and Africa is expected to follow suit, whether they like it or not.
However the notion that Africa must follow the example set by the west in their acceptance of homosexuality is fundamentally flawed because it ignores the fact that religion and culture play an intrinsic role in African life. What we see as an equality issue they see as a moral issue. One cannot ignore the fact that most of these African countries hold a strong mandate on the issue, Museveni even went so far as to argue that he was not acting on behalf of the state but on behalf of society and his approval rates have since soared.
The west needs to realise that Africa is not backwards, Africa is where it has always been. Change won’t happen overnight, it takes time.
Racial tensions and political discontent were at an all-time high this week. Disaffected members of the public took to twitter to trend #CameronMustGo, expressing their discontent with Cameron and the Conservative –led coalition. After the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for shooting an unarmed black teenager, many took to the streets to protest against the perceived injustice. Also, rather ironically, the American police force has been subject to scrutiny once again after mistaking 12 year old Tamir Rice’s toy gun for the real thing and shooting him dead. Here’s my week in review.
#CameronMustGo dominates the internet
The interesting this about twitter is that, when used effectively, the sheer amount of people you can reach with one tweet means that you can, in theory, start a whole movement. That’s exactly what happened this week. Two twitter users started a campaign encouraging people to tweet why they believed #cameronmustgo and the tweets have been trending all week long.
Many were annoyed that it took so long for the BBC to report the trend and whilst I’ve always held the belief that news organisations can and should report on whatever they wish; it did seem a bit odd that they decided to largely ignore it. It’s the longest twitter trend I’ve ever witnessed and certainly seems to resonate with a lot of people…
The grand jury decides on Ferguson
When the grand jury decided that they would not indict Darren Wilson earlier this week, many were up in arms. Me? I wasn’t surprised. What I was surprised about, and in part disgusted by, was the attitude and manner in which the decision was conducted. People were anticipating riots like a child anticipates Christmas day. Let’s just say that if the protests had largely remained peaceful, a lot of people would have been disappointed. I never claim to be an expert in the law, and certainly don’t understand the American legal system inside out, but what I do believe in is the right to a fair trial. Whatever the reasons they held for not indicting Darren Wilson, when watching McCulloch deliver the news from my room at 3 am that morning, I couldn’t help but question why he was adopting the role of a prosecutor and discarding evidence as if there had been a trial.
The consequences of the decision have been far-reaching and have sparked protests worldwide. Many feel that more police officers should be held accountable for the deaths they cause whilst on duty, a sentiment I agree with entirely.
Tamir Rice and racial perceptions
Adding to the racial tension and feeling of discontent that dominated this week was the death of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy who was shot dead by police officers in Ohio after they mistook his toy gun for the real thing. When the events of the case first came to light I felt sick, the boy was a child and it was undeniably a tragic loss of life. My first instinct was to read the Daily Mail (in hindsight not the best of decisions) because I really wanted to see whether the readers would justify the death, as they had Mike Brown’s. The comments made me feel even more sick. I saw everything, ranging from blaming Tamir for not following the police’s instructions to others blaming his parents for giving him the toy gun in the first place. I was shocked because all the claims were based purely on speculation and the full facts of the incident had yet to be revealed. I’d love to say such comments were isolated to the Daily Mail, but they were everywhere… on Facebook, Twitter, Sky News, I could go on. I saw, for the first time, the effects of stereotyping first-hand and how a perception could be so deeply ingrained within oneself that you’re unable to acknowledge something for what it is, a tragedy.
Recent revelations have since discredited the account given by the police officers, and a video showing the events as they occurred can be found here, but a video shouldn’t be needed for people to feel empathy. Speaking out about the discrimination faced by African-American’s isn’t an attack; there shouldn’t be sides that compel us to justify something even when it appears to be so inherently unfair. I worry about a generation where people are afraid to admit something is wrong. Humanity has no colour.
I was on a work placement with the Sky News politics team when the news of the death of Mike Brown first came to light. The setting allowed me to gain a unique perspective of how such events are dealt with in a news environment. It was undeniably a foreign issue, rather than a domestic one, and as a result it wasn’t initially featured in the mainstream news agenda. After the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown started trending on twitter, the mainstream media outlets started to cover the story. The trend was designed to challenge the media representation of black people and the fact that black victims of police brutality are, more than often, vilified in the media. It subsequently grew into a much broader campaign, aimed at discrediting the perceived consensus that black lives were of a lesser value than their white counterparts.
The reason I’m mentioning this is because it represents how pivotal social media is in events such as this. Not only does it help the voiceless promote a cause and raise interest where the mainstream media has not, but it also allows users to get a snapshot of the general consensus towards such topics.
After the grand jury ruled that Darren Wilson would not be indicted for shooting an unarmed black teenager, many took to social media to vent their frustration. There were arguments and disputes here and there but I was glad to see that the vast majority of my timeline felt that the decision was a step back for America. Nevertheless, when I looked at the general hashtag I was greeted with a much less faith-restoring outlook. Whilst most young/ liberal minded individuals shared my views, there was a real disparity between the generations. It very quickly became clear that the vast majority of the “older” generation felt the decision was justified.
Of course this is a generalisation, but I’ve always been of the belief that all generalisations stem from an element of truth. It’s no secret that younger people tend to be more liberal minded and if the sentiments on social media are anything to go by, it definitely rings true.
In London yesterday there was a protest outside the US embassy in solidarity with Mike Brown and there was a lot of talk about it on twitter. Some felt it was pointless, others felt it was used as an opportunity to promote the different interests of those involved, but a lot felt that it was better to do something rather than nothing at all. The protest attracted a lot of young people, from all walks of life and this can largely be attributed to social media.
Social media is an educational tool. It has educated me about rape culture, misogyny, feminism and white privilege but of course not all of the lessons were equal in terms of how accurate and helpful they were. Still, one thing I can’t deny is that it’s made me more tolerant and I think that’s what’s so unique about my generation. My generation is less inclined to dismiss someone’s view outright, and we’re more likely to empathise with those who are in completely different situations to ourselves.
When I posted a comment in reaction to the grand jury ruling on Facebook, I was told by an older (and slightly rude commenter) that I didn’t know enough about the “real world.” Ironically, I think the truth is the exact opposite.
This week marks the first of my “Week in Review” series where I’ll be giving my opinions on what I deem to be the three most important stories of the week. It been a crazy week for politics and pop culture so I won’t waste any more time on introductions, here it goes…
Ed Miliband has a backbone and supporters after all!
This week, Ed Miliband was at the centre of a so-called “media attack” largely based on a poll which revealed that only 13% of the British public thought he was ready to be the next prime minister. Supporters and sympathisers who were angry at the perceived “media bias” took to twitter to trend #WebackEd, tweeting their reasons for supporting Miliband and what they felt he stood for. Perhaps the most shocking revelation of the whole affair was the fact that so many people were behind Ed (I’ll admit even I was a bit surprised). The general sentiment and wording of a lot of the tweets suggested that Ed was far more left wing than even I was aware of (though I’ve learnt the hard way not to trust the things I read on twitter). Nevertheless it was clear that most people’s grievances lay with the media who they felt had been bullying Ed. They argued that whilst Ed isn’t the most attractive of PM hopefuls (and yes the standard is very low) but he didn’t deserve the stick he was getting and in all honesty I kind of agree.
Never one to let a bit of bad press get him down Ed delivered a somewhat riveting speech today, reaffirming his stance on the NHS and UKIP. Farage has since responded by challenging Ed to a good old fashioned medieval duel (okay not literally but he came pretty close). Popcorn at the ready…
Piers Morgan wants black people to stop using the N word
Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week you’re sure to have read the article Piers Morgan wrote about the use of the “N-word.” Somewhat patronizingly he argued that the word would only go away once black people, i.e. African American’s, stopped using it. Whilst he proclaimed that his intentions were honest (I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt) quite a few people were irritated with just how bloody condescending he was being.
The thing is whilst the article was well written and I agreed with the vast majority of the things he said, he didn’t offer anything new. I’d heard that argument already and I didn’t need him to tell me again.
Naturally, quite a few people were annoyed with the article; a few less informed individuals branded Piers a racist, but the vast majority just felt the article was patronizing and dismissed the blatant fact that the N-word has different connotations when black people use it. Ironically, it was Piers’ response to the criticism that irked me. Rather than acknowledge the arguments of those who disagreed with the article, he branded his challengers ignorant and implied that they were only angry at the fact that he, a white man, had written about a black issue. After that he lost me and I had to reach for the mute button.
Kim Kardashian tries to break the internet –with her arse of course!
Let’s be real Kim Kardashian is known for two things, her sex tape and her arse. So naturally when Kim unveiled her cover for Paper Magazine, intended to #breaktheinternet, it involved her displaying her two most recognisable assets. Now when people ask me what my thoughts are on Kim Kardashian, or the Kardashian clan in general for that matter, I always tell them that I started watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians back in 2007, when it first premiered on E and no-one had a clue who they were. I loved them because they reminded me of my family, coming from a family of four girls, I could see myself in them. Still, as often as is the case with these things as their popularity grew my interest in them declined, they now represent everything I hate about society and what’s more, they’ve taken narcissism to a whole new level. Kim’s recent cover for Paper Magazine is literally the icing on top of a very-large-round-krispy-kreme-donut-looking-cake.
Her cover is, in my opinion, grotesque and I don’t think I’m any less of a feminist for thinking so. People are quick to dub any display of nudity and sexuality as empowering and ground-breaking for women everywhere, but I’ve never really bought into that argument. That being said I don’t think the fact that Kim has a child should have anything to do with the criticism of the cover; it certainly didn’t bare any weight in my assessment of it. I think the cover is grotesque because I don’t think it’s selling anything, other than Kim’s body, and I think advocating such a message is dangerous. So even though Kim is entitled to do what she pleases I think I’m entitled to say that I think she’s made a huge mistake…though given the amount of money she’s rumoured to have made on the shoot, I doubt that she even cares.
For many Brits, the notion of “midterms” is a very foreign concept. In the UK the closest thing we have to midterms are by-elections and, prior to the recent rise of UKIP, they went largely unnoticed by the vast majority of the British population. Compare this with America and the situation is different entirely. The midterms play a crucial role in US politics, allowing the electorate to hold the legislative into account and, more significantly, send a message to the executive. On Tuesday that message was loud and clear; the electorate had grown tired of the Democrats and had lost faith in President Obama.
Still, this “message” was based solely on what I had gathered from different reports and, quite frustratingly, they were all telling me different things. Many said the defeat was a huge blow for the Democrats whilst a few said it was simply down to the sixth year curse and extremely unfriendly geography. As an outsider peering in, the whole thing just looked like a huge spectacle. I needed answers, and concrete ones at that, and after reading numerous articles and asking my twitter followers what they thought a few things very quickly became clear:
Obama is officially a lame duck president
The loss of the Senate to the Republicans has well and truly solidified Obama’s status as a lame duck president; the Republicans have even gone so far as to imply that the vote was a referendum on his policy. When a president becomes a lame duck they are effectively rendered powerless and lose their political clout and ability to influence and drive policy making. However Bush was a lame duck president, as were presidents Carter, Ford and Hoover before him…so is being a lame duck really that bad? Well it effectively all comes down to public opinion. Obama’s aggressive foreign policy, which has led to American involvement in crises both home and oversees, have left him unpopular with the American public, his approval rates are low (though surprisingly not as low as they have been in the past) and he’s thus been unable to win over the electorate.
The Republicans have main huge gains
Many thought the race would be close, instead the Republicans won comfortably. Not only did they increase their majority in the House of Representatives, but they also managed to take control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. What’s more the Republicans even managed to take a number of governorships away from the Democrats, including President Obama’s home state of Illinois.
Hilary 2016 looks bleak but it’s not completely doomed
So what does this mean for Hilary Clinton? It’s no secret that she’s been eyeing the oval office for a number of years now; does the result mean she can kiss hopes of a presidency in 2016 goodbye? Well…not necessarily. Clinton has made obvious steps to distance herself from Obama over the years, so the midterm results won’t impact her as much as they would have had she still retained her position as Secretary of State. If the economy continues to grow and wages continue to climb the American public may still get behind her but that, of course, is a lot of ifs.
Only time will tell
Ultimately, as often is the case with politics, only time will tell. If Obama wants to make a real different in the last two years of his presidency he’ll have to act fast during this coming lame duck season rather than wait until next year when the Republicans will officially be in the majority. Arguably the proposed appointment of Loretta Lynch as the first black attorney general suggests he’s doing just that. But since time is of the essence and Obama has very few cards left to play, he’ll have to do everything in his power to ensure that his last two years as president don’t completely go to waste.
Last week Baroness Warsi resigned as foreign office minister, citing her disagreement with the government’s stance on the conflict in Gaza as the sole reason. Warsi called the situation “morally indefensible” and from the language and rhetoric used in her resignation letter it seemed clear that her decision to stand down was a personal one, based not only on her own political affiliations but also her religious beliefs.
Many questioned her motives (rightly so I did the same) but the debate very quickly turned to Warsi’s position within the party and whether her demotion from Tory party chair was more of a contributing factor that she’d initially led us to believe.
In 2010 Warsi had been appointed as “Minister without Portfolio” in cabinet, after succeeding Eric Pickles as chair of the Conservative party. Following a reshuffle in 2012 she was stripped of her role as party Chairman and was instead appointed “Senior Minister of State in the Foreign Office” and “Minister for Faith and Communities”. She was the first Muslim woman to serve in Cabinet. Her appointment was not without controversy, and she has been plagued with claims of tokenism throughout her political career.
It was hardly surprising then that her resignation caused the debate to rear its ugly head once more, only this time the general consensus was a lot nastier. The Spectator published a particularly scathing piece in which Warsi was dubbed “over-promoted, incapable and incompetent,” and The Telegraph suggested that she’d resigned over the “government’s policy towards Baroness Warsi.” Whilst scrolling through the comments it very quickly became clear that whilst opinion was divided on whether Warsi should have stood down over the crisis in Gaza, many felt her appointment into parliament had been nothing more than a token gesture and because of such, many were happy to see her leave.
The general sentiment irked me. Whilst I recognized and understood the grievances most people expressed, I couldn’t help but feel irritated by their dismissal of Warsi’s talents. The comment surrounding her resignation highlighted an issue that affects many ethnic minorities in Britain today. No matter how hard we work, or how much we achieve there are always sceptics who are convinced our achievements are based on race or religion rather than merit alone.
When I was applying to universities I was told to aim high, not because of my good grades, but because my grades and background as an ethnic minority meant that acceptance was likely. When I stated that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism I was told it would be easier for me because, and I quote, “newsrooms are looking for more exotic faces these days”. When I was selected to partake in a scheme to help disadvantaged kids, my course mate who hadn’t made the cut told me they wanted to select people from similar backgrounds and was shocked when I told her I l actually lived in a rural village in Kent and came from a two parent household. Minorities in Britain are often subject to stereotypes, it’s arguably party of the package, however when it gets to the point where every achievement is equated to our minority status, it gets old really fast. Whilst we’re lucky to live in such a multicultural society, it is clear many still hold stigmas that they appear to be incapable of shaking.
The “I Too Am” campaign that started in Harvard and spread to other universities in the UK highlighted this issue. When BME students obtain a place at a top university or secure a prestigious internship with a top firm they are, more than often, questioned about how and why they got there. It’s an issue plagues us in the same way it plagued Warsi’s political career, and arguably isn’t going away very soon. One only needs to look to Chuka Umunna, the Labour Shadow Business Secretary, who’s constantly referred to as “the British Obama” despite the fact that he’s expressed time and time again how much he hates the comparison.
So what does this say about Britain? Well for one thing it shows that many are not as accepting as they’d perhaps like to believe. Whist we live in a multicultural society people still harbour views that can be discriminating to minorities. It’s quite telling that many are willing to accept nepotism and elitism (heck, we have two Milibands in Parliament and house three members of the Bullingdon club) yet question the existence of minorities in influential positions. So before you label a minority a mere token stop because maybe, just maybe, they might be the right person for the job.