Friday 17 June 2016

A letter to those in my family who would vote to leave Europe

The tragic death of Jo Cox has been very disturbing. One has to feel terrible for her family. But here we have a humanitarian who has been slain. As such, it is a terrible attack on British liberalism.

The attacker is alleged to have shouted Britain First. Whatever his motive, or mental state, this is a party that when Sadiq Khan was elected London Mayor, had their candidate on the platform turn away as Mr Khan was pronounced as mayor.

Whatever your views on staying in or out of Europe, I feel following this attack, the need to articulate the kind of people who want us out, and the thuggery aligned to them. There has been a propaganda campaign in the majority of the press to exit Europe. It goes back to the days of the Daily Mail claiming Europe vetoes certain banana shapes, human rights, rules and interference. It goes to the heart of the press and politicians using any immigrant, asylum seeker or migrant bad news story as a representative of all foreigners. But think, when was the last time you associated any criminal act by a white person, as representative of all white people?

There is an incredible humanitarian disaster going on in Syria and Libya as a direct result of our short term planned foreign policies. These are refugees escaping war, or economic realities so appalling that people would risk losing their children in rubber boats bouncing across the sea. Can you imagine if dad had made us cross the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea in his boat, to escape war, persecution or dire economic circumstances. Would it have been a lightly taken decision, or one of absolute desperation?

The wider causes need addressing. The very real threat of ISIS needs addressing, but of course it has to be remembered that the worse you treat others, the more likely one is to create people who are disillusioned with our way of life.

Ask yourself, would you be better of dealing with these issues as a united Europe, or a fractured one?

The problem with the In and Out campaigns has been mis-information on both sides. When it comes to it though, it is obvious that as a nation, we will lose significantly in Economic terms. But we will also lose the unity of a continent that fought itself twice in the last century with millions of deaths. Europe has many faults, and I don’t like it as it is, but we have to make it better, not fracture unity among people. Europeans know their immigration policies are not working, but these need addressing, not running away from. Leaving Europe will not make these issues go away.

Back to my original point. Nigel Farage yesterday standing in front of a poster of refugees is comparible with Nazi propaganda in World War 2. I play basketball. I am the only white English player in the mens or womens teams. Many are muslim, including many of the women…. No they are not wearing veils, they are wearing basketball shorts and kit like everyone else. Do I feel under threat by the fact that everyone else is different to me, or that I am in a minority of one? Or do I go out with them after games and laugh with them like anyone else. There is no “them and us”, there is only “we”, and you have to get away from the decades of propaganda that has fed you to believe that English white people are better than anyone else. We are the same. Start thinking that people are the same as you, and then why does any national or cultural difference matter.

What old England are you trying to preserve? The England that invented concentration camps in the 19th century, the England that caused millions to die in famines in India and Ireland by denying food aid. The England that took land from the people of the Chagos Islands as recently as the 1960’s. The England whose justice system covers up the deaths of Hillsborough. The England that ruled the slave trade and stole, murdered and raped 16 million Africans. But you won’t read that in the Daily Mail, the Times or the Telegraph. And because you won’t, your view of our superiority over everyone else, will reduce your ability to empathise with people who don’t look like you.

The thuggery from the England football fans which has risen in Europe recently, having improved for many years, is a direct result of the wave of racist xenophobia which has come about from the Out Campaign. Farage, Johnson, Gove and all have thrived on this misinformation about others. They are creating and living off your fear of people who don’t look like you, whose culture and religion is not like yours. This fear is what will make you vote to exit, as it is what drives football fans to do what they do, and very possibly what drives people like Britain First, and the murder of a humanitarian that saw everyone as her equal.

What scares me most, is who we are handing our power to in this country if we vote out. The only way forward for humanity is to keep coming together, resolving our differences, and correcting what doesn’t work. Isolationism has traditionally led to trade wars, conflict, 2 world wars and immense human suffering. Look how it’s driving the farce around Trump. Do we keep adding to it, or keep a cool head and say, we have to make humanity work.

Thursday 7 January 2016

A Question of Dismantle

Dear white people. 
How desperately do you want to break down barriers with other people?
Does the heart of your politics fight to bring people from all communities together, 
Or look to polarise and protect self?
Is your politics of separation or togetherness?
Are you committed to the dismantling of privilege 
Even when that building stands with a better view from others?
Are you ready to understand that the dismantling of that structure is the starting point, 
Not the end game, 
For your commitment to the politics of togetherness?

Monday 28 December 2015

KZ-(minus) N

Arrogance manifests in coffee shops,
Shop purchases not trusting
African mouthed information.
Empathy chip broken in brains
Refusing to believe poverty contained
Outside of electric fences and guard dogs.
Whatever deal was struck,
I am offended.

Yes I, am offended.
Every time I walk down a Durban street.
Every black South African poet I meet.
Every person I just want to chat and greet,
Will probably think
I’m just like you.

To the white South Africans
That I witnessed arrogant in coffee shops,
In retail stores
Behind fences
And defences,
A violator of African soil at worst,
At best
A guest
On it.
By your actions, I am defined.

Sometimes I just want to take the Natal
Out of KwaZulu,
Take the Rand
Out of what you do
Take the wealth
Out of your inheritance
Take the land
Out of your existence.

One thing I learned though.
My opinion means nothing
To those that matter.
My view of those that offend me
Becomes lost in white noise.
Humbled, I bow to this important lesson.
And wait for those who can,
To take the Natal and the Rand
From you.
I pray for justice.
I pray for peace.
Knowing without one,

There cannot be another.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Shuffering and Shmiling - interpretations

When my African Caribbean partner was working on a play on race in South Africa with a white South African artist, I suggested there was room in the play for Fela Kuti's tune "Shuffering and Shmiling". 

The classic and poignant line being "You Africans listen to me as Africans. You non-Africans listen to me with open minds."
I felt it held true with the point of the play being about race, and that Africans, or those of the African diaspora, are in the position to be able to talk and explain about race, whereas Europeans need only to listen, and as Fela said, with open minds.

I also maintained that the "black" majority population in South Africa should be referred to as Africans, and the "white" population as Europeans. I have been challenged on that point in South Africa and back in London. I still hold true to this, and if white people born and raised in South Africa consider themselves African, why are they so desperate to hold onto a European culture and way of living? In Europe of course, the expectation is on migrants to assimilate into European culture.

This last point that there is such a thing as a white African, makes me concerned that they may have chosen to hear Fela Kuti's line on the assumption that they themselves are African, and that my partner (of African Caribbean descent living in the UK) will have been construed as the European. 

If so, that's a pretty concerning spin on the whole intention.... but then explains how most whites really don't get what's going on around them, and choose to selectively listen....And then concentrate on what's in their own minds anyway.

Perceptions are everything. But there is also a reality. And it's not Europeans that are sucking on it. When all things are equal in the world, I won't need to have this discussion. 

Thursday 19 November 2015

My time in KwaZulu Part 2 - the white bit

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve drafted this blog. I’ve swung from cussing white South African’s to trying to be more constructive in my approach. The problem I have is that inside I’m raging. I’m angry at white South Africans for what I saw, for what they don’t see, for their inability to engage with an African majority, for trying to maintain a European culture in an African nation. Most of all I’m angry that so much white liberal dialogue is introspective and about how they deal with their conscience, their definition of white privilege, and how much they feel hurt because people don’t like them…. All that self-reflection, all the while black African people are dying through poverty and the unequal ownership of land and wealth that favours the minority population.

I’m angry that a people can be so arrogant and lack empathy. That they think they have a right to be there, when they are privileged to be allowed to be there. That they think any opinion other than their own cannot possibly be right… and I believe that is a legacy of apartheid.

I’ll add a short precursor to my story, which is an important backdrop to understanding where I come from on angles of race. A lot of people reading this may have only known me a short time, or know me through my African Caribbean partner. I am a white male from London.  I was brought up in Slough, a few miles out of Greater London. Slough has the most diverse population outside of London itself, had the first black British female mayor. My passion for equality was ignited by powerful messages I heard in music in my youth. Of course that has been from a white male perspective, and can’t be anything else, but I constantly strive to listen. I endeavor to be proactive in fighting racism. Silence is not enough. Yes I have a black partner, very active and high profile in the arts, and this has introduced me to people I may never have met otherwise, and opportunities where I have listened, seen and not spoken. I give thanks to those that trust my presence and good intention. I respect those that don’t. I do not intend to speak on anyone else’s behalf. I cannot define racism, I cannot feel it. But I will still fight it, because that’s what I know to be right. And I know to do so, means dealing with everything that I look like. I have no issues myself with who I am, but I decided that starting a legacy as a humanitarian is better than honouring a legacy of a heritage that does not define who I am.

My previous blog touches on the beauty and wonder of my first week in Durban, and how the poets, people, experiences and constructive arts around Poetry Africa had a huge impact on me. Once again, I give heartfelt thanks and love to everyone I met. You and your art have been such a blessing for me. Photographing you completed the circle for me.

After the first week at Poetry Africa, our week really switched in style.  We moved to a flat in Glenwood. Walked to the shops a lot. Got stared at a lot. But we (a mixed couple) get stared at outside of London, in Paris, in Sydney, in the Caribbean, in Plymouth, England… we get stared at. But we knew there was history here. We’d picked up on the vibe that there is very little cultural mixing, so I’m not sure how much more we noticed stares, how much more different we felt. Whether I pre-loaded my mind to expect different attitudes to us. After getting a feel for our environment, that no longer mattered to me. I’m generally quite a shy person, my partner is not, and doesn’t take to there being an “elephant in the room”. Before long, we were talking to every waitress in coffee shops, every market seller and shop keeper. Just getting along and mixing.

However, I soon realized that being there was also a learning curve for me. Learning about how being in Africa for the first time was particularly profound for my partner, and how the affect on her of having a white partner impacted her experience. I’m not going to run into her feelings or views, you can check her blogs for yourself, but these were deep factors for me. On top of that, the whole purpose of us being here for weeks 2 & 3 was to put together a play with a white South African on race. That again posed many issues, which again, my partner has been dealing with in blogs and also in performances since returning to London. I don’t want to make personal references on this blog. That said, I know that the dynamic for my partner has been put to the test…. You’re an African Caribbean woman, been asked to create a play on race with a white South African man, with a white director, and where you want consolation and support from the rigours and stresses of dealing with such subjects…. That also has to come from a white man, your partner. I don’t underestimate the impact that has on her, nor the strength of our relationship to deal with it.

I actually ended up being far more involved in the play than I expected. At times the naivety and inappropriateness of the approaches to dealing with race were revealing in themselves. At times, there was a lot of white noise as I had to counter and discuss many of the angles coming to the play’s concept and discussions. Indeed, the Durban artist’s post show blog underlines this by the conclusions he has drawn about his understanding of racism. To be honest, his detachment from the reality of racism underlines the huge distance white liberalism in South Africa needs to travel if it is going to save itself….

Save itself?
If white liberals cannot move away from their need to address their hurt feelings, their guilt, and feeling sorry for themselves, they are going to have problems. I saw poverty that I’ve not seen before. Poverty in a country that has wealth to share. Nowhere in any white discussions on racism did this transpire to be part of their perception of racism.  People in their country dying, was not part of their discussion on what racism is. The transfer or sharing of wealth is the one thing that whites don’t want to talk about. It seemed very obvious to me that the black African majority have tuned out of white liberalism. There’s no point in listening to white noise, when it’s inward looking and self satisfying, and in no way addressing the needs of those who are actually doing the real life (and death) suffering. This is true of much of white European Capitalism around the world. The difference in South Africa is the white Europeans are blatantly a protected minority. At some point if value and wealth is not shared, I can only surmise that it will be taken from them. The FeesMustFall demo’s demonstrated to me there is a new young political urgency that will only wait so long.  In the Caribbean there is an expression I have learned. “If you do not hear, you must feel.” White South Africans need to take note.

Me People-watching in South Africa, in coffee shops and bars, has been pretty telling. In England, there is a way that many upper middle class people have about them. An arrogance and an expectation of how they want to be treated. The only people they view on that level is people who look like them. In South Africa, that came across very strongly from most of the white people I saw. It was an exaggeration of that very nature. In fact almost a caricature of it. I saw people being rude to Africans waiting on them, simply by niceties that were not said.

Now, if you take that arrogance, and take that expectation that only people like yourself are on your wavelength, then what happens is, your empathy “chip” in your brain goes wonky. It has first and second class citizens in its perception (either consciously or subconsciously). But it’s there. So you apply empathy more to those that are like you. You can relate to how they feel because they are like you. This was an epiphany moment for me. Seeing many white South Africans behave like they were gods and others aren’t, made me realize this is a fault in many white people around the world. The UK, USA, Europe…. It’s how we’ve worked exploitive capitalism for centuries, on the poor in our own countries, and on every other race around the world. By not empathizing or caring enough for those not like us, because we have enabled ourselves to think they are different….

Therefore we don’t have to care for them. Therefore we can shut off their cries. Therefore we can expect them to live in poverty and not care for our role in their crisis, nor our role in the solution.  I’d never fully got that perception on how that is at the heart of racism… (ie. Fucked up empathy). It took me to come to South Africa to see that so profoundly in action on a majority population, and then see it about white “dominance” around the globe generally.

I was asked a very profound question by an African artist. We were discussing how African diaspora culture around the world is generally very welcoming to strangers.

I was asked, how is it that white people are raised to be so evil, to care so little for others.

I was asked that on my last day in South Africa. I had already realized in the previous weeks that empathy was a major issue with many white South Africans. That question clearly resonated, and confirmed everything I’d been thinking.

Every white person needs to look at that question again. Whether you agree with it is up to you. If you don’t, you need to ask yourself why someone not like you could think it. The answers lie in how you deal with that… or not.