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100% of the emotional labour, 0% of the emotional reward: #BlackenAsiawithLove

Last night over dinner and drinks, I spoke about race in the classroom with two white, upper-middle-class gay educators. Neither seemed (able) to make any discernable effort to understand any perspective outside their own. I had to do 100% of the emotional labour, and got 0% of the emotional reward. It was very sad how they went on the attack, using both passive and active aggression, yet had the nerve to dismiss my words as ‘victimhood discourse’. This is exactly why folks write books, articles, and blogs like ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’.

Worse, they both had experienced homophobia in the classroom, at the hands of both students and parents. Nonetheless, they had no ability to contribute to the emotional labour taking place as we spoke about race. Even worse, the one in charge of other educators had only 24 hours earlier performed the classic micro-aggression against me: The brown blur. He walked right past me at our initial meeting as I extended my hand introducing myself while mentioning the mutual friend who’d connected us because, as he said, he was “expecting” to see a white face. He was the one to raise that incident, yet literally threw his hands in the air, nodding his head dismissively as he refused any responsibility for the potential harm caused.

“I’m an adult,” I pled, explaining the difference between me facing those sorts of aggressions, versus the young people we all educate. This all fell on deaf ears. Even worse still, he’d only moments earlier asked me to help him understand why the only Black kid in one of his classes called himself a “real nigger.” Before that, he had asked me to comment on removing the N-word from historical texts used in the classroom, similar to the 2011 debate about erasing the N-word and “injun” from Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884. According to the Guardian, nigger is “surely the most inflammatory word in the English language,” and “appears 219 times in Twain’s book.”

Again, he rejected my explanations as “victimhood.” He even kept boasting about his own colorblindness – a true red flag! Why ask if you cannot be bothered to listen to the answer, I thought bafflingly? Even worse, rather than simply stay silent – which would have been bad enough – the other educator literally said to him “This is why I don’t get involved in such discussions with him.” They accused me of making race an issue with my students, insisting that their own learning environments were free of racism, sexism and homophobia.

They effectively closed ranks. They asserted the privilege of NOT doing any of the emotional labour of deep listening. Neither seemed capable of demonstrating understanding for the (potential) harm done when they dismiss the experiences of others, particularly given our differing corporealities. I thought of the “Get Out” scene in the eponymously named film.

“Do you have any Black teachers on your staff,” I asked knowing the answer. OK, I might have said that sarcastically. Yet, it was clear that there were no Black adults in his life with whom he could pose such questions; he was essentially calling upon me to answer his litany of ‘race’ questions.

Armed with mindfulness, I was able to get them both to express how their own corporeality impacts their classroom work. For example, one of the educators had come out to his middle-school students when confronted by their snickers when discussing a gay character in a textbook. “You have to come out,” I said, whereas I walk in the classroom Black.” Further still, they both fell silent when I pointed out that unlike either of them, my hips swing like a pendulum when I walk into the classroom. Many LGBTQ+ people are not ‘straight-acting’ i.e. appear heteronormative, as did these two. They lacked self-awareness of their own privilege and didn’t have any tools to comprehend intersectionality; this discussion clearly placed them on the defense.

I say, 100% of the emotional labour and none of the emotional reward, yet this is actually untrue. I bear the fruits of my own mindfulness readings. I see that I suffer less in those instances than previously. I rest in the comfort that though understanding didn’t come in that moment, future dialogue is still possible. As bell hooks says on the first page in the first chapter of her groundbreaking book Killing Rage: Ending Racism: “…the vast majority of black folks who are subjected daily to forms of racial harassment have accepted this as one of the social conditions of our life in white supremacist patriarchy that we cannot change. This acceptance is a form of complicity.” I accept that it was my decision to talk to these white people about race.

I reminded myself that I had foreseen the micro-aggression that he had committed the previous day when we first met. A mutual friend had hooked us up online upon his visit to this city in which we now live. I doubted that she’d mentioned my blackness. Nonetheless, I had taken the chance of being the first to greet our guest, realizing that I am in a much safer space both in terms of my own mindfulness, as well as the privilege I had asserted in coming to live here in Hanoi; I came here precisely because I face such aggression so irregularly in Vietnam that these incidents genuinely stand out.

Works mentioned:

Eddo-Lodge, R. (2018). Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Hanh, T. (2013). The Art of Communicating. New York: HarperOne.

hooks, b. (1995). Killing rage: Ending racism. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

 

Game of Thrones ain’t shit

This poem’s inspired from ‘Megatron’ by British poet Hollie McNish, and obviously there’s spoilers to follow. So, if you haven’t watched it and you read it, don’t come crying to me.

Hollie McNish performs Megatron

she said:

“the dragon queen’s the best

if I was a queen, I’d side with her and her kin

Dany’s nice and all that

but it’s Cersei who really wins

The Dragon Queen, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)
(Game of Thrones, HBO)

so many times, I’ve listened to this

since the end of HBO’s fantasy hit

and unto the fans, I say:

that show Game of Thrones ain’t shit

and every season since 2014

it continued in its pursuits

of sex, sweat and pleasure

but where it lacked in story

it cloaked itself in plot armour

saying that Arya and Jon

are unkillable, basically

because they can live forever

The unkillable Jon Snow (Kit Harington)
(Game of Thrones, HBO)

but these characters aren’t real

Dany, Jon, and the Lannisters…

if you want to see bad writing

look how Dany broke the wheel

I watched this show from the start

something we call a farce

including the gradual build up

when they killed off Ned Stark

at the top of those steps

never did I think a show could fall

as my heart shifted six inches left

and I knew every character’s name

and D&D, one bullet to our brains

to us the fans, who pledged

our fealty to the houses and clans

he said

“I felt this way after The Sopranos.”

he said

“I know, it’s the same”

Despite the finale, The Sopranos is still one of the greatest shows ever made

it’s not the same, this wasn’t one episode

and after that season finale

I sat in silence, hung my head in shame

my name’s not Jon, as his body

started to change, ribs realigned,

lungs redesigned. Bran defied nature

nine kingdoms out of seven

and D&D sent seasons 1 – 4 to heaven

and I’m still pissed off up to now

filled six episodes with air

an amniotic sack of stuff

HBO hacks are the ones that dared

destroy the show, look how it came to this

cus I know Game of Thrones ain’t shit

she said

you’re so extra

and that was it, because I know she’s

got to be taking the piss.

And every time, they’d praise Dany

I remember parents named

their children named after that shit

how she sacked the Capital

after travelling West

the dragon queen and her hoards

who freed herself and freed cities

but you know that show

Game of Thrones ain’t the best

and every time

I think about seasons 1 – 4

like when Bobby Baratheon

was skewered by that boar

my heart shifts to the right

it reverts back to this

and after four years

of doing that, I remember

how Game of Thrones ain’t shit

Mark Addy played King Robert I Baratheon
(Game of Thrones, HBO)

compared to many others shows

this one stood bold as brass

and the only thing fans gave

to these long games of thrones

(showing me nothing lasts forever)

is unwavering fealty

of which HBO gave no shits whatsoever.

Why can’t we answer the important questions?

Photos taken at the #NotOneDayMore #ToriesOut demonstartion, march, and rally at London’s Parliament Square.

I lead a module (CRI3003) which centres on institutional violence. Based on pacifist, feminist and zemiological principles, the module focuses on several institutions including social services, the police, prison and the military. The module is discussion based and seeks to understand the complexity of institutions, identifying recurring themes across a variety of different violences through the critical analysis of official inquiries. Through engagement all participants are challenged to disrupt everyday narratives around such processes.

Garver insists that violence ‘occurs in several markedly different forms, and can be usefully classified into four different kinds based on two criteria, whether the violence is personal or institutionalised, or whether the violence is overt or covert and quiet’ (1968: 257). His definition offers a road map for understanding a variety of violences, allowing scholars to navigate their way through extreme complexity.

This week saw the publication of phase one of the Grenfell Inquiry (Moore-Bick, 2019). The subject of much conjecture (and some leaks), the report runs to four volumes and c. 900 words. As with many reports of this type, there is the combination of the procedural and the extremely personal. At times, it makes for harrowing reading, at others, it reads like a technical manual. Nevertheless, its publication is a landmark for all involved and offers some potential answers for the traumatised survivors, families, fire fighters and others.

Although, phase 2 of the Grenfell Inquiry is not due to begin until early 2020, it is evident that some early conclusions and recommendations have been reached. Some of these centre of London Fire Brigade [LFB] and particularly, the judgement of their commissioner, Dany Cotton. Such an approach is typical of inquiries into crime, drilling down to analyse individual decisions and behaviours, cause and effect. If an individual had walked down from the top floor of Grenfell tower, pouring petrol outside every flat, and then lit a flame, such processes would be part and parcel of any investigation. However, the disaster at Grenfell tower cannot be answered through individual blame and naming and shaming.

It is important to note that the men and women that make up London Fire Brigade did not:

  • start the fire
  • did not manufacture the fridge-freezer which is believed to have started the fire
  • were not responsible for sourcing, supplying or fitting the cladding
  • have any input in the business decision(s) that led to choosing that cladding
  • have any say in political decisions to embrace the ideology of “austerity” which included reducing safety checks on manufacturing, trading standard officers, fire officers, fire appliances and closing fire stations

All of the evidence to date indicates that the disaster at Grenfell was not unexpected. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that there were many warning signs, repeated concerns amid a general feeling that some people matter more than others, that some people are less worthy of consideration, that some people deserve to live in safe housing. Furthermore, discussions in the UK focus on the need to support businesses, not ever acknowledging that business and countries are comprised of people. Until official inquiries have terms of references which allow them to focus on the lived experience in all its complexity, any conclusions can only be partial. Additionally, any recommendations are incomplete.

While, as a society we continue to treat people as commodities, a “human resource”, with no worth beyond their economic value, we ensure that horrific disasters such as the fire at Grenfell Tower (to name but one of many) continue to happen. We can also expect many more official inquiries which never quite explain what those affected need to know.  We can continue our handwringing, the oft-repeated mantra of “never again”, spending vast amounts of money in attempts to apportion blame, costs that can, as in the case of the Grenfell Inquiry, far surpass the original money saving.  Or we can begin to respect the dignity of humanity, regardless of where we are born, our income or the amount of money we’ve stockpiled in the bank.

It seems apt to close with the words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity (1959: 25)

References

Curtin, Deane and Litke Robert, (1999b) ‘Preface’ in Deane Curtin and Robert Litke, (Eds), Institutional Violence, (Amsterdam: Rodopi): xi-xv

Garver, Newton, (1968), ‘What Violence Is’ in A. K. Bierman and James A. Gould, (1973), Philosophy for a New Generation, (New York: MacMillan): 256-66

King Jr, Martin Luther, (1959), The Measure of a Man, (Philadelphia: Christian Education Press)

Moore-Bick, Martin, (2019), Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report: Report of the Public Inquiry into the Fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017, (London: The Stationery Office), [online]. Available from: https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/phase-1-report [Last accessed 2 November 2019]

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