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Mundial: Why I won’t be watching the World Cup this time

It has been called the beautiful game; in the past even during war the opposing sides played a game; it has made some of its players stars and household names, football or soccer has a global appeal.  From the townships in South Africa, to the Brazilian Favelas, the makeshift pitches the world over to the highly pristine pitches in academies, kids the world over learn to kick a ball, and play the game that requires speed, agility, and dexterity in the feet.  Kids who just play for fun in an after-school club or to bond with friends.  The appeal of this game has been intertemporal. 

Generations of kids, begged their parents to stay longer out to play with their friends, asked for another ball, shoes or shorts and each family responded according to their means.  After all, football is/was a working-class game.  The relative low cost makes it accessible; it allows plenty of kids to play together and build relationships.  Football was an equaliser that did not care who you are or where you come from. 

I remember as a kid, year after year playing in the summer with the same kids in teams between Greek and Yugoslavians.  We were keeping score and the losing side was buying the other side ice-creams.  Not quite the golden ornate cup but a wager worth playing 10 games across the summer.  We called each other’s teams with the name of the country we came from.  My lasting memory was the last time we played together before the civil war in Yugoslavia erupted.  The Yugoslavians won and they were chanting “Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia”.  Those kids did not come the following summer.  In the next summer, the same kids would be carrying the flag and arms of one of the opposing sides armed to kill each other.  When football is not the game, disputes are resolved in brutality. 

In the past decades, football’s appeal made it the game to watch.  The transition to professional football made the game lucrative, some clubs acquired big budgets and of course attracted a finer audience.  The pundits, as a former footballer put it, started eating “prawn sandwiches” an indication of their more expensive tastes.  Still people stick with the sport because of their own memories and experiences.  My first ever game was with my grandfather.  We went to the stadium of the club that was to become the team I support for life.  The atmosphere, the emotional roller coaster and most importantly a shared experience with someone very dear, that even when they are gone, you carry the sounds, the emotions with you forever. 

Some footballers started earning enormous fees for playing the game; the club colours became trademarked and charged over the odds for a simple scarf or a top.  The rights to the games sold to private companies requiring people to pay subscriptions to watch a simple game.  People objected but continued still to support, although some people were priced out of the game altogether.  The game endures because it still resonates with people’s experiences.       

In particular, the national games have kept some of their original appeal of playing for your country, playing for your colours!  Football is an unpredictable sport and in international events you can have an outsider taking the cup against the odds!  Like Greece winning the UEFA Euro in 2004!  The games in international tournaments leads to knock out games, with the drama of extra time and of course the penalty shootout.  Nail biting moments shared with family and friends.  These magical moments of personal and collective elevation, as if you were there with the players, part of their effort, part of their victory. 

When the host country was announced some years ago that will be hosting this year’s world cup there were already calls for investigation into the voting process raising concerns.  Since then, there have been concerns about the safety of those who work on the infrastructure.  Thousands of migrant workers, many of whom are/were undocumented have worked in building the stadiums that the games will be played in.  There are accusations of numerous deaths of migrant workers (an estimate from The Guardian comes to a staggering 6,500 deaths).  This has raised a significant question about priorities in our world.  It is unthinkable to put a game above human life.  This was later followed by “the guidelines” to teams and visitors that alternative sexualities will not be tolerated.  Calls about respecting the host’s culture adding to the numbers of people calling for a boycott.  So why I won’t be watching this time around?

We have been talking for years about inclusivity and tolerance.  Women’s rights, LGBTQ+, immigrant rights, worker rights and all of them being trampled for the sake of a competition.  Those who have been asked about the issues from the football federation, former footballers and even governments have played down all these concerns.  In some cases, they opted for a tokenistic move like rainbow-coloured planes or include the rainbow on national team logo.  Others will be issuing rainbow bracelets and some saying that they will raise issues if/when given the opportunity.  This sounds too little considering what has happened so far especially all the fatalities caused building all the constructions.  If we are not to uphold civil rights and if we are not ready to act on them, why talk about them? 

I remember the game for being inclusive and serving to get people together; this competition is setting an incredibly horrible precedent that human life is cheap and expendable; that people’s rights are negotiable and that you can stop being who you are momentarily, because the game matters more than any of the above.  It does not!  Without rights, without respect, without life there is no game, there is nothing, because there is no humanity.  These games do not bother me, they offend me as a human being.  If people died to build this stadium then this space is not fit for games; it’s a monument to vanity and greed; hardly sportsmanlike qualities.    

Remembering the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, 27 Years After

                                      We are going to demand our rights peacefully, non-violently and we shall win’
Ken Saro Wiwa

The level of destruction and environmental damage caused to the people of Ogoni land remains one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Nigeria. This month, we remember and reflect on the plight of the renowned Lt. Ken Saro Wiwa, Nigeria’s pioneer environmentalist who fought vehemently against the incessant destruction of the Ogoni Land in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

The history of Nigeria is heavily ingrained in the struggle for oil, and the Ogoni Land, which is located in the Niger – Delta region of the country houses one of the most sought-after and precious deposits of crude oil in the world. Although, with a very small ethnic population compared to the larger ethnic groups, the Ogoni people consider themselves as the marginalised groups who has consistently benefitted nothing but havoc and environmental destruction at the hands of the then Nigerian Military government and the Royal Dutch Shell petroleum corporation. Indeed, it can be argued that the inability of both the Nigerian government and Shell to devise appropriate measures to ensure the preservation of Ogoniland as well as the protection of locals contributed to the environmental destruction that the region encountered.

Shell entered Ogoniland in the 1950s with the approval of the Nigeria Government to exploit and extract oil. As Shell’s operations were ongoing, the Ogoni people started witnessing changes in their environment, something that drew attention to the series of environmental pollutions going on in that region. Due to the Ogoni land’s mangrove nature, the Ogoni people relied heavily on fishing and farming for trade and survival. However, Shell’s entry turned their livelihoods into a nightmare when the region began to experience massive oil spillage. Causing an unprecedented level of health hazard, their farmlands began soaking in crude oil, tonnes of fish were dying off due to the oil spillage, their drinking water became contaminated with Benzene, locals were dying due to inhaling toxins – all of which led to a complete destruction of the environment.

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A man trying to separate crude oil from water in Rivers state, Nigeria. Via: https://www.newsweek.com/how-nigerias-buhari-can-clean-ogonilands-oil-spills-476654

Via: https://friendsoftheearth.eu/news/after-decades-of-neglect-its-time-to-clean-up-ogonilands-oil-pollution/

via:https://guardian.ng/news/ogoni-communities-lack-water-health-facilities-1000-days-into-cleanup/

‘Amnesty International estimates total oil spill in the Ogoni to be between nine and 13 million barrels, with Shell and ENI, the Italian multinational oil giant, admitting to more than 550 oil spills in 2014 alone.’

(Vanguard 2018)

In an attempt to challenge this devastation, Ken Saro Wiwa began his campaign by establishing the movement popularly known as MOSOP (Movement for the survival of the Ogoni People). This group engaged in a series of mass demonstrations calling for the withdrawal of Shell’s operation, whilst challenging the incessant destruction of their precious land. Soon after, he developed the Ogoni bill of rights, a political document simply based on the principle of justice and morality, which demanded the protection of the Ogoni people against Shell’s operation on the Ogoni soil.

Ogoni Bill Of Rights – adapted from https://bebor.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ogoni-Bill-of-Rights.pdf

This movement engaged in a series of demonstrations and activism, both on the streets and in the national dailies. From such a small location, their voice and activism rapidly spread like wildfire, grabbing the attention of neighbouring communities, then neighbouring states, and then the entire country – to the point that there were now being recognised by international communities. Although, the periods between 1990 and 1992 were particularly difficult for the Ogoni people and the MOSOP because this was when many of their activities became proscribed – even though they adopted a nonviolent mode of engagement. Under the Military Decree, anyone engaging in activities capable of promoting ethnic nationalism risks the death penalty, and the Military government of Nigeria did not hesitate their assurance in following suit.

Ken continued to encourage resistance but their ranks, it is recorded, slowly began to fall apart as some supporters began to denounce Ken’s ‘radical’ forms of activism. These internal disputes meant that factions within the group will now begin to go against their official principles while engaging in sabotage. An example of this was when Ken was accused of orchestrating the killing of some Ogoni leaders in 1994. Eventually, the Nigerian government concluded that the chiefs were all critics of Ken’s activism and that he only could have orchestrated their killing. This case, coupled with the accusation of causing civil unrest in the Niger – Delta region later led to his arrest by the Military Government. His unjust imprisonment provoked international outrage with members of the African Union, European Union, and other pressure groups beginning to condemn this act. Protests erupted in several locations, activists began to call for his release and foreign leaders even advised the Abacha government to reconsider his actions and release Saro Wiwa unconditionally, but all of these fell on deaf ears.  

Despite the public outcry and stern warnings from world Presidents, the military dictatorship of the Sani Abacha regime authorised the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa alongside 8 other Ogoni activists. They were sentenced to death by hanging on the 10th of November 1995 – with his last words recorded as:

                'Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues.'

Via:https://mulibrarytreasures.wordpress.com/2021/09/22/the-maynooth-university-ken-saro-wiwa-collection/

Indeed, the struggle continues, and the spirits of these faithful departed live on. The story and execution of Ken Saro Wiwa remind us of the long history of pain that the Nigerian people have endured at the hands of their leaders. Apart from the fact that Ken Saro Wiwa stood for justice, Ken reminded us that the real victims of eco-crimes and state violence are often the last to realise their victimisation. He put the Ogoni people on the map for the world to see the damage and destruction that bad government policies can cause. He demonstrated to us in an exemplary fashion how we understand the illicit engagements at play, often stealth, between state representatives and cooperate establishments. And most importantly, he drew attention to the need for the protection of our environment and how we must defend it at all costs. 27 years after his death, it can be argued that the Niger – Delta region continues to feel the impact of the environmental damage, but his show of gallantry for the protection of our environment will continue to inspire many who continue to challenge and resist the various forms of ecological crimes in Africa – and elsewhere.

Reference

Vanguard 2018, ‘Inside Ogoni village where  oil spill wipes off ’10 persons every week’, The Vanguard, December 23, 2018, https://www.vanguardngr.com/2018/12/inside-ogoni-village-where-oil-spill-wipes-off-10-persons-every-week/

 “Quelle surprise” – another fine mess

The recent HMICFRS publication An inspection of vetting misconduct and misogyny in the police service makes difficult reading for those of us that have or have had any involvement in the police service in England and Wales.  Of course, this is not the first such report and I dare say it will not be the last.  There is enough evidence both academic and during the course of numerous inquiries to suggest that there is institutional corruption of all sorts in the police service, coupled with prevailing racist and misogynistic attitudes.  Hardly a surprise then that public confidence is at an all-time low.

As with so many reports and associated inquiries, the finger of blame is pointed at the institution or individuals within it.  The failings are organisational failings or departmental or individual. I cast my mind back to those inquiries into the failings of social services or the failings of NHS trusts or the failings of the Fire and Rescue service or any other public body, all the fault of the organisation itself or individuals within it.  Too many inquiries and too many failings to count. More often than not the recommendations from these reports and inquiries involve rectifying processes and procedures and increasing training.  Rarely if ever do these reports even dare to dip their toe into the murky waters relating to funding.  Nobody on these inquiries would have the audacity to suggest that the funding decisions made in the dark corridors of government would later have a significant contribution to the failings of all of these organisations and the individuals within them.  Perhaps that’s why those people are chosen to head the inquiries or maybe the funding decisions are long forgotten.

Twenty percent budget cuts in public services in 2010/11 meant that priorities were altered often with catastrophic consequences.  But to be honest the problems go much further back than the austerity measures of 2010/11.  Successive governments have squeezed public services in the interest of efficiency and effectiveness. The result, neither being achieved, just some tinder box ready to explode into disaster.  And yet more hand wringing and finger pointing and costly inquiries.

The problem is not just that the organisations failed or that departments or individuals failed, the problem is that all the failings might have been prevented if there was money available to deliver the service properly in the first place.  And to do that, there needs to be enough staff, enough training, and enough equipment.  And who is responsible for ensuring that happens?

Now you may say that is all very well but what of the police officers that are racist and misogynistic or corrupt and what of institutional corruption? After all the HMICFRS report is not just about vetting procedures but about the attitudes and behaviours of staff.  A good point but let me point you to the behaviour of government, not just this government but preceding governments as well.  The expenses scandal, the bullying allegations, the improper behaviour in parliament, the complete disregard for the ethics or for that matter, common decency. And what of those successive budget cuts and lack of willingness to address very real issues faced by staff in the organisations. 

Let me also point you to the behaviour of the general public from whom the police officers are recruited.  A society where parents that attend children’s football matches and hurl abuse at the referee and linesmen, even threatening to see them in the car park after the match. Not a one off but from recent reports a weekly occurrence and worse.  A society now where staff in shops are advised not to challenge shoplifters in fear of their own safety.  A society where there is a complete disregard for the law by many on a daily basis, including those that consider themselves law abiding citizens.  A society where individuals blame everyone else, always in need of some scapegoat somewhere.  A society where individuals know individually and collectively how they want others to behave but don’t know or disregard how they should behave.

I’m not surprised by the recent reports into policing and other services, saddened but not surprised.  I’m not naïve enough to think that society was really any better at some distant time in the past, in fact there were some periods where it was definitely worse and policing of any sort has always been problematic.  My fear is we are heading back to the worst times in humanity and these reports far from highlighting just an organisational problem are shining a floodlight on a societal one.  But it suits everyone to confine the focus to the failings of organisations and the individuals within them.  Not my fault, not my responsibility it’s the others not me, quelle surprise.

The dance of the vampires

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 415565ip ) THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, 1974 VARIOUS

We value youth.  There is greater currency in youth, far greater than wisdom, despite most people when they are looking back wishing they had more wisdom in life.  Modernity brought us the era of the picture and since then we have become captivated with images.  Pictures, first black and white, then replaced by moving images, and further replaced by colour became an antidote to a verbose society that now didn’t need to talk about it…it simply became a case of look and don’t talk!

The image became even more important when people turned the cameras on themselves.  The selfie, originally a self-portrait of reclusive artists evolved into a statement, a visual signature for millions of people using it every day on social media.  Enter youth!  The engagement with social media is regarded the gift of computer scientists to the youth of today.  I wonder how many people know that one of the first images sent as a jpeg was that of a Swedish Playboy playmate the ‘lady with the feathers’.  This “captivating” image was the start of the virtual exchange of pictures that led to billions of downloads every day and social media storing an ever-expanding array of images.   

The selfie, brought with it a series of challenges. How many times can you take a picture, even of the most beautiful person, before you become accustomed to it.  Before you say, well yes that is nice, but I have seen it before.  To resolve the continuous exposure the introduction of filters, backgrounds and themes seems to add a sense of variety.  The selfie stick (banned from many museums the world over) became the equipment,  along with the tripod, the lamp and the must have camera, with the better lens in the pursue of the better selfie.  Vanity never had so many accessories!

The stick is an interesting tool.  It tells the individual nature of the selfie.  The voyage that youthful representation takes across social media is not easy, it is quite a solitary one.  In the representation of the image, youth seem to prefer.  The top “influencers” are young, who mostly like to pose and sometimes even offer some advice to their followers.  Their followers, their contemporaries or even older individuals consume their images like their ‘daily (visual) bread’.  This seems to be a continuous routine, where the influencer produces images, and the followers watch them and comment.  What, if anything, is peculiar about that? Nothing!  We live in a society build on consumption and the industry of youth is growing.  So, this is a perfect marriage of supply and demand.  Period!    

Or is it?  In the last 30 years in the UK alone the law on protecting children and their naivety from exploitation has been centre stage of several successive governments.  Even when discussing civil partnerships for same sex couples, Baroness Young, argued against the proposed act, citing the protection of children.  Youth became a precious age that needed protection and nurturing.  The law created a layer of support for children, particularly those regarded vulnerable. and social services were drafted in to keep them safe and away from harm.  In instances when the system failed, there has been public outrage only to reinforce the original notion that children and young people are to be protected in our society. 

That is exactly the issue here!  In the Criminology of the selfie!  Governments introducing policies to generate a social insulation of moral righteousness that is predicated on individual – mostly parental – responsibility.  The years of protective services and we do not seem to move passed them.  In fact, their need is greater than ever.  Are we creating bad parents through bad parenting or are people confronted with social forces that they cannot cope with?  The reality is that youth is more exposed than ever before.  The images produced, unlike the black and white photos of the past, will never fade away.  Those who regret the image they posted, can delete it from their account, but the image is not gone.  It shall hover over them for the eternity of the internet.  There is little to console and even less to help.  During the lockdown, I read the story of the social carer who left their job and opened an OnlyFans account.  These are private images provided to those who are willing to pay.  The reason this experience became a story, was the claim that the carer earned in one month of OnlyFans, more than their previous annual income.  I saw the story being shared by many young people, tagging each other as if saying, look at this.  The image that captures their youth that can become a trap to contain them in a circle of youth.  Because in life, before the certainty of death there is another one, that of aging and in a society that values youth so much, can anyone be ready to age? 

As for the declared care for the young, would a society that cares have been closing the doors to HE, to quality apprenticeships, a living wage and a place to live?  The same society that stirs emotions about protection, wants young people to stay young so that they cannot ask for their share in their future.  The social outrage about paedophiles is countered with high exposure to a particular genre in the movies and literature that promotes it.  The vampire that has been fashioned as young adult literature is the proverbial story of an (considerably) older man who deflowers a young innocent girl until she becomes infatuated with him.  The movies can be visually stunning because it involves the images of young beautiful people but there is hardly any mention of consent or care!

It is one of the greatest ironies to revive the vampire image in youth culture. A cultural representation of a male prototype that is manipulative, intruding into the lives of seemingly innocent young people who become his prey. There is something incredibly unsettling to explore the semiology of an immortal that is made through a blood ritual. A reverse Peter Pan who consumes the youth of his victims. The popularity of this Victorian literary character, originally conceived in the era of industrial advancement,at a time when modernity challenged tradition, resurfaces with other monsters at times of great uncertainty. The era of the picture has not made everyday life easier, and modernity did not improve quality of life to the degree it proclaimed. Instead, whilst people are becoming captivated by ephemera they are focused on the appearance and missing substance. An old experience man, dark, mysterious with white skin may be an appealing character in literature but in real life a someone who feeds on young people’s blood is hardly an exciting proposition.

The blood sacrifice demanded by a vampire is a metaphor of what our society requires for those who wish to retain youth and save their image into the ether of the cyberworld as a permanent Portrait of Dorian Gray.  In this context, the vampire is not only a man in power, using his privilege to dominate, but a social representation of what a consumer society places as the highest value.  It is life’s greatest irony that the devouring power of a vampire is becoming a representation of how little value we place on both youth and life!  A society focused on appearance, ignoring the substance.  Youth looking but not youth caring!   

The Color Purple, The Musical: What in the Misogynoir?!

The term misogynoir was first coined by Moya Bailey (2010) to describe the specific discrimination that Black women and girls experience through the combination of both anti-Blackness and misogyny, thus the term misogynoir.

TW: mentions of rape, child rape, racism, and misogynoir.

Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple is a story loved around the world. So, when I saw that it was adapted to stage and touring the UK, my interest was peaked just enough to consider a visit to my local theatre the Royal & Derngate in Northampton. A Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome co-production, it came to Northampton in the first week of October. Largely, audiences that frequent my local theatre are overwhelmingly white – thus, watching The Color Purple it was a joy to my heart to hear Black people in my community engaging with the arts, because the last time I heard so many Black people attended, was for Our Lady of Kibeho as part of the R&D’s Made in Northampton season. This dates back to 2019, a production I reviewed for The Nenequirer showing that Northampton(shire) arts has work to do.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram showed me the pretty unanimous positive praise for the Leicester-Birmingham co-production, while local critics also enjoyed it – including reviews from The Chronicle & Echo and The Nenequirer as well as further reviews by The Real Chris Sparkle and Northampton Town Centre BID. However, there were elements of the show that caused me great distress, no less than the perpetuation of misogynoir and racist stereotypes against Black men. It was deeply triggering, showing how historical trauma and vicarious trauma are ever present, including when white organisations have not done the work of protecting Black mental health when producing “Black-centred media.”

At the head of this cast, Me’sha Bryan gives a knockout performance as Celie (previous played by Whoopi Goldberg in the film) accompanied by Aaliya Zhané as Nettie, with Bree Smith as Shug Avery, and brilliant musical numbers grounded in the traditions of blues music that finds its origins in the trauma of enslaved Africans in the American South. They sang when “they got the blues” … and as far as performance and the commitment from the cast, I couldn’t ask for better.

However, whilst I have praised the musical numbers above, I did not believe it fitted with the tones of The Color Purple curating a rift between what the actors were saying and doing on stage, and the intonations of the music – as well as the lighting design. And despite the directorial position deciding the rape of a child wasn’t musical material (rightly so), the choice to have it as a passing detail with no further discussion, I found particularly off-key. This is one of the moments that highlights that The Color Purple may not have been musical material and better considered as a serious drama. I did not walk away feeling that bleak, much ado with contradictory lighting choices to character moods. The characters were feeling one away and lights did something else. By the by, rather than skip over the rape to maintain “the musicalness”, it may have been more effective to have done this story as a stage drama (with musical elements, if at all). The horrors depicted at the beginning of the novel are pretty nonexistent in musical.

So, this recent adaptation was a disappointment. Not from an acting point of view but behind-the-scenes pre-production elements like direction. The start of story includes a fourteen year-old who births two children after being raped by her father. So, the amount of trauma that exists around child sexual abuse and rape appear unconsidered when they glossed over these parts of the story. Furthermore, I do question if they consulted with any survivors when doing research for this adaptation. A ‘sensitivity consultant’ would not have gone amiss either, further to considerations of intersectionality and how cultural nuances in global, but still different Black communities, will be interpreted by white people, especially in provincial Little England.

Blown away by the musical abilities of the cast, stage productions (like much art) are often labelled as “escapist” so is not afforded the same criticality as for example – policing, education, sport and so on – we are all guilty of this and we can do better. This may be art; there were no redeeming Black characters, and Black men calling Black women “ugly” (written into the script) in full face of a white audience is cultural violence. In Northampton, the large white audience laughed at this example of ableist misogynoir, and in many ways this production felt to be played up for white audiences. Lots of white people are not used to seeing Black people as full human beings, and I do feel the play draws out our humanity. And by proxy centres white comfort with a Black aesthetic reinforced by white supremacy in media.

Disability justice activist Talia Lewis has released definitions of ableism every year since 2019. In January 2022, she discussed ableism as a violent social discourse that values people’s bodies and minds according to societally constructed ideas of “normalcy, productivity, desirability, intelligence, excellence and fitness …” Lewis (2022) states that these ideas are embedded in other violent discourses such as eugenics, capitalism, misogyny and white supremacy. The adaptation of these characters is only part of this debate, where another part may want to consider how this play has informed everpresent white superemacism pervasive across Northamptonnshire. It may impact how local white audiences may view Black people when they perceive that in this cultural text – ‘this is how Black people talk and act around each other.’

“This systemic oppression leads to people and society determining people’s value based on their culture, age, language, appearance, religion, birth or living place, “health/wellness”, and/or their ability to satisfactory re/produce, “excel” and “behave.” You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.”

Talia Lewis (2022)

In Homegrown (hooks and Mesa-Bains, 2017), bell hooks tell us “We have to constantly critique imperialist white supremacist patriarchal culture because it is so normalized by mass media and rendered unproblematic. The products of mass media offer the tools of the new pedagogy.” Theatre is no different to films, literature or television programmes. Watching the musical, it struck me how the numbers of people who haven’t done the work of unlearning their own white supremacy would be impacted by such an adaptation (yes, as we know all humans can reproduce these isms but in a global western context, however, white supremacy has put white people on the top of that racial hierarchy).

One instance of misogynoir and ableism was underpinned by the three Black women singers (their character names escape me) who were written as Sassy Black Women inherently “comedifying” Black womanhood. Brilliant singers, but were written lazily reinforcing a damaging cultural media narrative that diminishes the three-dimensional personhoods of Black women. This was offered with no alternative. The Hypersexual Jezebel (named after the “sinful” Biblical character) appears in numbers of characters while Sofia was written as the Strong Black Woman. Black men were then written as violent, comedic relief, illiterate, and other harmful stereotypes, and domestic abuser Mr Albert is redeemed to the sound of musical harmonies and joyful lighting.

At a Northampton level, the critics from local media revisited a culture of uncritically discussing art. Stories aren’t just stories but a product of the society that created them, and we are a society that finds it easier to challenge the criminal justice system than it does liberal arts institutions, in spite of both having a say in how Black people are viewed and treated. Despite “Black theatre” not being genre, we need more shows at the Derngate that centre Blackness in Britain. And whilst commissioning and hosting shows about ‘Black issues’ is not evidence of an anti-racist commitment, it would be nice to see more shows locally about Black people in the UK by Black people.

When we do get “Black stories”, they so often centre the US, most recently The Color Purple (Oct, 2022) and Two Trains Running (Sept, 2019) – denying local audiences a context for Blackness within the United Kingdom, while recentring American Blacknesses is gaslighting through art. In November, Dreamgirls centring American Blackness is coming to the Derngate. A co-production between The Curve and the Birmingham Hippodrome, this adaptation of The Color Purple was deeply problematic on many levels that local white critics may not have picked up on because of their whiteness – drawn in by a spectacle of a “Black show”, viewed through a white gaze that is unused to talking about white supremacy as a political structure.

The white audience for these misogynoir tropes specifically – largely one of laughter – reminded me of the white gaze, with white laughter as eased white supremacy. Whiteness continues to pervade through ‘acceptable racism’ where serious digs made at Black people in-text laughed at by white people may show how white people may think about Black people in designated white spaces. A Black man seriously calling a Black woman ugly and a white audience laughing at that is incredibly revealing – a comfortableness in spaces coded as white … and how white people may act when thinking and talking about Black people in private (i.e in spaces coded as culturally white and desgined to their comfort).

“I grew up in a culture of bantering and, ngl, I love a caustic riposte. And while in certain ways I resent the current policing of language, there is a distinction. I hate to break it to you, but a “joke” in which the gag is that the person is black isn’t a joke, it’s just racism disguised as humor. A joke told to a white audience where the punch line is a racist stereotype isn’t a joke, again it’s just racism; if there is only one black person present, it’s also cowardly and it’s bullying. Jokes of this nature probably aren’t funny for black people.”

Emma Dabiri (2021: 98)

Art imitating life is one thing, but when life imitates art is another. White laughter at Black people in cultural media texts goes back to the days when blackface was on the BBC (until 1978). To see this platformed by a local arts institution then profiting from it, is revealing of how whiteness is performed and profited from, when white people think they’re not being watched. Creatives have a responsibility and so do those institutions that platform them.

Myself and fellow blogger @haleysread discuss this further in our prior entries about the scandal surrounding Jimmy Carr and Netflix. On that October evening, being one of the few Black people in the audience, it was incredibly uncomfortable. To consider art uncritically is to be entertained from a vantage point of privilege (or ignorance). Attending with my friend, to see unanimous positive feedback from the public made us feel a way, no less than from many Black people. We must always be critical; being critical is not the same as criticising, and those who are critical only take the time to be so because we care.

It is not about individual actors but about the lack of critique of institutional platforming in producing “art” that goes on to cause harm. Another fellow blogger Stephanie @svr2727 talked about misogynoir and the media in her recent webinar with the Criminology Team and Black Criminology Network. Violent mistakes in arts productions show a need not for more historical consultants, but sensitivity readers and empathy viewers. One cannot teach empathy, you either have it or you do not. Extending this gaze to screen media texts as well like Bridgerton and others, it is a further reminder that social scientists are needed at the very top of media … especially those of us that research about race, racism, and other forms of violence.

These cultural texts are rehearsed, edited, and considered by multiple hands before any public audience sees them. So, why are we still having to challenge? Simple: misogynoir, ableism, and whiteness are institutionalised and normalised socially and culturally into our day-to-day practice. No less than in “liberal” arts institutions.

“Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all.” – Malcolm X

The ‘Chocolate Cost-of-Living Crisis’

Despite the turmoil and mess the country is currently in, this week’s blog post is dedicated to chocolate, and how to maintain a very much needed chocolate fix during the cost-of-living crisis and the sh** storm which British Politics currently is. Do not even get me started on the Casey Review (2022) which has been overshadowed by that sh** storm I previously mentioned. So, in an attempt to address a serious concern plaguing us all, but disproportionately those most vulnerable, I would like to share some of my findings on the ‘chocolate cost-of-living crisis’.

Before the ‘official’ cost-of-living crisis hit, chocolate was seriously upping its price tag. What used to be 99p or £1 for branded ‘share’ bag (I mean who actually has the self-control to share a share bag?!), has now risen to a huge £1.25 per bag! Now this is for Cadbury’s ‘share’ bags (buttons, wispa bites, twirl pieces to name a few), you are looking at £1.35 for Mars products (Magic stars, Minstrels, Maltesers, MnMs)! Those of us that eat Vegan, lactose-free chocolate are looking at an even higher price tag for an even smaller product. Supermarket chocolate has also gone up in price, and remains nowhere near as scrumptious as the likes of Cadbury, Mars and even Nestle (although I myself am not a Nestle loving due to their questionable ethical practices*). But given the sh** storm the Country is currently in, and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis is having, we need chocolate more than ever! But do not fear: I have some handy tips when it comes to selecting the most reasonably priced and therefore affordable chocolate to help get us through these sh***y times.

The key when looking at the cost of chocolate, and all products, is to look at the price per g/kg. This is usually in teeny tiny writing at the bottom of the price tag on the shelves. Most chocolate (and because I am a self-proclaimed chocolate snob, I am discussing branded chocolate) is coming in around the 85p+ per 100g mark. But there are some sneaky little joys which are undercutting this, and I highly recommend stocking up!

Terry’s Milk Chocolate Orange: £1, (63p/100g): a clear winner! They have various types, dark chocolate, white chocolate and popping candy, and these vary in weights but come in between 63p/100g to 69p/100g!

Cadbury Dairy Milk (360g bar): £3, (83p/100g): the key to Cadburys is the bigger the cheaper! Do not be fooled by the smaller bars and their ‘cheaper’ price. They are not cheaper: and lets be honest who wouldn’t want 360g of chocolate over 150g?!

HOWEVER

Galaxy Caramel (135g bar): 99p (73p/100g): good news for caramel lovers! The smaller caramel bar is cheaper than the 360g Galaxy smooth milk bar (97p/100g), so in this case less is actually more!

Galaxy Minstrels ‘More to Share’ Bag: £1.99 (83p/100g): best value share bag out there at the moment. Again, do not be tricked by the smaller and what may seem like cheaper bags, because they are not!

Growing up with a single-parent father who worked the ‘mum’ shift in a warehouse meant we were very stringent and careful with money: mainly because we didn’t have much. This skill of checking value for money and the price per g/kg is something engrained within me, and something I am extremely grateful for! Check those £’s per g/kg people! It may mean you can have a treat at the end of the week, which doesn’t burn through your pockets, to help off-set the sh** we are currently dealing with.

*it has recently been brought to my attention, the unethical historical practices of Cadbury’s in relation to the Slave Trade, and their racist advertisements in the early 2000’s (not sure how I missed this)! Morally, as I try to avoid Nestle products due to their unethical practices, I will also attempt the same with Cadbury’s: but I fear this will not be an easy transition.

A Generation w/o real dialogue & ATT!

@dance4love2grow

We’ve reached a generation,that’s never had a real conversation. Smartphonedistraction, #smartphoneaddiction #sherryturkle dialogue, Conversation.

♬ original sound – Diepiriye Kuku, Ph.D

ASUU vs The Federal Government

It will be 8 months in October since University Lecturers in Nigeria have embarked on a nationwide strike without adequate intervention from the government. It is quite shocking that a government will sit in power and cease to reasonably address a serious dispute such as this at such a crucial time in the country.

As we have seen over the years, strike actions in Nigerian Universities constitute an age-long problem and its recurring nature unmasks, quite simply, how the political class has refused to prioritise the knowledge-based economy.

In February 2022, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) leadership
(which is the national union body that represents Nigerian University Lecturers during disputes) issued a 4-week warning strike to the Nigerian government due to issues of funding of the public Universities. Currently, the striking University Lecturers are accusing the government of failing to revitalise the dilapidated state of Nigerian Universities, they claim that the government has refused to implement an accountability system called UTAS and that representatives of the government have continued to backtrack on their agreement to adequately fund the Universities.

The government on the other hand is claiming that they have tried their best in negotiating with the striking lecturers – but that the lecturers are simply being unnecessarily difficult. Since 2017, several committees have been established to scrutinize the demands and negotiate with ASUU, but the inability of these committees to resolve these issues has led to this 8-month-long closure of Nigerian Universities. While this strike has generated multiple reactions from different quarters, the question to be asked is – who is to be blamed? Should the striking lecturers be blamed for demanding a viable environment for the students or should we be blaming the government for the failure of efforts to resolve this national embarrassment?

Of course, we can all understand that one of the reasons why the political class is often slow to react to these strike actions is because their children and families do not attend these schools. You either find them in private Universities in Nigeria or Universities abroad – just the same way they end up traveling abroad for medical check-ups.  In fact, the problems being faced in the educational sector are quite similar to those found within the Nigerian health sector – where many doctors are already emigrating from the country to countries that appreciate the importance of medical practitioners and practice. So, what we find invariably is a situation where the children of the rich continue to enjoy uninterrupted education, while the children of the underprivileged end up spending 7 years on a full-time 4-year program, due to the failure of efforts to preserve the educational standards of Nigerian institutions.

In times like these, I remember the popular saying that when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. The elephants in this context are both the federal government and the striking lecturers, while those suffering the consequences of the power contest are the students. The striking lecturers have not been paid their salaries for more than 5 months, and they are refusing to back down. On the other hand, the government seems to be suggesting that when they are “tired”, they will call off the strike. I am not sure that strike actions of the UK UCU will last this long before some sort of agreement would have been arranged. Again, my heart goes out to the Nigerian students during these hard times – because it is just unimaginable what they will be going through during these moments of idleness. And we must never forget that if care is not taken, the idle hand will eventually become the devil’s workshop!

Having said this, Nigerian Universities must learn from this event and adopt approaches through which they can generate their income. I am not inferring that they do not, but they just need to do more. This could be through ensuring large-scale investment programs, testing local/peculiar practices at the international level, tapping into research grant schemes, remodeling the system of tuition fees, and demonstrating a stronger presence within the African markets. As a general principle, any institution that wishes to reap the dividends of the knowledge-based economy must ensure that self-generated revenues should be higher than the government’s grants – and not the other way. So, Universities in Nigeria must strive to be autonomous in their engagements and their organisational structure – while maintaining an apolitical stance at all times.

While I agree that all of these can be difficult to achieve (considering the socio-political dynamics of Nigeria), Universities must remember that the continuous dependence on the government for funds will only continue to subject them to such embarrassments rather than being seen as respected intellectuals in the society. Again, Nigerian Universities need a total disruption; there is a need for a total overhaul of the system and a complete reform of the organisational structure and policies.

World Mental Health Day 2022

Monday marked World Mental Health day, that one day of the year when corporations and establishments which act like corporations tell us how much mental health matters to them, how their worker’s wellbeing matters to them. Given many sectors are affected by industrial action, or balloting for industrial action, this seems like a contradiction. Could it be possible that these industries and government are causing mental ill health, while paying lip service as a PR tool? Could it be that capitalism and inequalities associated with it are both the cause of mental health conditions and the very thing that prevents recovery from it?

Capitalism, I argue, is the root of a lot of society’s problems. The climate crisis is largely caused by consumerism and our innate need for stuff. The cost of living crisis is more like a greed crisis, since the rich are getting richer and the corporations are making phenomenal profits while small business struggle to make ends meet and what used to be the middle class are relying on food banks, getting second jobs and wondering whether they can afford to put the heating on. No wonder swathes of us are suffering with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. Of course, I cannot argue that capitalism is to blame for all manner of mental health conditions as that is simply not the case. There are many causes of mental health conditions which simply cannot be blamed on the environment. The mental health conditions I discuss here are the depression and anxiety that so many of us suffer as a result of environmental stressors, namely capitalist embedded society.

The mental health epidemic did not start with the current ‘crises’[1] though. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic contributes and exacerbates already existing inequalities and the UK saw an increase in adults reporting psychological distress during the first two years of the pandemic, yet fewer were being diagnosed, perhaps due to inaccessibility of GPs during this time. Even before all these things which have exacerbated mental health conditions, prevalence of common mental disorders has been increasing since the 1990s. At the same time, we have seen in the UK, neoliberal ideology and austerity politics privatise parts of the NHS and decimate funding to services which support those with needs relating to their mental health.

I am not a psychologist but I know a problem when I see or experience one. Several months ago, I was feeling a bit low and anxious so I sought help from the local NHS talking therapies service. The service was still in restrictions and I was offered a series of six DBT-based telephone appointments. After the first appointment, I realised that this was not going to help. It was suggested to have a structure in my life. I have a job, doctoral studies, dog, home educated teenager, and I go to the gym. Scheduling and structure was already an essential part of my life. Next, I was taught coping skills. ‘Get some exercise’, ‘go for a walk’. Ditto previous session – I’m gym obsessed, with a dog I walk every day, mostly in green spaces. My coping skills were not the problem either. What I realised was that I didn’t need psychological help, I needed my environment to change. I needed my workload to be reduced, my PhD to finally end, my teenage daughter not to have any teenage problems, my dog to behave, for someone to pay my mortgage off, and a DIY fairy to fix the house I don’t have time to fix. No amount of therapy could ever change these things. I realised that it wasn’t me that was the problem – it was the world around me.

I am not alone. The Mental Health Foundation have published some disturbing statistics:

  • In the past year, 74% of people (in a YouGov survey of 4,619) have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.
  • Of those who reported feeling stressed in the past year, 22% cited debt as a stressor.
  • Housing worries are a key source of stress for younger people (32% of 18-24-year-olds cited it as a source of stress in the past year). This is less so for older people (22% for 45-54-year-olds and just 7% for over 55s).

The data show not only the magnitude of the problem, but they also indicate some of the prevalent stressors in these respondents’ lives. Over 1 in 5 people cited debt as a stressor, and this survey was undertaken long before the cost of greed crisis. It is deeply concerning, particularly considering the anticipated increase in interest rates and the cost of energy bills at the moment.

The survey also showed that young people are concerned about housing, and this will have a disproportionate impact on care leavers who may not have family to support them and working class young people who cannot afford housing.

The causes of both these issues are predominantly fat cat employers who can afford to pay sufficient and fair wages, fat cat landlords buying up property in droves to rent them out at a huge profit, not to mention the fat cat energy suppliers making billions when half the country is now in fuel poverty. All the while, our capitalism loving government plays the game, shorting the pound to raise profits for their pals while the rest of us struggle to pay our mortgages after the Bank of England raised interest rates. No wonder we’re so stressed!

For work-related stress, anxiety and depression, the Labour Force Survey finds levels at the highest in this century, with 822,000 suffering from such mental health conditions. The Health and Safety Executive show that education and human, health and social work are the industries with the highest prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression.  It is yet another symptom of neoliberalism which applies corporate values to education and public services, where students are the cash cow, and workers are exploited; and health and social work being under funded for years. Is it any wonder then that both nurses and lecturers are balloting for industrial action right now?

Despite all this, when World Mental Health Day arrives, it becomes the perfect PR exercise to pay lip service to staff wellbeing. The rail industry are in a period of industrial action, yet I have seen posts on rail companies’ social media promoting World Mental Health Day. Does the promotion of mental health initiatives include fair pay and conditions for staff? I think not.

Something needs to give, but what?

As a union member and representative, I argue for the need for employers to pay staff appropriately for the work they do, and to treat them fairly. This would at least address work and finance related stressors. Sanah Ahsan argues for a universal basic income, for safe and affordable housing and for radical change in the structural inequalities in the UK. Perhaps we could start with addressing structural inequalities. Gender, race and class all impact on mental health, with women more likely to be diagnosed with depression, Black women at an increased risk of common mental health disorders and the poor all more likely to suffer mental health conditions yet less likely to receive adequate and culturally appropriate support. In my research with women seeking asylum, there is a high prevalence of PTSD, yet therapy is difficult to access, in part due to language difficulties but also due to cultural differences. Structural inequalities then not only contribute to harm to marginalised people’s mental health, but also form a barrier to support.

I do not have a realistic solution, but I have the feeling society needs a radical social change. We need an end to structural inequalities, and we need to ensure those most impacted by inequalities get adequate and appropriate support. When I look to see who is in charge, and who could be in charge if the tides were to turn, and I don’t see this happening anytime soon.


[1] I’m hesitant to call them crises. As Canning (2017:9) explains in relation to the refugee ‘crisis’, a crisis is unforesessable and unavoidable. The climate crisis has been foreseen for decades, and the cost of living crisis is avoidable if you compare other European countries such as France where the impact has been mitigated by the government. The mental health crisis has also been growing for a long time and the extent to which we say today could be both foreseen and avoided.

Frames of Farage: The far-right’s hijacking of the “anti-“ narrative

Photograph by Channel 4 in The Guardian

During the research and write-up of my PhD, I have had the opportunity to continuously reflect on the chronology of populist political discourse and the divisive stance it has taken in recent years, not least in relation to key issues of social (in)justice. What has fascinated me most, however, is the familiarity of much of the (currently) dominant narrative to the discourses used during the early years of the Austerity programme (early 2010s) where anti-capitalist, anti-establishment and anti-elite sentiments were particularly rife. I reflected on my days of activism as part of the Anonymous hacktivist collective, when these words seemed to be synonymous with a desire for genuine social justice for the vulnerable, marginalised and minoritised…only to later discover that the years of gradual drip-feeding of far-right ideas surrounding race, gender, religion, sexuality and environmentalism had hijacked those same signifiers – framing any kind of opposition to the “new” (but very much old and tired) hegemony as “annoying wokeness” or “political correctness gone mad”.

Right-leaning politicians soon jumped on this bandwagon to appeal to the racist factions of the public who had finally been empowered to show their true inner colours during the Brexit years, and those who were simply looking for an outlet for their woes – someone or something to blame – but who had somehow managed to forget the deep scars left behind from the inevitable consequences of neoliberalism. There cannot be a better demonstration of this than Liz Truss’ latest attack, in her keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference, on anyone opposing the government’s policies as being “anti-growth”…whatever that means. Even as each Conservative politician turns out to be more discursively radical than their predecessor, rooting the country deeper in this post-truth hegemony, we are still subjected to remnants of Nigel Farage from the sidelines. In his most recent 42-minute interview with Steven Edgington from the Telegraph, he demonstrated the continued stronghold of the far-right on the discursive field surrounding anti-establishmentism and anti-elitism.

It was interesting to hear Farage’s embodiment of the 1930s Chicago School of thought surrounding crime and criminality, framed as some kind of nostalgic dream that Britons should aspire to return to; people speaking the same language, having similar cultural interests, histories, engaging in self-regulation (i.e. emulating ideas of informal policing mechanisms), with the consequence of the alternative being framed as lawless anarchy. It is almost as though he spent an inordinate amount of time rifling through any Criminology textbook he could find to try to secure the smallest sliver of justification for spewing hatred about migrants and refugees. It is unclear whether or not this was a deliberate attempt to appeal to academic audiences, but it may have been worth (rather than remaining in the 1930s) actually reading ahead to more contemporary work which largely discredit some of these bygone theoretical ideas as inadequate in explaining “crime” rates in large metropolitan cities. Even so, Farage’s Chicago School ideas seemed misguided. Discourses relating to ‘community cohesion’ and ‘integration’ were thrown out without adequate explanation, closely linked to his views on immigration; the cause of our economic woes being framed as some kind of ‘burden on the state’ as a result of migration.

In Farage’s post-truth world, deregulation of industry and business is framed as a solution to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Well, we know the inevitable consequence of deregulating industry…we have been privy to the process in slow batches for 12 years. The UK also fell victim to this kind of neoliberal model during the Thatcher era. There is a vast archive of state-initiated and state-facilitated corporate crimes (and other significant individual and ecological harms) that can be attributed directly to the deregulation of major industry, and that’s even before talking about the horrors of the Grenfell Tower fire. These arguments for neoliberalism were accompanied during the interview by a narrative fixated on attacking globalism (e.g. “globalist idiots”) in defence of economic, political and cultural nationalism. The outrage at the state-facilitated actions of rich bankers that caused the 2008 Economic Crisis, and the subsequent Austerity programme, was framed as some kind of exaggeration (“hardly anyone lost their jobs”).

While there are statements made throughout the interview that those opposing the current Conservative government could agree with, like the weakness of the Party in resonating with ‘regular’ people (due to being out of touch with social reality), and the fact that they are almost certainly “headed for a 97-style wipeout, and they deserve it”…it is worth noting that the message is also reliant on the messenger. As a private-school educated politician, with a background in corporate tax avoidance, Farage is the epitome of the ‘establishment’, the ‘metropolitan elite’ who he claims to oppose. Despite this discursive war taking place in political, social and academic arenas, the “anti-” narrative needs reclaiming not through defensive practices, but ones which engage in active reframing of the ‘establishment’ as being all-encompassing of the vices associated with neoliberalism; greed, selfishness, individualism, ego-centrism and inevitable narcissism.

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