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Autistic while Black: The Holocaust is my history too #HMD

“Identity is not only a story, a narrative which we tell ourselves about ourselves, it is stories which change with historical circumstances. And identity shifts with the way in which we think and hear them and experience them. Far from only coming from the still small point of truth inside us, identities actually come from outside; they are the way in which we are recognized and then come to step into the place of the recognitions which others give us. Without the others there is no self, there is no self- recognition” (Hall, 2001: 30).

Stuart Hall, qtd in New Caribbean Thought: A Reader (Meeks and Lindahl, 2001)

For many years, dominant narratives of Holocaust Memorial Day have been seen as interchangable with the remembrance of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. It is a day that until 2016, I never thought applied to me (as a non-Jewish person) because the pervading narrative I was taught in school, was that it was to remember the six million Jews. And though something need not have happened to you for it to matter to you, I know for many people that term ‘solidarity’ is lots easier when it is relatable. When we consider all victims of The Holocaust, people like me who sit on the faultlines of Blackness and disablement are included.

Though I have never experienced genocide personally, nor have I fled conflict, I do understand what it means to be a product of its survivors – as a descendant of enslaved people, I am the product of holocaust survivors.The framing of colonialism and enslavement as separate from the logic of genocide that allowed Nazis to kill relentlessly, is an example of what it means to treat the Final Solution as an exception. In truth what happened between 1933 and 1945 was the logic of empire imported into fortress white Europe (Andrews, 2022: 40). Perhaps it is true this may have been a first in Europe for white people, but this was usual for Black and Brown people in the Global South (i.e the Herero and Nama Genocide, 1904). Here, I also look to UCL’s Legacies of British Slavery, and the many thousands of enslavers who were compensated for their loss of human property. Furthermore, sadists like enslaver Thomas Thistlewood who raped hundreds of enslaved women in Jamaica. These discourses intersect with my own family history via Windrush Atlantic crossings, my great/grandparents being migrants from the Caribbean.

How odd it is that myself who others see as Black British exists in a state of identity crises, seen as rootless yet rooted, that I can be in Britain but not of Britain. Or as Anne Cheng (2001) writes “racial signification has always come into fullest play precisely at the intersection between materiality and fantasy, between history and memory” (p73). Then as disabled too, I am seen as another stranger, viewed through white supreamcy as not quite whole … I have been here before as a Black person and a disabled person who would have been doubly hated in Nazi-occupied Europe. Through intersectionality and history, I do not have the privilege of amnesia to forget the violent institutions of racial science and eugenics through which Black people and disabled people live.

In her 1990 book Black Feminist Thought, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins writes

“… distinction between knowledge and wisdom, and the use of experience as the cutting edge dividing them, has been key to Black women’s surivival. […] For most African-American women those individuals who have lived through experiences which they claim to be experts are more believable and credible than those who have merely read or thought about such experiences. Thus lived experiences as criterion for credibility frequently is invoked by U.S. Black women when making knowledge claims” (p276).

Dr Hans Aspergers was a collabarator who sold disabled children out for Nazi execution

For me, as someone that is Black and disabled I have written essays and delivered talks that mesh lived experience with those readings. As Black people, we are more aware of our place as victims of colonialism and enslavement. Yet, I think there is less awareness of the fact that we were also victims of the Nazi Holocaust. In Britain’s Black communities, I do hear murmurs along the lines of “what about our Holocaust Memorial Day?” In truth, we actually already have the 25th March every year as ‘ International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade‘ (acknowledged by the UN, make of that what you will). However, it is not promoted by the state (for … reasons). Nonetheless, there is room for both … but what this also tells me is that many Black people do not see themselves in The Holocaust, which is something we can work on.

Yet, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust also tells us that an estimated 24,000 Black people lived in Germany in the 1920s. After the First World War, the French government sent 100,000 French troops to occupy the German Rhineland in 1920 and about 20,000 were from French colonies including Tunisia, Morocco, French Indochina and Sénégal. The presence of these Black and Brown soldiers in the Rhineland allowed the conditions for interracial relationships (despite anti-miscegenation laws) and these relationships produced many children of Mixed Heritage who the German state termed as the “Rhineland Bastards.” Many were later persecuted by the Nazis, that Robert Kestin says were reportedly taken to killing centres in 1937. As someone who is racialised as Black, I am constantly reminded of the estimated fifteen million victims of transatlantic chattel enslavement. Yet, I am told The Holocaust isn’t “our history” when in truth, it really is (for me, as a Black and disabled person, the Holocaust is as much my history as the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948 and Stephen Lawrence).

As an autistic person with other neurotypes and someone who moves through the disability space, more of us do identify with The Holocaust and the victims because we were victims too as disabled people. In 1938, a man called Hans Asperger first labelled a group of children with distinct psychological traits under “autistic psychopathy” then in 1944 publishing a study which would only gain international traction in the 1980s. From then, the term ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ gained notoriety as a diagnostic for what we call autism. Now, many autistic activists and advocates are rejecting Asperger’s as a label due to evidence that he also collaborated with the Nazis in the executions of disabled children under the Third Reich. The historian Herwig Czech documented this in a 2018 journal article in Molecular Autism. In addition, historian Edith Sheffer’s book Asperger’s Children builds on this, saying the original ideas of autism came from a society that was in fact anti-neurodiversity. This is also stirring a debate in disability justice spaces amid parents and families. Sheffer considers psychiatry in Hitler’s regime became part of an effort to categorise Nazi-occupied populations as genetically fit or unfit – where euthanasia killing programmes determined who lived and who was killed.

People like myself and many of my friends – who are autistic, ADHD, dyspraxic and so on – would have been viewed as incapable of social conformity and the idea of pure perfect people. And in the context of neurotypes like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia etc etc, if you have it, the likelihood of someone related to you having it is significant. These neurotypes can be considered genetic variants and in a Nazi-occupied society, these hereditary neurotypes would have been viewed as defective under eugenics. Today, neurodivergent activist spaces are continuously discussing Applied Behavioral Analysis [ABA] (basically autistic conversation therapy). This is something that is promoted by organisations like Autism Speaks which has been called a hate group by autistic advocates and activists. ABA is seen as pioneering in countries like the United States and Australia, and it seeks to “cure” autistic people of our traits through behavioral therapy to make us more palatable in neurotypical spaces.

Afro-Germans during the Third Reich. (Photo: Propaganda-Pravada).

Discourses to Black British history frequently erase the disabled. As someone that is multiply neurodivergent, The Holocaust is a period of history that I identify with. For the first-year students doing CRI1007 (The Science of Crime and Criminals) where I am sure you would have looked at eugenics, I would bring you to consider the role eugenics played in Nazi-occupied Europe in not just framing the state-lead dehumanisation of the Jews but also Black people and disabled people (the latter included the mentally ill and what today we’d associate with neurotypes like Down Syndrome and autism). The stigma against neurodivergent people continues in a multitude of ways, and I still meet people reproducing ideas of our neurotypes as in need of a cure. Not something that ended with Hitler, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust – things that many still view as divorced from a current society. Yet, these ideologies of control that underpinned the Holocaust continue to do damage today.

In the now, autistic and neuro-minortised activists are fighting a culture in science and academia that is seeking to develop prenatal autism screenings. This is so prospective parents can have an abortion on the stigma of ‘autism being defective’. Neurotypes like autism are still viewed as a deficit, and these screenings are positioned as something that corrects so-called genetic wrongness or abnormalities. Daniel Kevles (1995) also describes eugenics as the science of “improving” humanity by exploiting theories of hereditary. Additionally, science journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson further tell us that “for more than a century, eugenics lead innocent people – the disabled, the poor, the non-white – to be segregated even sterilised in the name of science. It was a formative influence for Adolf Hitler and a driving force for the Nazi death camps” (Saini and Pearson, 2020).

We are history and history is part of us. Stuart Hall (2001) writes that “Identity is not only a story, a narrative which we tell ourselves about ourselves, it is stories which change with historical circumstances” (p30). My identity tied to Blackness and disablement is much changed when considering the positionality of Black disabled people during the Holocaust. Eugenics and racial science exist today to do harm: everything from the “subnormal” education scandal of the 1970s all the way to the treatment of the elderly and the disabled during the COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as Spectrum10k run by University of Cambridge. And there is a chance that if the genetic markers for autism existed in the mid-1990s when I was born, that I wouldn’t exist now. I like living and I think the world would be a lot less interesting without autistic and other neurodivergent people in it. The Holocaust, its history and legacy belong to all of us – and this should be uncontroversial, but of course there will be those who contest that fact.


Please do come along to come along to Northamptonshire Rights & Equality Council’s Holocaust Memorial Day Lecture on the 5th February. I will be exploring some of what I have discussed above further. Free registration here.

The People’s Oligarch: What the fuck’s an anti-racist royal? #AbolishtheMonarchy

Over the past months I have been asked “are you Team Harry & Meghan?” And the answer is no; despite having nothing personally against them as invidiuals, they are part of the establishment. As someone that identifies with many socialist beliefs (and socialism is not without its critiques), H&M represent everything I am against.

However, as there is no doubt they have suffered abuse at the hands of The Crown and media, it appears to me both were upset they were excluded from the Royal Family due to racism and other things. Yet, they would never challenge the monarchy within the frame of a white supermacist, imperialist heteropatriarchal construct” (hooks, 2006: 250). Still, they have never called the monarchy institutionally racist, and their dislike to racism appears personal not communal, revisiting the problematic notion that it only affects them. Their problem wasn’t about equality for all, only in relation to other royals. If Meghan had not been impacted by the UK’s brand of racism, I wonder if they would have been so outspoken about racism at all, something Harry seems to only have reduced down to ‘unconscious bias’ which seems to be all he knows!

By the by, many fans of H&M, like numerous journalists during the Jubilee, are still presenting themselves as bootlicking sychophants. Here, I see no space to have discussions that frame H&M as complicit in an imperialistic construct (the monarchy), but there are “nice” conversations framing them as passive victims of the media and The Crown. The dominant public narrative is one of fairy tale romance and sympathy to their struggle. Yet, what seems unclear is the public amnesia that these two are still members of the establishment, and living thousands of miles away will not change that. Particularly, responses to Meghan from Black Britain in many spaces is positive, but then remain uncritical of how more Black and Brown faces in high places will not change things. To “reform” the monarchy would be to reform empireland itself. It’s a fool’s hope!

Journalist Ash Sakar makes a valid intervention here, that in legitimising the monarchy there is a hierachy of equality that separates fair treatment among “royals” from fair treatment among the general public.

The docuseries Harry and Meghan also showed that the couple were willing to do the monarchy’s bidding overseas in order to avoid the British press (this presumably includes those wretched royal tours). What this shows me is both were willing to continue the legacy of an imperialist monarchy as long as media abuse stopped intruding on their lives. Harry showed a want to reconcile with his father and brother, but it was contentious. Even the fact both have kept their titles shows you where their alleigances sit and that one day, they will be “welcomed back.” For anyone that is pro-democracy, one cannot be pro-H&M when the monarchy still exists (one must choose). The racism Meghan experienced from the media and reportedly from members of the Royal Family is framed as an ‘unexplainable random’ occurence, not the results of centuries of colonial racism wired into the structure. Brown-skinned people being “included” into the white establishment simply reasserts the whiteness in place (Ahmed, 2012: 33).

Harry belongs to posse of privileged white men who have benefited from the spoils of colonial pillage and plunder. This is also someone who spent ten years in the Armed Forces – an institution that has long been envisaged through ‘orientalism and war’ (Smith, 2016: 68). The military was tool of violence throughout the British Empire and continues to be a tool of colonisation now … I find it difficult to see establishmentarians as activists, someone that continues to say they’re pro-monarchy and pro-military while “aligning” with the ‘liberal’ equality agenda. Though their story is interesting (I will be reading Spare), I must question if ‘celebrity activism‘ is the way. Celebrity is not freedom when it just raises the profile of the rich and famous. No less than when those celebrities are establishment and do not show a willingness to leave it. In fact, though the British media are brutal and have treated H&M appallingly, it does appear that if the media stopped and the monarchy came calling Meghan and Harry may go back!

I was also taken aback by the commentary from Black British public intellectuals in the documentary offering a critical analysis of the British Empire, but seemed to have lost steam when it came to linking that analysis to the monarchy itself including present-day Royal Family members. In one case, Prince Harry was referred to as “anti-racist” by author-journalist Afua Hirsch. What the fuck’s an anti-racist royal? This is a captialist institution made up of captialists! Meanwhile, the comment that Meghan looked like many of the people in Commonwealth (Empire 2.0) by historian David Olusoga sent my head spinning for fifteen minutes (insinuating she could reform The Crown). This is a deeply individual docuseries that goes no way to further the debate on race equality in the UK nor the toxicities of the media, but what it does is show how entrenched neoliberal ideology is.


Neoliberal capitalism is defined by scholar-YouTuber Tom Nicholas (2019) as a “political ideology which holds that the primary bond between humans is … purely economic. All of our interactions … with other humans are neoliberal posits, driven … on self-interest.” American economist Milton Friedman (2002) continues that the ‘liberal’ part of the word is “a corruption of the term” (p6). More current discussions around neoliberal capitalism also tell us that the ‘liberal’ in that term is a misnomer (Friedman, 2002: 6), and it actually belongs to the Victorian-Georgian period, for the rich to spend their money how they want (Tom Nicholas, 2019). The H&M docuseries is a text that centres privileged whining with no want to link the formations of colonialism of yesterday to the racism that happens today. This was an individual docuseries centred around H&M’s experiences; this is fine and all, but what was more problematic was the exceptionalism. H&M appear not to be upset at racism in general, but that it is in fact intruding on their lives, somewhat revisiting of how individualism is part-and-parcel of our society.

@joris_explains

Replying to @fishy_hi Colonization is a SYSTEM of oppression and exploitation. Not just a punctual action. #britishhistory #ukhistory #unitedkingdom #colonisation #learnontiktok

♬ Aesthetic – Tollan Kim
Joris Lechene’s defintion of colonisation is aptly fitting for why present-day Royal Family members could be defined as colonisers (TikTok, 2022)

It is very easy to be pro-Harry & Meghan when they have been painted as victims, but not all victims are blameless (no less than when they’re millionaires part of a colonising institution). Thousands of miles does not change that one day they may go back. If Harry & Meghan debacle has shown me anything, it has only revealed that colonial racism is endemic to Britain. Moreover, oligarchy is not being discussed in this context. ByLine Times editor Peter Jukes says “oligarchy is the combination of money and power, of the state and money and power.” H&M are complicit in an establishment where the few rule the many. In my opinion, the greatest threat to democracy is not just right-wing politicians, but also oligarchs. Plato believed that an exclusive group of rich people taking over was a threat to democracy, and we call this oligarchy. Whilst Harry & Meghan are allegedly among the popular royals, I also worry that their sympathy story opens the floodgates for them (especially Harry) to become The People’s Oligarch.

Public investment in Harry & Meghan as a symbol of British culture worries me. It is smoke and mirrors, and the monarchy benefits from their popularity; as individuals, H&M have had a rough go of it but they are part of a rat-infested institution. As long as H&M are seen as “good royals”, the British Crown benefits – because the monarchy is then seen as good. Regardless of in-fighting, the institution wins. Recently, we saw their sewage floating down the streets through the Jubilee, and colonial nostalgia following the Queen’s death. It accumaltes in stately homes; it gathers in schools forcing their students to stand for the national anthem and honour The Crown; it exists in the deluge of investment into the 2022 Commonwealth Games during the summer … pervading, as numbers of “activists” become knights of realm and Members of the British Empire [MBEs].

During a Cost of Capitalism Crisis (dubbed Living by media), we are being infected by royal propaganda as if ‘being royal’ is a normal thing. One way to solve this pollution of our bodies and minds is filter it out by educating people at every level on the history and present of this institution. There are no good royals, simply many shades of bad. I hold no ill-will to Harry & Meghan as individuals, but the Disney story metaphor that the docuseries projected overshadows another story – H&M as the layperson’s neoliberal and Prince Harry as the oligarch that everyday people will accept – the antithesis to men like PM Rishi Sunak, but covertly equally as damaging where the British monarchy is good for oligarch business, but not for working-class survival.

Now that the Queen has been buried, why not bury the institution? Britain has more foodbanks than McDonald’s restaurants and people act like a brown person in the royal institution will change things? Nonsense. You can’t EDI the monarchy. Throw it on the scrapheap. Nothing about the royal couple is anti-racist when they present themselves as capitalists. Eric Williams’ 1944 book Capitalism and Slavery shows the intersections between capitalism and enslavement, further to Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism and Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. In our anti-racism, anti-capitalism must feature. This power couple are capitalists, so I need someone to tell answer me this, “what the fuck’s an anti-racist royal?” This is diversity wearing the Benin Bronzes; it is EDI in a Gucci belt – celebrity activism “spectacularised” (DeBord, 1967), making the public look like mugs.

In his book Not the Chilcot Report, journalist Peter Oborne calls Britain a modern state with a medieval core. The treatment of Harry & Meghan is testament to this. Their punishment for complaining, for daring to say anything and speak out is deeply medieval in its logic. These incidents are treated as individual while those who complain are disciplined (Ahmed, 2021). What is the antithesis to monarchy? A British culture of equality driven by abolition and decolonial thought at its heart. If we actually took decolonisation seriously, we would see empire at home embedded in numerous ways – including we the public internally colonised at home while the police ‘maintain law and order.’

Sociologist Emma Dabiri’s tweet here can be applied in many contexts, no less than the toxic nature of Black and Brown faces in high spaces being interchangeable with ‘representation’. We need a more nuanced conversation.

With abolishing the monarchy, you then start to think about abolishing the House of Lords (filled with unelected officials of all colours and creeds who “make decisions” for us). This triggers me to think about the Cost of Capitalism Crisis – so much of what we are talking about and experiencing now, including asshole landlords and unaccountable power pervades through the monarchy, Harry & Meghan not excluded. And it seems to me, many of those who were criticising the monarchy last summer even up to the September when the Queen died, suddenly have lost their voice and have a deference to power when it comes to H&M. People I know to be staunch activists suddenly forget and become gugu-eyed and starstruck; Harry & Meghan have us in a chokehold.

By all means, both these figures are victims but that also does not mean they are not complicit in other ways. I have found, especially amid Black people who view them as “representation” – H&M are unimpeachable. The liberal left in my experience has been more problematic than the political right, blinkered, unable to see how “good” and “bad” individuals stop us from looking at overarching systems of domination. There are no good royals, but the fish rots from the head down (just many shades of bad and the bar of virtue is the floor). The appeal of Harry & Meghan is they are not William & Kate, Lady Hussey, or the late Queen and Philip. Royal in-fighting only does the work of the institution, framing H&M as good and William, Kate etc etc as bad – but nonetheless united in framing The Crown as legitimate. We need not give H&M more airtime, instead our time may be better used to look at things like The Crown, House of Lords, the Privy Council, Honours etc etc and challenge the legitimacy of the cage.

“My Favourite Things”: Dan

My favourite TV show - A combination of F.R.I.E.N.D.S (accepting that it’s okay to be in my 30s and still have no idea what I’m doing…) and Family Guy (pushing the boundaries of “socially acceptable” conversations to expose everyday stressful situations as simply funny historical ‘moments’ in a comparably very short existence on our planet).

My favourite place to go - Aside from my Armenian hometown, Yerevan, I’m torn between munching on Ntakos on the sandy beaches of Western Crete with an iced latte, and taking a slow walk through New York’s Central Park in a February snowstorm.

My favourite city - See above 🙂 

My favourite thing to do in my free time - Procrastinating: whether through gaming, playing the piano, cooking, or any other unearned leisure activity in the dark playground.

My favourite athlete/sports personality - None, their egos get under my skin.

My favourite actor - *actress: Melissa McCarthy, actor: Steve Carrell. In combination, they are both geniuses of comedy.

My favourite author - Erica Spindler. She is a hidden gem, but singlehandedly the best contemporary crime and mystery novelist.

My favourite drink - Bubbletea: White peach with tapioca & lychee jelly.

My favourite food - Anything authentically Italian will satisfy 25% of my genes.

My favourite place to eat - Pickle & Rye in Richmond: a family-run restaurant with the best American-style buffalo chicken burgers you will find in the UK!

I like people who - are upfront and honest (sometimes skipping the small talk is best).

I don’t like it when people - treat service staff like second-class humans. It costs nothing to be polite. Let’s exercise some empathy for people who are paid pennies for the amount of work they do for us (and that can go for all sectors).

My favourite book - Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World by James Ball. It's been eye-opening throughout my PhD.

My favourite book character - Difficult one. Fictional characters don’t resonate with me as much as real people…though Horace Slughorn from the Harry Potter series did leave a positive lasting impression!

My favourite film - This is very tough as I have many favourites. May have to settle with the Back to the Future trilogy…for now…

My favourite poem - Not so much a “poem”, but Martin Niemöller’s First They Came… is infinitely adaptable to all situations of social injustice, and serves as my moral compass to empathise and speak out at times when others might not be willing or able to do so.

My favourite artist/band -  Impossible to answer as my taste is eclectic. It can be as wide a range as between Ella Fitzgerald, The Human League and Muse.

My favourite song - Another impossible one to answer!

My favourite art - Leonid Afremov’s work has a special place in my heart.

My favourite person from history - Komitas: a remarkable Armenian composer with a tragic life. He spent the last years of his life in various psychiatric facilities trying to cope with having witnessed the worst imaginable human atrocities during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in (at the time) Ottoman Turkey.

The Problem is Bigger than Tate

While there are many things that have got under my skin lately, it seems that every time I go on social media, turn on the television, or happen to have a conversation, the name Andrew Tate is uttered. His mere existence is like a virus, attacking not only my brain and soul but it seems a large population of the world. His popularity stems from his platform followed by thousands of men and young boys (it’s known as the ‘Real World’).

His platform ‘educating’ men on working smarter not harder has created a ‘brotherhood’ within the manosphere that celebrates success and wealth. Tate is framed as a man’s man, physically strong, rich and he even has a cigar attached to his hand (I wonder if he puts it down when he goes to the bathroom). It seems many of his aspiring followers want to mimic his fast rich lifestyle.

This seems to be welcomed, especially now when the price of bread has significantly risen (many of his followers would sell the closest women in their life for a whiff of his cigar, and of course to be deemed to have an Insta-desirable lifestyle). While this ideology has gained hype and mass traction in recent years (under the Tate trademark) it seems that his narcissistic, problematic image and what he stands for has only just been deemed a problem … due to his recent indiscretions. 

There is now outrage in UK schools over the number of young boys following Tate and his misogynistic ideology. But I cannot help but ask … why was this not an issue before? I am aware of rape culture, victim blaming, sexual harassment, and systems of silence at every level of the UK education establishment. The launch of ‘Everyone’s Invited’ shone a light on the problematic discourse, so why are we only seeing that there is a problem now?

There are many reasons why there’s a delayed outrage, and I would be here all day highlighting all the problems. So, I will give you a couple of reasons. The first is the Guyland ideology: many Tate supporters who fall into the cultural assumption of masculinity expect to be rewarded for their support, in ways of power and material possession (this includes power over women and others deemed less powerful). If one does not receive what they believe they are owed or expected, they will take what they believe they are owed (by all means necessary).

There is also a system of silence within their peer group which is reinforced by parents, female friends, the media, and those that are in administrative power. The protection of toxic behavior has been continuously put under the umbrella of ‘boys will be boys’ or the idea that the toxic behavior is outside the character of the individual or not reflective of who they truly are.

I will go one step further and apply this to the internalised patriarchy/misogyny of the many women that came out and supported Jeremy Clarkson when he callously attacked Meghan. While many of the women have their individual blight with Meghan for reasons I do not really care to explore, by supporting the rhetoric spewed by Clarkson, they are upholding systemic violence against women.

The third point is that capitalism overthrows humanity and empathy in many ways. All you need to do is to look at a history books, it seems that lessons will never be learned. The temptation of material possessions has overthrown morality. The media gives Tate a platform and in turn Tate utters damaging ideology. This brings more traffic to the platforms that he is on and thus more money and influence….after all he is one of the most googled people in the world.

The awareness of the problematic behaviour and the total disregard for protecting women and girls from monsters like Tate shows, how the outrage displayed by the media about harms against victims such as Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard is performative. The news coverage and the discussion that centred on the victimisation of these two women have easily been forgotten. If the outrage is real then why are we still at a point where we are accepting excuses and championing misogyny under the guise of freedom of speech, without challenging the harm it really does.

It seems that society is at a point of total desensitization where there is more interest in Tate losing an argument with Greta Thunberg, posing with a cigar on an exotic beach for likes, than really acknowledging the bigger picture. Andrew Tate has been accused of rape and human trafficking. The worst thing is, this is not the first time that he has been accused of horrific crimes – and with the audio evidence that was released to the press recently, he should be in prison. But with the issues that permeate the Met police there is no surprise as to why he has been given the green light to continue his violent behaviour. But this is not just a UK issue.  There has been a large amount of support overseas with young men and boys marching in masses in support of Tate, so I cannot be surprised that he was able to and continues to build a platform that celebrates and promotes horrendous treatment of women.

For many the progression of a fair and equal society is an aspiration, but for the supporters of the Tate’s in the world they tend to lean on the notion that they are entitled to more, and to acquire what they think they are owed, and will behave to the extreme of toxicity. While it is easy to fixate on a pantomimic villain like Tate to discuss his problematic use of language and how this translates in schools, the bigger picture of institutionalised patriarchy is always being missed.

It is important to unpick the toxic nature of our society, to understand the contributing factors that have allowed Andrew Tate and others like him to be such influential figures.

A race to the bottom

Happy new year to one and all, although I suspect for many it will be a new year of trepidation rather than hope and excitement.

It seems that every way we turn there is a strike or a threat of a strike in this country, reminiscent, according to the media, of the 1970s.  It also seems that every public service we think about (I mean this in the wider context so would include Royal Mail for example,) is failing in one way or another.  The one thing that strikes me though, pardon the pun, is that none of this has suddenly happened.  And yet, if you were to believe media reporting, this is something that is caused by those pesky unions and intransigent workers or is it the other way round?  Anyway, the constant rhetoric of there is ‘no money’, if said often enough by politicians and echoed by media pundits becomes the lingua franca.  Watch the news and you will see those ordinary members of the public saying the same thing.  They may prefix this with ‘I understand why they are striking’ and then add…’but there is no money’.  

When I listen to the radio or watch the news on television (a bit outdated I know), I am incensed by questions aimed at representatives of the railway unions or the nurses’ union, amongst others,  along the lines of ‘what have you got to say to those businesses that are losing money as a result of your strikes or what would you like to say to patients that have yet again had their operations cancelled’? This is usually coupled with an interview of a suffering business owner or potential patient.  I know what I would like to say to the ignorant idiot that asked the question and I’m sure most of you, especially those that know me, know what that is.  Ignorant, because they have ignored the core and complex issues, wittingly or unwittingly, and an idiot because you already know the answer to the question but also know the power of the media. Unbiased, my …. 

When we look at all the different services, we see that there is one thing in common, a continuous, often political ideologically uncompromising drive to reduce real time funding for public services.  As much as politicians will argue about the amount of money ploughed into the services, they know that the funding has been woefully inadequate over the years. I don’t blame the current government for this, it is a succession of governments and I’m afraid Labour laying the blame at the Tory governments’ door just won’t wash.  Social care, for example, has been constantly ignored or prevaricated over, long before the current Tories came to power, and the inability of social care to respond to current needs has a significant knock-on effect to health care.  I do however think the present government is intransigent in failing to address the issues that have caused the strikes.  Let us be clear though, this is not just about pay as many in government and the media would have you believe.  I’m sure, if it was, many would, as one rather despicable individual interviewed on the radio stated, ‘suck it up and get on with it’. I have to add, I nearly crashed the car when I heard that, and the air turned blue.  Another ignoramus I’m afraid.

Speak to most workers and they will tell you it is more about conditions rather than pay per se. Unfortunately, those increasingly unbearable and unworkable conditions have been caused by a lack of funding, budget restraints and pay restraints. We now have a situation where people don’t want to work in such conditions and are voting with their feet, exacerbating the conditions.  People don’t want to join those services because of poor pay coupled with unworkable conditions. The government’s answer, well to the nurses anyway, is that they are abiding by the independent pay review body. That’s like putting two fingers up to the nurses, the health service and the public.  When I was in policing it had an independent pay review body, the government didn’t always abide by it, notably, they sometimes opted to award less than was recommended. The word recommendation only seems to work in favour of government. Now look at the police service, underfunded, in chaos and failing to meet the increasing demands. Some of those demands caused by an underfunded social and health care service, particularly mental health care.

Over the years it has become clear that successive governments’ policies of waste, wasted opportunity, poor decision making, vote chasing, and corruption have led us to where we are now. The difference between first and third world country governments seems to only be a matter of degree of ineptitude.  It has been a race to the bottom, a race to provide cheap, inadequate services to those that can’t afford any better and a race to suck everyone other than the rich into the abyss. 

A government minister was quoted as saying that by paying wage increases it would cost the average household a thousand pound a year. I’d pay an extra thousand pound, in fact I’d pay two if it would allow me to see my doctor in a timely manner, if it gave me confidence that the ambulance would turn up promptly when needed, if it meant a trip to A&E wouldn’t involve a whole day’s wait or being turned away or if I could get to see a dentist rather than having to attempt DIY dentistry in desperation.  I’d like to think the police would turn up promptly when needed and that my post and parcels would be delivered on time by someone that had the time to say hello rather than rushing off because they are on an unforgiving clock (particularly pertinent for elderly and vulnerable people).

And I’m not poor but like so many people I look at the new year with trepidation.  I don’t blame the strikers; they just want to improve their conditions and vis a vis our conditions.  Blaming them is like blaming cows for global warming, its nonsensical.

And as a footnote, I wonder why we never hear about our ex-prime minister Liz Truss and her erstwhile Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng; what a fine mess they caused. But yesterday’s news is no news and yet it is yesterday’s news that got us to where we are now.  Maybe the media could report on that, although I suspect they probably won’t.

Avoiding challenge: A strategy for organisational change

Have you ever wondered as a manager or worker what the best way is to avoid having your ideas challenged?  Tired of trying to make organisational changes and having those changes called into question. Fed up with trying to instigate something only for someone else to be less than keen.  Had enough of trying to do things that will promote your ambitions only to be thwarted by others that just have to add their two pennorth in?  Annoyed at extra work being created for you because of a lack of acceptance of your ideas?  Are you fed up with the ‘nay sayers’?  The answer is simple… don’t communicate anything, just make the changes, and wait for yet another calamity. 

The above of course is somewhat tongue in cheek and I am reminded of working with some consultants several years ago (you know the ones; steal your watch to tell you the time).  I jest, as they had some sage advice on change management. Two things that come to mind: If you think you have communicated enough about change, you haven’t; communicate more.  And find the person or group that needs convincing and work with them, it’s the ‘nay sayers’ that need to be convinced, not the ‘yay sayers’.  They are far more valuable to your organisation than those that say ‘yes’.

What we were talking about was major organisational change, but even small changes can have a major impact on a workforce. In our own organisation a recent staff survey suggested that ‘Over 50% of respondents considered that consultation about change at work is poor’.  That of course relates to previous iterations of change and a new management team would hope to address the issues.  However, in doing so there is a need for organisational change.

I’ve had recent experience of being told that something was happening because someone, in agreement with someone else, thought it was a good idea.  It promotes their department, showing them in a good light; they took the idea to a meeting and lo and behold, it is agreed.  No consultation with those that need to implement the idea, which may be good or bad, who knows.  The point being that it is not just change brought about by managers without consultation that causes annoyance, anxiety and stress, it is those daily working practices of people in the organisation that fear challenge of their ideas.  Changes are often made with the best of intentions.  Sometimes those intentions are to alleviate burgeoning workloads within a department, sometimes to promote the organisation or individuals or to lighten the burden on students, for example.  Often, there is consultation, but it is consultation with the wrong people, consultation with the ‘yay sayers’ and those that have little idea about the impact of the change (for the best will in the world, managers can’t know every detail of the work carried out by their staff).  Such consultation avoids scrutiny but provides a thin veneer of respectability.  Time and again we see staff queuing up to join consultative groups, but how many of these do so with a view to providing a real critique?  Take the idea to a management meeting, get it agreed and there you are, its done.  If asked about consultation, then the answer is ‘yes of course we did’. The problem is nobody asks the question ‘who exactly did you consult with’?

It will take a huge shift in organisational culture to get the ‘nay sayers’ to volunteer for consultative exercises.  They need convincing that their voice is valued and yet they are a valuable asset.   Challenge and scrutiny are healthy and help to mitigate unwanted and unintended consequences.

There is nothing worse than having it done to you when it could so easily have been a case of having it done with you.  Next time you think about changing something, don’t assume you know best, by doing so you demonstrate how little you value others.  

Public confidence in the CJS: ending on a high?

2022 has been a turbulent and challenging year for many. Social inequalities and disadvantage are rife, with those in power repeatedly making bad, inhumane decisions and with very little, to no, accountability or consequences (insert your favourite example from the sh** storm that is the Conservative Party here). Union after Union, across sectors, engage in industrial action in response to poor working conditions and pay, amidst a cost-of-living crisis. And although seemingly unconnected, as the year comes to a close, the Sentencing Guidelines (2022) report on Public Confidence in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) has got me feeling frustrated. My previous blog entries have often been ‘moans’. And whilst January is often dubbed the month of new beginnings and change for the year ahead: we’re not quite there yet so true to form here is my latest moan!

The report exists as one of many conducted by Savanta to collate data on public confidence, in terms of effectiveness and fairness, in the CJS and public awareness of the sentencing guidelines. The data collected in March 2022, was via online surveys given to a “nationally representative sample of 2,165 adults in England and Wales” (Archer et al., 2022, p.9). Some of their highlighted ‘Key Findings’ include that confidence levels in CJS remains relatively stable in comparison to 2018, on the whole, respondents viewed sentences as ‘too lenient’ however this varied based on offence, the existence of the sentencing guidelines improves respondent’s confidence in the fairness of sentencing, and that engagement with broadcast news sources was high across respondents (Archer et al., 2022). It is not the findings, per se, that I take umbrage with, but rather the claim it is a “nationally representative sample of adults in England and Wales” (Archer et al., 2022, p.9).

I take issue on two fronts. The first being that the sample size of 2,165 adult respondents is representative when the demographic factors included are: gender (male and female), age (18-34yo, 35-54yo and 55+), region, ethnicity (White, Mixed, Asian, Black and Other) and socio-economic grade. Now considering we are, thankfully, at the end of 2022 we should all be able to recognise that a sample which only includes cis-gendered options, narrows ethnicity down to 4 categories and the charming ‘other’, and does not include disabilities is problematic. There has been a large body of research done on people with disabilities and their experiences within the CJS, the lack of representation, the lack of accessibility to space and decisions, potentially impacting a defendant’s right to a fair trial, and a victim’s right to justice (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2021; Hyun et al., 2013 ). So I ask, is this not something which needs considering when looking at public confidence in the CJS of a “nationally representative” sample?

In addition to this, I take issue with the requirement that the sample be “nationally representative”. We have research piece upon research piece about how Black men and Black boys experience the CJS and its various agencies disproportionately to their white counterparts (Lammy, 2017; Monteith et al., 2022; Parmar, 2012). Their experiences of stop and search, sentencing, bail, access to programmes within the Secure and Youth estate. There is nothing representative about our CJS in terms of who it processes, how this is done, and by whom. According to Monteith et al., (2022) 1% of Judges in the CJS are Black, and there are NO Black judges on the High Court, Court of Appeal of Supreme Court: this is not representative! Why then, are we concerned with a representative sample when looking at public confidence in CJS and the sentencing guidelines, when it is not experienced in a proportionate manner?

Maybe I’ve missed the point?

The report is clear, accessible, visible to the public: crucial concepts when thinking about justice, and measuring public confidence in the CJS is fraught with difficulties (Bradford and Myhill, 2015; Kautt and Tankebe, 2011). But this just feels like another nail being thumped into the coffin that is 2022. Might be the eagerness I possess to leave 2022 behind, or the impeding dread for the year to follow but the report has angered me rather than reassured me. As a criminologist, I am hopeful for a more inclusive, representative, fair and accountable CJS, but I am not sure how this will be achieved if we do not accept that the system disproportionately impacts (but not exclusively) Black men, women and children. Think it might be time for another mince pie…

Happy New Year to you all!

References:

Archer, N., Butler, M., Avukatu, G. and Williams, E. (2022) Public Knowledge of Confidence in the Criminal Justice System and Sentencing: 2022 Research. London: Sentencing Council.

Bradford, B. and Myhill, A. (2015) Triggers of change to public confidence in the police and criminal justice system: Findings from the crime survey for England and Wales panel experiment, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 15(1), pp.23-43.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (2021) Does the criminal justice system treat disabled people fairly? [Online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/inquiries-and-investigations/does-criminal-justice-system-treat-disabled-people-fairly [ Accessed 4th November 2021].

Hyun, E., Hahn, L. and McConnell, D. (2013) Experiences of people with learning disabilities in the criminal justice system, British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42: 308-314.

Kautt, P. and Tankebe, J. (2011) Confidence in the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales: A Test of Ethnic Effects, International Criminal Justice Review, 21(2),pp. 93-117.

The Lammy Review (2017) The Lammy Review: An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black Asian and Minority Ethnic Individuals in the Criminal Justice System, [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/goverment/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/643001/lammy-review-final-report-pdf [Last Accessed 14th February 2021].

Monteith, K., Quinn, E., Dennis, A., Joseph-Sailsbury, R., Kane, E., Addo, F. and McGourlay, C. (2022) Racial Bias and the Bench: A Response to the Judicial Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (2020-2025), [online] Available at: https://documents.manchester.ac.uk/display.aspax?DOCID=64125 [Accessed 4th November 2022].

Parmar, A. (2012) Racism and ethnicity in the criminal justice process, in: Hucklesby, A. and Wahidin, A. (eds.) Criminal Justice, 2nd ed, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.267-296.

An alternative Christmas message

Sometime in October stores start putting out Christmas decorations, in November they slowly begin to play festive music and by December people organise office parties and exchange festive cards.  For the best part of the last few decades these festive conventions seem to play a pivotal role in the lead up to Christmas.  There are jumpers with messages, boxes of chocolates and sweets all designed to spread some festivity around.  For those working, studying, or both, their December calendar is also a reminder of the first real break for some since summer. 

The lead up to Christmas with the music, stories and wishes continues all the way to the New Year when people seem to share their goodwill around.  Families have all sorts of traditions, putting up the Xmas tree on this day, ordering food from the grocers on that day, sending cards to friends and family by that day.  An arrangement of dates and activities.  On average every person starts in early December recounting their festive schedule. Lunch at mum’s, dinner at my brother’s, nan on Boxing Day with the doilies on the plates, New Years Eve at the Smiths where Mr Smith gets hilariously drunk and starts telling inappropriate jokes and New Year’s at the in-laws with their sour-faced neighbour.

People arrange festivities to please people around them; families reunite, friends are invited, meaningful gifts are bought for significant others and of course buy we gifts for children.  Oh, the children love Christmas! The lights, the festive arrangements, the delightful activities, and the gifts!  The newest trends, the must have toys, all shiny and new, wrapped up in beautiful papers with ribbons and bows.  In the festive season, we must not forget the kind words we exchange, the messages send by local communities, politicians and even royalty.  Words full of warmth, well-meaning, perspective and reflection.  Almost magical the sights and sounds wrapped around us for over a month to make us feel festive.

It is all too beautiful, so you can be forgiven to hardly notice the lumbering shadow, at the door of an abandoned shop.  Homelessness is not a lifestyle as despicably declared by a Conservative councillor/newspapers decades ago.  It is the human casualty of those who have been priced out in the war of life.  Even since the world went into a deep freeze due to the recession over a decade ago and the world is still in the clutches of that freeze.  More people read about Christmas stories in books and in movies, because an even increasing number of people do not share the experience.  Homelessness is the result of years of criminal indifference and social neglect that leads more people to live and experience poverty.  A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of homelessness.  There is no goodwill at the inn whilst the sins of the “father” are now returning in the continent!  Centuries of colonial oppression across the world lead to a wave of refugees fleeing exploitation, persecution, and crippling poverty.  Unlike the inn-keeper and his daughter, the roads are closed, and the passages are blocked.  Clearly, they don’t fit with the atmosphere… nor do the homeless.  Come to think of it, neither do the old people who live alone in their cold homes.  None of these fit with the festive narrative.

As I walked down a street I passed a homeless guy is curled up in a shop door.  A combination of cardboard, sleeping bag and newspapers all jumbled together.  Next to him a dog on the cardboard and around them fairy lights.  This man I do not know, his face I have not seen, his identity I ignore; but I imagine that when he was born, there was someone who congratulated his mother for having a healthy boy.  Now he is alone, fortunate to have a canine companion, as so many do not have anyone. What stands out is that this person, who our festive plans had excluded, is there with his fairy lights, maybe the most festive of all people, without a burgundy coat, I hear some people like these days.    

It is so difficult to say Merry Christmas this year.  In a previous entry the world cup and its aftermath left a bitter taste in those who believe in making a better world. The economic gap between whose who have and those who do not, increases; the social inequalities deepen but I feel that we can be like that man with the fairy lights, fight back, rise up and end the party for those who like to wear burgundy, or those who like to speak for world events, at a price.

Merry Christmas, my dear criminologists, the world can change, when we become the agents of change.    

I am not your “ally” (or am I?)

Today’s blog entry is a stream of consciousness rather than a finished entry with an introduction, middle and conclusion. It’s something that has been puzzling me for sometime, trying to work out why the term “ally” discomforts me and yet, not really coming to a firm conclusion. So I thought I’d explore it through a blog entry and would welcome anyone’s input to help me clarify and refine my own thinking and either embrace or reject the term.

Anyone that knows me, knows I love reading and of course, I love words. I love to play with them, say them, write them, discover new ones and trace the etymology as far as I can. Equally, I do not hide the fact that I try to understand the world through both pacifism and feminism. This makes me rather susceptible to interrogating and challenging the things that I see around me, including the written and spoken word.

The most obvious place to start when exploring words, is a dictionary, and this blog entry does similar. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary the term “ally” has three distinct definitions:

“a country that has agreed officially to give help and support to another one, especially during a war”

“someone who helps and supports someone else”

“someone who helps and supports other people who are part of a group that is treated badly or unfairly, although they are not themselves a member of this group”

Now for obvious reasons, I find the first definition problematic, put simply for me, war is a crime. The act of waging war includes multiple violences, some individual, some institutional, some structural and all incredibly harmful decades, or even centuries later. Definitions which have roots in the military and warfare leave me cold and I hate the way in which they infiltrate civilian discourse. For example “the war on drugs”, “the war on poverty”, “officer to the meeting” and the reshaping of the term “ally” for the twenty-first century” I definitely don’t want to be the “ally” described in that definition.

Definition two is also problematic, albeit for different reasons. This definition seems far too broad, if I hold the door open for you, is that me being an ally? If I help you carry your heavy bags, can I say I’m your ally? This seems a nonsensical way to talk about everyday actions which would be better described as common civility, helping each other along the way.Should I say “thank you kind ally” every time, someone moves out of my way, or offers their seat on the bus? It seems evident that this definition does not help me explore my reservations.

The third definition appears to come closest to modern usage of the term “ally”. This term can be applied to many different groups (as can be seen from the badges below and these are just some of the many examples). “whilst I identify as cisgender, I’m a trans ally”, whilst currently heterosexual, I’m a LGBTQ+ ally”, despite being white, I’m a BLM ally” and so on. On the surface this is very positive, moving society away from the nonsense of people describing themselves as “colour-blind”, “gender-blind” or such trite phrases as “we all bleed the same”, ignoring the lack of equity in society and pretending that everyone has the same lived experience, the same opportunities, the same health, wealth and happiness. Buying into the hackneyed idea that if only you work hard enough, you will succeed, that we live in a classless society and the only thing holding anyone back is their own inertia.

However, maybe my problem isn’t with the word “ally” but the word “I”, and the fact that the two words seem inseparable, After all who decides who is an ally or who is not, is there a organisation somewhere that checks your eligibility to be an ally? I’m pretty sure there’s not which means that that “ally” is a description you apply to yourself. After all you can buy the badge, the t-shirt, the mug etc etc, capitalism is on your side, provided the tills are ringing, there’s every reason to sign up. Maybe a tiny percentage of your purchases goes to financially benefit the people you aim to support, for example the heavily criticised Skittles Pride campaign which donated only 2p to LGBTQ+ charities (and stands accused of white supremacy and racism). Of course, once you have bought the paraphernalia, there is no need to do anything else, beyond carrying/wearing/eating your “ally” goods with pride.

All of the above seems to marketise and weaponise behaviour that should be standard practice, good manners if you like, in a society. Do we need a special word for this kind of behaviour or should we strive to make sure we make space for everyone in our society? If individuals or groups gain civil rights, I don’t lose anything, I gain a growing confidence that the society in which I live is improving, that there is some movement (however small) toward equity for all. Societies should not make life more difficult for the people who live in them, regardless of religious or spiritual belief, we have one opportunity to make a good life for ourselves and others and that’s right now, so why seek to dehumanise and disadvantage other humans who are on the same journey as we are.

Ultimately, my main concern with the use of term of “ally” is that it obscures incredibly challenging social harms, with colour and symbols hiding inaction and apathy. Accept the label of “ally”, wear the badge, if you think it has meaning, but if you do nothing else, this is meaningless. if you see inequality and you do not call it out, take action to remedy the situation, the word “ally” means nothing other than an opportunity to make yourself central to the discussion, taking up, rather than making, room for those focused on making a more just society.

I still remain uncomfortable with the term “ally” and I doubt it will ever appear in my lexicon, but it’s worth remembering that an antonym of ally is enemy and nobody needs those.

Regulation and the Internet

*Trigger warning: article contains mentions of suicide, mental illness and self harm in regard to a recent news article*

It seems that internet usage, regulation and monitoring can be a divisive topic for some. The internet can be a fantastic tool for learning, communicating and employment, among other things. However, as with everything, there is a dark side to it. I once watched a video about the internet and regulation, the narrator likened internet usage to when people drove cars with no seatbelts. The world now has this wonderful tool, with little to no effective safety mechanisms, and with many young people, and vulnerable people being able to view harmful content without regulation, we are seeing extreme and negative repercussions.

I think one of the main appeals of the internet is the inherent freedom that it gives the user, the key word here is freedom. It seems that some people believe that unregulated usage of the internet is now an inherent part of their freedoms. This is perhaps why attempting to further regulate usage could result in disagreement and objection. The topic of internet regulation is a very nuanced topic; it toes the line of freedom and restriction and profit and protection. Algorithms are one way that social media companies can prolong the amount of time a person is scrolling through their newsfeed, for example: If you ‘liked’ a picture of a cat, it is more likely that related content would then be shown to you. For social media companies, more engagement equals more money. The algorithmic style of newsfeeds seems great in theory but they can become harmful. If we replace viewing cat content on Instagram with viewing suicide related content, we can see how this can become very problematic very quickly.

Questions concerning the ‘wild west’ type environment that is the internet are becoming more common. With the recent inquest concerning the suicide of Molly Russel, these questions are even more relevant. Molly Russel saved thousands of images related to self harm and suicide months before her death, posts also included some promoting depressive content and encouragement to not seek the help from a mental health professional. Tech giant Meta’s response in the inquest was that the majority of these posts did not breach their social media posting guidelines (they conceded a few did breach the rules). Their response totally contradicts the reactions of those present at the court, with Molly Russel’s father stating that these images were graphic, dark and harmful. With mental health resources already being stretched beyond capacity, this unregulated environment that is legally accessible to children will surely exacerbate these problems. Molly Russel’s experience will not be the only one, thousands of vulnerable and impressionable people, young and old experience similar things and view similar medias. Whether it be accessing pro-anorexia content, content which promotes weapons and violence or content which advocates for avoiding professional mental health support.

The repercussions of an ineffectively regulated internet are unmeasured and the continuation of this deregulation is for the pursuit of profit fuelled by misguided ideas about what freedom of action and freedom of expression mean.

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