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Thinking about ‘Thoughts from the Criminology Team’
March 3, 2023 13:14 / Leave a comment
This is the sixth anniversary of the blog, and I am proud to have been a contributor since its inception. Although, initially I only somewhat reluctantly agreed to contribute. I dislike social media with a passion, something to be avoided at all costs, and I saw this as yet more intrusive social media. A dinosaur, perhaps, but one that has years of experience in the art of self-preservation. Open up to the world and you risk ridicule and all sorts of backlash and yet, the blog somehow felt and feels different. It is not a university blog, it is our team;s blog, it belongs to us and the contributors. What is written are our own personal opinions and observations, it is not edited, save for the usual grammar and spelling faux pas, it is not restricted in any way save that there is an inherent intolerance within the team for anything that may cause offence or hurt. Government, management, organisations, structures, and processes are fair game for criticism or indeed ridicule, including at times our own organisation. And our own organisation deserves some credit for not attempting to censure our points of view. Attempts at bringing the blog into the university fold have been strongly resisted and for good reason, it is our blog, it does not belong to an institution.
As contributors, and there are many, students, academics and guests, we have all been able to write about topics that matter to us. The blog it seems to me serves no one purpose other than to allow people space to write and to air their views in a safe environment. For me it serves as a cathartic release. A chance to tell the world (well at least those that read the blog) my views on diverse topics, not just my views but my feelings, there is something of me that goes into most of my writing. It gives me an opportunity to have fun as well, to play with words, to poke fun without being too obvious. It has allowed us all to pursue issues around social injustices, to question the country, indeed the world in which we live. And it has allowed writers to provide us all with an insight into what goes on elsewhere in the world, a departure from a western colonial viewpoint. I think, as blogs go it is a pretty good blog or collection of blogs, I’m not sure of the terminology but it is certainly better than being a twit on Twitter.
Tyre Nichols’ last bird’s eye view.
February 27, 2023 13:33 / Leave a comment
[Spoken Word/Read aloud]
After my death, the New York Times reported that you all gave me “at least 71 commands.”
“Many were contradictory or impossible,” the Times tweeted.
In a mob frenzy throughout the whole ordeal, y’all kept shouting at me over each other.
When I couldn’t comply – and even when I did manage to obey– you…(SMH)
“Responded with escalating force.”
NYT’s tweet is cleverly crafted, with a photo – a bird’s eye view of us from the street camera.
There we see 4 of you hunched down on me, pressing my whole body against the ground.
The 5th thug is lunging toward me with a weapon.
After my death, I wonder how y’all will explain this footage –
Knowing the nature of these viral tweets?
I’ve personally reposted too many posts of Black bodies in my exact position to count.
I know I didn’t have to do anything to get here,
Knowing this brings me no comfort in this moment.
All of your commands ignore my humanity.
I am powerless and yet you persist.
In the many video angles of your fatal attack, we all see that…
Each of you had so many chances to just stop!
I’ve always tried to make sense of such lethal violence.
I try to understand the who, what and why of your attack that led to my death.
You had me pinned and pressed to the ground when you kept barking:
“Get on the ground.”
When you kept yelling, one after the other, “Give me your hands,”
Two or three of you were already bending my arms backward and forward with force.
I contort myself and try to comply, yet
You keep screaming “Stop resisting,” meanwhile,
At the same time, two or three of you are manhandling some part of me, at all times.
At the end when you leaned my beaten-up, bleeding, limp body against your car,
One of you snaps-n-shares pictures of me with colleagues and friends.
He’s proud and reaching out to folks who’ll pat him on the back for his latest accomplishment.
During the whole attack, I notice this is the only time he’s cool. He smiles.
He’s clearly used to this exact same rush, this exact same thrill.
I’m more disappointed than angered by his grin.
Mine is an all-American honor killing –
Most just get shot, but many have been tortured just like me.
We see this is how too many of his brethren defend their shield.
Where was I to go?
Appeal to the other officers on the scene whose negligence is pristine?
I tried to run, you captured me, which provoked more torture; nowhere feels safe.
Why was I being terrorized?
And by you, who’ve pledged to protect us from (this) terrorism and (this) thug behavior.
What was I to do?
Flight, freeze or fight.
I am tiny compared to any one of you, y’alls combat training and y’alls five big bodies built-up for battle.
I am a fly; you act like lords.
“Bruh,” you call me, but there is no evidence of brotherliness here.
Or, does your fraternity honor and practice such sadomasochistic rituals?
I like skateboarding and photography, another magazine writes, trying to digest my senseless murder.
Yet the videos of me captured for the world to see are
“…absent all beauty and sterilized of hope.”
When would this end?
Would I have to die for you to stop.
How had I possibly provoked this attack?
Who was I to obey?
You? You’re no good, like Linda Ronstadt said:
You’re no good. You’re no good. Baby, you’re no gooooooood…..
You’re no good.
Or perhaps good in your god’s eyes?
Or, are you God?
You’re not anybody’s God, but…
You play one out here on these streets.
Now, you’re playing my God… my life is keenly in your fists.
Yes! These unceasing murders that I’ve seen – not just mine now–
Is what makes this place hell on Earth in the here and now.
So perhaps y’all’re just agents of the devil,
A force unleashed from the depths upon these streets.
“Momma,” I cry out as loud as I can, and you continue to holler obscenities at me.
Momma used to say all people are fundamentally good,
But lately, I’ve felt fundamentally unsure, and now I’m convinced.
“I didn’t do anything,” I plea, rolling on the ground with my hands behind my back.
Y’all kick me.
“Mom,” I cry out again.
I will die here alone.
No mother should lose her child like this.
The agony inside now, as I call out to my momma, is not for her help,
But because I can already feel her pain once she hears how I’m dying.
Since momma fought for the public release of the videos of my attack,
My name is a hashtag and we have been written about a plenty.
“Every Black mother knows she is a split second,” one newspaper writes,
“… a quirk of chance, from joining a lineage of suffering that stretches back through Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley…”
When she saw y’all in court for my kidnapping, assault, oppression, and murder,
Momma said you didn’t even have the courage to look her in the face.
Momma said you’re gonna see her each time you are called to see the judge.
NPR OBITUARIES: “Tyre Nichols loved skateboarding. That’s how his friends say they’ll remember him.”
Is the cost of living crisis just state inflicted violence
February 16, 2023 14:21 / Leave a comment
Back in November 2022, social media influencer Lydia Millen was seen to spark controversy on the popular app ‘TikTok’ when she claimed that her heating was broken, so she therefore was going to check into the Savoy in London.
Her video, which she filmed whilst wearing an outfit worth over £30,000, sparked outrage on the app and across popular social media platforms. People began to argue that her comment was not well received in our current social climate, where people have to choose whether they should spend money on heating or groceries. For many, no matter your financial situation, problems with heating rarely resorts in a luxury stay in London.
With pressure mounting, Lydia decided to reply to comments on her video. When one individual stated “My heating is off because I can’t afford to put it on”, Lydia replied “It’s honestly heart breaking I just hope you know that other people’s realities can be different and that’s not wrong”. Sorry, Lydia; it is wrong. Realities are not different; they are miles apart. This is clearly seen in the fact that the National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimate that 1.5 million households in the UK over the next year will be landed in poverty (NIESR, 2022).
Ultimately, this is a social issue. Like Lydia said, in a society in which individuals are stratified based on their economic, cultural and social capital, we are conditioned to believe that this is just the way it is, and therefore, it is not wrong that other people have different realities. However, for me, it is not ‘different realities’, it is a matter of being able to eat and be warm versus being able to stay in a luxury hotel in London.
So, why is this a criminological issue? The cost of living crisis is simply just state inflicted poverty. Alike to Lydia with her social following, the government have the power to make change and use their position in society to remedy cost of living issues, but they don’t. This is not a mark of their failure as a government, it is a mark of their success. You only have to look at the government’s complete denial surrounding social issues to realise that this was their plan all along, and the longer this denial continues, the longer they succeed. This is seen in the case of Lydia Millen, who has acted as a metaphor for the level of negligence in which the government exercises over its citizens. Ultimately, for Lydia, it is very easy to tuck yourself into a luxury bed in the Savoy and close the curtains on the real world. The people affected by the crisis are not people like Lydia Millen, they are everyday people who work 40+ hours a week, and still cannot make ends meet. For the government, the cost of living crisis is the perfect way to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Ultimately, the cost of living crisis is not too dissimilar to the strikes that the UK is currently experiencing. Alike to the strikes, the cost of living crisis was always going to happen at the hands of a negligent government. The only way we can begin to address this problem is by giving our support, by supporting strikes all across the country, and by standing up for what is right. After all, the powers in our country have shown that our needs as a society are not a priority, so it is time to support ourselves.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
National Institute of Economic and Social Research (2022) What Can Be Done About the Cost-of-Living Crisis? NIESR [online]. Available from: https://www.niesr.ac.uk/blog/what-can-be-done-about-the-cost-of-living-crisis [Accessed 23/01/23].
A world without prisons follow-up. A student/staff reflection piece
February 9, 2023 11:00 / Leave a comment
As a department Criminology has pushed the envelope in promoting discussions around the key disciplinary debates. @franbitalo and myself co-ordinated a conversation where the main focus was to imagine “a world without prisons”. The conversation was very interesting, and we decided to post parts of it as a legacy of the social debates we engage in. The discussion is captured as a series of comments made by the students with some prompts in bold.
The original question stands, can you imagine a world without prisons? First thing first, there is a feeling that prisons will always exist as mechanisms to control our society. Mainly because our society is too punitive and focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation. We live in a society that ideologically sees the prison as the representation of being hard on crime. Further to this point we may never be able to abolish the prison, so it can always remain as the last resort of what to do with those who have harm others. Especially for those in our society who deserve to be punished because of what they did. Perhaps we could reform it or extend the use of the probation service dealing with crime.
In an ideal world prisons should not exist especially because the system seems to target particular groups, namely minorities and people from specific background. It important to note that it does stop people seeking or taking justice into their hands and deflecting any need for vengeance “eye for an eye”. Prison is a punishment done in the name of society, but it does carry political overtones. There are parts of political ideology that support the idea that punishment is meant to make an example of those breaking the law. This approach is deeply rooted, and is impervious to reform or change. Which can become one of the biggest issues regarding prisons.
Then there is the public’s view on prisons. When people hear that prisons will go they will be very unhappy and even frightened. They will feel that without prisons people will go crazy and commit crimes without any consequences. Society, people feel, will go into a state of anarchy where vigilantism will become the acceptable course of action. This approach becomes more urgent when considering particular types of criminals, like sex offenders and in particular, paedophiles. Regardless of the intention of the act, these types of crime cause serious harm that the victim carries for the rest of their lives. The violation of trust and the lack of consent makes these crimes particularly repulsive and prison worthy. How about child abduction? Not sure if we should make prison crime specific. That will not serve its purpose, instead it will make it the dumping ground for some crime categories, sending a message that only some people will go to prison.
Will that be the only crime category worthy of prison? In an ideal world, those who commit serious financial crimes should be going to prison, if such a prison existed. Again, here if we are considering harm as the reason to keep prisons open these types of crime cause maximum harm. The implication of white-collar crime, serious fraud and tax evasion deprive our society of taxes and income that is desperately needed in social infrastructure, services and social support. Financial crime flaunts the social contract and weakens society. Perhaps those involved should be made to contribute reparations. The prison question raises another issue to consider especially with all the things said before! Who “deserves” to go to prison. Who gets to go and who is given an alternative sentence is based on established views on crime. There are a lot of concerns on the way crime is prioritised and understood because these prioritisations do not reflect the reality of social disorder. Prison is an institution that scapegoats the working classes. Systematically the system imprisons the poor because class is an imprisonable factor; the others being gender and race.
If we keep only certain serious crimes on the books, we are looking at a massive reduction in prison numbers. Is that the way to abolitionism? The prison plays too much of a role in the Criminal Justice System to be discounted. The Industrial Prison Complex as a criminological concept indicates the strengths of an institution that despite its failings, hasn’t lost its prominence. On the side of the State, the establishment is a barrier to any reform or changes to this institution. Changes are not only needed for prison, but also for the way the system responds to the victims of crime as well. Victims are going through a process of re-victimisation and re-harming them. This is because the system is using the victims as part of the process, in giving evidence. If there is concern for those harmed by crime, that is not demonstrated by the strictness of the prison.
As a society currently we may not be able to abolish prisons but we ought to reduce the harm punishment has onto people. In order to abolish prisons, the system will have to be ready to allow for the change to happen. In the meantime, alternative justice systems have not delivered anything different from what we currently have. One of the reasons is that as a society we have the need to see justice being served. A change so drastic as this will definitely require a change in politics, a change in ideology and a change in the way we view crime as a society in order to succeed. The conversation continues…
Thank you to all the participating students: Katja, Aimee, Alice, Zoe, Laura, Amanda, Kayleigh, Chrissy, Meg, and Ellie also thank you to my “partner in crime” @franbitalo.
The Problem is Bigger than Tate
January 20, 2023 11:09 / Leave a comment
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
January 6, 2023 10:00 / Leave a comment
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.
I am not your “ally” (or am I?)
December 16, 2022 11:28 / Leave a comment
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.
ASUU vs The Federal Government
October 21, 2022 10:00 / Leave a comment
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
October 14, 2022 15:57 / Leave a comment
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’ 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.
 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
October 6, 2022 23:15 / Leave a comment
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.