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One of the most surprising conversations to have emerged from the BLM protests is representation. On the news outlets I follow in my liberal bubble, items around the protestors’ demands led to implicit bias, and the media cited as a primary arena for such instruction. Chomsky, as we all know from his Propaganda model, contends that it’s media’s “function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society.” Consent to white supremacy is what’s being manufactured here. Whether the nightly news or the entertainment, deconstructionists have long since called out the white supremacist propaganda. We know that the propaganda is a comprehensive representation of the dominant hegemony, what bell hooks describes as the white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy.
Ain’t your momma on the pancake box?
Aunt Jemima, gone! Uncle Ben! Gone with the Wind, swept away! Representation matters. These iconic images survived an era when white supremacy was on parade – literally- the height the K.K. Klan marches and minstrelsy. We know NOW that these images were based on racist stereotypes. And thankfully that analysis has extended into the modern day: They canceled Cops, and are going after entire franchises of cop dramas that have busily perpetuated racist propaganda.
These TV shows are all chock full of Black criminality, Black Best Friends and white saviors! And they’re lovely. Consider the Law and Order franchise, which is comprised of over half a dozen different shows, including the longest-running cop drama ever, L&O Special Victims Unit – sex crimes! Activists writers and cultural critics are popping up everywhere discussing this mess. Jim and Jane Crow must be shaking in their boots.
What’s interesting, and feels unique about this particular moment is the earnest effort with which emotions are confronted. This includes terror and rage. The grief with which Black people watch reels of Black bodies falling is horrendous. We’re over a decade into massive social media saturation, so it’s safe to say, you can see a nigger die daily – looped if you like. As Evelyn From the Internets said, we need a day off from this trauma: I’m calling in ‘black’.
Then there’s rage. Of course, it’s enraging to see no justice sought or found in the majority of these cases. What’s worse, we’re not talking about actual criminals that the law already outlaws- no one has forgotten about gang violence, like that 15-year-old Chicago girl in who caught a stray bullet in her back just days after returning from the White House where she’d performed at Obama’s second inauguration. Yes, we wept as we watched that tragic story of Hadiya Pendleton.
Yet, there’s a particular sting around “justified homicide,” by law enforcement officers. Who can we turn to for lawn enforcement? Who secures our justice? Not the United States! We’ve watched that for decades throughout many evolutions of media technology. We have Black and white photos of ET’s brutalized young body in 55. We see Rosa Parks sitting in a segregated bus that December. We have newsreels of over a decade long of different acts of civil disobedience that culminated in what we call the Civil Rights Movement. We watched Bloody Sunday in Selma, live, in Black and White TV.
We watched Rodney King get beat down by a mob of LAPD! We watched the trial and the slurs and the acquittal of his killers. So, we watched the riots a year after the police beating, and we watched as justice yet again slipped away – from Black people.
Now, in the age of social media, we can watch a live-streamed murder – such as that of Philando Castile who was shot by a cop within seven seconds of informing the cop he was legally carrying a gun! Thanks to many citizen-journalists, we see all of it, every excruciating second – each second where a sense of humanity might have intervened.
Have you taken the Implicit Bias test yet?
We’re now talking about the implications of implicit bias. In health, Ms. Corona showed us all the biases not only in treatment, but also in systemic differences in housing that impact wealth, education and, sadly health. Red Lining is real. And Corona has shown that those biases lead to our morbidity.
In corporate America, if you have a Black sounding name on your resume, you’re 50% less likely to get a callback – fact! And if you get the job, you have to deal with micro-aggressions.
From Spectacle to Spectacular
Social media has made the most mundane spectacles of public life spectacular through the lens of racism. There’s a whole hashtag, #LivingWhileBlack- that will show white people calling the police on Black people just for being ‘suspicious’ and making them ‘uncomfortable’. We know that white discomfort has led to many deaths at the hands of the police because we’ve heard the 9-11 calls, too. But, now, we can also see BBQBecky, PoolPatrolPaul, PermitPatty, HotelEarl call the police. We see a white woman in a bodega charge a 14-year old Black boy with sexual assault because his backpack swiped against her. We see that white woman calling the police on a little black girl selling bottled water in front of their apartment complex on a hot sunny day. There are loads, loads more of such incidents, now caught on camera by citizen-journalists. Under these conditions, Black sanity is a spectacular feat!
Recently, we watched that white woman in Central Park threaten to call the police and tell them a “Black man in threatening her,” and moments later, because the brother stayed calm enough to record the spectacle on his phone, we see her feign terror on the phone to the emergency services. She nearly strangles her newly adopted dog with the leash the birdwatcher had asked her to use in the first place. She was readily prepared to weaponize her white tears in a situation that she knew could end in this Black man’s death! She knew she existed in a system that would support her, yet the wider/whiter masses either refused to believe that any of this was happening, despite our consistent, collective protestations. So, here we are, locked in a battle of wills: Will the world finally affirm that BLM?
George Floyd’s words: “I can’t breathe”, have awaken almost every race and creed in relevance to the injustice of systematic racism faced by black people across the world. His brutal murder has echoed and been shared virtually on every social media platform – Floyd’s death has changed the world and showed that Black people are no longer standing alone in the fight against racism and racial profiling. The death of George Floyd has sparked action within both the white and black communities to demand comprehensive police reforms in regards to police brutality and the use of unjust force towards ethnic minorities.
There have been many cases of racism and racial profiling against black people in the United Kingdom, and even more so in the United State. Research has suggested that there have been issues with police officers stereotyping ethnic minorities, especially black people, which has resulted in a vicious cycle of the stopping and searching of those that display certain physical features. Other researchers have expounded that the conflict between the police and black people has no correlation with crime, rather it is about racism and racial profiling. Several videos circulating on social media platforms depict that the police force does harbour officers who hold prejudice views towards black people within its ranks.
Historically, black people have been deprived, excluded, oppressed, demonised and brutally killed because of the colour of their skin. As ex-military personnel in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and currently working as a custody officer, I can say from experience that the use of force used during the physical restraint on George Floyd was neither necessary nor proportionate to the circumstances. In the video recorded by bystanders, George Floyd was choked in the neck whilst fighting for his life repeating the words “I can’t breathe”. Perhaps the world has now noticed how black people have not been able to breathe for centuries.
The world came to halt because of Covid-19; many patients have died because of breathing difficulties. Across the world we now know what it means if a loved one has breathing issues in connection with Covid-19 or other health challenges. But nothing was done by the other police officers to advise their colleague to place Floyd in the recovery position, in order to examine his breathing difficulties as outlined in many restraint guidelines.
Yet that police officer did not act professional, neither did he show any sign of empathy. Breath is not passive, but active, breathing is to be alive. Racial profiling is a human problem, systematic racism has destroyed the world and further caused psychological harm to its victims. Black people need racial justice. Perhaps the world will now listen and help black people breathe. George Floyd’s only crime was because he was born black. Black people have been brutally killed and have suffered in the hands of law enforcement, especially in the United States.
Many blacks have suffered institutional racism within the criminal justice system, education, housing, health care and employment. Black people like my own wife could not breathe at their workplaces due to unfair treatment and systematic subtle racial discrimination. Black people are facing unjust treatment in the workplace, specifically black Africans who are not given fair promotional opportunities, because of their deep African accent. It is so naïve to assume that the accent is a tool to measure one’s intelligence. It is not overt racism that is killing black people, rather the subtle racism in our society, schools, sports and workplace which is making it hard for many blacks to breathe.
We have a duty and responsibility to fight against racism and become role models to future generations. Maybe the brutal death of George Floyd has finally brought change against racism worldwide, just as the unprovoked racist killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence had come to embody racial violence in the United Kingdom and led to changes in the law. I pray that the massive international protest by both black and other ethnicities’ will not be in vain. Rather than “I can’t breathe” reverberating worldwide, it should turn the wheel of police reforms and end systematic racism.
“Restricting someone’s breath to the point of suffocation is a violation of their Human Rights”.
I watched Fox News today.
For 6 full minutes.
They had a panel of 3 cops to discuss the current unrest…or so it seemed.
Of course, a token negro in uniform was amongst them.
“Defund the police” is the headline of this comical sketch.
That’s not the actual proposition; proponents promote funding “public safety” measures.
But shutting down the police is all the sly Fox heard, and
Cunningly called on these cops to comment upon THAT, only.
The first white cop went off: “We’re here for business owners and hard-working people.”
He didn’t address the threat to Black life, espcially cops’ roots and roles in terrorism.
The host nods knowingly, and they summarily reduce all this unrest to law-n-order.
No mention of the brutality of cops.
No discussion of their pattern.
Predictably, the other white cop gave a worst-case scenario about Domestic violence.
What would citizens do without cops?
He says this as if cops have some awesome reputation of domestic intervention.
Also, I’m thinking: But…
Wasn’t that black chick just killed in Texas last year,
Inside her own house,
In response to a neighbor calling the police for care one night.
The neighbor hadn’t even called 9-1-1, but rang the non-emergency number, and
They still came in blazing as they are wont to do in Black households.
“I just wanted them to check on her…
Her front door was open… it was late…
So, I was concerned,” the neighbor later says matter-of-factly on the nightly news.
Atatiana Jefferson was a law-abiding citizen,
Playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew.
She got shot dead.
Black people cannot call the police.
Not even a concerned citizen.
Check this: In my hometown, Breonna Taylor was also a so-called law-abiding citizen.
Not only was Breonna law-abiding, but she was a medical worker –
Essential during a global pandemic!
But, she was Black.
She was shot to death in her own house,
Moments after the police arrived.
Fox don’t talk about none of this.
They go on with the implicit assumption that
Either Black people are not law-abiding,
Or, Black citizens never need the police.
“Cops need to be more sensitive, sure…” the other white cop says, then adds 12 butts!
He looks like an ass.
This whole faux news channel reduces today’s protests to rioting and looting, law-n-order.
They have met every effort at Black liberation with the same hostility.
Though openly devoted to non-violence,
Those pundits called the good Reverend Dr. King a “radical,” an “outside agitator,” and
Much, much worse!
When we peacefully took a knee just a few years back for the same cause,
These same pundits were quick to diss us,
Dissed Beyoncé for taking over the Superbowl in Black Power fashion!
Dissed Nike for sighing Collin Kaepernick – posting videos of them burning their own Nike gear.
They diss every Black person killed by the police as “disobedient” and “non-compliant.”
They consistently diss our resistance as unpatriotic – the oldest race card,
Because for them, racism is a game.
As if they didn’t twist their Bible to say slaves had to be loyal to their masters.
As if our efforts to breathe life into the Constitution weren’t patriotic!
As if Crispus Attucks wasn’t the first American to die for Independence!
As if this weren’t some strange and rotten fruit!
These pundits said the same about Martin Luther King, the FBI’s “an enemy of the state.”
They said all of this, of course, until he was martyred.
Then eventually, they called him a hero.
Now, even this faux news channel quotes Dr. King regularly.
Cleverly, Martin Luther da King gets pulled out of the Fox’s hat at the sign of any racial trouble!
The token negro cop gets asked the token question:
He’s asked to speak on behalf of all Black people.
Perform for your master, [N-word]!
Luckily, this man changes the narrative from dissing these hasty solutions to
Talking about real, systemic change to a systemic problem.
It’s not even clear that the other guests command this level of vocabulary, keeping it so simple.
The other cops were set up to denounce this solution, and
They were neither asked, nor chose to address any single way of improving policing.
All responsibility is implicitly shifted to individual citizens:
‘Policing is fine, Black people just don’t act right!’
I wish they’d just gon’head and say it!
Luckily, this Black man is neither stepping nor fetching their white supremacy for them today.
Not today, Satan!
Again, the faux media pundit circles back to defunding the po-po.
At present, this is only the legislative solution presented by any lawmaker thus far.
Weeks later, that message emanating from Minneapolis had spread,
Even to Congress, although
Aunty Maxine had already reclaimed her time on this one.
Predictably, this incites the white cop to repeat his singular talking point like a quacking duck:
“We’re here for business owners and hard-working people,” again, in THAT order.
‘We’re not to be called upon as citizens’, as Toni Morrison said after 9-11.
Fox then seamlessly shifts back to “Agent Orange’s” economic talking points.
Cut to commercial.
After the ads, 45 comes back railing about saving Wall Street.
The faux host asks rhetorically if this will be “the greatest economic comeback ever!”
It’s like they can only ever speak in superlatives.
Finally, the host is optimistic in otherwise dreary times.
God bless America, and F everybody else!
I really wish they’d just gon’head and say it!
They gon’ be alright.
By now, we’ve all seen all 8 minutes and 46 seconds of
A Minneapolis officer using his full-body weight
To press his knee on a handcuffed Black man against the ground.
Several cops stood around, rather calmly shooing bystanders away.
With the cop’s knee on his neck, we watch a grown man cry out for his momma,
Which some have said showed the man was already crossing over to the other side to see her.
The killer cop, the one pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck, was training the other cops.
These junior officers were just days on the job, so
It’s safe to assume the head officers was showing off his skills:
He may have thought that he was showing the rookies how to put down a n*gger!
He actually showed them how to perform a. Modern day lynching.
The Minneapolis mayor didn’t bother watching the video until Mr. Floyd died.
Da mayor’d been told about the incident while the man lay dying in the hospital and
The murderous cops roamed free.
This is what’s carefully declared in a public radio interview.
Da mayor can’t be fake in the face of this very disarming journalist, who is also white.
There is absolutely no anger in the journalist’s voice.
Da mayor was animate that this was a pattern, when
The journalist disarmingly confronted him with statements by local Black leaders who’ve told Da mayor the city would burn if the cops’ behavior continued unabated.
Oh, now Da mayor wants to separate himself from 45!
45 is calling for complete suppression,
Even bullying governors and mayors into said suppression.
Folks in his flock are breaking ranks, denouncing his deployment of the military against Americans.
Social media rated 45’s words incendiary.
Facebook employees even staged a walk-out!
George Wallace couldn’t tweet in those days!
Yet, then and now, all your silence is complicity.
Silence = Death!
The journalist presses on: You were warned.
Da mayor conceded: He’d ignored explicit, non-violent warnings, neglected evident signs.
Chronic poverty kills.
Police murders maim families.
Racist stereotypes murder souls, and
Breaks the social contract.
The journalist asks Da mayor if he felt any responsibility for the riots.
Again, there is absolutely no emotion at all in the journalist’s voice.
He asks flatly, fumbling through his words, just as he always does.
He simply applies the critical questions to this issue, just as he has countless other topics.
This has gone on for years.
They’ve covered this issue before, but not like this.
Are they only covering it now because of the horrific video of Mr. Floyd’s murder?
Now, they want to uncover the truth that’s been staring them in the face all these years.
We watched Rodney King get beat, and
We waited a year for the trial on mediocre charges, and
We rioted when the officers who beat him were set as free as Emmet Till’s killers!
NOW, now, now THEY wanna stop the violence!
Where were you back when?
Even this liberal journalist can’t claim to have raised the alarm before today.
These murders eerily echo one another.
Amadou Diallo was at his front door.
There are no videos of the 1999 incident.
No 9-11 calls to replay.
Just giant headlines: 41 shots!
We DO even have surveillance footage of the 2014 murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice,
Shot playing in a park.
The surveillance video is lengthy, and
From the video we can see from his movement and stature.
He’s playing with what we now know was a toy gun, and
On the 9-11 call, we hear the caller calmly explain:
Probably a juvenile, you know.
“The guy keeps pulling it out of his pants…is probably fake, but you know what? It’s scaring the sh*t outta me”
“He’s sitting on a swing right now, but he’s pulling it in and out of his pants and pointing it at people… He’s probably a juvenile, you know?”
This (white) man can’t even talk to a (Black) kid.
‘He’s in the park by the youth center…’
Apparently, that was all they needed to hear: Black guy, gun.
We see cops rush up on him in the park and shoot Tamir dead within seconds.
In dispatch recording after the incident, when officers are standing just feet away from Tamir’s body, they say: “Shots fired. Male down. Black Male. Probably 20.”
Later officers claimed to have commanded Tamir to show his hands in those split seconds.
Two officers responding to a routine, white citizen’s call about a potential Black threat.
But we know it’s BEEN going on since emancipation.
‘Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck.’
There is newly released video evidence of Maud, as he was known to kin, minutes before he was shot to death during a so-called citizen’s arrest. On the video, Maud paused during his job, caught his breath, and for exactly six minutes can be seen on video surveillance surveying a neighborhood construction site shortly before he was killed by a “homegrown posse.” This is exactly as my husband would do along his jogs.
My husband is fascinated with how things work, and how they are built. He can repair and engine, a toilet, a lawn-mower, locks, hinges, and plenty of things on our house. He got that from his daddy, who has an entire workshop in their basement dedicated towards up-keeping their home. He even made hubby and I a bench. My husband grew up in a German village believing that owning property was a communal enterprise. He certainly feels entitled to inspect any work that impacts the landscape of the hood. So now when he ‘inspects’ things, he behaves as if he has the right to know what’s going on in the world. I don’t have those rights.
A citizen’s arrest means an entitled citizen can stop and attain anyone whom they believe to be a criminal; legally they must have witnessed the crime. On the 9-1-1 call, Maud’s killers couldn’t even tell the emergency responder what crime they’d supposedly seen, nor were there records of these so-called string of break-ins that had allegedly occurred, justifying their anger and pursuit of the unarmed jogger. “Why make a citizen’s arrest when 9-1-1 was an available option?” emphasizes one cable news pundit during the rolling coverage of yet another Black boy slain.
I hasten to think of how Fox News is covering this story. Does it matter that he was unarmed? So what if the law doesn’t consider Maud’s right to stand his ground? Why even mention that some neighbors regularly saw Maud out jogging? Who cares that Maud was loved? We’ll forget that Maud’s alleged crime does not fit the punishment.
We make our own videos. Beyoncé’s controversial music video Formation ends in a back alley, a little Black boy slays a whole SWAT team in attack formation, with the graffiti: “Stop killing us” This directly echoes the censored ending to Michael Jackson’s 1991 Black or White video. After the music finishes, a black panther morphs into our hero, who then slays racist graffiti in the back alley of a fancy Hollywood studio. Ouch. Importantly, “as his skin became whiter, his work became blacker,” observed one Guardian writer 11 years after the singer’s tragic death. Jackson removed it and apologized after public outcry over his violence and crotch-grabbing. Maybe it reminded folks of a lynching!
-No justice, no peace.
It would seem it’s human nature to seek out similarities in times of uncertainty. An indication that someone somewhere has experience they can share. Some sort of wisdom they can provide or at the very least a recognisable element that can somehow be interpreted to give an indication, that when it happened before everything turned out ok in the end. With the current world pandemic leaving so much free time to think and observe what is going on, one has to wonder at some point if the differences should be a more prominent focus point.
Historically world pandemics are not new. The plague, small pox, Spanish flu, all form part of a collective historical account of the global devastating impacts a new disease has on mankind. I found myself re-reading The Plague (Camus, 1947/2002) and pondering the similarities. Self-isolation and whole town isolation, the socioeconomic impacts on the poor seeking employment, despite the risk to health these roles carried and the heart-breaking accounts of families unable to say goodbye to loved ones or bury the dead in a dignified, ordinary manner.
Early on politicians and media were quick to compare the pandemic with war. Provocative language became commonplace. Talk of fighting the invisible enemy in the new ‘war’, with the ‘frontline’ NHS staff our new heroes giving the country hope we could win. It came as no surprise to wake one morning and see ‘memes’ shared on social media portraying Boris Johnson as the new Churchill.
Media quickly changed. Suddenly films which dramatised pandemics grew in popularity. These fictitious accounts of how the world would respond, the mistakes which would be made and the varying outcomes individual responses towards official advice would have on their chances of survival. Even I have to admit a scene from Contagion discussing the use of hand washing and refraining from touching your face seemed to echo government advice. Fortunately, the scenes of supermarket looting were overdramatic but the empty supermarket shelves and panic buying hysteria was all the same.
There were however, some comparisons made, which haunted me. I’m sure everyone has their own reasons for finding distaste and maybe mine were unique to me. A combination of my academic knowledge and background mixed amongst my own personal views and current situation. As a mother of three, I had suddenly become a teacher with the closure of schools. My recent master’s degree in education fortunately allowed me a basic, self-researched understanding of mainstream education and home education methods.
I watched as friends and family members concerns grew about how they as parents could provide an education. Initially most looked-for similarities once again. Similar timetables to school, similar methods of teaching, trying as a parent to morph into a similar role their children’s teacher has. I think most parents felt overwhelmed quite early on. Many most likely still do, because the thing is, home education is not comparable to mainstream education in many ways at all. That’s not to say one is superior, this is certainly not my opinion. Quite simply, they’re fundamentally different approaches.
I often find myself throughout my academic journey looking for comparison with concepts and areas in which I’m familiar. My undergrad in law and criminology makes occasional appearance in most of my writing, perhaps more often than not, in fact, I used my continued interest in criminological and legal concepts to make my education MA my own. Further reinforcing the idea, familiarity provides some sort of comfort as we enter something unknown.
One comparison which deeply worried me that finds its roots in criminological concepts, is those who have compared self-isolation with prison. Having experienced a long, heated debate previously following a comment I made displaying my disgust for the re-introduction of the death penalty, it seemed futile to raise the issues with this in the only social environment I had access to currently, social media. I remain hopeful, most criminologists recognise the obvious differences between the two.
In the end when we look back at this moment in history, there will no doubt be many more comparisons made. We often look to history to learn lessons and I’m not sure we can do that without recognising some sort of parallels with the situation. Whether that be for comfort, guidance, information or to learn, entirely depends on the individual. I will leave you with a quote of something I heard a few days ago which has stuck with me and provided inspiration for this writing…
“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”
With that in mind, I would suggest we take comfort in the familiarity of similar situations, that this pandemic won’t last forever, but the difference it may make on our lives will always be our personal experiences. When we look back and search for comparison of life during the pandemic and life afterwards, we may well appreciate the experiences we once took for granted.
Camus, A (2002). The Plague. London: Penguin classics
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VOCATIONAL – FINE ARTS
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Designer swimwear shop seeks Guest Relations specialists for flagship shops in The Hamptons and Malibu. Must be at least 6’3”, very dark-skinned, athletic, and deliciously beach ready. Funky hair a plus! Think Tyson Beckford meets Dennis Rodman. Duties include: Serving champagne, occasional overnight travel and beach volleyball with our exclusive clientele. Seasonal packages include: On-site room and board, comprehensive healthcare, professional grooming services and uniforms from our latest collection. No speaking, reading or writing required.
Streetballers wanted! Did you grow up dunking basketballs in a milk crate nailed to a tree? Have you battled the ghetto’s roughest players on the court? Then the New England Groten Academy wants you! NEGA is among America’s most elite, K-12 boarding schools for boys. NEGA’s Basketball program has won 3 Boarding School League championships and alumni just built a state-of-the-art athletic facility. NEGA’s athletes also train a futuristic virtual reality environment designed by GTA creators – real streetball simulations. The program is massively popular in the community, and welcomes NEGA staff as family. Nestled in pristine Vermont, 99% of NEGA graduates go on to study in the Ivy League. So, if you’re the champ of ghetto street ball, NEGA wants you!
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Turn to pages 3-7 for pretty little white girls. There are plenty of new ads from kitchens to bedrooms and boardrooms seeking supporting roles.
Next week, no more of this diversity crap.
Stuck at home on lockdown, I have (unwittingly), more regularly engaged with much more TV. Searching for entertainment, I’m continually amazed by the permutations of harmful stereotypes. Since childhood I’ve often wondered about the labour that buttresses this trade in harmful stereotypes. In my daily role as an educator, I expose my students (and I) to myriads of ways of seeing. This piece is one response to the cognitive dissonance between the two spheres of social and intellectual instruction. Don’t worry, books still live!
Featured image: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/478/emma-martin/
The coronavirus has caused an ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome. The outbreak started in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, as early as November 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and recognized it as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. Whilst we all have an interest in the ongoing spread and consequence of the greatest public health crisis in generations it holds a specific interest for me given my visits to Wuhan and Hubei province whilst working for Coventry University. Wuhan is a massive city with over 11 million of a population, but little heard of until this outbreak. It is believed that its origins are most likely linked to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, in Wuhan which also sold live animals, and one theory is that the virus came from one of these kinds of animals. The virus spread quickly through the population of Wuhan City which led to comprehensive lockdown to contain the virus. However, the virus spread beyond the city across China and into other countries. The scale of the spread has been significant and by the time the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a full pandemic in March 2020 there were cases recorded in hundreds of countries.
Cases in the UK emerged on January 31st 2020, which prompted a government response to manage the outbreak. In the early stages there was some discussion about “taking it on the chin” and allowing the virus to spread through the population in order to gain “herd immunity”. However, the public health, medical and scientific experts at Imperial College London suggested that the death toll through their modelling exercises, if this strategy played out, could be in excess of 500,000. This was a situation that would be socially and politically unpalatable, and a change of thinking emerged with a combination of social distancing, public health advice on washing hands and a strategy to protect the capacity of the NHS to cope with escalating cases. A new lexicon emerged that we are now all familiar with: flattening the curve, delaying the spread, the peak of the infection and latterly the language of the health professionals in the frontline supporting and caring for people acutely ill with Covid-19; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), ventilation and oxygen saturation and therapy. This is because the virus can attack the respiratory system leading to pneumonia and in several cases an immune response that leads to multi-organ shutdown. The media presentation of this crisis is all very frightening.
At the time of writing the pandemic has progressed relentlessly in the UK with currently over 65,000 people have tested positive and of those hospitalised nearly 8,000 patients have died. Some commentators have suggested that the UK was slow to recognise the seriousness of the virus and was slow to initiate the “lockdown” measures required to halt the spread. In addition, the UK’s position on testing for the virus has been criticised as slow, lacking preparation despite the global warnings from WHO and a shortage of the essential materials required. Whether these criticisms are valid only time will tell but the UK’s data on cases, hospitalisation, need for critical care and deaths is on a trajectory like other countries which could be described as liberal democracies. Here is the first clue to the timing of the response. The measures required to halt the spread of the virus have massive economic consequences. Balancing these two issues is incredibly difficult and has led to some commentators suggesting all liberal democracies will struggle to respond quickly enough.
What is now abundantly clear is that this is going to take some time for us to get through as a society and the consequences for large sections of our society are going to be devastating. However, what I’d like to discuss in the remainder of this blog are a number of early lessons and personal observations in terms of what we are seeing play out.
First, the data emerging indicates that the narrative about the “virus does not discriminate” is a false one. It is clear that health professionals are much more greatly exposed and that the data on cases and deaths indicate higher numbers of the socially deprived and BAME community. This should not be a surprise as the virus will be keenest felt in communities negatively impacted by health inequalities. This has been the case ever since we recognised this in the “Black Report” (DHSS 1980). The Report showed in detail the extent to which ill-health and death are unequally distributed among the population of Britain and suggested that these inequalities have been widening rather than diminishing since the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948. It is generally accepted that those with underlying health issues and therefore most at risk will be disproportionately from socially deprived communities.
Second, the coronavirus will force the return of big government. The response already supports this. In times of real crisis, the “State” always takes over. Will this lead to more state intervention going forward? If so then we will witness the greatest interventionist Conservative government in my lifetime.
Third, the coronavirus provides one more demonstration of the mystique of borders and will help reassert the role of the nation state. Therefore, the coronavirus is likely to strengthen nationalism, albeit not ethnic nationalism. To survive, the government will ask citizens to erect walls not simply between states but between individuals, as the danger of being infected comes from the people we meet most often. It is not the stranger but those closest to you who present the greatest risk.
Fourth, we see the return of the “expert”. Most people are very open to trusting experts and heeding the science when their own lives are at stake. One can already see the growing legitimacy that this has lent to the professionals who lead the fight against the virus. Professionalism is back in fashion, including recognition of the vital role of the NHS.
Fifth, the coronavirus could increase the appeal of the big data authoritarianism employed by some like the Chinese government. One can blame Chinese leaders for the lack of transparency that made them react slowly to the spread of the virus, but the efficiency of their response and the Chinese state’s capacity to control the movement and behaviour of people has been impressive.
Sixth, changing views on crisis management. What governments learned in dealing with economic crises, the refugee crisis, and terrorist attacks was that panic was their worst enemy. However, to contain the pandemic, people should panic – and they should drastically change their way of living.
Seventh, this will have an impact on intergenerational dynamics. In the context of debates about climate change and the risk it presents, younger generations have been very critical of their elders for being selfish and not thinking about the future seriously. Ironically the coronavirus reverses these dynamics.
Finally, I return to a point made earlier, governments will be forced to choose between containing the spread of the pandemic at the cost of destroying the economy or tolerating a higher human cost to save the economy. In conclusion, I have heard many say that this crisis is different to others we may have faced in the past 30 years and that as a result we can see society changing. Whilst I’m sure a number of the issues raised in this blog could potentially lead to society change it is also a truism that our memories are short, and we may return to life as it looked before this crisis quite quickly. Only time will tell.
“The Black Report” (1980): Inequalities in Health: Report of a Research Working Group. Department of Health and Social Security, London, 1980.
In the 1960s, or so I am told, there was a very popular weekly television programme called That Was The Week That Was, informally known as TW3. This satirical programme reflected on events of the week that had just gone, through commentary, comedy and music. Although the programme ended before I was born, it’s always struck me as a nice way to end the week and I plan to (very loosely) follow that idea here.
This week was particularly hectic in Criminology, here are just some of the highlights. On Monday, I was interviewed by a college student for their journalism project, a rather surreal experience, after all, ‘Who cares what I think?’
On Tuesday, @manosdaskalou and I, together with a group of enthusiastic third years, visited the Supreme Court in London. This trip enabled a discussion which sought to unpack the issue of diversity (or rather the lack of) within justice. Students and staff discussed a variety of ideas to work out why so many white men are at the heart of justice decisions. A difficult challenge at the best of times but given a new and urgent impetus when sat in a courtroom. It is difficult, if not impossible, to remain objective and impartial when confronted with the evidence of 12 Supreme Judges, only two of which are women, and all are white. Arguments around the supposed representativeness of justice, falter when the evidence is so very stark. Furthermore, with the educational information provided by our tour guide, it becomes obvious that there are many barriers for those who are neither white nor male to make their way through the legal ranks.
Wednesday saw the culmination of Beyond Justice, a module focused on social justice and taught entirely in prison. As in previous years, we have a small ceremony with certificate presentation for all students. This involves quite a cast, including various dignitaries, as well as all the students and their friends and family. This is always a bittersweet event, part celebration, part goodbye. Over the months, the prison classroom leaves its oppressive carceral environment behind, instead providing an intense and profound tight-knit learning community. No doubt @manosdaskalou and I will return to the prison, but that tight-knit community has now dissipated in time and space.
On Thursday, a similarly bitter-sweet experience was my last focused session this year on CRI3003 Violence: From Domestic to Institutional. Since October, the class has discussed many different topics relating to institutional violence focused on different cases including the deaths of Victoria Climbié, Blair Peach, Jean Charles de Menezes, as well as the horror of Grenfell. We have welcomed guest speakers from social work, policing and the fire service. Discussions have been mature, informed and extremely sensitive and again a real sense of a learning community has ensued. It’s also been my first experience of teaching an all-female cohort which has informed the discussion in a variety of meaningful ways. Although I haven’t abandoned the class, colleagues @manosdaskalou and @jesjames50 will take the reins for a while and focus on exploring interpersonal violence. I’ll be back before the end of the academic year so we can reflect together on our understanding of the complexity of violence.
Finally, Friday saw the second ever #BigCriminologyQuiz and the first of the new decade. At the end of the first one, the participants requested that the next one be based on criminology and music. Challenge completed with help from @manosdaskalou, @treventoursu, @svr2727, @5teveh and @jesjames50. This week’s teams have requested a film/tv theme for the next quiz so we’ll definitely have our work cut out! But it’s amazing to see how much criminological knowledge can be shared, even when you’re eating snacks and laughing. [i]
So, what can I take from my criminological week:
- Some of the best criminological discussions happen when people are relaxed
- Getting out of the classroom enables and empowers different voices to be heard
- Getting out of the classroom allows people to focus on each and share their knowledge, recognising that
- A classroom is not four walls within a university, but can be anywhere (a coach, a courtroom a prison, or even the pub!)
- A new environment and a new experience opens the way for discord and dissent, always a necessity for profound discussion within Criminology
- When you open your eyes and your mind you start to see the world very differently
- It is possible (if you try very hard) to ignore the reality of Friday 31 January 23:00 ☹
- It is possible to be an academic, tour guide, mistress of ceremonies and quiz mistress, all in the same week!
Here’s looking forward to next week….not least Thursday’s Changemaker Awards where I seem to have scored a nomination with my #PartnerinCriminology @manosdaskalou.
[i] The first quiz was won by a team made up of 1st and 2nd years. This week’s quiz was won by a group of third years. The next promises to be a battle royale 😊 These quizzes have exposed, just how competitive criminologists can be….
A Spoken Word poem for young people everywhere, esp Youth in Asia, who may never know WE LIVED before smartphones…and live to tell about it.
Walk down the street.
Find my way.
Go someplace I had previously been.
Go someplace I had previously not been.
Meet friends at a specific time and place.
Meet new people.
Meet new people without suspicion.
Strike up a conversation with a stranger.
Make myself known to a previously unknown person.
Now, everything and everyone unknown is literally described as ‘weird’.
Eat in a restaurant by myself.
Pay attention to the waiter.
Wait for my order to arrive.
Sit with others.
Listen to the sound of silence.
Listen to music.
Listen to a whole album.
Listen to the cityscape.
Overhear others’ conversations in public.
Watch kids play.
See the same picture in the same spot.
Read a book.
Read a long article.
Read liner notes.
I used to be able to stand at a urinal and focus on what I was doing,
Not feeling bored,
Not feeling the need to respond to anything that urgently.
Nothing could be so urgent that I could not, as the Brits say, ‘take a wee’.
Wait at a traffic light.
Wait for a friend at a pre-determined place and time.
Wait for my turn.
Wait for a meal I ordered to arrive.
Wait in an office for my appointment.
Wait in line.
Wait for anything!
I used to appreciate the downtime of waiting.
Now waiting fuels FOMO.
I used to enjoy people watching…
Now I just watch people on their phones.
It’s genuine anxiety.
Walk from point A to B.
I used to could walk between two known points without having to mark the moment with a post.
Now I can’t walk down the hall,
Or through the house or even to the toilet without checking my phone.
I avoid eye contact with strangers.
Anyone I don’t already know is strange.
I used to could muscle through this awkwardness.
Have a conversation.
A friend and I recently lamented about how you used to could have a conversation and
Even figure out a specific thing that you couldn’t immediately recall…
Just by talking.
I also appreciate the examples we discussed.
Say you wanted to mention a world leader but couldn’t immediately remember their name. What would you do before?
Rattle off the few facts you could recall and in so doing you’d jog your memory.
Who was the 43rd US president?
If you didn’t immediately recall his name,
You might have recalled that the current one is often called “45” since
Many folks avoid calling his name.
You know Obama was before him, therefore he must’ve been number “44.”
You know Obama inherited a crap economy and several unjust wars,
Including the cultural war against Islam. And
That this was even one of the coded racial slurs used against him: “A Muslim.”
Putting these facts together,
You’d quickly arrive at Dubya! And
His whole warmongering cabinet. And
Condi Rice. And
That whole process might have taken a full minute,
But so would pulling up 43’s name on the Google.
This way, however, you haven’t lost the flow of conversation nor the productive energy produced between two people when they talk.
(It’s called ‘limbic resonance’, BTW).
Yeah, I used to be able to recall things…
Many more things about the world without my mobile phone.
Allow my mind to wander.
Entertain myself with my own thoughts.
Think new things.
Think differently just by thinking through a topic.
I used to know things.
Know answers that weren’t presented to me as search results.
I used to trust my own knowledge.
I used to be able to be present, enjoying my own company,
Appreciating the wisdom that comes with the mental downtime.
Never the fear of missing out,
Allowing myself time to reflect.
It is in reflection that wisdom is born.
Now, most of us just spend our time simply doing:
Surfing, scrolling, liking, dissing, posting, sharing and the like.
Even on a wondrous occasion, many of us would rather be on our phones.
Not just sharing the wonderful occasion –
Watching an insanely beautiful landscape through our tiny screens,
Phubbing the people we’re actually with,
Reducing a wondrous experience to a well-crafted selfie –
But just making sure we’re not missing out on something rather mundane happening back home.
I used to could be in the world.
Now, I’m just in cyberspace.
I used to be wiser.