In reading @5teveh‘s blog, what immediately struck me is the personalness to it. When someone seemingly attacks a thing you have an attachment to, you will immediately to get defensive. So, Dr. Steve Hallam, now a Criminology lecturer after thirty-year career in policing now hearing different forms of “police are racist” will naturally feel something. Thinking “I was police” and still am. He may have retired but you can’t take thirty years of policing out of someone just like that. Is it fair to call The Police racist? I wouldn’t call it fair but what is true is not always what is fair. The Police use violent practices backed by policies that disproportionately impact Black and brown people.
I think there’s a lot of people right now saying “I don’t consider myself racist” and there’s more backlash to being called racist than the act itself. I’m not sure it is possible to be in the Police and not be part of what Macpherson called “canteen culture” (1999: 46), what I would call “club policing”– where if you’re in, you’re in. But if you’re out, you know you’re out. And police officers that remotely critique police practice in anyway are not part of the club. Compliance is your entry pass, which leads to how someone like George Zimmerman was acquitted after murdering Trayvon Martin. That despite being guilty, he was acquitted because he was club and American laws back “canteen culture” policing (Stand-Your-Ground Law).
Steve asks, “why the label?” of police being racist. I respond with: as much as his experience of policing has been one where he doesn’t consider himself racist (nor do I consider him to be), The Police rather than police officers is racist. I think in making it about him, there is a fragility there. Not a “white fragility” where “white people have been “socialised into a deeply internalised sense of superiority” (DiAngelo, 2019: 2) but a natural reaction to challenged authority (past or present), as police. Since this concept breaks the boundaries of race, as Black police officers defend the badge before their blackness (as put by NWA in Fuck tha Police, 1988). I may not consider Steve a racist but I do believe that because we all came through the same systems in this country, racial prejudice does lie within him as it does within all people. It’s whether people act on it which turns it into racial discrimination (the act). When there are Black police that racially profile, what stops it being racism is their lack of institutional power in British society. As a white man who worked in a white institution, Steve’s whiteness would be the determining factor because his whiteness is backed by “the power of legal authority and institutional control” (DiAngelo: 2019: 20) separating Steve’s intent from the default power he has in society built in his own image.
From an outsider’s point of view, (though I may be naive), The Police seem to allow no room for juniors to scrutinise the bosses. Yet, senior officers can criticise the juniors. If a junior officer sees their boss acting with racial prejudice, the flawed mechanics in the structure would mean that officer could not in fact challenge their superiors without putting their job at risk, worse if they’re a woman. Policing: where egos can do as much damage as bad policies and where bosses are outside the remit of grassroots critique.
Policing is more than “bad apples”, it’s also a lack of accountability and room to enforce accountability, even to each other. That’s before we think about violent policies; and ill-thought out strategies like arming every Northamptonshire Police officer with tasers, whilst simultaneously trying to improve relations with Black and Asian communities and up diversity in policing. That’s before we think about the institutional racism and overt racism that makes the lives of Black and Asian officers that much harder.
I think in order to develop as well, Steve must think about specifically on how white people don’t live in a society where they have to think of themselves in racialised terms; in society Steve is simply a man, not a white man
He must come to terms that all human beings are varying degrees of prejudiced. Except when police are concerned, that prejudice is often transformed into racism (and violence), which is shown through numbers like 184 Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic [BAME] deaths in police custody (Inquest); or Black people are stopped at nine times the rate of white people (UK) in Northamptonshire (Stopwatch, 2018/2019) – or how over 40% of inmates in youth offenders’ prisons come from Black and Minority Ethnic [BME] backgrounds (Lammy, 2017) – or how Black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act (Gilroy, 2019).
Despite Steve saying that policing in the US is much different, we must remember our history. That race relations in the US is the brainchild of Britain. Colonialism left that behind, just as we left the same police structures in India after partition in 1947. You cannot talk about the history of America and not mention race or British colonialism. That includes how law enforcement treats its Black communities. I agree the British population taking on the US narrative is problematic. We need to write our own story and look at commonalities when they present themselves.
I further agree that over the years “institutional racism”, as popularised by Macpherson (1999) has become synonymous with saying all police are raicst. Especially, with my generation, where Stephen Lawrence is not in our popular memory. Mark Duggan is more our Stephen Lawrence moment and yet, I admit our race literacy needs a lot of work. Steve talks about his experience of students finding out he was once police. When I found out, I was in shock, that I liked him! I also have the same distrust of police his students have, because my family’s history with police is not a positive one.
However, with a name like Stephen ‘Steve’ Hallam, I’m quite surprised I did not clock it sooner, as it sounds like it came straight out of The Bill! With Steve, I don’t see the ego or the attituide I see in other officers. Nor the inability to talk about race in policing. I just see a man who was once an officer and is astute enough to admit that the service is flawed, and in that I think he might be an anomaly. That’s a first for me, and that includes my introductions to Black British and British-Asian officers who refuse to acknowledge that you cannot talk about policing without stories of race. I understand Steve feels attacked by what’s going on. Yet, I would say this is nothing new. Black people as victims of police officers goes back to 1919 and the events surrounding the Liverpool Race Riots, where a Black man was lynched by a white mob at Albert Docks. It also speaks to riots in Notting Hill (1958) Detroit (1967) Brixton (1981) and Toxeth (1981).
I would answer Steve’s comment on police distrust and Black communities with stories about racism, as this is a tale blessed by history, in both this country and the United States of America. Whether we call them police, or slave catchers for the criminal justice system is another question. I think many of the answers lie in the history books and for people to truly investigate the relationship between criminality and race as a construct.
Watching A House in Time, David Olusoga shows me that history is more accessible than we think it is. It is fact-finding and contextualising; it is soul-searching and joining dots. It’s making links and telling stories. It looks a lot like journalism. Steve asks “how can community relations be fixed?” My response is, I’m not sure they can. Because they are not broken. The system was designed that way, a system that privileges certain people as “[…] white privilege is an absence of the negative consequences of racism… an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost” (Eddo-Lodge, 2017: 86) and this is no more evident than how The Police police communities of colour, regardless if that’s by Black or white officers.
Steve says ” […] most policing seems to take place in areas of deprivation where the disadvantaged are committing crimes against the disadvantaged” and it so happens you are more likely to be in poverty in Britain if you are not white [Institute of Race Relations, 2020]. Class issues exasperated by a racial prejudice endemic in British culture. A societal racism that I do not believe will be improved by legislation. Black skepticism to police, is under a wider umbrella of skepticism to authority bodies, since we have no reason to trust them. This is a skepticism evidenced by history: from colonialism to Grenfell to deaths in police custody to stolen DNA to Black and brown
people as labrats being experimented on by scientists; so, is it surprising why Black and brown communities are more skeptical of authorities, even now as COVID vaccines are being targeted at those very same communities?
Some of the answers to Steve’s questions about racist police may lie in stereotyping. However, the story of racism is deep-rooted in how race was made. Race is constructed, so in theory it can be unmade. Police are an easy target for racism because it is so public. And when there is a scandal, it really goes big. Every institution is racist, yet policing is so easy to scrutinise because it is wide open, rather than curricula in the education sector which quite evidently panders to a white supremacist model of knowledge.
Steve goes on to talk about his dissertation student that held bias against police due to bad experiences of racism. Steve says “policing is dominated by white males and despite recruitment drives to address the ethnicity gap, this really hasn’t been that successful. If it was meant to help solve a problem, it hasn’t.” Do police want to address these problems or simply want to be seen to address them? Virtue signalling 101, especially in light of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement when it is now popular to be seen to be advocating for diversity, inclusion and anti-racist causes.
It is beyond reasonable doubt The Police are guilty of racism, but that is not exclusive to the boys in blue. It’s a symptom of a society that fosters a culture of race hate, and that goes back centuries. In Staying Power, historian Peter Fryer talks about the links between transatlantic slavery and the demonology of race, through influential racist writers and “Africans were not merely devilish, monstrous, ape-like, lustful, treachourous and given to cannibalism. They were also inherrently lazy: ‘generally idle and ignorant'” (Charles II’s hydrographer qtd in Fryer, 1984: 143). Scary stuff.
Society made race, racism is a symptom; and the rich, wealthy political elite have benefited from it ever since.
Steve writes about policing from a vantage of privilege, but that does not make his experiences any less valid. We are in a time of reactive policing rather than policing by consent. People of colour, espeically Black communities draw the short straw. The term ‘police racism’ is problematic because it speaks to “The Police and The Rest”. There is racism and that impacts everyone. There is specific anti-Blackness, which is global and practiced by all ethnicities. ‘Police racism’ and ‘police brutality’ are scabs that hide the more important nasty tumour of embedded white supremacy.
In this time, it would do well for us all to remember that this convenient term ‘police brutality’ is not exclusive to white racists. Black and other minority police are just as problematic. It’s not just white supremacy problem, it’s a supremacy problem that comes with the police as an institution. And how the badge comes before blackness. Black police officers historically shell out for white power. Stephen shells out for Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Django Unchained. Boris leans on the model minority in recruiting British-Asian MPs to his cabinet but they are just as problematic as white MPs that get branded with the label of racist.
Steve’s experiences are valid even if they are through the lens of white male privilege. I agree in fixing society you will fix policing. Policing is part of the rotten tree I call societal racism, and so is education and corporate. It is very easy to throw policing under the bus; but British society is racist, it’s the society we live in and this label fits like a white glove.
DiAngelo, R. (2019). White Fragility. London: Allen Lane.
Eddo-Lodge, R. (2017). Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury.
Fryer, P. (1984). Staying Power. London: Pluto Press.
Gilroy, R (2019). Mental health detention rate over four times higher for black people. Nursing Times [online]. Available from: https://www.nursingtimes.net/news/mental-health/mental-health-detention-rate-over-four-times-higher-for-black-people-30-10-2019/
Home Office. (1999). The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. (Chair: William Macpherson). London: TSO.
Inquest (2017). BAME deaths in police custody’, inquest.org.uk, [online]. Available from: https://www.inquest.org.uk/bame-deaths-in-police-custody
Institute of Race Relations (2020). ‘INEQUALITY, HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT STATISTICS’, irr.org.uk, [online]. Available from: http://www.irr.org.uk/research/statistics/poverty/
Ministry of Justice (2017). The Lammy Review. (Chairperson: David Lammy MP). London: TSO.
As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Building on the success of the last blog entry, we’ve decided to continue with all seven bloggers contributing! Our third book was chosen by @5teveh and it’s got us all talking! Without more ado, let’s see what everyone thought:
I enjoyed reading The Silent Patient – it was a quick and gripping read that kept me guessing (and second guessing!) throughout. I found it almost impossible to put down and could have happily read it in one sitting if time allowed. I didn’t empathise with many of the characters however, and found a couple of the plot points frustrating. I’d still recommend it though!@saffrongarside
This is a psychological thriller that embraces Greek drama and pathos. From the references to Alcestis by Euripides and the terrible myth of death swapping to the dutiful Dr Diomedes, the characters are lined up as they are preparing from their dramatic solo. The doctor is trying to become a comforting influence in the fast pace of the story only to achieve the exact opposite. In the end he leaves in a puff of smoke from one of his cigars. The background of this story is played in a psychiatric facility, that is both unusual and conducive to amplify the flaws of the characters. This is very reminiscent of all Greek tragedies where the hero/heroine is to meet their retribution for their hubris. Once punishment comes the balance of the story is restored. This norm seems to be followed here.@manosdaskalou
Well done to @Steve for selecting the anxiety inducing book that is The Silent Patient. I found it difficult to put this book down, as it was easy to read and a definite page turner. Once I started reading, I desperately wanted to find out what had actually happened. If Alicia had a perfect life then why would she shoot her husband FIVE TIMES in the head? It’s difficult to say much about this book without giving the plot away. I did feel for Alicia as she was surrounded by a sea of creepy and unlikable characters. Some might find the portrayal of mental health and Alicia (as the main female character) slightly insulting. Although, as we discussed in the book club, perhaps we should see this book for the thriller that it- and not try to criminologically analyse it?! As far as thrillers go, I think the book is a very good read.@haleysread
The Silent Patient is 339 pages of suspense-filled, gripping fiction which leaves the reader with their jaw wide open. As a novel it is brilliant. Binge-worthy, unbelievable and yet somehow believable: that is until you have finished the book, and you sit back and start to pull the novel apart. DO NOT DO THIS! Get lost in the story of Theo and Alicia, be gripped and seated on the edge of your seat. It is worthy of the hype (in my humble opinion)!@jesjames50
The Silent Patient is without a doubt a page turner! From start to finish the mystery of Alicia Berenson’s silence keeps you guessing. It is important for me to warn perspective readers that, when you start reading, it is difficult to put down, so clear your schedule. Throughout the novel you are guided through the complex life of psychotherapist Theo Faber and his mission to understand and connect with his patient that has ‘refused’ to talk, after she is found guilty of killing her husband. Alicia Berenson is admitted to a mental health hospital. This is the backdrop to disturbing yet intriguing story of how Alicia’s seemingly perfect life comes crashing down. With quirky characters, shocking revelations and suspense throughout The Silent Patient is a must read. Don’t take the story at face value, as there is a brilliant twist at the end.
As is only right and proper, we’ll leave the final word to @5teveh, after all he did choose the book 🙂@svr2727
Not the normal sort of book I’d read, I was drawn in by the comments on the cover. It is impossible to warm to any character in The Silent Patient. The book is quite fast paced, and the writing makes it a real page turner. If you think you’ve got it, you are probably wrong. This is not a usual ‘who done it’ narrative. There are twists and turns that lead the reader through a small maze of sub plots involving characters in a tight setting. If you are looking for a hero or heroine and a happy ending, this is not the book for you. An enjoyable read in a sadistic sort of way.@5teveh
From a young age the Golden Rule is instilled in us, treat others the way you want to be treated. We follow the rule staying home to protect the NHS in these difficult times, we are all humans we want to be safe; we want to protect our loved ones and cover them with a blanket of safety. We supported captain Tom on his quest to raise money for the NHS, we have complimented his humanitarianism.
It has been a hard time for us all. But in a time of uncertainty we have come together as a community to support each other. We have all had a sense of worry, if we leave the house to buy the necessities, the fear of the invisible killer plagues us. We have all helped play the part in flattening the curve. We have felt sadness for the families that have become victims to this killer. But we have not lost hope, we are still hoping for a vaccination to be ready to protect us. Its great that we have the NHS to help us if we are attacked by this enemy. The police were given extra powers to prevent us from breaking the rules and whatever the opinion is of the police we have to acknowledge that these powers that they have been given symbolises law and order and the order being the contribution to stopping the spread of this horrific virus which in essence will help to protect us.
I am contemplating on this because although there have been bumps in the road throughout this lockdown, we all have the same goal……… to live. If we didn’t want to live we would leave our houses unmasked, ignoring all government advice. If we didn’t want to protect our loved ones and our community we wouldn’t support the NHS.
I am going into deep thought……….
Imagine a world where you are not protected, imagine being at war every time you leave your house, imagine a world where you are not safe in your house……..
Picture this an intruder walks into your house, is outraged by the colour of your skin BANG she shoots you in cold blood. The offender uses the excuse she thought she was being robbed, she thought you were the intruder. However, she was the one who let herself into your house. The media and the police sympathise with this woman, as she is a police officer. In their eyes she does not look dangerous, the victim of this crime is seen as a danger to society based only on the colour of his skin. She is not arrested straight away because she has a thing that is more powerful than anything in America, she has White privilege. Imagine a loved one is killed in this way and during the sentencing of the murderer, the judge hugs the offender as if she has done nothing wrong and disregards the feelings of your loved ones. How would you feel?
This did not happen during the civil rights movement, this happened in 2019.
Imagine going for a for some much needed exercise, you are jogging, listening to your music, taking in the fresh air. You are thinking about getting your physique ready for the summer. Two men hunt you down like cattle where they shoot you in broad daylight and they are not arrested straight away. instead your innocence is debated because you are a BLACK man that has left your neighbourhood and entered theirs…..
Imagine it is not a secret that your race can and is used as a weapon against you.
I have seen people gossip about the activities of others during lockdown. I have witnessed the police being called on youths that are skateboarding in a skate park. I have seen the outrage of the people who have been reported by the police for leaving their houses and seemingly not following the rules. Imagine going to the park, having a picnic, going for a walk and being told by a stranger they are going to call the police on you and they can use your race as a weapon, they know by telling the police the colour of your skin it will have an automatic punishment. After all, All Black people are criminals right?
Imagine the police are called on your father as he is suspected of committing a non-violent crime. He is handcuffed and pinned to the floor by a police officer. The officer is leaning on your father’s neck. He can’t breathe, he is begging for mercy, he is calling out for your grandmother, his mother…… he’s an EX con, a criminal, he took drugs, he robbed somebody, he went to prison. But I ask this should he have been executed?
Imagine the people who can see this crime being committed, imagine your 17 year old sister, daughter, friend recorded the execution of George Floyd and she could only record the crime because she fears that the other officers will turn their guns on her if she speaks out.…..After all we must protect the police from these ANGRY BLACK WOMEN they are a big problem with society……
Imagine being BLACK in America.
In recent months I have struggled to go on Facebook. The reason why is because, while many people enjoy the platform discussing current issues and sharing pictures, more and more I have seen subtle tokens of racism becoming more and more prevalent. I refuse to argue with morons who seemed to have lost all sense of humanity. It is gut wrenching when you have Facebook friends who think it’s acceptable to be outright racist. I understand we do not all hold the same values, I understand we do not all advocate for the the hurt and pain of others. But I do not stand with people who do not want to try and understand that their actions destroy communities. No, I’m not talking about the ones who use the sentiment #All Lives Matter, I agree all lives do matter. But there is a deeper message to the Black Lives Matter movement. And so many people of different colours have been understanding of this notion and want to get an understanding of the disproportionate treatment of the Black community and for that I appreciate your support.
I’m talking about the ones that use George Floyd’s reputation to try and denounce the feelings of the Black community. I’m talking about the ones who act surprised that police brutality against the BLACK community is not a new phenomena. I’m talking about the ones who have a problem with #Blackout Tuesday, #Black Lives Matter and the ones who have jumped on the band wagon to make their businesses and institutions look like they are progressive when they have done nothing but use oppressive practices keep BLACK people in their place. I SEE YOU!
It is very hard to understand how people have been so sheltered by this phenomena, even though social media has been covered with news footage of the Breonna Taylor’, Oscar Grant’, Ahmaud Arbery’, Jordan Davis’ the Tamir Rice’ murder I could go on……..
So, I’m going to round this post off by saying a few small words. For the ones who I have a problem with. I am not your bredrin, don’t use me as the Black friend when you run your mouth and show your true racism and need a token Black friend to save you from your mess. It’s cool when you want to dance to our music, eat our food, wear our fashion, appropriate our hairstyles and when you have a fifth cousin twice removed that has mixed race kids or you decide you want to experiment by dating someone that is Black I SEE YOU! don’t try and hide behind the smoke and mirrors and don’t use your relationships as a platform to validate your racism. You have no right to talk negatively about our oppression, you have no right to invalidate our pain. Don’t pretend you see us as your equal, don’t pretend we are accepted into your circle. Stay silent while we are being brutalised, stay silent while we are disproportionately dying of Covid! continue to stay in your bubble I hope you never need to call on the Black community to speak up for YOU! A lot of people have said 2020 is a year they will cancel, as it’s been a year of devastation, but I say 2020 has given me the 2020 vision to see people for exactly who they are.
“Give the children love, more love and still more love - and the common sense will come by itself” - Astrid Lindgren
My children are aged 5 and 7 and they have never been to school. We home educate and though ‘home’ is in the title, we are rarely there. Our days are usually filled with visits to museums and galleries, meet-ups with friends, workshops in lego, drama and science and endless hours at the park. We’ve never done a maths lesson: sometimes they will do workbooks, but mostly they like to count their money, follow a recipe, add up scores in a game, share out sweets… I am not their teacher but an enthusiastic facilitator – I provide interesting ideas and materials and see what meaning they can take and make from them. Children know their own minds and learning is what they are built for.
If there was ever a time to throw away the rulebook it’s when the rules have all changed. Put ‘home’ at the centre of your homeschooling efforts. Make it a safe and happy place to be. Fill it with soft, warm and beautiful things. Take your time.
All this to say that what children need most is your love and attention. This is so far from an ideal situation for anyone – so cut yourselves some slack and enjoy your time together. You don’t need to model your home like a school. Share stories and poems, cuddle, build dens, howl at the moon, play games, look for shapes in clouds and stars, do experiments round your kitchen table, bake cakes, make art, explore your gardens and outside spaces and look for nature everywhere. This is the stuff that memories are made of.
As adults we don’t continue to categorise our learning by subjects – we see the way things are interconnected across disciplines, sometimes finding parallels in unlikely places. When we allow children to pursue their own interests we give them the tools and the freedom to make their own connections.
What’s important is their happiness, their kindness, their ability to love and be loved in return. They are curious, they are ready made learning machines and they seek out the knowledge they need when they need it.
It’s an interesting time to be a home educator – more children than ever are currently out of school and the spotlight is on ‘homeschooling’. I prefer the term ‘home educator’ because for me and my family it isn’t about replicating the school environment at home and perhaps it shouldn’t be for you either.
Treat it as an extended holiday and do fun stuff together but also let them be bored.
In the worst public health crisis since The Spanish Flu (1918), it’s safe to say that a new social contract should be drawn up after COVID, like what happened after the Second World War with Labour’s Welfare State. Yet, unlike the narratives within both world wars, this time, the actions of Black and brown people, migrants, and refugees cannot be written out of the history books. Can they?
Being in lockdown for the past eight weeks, it’s allowed me to contemplate my British identity. Before this crisis, I was at odds with my identity, and at comfort. Now, I feel that there really “ain’t no Black in the union jack”, as per Paul Gilroy’s book. When I saw headlines about whitewashing the NHS, disproportionate deaths within communities of colour and Black men being stopped by police buying food for their kids, I thought am I really British?
The last time the world went through this much disruption, fear and uncertainty was during the Second World War, and before that, during the Depression. What both these times have in common is that they wrote the actions of Black and brown people out of the narrative. Racial theories, originating from pseudoscience played significant roles in how people that looked exactly like me were treated. Black and brown soldiers, sailors and servicemen were expendable and then erased out of history. On the African continent, these people were deemed not human enough to have dignified burials like their White counterparts, they were buried in mass graves.
What if I told you that afterwards, in 1919 there were race riots across Britain ? And at Albert Docks, a Bermudan Black veteran was lynched in a racially-motivated attack? Charles Wootten, who fought for this country, a nation that wasn’t his own only to be treated like a second-class citizen and then murdered. And in the wake of the The Depression, Britain’s own civil rights struggle took root. Now, the utter arrogance that the UK will defy all the odds against existential threat all on its own without any help at all.
Which makes decolonisation such an interesting space, because frankly none of this is on school curricula. That in teaching slavery, we only really teach Wilberforce, not about slave rebellions in the colonies nor resistance from the White working-class in Britain. Emancipation came from the bottom up, not top down. The history is complex and class solidarity kicked the elites in the teeth. And even in that, why do we not teach class solidarity in schools? Not how the Jews and the Irish kicked Oswald Mosely out of Cable Street, or the striking women of Gunwick in [British] South Africa? Today, as I see the death rate in the UK compared to somewhere like New Zealand or Germany or Taiwan, it’s hard not to believe there’s been a mismanagement somewhere, to put it lightly. Or, bias is at play. Similar to how Churchill left three million Indians to die in the Bengal Famine (1943). His hate for Indians was notorious and the Government’s contempt for the working-class can be seen through austerity, Universal Credit and its reactions to events such as Grenfell and the Windrush Scandal, where Black British citezens have been deported.
Now, this textbook British Blitz spirit will not do in 2020. Not that Britain won the wars on their own. But today, jingoism, White ethno-nationalism and #PickforBritain sing strong and loud. This blitz spirit may have formed Britain as a nation for White people, but as a Black person my experience of Britishness is one of unbelonging being written out of the identity of this country. That in narratives of COVID-19, will the actions of Black bus drivers, healthcare staff, and teachers be erased from the history books?
In Coronavirus, I see echoes of Brexit. That we can go it alone. Yet, there are no whispers of resistance to this. Forty thousand bodies say hi. I don’t see public anger. That in Britain’s pride to do it alone, I think of the calls for British independence from the EU. Lest we forget the stories of Empire; independence wasn’t gifted, it was fought for. Haiti’s Revolution for example, after which Britain sent armies to invade the French Caribbean. An unsuccessful campaign to reinstall slavery. This moral abolitionist narrative, that we are freeing ourselves is so commonplace to the UK.
So, when I see people who look like me dying in numbers, it is a reflection to how this country started calling itself great. Stepping over the bodies it feels are inferior. People of colour. Poor people. Immigrants. Refugees. United by class. That in #PickforBritain, the industry is losing not because of Coronavirus. It is losing because of Brexit, where the majority that voted for it told foreigners they were no longer welcome here. A prejudice born from pride. Meanwhile, you are asking the public, many of whom whose ancestors toiled on those plantation death camps in the Caribbean, if they want to pick potatoes. No, Boris. I won’t. And the website doesn’t even work.
In light of VE Day and under Britain’s whole campaign in response to COVID-19, there is a story of the underdog that survives all odds, backed with popularised films such has 1917, Darkest Hour and Dunkirk. The truth of the matter is that people from the British Empire [of which I am descended], including Africans and Asians, were instrumental in Britain and the allied forces winning those wars. That here on this small island, we weren’t just some minor nation but a vast empire able to win because it had collected so many countries previous, pillaged for wealth and benefits.
After Coronavirus, Black and brown people should be at the centre of this story. That the diversity we boast about is why the NHS hasn’t been overwhelmed and the diversity we boast about is also dying at a disproportionate rate. Good manners and freedom; these are things we label with British values, which also came from Victorian values, which are colonial values. That clapping for our carers rings of a time which would not have afforded me my Britishness. Now, we are taught distorted histories which make people question the narratives of race in situations like COVID.
Knowing all this, is it surprising that today British people of colour like me are treated like “good immigrants” having to prove their worth, when the history we learn at school is a juxtaposition to how Britain is, how it has always been?
One of the first casualties of Corona was travel. Nations immediately began controlling the flow of people in and out of ever-broader borders. First neighborhoods, then cities, regions, and countries all closed. As fear of the virus spreading spread, different parts of the world became associated with Corona, though bullheaded public figures even continued to call it “Chinese”
A few years ago, I got a 10 -year visa to China through work and had planned to travel there much more than time has allowed. Now, I am fearful of ever traveling there before my visa expires. I am unable to accept the many invitations to connect with my previous students who’ve returned to China and know of my interest in the region’s cultures. I have been to southern China on several study trips with students. We finally ventured to Beijing and its wonders on a later trip. Naturally, I did my happy dance when I reached a peak on the Great Wall just a few years ago. I am now on sabbatical in Hanoi, just released from lockdown.
It was a lifelong dream to visit China, I was raised on my godmother’s stories about growing up in Hong Kong, savoring the flavors of her homeland in her kitchen in Kentucky. I knew I had to see for myself. As a kid, she and I would go on shopping day-trips to Chicago’s Chinatown, a 7-hour drive each way. For those few hours in Chi-town, we’d be transported to a world where finally she was the insider. She spoke for hours in several dialects with all the people around that I didn’t understand, and we even browsed restaurants that resembled what she’d told me home was like. We’d go in and eat not from the tourist but from the Chinese menus – foods that were not nearly available in Kentucky.
Kentucky is pretty black and white, but there, in the heart of Chinatown, in the heartland of America, smack in the middle of the 80’s, I got to experience my godmother being in the majority. Growing up close to my godmother confirmed I could experience more freedom through travel. This was a key insight into the world for a gay kid growing up in the Bible Belt; I could just go away. Travel has always exposed me to new ways of being in the world.
“You’ve got to go to the city/They’re going to find you there…” -Flawless, George Michael
Travel is essential for the development of a healthy self-identity as a queer person. ‘Travel’ is, in fact, inseparable from the notion of a gay community. This is exemplified by having to leave our homes and communities to commune with others queers, and certainly the richness of gay tourism. One might also consider how gay identity uniquely depends on the very idea of gayness traveling far and wide to enter the minds of gays isolated everywhere.
Knowing gay people is a primal impetus for me to travel. Rather than just seeking to know ‘different’ people, places and cultures, I crave knowing how people like me thrive in those places. We’re everywhere.
It has always struck me that as queer people of color, we too often must venture outside our ethno-cultural communities to meet gay people. I came out at 16 and by then only knew gays within my age-group. Fortunately, in that era of grand community building, a local charity had organized a gay youth group. There, in addition to comradery, the adult facilitation and guest speakers provided mentorship and what we now understand as inter-generational knowledge. They also alerted me to queer writers: Through Sister Outsider, I’d traveled around the world with Audre Lorde long before I stepped foot outside of north-America. This is a powerful glue that can sustain solidarity within any community.
By attempting to transport certain functions of the gay club scene into the virtual world, we have certainly lost a core opportunity for inter-generational bonding. The ominous gay club also functions as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and experience. This phenomenon is sustained by travel, particularly tourism, migration, immigration. Or, how long did it take for nations to consider asylum for queers fleeing in deadly homophobic regimes? Flawless:
Don’t you know, you’ve got to go to the city
You’ve got to reach the other side of the glass
I think you’ll make it in the city baby
I think you know that you are more than just
Some F-ed up piece of ass
Pride – both metaphorically and literally – has circulated the globe, first and foremost through travel and tourism, then through globalizing the fight against AIDS. By the mid-90’s, the attention of gay rights advocates had widened to confronting homophobia. If health was a human right, then surely freedom from stigma is, too. Mind you, this same argument fueled the successful campaign in India to decriminalize same-sex sex, which was based on colonial legislation. Rights advocates in India had successfully used case law to articulate access to healthcare as a civil right, showing how stigma impeded this for queers.
Sadly, the exact same Victoria-era law has been strengthened and extended in many African nations, legitimizing jungle justice! For many, travel is a lifeline, including asylum. For queers in the African Diaspora, this is yet another form of exile – banishment from the motherland.
Under the bridge downtown…
If there were ever a community consumed with travel, it would be LGBTQ+ folk. Our folk knowledge is transmitted in myth and music, for example, lyrics urging gays to head to the shelter of the city. Whether chants about finding a YMCA, or told to Go West to be “together” in the sanctuary, mythical San Francisco, for gays to achieve self-realization, we needed to ‘know’ urban life to counter traditional values in the homestead. “I think you’ll make it in the city, baby.” There -away- we’re promised a new beginning with freedom. I’m very proud to have seen this through.
Gay civil rights have advanced globally far faster than those of any other recognized minority group, and certainly, one factor is… (drumroll) …we’re everywhere, even where there’s no Pride! Like ether, our pride travels through the stratosphere.