Reflections on a panel talk: the violence of white fragility and the erasure of its victims

The Brown Hijabi

I am sitting on a train on my way home from a panel talk on Feminism & Islamophobia, on how the two collude to undermine Muslim women, and how Muslim women are erased and reduced to “the veil”. I am exhausted and bewildered.

The panel consisted of five (four panellists and one chair) hijab-wearing women of colour. In a University setting this is a rarity. We know this. We are not the people panels are meant for, we are not the people audiences are meant to listen to.

We opened the discussion by laying out our premises: that we weren’t interested in proving ourselves, that we refused to answer questions that made inherent value judgements about our worth, that we didn’t deem secular modes of feminism which universalised white women’s experiences and aspired to equal access to be oppressors as the pinnacle of our goals, that in…

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Cancelling Culture

If there’s one thing that anyone with social media this year has been exposed to it’s cancelling culture. I think the essence of “cancelling” makes sense. You notice someone/something is being problematic so you stop supporting them/it. After all, by continuing to support someone who might have said things that are not deemed to be progressive can mean that in a way you’re validating their actions. You’re indirectly saying “I don’t care about the fact that you might have said or done something offensive, I like you that much I’m willing to look past it”. At face value this seems fair enough, after all we’re not all going to be offended by the same thing.

There are several problems with cancelling. First of all, some people might not agree that supporting an individual who behaves offensively means you are validating their actions. For example, if your favourite musician is known to sexually assault women does this mean you support the sexual assault of women? This seems a bit far fetched especially since their musical capability is independent of their ethical beliefs. But what if their music is actually about degrading women? Then the line between their beliefs and talents is blurred. This gets complicated, especially because we need to ask ourselves if the nature of the persons behaviour is representative of the kind of person they are. What I mean by this is if someone makes one racist comment in their lifetime, does this make them racist? If not, then how many racist comments do you have to make to be deemed racist? Do you even have to make a racist comment to be racist?

But let’s assume that supporting a problematic person means you ARE indirectly supporting their actions, then it follows we should not support such a person because we don’t want them to have a platform to express their offensive ideals. How do we go about actually cancelling them? Well from what I’ve seen on twitter, when a group of people decide that they no longer want to support someone, they tweet about how that person is cancelled and then they proceed to totally drag this person. This can take many forms, sometimes it can be kind of light hearted where a bunch of memes are made about you (like we saw with brother nature) or you could end up receiving death threats, having your job taken from you, being kicked out of your school etc. People on social media have the power to really end your life without you dying.

Personally I think that if we truly want to cancel someone, what I mentioned above is totally counterproductive. Cancelling culture is way too loud. If you really want to stop supporting someone, stop supporting them, it’s really simple. I know some people who didn’t even know about brother nature until twitter dragged him. The saying that all publicity is good publicity is kind of valid here, you’re promoting someone by mentioning their name whether you’re praising or cancelling them. Do you really want to give someone you don’t support that kind of attention? Of course here it can be said: How will we ever know about problematic people unless someone brings it to light first? This is a fair point, but it’s not that difficult to dispute: if you read something about someone and believe it be true, unless you feel as though people around you would care, don’t say anything on a social media platform in order to prevent that person from getting too much attention.

It’s also important to address that with cancelling culture social media offers redemption, sort of. This is another issue. Who can forgive and when do we forgive? Should we forgive someone who tweeted racist things when they were 14? Should we forgive them even if we aren’t sure if they are displaying that same behaviour? One thing that’s been talked about in the YouTube beauty community is that some YouTubers have been caught making racist comments a few years ago, but they’ve made their apology videos and now when reviewing make up products they are vocal about shade range. Does this excuse their earlier behaviour? Do people have to earn their forgiveness by displaying the very opposite behaviour of what they depicted a few years ago? As a consumer that’s for you to decide. You might not think that your attention is worth a much as your money, but it can be.

That being said, it depends on who you are. If someone with a platform made racist comments towards Asian people, and you are not Asian then it’s not up to you to forgive anyone. You weren’t the victim of the comment. In order to forgive you have to have been offended. This seems obvious but countless times I have seen the unaffected demographic forgive influencers for their behaviour. You also can’t tell someone whether or not they should forgive, it’s okay to have an opinion but know when to share it

There are so many philosophical questions that can be challenging to think about, but we shouldn’t shy away from them. It may seem like this is a pointless activity but it’s one thing to form an opinion, it is another to understand WHY you believe what you do.

I’ve asked a lot of questions in this blog post, it’s not because I’m sitting on the fence about anything. There are people I do and do not support for particular reasons but the point of this post wasn’t to say who we should and shouldn’t support. It’s to encourage us to consider various lines of thought before we come to such decisions and encourage us to be sensible first and vocal second.

 

Your silence CAN mean just as much, if not more than your vocality.

Why wait?

Most of us are our biggest critics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless we are also aware of our strengths. A lot of the time we’re more qualified than we think, we know more than we think we do and we have more influence than we’re aware of. We can often forget that we are capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for, and this includes the extent to which we can help others.

When I’m talking about helping others I’m not talking about conventional charity, not that this doesn’t matter, but I’m talking about doing things that directly make use of the skills we have acquired. Helping out at a food bank, feeding the homeless and bucket shaking are all things I’m sure we’d agree are extremely charitable but it doesn’t appear like us young people, including myself, are doing much of that (unless we’re forced to or you’d like to put it on your cv of course). If you’re an academic, why not teach? If you’re sporty, why not coach? You might be a musician, a creative, a programmer, a gamer etc. Whatever you are, whatever you do, where you are is where someone else wants to be. This might not seem like the case, which is understandable. Most of us are young, where we are now isn’t the end goal but that doesn’t mean we can’t share with others the things we learn along the way. Especially those of us that live in communities where our younger peers don’t have older role models, there is a space there we need to take up.

We shouldn’t just wait before we arrive at a stage in our lives where we feel like we’ve made it to then decide “I fancy giving back to my community now”. Especially after you’ve left your community, assuming that you’ve spent years working hard to become more socially mobile it’s easy to get tunnel vision and become out of touch with the lifestyle you once lived. That’s not to say that you can’t work your way up first and then ‘give back’ but you have the means to help now, so why not help now? Knowledge is currency.

What do I mean by helping others? I look at it this way: when I was slightly younger I had a few short term goals and achieving what I did was a lot easier than it could have been. But the only reason this was the case is because I had guidance. I was privileged enough to have a support system that was made up of people of different ages; but those that really had an impact on me the most were those who were close to me in age. Listening to your elders is something we should all do, within reason. But taking the advice of those who have just experienced something that you potentially might, is invaluable. You’re more likely to take the advice of someone who understands the environment and stage of life you’re in currently.

Sharing and teaching others what you have learned or mentoring someone younger than you doesn’t just benefit them. Where there is teaching there is learning. You might not necessarily gain any more insight into your area of expertise but you will learn a lot about yourself and how to communicate effectively and considerately. But don’t feel obliged, because when someone looks up to you to some extent they can become your responsibility and this is a big deal. That being said, someone looking up to you helps in keeping you accountable for your actions. I just think this is something we should all consider.

Be transparent, show people your process, learn from others, pool your resources, take someone under your wing. How do you make your mixtapes? How do you edit your videos? How do you revise? What does it feel like to achieve what you did? When did you fail? There are so many questions that you have the answer to, that could give someone else the insight they needed to live better. It’s also worth noting that we should also allow ourselves to be taught, to be led and to be corrected.

I HIGHLY recommend you watch these:

Peter Singer talking about effective altruism. (This is more about money)

What is altruism?

Shawn Blanchard on mentorship.

‘How can you climb the social ladder and then take the ladder with you?’ – A.Aboker

Feminism & Men

A while ago I watched a TED talk by Brittney Cooper called ‘The racial politics of time’, despite it being about race something she said really stood out to me. She said “Those in power dictate the pace of the workday”. It stood out because although she talked about this in a racial context it can generally be applied to all social issues regarding marginalised groups. In essence, higher ups in society dictate the rate at which social change occurs. Sometimes it seems like when marginalised groups of people start causing unrest in society out of a desire to create change, those in power get together and say “Maybe we should give this group rights now? They’re acting up so if we pass this law that should settle them down a bit”. Perhaps I’m being too cynical here. Either way, the point is whether or not the intention to create changes in society are pure the change happens because a body of power says so. This is not to take away from the importance of legislation in the quest for social justice but if we’re being real these laws, at first, can often be described as de jure since they are only progressive on paper and not in society. Societal attitudes take longer to change than laws and those in society who have privilege should act as catalysts in order to ensure that the two align.

If we look at who the higher ups in society are it’s typically men. I’m sure we’ve all heard this before but it’s true. Some might argue “but what about *insert an exception where a woman is placed ahead of a man in society*” which is why I have made ‘typically’ bold. Anyway, in my opinion what makes feminism so great is that for the most part women are empowering each other. This isn’t just women showering one another with compliments. This is women mentoring, encouraging and creating opportunities for themselves and their female counterparts to succeed in a way that they may not have been able to alone. An amazing example of this is Women on Wings this organisation supports women in rural India gain financial independence which in turn allows them or their children to become more socially mobile. So what about men? Well here’s the thing, women have done an amazing job at mobilising themselves to get the rights they deserve but the reality is that a person who is in a privileged position acts as catalyst. The catalyst is a man. Now this may seem fairly obvious, if the man is typically in a position of power then his influence will allow the progression of women to happen faster or easier. I’m not sure if a lot of feminists are happy to accept this (this is just an assumption I’ve made) but often times the focus is put on who is involved in making changes rather than what changes are happening. Is it fair that a man can probably make changes easier for a woman than she can for herself? No, but that does not mean that we should exclude men. Now, in no way am I saying that feminism excludes men, but some feminists do.

What exactly does making room for men in feminism look like? This is very subjective. But here’s what I think; I think it means including men in discussions, conferences, talks etc. on feminism. Making room for men and keeping women at the forefront of feminism are not mutually exclusive. But in making room for men we are also making room for potential mistakes, some men have only talked about women with other men and this can often breed ignorance. Not that men are ignorant, but it’s often the case that when a group of people talk about another group of people that they can’t empathise with, they are bound to misunderstand certain things. It’s also worth noting that making room for ignorance does not mean we are making room for nonsense. It’s making room for genuine curiosity, allowing men to ask questions that we might think are dumb, it’s educating men on how we feel on certain topics so that they can empathise which allows them to be better supporters. Also, it’s crucial that men understand how to address issues they think are present in the feminist community. I don’t think it’s a matter on whether men should or should not have an opinion on a matter concerning a woman, realistically they will have an opinion. That being said, opinions men have regarding women are often shared in an entitled way which is extremely annoying and a lot of the time they don’t have to be shared. There is a difference between having an opinion and sharing it. So, before you share an opinion think about whether what you’re saying is helpful, consider your tone and evaluate your intention. It can be the case that some heterosexual men think they are commenting on feminism when actually they’re just projecting ideas of what they think the ideal woman.

On a final note, yes society has progressed a lot and women can acknowledge that. However, we can still do better and this isn’t nit picking.

I found this initiative online and I think it’s a great idea:

http://www.goodladworkshop.com/who-are-we/

Their mission Statement:

The Good Lad Initiative aims to promote “Positive Masculinity”, and in doing so, to enable men to deal with complex gender situations and become agents of positive change within their social circles and broader communities. To achieve this fundamental objective, GLI seeks to engage with organisations and individuals of all genders and backgrounds.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of ones ignorance. – Confucius

Are you taking up space?

I was contemplating writing about this because often when it is brought up in conversation it’s rare that someone fully agrees with me. I didn’t want to write this in a ‘preachy’ way to make people feel guilty about their privilege so instead I’ll take a different approach. I’ll talk about my personal experience, what I have learned about myself and why I feel as though I was taking up space. So technically most of this is going to be about me, but you should try to relate if you can. 

I’ll start by saying that privilege isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s great and incredibly useful. I think twitter culture has partly caused people to believe privilege is something to be ashamed of, when actually it’s only shameful when you knowingly use your privilege to do a bad thing. This is a very simple way of looking at it though. I also think that a lot of the time we may feel as though by acknowledging our privilege we are devaluing our efforts. Sometimes it makes you feel like you’re not good enough to do something just because you asked for help. This shouldn’t be the case, someone else helping you out benefits you in the end and admitting that doesn’t mean you aren’t great. You are. But that person who put you on is great too.

What does it mean to take up space? Well to me, taking up space means that I chose to take an opportunity that would have benefitted someone less fortunate and less equipped than me. “That might be true Jes but at the end of the day you rightfully earned your place at that summer school” is the response I tend to get. I made sure to mention summer school specifically because this is what the main focus of this post is going to be about and summer schools tend to be made for less equipped and less fortunate students but I digress. Yes, I did rightfully earn my place but it’s also important to note that I got that place because my privilege played a role where someone else’s did not

I might not necessarily have a billionaire background and know all the right people but that doesn’t mean I’m not privileged. I went to a high achieving school, my peers were driven (well most of them were), I was in an environment where extra-curricular opportunities were made available, when I was at home I had spaces where I could focus, I didn’t need to share a bedroom, the surrounding area of my home is safe, my Dad is an academic and helped me get work experience at his office. I could continue to go on. My point is I’m in an environment where it is natural for me to succeed. I didn’t necessarily consider these things being contributing factors until I started to imagine my life without them. 

For many, life does not include these things. There are people living with potential that doesn’t bear fruit. This might not directly be my fault, but let’s say I wanted to apply for a summer school or some kind of useful program. The process tends to be a little like this:

  1. I find out about the summer school on my sixth forms weekly notice.
  2. I decide to apply, I come from a BAME background and from my postcode it appears as though I’m impoverished so it’s fairly likely I’m eligible.
  3. I write a personal statement that is read and edited by every teacher and their mum. 
  4. I get on the summer school/program, but if I don’t one of my classmates most definitely does and it’s likely they went through the same process.

Someone else may have applied totally on their own with no one to help them and end up missing out on this opportunity that is likely to have had a marginally better effect on them than myself. Their application may not have been as good as mine because they were probably too busy dealing with the actual problems it appeared I had. This isn’t to say that the admissions people of such things should accept a sub-par application, but if those of us that could afford to pass up this opportunity took a step back then the majority of people who truly needed the opportunity could take it. Although, this is assuming that less equipped/privileged students are incapable of producing strong applications which is not true. 

I’ve often thought to myself when I had attended certain summer schools that a lot of the things I had learned whilst there, I could have learned by myself with some extensive research. Upon realising this I then thought, well I guess in this case I’m not really taking up space because someone else could easily google something if they desperately wanted to learn about it. At face value, this makes a lot of sense. Here’s why it doesn’t: some students have not been in an environment in which they fully know how to utilise the tools that are around them. As much as sixth form taught me my A-Level subjects (to some extent) I learned skills like how to research effectively and my favourite teachers were high-achieving academics who made great role models. Some students cannot relate and that is why they would need a place on that program more than me, because on that program they might learn the skills I already acquired and they might find a role model they never had. Just by taking a step back, as a collective we can allow others to be just as socially mobile as us. It’s also worth nothing that taking a step back doesn’t put you at a disadvantage, especially if you are equipped with the skills you need to create opportunities for yourself. 

Perhaps it’s up to admissions officers to make sure that the selection process is more extensive, they could request more information and even conduct interviews. Although, this may not be pragmatic and things like this require time and money. Also, requesting more information may feel invasive to students.

That being said, summer schools and extra-curricular programmes seem like an appropriate time to take a step back if you can afford to. They tend to happen earlier on in life where missing out means slightly less. Later on in life when it comes to internships, careers and work placements things tend to be different. But I’m not there yet, so I’ll get back to you in a few years.

Special thanks to Migena and Eyram for their encouragement and advice when writing this, it is much appreciated 🙂

Privilege is invisible to those who have it – Michael Kimmel

My Thoughts: Colourism

If you’re tired of seeing the word colourism your darker skinned counterparts are just as tired of experiencing it. 


FIRST OF ALL:

Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 01.14.25

 

In my opinion this is a pretty solid definition. I underlined ‘typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group’ because this is what makes colourism so interesting yet problematic. The sheer fact that members of the same race are discriminating against their own is mad. It makes it difficult for us to pinpoint who or what exactly is accountable. I’m sure most would point the finger at black men or even lighter skinned women, but why is it that these groups are most likely to reject the existence of colourism altogether and what is the root of colourism in the first place? It has been said many a time that black men do not talk about black women the same way males of other races talk about their female counterparts.

In America colourism has roots in slavery. Lighter skinned slaves, who were typically the mixed children of their slave masters, tended to take up jobs in the house that were deemed more desirable than the outdoor jobs typically done by darker skinned slaves. However, colourism in the UK is notably different. Colourism amongst black Brits, particularly those of African descent, can be said comes directly from the home countries of these immigrants and can be also said is due to the lack of positive representation in the media of black women. It’s evident in a lot of shows/movies, you can see for yourself if there is a black lead she is usually of a certain complexion. As time goes on we are starting to see darker skinned women taking on lead roles, but this isn’t necessarily mainstream yet.

In Ghana, one of my own home countries, lighter skin has become so sought after that women in particular are going to extreme measures to attain it. Some women even resorted to taking pills whilst pregnant in hopes that their children would be born with a lighter complexion. Hydroquinone is the primary chemical in most topical skin lightening products (that is also said to be potentially carcinogenic) which thankfully Ghana has banned. This is a huge move as the skin lightening industry is worth billions, this is a step in the right direction for countries like Ghana that will hopefully set the example for other African countries to follow suit.

That being said, whilst the issue of colourism “back home” is slowly but surely being addressed the same cannot be said for those of us in the UK. Many darker skinned black women can name countless occasions in which they have been discriminated against or picked on because of their complexion. This is absurd. Many would respond and say that these women should call it out when it happens but many also seem to forget about the angry black woman narrative. A black woman, and in particular a darker skinned one, calling out colourism is often seen as bitter despite her objection of a comment being completely valid. It’s very easy to say what you would do in a hypothetical situation because the chances are you haven’t literally been in that situation. It’s also worth noting that colourist comments tend to be made in casual environments in which a dark skinned female calling it out may seem to be darkening the mood. I’m sure many of us have witnessed it first hand in secondary school; being called blick, “you’re pretty for a dark girl”, “she’d be peng if she was lighter”, etc. It may seem like it’s not that deep, but if you feel that way the chances are you’re not dark-skinned or you have made such comments yourself. Comments like these from a young age can be damaging to a black girls self-esteem and also paint a negative picture of darker skinned girls to the rest of us where darker skinned women are deemed unattractive (and not just in terms of looks).

It’s often the case when I have these conversations with my mates a few might say that these things were more prominent in secondary and eventually people grow up. At face value this claim seems fair but what is really being said is that “yeah colourism is bad, but eventually people grow out of verbally and racially abusing black women”. You might think this is an extreme way of interpreting this response but that is essentially it, if you are making comments towards someone of a darker complexion that are derogatory because of the fact they are dark, that is verbal and racial abuse. Abuse isn’t always beating someone up with a hammer and it is not a rite of passage. And yes, in secondary school people were made fun of for various different things and whilst people call this character building many cannot relate. Besides, in my opinion colourism is more destructive than it ever will be progressive. We need to change this narrative that making comments like this is normal when you’re young but the only way we can do this is by calling it out, especially if you are lighter in complexion because your fairness comes with a privilege that you should use.

I have also heard some talk about “reverse colourism” in which it’s said that lighter skinned folks are discriminated against and are bullied but this seems like the kind of response that is made to erase the severity of colourism against darker skinned people. Although, I read an interesting paper on extreme colourism in Tanzania where black people with Albinism are treated in horrific ways. That being said, this is still a black issue. In fact, colourism is also an Asian issue and a feminist issue. It’s clear that the victims of colourism tend to be females and dark skinned African females in particular, however, colourism in Asia is worth talking about. In Asia, there isn’t much regulation on skin lightening products. ‘Fair & Lovely’ products are extremely popular and it seems as though many don’t see an issue with using their products because they claim to not be physically dangerous. But the key word here is physical. Many asian women are used to seeing their favourite bollywood stars have light skin and be desired, in fact bollywood is saturated with actors all within one or two shades of each other. This lack of representation breeds self hate. Perhaps people should not take this too seriously, if you see a light skinned person and end up hating yourself that seems like a you problem right? Absolutely not. This line of thinking is problematic, self loathing takes time. It’s the little things like trying to stay out of the sun in the fear of getting too dark, or buying the foundation that doesn’t match you or it’s even being afraid to wear certain colours because you feel like it won’t look as good on your darker skin. All of this comes from wanting to be desired, it’s literally in our nature.

In light of this, this isn’t to say you should have a radar to detect colourist comments everywhere you go, but pay attention to what people say and also how they say things. Colourism is often closer than you think. 

Good reads:

The roots of colourism:

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-colorism-2834952 (this is more on the American side)

Eyrams take:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/138319559/posts/92 (she has a fab blog, plenty of good stuff to read)

Extreme Colourism & Albinism in Tanzania: http://researchbank.acu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9203&context=fhs_pub

Colourism in Asia:

http://www.womensrepublic.net/colorism-and-anti-blackness-in-the-asian-community/

http://www.herculture.org/blog/2015/10/8/colorism-in-the-s-asian-community#.W1u8EthKjxg

Ghana banning skin lightening products:

https://qz.com/718103/skin-lightening-is-a-10-billion-industry-and-ghana-wants-nothing-to-do-with-it/

(Also make sure you have a look in the comments and leave your own thoughts!)

Strong people stand up for themselves, but stronger people stand up for others.

In the beninging.

If you don’t get the main heading then I really don’t know for you.

Welcome to my blog (and my first post). I decided to start one because I’m too opinionated for 280 characters and I genuinely enjoy writing.

A little about me: I’m currently 18, I live in Barking, I just finished my A levels and I love bowling and slush. I’m not sure whether any of that matters but I thought why not include it.

I don’t have a clear idea of what kind of blog this is going to be but I have a few ideas that I’m excited to write about. If all goes to plan I will be writing about things that include lifestyle, race, education, culture or just anything I find interesting to be honest. I want this to be as interactive as possible and I want to be able to include other people in this too. As much as I love to share my opinion it’s always nice to be challenged or get a different perspective. I would also appreciate any feedback/ideas in the comments or in my twitter dms.

I’ll keep this short and sweet and end it here.

(Next blog post coming soon)

‘Writing is the painting of the voice’ – Voltaire