Being a White Immigrant

I have been an immigrant for most of my life.

When I was 6, my family moved to another country for economic reasons. We arrived expecting to take advantage of the country’s health care and education. In fact, we fully expected that the normal rules of the education system would be bent for me. As time went on, I took up a place on a highly prestigious education programme, depriving the child of a citizen of that country of the opportunity. We eventually became citizens, but stubbornly retained the culture and values of our home country.

At no time did anyone question our right to be in our new country. People made sure that the journey was as safe and comfortable as possible. We were not imprisoned, detained or penalised in any way for our decision to become immigrants.

Since then I have been an immigrant in 3 different countries. I have always been treated with courtesy and respect, often receiving better treatment than the ordinary citizens.

This is all because I am white. We like to think that migrants are only black or brown people but there are millions of white immigrants globally. Nearly as many Brits live abroad as there are immigrants in the UK (5.5 million compared to 7.2 million). Long running reality shows like ‘Wanted Down Under’ and ‘Escape to the Continent’ share the reasons behind white immigration as well as top tips on how to emigrate, actively encouraging white families to move to the country which will best serve their interests.

Almost every family in Britain has members who have moved elsewhere. In the state of Florida alone there are nearly 400,000 Brits. When the housing bubble burst and banks started to foreclose on those who couldn’t pay their mortgages, large numbers of these Brits simply left all their debts behind and went back home. (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2010/mar/08/florida-property-slump-british-expats) Can you imagine the outcry if anyone attempted such behaviour in the UK?

I can’t even begin to describe the callous treatment and hateful language surrounding other families who have left their home countries. They didn’t just decide to leave, they were forced out. The next time you listen to David Cameron, Donald Trump or Tony Abbott,  I invite you to remember your Uncle James who now lives in Toronto, or your cousin Sharon in Melbourne. They aren’t vermin and neither are the people in Calais.

Post Script

This isn’t an original concept. There are many articles pointing out that white people are ‘expats’ while people of colour are ‘immigrants’. However, these articles are far outnumbered by those spewing hate. I invite anyone who has either lived abroad or has relatives who live elsewhere to tell their immigrant stories. Highlighting our shared humanity is the absolute least we can do for those who risk so much and ask for so little.

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Being a White Immigrant

Sugartits – Addressing harassment

“There you go, love.”

“Thanks, sugartits.”

It’s becoming a regular exchange but none of the men that R has called ‘Sugartits’ has even appeared to notice her campaign against being called ‘love’ or ‘darling’. Each time I hold my breath, but nothing happens.

I asked her why she had to go all the way to sugartits. Love and darling aren’t really on the same scale. She said that if she went with anything more gentle, they’d think it was a come-on. I saw her point.

I also see her point about love and darling. The terms that men use for other men bestow either equal or greater status; ‘boss’ or ‘mate’ or ‘bro’. The terms they use for women place us in an intimate, sexual or at least affectionate relationship; it is a verbal bonding to a complete stranger.

R also has strong views on people who harass or make comments to her. “They are just bullies, they want you to feel uncomfortable or afraid and they rely on the fact that you won’t say anything. So I just say the worst thing I can think of.” I won’t tell you the things she says. She can think of some pretty horrible stuff. When she starts she doesn’t stop until she has won. She calls it the ‘shock and awe approach’.

The strange thing is that when there are other people around, they seem to accept whatever the man has said, no matter how sexist or racist it might have been. At least, nobody bats an eye nor do they step in. What makes them stare is R’s response. It appears that harassing a Black woman is standard, generally accepted behaviour but a Black woman standing up for herself is just plain shocking.

“There was this one guy who clearly spent his whole life in the gym. He had something to say about me being fat so I said that just because he’d been a fat kid and nobody loved him didn’t give him the right to fuck with me. He looked like he was going to cry.”

The exchange highlights the abuse of the initial comment. R has been asked why she is being so mean, she says “Well, you were mean to me first and I have nothing to do with you. Why were you talking to me?”

What R is doing is increasing the risk for men who think that women are just going to accept their harassment. For many men, the silence of the women they harass and the men who witness their behaviour is approval. R makes them feel what she feels; abused and attacked. What she does is risky and brave and I love her for it.

So while I won’t be using the term ‘sugartits’ myself, I am going to stop pretending to be selectively deaf when men make comments. It’s not just for me; it’s for all of us.

Postscript

This course of action might not be for everybody. Men with dented egos are nasty and unpredictable, I wouldn’t grudge anyone who decided to opt out of the encounter.

If you are a man and you happen to overhear a woman being harassed, you stepping in is much more powerful and much safer for you than her standing up for herself. Two simple questions “Do you know her? Then why are you talking to her?” can be very effective. It’s crap, but that is the way power works. When you stay silent, you tell everyone that you agree with what is happening.

Sugartits – Addressing harassment

Coming Out Late

I knew I was a lesbian as soon as I knew what a lesbian was, which, due to the sheltered nature of my childhood, wasn’t until I was 16 and we studied Mrs Dalloway. So why did it take me until I was 30 to come out?

People stay in the closet for so many reasons. Some of mine were fairly standard, like family and religion. Others were a bit more complex.

Family is fairly easy to explain. I had tested the water by making jokes about bringing home a girlfriend. My dad’s face turned stone still and he said “We don’t even make jokes about that”. So I had my answer. I knew that coming out could cost me my relationship with my parents and I just wasn’t ready to pay that price until I reached the point where their love simply wasn’t enough.

Religion also played a major role, not really in the ‘gays burn in hell’ kind of way. I had already decided that God probably wasn’t that serious about hating gays or He would have made more of a fuss about it. It was more that religion had taught me to ignore my own desires. It never even occurred to me to question what I did or did not want in a partner.

Once I worked out that what I wanted was girls, other factors came into play. All the lesbians I knew fell into one of two groups; far too cool to be interested in me, or so weird I had no desire to be associated with them. Clearly the ‘too cool’ category were the ones I was attracted to, but lacked the self esteem to do anything about it.

Later, in my twenties, I let myself be persuaded by the narrative surrounding lesbian relationships, that they burn out because there is no ‘growth’ and no development ie no children. I didn’t know anything about LGBT families and didn’t know any lesbian couples. I wanted a family, so I thought the only option was a husband. I know now that this narrative is a lie. LGBT relationships are just as deep and lasting as heterosexual ones. Not only do we have kids, the studies show that our kids do just as well, if not better than the heterosexuals’.

I also didn’t want to end up dating someone just because we were both lesbians, even though I ended up doing that for a while. Again, this was lack of experience. None of the lesbians I had met shared any of my interests and I didn’t share theirs. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t dismiss all lesbians on the basis of knowing 6 of them by name.

Finally, I thought that my lack of experience was an issue. I think I imagined that if I walked into a gay club, I would set off some kind of sensor and be forcibly ejected by the bouncers. I had no idea what to do with a girl if I got one and was so naive that I thought it would matter (when I did come out I bought a very helpful manual and read it cover to cover – I made sure I had the theory down way before I had my first girlfriend).

I’m sure that some people still think that if I had met the right man, I never would have come out. In some senses they’re right. But then, there never would have been the right man and people have a way of spotting it when they are not what you really want. I tried, really I did, but it never worked out.

So I got to 30, so lonely and so depressed that I was frightened to drink in case I did something stupid. When my therapist asked me “Do you think you might be lesbian or bisexual?” it was like being given permission to act on all the thoughts and feelings I had buried for so long. Everything changed. I came alive and I have not looked back since.

Footnote:

The thing everyone wants to know is how you can have sex with men if you are a lesbian. It’s very much like TV. You can watch a black and white set and you’ll see the same show but a colour set makes it come alive. That’s all I’m saying.

Coming Out Late

Supporting Corbyn is not naive

I am one of the hordes which has descended on the Labour Party in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for leadership and I’m not ashamed of it.

In the last election the Labour Party had nothing to say about the things which are important to me. I voted for them simply because I hated the Conservative Party more. Many of their policies were simply watered down versions of what we had already seen – continued cuts, continued austerity, continued lack of vision about foreign policy and don’t even get me started on their education ideas.

It seems that the party cannot shake off the dead hand of Blair and his Thatcherite betrayal of everything the party is supposed to stand for. We see this in the endless talk about Labour’s relationship with business and the refusal of the party’s right wing to engage with middle and low income voters. But it’s time to move on. The electorate looked at these policies and rejected them. More of the same won’t win them back.

So much of the Blairite approach is based on a belief in the trickle down effect; if we support business, then business will support the workers. We have been waiting for this to work for centuries. But the wealth isn’t trickling down from the most affluent; the most affluent are sucking the wealth out of everyone else. More and more families tumble into poverty while employers either find or are given more power to exploit their workers. We see this in zero hour contracts and in the scam of ‘self employed contractors’ working for companies and institutions who then don’t have to maintain even the most basic standards of health and safety. The system has failed to regulate itself so it is time for the state to step in.

At the most basic level, this means that companies have to pay their taxes. The current system of letting big companies decide when and if they pay for the services they receive from the state is ridiculous. It is not childish or naive to believe that the law applies to companies just as much as it applies to individuals. If Corbyn said nothing else, this alone would get my vote.

Much of the commentary about Corbyn sneers at his ideas about nationalisation and nuclear disarmament. These things are needed. If we are going to sneer at anything, let’s sneer at Trident. It’s both expensive and useless and 54% of the population thinks that we should ditch it. Let’s sneer at our rail system which costs more and delivers less than even the most basic nationalised system in the world. We know that the current situation is shit, so let’s start doing something about it.

So don’t tell me that things are more complicated that I understand. I understand just fine. I am neither idealistic nor naive: companies can pay their taxes; councils can provide housing; amenities can be nationalised; we can survive without Trident. Above all, this country can look after its people.

Footnote:

The articles below were written before the press started its sneer campaign. The first makes the case for nationalisation of the railways back in 2013. The second speaks about the rhetoric surrounding Trident in the general election. It doesn’t mention that any response by a Trident submarine would take several days. It is worth remembering that the missiles on Trident are 7 times more powerful than those dropped on Japan, which means that we could not destroy an enemy without taking out our allies as well, unless the threat came from Australia. Also, if America pulls out of the project, all that money will have been wasted anyway.

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/uk/why-are-uk-rail-fares-so-expensive-9678640.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/generalelection/trident-debate-there-are-16000-nuclear-missiles-in-the-world—but-who-has-them-and-does-britain-really-need-its-own-arsenal-10164387.html

Supporting Corbyn is not naive

Blackness interpreted as aggression

The case of the Chelsea racism on the Paris Metro continues to be typical of British responses.

The former policeman, Richard Barklie, who shoved Souleyman Sylla off the train in Paris now claims that Sylla was “using aggression” and that was why he pushed him. Re-watching the video, Sylla steps on to the train. He does not, as I have seen in London, use his bag as a battering ram, or hold on to the bar while he kicks a place clear for his feet. He simply steps on to the train.

Crucially, though, he steps on to the train while Black. 

Blackness is perceived as aggression in so many instances. I won’t go through the American cases again, you know about Trayvon Martin and his aggressive Skittle purchasing and Renisha McBride and her aggressive car troubles.

Here’s how it plays out in the UK. R once had an office assistant who told everyone, including HR, that R had threatened her life. Some people in R’s office still believe it. R regularly stays up past midnight to make sure that everyone gets a homemade birthday cake, she remembers the names of people’s grandkids and always knows who has had a haircut. People believed that this person would make a woman who worked for her “fear for her life”.

R had to correct an employee and she did so, but she did it while Black; that is why the woman feared her and that is why people were so willing to believe her story. If R was white, what would the story have been?

I suspect that there are people watching the film from the Paris Metro and saying to themselves “Well he did try and push his way on to the train, he was pretty aggressive”. Try this. Try picturing the same action performed by a white man. Does he look aggressive now or does he look like a man who trying to get to work?

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/16/paris-metro-racism-case-i-was-reacting-to-aggression-chelsea-fan-tells-court

Blackness interpreted as aggression

We’re gay and we don’t care who we get into bed with

London’s Pride parade shows us for who we really are – cheap, self-centred and a tad bit racist.

We have sold the front of our parade to Barclays. They are hoping that we will ignore their rate fixing, tax evasion and the fact that they are still putting aside £2 billion for bonuses. They’re right, we will.

Ignoring unpleasant behaviour from companies that are willing to support us is nothing new. Stonewall were quite happy to work with Paddy Power on ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’. They didn’t mind that Paddy Power deliberately positions its shops to syphon the maximum amount of money out of the most vulnerable communities.

In both of these cases, companies are willing to support us for the chance to ‘rainbow wash’ their unsavoury behaviour and we trot right along with them. As a community, it seems, we couldn’t care less about anything so long as we further our own aims.

The latest bid for our support was from Ukip (see below for an explanation of Ukip). Despite blaming us for storms, accusing us of grooming when we tried to challenge homophobia in schools and actively campaigning against our equality, Ukip wanted to march in our parade.What they wanted was a rainbow wash on their xenophobia and racism. And we so nearly gave it to them.

When we withdrew permission for Ukip to march in Pride, we didn’t even have the guts to say that it was because of their racism or their homophobia, we claimed that it was for ‘safety reasons’. Heaven forbid that we should suddenly sprout a moral backbone.

Even in the backlash against including Ukip, we were all busy rehashing their homophobia, thinking about their contribution or otherwise to our cause. It seems we are all just fine with their racism and xenophobia and the fact that they have managed to bring the politics of hate back into the mainstream debate. Of course we are fine with it, because it doesn’t affect us.

More worryingly, a recent poll in GMFA (http://www.gmfa.org.uk/Sites/fsmagazine/pages/fs148-racism-and-the-gay-scene) suggests that we were fine with Ukip’s racism because we agree with it.

It seems that the gay community, having achieved the majority of its aims, is perfectly happy to screw over those who are still fighting.

About Ukip 

The UK Independence Party was founded as a protest against Europe. They are anti-immigration (except for the leader’s wife, who happens to be German) and claim they aren’t racist, they just think that black people should “go back to Bongobongoland or wherever they came from”. Their campaigns are designed to appeal to the “I’m not racist but …” group. In the run up to the latest UK election, they did so well in the opinion polls that the major political parties started to indicate that they would adopt some similar policies. It was sickening to watch, nearly as sickening at the 16% of the vote that they won in the end.

We’re gay and we don’t care who we get into bed with

Gypsophilia Floribundum or Made Up Gardening Stuff

We have our very first garden here at Journey Mansion, but it’s okay because our cousins gave us a Very Big Gardening Book which has all the answers. This is how I know I should have put the asparagus in completely differently. Other things we are learning as we go along, like it’s not a great idea to dig a trench a foot deep to house a path when the bricks you are using are only three inches high (I call it a sunken path and pretend I did it on purpose).

Mortality strikes unexpectedly in a garden. I had the scented equivalent of visions involving a mingled jasmine and honeysuckle hedge, but the jasmine turned itself into a sorry bundle of twigs. I have no idea why the twin rosemary bushes which started so well have now become brown and crispy. Other things, like whole crops of basil, disappear without a trace in a single night.

Admittedly, I am something of a natural disaster by myself; I have yet to confess to accidentally mowing down an asparagus plant or weeding bulbs I planted a few weeks before. I put rose fertiliser on the miniature rose bush, which offended it mortally. It is now an accusatory stick by the front door.

For each of these failures, though, there are successes. The Michaelmas daisies that came from the garden of my friend’s dead mother-in-law stand tall and proud, almost unique in that I know what they are. Around them froths an exuberant sea of orange thingies that self seeded from next door. These are pleasingly matched by the blue thingies with the delicate green fronds, similarly welcome migrants.

Our garden is a bit like a reverse mullet; party at the front, where I am allowed to grow all the flowers I want, and business out the back. If R had her way, I think we would dig over the entire back lawn for vegetables. As it is, we cram in corn, garlic, pumpkins, rhubarb, blueberries, courgettes, asparagus and tomatoes, with aubergines, chilis and basil flourishing on the windowsill. I forgot to put the labels on the seedlings, so some of this will depend on guesswork.

On weekends I have discovered the earthy pleasures of digging, mowing and weeding, the satisfaction of a truly ugly hat and the revelation of knee pads. On weeknights my flowers greet me as I turn the corner at the end of my road with a floral round of applause. It is most gratifying.

Gypsophilia Floribundum or Made Up Gardening Stuff