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

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

The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us

The monsters are all around us. Our neighbours have turned into pitiless, mindless horrors. These puppet creatures cannot be reasoned with; they are motivated only by their need to consume.

I’m talking of course about the English electorate. I’ve heard lots of arguments about how we have to be kind to each other now, and we do. But we also have to recognise that 36% of the electorate decided that the deficit was more important than people. We also have to recognise that homophobic racists constitute the third biggest electoral group in the country.

So I hope I’m not alone in keeping a careful eye on my neighbours just now.

Rather than give up and slide into a morass of fear and defeatism, I am going to make my survival plan. The apocalypse can only take those who are not prepared! I am going to Tory-proof my home and my family.

Now Tory-proofing is pretty easy if you have a household income of above £100 000. You will be able to afford private healthcare, private schools for your kids, hell, you can probably even afford to buy into a private militia as well. You might miss your human rights and your fire department, but generally, things aren’t going to be too bad for you.

For the rest of us, we are going to have to take steps to weather not just the next five years, but the damage they will do afterwards.

I will post my plans here, so we can all be safe.

The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us

When good people say bad things

Saying something racist or homophobic is a bit like taking your eyes off the road for a second when you are driving and clipping a pedestrian.

When you are driving there are no free passes. If you hurt someone, it doesn’t matter how careful you have always been or how slowly you usually drive. Nothing in the past changes the fact that right now, here, you have made a mistake. You didn’t mean to do it, but the damage is done. You can’t claim that you are in a relationship with a pedestrian so you know what hurts them and what doesn’t or that the pedestrian that you ran over last week didn’t mind.

Lots of drivers get angry at the pedestrians they hurt. They get angry that the pedestrian is in their way, or blame pedestrians for being so squishy. Some pedestrians pretend they haven’t been hurt just to avoid this kind of response. It’s even been known for drivers to run over a pedestrian they have clipped because they are so angry. Sometimes I think it is because anger is a much more comfortable emotion than shame. It is easier to blame the pedestrian for getting hurt than to admit that you did something wrong and you are horrified at yourself.

Fortunately, metaphorical car accidents are much more easily solved than real ones. If you can get over the shame and not let it move into anger, you can apologise. You can resolve to do better. You can think about the underlying attitudes that prompted the mistake and start laying down new thought processes.

Having to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists and motorbike riders is annoying when you are driving a nice sports car, but remember you are having a much more comfortable ride. Cars are great, you just have to be careful with them.

When good people say bad things

Stop the removal of Aboriginal people from their land

From abroad, Australian politics is a bit like knowing there are rats in the sewers; it’s nasty situation, but it’s easy to ignore. The latest move from a government which makes little secret of its aggressive racism towards Aboriginals is to threaten to close down Aboriginal communities in the Outback of Western Australia saying that “these lifestyle choices” are “not viable”.

Federal, state and local government are squabbling over who should pay for basic amenities in these towns. Federal government handed over enough money to fund the communities for three years, but the West Australian state government now says that using the money is not warranted because of the small number of people living in each township.

It is worth remembering that Australia was largely unaffected by the global recession; its economy had tanked several years previously and business is now booming. There are no austerity measures and there is no need to conserve cash, in fact, Australia provides amply for any number of tiny white settlements, including sports facilities. There is a place in Western Australia called Payne’s Find, which has more tennis courts than people, all maintained by the state government.

The Outback settlements were the Aboriginal community’s solution to the social destruction which plagued their people. Genocide, the appropriation of their lands, the wholesale theft of their children, wage agreements which were little more than slavery, mass unemployment after bosses fired them rather than pay a fair wage have all decimated the Aboriginal peoples. By the 1980s alcoholism was rife, along with its associated problems. The towns that the West Australian government want to close down are dry, they use the old traditions to make a living, guiding tours and making boomerangs to sell in city co-operatives. These are the ‘lifestyle choices’ the government says it can no longer afford to fund.

The WA government has said that between 100 and 150 Outback towns will have to be closed, but has given no indication of what criteria there will be for measuring the ‘viability’ of a town. Even the threat alone is despicable; these are peoples who have been abused by their government for generations, the threat of having their land taken once more has the same effect as deliberately letting off fireworks in an army veteran’s ear.

Please spare a minute to tweet, email or write to Colin Barnett, the premier of Western Australia who is behind the WA decision. His twitter handle is @ColinBarnett, his email address is wa-government@dpc.wa.gov.au There is also a petition to stop the removal here. We need to tell the government of Western Australia that the world is watching them; we are not prepared to ignore the rats any longer.

Stop the removal of Aboriginal people from their land