An Uncomfortable Truth

June 8, 2020

Black lives matter. Well, of course they do. But as a slogan for our times, it is basically a RACIST rant. All lives matter. Black, brown, yellow, pink, off-white – they all matter! To suggest only black lives matter, is to turn your back on well over half the human race. And surely that can’t be right.

I understand it is a form of words rooted in frustration and the ongoing struggle against the cultural constrictions of our times. But, I repeat, it is a racist message. It highlights and reinforces division. To use racism to fight racism is the road to hell.

The outrage that has gripped many nations in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the USA, is likely fuelled by resentment over Covid-19’s extreme impact on black communities. In the UK some of the most disadvantaged sections of society have suffered dreadfully because of the disease. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other black backgrounds face a much higher risk of death – of between 10% and 50% – compared with white Britons from Covid-19. People of Bangladeshi background face the greatest danger of dying from the disease, according to a review by Public Health England. Their risk of death is double that seen among white British people.

The failure to tackle the disproportionate number of deaths of black, Asian and minority ethnic people from coronavirus fuels simmering tensions over racial injustice in Britain today. It is time we took the bull of structural racism by the horns. Be open, be honest. We aren’t going to get rid of racism overnight, but there are a number of things that can be done. As Mark Hendrick, the MP for Preston, recently said:

“Racism has bedevilled our societies through the generations; but the economic, social and health inequalities highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic have exposed racism in a way humanity has never seen before. Long after this crisis is over, we will be judged on how we sought to eradicate the virus of individual and structural racism by dealing with the conditions that have created it.”

Racism in the UK has changed significantly since I was a child. You no longer see signs in windows stating ‘Rooms To Let – No Blacks, No Foreigners’. Even so racism is as ill-understood and consequently remains as unaddressed today as it was way back then.

The Macpherson report published in February 1999 concluded that the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence “was marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers”. This institutional racism, the report explained, is “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”

Among its many recommendations, the report suggested that the police force boost its black representation, and that all officers be trained in racism awareness and cultural diversity. For a short period of time, activity took place that trained police officers to understand what “less favourable treatment” looked like and who and why it should be avoided. But as soon as the coalition government came to power almost all equality training was stopped.

“We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist. We seem to think that true racism only exists in the hearts of evil people. We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power. When a large proportion of the population votes for politicians and political efforts that explicitly use racism as a campaigning tool, we tell ourselves that such huge sections of the electorate simply cannot be racist, as that would render them heartless monsters. But this isn’t about good and bad people. The covert nature of structural racism is difficult to hold to account. It slips out of your hands. You can’t spot it as easily as a St George’s flag and a bare belly at an English Defence League march. It’s much more respectable than that.”

Racism is a societal issue that is present in many institutions. A person of colour within the UK is four times more likely to end up in prison than their white counterparts. Four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act. BAME people account for over 50% of all stop and searches despite accounting for less than 15% of the population. Though, statistically, BAME people are more likely to access higher education than their white British peers, they are still far more likely to be unemployed afterwards. Whether it’s due to racial bias, pack mentality or anything else, our institutions seem like they’re built to preserve the status quo and lock BAME people out.

So, we should ALL reflect and closely inspect the lives we lead and ask ourselves how can we challenge discrimination in its many and often subtle nuances? It’s the responsibility of each and everyone of us to help work towards a fairer and more just world – a world in which rewards are give for merit and effort, not skin colour. It would also be good to remind ourselves (I include government here) that a state of paralysis is not one from which change can occur.

As Steve Taylor, Ph.D. wrote recently: “It is also helpful to remember that there is no biological basis for dividing the human race into distinct “races.” There are just groups of human beings — all of whom came from Africa originally — who developed slightly different physical characteristics over time as they traveled to, and adapted to, different climates and environments. The differences between us are very fuzzy and very superficial. Fundamentally, there are no races — just one human race.”

The lockdown enjoys huge popular support, according to polls, but those same polls also tell us a third of people who back the lockdown are routinely breaking the rules. And that’s just the ones willing to make an admission to pollsters. The real figure is undoubtedly much higher.

The wheels have fallen off the world, but the media is only interested in Dominic Cummings!

No wonder newspaper circulations are declining so rapidly.

But why is he the man we love to hate?

David Cameron described him as a “career psychopath”. Other MPs and ministers have variously described him as: “that jumped-up oik”, “a mutant virus”, “an unelected foul-mouthed oaf”. Well, of course, he headed up the Vote Leave team and Brexit –

If you are unfortunate enough to have seen the ‘news’ footage of Dominic Cummings returning to his home to a chorus of bellowing and heckling from neighbours and media hacks, none of whom are social distancing, you might be forgiven for thinking, “Is this what we have become: a nation of bullies and snoopers, content to use anyone in public life as a cipher for our own resentments?”

Certainly there are questions about Dominic Cummings that need answers: why does he wear his jumper inside out? Does he have any ‘real’ close friends? And did he finally manage to employ some “weirdos and misfits” for number ten?

I think we’re going to have to wait some considerable time before these all important questions for the nation are honestly answered.

Men

April 6, 2020

What are men to rocks and mountains?

Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice

Sex Has a Way

March 10, 2020

Sex has a way of softening limbs,
oiling joints and melding hearts.

We burrow in closer
wrapping arms and legs over and under each other.

Earthy blanket of sleep covers us
two bodies releasing one breath.

Finding home,
coiled and tucked in each other’s sweat.

Wendy Lee

the first werewolves

March 8, 2020

wolfwoman

There is a certain irony here, because many of the first werewolves to be outed in society from the 16th through the 18th centuries were actually women. Just as our American ancestors had their Salem Witch Trials, Europe had its Werewolf Trials, and a large number of the so-called “werewolves” tortured and burned at the stake were female…In the 17th-century werewolf trials of Estonia, women were about 150 percent more likely to be accused of lycanthropy; however, they were about 100 percent less likely to be remembered for it.

There’s also a pronounced lack of female werewolves in popular culture. Their near absence in literature and film is explained away by various fancies: they’re sterile, an aberration, or — most galling of all — they don’t even exist. Their omission from popular culture does one thing very effectively: It prevents us, and men especially, from being confronted by hairy, ugly, uncontrollable women. Shapeshifting women in fantasy stories tend to transform into animals that we consider feminine, such as cats or birds, which are pretty and dainty, and occasionally slick and wicked serpents. But because the werewolf represents traits that are accepted as masculine — strength, large size, violence, and hirsutism — we tend to think of the werewolf as being naturally male. The female werewolf is disturbing because she entirely breaks the rules of femininity.

Julia Oldham
Why Are There No Great Female Werewolves?

write about anything

March 4, 2020

I suppose a poet ought to be an all-rounder and be able to write about anything, but that’s not how I work. I write about what I have to write about, not what I ought to write about. I do hope that my parental themes broach more universal themes, such as: themes of violence and gender issues, and our precarious relationship with the natural world, the exploitation of nature, women, children. I hope one day to write powerfully about the natural world for its own sake, though I have tried. Maybe I’ll write about the nature in my new locale, Cornwall, as I get to know it in some depth, who knows?

Pascale Petit
Interviewed by Antony Huen

I squatted on the wet straw and stretched out my hand. I was now within the field of force of his golden eyes. He growled at the back of his throat, lowered his head, sank on to his forepaws, snarled, showed me his red gullet, his yellow teeth. I never moved. He snuffed the air, as if to smell my fear; he could not.

Slowly, slowly he began to drag his heavy, gleaming weight across the floor towards me.

A tremendous throbbing, as of the engine that makes the earth turn, filled the little room; he had begun to purr. . . .

He dragged himself closer and closer to me, until I felt the harsh velvet of his head against my hand, then a tongue, abrasive as sandpaper. “He will lick the skin off me!”

And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shiny hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.

Angela Carter
The Tiger’s Bride

like a ravenous wolf

January 4, 2020

She said to me, this pretty girl in the beach bar:

“Por algum motivo não consigo ficar longe de você.”

I replied with a shrug, as if this were an everyday occurrence for me:

“Fine. Está bem!”

Later, after we’d finished our drinks, I took her to my tiny room which was smaller than Harry Potter’s staircupboard and eat her out like a ravenous wolf. It was the first act in a play of good sex and long conversation that lasted all through the night. In the morning, before she left, she said:

“Sexo oral resolve muita coisa.”

Her laughter followed her down the stairs like the sound of fairy bells. It was a sound that enchanted me – made me glad to be alive. And the taste of her, still on my tongue, was the taste of pure wickedness!

P

The border

November 19, 2019

The border is a line that birds cannot see. The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half. The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires. The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe. The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend. The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein. The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going. The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many. The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red. The border is a jump rope still there even after the game is finished.  The border is a real crack in an imaginary dam. The border used to be an actual place, but now, it is the act of a thousand imaginations. The border, the word border, sounds like order, but in this place they do not rhyme. The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest. The border smells like cars at noon and wood smoke in the evening. The border is the place between the two pages in a book where the spine is bent too far. The border is two men in love with the same woman. The border is an equation in search of an equals sign. The border is the location of the factory where lightning and thunder are made. The border is “NoNo” The Clown, who can’t make anyone laugh. The border is a locked door that has been promoted. The border is a moat but without a castle on either side. The border has become Checkpoint Chale. The border is a place of plans constantly broken and repaired and broken. The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier. The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist. The border is the line in new bifocals: below, small things get bigger; above, nothing changes. The border is a skunk with a white line down its back.

Alberto Ríos
The Border: A Double Sonnet