Othering

I’ve spent quite a lot of this week reading and hiding comments on a boosted post on Facebook that I created on behalf of the charity I work for. It is about an appeal raising funds for humanitarian aid projects run by the tiny minority of Christians in the Gaza Strip.

The boosted post has been targeted to be seen by people who, among other things, have expressed an interest in the poverty alleviation, international development and the Middle East.

Comments I have seen include fair questions: how do we know the money doesn’t fall into the hands of Hamas? How do we know we are funding the truly needy, given there is wealth in Gaza, albeit in the hands of people doing nothing for the most marginalised and vulnerable population?

Then there’s the questions edging towards something else: Why have we chosen to support people, who over the years appear not to help themselves?

These questions are tricky to answer on Facebook (or anywhere) so we answer them through different channels.

And then there’s the other comments.

  • Tell the moslems that are here claiming benefits to send them money.
  • Donate to a country that teaches it’s children the importance of killing all Jews?
  • F*$! them. Their all the same underneath: appeasing Islam is like sponsoring your own assassination
  • BLOW IT UP IS A BETTER IDEA.
  • Every family that is scarf is because they have brought up bloody terrorist muzzrat ….so go f yourselves f’ing c’s….
  • And there was me thinking all they wanted was more guns to kill Christians and Jews with.
  • Won’t be saying that when the Muslim brotherhood are raping white women, committing XXXXXXXXX atrocities on British kids and killing non Muslims. All with the love of their prophet the XXXXXXXX*

I went to Gaza earlier this year and met some of the Christians and Muslims running the humanitarian aid projects. I sat and ate with them as they told me of their struggles living in a place even the UN state is going to be unlivable by 2020. I sat in the ‘homes’ of Palestinians of different faiths who have nothing, literally nothing, and are only alive because of the work of the projects. It affected me, of course it did, but I tell this because I anticipate one of the responses to this blog may be – you’re responding emotionally…

Two things: I’m not, I’m a professional. I am, I’m a human. Telling me I am responding emotionally to a humanitarian crisis or the cold-blooded murder of a woman in the street, and the motivators that drive those acts is small and meaningless criticism. Of course I am. Next.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks everyone should see the pain and destruction in the world, then step back and vote dispassionately, great. But there are more people voting because of greed, hatred and fear or because of love, compassion and hope. I understand both of them more.

The man who murdered British MP Jo Cox turns out to be a far-right extremist, stating clear indicators during his initial court hearing and appears to affiliated with and has campaigned for a far-right political party.

His actions are being excused by some: he’s just a nutcase; he’s mentally ill; he’s a lone wolf; there’s nothing we could have done; some people will always do things like this.

And yet, they don’t. Hardly anyone walks up to a public servant in the street and kills them. Hardly anyone takes an automatic weapon into a gay nightclub in Florida and kills 49 people.

What does happen every day is that people are othered. They are dehumanised. People are labelled every single day. Language and images are used that are damaging.

Migrants and refugees are conflated daily by the independent but influenced BBC. So-called documentaries chart the shenanigans of our benefit scrounging neighbours, our corrupt public servants.  Publicly and loudly leaders in all sorts of spheres appeal to their people  by exploiting their understandable fears – that there may not be a job, an education for their kids, help when they’re ill.   And a significant and influential proportion of our beleaguered media who report what is said, and sometimes what isn’t.

“You’ve got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life.” Cameron 30/7/15. Under the  previous  Labour  government,  Home  Secretary  David  Blunkett  was  criticised  for referring to child asylum seekers as ‘swamping’ some British schools (BBC  News, 2002).

The poisonous vitriol our local MP has been on the end of over his Leave position and ClKf_zhWAAA6vz_pretty much anything else he’s ever done.

“The London Mayor – who is backing the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union – criticised the US President for his intervention in the EU referendum debate, adding his attitude to Britain might be based on his “part-Kenyan” heritage and “dislike of the British Empire”.  Boris Johnson 22/4/16.

“Media [coverage of the migrant crisis] also differed widely in terms of the predominant themes to their coverage. For instance, humanitarian themes were more common in Italian coverage than in British, German or Spanish press. Threat themes (such as to the welfare system, or cultural threats) were the most prevalent in Italy, Spain and Britain. Overall, the Swedish press was the most positive towards refugees and migrants, while coverage in the United Kingdom was the most negative, and the most polarised. Amongst those countries surveyed, Britain’s right-wing media was uniquely aggressively in its campaigns against refugees and migrants.”[1]

Othering has always happened, it always will happen.  I have been guilty of it myself and will be again.

I’ve said a few times in the EU Ref campaign that I have spoken to people on both sides of the debate, who have realised a piece of evidence, or position they hold is wrong or tenuous at best. And they won’t change their vote. They hold on to their position above and beyond what the evidence points to. They *want* to be right about their view. Their passion to see wrongs righted has been disassociated from compassion towards  people that are going to be impacted by their choice and are already being impacted by our colonial past. That rose tinted past that never existed.

To deny that othering happens is to be complicit in the consequences of it. Complicit in all of the mess and murder that happens as a result. Harsh? Yes, and I include myself in that condemnation. To say we can’t do anything about it is to give up on each other – the other who might not be my colleague/friend/family member who thinks the same way I do about everything. and who never challenges me or my world view.  The other who is a human too no matter where the luck of their birth placed them on this earth.

 

*I had to delete some words, because there is some sort of attention I don’t want my blog to attract.

[1] UNHCR: Press Coverage of the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in the EU: A Content Analysis of Five European Countries:  http://www.unhcr.org/56bb369c9.pdf

Extra reading: Our health and theirs: Forced migration, othering, and public health. Natalie J. Grove, Anthony B. Zwi School of Public Health and Community Medicine, The University of New South Wales https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7524802_Our_Health_and_Theirs_Forced_Migration_Othering_and_Public_Health

 

 

Thinking about criticising Nomakeupselfie

makeupNomakeupselfie caused no small controversy over the last few days. The idea, which has no uncontestable origin isn’t actually all that easy to describe. Ok, well the selfie of yourself with no make is, but the reason for doing it was hard to pick out as it seemed to be different on each selfie.

To this casual observer, the original aim seemed to be to “raise awareness of cancer.” The pedant in me scoffed, most people are fully aware of cancer. Asking to raise awareness of cancer, rather than awareness of how to spot it, prevent it or how to help fight it, is sort of like saying be aware of your teeth, rather than be aware of how to look after them.

As the day wore on, more selfies were accompanied by donation details, or messages of support for people suffering cancer or to those that had lost people to the disease.  Photos of men wearing making up to join in started to appear and caused much hilarity.

Those going makeup-less were being labelled brave for doing so and that’s when I start to get uncomfortable. I expressed these concerns last year when Children In Need launched their #BearFaced campaign. A friend of mine God Loves Women wrote a great blog explains well why she thinks going makeup-less is not something that should be a fundraising method. I agree. That there are people out there who feel being seen without make up is something difficult is a very sad thing and I do say good on you to all the women who yesterday overcame a fear.

But I have two major concerns regarding #nomakeupselfie the first being two really important subjects got blurred.

Fighting cancer by raising money for research and support is really important. Fighting misogyny, sexism and bullying that leaves women thinking they can’t be beautiful in their own skin is really important. Nomakeupselfie wasn’t about comparing the bravery of those going without make up to those suffering from cancer; I didn’t see that happen. But a lot of the commentary and discussions on the topic did try to point out that the selfies weren’t as hard to do as fight cancer.

I don’t think it should be a competition about which fight is harder. Cancer is evil. But women still walk our streets being treated as cattle, and look in the mirror believing that they are nothing without donning a mask both physical and mental is evil too.

They are two different fights and neither is more important than the other.  

Secondly, I think it should be ok to criticise a movement like Nomakeupselfie which had no one steering it and no directed outcome.

Cancer Research UK have benefited from the donations but fundraising is a complex operation. Other planned campaigns may well have been impacted because of the giving that has happened now. Charities often plan their marketing/fundraising drives for when they need the money most. Will CRUK suffer later because people may think –  I gave back in March? What knock on effect does it have for many other cancer charities? March is Marie Curie month. Will their donations go down? National charities plan together to ensure they don’t do themselves out of donation by asking for the same thing at once.

Of course, it is impossible to stop something viral once it has got going, but we have to be aware of the ramifications of getting involved. Remember Kony 2012, an experiment to see if a home made video could make a war criminal famous so that he would be stopped from committing more heinous crimes? Millions of people shared the video, hardly any of them watched it (it was 23 minutes long after all)  and although the intention was good, slactivism was born. Slactivism is defined as  a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed.

In Kony 2012, damage was also done to individuals and the cause because of an ill researched campaign, which in turn has had a negative impact on the power of social media to be a power for good in charitiable works. Too many “click to support” campaigns with no clear messages, or ones that cause confusion or other matters to be jumbled into the mix just aren’t helpful.

It was easy to see why people thought to criticise the nomakeupselfie was to undermine the women who do struggle to see themselves without make up. But questioning the campaign wasn’t about that, it is about asking whether viral campaigns really do good in the long run.

CRUK have an extra £1m to play with, for now. Those women who have body image or self esteem problems and went makeupless may have had some nice comments and friends may now take more notice. I really hope so. But couldn’t more directed, planned, researched campaigns do more? With links and materials and helplines ready to serve those who have been affected?

And in general, it should be ok to question charities and charitiable works. Just because someone has decided to do something that has benefited a charity, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be looked at. I saw plenty of people castigated yesterday for daring to say they weren’t comfortable with the Selfies.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Just raising money isn’t enough – these days we need to be clear on why and how we’re helping. The nomakeupselfie confuses the lines between fighting misogyny, fighting cancer and fighting the impact of either or both of those things on our lives. But you can’t cure a low self esteem or cancer by whopping a photo on Facebook.

 

ETA: I’ve just seen a #nomakeupselfie where the Tweeter set up a direct debit to Refuge, a women’s domestic violence charity. I’m even more confused.  There definitely is something backwards about indicating it is a very special, unusual, brave, amazement worthy thing to do to go make up free when you’re supporting a charity where women often leave their home in the middle of the night with a toddler under one arm and a baby on their back with not so much as a pair of clean knickers.  Especially when the tweeter is clearly aware she is a very photogenic young lady. That’s a different argument though.

Non apology apology: You and your children are racists

Apologising is hard to do, really hard. Sometimes one won’t ever be forthcoming and forgiveness should be offered anyway.

But I have a very low tolerance level for non apology apologies, also known as the “if apology”.  If someone is going to apologise it should be real, not a clever wordplay that makes someone think they’ve been apologised to when really they’ve been patronised or had the blame shifted to them.

Classic examples include saying “I’m sorry that you feel that way”  or “mistakes were made” or “I’m sorry if I’ve upset you.” None of these are actually apologies.

Of course, the words don’t always matter, genuine remorse does. When on the receiving end of an apology, we must take into account what we know of the person and the situation.

But for yonks I’ve wanted to start a section of this blog for non apology apologies and this doozer came my way today!

BBC News: Head teacher apologises over ‘racial discrimination’ letter

Head teacher Lynn Small apologised for “any inaccuracies” in the [earlier] letter, and asked parents to disregard the original letter.

(Extra points in this one for the lack of apology for using Comic Sans.)

Things that make me mad #6 Rejoicing over death

13_04_09

I was born the year before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and was only 11 when she stepped down.  I have vague memories of her term of office but nothing more. My mum was a fan while dad vehemently disliked her.

In the past 36 hours she’s been described over and over again as the first female Prime Minister. ‘Only’ would be more correct. She may not have described herself as a feminist, but to see a woman hold such a position of power did have an impact on me. I remember that much.

I always try to buy a paper when it holds something considered historic news and today was no exception. Why this event makes it into my “Things that make me mad” series is because I’ve been sickened by some of the ‘rejoicing and celebrating’ going on over her death. Hate her actions and politics, fine, but people who go out on the streets to dance over the death of any human needs to take a long, hard look at themselves. That I’ve seen Christians amongst them makes me even madder, especially as Baroness Thatcher was one too.