Sunday, 25 February 2018

Is Death Better than Bondage?

Black people continue to live with the pain and consequences of enslavement and colonisation. This has meant having to grow up with limited resources and, very often, few prospects. So many of us have faced so much frustration and hopelessness that we have been compelled to believe that we have to exist as if there is nothing to live for. Criminality, violence, drug abuse and illegal immigration have become easily embraceable life choices for too many of us. Our environments and perceptions essentially have our futures chained down and locked away.

In spite of the poverty and exclusion that Black communities have to contend with there are people of exceptional talent emerging from them on an ongoing basis. And for those who may not be sought out for their talents they stil have a great capacity for growth and development. The wisdom and maturity they garner from their lives is something they can share around them and pass on to future generations to keep hope alive. Even in the most oppressive captivity the mind has the potential and capacity to grow and evolve. And it is sometimes in these darkest moments that we may do our clearest thinking. Being shackled by dogma and self doubt is what really keeps us in bondage. Supporting those around us and leaving something of worth for posterity is certainly worth living for.

The history of slavery has shown us that those who refused to lie down and die but fought the hardest to resist oppression and escape enslavement went on to become the torchbearers for future generations. Not only did they uplift the people around them but they also left a legacy of honour and dignity for the human race as a whole.

Given the choice everyone would want to die free but it is also important to fight to create a better future for coming generations whatever the cost to ourselves. Sometimes it takes the effort of the many to realise the vision of a few. And maybe the prospect of the life we could not live is the greatest inheritance we can pass on to future generations.

I don’t mind the idea of dying fighting for freedom. Then even with my dying breath I will still feel a tinge of hope. That can inspire hope and fight in others. Even if you’ve done wrong, fighting for redemption can bring new life to you and others. To achieve that would be to truly be free.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Beyond Housing the Homeless

Housing is a focal point of social life in the UK. Not only is it key to quality of life, it is also a major determinant of social and economic status. A lot of people’s wellbeing is tied to their access to housing and their capacity for home ownership. Interest rates and mortgage provision are key indicators for the UK economy.

In spite of the social importance of housing too many people are becoming homeless, and remaining so for long periods. In many cases once a person becomes homeless they are no longer able to access council services or housing benefits. At the turn of the new millennium most local councils withdrew from provision of homeless hostels. This meant that charity shelters became the major source of temporary walk in accommodation for the homeless.

Two of the major causes of homelessness are family and emotional breakdown. The turmoil that results often leads to mental ill health, substance misuse and isolation. There are children caught up in sexual exploitation and adults losing their jobs who are finding themselves sleeping rough. An extended period of homelessness further traumatises individuals. There can’t be any success in tackling homelessness without also addressing the root causes. Too often people in crisis are left to suffer complete breakdown before they reach a threshold for public services. This often means that even when given temporary accommodation their lives have become so vulnerable and chaotic that they are unable to maintain it.

Too many local councils are tackling homelessness by putting people into bed and breakfast accommodation, and then passing responsibility on to central government funded housing benefits services. They are not doing any follow up or even collecting data about how many reported homeless people are ending up rough sleeping. This neglect extends to when rough sleepers apply for services. They are not prioritised, given support or followed up when their accommodation needs are being dealt with.

Politicians profer soundbites about creating more affordable housing to combat all housing problems. However, the homeless experience complex problems that can’t be resolved just by offering housing. There is a need for formal services to engage people who are sleeping rough, and dedicated care and support provision to get people resettled. They need ongoing help to deal with the trauma of being homeless and the complexities of bureaucracy. Public funded hostels are needed to provide bridging support for people at risk of homelessness and those currently sleeping rough. These hostels should be staffed with peripatetic or on site care and support workers. More recognition is needed of the need to care for vulnerable people before they become socially excluded.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

An interesting exploration of the lives of two mixed race girls growing up in South East London. It takes us on a journey through a life chasing dreams and dodging poverty. The story touches on the madness of celebrity from glamour, to superficial relationships and the accessorising of African poverty.

The story hints at a lot of things without dwelling too deeply on them. It’s never quite clear what social significance the different gender racial mix makes. There also doesn’t seem to be much insight into Tracey’s father fractious relationships. What were his feelings about his previous family? Did he develop a fetish for Black women at some point? How did he become involved with Aimee?

The story does delve into the phenomenon of celebrity adoption of Africa as a pet charity project. However, it does gloss over local corruption and repression and how these celebrities’ endorsement may or not contribute to it.

Her treatment of romantic relationships wasn’t altogether convincing. Some didn’t really add up or really seem particularly likely. They read as unsatisfactory as they eventually turned out in the book.

Some very interesting themes in there but it was a difficult read and not altogether enjoyable.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Spotlight on culture of sexual abuse and harassment

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has brought out into the open a history and culture of sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation that has become pervasive in day to day life in the USA and UK. Not only has it given victims a voice, it has also meant abusers are now being held to account irrespective of wealth and status. There are some exceptions, of course. It has also opened up a debate about notions of male entitlement and the casual mistreatment of women that has become normalised over time. The usual excuses for inappropriate and indecent sexual behaviour are now being held up to scrutiny and rightly dismissed and condemned. The UK Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon has had to resign claiming that what was acceptable in the past is now no longer acceptable. People have been quick to correct him that it was never acceptable just accepted because the perpetrators had power and influence.

The Black entertainment industry has a notorious reputation for misogyny and sexual violence. It might seem like there’s no point in raising it but this is probably an ideal time to call it out and hopefully put an end to it. The music industry needs to take more responsibility for the well-being of its workers and behaviour of its stars. Sexual harassment and exploitation are so endemic that it is taken for granted. That needs to change. This is important for the safety of people just trying to do a job, the professionalism of the business and the integrity of the art.

In Nigeria sexual abuse and exploitation of women have been pervasive and routine across all walks of life. Not only is the abusive behaviour normalised, it is also unchallenged. It is so ingrained in social culture that banks recruit young females to market banking products with the understanding that customers will see them as sexually available. Many of these women, single or married, are often coerced into sleeping with prospective customers in the hope of securing new account business. Lecturers in further and higher education routinely proposition female students with offers of better grades or threat of failing for sexual favours. This behaviour has gone on unchecked forever. This is a country where some regions have sought to legalise child brides. It is time for all the countries providing international aid for development and governance training to exert influence to challenge inappropriate behaviour. It is impossible to promote the empowerment and development of women when they can’t feel safe in social and professional settings.

In Nigeria, and many parts of sub Saharan Africa, there is a psycho-social dynamic driving the sexually predatory behaviour. There is an almost primordial inclination to see women as objects subject exclusively to the will of a man. It is a traditional mindset that sees man as the head of the family and women as subservient subjects with no will of their own. Unfortunately it still persists into the 21st century and shows little sign of abating. Now some men want to continue to dominate and demean the women in their lives. And women who have become high achievers, and even family breadwinners, still find themselves at the mercy of envious and insecure men who want to humiliate and brutalise them.

All societies need to take action to address sexual harassment and exploitation in professional and personal situations. A lot needs to be done to change prevailing attitudes towards sexually inappropriate behaviour. Victims should not be coerced and intimidated into silence. Also, perpetrators should not be allowed to pay off or threaten victims in order to cover up misconduct. Knowing what is appropriate behaviour and being held to account for sexually inappropriate conduct should be standards that are ingrained in the fabric of all societies.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Guns are the Problem

President Trump doesn’t think that this is the time to talk about gun control. If not following the worst gun massacre in America’s history I wonder when is. It may not be clear to Donald Trump but the National Rifle Association is not as interested in the welfare of American citizens as its lobbyists would like us to believe. The over thirty thousand people killed by guns in the last year suggests that something isn’t right. And it is possible that gun possession might be at the heart of the problem.

The American people have come to believe that constitutionally guaranteed rights are inalienable. I think the continued espousal of the second amendment rights means it’s time to challenge that notion. The second amendment was meant for a time when America was made up of isolated and unprotected settlements. The Wild West was a desperate time, it was every man for himself, and clearly gender equality was inconceivable. However, in the 21st century there is no rational reason to bear arms routinely. There might be a rational to take up arms in self defence but then one would have to be under threat. To be under that kind of threat one would have to be living in a failed state or a complete collapse of law and order.

There remain serious questions about the justification for not having more rigorous control of gun ownership. However, the real issue that is probably even more concerning is the mentality that drives Americans to believe individual gun ownership is required to ensure their personal safety and overall wellbeing. The idea that guns are needed to protect a way of life seems so completely out of step with modern day sensibilities. There is little or no evidence to suggest that even a significant number of people have required a gun for any form of self defence. Nor can it be said that open carry policies create anything other than an atmosphere of heightened fear and anxiety. It does appear that at this point in time gun ownership has created a less safe and more dangerous environment for all law abiding citizens.

Relaxed gun control regulation has led to the adoption of related policies  that have created an unsafe environment. ‘Open carry’ policies seem a clear provocation to aggression and intimidation. ‘Stand your ground’ policies certainly hark back to lawless frontier times. It almost appeals to some sort of wild eyed savagery that is reminiscent of prehistoric times. Access to semi automatic weapons is hardly a proportional response to a desire for self protection. It all comes down to a circular argument justifying gun ownership by citing protection against criminal entities. However, criminals are so well armed because of the free access to guns, legal or otherwise. This means it’s harder for law enforcement to contain criminal violence therefore making it necessary for individuals to own weapons to protect themselves.

An inalienable right should be one that is required for sustaining individual life and dignity; as well as protecting social order. Gun ownership in modern times cannot be said to meet that standard. The mentality that puts gun ownership above a right to life is one which suggests a slide towards stateless lawlessness. The onus for law enforcement and protection of liberty cannot be solely down to individual perception of safety. For as long as it isn’t possible to guarantee that owners of guns will use them responsibly there is a need to change the mindset that everyone should be entitled to own a gun. The enjoyment of shooting cannot override the threat of innocent people being shot and murdered without provocation.

Thursday, 28 September 2017


What’s the point of running if you can’t come to a stop?
What’s the use of sitting if you can’t get up?
Of what use is believing if you can’t take a knee?
How can it be fair when we’re not treated equally?

Who wants a rose that can’t be held?
What do you do with iron you cannot weld?
Is there any good in being slick if you can’t feel friction?
How good is a tale if it’s all just fiction?

How can you be unique if you’re not truly different?
How can it be clear if it’s not really apparent?
How can you love if you’ve never really lost?
Is hell different from the purgatory of Faust?
How can you live for so many years and only take a second to die?
If honesty is the best policy why is it so easy to lie?

Thursday, 21 September 2017

A Failing Association

Football across the British Isles is a bonding experience for children and adults of all ethnicities and genders. People grow up playing, watching and enjoying the game. And while it is true that it has become a lucrative form of employment for professionals; it is also a unifying experience for many supporters and amateur players out there. It is because of this that the Football Association has a responsibility to set standards for both the performance and administration of the game. In recent times however, the FA has struggled to demonstrate any moral responsibility for the well-being of the game or its minority group players.

The FA investigation into charges of bullying and discrimination in the case of Eniola Aluko and Lianne Sanderson fell very short of any standard of fairness and thoroughness. The barrister appointed to lead the investigation appeared to not have a lot of understanding of the nuances of racism and discrimination. It was right that she should have looked for evidence of the claims made. However, in cases of racism there is a need to also explore attitudes and the environment in which the alleged incidents occurred. In basing her findings solely on the conclusion that there wasn’t any overriding proof she made little effort to actually even explore what the experience of the alleged victim of discrimination was. This showed a lack of sensitivity and an ignorance of the social context of racism.

It is ludicrous that a second investigation should have actually concluded with a decision after Eniola Aluko declined to cooperate with it. While her non cooperation was far from ideal, without it any findings could hardly have been credible. The investigation didn’t question Mark Sampson as to why he had made earlier self admitted remarks about Ebola. It also seems strange that Mark Sampson was cleared without the investigation actually giving Lianne Sanderson a hearing in person. It was almost as if her claims had already been deemed unsubstantial. This is in addition to no effort being made to interview Drew Spence about prejudicial comments made to her in the presence of some other England players.

The FA should have realised the Eniola Aluko being dropped from the England squad following her complaint would give the appearance of victimisation. There should have been more effort taken to explain the reason for her exclusion to her in person. This would have given her a forum to express her feelings about it. The FA then paying up her contract and paying a further sum for a non disclosure agreement certainly seems like an effort to quash rather than resolve the issue.

While Mark Sampson’s eventual sacking as England Women’s Football Manager is claimed to be unrelated to the allegations of bullying and discrimination it does raise significant questions. The incidents at Bristol Academy clearly show that he was not a person of unimpeachable character. It also further demonstrates that the FA and its coterie of advisors are barely competent or capable of simple good judgement. The FA claiming that the incidents in Bristol showed no safeguarding risks seems to fly in the face of adult protection requirements and standards. There may not been any child protection concerns but multiple adult protection concerns should have been flagged immediately.

The FA is an organisation that makes a big show of publicly espousing social responsibility. However, in its operations it doesn’t demonstrate much social awareness or much of a social conscience. Almost every opportunity it has to act with integrity and address traditional and institutional bias falls woefully short. There is so much focus on being seen to be doing the right thing that there isn’t much capacity to actually understand what is right and act appropriately so. Providing a platform for the young to thrive in the game and for players to be supported and protected, where necessary, should be one of the first principles of the organisation. Unfortunately, that seems to be what comes last in consideration if you work for the Football Association.