Today marks a significant confluence of anniversaries. It is 90 years since Maya Angelou was born and it is also 50 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated. Two dates, two greats. Both worked for human rights, dignity and respect. Indeed, they worked together in the 1960s when Angelou worked as a coordinator for MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Maya Angelou became a poet and writer after a childhood rape, teenage pregnancy, and sexuality doubts, indeed her range of occupations is rather enigmatic and curious: “Angelou drives cable cars, cooks, pimps, does exotic dancing, turns tricks, and sleeps in abandoned cars, all the while poring over serious literature.” – New Republic
She was a touring cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess and through hooking up with a South African freedom fighter moved to African becoming an editor-journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the early 1960s, the years of decolonisation.
She had a life of adventure and yet seemingly overcame adversity at every turn by luck, love, and self-belief. Nonetheless, she seems to have spent a lot of time in her life and her writing still searching and exploring herself.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Her words, worn of experience and yet polished to be poetry, if not a little preachy, remain timeless, and she is one of the most oft-quoted people on motivational memes.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you”.
She lived with many loves, had many lives, and published no less than seven autobiographies. The most famous, remains, her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1969.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom”
In 1972, she penned the first screenplay written by a black woman.
Receiving dozens of honorary degrees in her lifetime and a full-time professorship, despite no college degree, she was someone who succeeded irrespective of background and didn’t see “can’t” as a word in her extensive vocabulary.
From her time in the 1960s with MLK and Malcolm X to 2008 when she witnessed the inauguration of the first Black President in Barack Obama, though she backed Clinton, equality made limping progress. Angelou uttered then, that:
“We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism.”
Growing up, but not yet full-grown or mature. We have a way to go.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King was ever the optimist, preaching love over hate, peace over war, forgiveness over resentment.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
It was a belief that may have cost him his life, and not a little opposition from other members of the civil rights movement. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, King said to his wife, Coretta:
“This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.”
Five years later, he did indeed suffer the same fate. Fifty years ago today.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
United in their attitude to hate
Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou, alike, defied their haters. Their responses of love, resilience, and determination, remain inspiring after their deaths.
“You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.” – Maya Angelou
Maya spoke about being a blessing, of being a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. MLK’s words I take as inspiration every time I speak about our response to hate, violence or bigotry:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King
There’s still much to fight for
We don’t live in a post-civil rights era, we are still fighting for equality, still needing to celebrate diversity and be welcoming and not merely tolerant of difference.
We still need twenty-first-century visionary leaders, pacifist in intent, passionate in expression, powerful in action, and political in achievement.
To the Martin Luther Kings and Maya Angelous being born today we celebrate you. To those being cut down in their prime (two teens yesterday in London), we commemorate you.
Whether you live to 39 (MLK) or 86 (Maya), make a difference, and be memorable by removing the word “can’t” from your vocabulary and choosing not to be limited by your education, sex, colour, age, or any other social categorisation. You are the difference, you are the change.
Just how representative of the UK population as a whole were prospective parliamentary candidates and elected MPs in terms of gender, sexuality, disability, religion and colour/race/ethnicity? 97 new MPs joined the house, and Ken Clarke MP was re-elected as its oldest member and Father of the House. It is well known that, hitherto, the UK had the most LGB ‘out’ Parliament in the world, but not the most gender balanced, how has that changed after Theresa May‘s snap general election?
2017 sees 208 female Members of Parliament, up from 191 in 2015 (196 after by-elections). There were many seats where both the main candidates standing were female. 29% of candidates were women, 32% of those elected were – both records for the UK but not the world.
We were 46th in the world tables, we are now 39th. Guess who is first? Rwanda with 61% women, second is Bolivia with 53%. All others are less than 50%. Sweden (#6), Finland (#9), and Norway (#12=) are the top European nations, all Scandinavian. The first Western European nation is Spain at 14th and Belgium at 19th. Germany is 22nd but France 63rd! At this rate, 2062 would see gender balance in the UK Parliament.
Labourfielded 40% women, the Green Party 35% (statistically, of course, 100% of their MPs are female!), UKIP had 13%. Of those elected, there is wide variation among the political parties. Labour have 45% (119) and their leader in Scotland but never England (except as caretaker). Meanwhile, there are just 21% (67) among Conservative MPs despite a history of two Prime Ministers and their leader in Scotland.
Interesting that the DUP, the Conservatives in Scotland, and the Tories in England and Wales are all led by right-wing women, one of whom is anti-gay, another is gay, and another shifted to same-sex equality (through persuasion by a female LibDem MP) after a prior voting and campaigning record against it. Being a woman, it seems, is little impediment to political power in the UK. Indeed, add in Plaid Cymru, SNP, and for two weeks, even UKIP, only Labour (England and Wales) and LibDems haven’t been led by a woman.
Being female is no guarantee that one will hold pro-equality, pro-LGBT views. We now have a triumvirate of female-led parties forming a “confidence and supply” alliance to keep the Tories in power that may be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.
LGBTIQ Sexuality & Gender Identity
With 45 openly LGB MPs (19 Tory, 19 Labour, 7 SNP) that’s also a record and 6 up from 2015 – at 6.9% that’s close to the supposed 6% openly LGB numbers in the population (much higher among young people, of course). None among the 12 LibDems, though their female MPs balance at 4 out of 12 is somewhat restored.
Seven Trans and two Non-Binary candidates stood (just 4 in 2015, so, more than doubling) but none were elected, several have stood in council elections before. Eddie Izzard continues to hint that he may stand as an MP.
UK LGB MPs are the highest proportion anywhere in the world. We have the most rainbow Parliament – quite an affront to the homophobic DUP with whom 19 LGB Tory MPs may now have to do electoral business with.
Since 4.5% of the people standing for election (147/3304) were openly LGBTQ, it means that LGB candidates are up to 1.5x more likely to win. Tories and Labour had 7% LGBT candidates, SNP 17% and 20% of their elected MPs, despite reduced numbers. Surprisingly, only 2% of Greens (same as UKIP!) and 4% of LibDems were. White gay men outweigh any other LGBTQ demographic 5x and are the most likely to be elected. Curiously almost zero LGBT candidates stood in Greater East Anglia! There’s an opening for me yet 😉
Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic MPs
Of the 147 LGBTQ candidates, just one was BME, in 2015 that was two – both shamefully low, though we don’t know the number of non-out candidates. However, 51 BME MPs were elected on 8 June – an increase of 10. At 7.8% this is just over half of the 14% general population representation.
Britain also elected its first MP of Palestinian heritage as Layla Moran for the LibDems “overturned a Conservative majority of almost 10,000 votes to win the Oxford West and Abingdon. Moran won the closely contested election by only 816, gaining 26,252 votes.”
Just four openly physically disabled MPs were elected, 0.6% of Parliament, compared with 16% of the UK. Mental health is so stigmatised, one wonders if it were possible for someone to be ‘out’ with a diagnosed long term condition and an MP, other than depression and anxiety that affect 1-in-4 of us, and undoubtedly affect MPs similarly. It would be great to see a bipolar MP, to show it is possible to manage a bipolar life.
The new Parliament sees the UK’s first female Sikh MP, Preet Gill and its first turbaned male Sikh, Tanmanjeet Dhesi. Both are Labour MPs. In the past we’ve had 5 Sikh MPs in the last 15 years but never wearing a turban in the House of Commons.
In the wake of the Manchester concert bombing, it is perhaps significant that the city elected its first Muslim MP, Afzal Khan – who was also ten years ago their youngest and first British Pakistani and Muslim, Mayor of Manchester.
It shouldn’t matter, but it is interesting nonetheless with accusations that the Tories were run by the Eton and Bullingdon Club set, and even many who stood as Labour leader being Oxbridge educated.
The Sutton Trust believes that 51% of MPs were educated in comprehensive schools, and just 29% at public schools (ie privately educated). It is still disproportionately biased to private education, therefore.
In conclusion, our LGB representation continues to be the highest in the world, across the three largest parties – but not elsewhere, and close to the assumed proportion of the general population. Several Trans, Non-Binary and similar, stood but at 9 out of 3300, they are about 10x underrepresented in standing, and to date unelectable; are they being stood as no-risk candidates in unelectable areas, that’s an analysis I’ve not done yet. On gender, we are getting there slowly, but ranking 39th in the world is a poor result, albeit an improved one. Realistically with parenting issues, 45% of Parliament would be a good showing for women, rather than the 32% we have. BME and disability remain woefully underrepresented. How a Tory deal with the DUP, who are anti-diversity on just about every count, can be squared with Parliament and the electorate’s ever-progressive diversity, remains to be seen.
I hate ‘isms, whether capitalism or communism, neoliberalism or even postcapitalism. I also dislike ‘ities, whether cities or christianities – for there are thousands of incarnations of both. I prefer the land and environment of the countryside, not high-rise development living on top of each other, aspiring to the penthouse apartment, swarming like bees to a square mile of golden honey, gold handshake, gilded lifestyle of the 1 per cent. History has led us ever closer to each other in terms of where we live, with population expansion and the pressure to move towards the capitalist and industrialist means of production. Will the age of the Internet allow us to live out self-employment part-time creative dreams?
The EU – Peace & Prosperity in our time?
Will modernity bring or sustain peace? The European project, the EU, has been an ever expanding union in terms of peace, even prosperity perhaps, until the crash of 2008/9 affected us all as we shored up banks and capital but not people and livelihoods. Whilst the UK marginally voted to leave the European Union, assuming “Brexit means Brexit” as Theresa May so simply and yet evasively said, it is undeniable that however lumbering a bureaucratic behemoth ‘Brussels’ is, it has been on balance a force for good. The UK, well England in the main, recoiled nonetheless against ever increasing fiscal and foreign policy union.
NATO – “One for all and all for One”?
As with a nuclear “deterrent”, have defence pacts really saved us from wars? Arguably, NATO‘s 28 nations are neither at war with each other and would, in theory, defend each other against external aggression. In principle, at least, for Jeremy Corbyn has expressed his doubts and previously said that NATO only furthers capitalist self-interest and has had its time.
“I don’t wish to go to war. What I want to do is achieve a world where we don’t need to go to war, where there is no need for it. That can be done.” – Jeremy Corbyn
Who can disagree with that? Yet, the media focus is on the possible breaking of NATO Article 5 pledges instead. His words are idealistic rather than realistic but where would we be without ideals?
Capitalism and PostCapitalism?
In his 2015 book, Postcapitalism, Paul Mason argues, along with the OECD, that “the best of capitalism is behind us” and that with decreasing returns for the many inequality will rise 40%, as the few batten down the hatches. What lies beyond a breaking capitalism, not neoliberalism, for sure.
“Is it utopian to believe we’re on the verge of an evolution beyond capitalism? We live in a world in which gay men and women can marry, and in which contraception has, within the space of 50 years, made the average working-class woman freer than the craziest libertine of the Bloomsbury era. Why do we, then, find it so hard to imagine economic freedom?
… All readings of human history have to allow for the possibility of a negative outcome… But why should we not form a picture of the ideal life, built out of abundant information, non-hierarchical work and the dissociation of work from wages?
Millions of people are beginning to realise they have been sold a dream at odds with what reality can deliver. Their response is anger – and retreat towards national forms of capitalism that can only tear the world apart. Watching these emerge, from the pro-Grexit left factions in Syriza to the Front National and the isolationism of the American right has been like watching the nightmares we had during the Lehman Brothers crisis come true.
We need more than just a bunch of utopian dreams and small-scale horizontal projects. We need a project based on reason, evidence and testable designs, that cuts with the grain of history and is sustainable by the planet. And we need to get on with it.” – Paul Mason
Putting the Human where Capital once was
Humanism begins well, with human, but ends in another ism. An upside down society, as suggested by Jesus, where the last are first, the migrants welcomed, the poor ‘last hour workers’ paid well, the sick, disabled or mentally unwell treated with care, dignity, and respect, is possible. If, we choose to create it.
But it takes an ‘us’ not a ‘me’. So many recoil at immigration because of a perceived threat to self, status, employment, a drain on health or schooling. Yet migration is what history and evolution are all about, the development and expansion of humanity. Again, like humanism, humanity puts human beings first and then ends with an ‘ity’, another intangible unified concept, a utopian ideal that lumps us all as one, without recognising our differences, diversity and distinction – the very things that when accentuated create mistrust and tribal misanthropy.
I prefer the word humankind, for it is only in being kind, being kindred, perpetuating random acts of kindness towards our fellow human beings – recognising their ‘being’ and right to ‘be’ that we can coexist, cooperate and create a humane society together.
The BBC is attempting to navigate an independent stance on fact-checking the statements by the ‘Brexit‘ Vote Leave and the Remain campaigns in the EU referendum June 23 Vote. This leaves most of my practical work on economics and statistics (my undergrad background) redundant and instead makes me ponder what are the emotional, personal and psychological reasons why people are in such entrenched positions, when, to me at least, the balance of economic and equality facts favour Remain.
Labour say they cannot understand why any worker would not want to Remain for enhanced workers rights. LGBT groups say something similar regarding LGBTI equalities. Yet I know left and right wing LGBT people who have vehemently opposed opinions on this. The vote will be decided on the waverers as neither campaign reaches 50% without the 10-20% undecideds, mostly women, so please research and reflect before voting. This is more important than any 5-year election, this is a 50-year, once in a lifetime decision. Don’t stay at home on June 23.
Economic Facts and that £350m a week
Both sides have accused the other of false figures, but the use of the £350m/week claim which arrived via Leave leaflet through my door again this morning leaves most to be challenged. Admittedly, in their small print they acknowledge we get some back, but they say “less than half”, the IFS and others disagree, arguing it is considerably more than half, as do BBC and Channel 4 Fact Checks.
The reality is that we pay less than £85m/week not £55m/day after rebates and other incomings. This is still a net donation to the EU, but why shouldn’t we, as the economically healthiest nation emerging from austerity, help our neighbours? That is a global obligation in this modern world, on a broader stage than our own isle, every socialist would surely agree with a redistribution of wealth to poorer nations?
“the cost of EU membership to the UK to around £60 (€75) per person (per year)”
What do we get for our net £60?
Freedom of travel across Europe, a last-resort court for human, worker and equality rights issues, reciprocal health treatment, ease of settlement and benefits receipt should we retire or relocate in the EU as 1.4m-2.2m Brits have done. Inward investment, education, and scientific research might all suffer from our withdrawal.
Environmentalists argue that the EU has brought us reduced pollution and pesticide use, as well as species and habitat protection.
Whilst, not a direct comparison, non-EU Norway contributes a gross £135/person to the EU for its access to EU markets via the European Economic Area (EEA).
Norway and Switzerland Options
Aside from the Norwegian model of EEA membership and EU budget contributions – actually more than the UK’s there is the Swiss option. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) but has to negotiate numerous bilateral agreements and has still ended up having to agree to freedom of movement, one of the biggest Brexit issues.
“A senior Swiss official said last month that Switzerland can expect no progress in talks with the EU over migrant caps until after Britain’s referendum on EU membership in June.”
In other words, the Swiss model already costs Switzerland and they are hoping a Brexit would empower them to renegotiate a better deal on migrant numbers.
Trade & Business Costs & Benefits
Whilst EU rules and red tape are the most-cited complaints about the EU, nonetheless, a majority of SME businesses (67-78%) said the EU was a net benefit and they would vote to remain. Access to a half-billion person world’s biggest single market far outweighs any 0.4% GDP cost. Open Europe describes an admittedly worst-case “Brexit” scenario with the UK economy losing 2.2% GDP by 2030 and only gaining 1.6% if we deregulated radically and achieved better terms by far than either Norway or Switzerland. Indeed, we buy far more from the EU than we export, but that balance of trade would likely worsen with Brexit, and to keep the status quo would cost us an EU budget contribution and probably sign-up to freedom of labour movement.
Around half of our exports go to EU countries (44-50%), tariff-free, with trade laws that we help to draw up and at least have a say on. Even if we left, to export to the EU British products would still have to comply with EU health & safety standards.
British dairy exports might attract the 55-200% tariffs on imports to the EU. British farmers stand to lose £2.7 billion in EU subsidies.
Equality, Consumer & Workplace Laws
We may berate the EU courts and laws, but they have been a significant factor in tightening workers rights and hours, consumer protection, and especially for protected characteristic groups, champions of equality legislation. Many rights for LGBTI persons have emerged from or been challenged but upheld by European courts.
“Now is the time to be backing Europe and giving back that sense of empowerment to countries in the European Union that are still very backward in this regard. If I were to look at ‘in’ or ‘out’ from that point of view, there’s only one point, which is to stay. If you’re a gay person, you’re an internationalist. I don’t want us to retract.”
Since 1999 same-sex discrimination has been banned in Europe and any joining nations like Turkey would have to abide by them, the EU can raise the rights of people in nations with poorer human rights records. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in all EU states and discrimination in employment has been banned since 2000. European Court of Justice case law has often come down against the UK Gov in the past in favour of trans people’s rights since it interprets discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ as also extending to ‘gender reassignment’. Thus, all EU sex discrimination law applies to transgender people. In 2002, the 1976 equal treatment directive was revised to include discrimination based on gender identity. Whilst not all nations have same-sex marriage yet, EU directives mean that a same-sex marriage agreed in one EU country must be respected in all others.
Nonetheless, whilst 63% of Pink News readers would vote Remain, a surprising 37% would not. Even Boris Johnson has tried to ride the pink bus for Brexit and an ‘Out and Proud‘ group has formed to favour Leave. Admittedly, countries like the Netherlands, Spain and the UK have been ahead of the EU game on many LGBT rights, but the EU has encouraged other nations to follow the trend for greater LGBT equality.
Reasons to Leave the EU?
The three issues of security, sovereignty, and immigration, are the most oft-cited Leave issues. In addition, there is the fear-competition factor of EU access to British jobs.
Migrants and Immigration
Immigration regularly raises its ugly head during elections and its control is considered the holy grail of pandering to electorate fears. The ONS says there are 942,000 eastern European working in the UK, along with 791,000 western Europeans. A combined figure roughly equivalent to the number of Brits living in Europe. A fair trade? A further 2.93m workers originate from outside the EU with China and India being the biggest source of foreign workers in the UK. In other words we have a bigger issue with the numbers we can control than the ones we can’t. It has also been suggested for years that over 3 million British jobs may depend upon EU membership and trade.
Furthermore, there is a demographic timebomb approaching, in that, even with high net migration of up to 300,000 people a year, a small city’s worth, in a decade with an aging population we would need them to fulfil available jobs. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates across Europe at around 5% compared to an EU average of 9.6%, only Czech Republic and Germany are lower and yet the latter has taken in huge numbers of migrants. A strong economy can absorb and afford migants, if not actually requires them. In addition, migrants tend to do the jobs Brits don’t want to. Long-houred agricultural, care or service sector, restaurant potwashing, jobs are invariably filled by foreign-born workers not British ‘shirkers’. Admittedly, a derogatory phrase but even in-work Brits are less productive than many foreign counterparts. France and Germany are 30% more productive per person-hour worked.
Security, Borders & Foreign Criminals
It is disingenuous to argue that the EU prevents us deporting foreign criminals. In only a handful of cases do EU courts block deportation on human rights grounds. One gain from membership is participation in the European Arrest Warrant which assists the bringing to justice of criminals across the EU. In addition, seeking to deport released foreign prisoners on the argument that they remain dangerous, suggests their sentences were too lenient in the first place, and prison reform and probation are the area of failure. Also, justice means that after a served-sentence, a prisoner is considered to have done the crime, done the time, and should be given a second chance, albeit with probation monitoring and social assistance at reintegration into society.
Iain Duncan Smith says our “open border” from staying in the EU is leaving the “door open” to terrorist attacks. Yet, recent attacks in France have meant a redoubled effort to share intelligence and prevent attacks. Security is illusory, as terrorism by its nature, usually circumvents most checks, although the British Government has already prevented and prosecuted many such attacks, all the while being in the EU. Many leading military figures say that the EU is an “increasingly important pillar of our security”.
As to preserving our UK borders and sovereignty, leaving the EU is almost certain to trigger a second Scottish referendum at which they would most likely leave the UK and commence negotiations to join the EU. Sovereignty is a false-idol and catch-22 if it leads to the break of the UK and creation of a future border with Scotland. In Ireland the border with Northern Ireland would have to close again.
Whilst we might regain control over fishing rights around our shorelines and for miles beyond, we don’t have sufficient a fishing industry any more to exploit that gain, or vessels to police incursion by other EU fishing boats.
Brexit is a big unknown, better the devil you know – and can influence and negotiate with, than an outside-EU limbo of uncertainty.
“The most likely outcome would be that Britain would find itself as a scratchy outsider with somewhat limited access to the single market, almost no influence and few friends. And one certainty: that having once departed, it would be all but impossible to get back in again.” – The Economist
Voting matters, your vote counts, but read between the campaign soundbites, slanging matches, economic promises and fears. Instead, think about the bigger picture, future development and not just apparent personal gain, which may include so much more loss, if we were to vote leave.
Dr. Seuss would be 112 today, and certainly the non-conforming characters in his books never felt like acting their age, or following conventional wisdom, instead they offered sage advice for breaking out of the box, and being yourself, without limits.
Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote some 60 books, selling over 600 million copies, whose challenging quotes still resonate today. His birthday, March 2, has become the annual date for National Read Across America Day and comes the day before World Book Day.
“The more that you read, The more things you will know.
The more that you learn, The more places you’ll go.” I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)
Theodor Seuss Geisel, author, illustrator, cartoonist
Geisel said he was saving the name ‘Geisel’ for the Great American Novel, instead he began to use his pen name ‘Dr. Seuss’ during his time studying at Dartmouth College and continued whilst studying for a PhD in English Literature at the University of Oxford (which he did not finish, though in 1956 Dartmouth awarded him an honorary doctorate). It was at Dartmouth, as editor of a humour magazine, that he was caught drinking gin with friends in his room, during the time of Prohibition, and so with encouragement from his Professor of Rhetoric he continued clandestinely under his nom de plume. He once described himself as “subversive as hell”.
From 1927 he worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair, Life, and other publications, including as chief political cartoonist for the New York newspaper, 1941-43. At the latter newspaper, he produced some 400 political cartoons such as this one:
America First, “and the wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones but those were foreign children and it really didn’t matter”.
Perhaps, as relevant now under Donald Trump’s presidency as during the 1940s.
During World War II, he joined the Army in 1943 as a Captain and was made commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces.
His first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street did not appear until 1937 and his most famous, The Cat in the Hat, only came out in 1957.
Top 12 Best Dr Seuss Life Lessons Quotes
Or perhaps just 8, given that some are of uncertain attribution, even though they are Seuss-ian in nature and intent.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Happy Birthday to You! (1959)
“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen Hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regrets. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.”
“You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” – Oh, The Places You’ll Go!(1990)
“And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!” – Oh, The Places You’ll Go!(1990)
“Don’t give up! I believe in you all
A person’s a person, no matter how small!
And you very small persons will not have to die
If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!” – Horton Hears a Who!(1954)
“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” – The Lorax (1971)
“Only you can control your future.”
“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” – actually Robert Fulghum,True Love (1997)
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – of doubtful attribution
Dr Seuss (originally pronounced Soice) wrote and illustrated subversively to open minds, encourage liberal reading and adventurous lives. Horton hears a Who! was allegedly an allegory of the Hiroshima bombing. Thomas Fensch describes its ideas as “universal, multinational, multi-ethnic. In a word: Equality.” – Fensch, Thomas, The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss, (2001).
He even wrote under a female pen name, Rosetta Stone, Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!! (1975). He remains loved and controversial to this day, but with some books still achieving half-million-a year book sales, he can definitely rest assured that he encouraged millions to read.
Today is Martin Luther King Day, celebrated on the third Monday in January since 1986 (Reagan agreed it in 1983), his birthday was on the 15th. Born in 1929 to a pastor and a schoolteacher, he himself became a Baptist minister and advocate for African American equality and social justice from the 1950s through to his 1968 assassination. He was instrumental in the bringing in of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Mahatma Gandhi & Non-Violence
King was inspired by the Hindu lawyer and campaigner for rights in South Africa and India, Mahatma Gandhi, and his principles of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience over and against armed uprising. Gandhi was also an advocate of religious tolerance but was in the end also assassinated, in 1948, by a Hindu nationalist. King managed to visit India in 1959.
Gandhi had succeeded in the 1920s in uniting Muslims and Hindus against the common enemy of the British empire. Yet by the 1940s an independent Muslim nationalism led to the eventual division of India and creation of a separate Pakistan.
Some of Gandhi’s more extreme pacifist views included recommending that Britain openly yield to Hitler rather than defend itself, and that the Jews should have willingly surrendered to the Holocaust as an act of collective suicide. He did not support the idea of the state of Israel gained through violence or Zionism, but only as something within the gift of the Arabs to bring about peacefully.
Gandhi’s principles meshed with King’s own Christian principles, as he said, “Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Another early source that energized King was the Christian anarchist and novelist Leo Tolstoy, who was also an influence on Gandhi.
Bayard Rustin, Gay Communist
Bayard Rustin was a sometime adviser to Martin Luther King and had also visited India, in 1948, not long after Gandhi’s assassination. He shared both Gandhi and King’s principles of non-violence. King’s involvement with him was discouraged by others due to Rustin’s former membership of the Communist Party and his homosexuality, which King had little problem with.
Rustin later became a gay rights activist, in addition to his earlier civil rights campaigning. In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rustin.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
The journey towards civil rights was more of a bus route, with lots of stops and delays. Rustin had been beaten and arrested back in 1942 for sitting in the second row of a segregated bus.
Thirteen years later, in March 1955, 15 year-old school girl, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white man on a in Montgomery bus. Due to Colvin’s unmarried and pregnant status the civil rights activists waited for a better test case and were rewarded with the defiance of the now famous Rosa Parks who was arrested later that year, in December, for also refusing to give up her seat.
The 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott ensued, which whilst planned by others was publicly led by King, and resulted in his house being firebombed.
“All men are created equal”
The path to equality culminated in the quarter-million strong 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, predominantly organised by Rustin. Despite its being unprecedented in size and diversity, it was boycotted itself by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam for being too soft and sanitised, promoting peaceful harmony and integration rather than strength and independent identity.
The iconic “I have a dream” speech, much of which may have been improvised on the spot, includes the famous and inspirational line:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'”
Whilst King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and indeed the Nation of Islam, fought for black equal rights, the case for full civil equal rights for “all men” continues. LGBTI equality, for example, has been the focus of the last decade of legal progress in the USA, something that Rustin fought for until his death in 1987.
King’s Assassination and Death
King was ever the optimist, preaching love over hate, peace over war, forgiveness over resentment.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
It was a belief that may have cost him his life, and not a little opposition from other members of the civil rights movement. After President John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, King said to his wife, Coretta: “This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.” Five years later, he did indeed suffer the same fate.
Black Lives Matter
Despite all the progress, the reality on the ground, is that black lives are still not considered equal. The last year or two has seen so many cases of unarmed black men being shot dead by American police officers that it is clear that stereotypes persist in the minds of many. 980 US citizens were shot dead in 2015 by police, 91 were unarmed and a disproportionate 37 of them were black.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The laws may have changed half a century ago, but it is hearts and minds that still need to be won, in this generation and in every one that succeeds it. King may have been a pacifist, but he was not passive about change, and how it was to be accomplished:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.”
Unbelievably, to encourage women in sport a pink sparkly soft-touch football is being marketed in a “pretty pattern that is designed especially for a woman’s grip”. Sigh! Women are more likely to be put off football by the sexism and homophobia in sport, unequal pay and media coverage, rather than the colour and texture of the ball!
Unless this is a major satirical spoof, it ticks every possible patronising pitch possible: “pretty” check, “pink” check, “sparkly” check, “soft” check, “easy” check, “glamorous” check!
Serious Proposition or Irish Joke?
It’s being made in Ireland, and it’s tempting to think that it is an Irish April Fool’s joke were it not January and endorsed by a real sportsman – Ger Brennan, an All-Ireland winning Gaelic Football player. Surely, it has to be a farcical fake designed to challenge rather than collude with sexism in sport?
In fact, their Twitter feed is full of jokes, disbelief, and amazingly, apparent appreciation. Lots of “ball” jokes and since one of the founders is female, a lot of poking fun at female stereotypes, or are they deadly serious?
Their modern media, PR and advertising, seem to be everywhere in Ireland and yet their tagline soundbites are out of the pre-feminist dark ages:
“Don’t break a nail, break boundaries with #Ladyball” “Our ladies sure are pretty in pink! #Ladyball” “Ladies, the wait is finally over (&we don’t mean the one for the ring!) Introducing #Ladyball!” “Our pink #Ladyball has silver accents to help you sparkle on the pitch!”
Ladyball is the concept led by a group of aspiring entrepreneurs who have made it their personal goal in life to encourage girls to play more team sports, and to bring a feminine touch to the all too masculine world of sports! The idea for Ladyball came from personal experience when one of the creators tried various ball sports as a weight loss measure and found the regular (or as we like to call them “man-sized”) balls heavy, cumbersome and difficult to control. It was then (as Oprah would say) she had an “aha moment”; what if there was a ball designed just for women, a soft, trendy ball that could enhance natural feminine abilities and make it easier for girls to play? After a lot of market research we found that there really wasn’t anything like that available, and in the majority of cases women just had to make do with balls meant for men. In order to fill this gap in the market and with the hopes of making team sports more accessible to women, the idea for Ladyball was born! Since that day we have spent countless hours researching and designing our creation. We want to revolutionize the way ladies play sports.
These women are kitted out in Ladyball’s branding but inappropriate footwear:
It’s not the first time pink balls have been introduced. Last November saw a premium game played with a pink ball and which led a male sports commentator to say:
“The pink ball is the prettiest, clearest projectile we have known. Its iridescence allowed superb pictures on television” – ESPN
This was cricket, however, and male cricket at that! It was first introduced by Kookaburra in 2006 for a Cancer charity event but is now being used in some day-night matches for visibility. Mark Nicholas watching the Test at Australia’s Adelaide Oval went on to wax lyrical about the colourful aesthetics of the game:
“colours are an almost subconscious attraction – the way in which white clothing, for example, has such clarity against the green field and how a clear blue sky wraps itself so brightly around the canvas that the game creates.”
It just, could be, that their advertising ‘genius’ is a girlie girl who loves sparkly pink. Just because pink is a female stereotype, doesn’t mean girls can’t be seen in pink, but to my mind this sets sports equality back years in perception, at least. The truth, if this is even true, will be whether it increases participation and gives the boot to received wisdom about women’s football. Not wanting to spoil the spoof or burst the ball of fun that this possibly serious-point making set-up appears to be, fact-checking flagged-up alarm bells and other mixed metaphors. Just trying to investigate their quoted ” patented Eazi-Play technology” drew a blank. Scottish football agrees although sees it as a hoax that “Highlights Discrimination in Sport” and “sexism in football. So, I call fake rather than foul, in this instance. Indeed, in the last few hours, Munster Hockey seem to have confessed to creating the challenge to sexist stereotypes, some assume an announcement about women’s sport is imminent and others are now doubting the spoof creator’s claims as just trying to get in on the act! It’s either a marketing marvel, comedy gold, or an unevolved sexist disaster. It just could be, the best advert for hockey yet:
The Munster Branch has this morning confessed to the creation of the Ladyball. We never expected it to get so much…
“we would like to apologise for nearly breaking the internet. However, we have been successful in making a very valid point. Men’s and women’s sport should be equal – same rules, same equipment and same goals. Hockey is one of the very few sports where men and women are on a par with each other in terms of coverage and recognition. So if anyone out there is looking to take up a sport that treats everyone as equal maybe hockey is the sport for you.”
Whether Munster Hockey were in on it or not, the @theladyball_com Twitter account has now also confessed to the ruse promoting women’s gaelic football (LGFA) along with Lidl sponsorship, “a lighting rod for the discussion of attitudes to women in sports and an amplifier for voices of support”.
Human Rights Day – Universal Declaration of Human Rights
International Human Rights Day celebrates 67 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a precursor to the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK’s own, in peril, Human Rights Act. In the aftermath of the Second World War, on December 10, 1948, The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Universal was the hope and aspiration of the world’s most translated document, into some 300 languages. The application and implementation, however, remains inconsistent. Many leading nations treat it as a pick-n-mix document, usually ignoring the principles against torture or discrimination on grounds of sex or sexuality.
“Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,…” – UDHR preamble
European Convention on Human Rights
In 1950 the Council of Europe’s initial 10 members including the UK drafted the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and brought it into force in 1953 for its 14 early member states, now 47 including Russia which joined in 1996. Vatican City is a notable exception to its agreement. Whilst Russia has signed it, like Azerbaijan it has not agreed to Protocol 13 – the complete abolition of the death penalty.
Article 14 is wide reaching in prohibiting and protecting against discrimination based on “sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status” – the latter has now been taken to include sexual orientation.
Article 12, however, provides a heterosexual right to marry and have a family, which has legal precedent for including transsexuals under their post-operative gender status, but not for same-sex couples. See Rees v United Kingdom (1985/6), Cossey v UK (1990) and Goodwin v UK (1995-97).
UK Human Rights Act
The 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA) became law in 2000 in order to integrate the ECHR into UK national law to avoid people having to go to Europe to obtain recognition of their human rights as described and protected in the convention.
Human Rights are more extensive than the protected characteristics outlined under the 2010 Equality Act. We are all human so all protected. That is why it is essential the HRA remain enshrined in law and is not watered down into a British Bill of Rights, because it goes beyond the Equality Act.
Today the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) launched its Human Writes, issue 1 calling on “People Power” to “protect what protects us all, our Human Rights Act”. That means writing to MPs and being vocal about human rights issues and laws both here and abroad.
Since 2009 and indeed earlier, Amnesty International has run its Write for Rights #Write4Rights letter writing campaign. Activists in more than 200 countries and territories write millions of letters, emails, tweets and petitions to those in authority and to the human victims of human rights abuses.
“Across the world, governments are afraid of people power and are cracking down on dissent. And that’s why we need to stand with people who are risking everything to speak out…Our words are powerful. We need to use that power to push for change, now.” – Amnesty International
BIHR also ran a full page advert/letter in the The Times signed by 157 organisations supporting the retention of the HRA. It notes that the UDHR is an:
“international Magna Carta for all humanity [that] has inspired so much, including our own Human Rights Act.”
The letter calls on Britain’s political leaders to;
“stand with the Human Rights Act recognising it is the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made law here at home.”
Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam
Some 45 Islamic nations have signed the alternative 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI), more in accordance with Sharia law, and notably omitting rights based upon sexuality, gender, religious conversion or protecting against FGM. The freedoms that do exist are subject to “not being contrary to the principles of the Shariah”, as such there is no freedom of religion other than Islam. Article 24 states: “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia.” Article 19 sounds like it protects against going beyond Sharia law – an already harsh system: “There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Sharia.”
The Arab Charter on Human Rights (ACHR) tries to incorporate the UDHR and CDHRI. It was written in 1994 but even by 2008 only 7 states had adopted it, 13 by 2013 including Saudi Arabia.
Human Rights Violations
In a mammoth opinion piece in the Guardian Eric Posner has suggested that international Human Rights laws are failing for being too general and being ignored by several leading democracies despite their theoretical protections pan-nationally against authoritarian states.
“it seems that the human rights agenda has fallen on hard times. In much of the Islamic world, women lack equality, religious dissenters are persecuted and political freedoms are curtailed. The Chinese model of development, which combines political repression and economic liberalism, has attracted numerous admirers in the developing world. Political authoritarianism has gained ground in Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Venezuela. Backlashes against LGBT rights have taken place in countries as diverse as Russia and Nigeria. The traditional champions of human rights – Europe and the United States – have floundered.”
Peace, education, sex/gender equality, LGBTI rights, slavery, no discrimination based upon race, colour, nationality, freedom of speech and the press, the right to bodily integrity for all, irrespective of gender or age, are but some of the rights that 67 years later are not yet universal despite the Universal Declaration.
As the Swedish politician Anna Lindh has remarked:
“Human rights are praised more than ever – and violated as much as ever.”
Today is a day to reduce those violations, and call more people and nations to account over them, and make sure the rights that do exist are known about and extended to those that may not know their rights or have the wherewithal to claim them.
The Confederate Flag – a stained or Stainless Banner?
The last fortnight has seen people simultaneously complaining about the flying of the “Rainbow Flag” and the “Confederate Flag” in the USA. In the UK, the “Union Jack” or more often the “St George’s Flag” of England has been hijacked for nationalist ends too. In the Scottish independence vote the “Saltire Flag” was flown for both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns and nobody objected to a strong sense of Scottish identity, so why not the American South?
Current Reactions to the Southern US Flag
In 2011, a Pew Research Center poll demonstrated that the majority of Americans don’t react to the “Southern Flag” and that 9% view it with positive pride, however, some 30% have a “negative reaction” when they see the Confederate flag.
Two years, later and a 2013 YouGov poll revealed 38% public disapproval of flying the flag in public places. Even more, around 44%, viewed the flag as a symbol associated with racism, rather than just 20% seeing it as symbolic of Southern pride.
Back in 1961, in the middle of civil rights and race activism, the South Carolina State Senate raised the Confederate flag on top of the Senate dome, where it remained until removed in 2000 when an alternate flag was instead flown from a flagpole in the grounds. It was this flag that was removed by protestor Bree Newsome on 27 June, this year. The flag, clearly, remains divisive.
Nationalism and pride
Nationalism is not a negative concept in itself, nor indeed are regionalism and localism. Being proud of your place of origin, wanting autonomy, independence, freedom, and asserting these things is not wrong. Even for a personal identity, rainbow flags and now many others, e.g., trans, non-binary, etc, are flown and worn at LGBT Pride events across the world. Flags unite, they are a banner under which to stand and draw people together – or symbolise rebellion against the establishment and regional pride as with Confederate flag adorned General Lee in the Dukes of Hazzard:
But they can attract opposition too, and be used for aggression. Sometimes, going so far as to create a virtual or real barrier to keep people separate, outsiders out, spewing xenophobic bile about non-locals, inciting hatred and violence against immigrants, migrant communities, or those who are markedly different.
UK Independence and the Far Right
In the UK – Scottish, Welsh, and Irish independence are looked upon favourably in cultural and political terms but, somehow, English nationalism is seen as far right extremism – and many times, it is. The debate over English votes for English laws is the trade-off for giving more power to Scotland to avoid secession from the Union.
I remember the 1980s when Irish terrorism or freedom fighters, depending upon your definition, was still rife. When, even in Wales, the BBC‘s Not the Nine O’Clock News team ran the insensitive but funny sketch, “Come home to a real fire, but a cottage in Wales”, owing to the Welsh nationalist arson campaign against English second homes in Wales.
In English terms, we have witnessed the rise of a “Far Right” English nationalism: BNP, Britain First, EDL, UKIP etc. Hardly groups promoting English ‘culture’ but certainly fostering a “batten down the hatches” against ‘foreigners’ attitude. At public rallies they wrap themselves in English rather than UK flags, thus tarnishing the English St George’s flag.
William Thompson and the Stainless Banner
So, has the Confederate flag been similarly tarnished by the racist hatred of one warped young man in the Charleston black church massacre? Did it always and forever have the meaning of white supremacy? Some articles doing the rounds would suggest that it does, a “heaven ordained” white supremacy at that, according to its designer, William T Thompson.
Thompson was co-founder of the Savannah Daily Morning News newspaper in the 1850s and in the 1860s, along with one other, produced the design of the “Stainless Banner“, which came to be used as the Southern Confederacy’s national flag from 1863 to 1865, replacing the “Stars and Bars” which too closely resembled the ‘Yankee’ Union flag. Thompson said, in April 1863, that he opposed it, “on account of its resemblance to that of the abolition despotism against which we are fighting.” Many agreed that a flag that bore any similarity to the “Stars and Stripes” was wrong on the grounds of the South not wanting the emancipation of slaves.
The “stainless” aspect referred to the pure white field or background taking up the majority of the flag’s design. Though, later criticised and dropped for its association with surrender and truce, that element to Thompson and others represented the supremacy of “The White Man” and “the cause of a superior race”. Not far off Hitler’s ideology?
The American Civil War Battle Flag
It should be remembered though that the second Confederate flag (there were three and many modifications over the years) of Thompson included the now familiar Southern Confederate flag (white stars on a blue saltire cross on a red background) as its upper left element (where the stars and blue background are on the modern US flag). That flag element, also known as the “Battle Flag” was the banner of the Northern Virginian and Tennessee armies and several naval units. It was, however, never a united Confederate flag despite now being called the”Rebel Flag”, “Dixie Flag”, or “Southern Cross”, indeed, it is alleged that the cross would have been upright rather than diagonal had its designers not wanted to keep the Southern Jews on side.
How Symbols and their Interpretation change
Speaking of the Jewish people, a symbol of hate, the Swastika, was originally a symbol of benign fate and good luck in the Sanskrit language and religious cultures of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The Svastika or Gammadion Cross (based upon four Greek capital Gamma letters), Cross Cramponnée, or Manji, has been around for at least two millennia, if not ten (its first use can be traced back 10,000 years to a paleolithic settlement in modern Ukraine)!
The Nazis did not invent or invert it, they simply stole and reinterpreted it. Hitler allegedly believed the Aryan Germans were a supreme white tribe of Indian origins and semi-divine status.
Conclusion and debate
Thus, though Thompson’s “Confederate Flag” had white supremacy links, the lack of white on the current flag bears no relation to that. It does, however, have associations with Southern independence and battle against the Union and what the North stood for, including an end to slavery. Hopefully, few would argue for the return of slavery now, whether some still consider African-Americans ‘inferior’ is another matter. It it, therefore, debatable whether the flag when displayed now still has the associations of the past. Now it is more likely to be flown for reasons of Southern pride and freedom from Washington’s centralised federal governance. If it is also used by minority white supremacists and a hopefully isolated and not to be repeated white ‘terrorist’ attack against a black church (others have been arson-attacked recently though) then it clearly has negative associations for a sizeable group of the US population.
Symbols and meanings do evolve, get reclaimed, and reinvented. Removing the Southern flag from buildings may seem like an extreme reaction and is a matter of some sensitivity to both victims of race/colour hate and to proud fliers of Southern identity – which in the majority, it is hoped, are no longer inherently racist. Bree Newsome believes it is time for change:
“It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”
Debate is needed on this and how to go forward respecting individual freedom, collective identity, and historical issues. Is flying the flag, indeed any flag, a soon to be proscribed act? In the UK only today, a man was stopped and not charged for wearing an Islamic State black flag whilst walking through Westminster, London.
The difficulty is ascribing guilt by association – do all flags have only one meaning? Is flying the Confederate flag like flying a Scots flag, a symbol of regional Southern pride, or is it a symbol of rebellion and white supremacy? The Nazi or ISIL flag more clearly represent hate-based movements.
I’ll leave the last word on flags to Eddie Izzard:
Since the early years of the century before last century nearly 200 years ago, in diverse ways individual countries and eventually the world, at the behest of the United Nations since 1977, have fought for various forms of women’s equality and celebrated women.
Now known as International Women’s Day it is a national holiday in many countries, appropriately just for women, in China. Like Mother’s Day, which falls on a Sunday in the UK, it is not a day off for mothers, working or otherwise!
In 1910, an International Women’s Conference of 100 women from 17 countries was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the conference, Luise Zietz, a German Socialist, suggested establishing an annual International Woman’s Day. The delegates agreed and promoted it as a way to foster equal rights, including suffrage, for women. It was observed far and wide across the Austro-Hungarian empire, even in Russia in 1913. The First World War suspended much advancement but 1918 brought rights for women in England and Germany, but not until 1944 in France or Greece! French Algeria took until 1958 to grant the right to Muslim women.
2015 IWD Themes
The International Woman’s Day theme for 2015 is ‘Make It Happen’ whilst the UN theme is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!“.
Bring Back Our Girls
Whilst Boko Haram this week have seemingly sworn allegiance to IS (Islamic State, ISIS, Daesh) it seems less likely than ever that the 200+ Chibok girls kidnapped in Nigeria a year ago will be returned. Yet, the UN seems to be more worried about declaring the cultural vandalism of destroying ancient Assyrian artefacts in Nimrud and other historic cities of Iraq and Syria, a war crime, than the heinous human rights atrocities of kidnap, torture, forced marriage, stoning of women and more, as crimes against humanity, especially women.
Somali-born feminist and activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, fights against forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and honour violence. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Ali wrote that:
“The kidnapping of the schoolgirls throws into bold relief a central part of what the jihadists are about: the oppression of women. Boko Haram sincerely believes that girls are better off enslaved than educated. The terrorists’ mission is no different from that of the Taliban assassin who shot and nearly killed 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai because she advocated girls’ education. As I know from experience, nothing is more anathema to the jihadists than equal and educated women.”
Last year I attended the awesome Women of the World Festival in London, this year I followed most of it on Twitter and Radio 4, and heard an interview that gave me pause for thought. Was it not “preaching to the converted” the interviewer asked? Perhaps, but it was also encouraging the feminist faithful. Still, more does need to be done.
Selma, Voting and Double Discrimination of Black Women
This week has also seen the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march and demonstration which triggered US voting reform. As one young woman visiting the site this month said, “Voting was never really important to me,” she said. “But I will never not vote again.”
The 1965 activism on 7 March was one of several marches to pressure full enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the legalities of which were being avoided by those finding ways to inhibit black voters. At Selma, one of the leading organisers, Amelia Boynton was beaten unconscious by state troopers. Rosa Parks had been present too. Boynton survived and in 1990, she was honoured with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Medal.
Amelia was born to parents of African-American/Cherokee heritage in 1911 – the very year that International Women’s Day was marked for the first time by a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. As a young girl Amelia had joined the fight for women’s suffrage. As an adult she organised alongside Martin Luther King. While Selma was 50% black, only 1% of the town’s African-American population were registered to vote.
In 1964 Amelia ran for the Congress from Alabama, “the first female African-American ever to do so and the first female of any race to run for the ticket of the Democratic Party in Alabama.”
Triple Discrimination of Women
Imagine being black, female, and bisexual or a lesbian – before race equality, voting reform, gay rights, let alone sex discrimination. Furthermore, don’t imagine but recognise that some of that prejudice came from other women, white heterosexual women. Audre Lorde, was one such black lesbian feminist who realised that not all women fight for “all women”, in reaction she became a staunch advocate of intersectional feminism of the “continuum of women”, of ANY women, of ALL women:
“I am not free while any woman is unfree even when her shackles are very different from my own” – Audre Lorde
In addition, she spoke about the oversimplification of labels and single issue politics:
“there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle. We do not live single-issue lives.”
We are multifaceted human beings, complex creatures, not to be reduced to someone’s label or category and in the process denied our unique identity and individuality.
Yet More Stigma
Add to all of the above prejudices and discrimination that some aspects of mental health disproportionately affect women. For instance trans women and bisexual women have the greatest mental health risks of all groups. 25% of women will suffer from depression, 15% post-natally. Women are twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders as men and ten times as likely to suffer from anorexia.
As Audre Lorde argued it is time for a coalition of the continuum of women to fight for any woman, until all women are free, from the schoolgirls of Nigeria to the sweatshops of the Far East, and the LGBTI women denied recognition and respect, whether as asylum seekers in Yarl’s Wood or as trans teenagers taking their lives and being misgendered in life and death.
Whilst gender may be a construct and sex an accident of birth, how we treat each other is the one choice we have the power to make.