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Posts Tagged ‘#racism’

Who We Are

November 9, 2016 31 comments

Congratulations to American voters on making Vladimir Putin the second-happiest man in the world today. And they are owed a debt of gratitude by the British Government too: no longer is there a need to worry about how to manage our departure from the EU, when the new US President will have blown up the world before Brexit has to be enacted. But, as Chaucer said (well, kind of) many a true word is spoken in jest, and I’m only joking. Aren’t I?

To my untutored, inexpert eye there are a number of similarities between the US election vote and the UK referendum. The main one is that both seem to have been used by their electorate to register a protest vote against the status quo, against a perceived ruling political class that has moved away from supporting the ‘hard-working people.’ Be careful what you wish for! Many politicians are vain, self-seeking creatures, interested primarily in their own ambitions, and the next four years will tell how little Trump – who is a businessman with no political experience at all – actually knows or even cares about the disaffected people whose vote he has conned out of them.

It happened here too: commentators have remarked that those who ran the Leave campaign in the UK referendum didn’t expect to win, and there remain doubts about the motives of many of them. Do you seriously think that Boris Johnson chose to support Leave after many years of being pro-Europe simply because he thought it was right? I don’t. But they did win it, in an outcome that surprised them as much as the rest of us. Is Trump now finding himself in the same situation? Only time will tell, but if he governs along the same lines on which he has campaigned, it won’t only be the US that has reasons to be fearful.

What concerns me most about both election campaigns, as well as all the lying and bullying, is the appeal to a part of the human psyche that is deeply worrying. In the UK, the vote was won, to my eyes, on two key lies: firstly, the mythical £350m per week figure that the Leave campaign claimed we were paying the EU, and would add to the budget for the National Health Service, and secondly the unsubstantiated fear they engendered around the prospect of ‘mass immigration,’ the fear of foreigners. I don’t recall them calling foreigners criminals and rapists, but they didn’t stop far short of this. What this did was to bring out the far right from underneath their moss-covered stones, and enable them to feel in some way empowered, to feel that people shared their abhorrent views. A bit like the KKK endorsing Trump’s candidacy. Sadly, enough of us bought this view, and the aftermath of the Referendum vote was a huge increase in the number of racist incidents that were reported, even a racially motivated murder in the town I used to live in – a man was set upon just because thugs overheard him speaking his own language, not English. You only have to watch one news bulletin to see how much nastiness and hatred there is in the world, and I don’t just mean the nasty, sneering way that Trump interrupted Clinton in the debate to call her ‘a nasty woman.’ Pot. Kettle. Black. I really hope that in the forthcoming months Trump surrounds himself with people who know how to govern, and who won’t be as thin-skinned and extreme as he appears to be. It isn’t as though the American people can point a finger at him and tell him he’s fired, is it. Not till 2020, by when I hope they have all been blessed with perfect hindsight.

With the likes of ISIS/Daesh and Boko Haram, on the one hand, together with the rise of racist far right parties like AfD in Germany and the Front Nationale in France (and to a lesser extent UKIP in the UK), it is evident that extremism is becoming an ever more integral part of the 21st century world. That the political parties who espouse such causes can garner significant voter shares is terrifying. Are these voters all so disaffected with mainstream politics that they are prepared to ignore what these parties stand for? Or, worse, are the parties tapping into a racism and nastiness in us that has lain dormant until it was in some way legitimised? What kind of world are we living in? What kind of people are we? Are we really all so racist and insular, so protective of what we believe to be our birthright that we won’t allow others to share it? Are we really all so uncaring about others who may need our help? Is this really ‘who we are?’

I know that the picture I’m painting here is very negative and one sided and this is intentional, to make my point. I don’t like the way political events are turning out, and I suspect that many others don’t either. From my blog and the interactions I have here with people, and from the many blogs I have the privilege to follow and read, I know that there are many out there who do all that they can to help others and to spread a message of love and care. I just wish the world was run by people like that!

The title for this piece is a song by Imagine Dragons, which kind of sums things up for me today. It was included in the soundtrack to the Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie and later added to the deluxe versions of their album Smoke + Mirrors:

As they say in the song, it’s all uphill from here.

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It’s A Hard Life

May 5, 2016 27 comments

Some weeks ago, when I posted in response to the terrorist bombings in Brussels, I titled my piece after what I had always known, until then, as a Nanci Griffith song, although it was actually written by Julie Gold  – From A Distance. I had been listening to music as I often do, as a lot of truth is spoken in song lyrics and the words of that song resonated with me. One of her own songs also came to mind, and it was a bit of a toss up which one I used to illustrate my post. I chose that one as it made my point for me, and the other song has a wider meaning which I thought I might revisit as a companion piece. Having been kept away from here by illness it has taken me longer than I intended to do this, but this is the other song I had in mind:

Nanci Griffith was born four months before me so, although we have grown up in different countries we have to a degree shared our experience of the world and all its changes. In the song she references growing up in the 60s which, when we look back now, was a tumultuous decade, which in many ways has shaped our lives now: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cold War in Europe, student demonstrations, and the massive changes in popular culture. But what have we we learned from all of this? The song’s chorus goes:

It’s a hard life, it’s a hard life, it’s a very hard life,

It’s a hard life wherever you go,

But if we poison our children with hatred

then a hard life is all that they’ll know.

Look around you. What does the news tell us? Have we learnt the lessons of recent history? That song was released in the late 80s, but more than 25 years later it seems to me that we continue to poison our children with hatred. The obvious example of this is Donald Trump, who now looks very likely to be the Republican candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election. Despite his recent appointment of some spin doctors it is difficult to forget some of the rhetoric he has used during his campaign, and the way that it has demonstrated a position built on racism, bigotry and hatred. As I have said several times before, I fear for the world if he should become President, and hope that doesn’t happen.

But the issue I want to draw to your attention is far greater than just one man, however odious he may be. Next month, we in the UK will be voting in a referendum to decide whether we remain a member of the European Union. In recent years the main (only) political party of any note to espouse this cause has been the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which, by the actions of its members and its beer swilling, chain smoking leader, has largely come across as a bunch of racist buffoons. But here we are, in the midst of a campaign which seems to become nastier by the day, and in which much of the language used seems to be based on bigotry and hatred, of Little Englander perspectives. And we have always had our far right parties, going back to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, via the National Front and British National Party in  more recent times. Another current incarnation is Britain First, which was started by someone who was thrown out of the BNP for being too extreme (!) and which makes UKIP look like a credible political organisation.

And this isn’t confined to the UK, either. All over Europe there are similar political parties and movements. France has long had the Le Pen family leading the Front Nationale. Italy has the Northern League, which is anti-immigration. Germany has the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) which began life as an economic movement but has jumped on the racist angle and is getting huge increases in public support as a result. Similar groupings exist in Spain and Austria, amongst others. Flip the coin and you have ISIS, or Daesh, or whatever we are supposed to call it. Then there was Al Qaeda. And in North Africa there is the Boko Haram group, amongst others. Everywhere you look you see organisations based on hatred, and the worrying thing is that they are generating huge amounts of support.

What are we doing to ourselves? Not content with destroying the planet, we appear to be trying to solve that problem by destroying ourselves from within first. In the song, Nanci Griffith references the KKK and the racial hatred for which it stands. Her song was inspired by a taxi trip around Belfast, which at that time was still a city divided by religious and political terrorism. Towards the end she mentions that she ‘can’t drive on the left side of the road.’ For the uninitiated, we in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road, although most of the world does it the other way. Her choice of metaphor is very apt: it is about time that we all started to learn to drive on the other side of the road. We have poisoned our children with hatred for far too long.

 

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