Friday, 29 September 2017

Racism, what racism in 2017?

Martin Luther King Jr once said,

It is not possible to be in favour of Justice for some people and not in favour of justice for all people.
I thought if I don’t write this article I might remain miserable for the rest of the year.  Recently I was having a conversation with somebody and just happened to mention this year‘s Black History Month lecture with entitled racism in the academy.
The response I got was mind boggling. ‘There is no racism in UK unless of course you want people to stop having a life. And what is racism anyway? they asked. For a minute I thought they were joking. As far as they are concerned racism doesn’t exist anymore. They haven’t heard anyone being racist or saying racist stuff to anybody.  This means we have done it. Great, no racism anymore! But really?

Mind you, this person was white, how would they know what people of colour experience on day to day basis. I was quick to say ‘excuse me, I have lived the experience what are you talking about?’ and she frowned and I realised I had to stop the argument, it want going anywhere.

Let’s go back to history a little bit. An ideology of white racial and cultural superiority was developed by the British, and other Europeans, to justify colonialism, slavery and empire, and this ideology created a social order for centuries in which whites were at the top and BME people were at the bottom of society. There is a legacy of white superiority from this history, which if you challenge you will be ignored all accused of having ‘chip on shoulder’.

Evidence and research has shown that racism is as strong as ever, even if overt, easily identifiable discrimination is difficult to find- although of course this is manifested from time to time.

Denial is the new phenomenology of racism

 For the purposes of this argument, I assume that (1) all societies are racist to some degree (2); racism is ubiquitous at least at the level of attitudes and its presence is not necessarily visible at the level of social behaviour (3); the existence of racism is widely denied across cultures, with varying degrees of disguise (4); acknowledgement of racism is a prerequisite (but not at all a guarantee, or a bridge) to overcoming it.

 The concept of racism is meant here in the entirety of its broad scope and polysemy (plurality of meaning). "Racist" can be a description of attitudes (mental states of individuals or groups), ideologies (sets of socially constructed and politically functional ideas of whole societies, classes, cultures, etc.), social practices, institutions, etc. Of these, human rights advocates and international organisations have addressed issues of racism mostly in respect to social practices. This is understandable. While racist beliefs and attitudes can be present in a person's mind with varying degrees of conviction, awareness, scope and intensity, we can define somewhat less vaguely, and prohibit by law, racist acts as acts which contribute to ethnic or racial inequality in society.

 Critical race theory, a recent legal philosophy, the inception of which can be traced to a 1989 workshop in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, understands racism broadly. "Racism is viewed not only as a matter of individual prejudice and everyday practice, but as a phenomenon that is deeply embedded in language and perception. Racism is a ubiquitous and inescapable feature of modern society, and despite official rhetoric to the contrary, race is always present even in the most neutral and innocent terms.
Here is a list of a racist denial that I have come across. The list is not exhaustive.
Presenting race/ethnicity problems as only a social and economic problem.
We are not racist, and do not discriminate. We have no problem with the race or ethnicity of BME, but this group is economically and socially weak.

The "equality before the law" argument. Somewhat opposite to denial by presenting race problems as solely socio-economic problems, this one lays a stress on the existing allegedly equal protection by the law. The claim is: "Racial minority members are equal before the law, or are entitled to equal protection by the law, and therefore do not suffer discrimination in my country; anything that would favour them over others is unfair."

The "equal opportunity" (meritocratic) argument. This denial is similar to the "legal equality" argument, but in this case the claim goes like this: "BME members  enjoy equal opportunities with everyone else in our society. How they use these opportunities is up to them.

Denial by "the positive example" argument: "Look at those minority members who made it to the top of society, the company, etc." Accordingly, in social practice, a policy of tokenism is often used to fight back allegations of racism and discrimination.

Denial by disclaimer: "Some of my best friends are blacks".

Individualization and self-exclusion from the mainstream: "I love my black neighbour and her friendship is dearer to me than that of others; and such personal links are more important than race relations in the larger society".

The overstatement of historic optimism, the reference to historical progress in race relations: "Compare and consider how much has changed in the last 20 years; see how much the situation of BME has improved.

To become aware of existing denial and to acknowledge the presence of racism may become the beginning of a transformation, at a personal as well as political and cultural level. Acknowledgement may lead to reduction of racist attitudes and to anti-racist action. But it may also lead to acceptance.
I shall not say more but I am sure you get the picture. Racism still exists and the worst part is people hardly call you names now but make so subtle you can go home crying because you can’t report it to anybody. And even if you do they will say ‘you are a bit sensitive’.

All I can say is as Harper Lee said,’’ You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…. until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.I am a Black woman of African descent and I know how it feels to be racially discriminated against.  But if one has never left the comfort of their country or continent, never been in any minority situation, how then they can boldly say there is no racism?

Disclaimer: I am not whinging but responding to what was said to me on Wednesday the 27th September.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Why do we Label people?

A long time ago while I was in my last year in primary school my male teacher decided to hold a beauty contest in class. Yes in class, the panel of judges being my male classmates. Since we were nearing exam time there was not much teaching taking place. So here is how he decided to do it.

5 girls were to be chosen and of the 5 only one beauty queen was to be crowned. There was no price to be won but when one is at that age, everything matters, right?

To my dismay, I was one of the chosen five and I didn’t like the idea of us girls paraded in front of the whole class.  As we stood in front of two combined classes waiting for our fate, the teacher belted, who is the ugliest of the 5. Again to my horror my name was called out and I was to sit down.

Fast forward 28 years later, I am still questioning ‘what beauty is?’ A social construct like the other many that has allowed us to box people who are different from us is my answer.

Thin privilege, hetero privilege, white privilege, male privilege, white female privilege financial privilege and now pretty privilege- all social constructs stereotyping and labelling people.

Usually we are unaware of our privileges. They are such a normal part of our daily lives that we don't even consider them privileges. So much so that when someone calls us out on any of them we feel attacked.

So is pretty privilege a thing? It seems a bit strange for a privilege to be based on something as subjective as looks. The other aspects of one's identity such as sexual orientation, race and gender are usually more easily quantifiable (for lack of a better word).

What is pretty privilege?

To put it in simple speak, it's part of the reason why celebrities are good looking nine out of ten times. This is not to say that actual talent and merit are negated, but rather looks can grant you access that isn't so easily attainable for others.

"Perceived differently" is an apt way of putting it. And it's because of this perception that socially attractive people get treated differently or rather, more favourably than people not deemed conventionally pretty by mainstream standards.

We’re more likely to view them as intelligent, healthy, and socially capable simply because they look good.

It's not even about getting attention, but about how you can thaw ice just by walking into a room and suddenly people warm up to you or laugh harder at your jokes.

There's an episode of the 2012 sitcom, Partners, where the guys explain to Sophia Bush's character, Ali, that she's not actually as funny as she thinks she is - people only laugh at what she says because she's pretty.

This episode actually partially addressed what was mentioned earlier about how privileged people are unaware of their high position on social hierarchies until they find themselves in a situation where their privilege no longer serves as an access card to various perks.

Often pretty privilege is associated more with how the opposite sex perceives you (as was the case in this episode of Partners), but even people who identify as the same gender as you can treat you like a special snowflake just because of the perfect symmetry of your face.

We see it with girl squads, where the Beyoncé of the group is usually the most socially attractive girl or how in school everyone wants to be friends with the pretty girl.

And the most physically fit boy becomes the head boy - this whole thing gets carried all the way up to adulthood.

What is this phenomenon even based on?

I'll always remember this quote by Leo Tolstoy; "It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”

Because this is what pretty privilege is essentially based on - the association of beauty with goodness.

A Harvard research paper titled, Why Beauty Matters, presented findings on "the beauty premium", which states that "if someone is easy on the eyes, the enjoyment we derive from looking at them colours our perceptions of other attributes.

The research says we’re more likely to view them as intelligent, healthy, and socially capable simply because they look good."

The study also mentioned how this may even start as early as pre-school and primary school, where cuter children are given more attention by their teachers. And this attention yields better grades and more confidence in the future.

So how do you know you've got pretty privilege?

Everyone is beautiful, whether you think so or not, so who decides who gets these pretty privilege card or not?
It's not necessarily an arbitrary omniscient being handing out these benefits, but rather a series of "coincidences" which start making sense once you join the dots.
Like you know you've got pretty privilege when...

  • When people can't wrap their head around the fact that your boyfriend beat you to death because you're too pretty to be abused. What this mind-set implies is that the murder of a less attractive woman is not worthy of outrage and that if you’re attractive, the people you date will never ill treat you.
  • When everyone agrees that you're not the most talented vocalist, but your music career still somehow thrives anyway.
  • When your looks can get you further (and richer) in life than a degree ever could.
  • You're just shopping and minding your own business in a store and a stranger offers to pay for everything in your basket just because you look good.
  • Oh, and your drinks are often covered like all the other things you get "on the house."
  • You get a promotion because you just finished a training course while others in the same situation have to look elsewhere.
  • People respond promptly to your texts.
  • When your default response to someone being favoured over you is "she's not even that pretty," because you're so used to life  making your lemonade for you because of your good looks that you become as sour as the lemon life decided to throw at you for a  change.
  • When you a get a leadership position because you are male
  • When you get hired because you don’t have an accent
  • When you are not given  s**t stuff at work because you are one of them
  • When you have no idea what it feels to be different but thinks other are too sensitive of they point out what they find offensive
    Don’t get worked up for you have no idea what I have gone through!




































Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Gender inequality is still a major issue and women are still expected to shrink themselves in order to accommodate men.

 Please close your legs.

No, it’s not what you think… You’ve heard of mansplaining, manflu and all those other deeply annoying habits or behaviour attributed to men, right?

On the whole I don’t hate men, but to make a sweeping statement, they are problematic. You know, patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, etc - and I do know that there are women who advance these ideologies and yes, yes, yes #notallmen.

It seems like women continue to have to shrink, to accept having our rights encroached on and generally change our behaviour to suit men’s proclivities.
For those who don’t know what manspreading is, think about the last time you used public transport and had to rethink your seating plan because a man had splayed his legs invading your (or someone else’s) personal space.

We don’t wear short dresses to avoid rape, we take longer routes home to avoid the street corners that are notorious for being littered with catcallers and harassers, we don’t breastfeed our children in public, and we don’t talk about our periods publicly to avoid contempt and disgust.

The way in which girls and boys are socialized contributes to how we eventually behave as adults – from manspreading to having to hide sanitary towels on your way to the bathroom at work.

We learn there are things that boys can do but that girls cannot. As a child, my mother would scold me each time she found me lying on the couch with my legs spread while watching television. “Musatigarire beya” she would shout – Sit properly like a girl!

Photographer Marianne Wex’s photobook has around 5000 images that document men and women in different contexts and the differences between their body language – women have for decades, actually centuries, sat or stood to make themselves take up less space.

Why? Because men have a long history of social conditioning to sprawl out across as large an expanse as their testicles need ventilation.

It seems like women continue to have to shrink, to accept having our rights encroached on and generally change our behaviour to suit men’s proclivities.

Or tucking in or twisting our limbs around us to accommodate others.

But we don’t.

We need to take back our spaces. Men, join us, by closing your legs and accepting women as equals.Bottom of Form

Sunday, 3 September 2017

When BAME women struggle to Champion each other at work.

Like many BAME women I know, I have been incredibly fortunate to have had some amazing BAME women as mentors and colleagues. We‘ve supported each other, shared our knowledge and championed each other when other folks didn’t want us to succeed. My good friend Eugenia played such a role when I first came to the UK. And while I am grateful for the amazing BAME women who have blazed trails and been my sponsors along the way, I too have had to contend with women who looked like me who worked steadily and steadfastly against me. My experience many many moons ago in Botswana comes to mind!

Here are some ways of learning to put these disappointing experiences into perspective without losing your mind.

BAME Women are not monolithic

The idea that every BAME woman you meet wants to see you do well, is a fantasy. People come to the workplace with their own set of values, experiences, and objectives. There is no prototype for BAME women in the workplace. Don’t assume that just because someone shares your cultural, racial, and historical experience that she is wired to be in your corner. Two weeks ago I wrote about the queen bee at the work place and to an extend as women we can also be our own enemies BAME or Caucasian.

Remember BAME women aren’t immune to jealousy, competition and poor character. Figure out what you are dealing with and do what you can to mitigate the damage.

What Challenges is She Navigating?

Sometimes we wrongly assume that a BAME woman who appears to have ‘’arrived’’ isn’t still negotiating her own set of challenges just to maintain her position. She may be struggling to maintain her position , jumping through interoffice political hoops. She may have a position but not have the full power of her role or the institution behind her to help position you. Some organisations believe in visual diversity, but they aren’t built to lean into BAME women’s decision making and power.

While white men are said to be judged for their potential, women – and BAME women in particular- often find themselves in situations where their track records and successes are challenged on almost daily basis.

Internalized Racial Inferiority Might be a thing.

In short, internalized racial inferiority refers to the acceptance of white supremacy by people of colour. In practical terms, it leaves BAME women vulnerable to normalising and elevating other values and supremacy in the workplace. It leaves some to almost always defer and defend white supremacy in the workplace and to question not only her value and worth, but the value and worth of other people of colour at work as well. It can be likened to a kind of racialized Stockholm Syndrome- but it is always a clear signal that this particular sister won’t have your back.

Internalized racial inferiority is compounded by the fact that many workplaces that espouse mentoring and collaboration as core values, generally look askance at BAME women circles of support- Are you a gang? What are you up to? BAME women who support each other may find themselves penalized in the workplace and conversely BAME women who choose to go the road alone may find themselves rewarded. Either way this is for real and it complicates things.

Your Mentors Don’t have to look like you.

My BAME women mentors have helped me to navigate the racialized waters of the workplace over the years- waters where I am almost always being judged and where my words, actions and achievements are always weighed by my dual identities in a sexist and racist society. That being said, I have had wonderful white male and female mentors. I have been mentored by white folks who understood the nuances I’ve had to traverse, and who were in a unique position to help me view my capabilities and potential beyond the constraints of race and gender in ways that might not have occurred to me. (You know yourselves folks and thank you).

Remember, the reality is that no one owes you anything and you are in control of your own destiny. It doesn’t matter who supports you and who doesn’t. Be clear about who you are and what you are capable of.