“You’re life June…”
In a review of Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet a Billboard journalist summed the record up as condensing a theory of Dr Frances Cress Welsing that, “color‘s an issue created and concocted to take advantage of people of various characteristics with the benefit of a few,” and this need to create an other has really come to the forefront of my thinking lately in the run up to the neverendum and more sharply with the events of the past week.
The fear of the other leading to its demonisation is nothing new. It has characterised the human race for centuries from wild descriptions and drawings of peoples in newly discovered (at least by the European explorers that drew them) countries to children when I was growing up asking where mum was and being told she’d, “run away with a black man,” as if it was the worst fate that could befall anyone. The Prevent agenda too has been taken and confused and examples come out of trained professionals succumbing to looking for and blaming the other in a climate of suspicion and fear.
The violence at football matches in Euro 2016 involving English fans is the same, and while right thinking people would never condone such actions or come within a million miles of getting close to committing them, the thought processes involved in those throwing chairs and bottles is only distanced by the choice of action from those shouting, “Fuck you Bale,” at tv screens on Thursday afternoon when England made recompense for the centuries of wrong doing and oppression inflicted on their proud nation by the scurrilous and empire building Welsh with a 2-1 win. As Sick Boy reflected when looking at the family medicine cabinet maybe there are many more in their own safe middle class ways that are just as much an addict.
We seem predisposed to attack what we fear and find difference unnerving even when we’re not entirely sure what we are protecting. In a conversation yesterday I overheard someone working out what the traditional British dress was that everyone would have to wear when Boris, Michael and Nige win and the country becomes the Merchant Ivory film we all know it will be after next weekend. The best thing about the conversation for me was that nobody involved could work out what it should be. I say the best thing as, while in some quarters this would be seen as a shameful reflection of a society where we’ve lost a sense of identity, for me it’s a sign of where we’re doing things right as there is so much variation and diversity that you can’t say this or that equals English or British. And that’s a good thing.
I’m often asked why, with both English and Irish heritage, I wear emerald green not white during the six nations and tournaments like the one we’re now in the middle of and shy away from group photographs behind a St George’s flag in the pub on the 23rd April each year. Aside from the obvious differences between the two countries and how they choose to express themselves when their, “country’s patriots are hunting down below,” as illustrated in the two contrasting videos of Irish and English fans it’s an unwillingness, a fear, a refusal among so many to see the multicultural blend of the country as a positive and a beautiful reflection of what England is or, at least could be, if we wanted to make it that way.
I’ve linked to his work already so let’s do it properly and quote from Billy Bragg when comparing love for his country to that for his son;
“My son is part of me, and I want the best for him; I want him to flourish, to be at ease with himself,to be admired. But I recognise that he is not perfect, and when he makes mistakes I am compelled to speak out and correct him – I can’t merely accept and applaud everything he does just because he’s my son. Why not? Because I don’t want him to grow up to be a spoiled brat whom others despise – I want him to understand that there are consequences for his actions in the wide world. When he lives up to my expectations I am immensely proud and when we are apart, I think of him every day.
If I love my country in the same way, does that make me a patriot? Well, no, not in the traditional sense. Patriots seem unable to accept any criticism, however constructive. They value loyalty above honesty, deference over respect.”
Yesterday I was involved in a group iMessage where someone referred to England having completely outplayed both Russia and Wales and it made me think of those sentiments. It might be pedantic or semantics – and I’m equally irritating in my use of both – but the match with Russia ended in a draw in which it took England over 70 mins to score before the opposition equalised because of Joe “treacle hands” Hart and there’s something about completely outplaying someone that to me kind of needs to include winning – “loyalty above honesty.” Last night’s conversation perhaps inevitably included the violence around the stadiums and here again it was a look to the other as the Russians were “thugs that had spent ten years getting ready for this,” which I can only assume means that the English fans involved were simply victims in the wrong place at the wrong time. Inside the stadium I think there’s a huge argument for this and the sight of children being caught up in the violence was a deeply upsetting sight and a real contrast to the scenes of joy and celebration and community seen in other grounds in other matches when the tournament really showed what it should be about. But in the streets of Marseilles weren’t just Russians that had travelled there for trouble but English fans banned from grounds up and down the country who had gone to incredible lengths to get into a city long enough before a match not to be picked up just so they could kick off.
We can’t characterise a nation by the actions of a few (as Britain First have kindly reminded us today with what appears to be no sense of irony) and I’m not, but we can recognise that there are negative elements in any group, accept and acknowledge this and, more importantly, do something about it. On The Last Leg last week I think it was Russell Crowe that asked why this happens so much around the English to which Alex Brooker replied, “because we piss more people off than anyone else,” which made me think of my favourite film A Matter of Life and Death where David Niven is a pilot on trial and a jury is pulled together of various nations and generations (it’s in heaven, go watch it and this will make sense) all of which have been wronged by England. The Squadron Leader’s counsel then pulls together another jury having had an exchange with the American prosecutor about these grievances and asks for a jury;
“Of Americans, sir, selected from every walk of American life. If one has fought in the Wars of Independence, I want one who has fought with us against our enemies in this century.If the third has a mind that can only think 170 years back, I want the fourth to be thinking 170 years ahead. I cannot deny that I hope, that I know that this jury will be prejudiced in favour of my case for I am pleading for the rights of the individual against the system.”
He also invokes John Donne, Dryden, Pope and others to which Raymond Massey’s embittered American concedes as I do that there is greatness to be celebrated and great things to be proud of but we can’t do so and ignore the other side of the coin. Give me a patriotism that does both and and I’ll wear the rose – but I’m still not singing an appropriated slave song!
In the end love wins out and Peter Carter returns to earth with June (“Are you in love with anybody? No, don’t answer.” “I could love a man like you, Peter.” “I love you, June, you’re life and I‘m leaving you” – seriously go watch it) and there’s been lots of talk of how we have more love than hate and this is what’s come to the fore this week. I hope that it has, but it seems that in the aftermath of all of the events like those this week we talk about vigils and marches and hashtags of solidarity before it fading away gradually and the voices of hate and division coming to the fore again. In the hours following the shooting of Jo Cox people started by looking for why and that’s understandable, we try to make some sense of an act that defies any sense, but shortly after that and possibly due to the lack of any rationalisation that search turned to blame. Was the man linked to a far right organisation so we could use the death to justify hatred towards them? Nick Griffin sensed this and immediately tweeted that he hoped the “crumbling” remain campaign wouldn’t use this for political gain (what is it with the right and a lack of grasping the disgusting hypocrisy of their statements?). Similarly in Orlando the instant reaction was to try and find a group other than the one we belong to to place the shooter among. He was a muslim so clearly this was an act of terrorism based on hatred of homosexuality, oh but hang on he frequented the club so erm, he was gay as well? That’s more tricky to put in a box on the Fox News shelf and that’s without getting into the seemingly homophobic governmental and legal system in Orlando.
So what do we do when we can’t find an ideology or religion to place someone in and categorise them? We need the other in these circumstances as they’ve now been transformed from something to fear as something to blame, or perhaps more accurately someone to look to and be able to use to distance ourselves from any kind of responsibility and mental illness is a great way to do this and always delivers. No matter who we are and what our faith or political beliefs are we can take solace in the fact that mental illness puts anyone who commits an act that we can’t comprehend a comfortable distance from us and sit back safely knowing that it was because there was something wrong with the individual, the loner, the confused and deranged NOT LIKE ME person who does these things.
Despite one in four people suffering some form of mental illness each year and many more being touched by it, despite the funding for help lines, education, medication and beds being reduced each year we are safe knowing that there really was nothing that could have been done. The rhetoric of our politicians spewing hate and fear across the airwaves for their own gain that some don’t have the capacity to filter isn’t at fault: the stigma in society that means those suffering from mental illnesses can’t speak up isn’t at fault; that mental health patients have an invisible illness so suffer benefit cuts (and their disgracefully not alone in this) isn’t at fault; the fact that they find it massively difficult to get back into work and build a life even after they have got to point where they manage their conditions isn’t at fault. It’s just something wrong with them that most importantly isn’t wrong with me.
I read a tweet yesterday where someone said that no matter what your ideology someone who is mentally deviant will always act this way. I’ve tried to find a generous interpretation of what he was trying to say regarding the vulnerable in society being prone to exploitation or something but that language. Deviant? Always? Can you imagine some being called a cancer deviant or a heart attack deviant? Or, “well you know those people on dialysis they’re always going to do horrendous things”? What was even more troubling was that in the string of tweets full of arguments on creed, colour, nationality and sexuality neither the author of the tweet this was responding to or any of the others in the exchanges seemed to notice or question the terminology.
Earlier I mentioned the doubts I have over the power of vigils and hashtags to lead to real change and I’ve written previous posts about how these things run the risk of making people feel like they are taking action while becoming dangerously close to tokenism. That doesn’t mean they don’t serve a fantastically important purpose in giving a sense of belonging and community but let’s not let it stop there and let’s not let that feeling of solidarity be at the expense of others. If we do then we are as divisive as any of those we might oppose. Also let’s do what we can to turn the outpouring of emotion and expressions of love over hatred into positive action not just a rainbow across our Twitter avatar.
In the aftermath of Jo Cox’s shooting Thank Your MP was being used as a hashtag. There were some fantastic examples of public servants doing great things for their communities but with a cynical head on how many others using it have engaged with politics or politicians even at this local level? And how many others are there that the community around them would question whether they really deserve the gratitude? If they don’t then do something about it and get them acting to challenge the actions and words of those they may share a platform with so they are helping to resolve the problems we face and prevent further hatred and tragedy. As educators let’s work with our children and communities to challenge ignorance, fear and hatred wherever we see it and equip future generations with the understanding, foresight, and courage to do so in the future. And let’s do it every day; let’s make our words ones of kindness, our thoughts full of compassion and our actions full of love – joining in like the “big mushy lads” below and helping EVERYONE to do the same.
Lots of Love