The Week That Was…

24 10 2009

There were two notable news stories this week. Except that the first wasn’t really that notable unless you’re a history geek like myself. I don’t want to really discuss this story in much detail except to say that it seems that it is much easier now to be a public fool than it ever was in the past. The Internet, which Menzies credits for revolutionising history (which, undoubtedly is true – check out one of the best First World War sites written by one of my own course predecessors for evidence of this), also makes it easier to be made to look very, very stupid, as Menzies himself has done. Of course Menzies has attempted a disclaimer by admitting he knows nothing, but he seems to show a fundamental understanding of what history is. It is not, in any way, about simply about writing down a few soundbite statements and then hoping there will be a few documents somewhere which will support you. It is, instead, about the whole process of investigation, exploration and interpretation. It is about going into an investigation with an open mind, not a pre-conceived idea of what you expect to find. The end product is incidental to the process of exploring history.

Anyway, moving swiftly onto the next big idiot of the week, Nick Griffin. Whilst the newspapers have been splashed cover to cover with his sloped-gaze of general bigotry and ignorance, Griffin has finally proved himself publically to be the racist, stupid prat we had all known he was. He has come out of the Question Time debacle, and all he has got to show for it is a complaint to the BBC that there were people protesting against him.

Well, not quite all, because apparently, according to a YouGov poll, some 22% of the population would now consider voting BNP. However, if pushed, only 3% would do so tomorrow. Just for the sake of the maths, 3% of the 1,314 people who were surveyed is just over 39 people. Which, in all fairness, is somewhere near what they were polling prior to the programme.

Now Peter Hain can get all worked up that the BBC has given exposure to a party which it shouldn’t be doing. However, I’m guessing that if the majority of the eight million people who watched the programme (plus those of us who watched it on IPlayer later) actually listened to Griffin, then we all know that (a) the BNP have very little in the way of policy beyond racial cleansing, and (b) Griffin was made to look like a complete idiot by everyone in that studio. Especially by Bonnie Greer. Plus, can someone please tell me how his history of the English people seems to ignore the fact that as a people we were colonised by Germans?

Griffin was not given the opportunity to vent his soundbites which he had obviously rigorously prepared beforehand, nor was he allowed to look like his words had an ounce of rationality to them. He was hopelessly out of his depth, and was shown to be nothing more than the voice for a racist few. Which, incidently, are still going to be present regardless of whether Griffin was here or not. If nothing else the programme shows that the BNP do not have supporters as much as the other parties have people who will not vote for them. I’ve said it before, but it is the job of these parties to demonstrate just what they can do for these people who feel so disillusioned that they vote BNP in protest rather than anything else. Once these people have been convinced, the BNP will struggle along with the few people who still think it is right that colour, race or ethnicity should have anything to do with anything.

I’ve championed free speech and a platform policy before and I will continue to do so as it provides ample opportunity to show people the ‘truth’ about those up on the stage. The ‘truth’ is that following Thursday’s events, the BNP are nothing more than a confused racist organisation fronted by a strange little man with a warped version of history, and an even more warped understanding of what the Ku Klux Klan actually is. Don’t fear him, he has nothing which we should be afraid of. Continue showing him up, making him look stupid, and continue working out how to win back voters.

Finally on this, Britain is not like Germany in the 1930’s for the simple reason that we have a monarch. Just a thought for the few doom-mongers who seem paralysed by the fear of the BNP.

No Longer Racist…?

22 02 2009

I read today with interest that the MET is apparently “no longer racist” according to Jack Straw. By this he meant that the MET is no longer “institutionally racist” as opposed to specifically racist. That’s great news in the 21st century.

Yet I don’t feel happy about this at all. Racism is still prominant in today’s society. Yet it is not white-on-black racism. Nor is it black-on-white racism. It is, at least in my experience, white-on-white, orchestrated by our caring government.

Allow me to explain. About a month ago I found an interesting job/career opportunity that I was keen to apply for. I read through the information and was hugely encouraged about the opportunity. Until I read one line, “ for a candidate from the Black or Minority Ethnic Communities“. Meaning that I could not apply because I would not be considered for the role. I would not be considered on racial grounds. This is, I am convinced, racial discrimination. I grew more disillusioned as I read the accompanying blurb about the council which said “ [the] Council is committed to ensuring that job applicants are treated fairly and consistently and that no one is disadvantaged or discriminated against because of their gender, ethnicity, age, disability or any other personal characteristic which has no bearing on their ability to do the job“. To my mind, the two statements completely contradict each other. Angry that I was being forced out of applying for the role due to my ethnicity, I wrote to the council in question, demanding answers.

This is the full response:

Thank you for your letter of 3rd February 2009 expressing your concerns that the Arts and Museum Trainee opportunity advertised by [the] Council is only available to a candidate from the Black or Minority Ethnic Communities.

I will try to address the concerns you raise and assure you that the Council is acting responsibly in offering this opportunity.

The post is not a permanent appointment but a Positive Action Traineeship 24 week work placement with bursary.

Positive-action training within the museum sector is part of a much wider initiative to address the under-representation of Black and Minority Ethnic staff in museum services locally, regionally and nationally.

The Arts and Museum Trainee opportunity, which is being hosted by The Arts and Museum Service, is part of a national strategic initiative developed by the Museum Association called the Diversify Scheme. This aims to create long term changes in the cultural diversity of the museum workforce. Diversify has received significant government funding through the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and forms part of the Positive Action training which has been advocated in the museums sector since the late 1990s.

Positive action training is not a quick fix but is designed to create long-term sectoral and cultural changes which will encourage a wider pool of potential applicants for permanent positions. The Arts and Museum Service is committed to supporting this process.

You raised the concern in your letter that the County Council was acting in a discriminatory way in only allowing candidates from Black or Ethnic Minority communities to apply for the Arts and Museum Trainee opportunity. All public authorities have a duty to promote race equality under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

The Race Relations Act does not allow positive discrimination or affirmative action- in other words, an employer cannot try to change the balance of the workforce by selecting someone for a job because she or he is from a particular racial group. This would be discrimination on racial grounds, and unlawful. Selection must be raised on merit and all applicants treated equally.

However, employers can take positive action. The Race Relations Act 1976, Section 37 (1) sets the legal framework for organisations to take positive action. The aim of positive action is to ensure that people from previously excluded minority groups can compete on equal terms with other applicants. It is intended to make up for the accumulated effects of past discrimination. The law does not compel employers to take positive action, but it allows them to do so. Section 37 (1) is the section relevant to running positive action training initiatives.

The enclosed document, “What is Positive Action and How Does it Work”, outlines the rationale behind running this scheme . The scheme was run successfully in the County last year and continues to run across the Region in other organisations including Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

I hope that you are satisfied with my response to your complaint. The Council takes complaints very seriously and we do investigate each one carefully. If you need any further clarification or explanation of what I have told you, please contact me. If you are not satisfied with this response you have a right to request that the matter be reviewed by the Corporate Director at Stage 2 of our Customer Feedback/ Complaints Procedure.

In actual fact, the letter has done nothing to convince me that I was not racially discriminated against, but due to a combination of other things, I have not pursued the issue any further.

There are a few points which jump out at me:

1. They can, apparently, discriminate to make up for past discrimination. The logic is that two wrongs will make a right.

2. They seem to think that because everyone else does similar things that somehow justifies it. It doesn’t, in fact, it makes things worse.

3. They are trying to force an issue here. They have identified that people from minorities are not getting the roles they are advertising, so have simply said that they will only consider people from those backgrounds.

4. They do not offer a similar opportunity for white people.

5. They dress up the discrimination in another term and somehow think that makes it better. It doesn’t.

There is something more fundamental about this problem. I accept that there may not be the numbers of minorities in the library/museum sector. This shouldn’t be made into my problem though. The council have made it my problem because I have been alienated from applying for a role which may be beneficial for my future career. Addressing this issue of a lack of numbers should occur at a lower level, more likely at school level. I do not have the answer to the problem, but I am absolutely convinced that the solution that has been found is completely the wrong one. Racism is not dead, far from it. There is still the more traditional forms of racism, but we should not forget that white people can be discriminated against too. The solution to older problems of racism is to over-compensate now, thus actually remaining racist, but against a group which isn’t allowed by society to complain about it.


9 08 2008

Over the past week, I have spent some time in the company of my grandparents, and have been reminded what wonderful people they are. I have two little points I wish to share with you to illustrate this.

Firstly, I was in the pub with my grandfather, dad, uncle and cousins the other day. I will set the scene further for you: it is a quiet country pub, home to locals, and the occasional family looking for somewhere to eat. The atmosphere is warm and the bar staff are welcoming. If I’m going to be brutally honest, it is quite a Conservative pub (although most of my ‘neighbourhood’ is), and the people in it are reasonably traditional (well the locals are).

Anyway, back to the story. As mentioned it doesn’t just cater to the locals, but is trying to build a reputation for food, with more people visiting for a meal now. Whilst we were sat there around various pints, in came a couple, a white man and a black woman. I think it is fair to say both were quite ‘big’ people, the sort of people you wouldn’t particularly want to start arguing with. My grandfather though, ever one for political correctness visibly turned his nose up at the woman. Then made two remarks, both which rate quite highly in the cringe-worthiness ratings. Firstly he said (and I paraphrase slightly), “I bet his social life has declined a hell of a lot“, in a reasonably loud voice. The trouble with grandparents is that you know they genuinely mean what they say, and have no concept of being politically aware (nor indeed of racism- which is odd given my grandfather very definitely has a conciousness of racism, being as he was, one of the first employers in Wolverhampton to welcome black workers, and to this day has many black friends). However, if that first remark wasn’t bad enough, the second was just painfully funny. Again, I paraphrase: “So, I’ve asked my wife this, but she didn’t know, so I’ll ask you lot. [Pause of about 5 seconds] How on Earth do people like that pee?” I presume he was talking about fat people, rather than black people, but then you never can tell with grandparents.

Anyway, that was the slightly jovial side of this post. The more important point came as I was driving my Gran home. As she is getting on a bit, she very much dislikes driving down the miles of country lanes to our house to visit, so she gets dropped off by my grandfather one afternoon a week, and one of us take her home again. This week it was me who had to take her back home. As we were meandering through the lanes, conversation turned to post-offices. Her local village post office is on the list for closure. This post-office is the only shop in the village of about (and here I’m guessing) 700 people. This village is very much an old village, there are few youngsters (that’s not to say there are none), and I would guess the average age is somewhere close to 50. For these people, the village shop and post-office is somewhere they can go to talk to other villagers, it is somewhere they can go to get groceries, and to sort out pensions. It is somewhere they can go to post letters, or to buy stamps. In short, it is a very important part of the village. If it is shut down, my Gran informed me, the owners would not be able to keep the shop open as simply a shop. The nearest post-office is two villages over. That’s about 10-15 miles away. Which is quite a short journey by car or bus. It’s much longer to walk, especially if you are getting on a bit, and have dodgy knees, hips, back, feet or any other body part. So why not catch the bus I hear you cry? That would be the bus that goes through the village four times a day? That would be the bus that for two of those times is filled with school children (and I mean filled)? That would be the bus that, in reality, is hopelessly impractical, and too infrequent? Yeah, that one. Which means that, when this village post office shuts, the only option is for people to drive to the other village. Which, I’m reasonably sure, cannot be helping the environment (as it is encouraging more cars onto the road), and is just a bad solution for most pensioners who do not drive anymore.

My Gran then went onto inform me that they could fight tooth and nail to keep this post-office open. They very well might win. But (and I apologise if people already knew this but I didn’t) the government have a set number they must shut. So if one gets kept open, it means another one somewhere else must be shut down. Which means that fighting for one post-office is condemning another, with, in all likelihood similar circumstances, to closure. How’s that for attacking the conscience of older people? Why should they be forced to argue (effectively) that their post-office (and by logical continuation, themselves) is more important than somewhere else? Well, the simple answer is because the government says so. Great.

Anyway, to continue this a little bit further, I was then speaking to my dad about it, and he told me an example of one post-office owner who was interviewed about the number of signatures a petition to keep his PO open had attracted. His nonchalant answer was (along the lines of) “This is great, but is totally wrong. If even half the people who have signed this petition actually used my post-office, I would be doing very good business. The trouble is, they don’t use it, and are just simply jumping on a band-wagon.

The decision to close post-offices was, and remains, a controversial one. I cannot say that I’m hugely thrilled about the decision. The problem is very much a generational one too, people of my generation cannot see what the problem is. Those of older generations very clearly can.

I thought that it was fitting that in a week where I have reflected on the merits of children, and have turned 21, I should look and think about grandparents too. Many apologies if this has rambled on, but it is something important to consider I think.

Innocence and experience…

6 08 2008

Whislt doing a favour for my neighbours tonight in watching their kids for a couple of hours, I was struck by two thoughts. Firstly, who was “Uncle Ben”? And what the hell made his sauces so popular?

This though was not the most pressing issue of the night. The second point I wish to tell you all about occurred as I was putting the eldest child to bed. At 8, this kid was no mug. Instead he was a polite, well-spoken, obviously intelligent lad, but the book he chose for me to read to him was an interesting one. My distinct lack of short-term memory means that I cannot remember the name of the book or the author, but I shall give you a brief overview of it. Essentially it was a poem, split, like childrens books are, over numerous pages, with just a few lines on each page. The theme was vaguely religious. The poem told of men, and their world (albeit in simplistic childhood terms).

It was though the illustrations that made the most impression on me. Starting with wide images of the globe, and then of countryside and towns, the book moved into looking at just one town. It appeared to be a nice, calm, peaceful town in the first pages, but, as the poem moved on, there were, slowly, subtley, images of war thrown in. An odd tank here. A helicopter there. By the end of the poem, the town had been decimated by war. The tanks and helicopters had moved on, and the inhabitants were beginning to pick up the pieces. It should be noted that the poem itself made no mention of war, or any kind of fighting, or destruction. The connotations of the words were seized upon by the illustrator and used to introduce young people to war.

This tale was simple enough for an 8 year old to understand the connotations, even if the significance eluded him. It was a very interesting example of how realities of the world, in this case war; are introduced to children. The poem ended with a sense of optimism, the suggestion of a thought that man can be good, and need not go to war. Which is perhaps idealistic, but hey, kids are idealistic aren’t they?

Added to this is the book that I am currently re-reading. Harper Lee’s famous “To Kill a Mockingbird” still strikes a chord with me. It shows (brilliantly, in my opinion) the rationale of children to the negative aspects of adulthood. In this case it was racism. Through the children’s eyes we see how such things as racism are in fact no more than irrational, irresponsible thoughts of adults trying to improve things for themselves (by which I mean, if they can pick on someone, they will not be at the perceived bottom of the social ladder).

Children are not stupid. They are highly perceptive people, with a view of the world guided solely by balance and logic. As they get older they become corrupted by cynicism, and the realities of a modern world filled by varying complexities. I think that if we adhered to the rationale of a child in some cases, the world might get somewhere.

Glory, Glory…

23 06 2008

Football and race have rarely worked well together in modern times. There was the appaling monkey chants in the Spain-England friendly a few years ago. Trips to eastern Europe still see such ignorance occurring from an increasingly small minority in the stands. Whilst there are numbers of black players, there are few from Hinduism, or Sikhism. That said, racism is thankfully dying (albeit slowly), on a football stage at least.

The news today that Paul Ince is to be confirmed as the new manager of Blackburn Rovers is something which is painfully groundbreaking. Ince will be the first black Briton to manage in the top flight of English football. His two (yes, just two) black predecessors (Jean Tigana and Ruud Gullit) failed to have a real, lasting impact on English football (discounting, of course, Gullit’s “sexy football” comments).

To emphasise the importance of this step is both easy and difficult. On the one hand, we are in 2008. Race issues do still occur worldwide, but in Britain at least, we have long since departed from the issues relating to racial equality. It is obvious that black people can be promoted to high positions in companies. On the other, football is an interesting beast, removed slightly from the realities of society (a problem exacerbated by the increasing truckloads of cash being thrown around- how anyone can justify spending £50million [as Ronaldo is rumoured to be worth] on one man is beyond me). Race problems are still there, under the surface. Ince’s appointment is just one further step at eroding these problems. It will not, obviously, cure all the problems, but it will contribute in a meaningful way.

Ince is a beacon. Not only for black people, but for young people as well. He has worked hard, throughout his career. Whilst, it can be argued, loyalty was maybe not his strongest attribute, commitment for a cause was certainly one. Anyone remember his bloodied head following a match against Italy? Respected as a player by most people in football, Ince began his management career at Macclesfield Town. He then proceeded to keep them in the football league, something of a minor miracle. He followed that up by getting MK Dons promoted. Now he joins Blackburn. The step up is big, but Ince will make it with ease.

Quite why this appointment (not of Ince necessarily, but of another black manager) has taken so long is anyones guess. There is, of course, a dearth of black managers out there. Those who are there are have failed to move higher than League 1. These are the problems which still need addressing, how can we improve the situation for these people, what can be done to help black people make it in the game outside of playing it? Ince will act as a signal, a starting point. I hope we see more talented black managers making it big sooner rather than later.

What is fact?

13 03 2008

Having been busy recently, I have had neither the time nor the willingness to write anything about anything. This is despite recent events such as the budget, or the storms hitting the UK, or the death of Michael Todd, or English crickets continuous woeful form.

But today I saw this. And felt compelled to add my two cents worth.

Now on some level I think I agree with Geraldine Ferraro. She has, in my eyes, highlighted a very important issue which tends to be overlooked. “Racism works in two different directions. I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white” she said, and said that anything negative about Obama was instantly seized upon as being racist. For me, it should be much more widely accepted that racism does indeed work both ways. The culture in which we seem to live is that being racist only works towards black people. This should definately not be the case. It should be noted and accepted by society that white people can just as easily suffer racist abuse from black people as vice versa.

However, I completely disagree with her when she suggests that Obama was doing well because he was black. For me, he is doing well because he engages with Joe Public much better than Clinton. And I’m not still not sure that he plays the race card as frequently as Clinton plays her woman card. This whole issue seems to suggest to me that the whole Clinton team is beginning to feel the squeeze as things are moving towards the end of the race. Obama, apparently coolness personified, just plods on, doing what he is doing, very focused. Even the problems that he has faced, he has taken in his stride.

This is epitomised by events last week, as Hillary insisted she was given a raw deal by having to field the first question at every event the pair attended. Despite the success she had last week, she still trails Obama, and I think the pressure of being runner-up may be starting to really show now.