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I mentor excluded, marginalised, vulnerable teenagers in North London. I work for an organisation that enables them to achieve educational qualifications and provides pastoral care and support.
These teenagers encounter obstacle after obstacle in their development; abuse, neglect, poverty and systems that appear destined to fail them. I’ve worked as a mentor for three years and I have no doubt that in relation to young black males, the police are an equally obstructive obstacle.
My father was a victim of racist treatment by the police when he arrived in England from Lebanon in the 1970s. I will never forget the raw anger and emotion in his voice as he described his experiences. My parents lived through the Broadwater Farm riots in the 1980s and educated me on the wider context of police racism.
Below is Goldsmiths Solidarity Network’s statement for #copsoffcampus. It’s very much worth reading in full, and, as ever, building active solidarity between this upsurge in militancy and organisations doing difficult and often widely ignored work on police violence and racism.
Last week, months of careful organization and mobilization came to a head as students at ten universities occupied their campuses in support of the HE strike. The last of these occupations, at Senate House in Bloomsbury, was met with violent repression: UoL management called in the police, and the results were appalling, if not surprising. Hundreds of us gathered the following day to defy police in Bloomsbury. We are intensely proud to be struggling alongside our fellow students, and we will continue to do so until we get the cops off all campuses. In addition to their brutal interventions this past week, they have been conducting racist stop-and-searches, arresting ULU activists, and arresting students active in the 3cosas campaign. We are proud to see students protecting one another and standing up to the police, to see the de-arrests and the passionate indignation, as well as the refusal to be divided into “good protesters” and “bad protesters”. We are proving ourselves capable of responding to police aggression and are ready to strike back.
We need to remember, however, that we (as students) are neither the first to suffer such attacks, nor bear the brunt of state violence. Since we are living and studying in South East London, the police’s ongoing campaign of violence and intimidation against working people, and people of colour in particular, is painfully clear to us. The sirens are a permanent feature of life — as are stories of young people locked up or beaten, roadblocks targeting Black drivers, the aggressive UKBA raids, or the constant, petty harassment and stop-and-searches. Not to mention the recent police raids brutally targeting sex workers in Soho this week [http://www.sexworkeropenuniversity.com/2/post/2013/12/press-release-swou-responds-to-the-soho-raids.html] which have also been passed over in silence.
Now that a small measure of this violence has struck us too, we call on our fellow students to actively support the struggles of groups and organizations such as the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, Newham Monitoring Project, and the United Friends and Families Campaign. The actions of the police last week in Bloomsbury have attracted more media attention than the far more brutal violence committed against people of colour daily, and mobilized more students on the street and the internet than past responses to appeals for solidarity from the UFFC or LCAPSV. It would be nothing short of a disgrace if we fail to point out that police violence is structural and a constant feature of life for hundreds of thousands of Londoners. It would be shameful if we fail to act in solidarity with others facing police violence. Our solidarity is an empty and self-absorbed gesture if we are incapable of extending it beyond our campuses.
In the short amount of time remaining before the national day of action, we call on all Student Unions, independent student networks, and organizing committees, to get in touch with local groups campaigning against police brutality and offer their practical solidarity. We firmly believe that the national day of action should provide a platform for these groups to voice their anger; under no circumstances should the day be reserved for students alone. The strength of our actions from the previous week is a consequence of our willingness to support the struggles of workers and to find common ground with the people with whom we share the universities. This national day of action is another opportunity to find common ground with our neighbours and friends with whom we share this city, but only if we are willing to cede centre stage and organize in a manner which acknowledges that this issue is bigger than cops on campuses. We cannot, and should not, attempt to lead a campaign; rather, we need to be intelligent and humble enough to learn from and support communities who have been struggling and fighting for years with dignity, creativity, and an inexhaustible patience in the face of institutional indifference and token media coverage.
Cops off every campus, and out of every neighbourhood!
Goldsmiths Solidarity Network
There were pieces of my family all over the road. I picked up those pieces from the road and from the truck and wrapped them in a sheet to bury them.
Do the American people want to spend their money this way, on drones that kill our women and children?"
Miya Jan, an Afghan man who recounts the events after a drone strike pummeled his village and killed his brother, along with his sister-in-law and 18 month old nephew.
American reports claimed 11 people died that day, the overwhelming majority being Taliban militants, while the inhabitants of the village refute saying 14 people died and they were innocent civilians.
Also more from the article, a 19 year old man named Abdul Ghafar, who lost his mother, brother, sister-in-law and nephew in drone strikes, which fly over his home several times a day states:
“The Americans say they are here to protect us. No — they’re here to kill us and terrorize our women and children. These be-pilots fly over our village almost every day. They spy on people and steal their lives. Children are afraid to go to school. People are afraid to stand in a group because they fear these planes will shoot a missile at them.”
Selfies are basically a medium where the subject can present herself to the gaze. The apparent personality and privacy of selfies is indicative of the penetration of the omnipresent Gaze and Other. We don’t need to go to Macy’s and use their backdrop to have our picture taken anymore, we can do so in our bedroom. Seemingly, then, we have complete control over the nature of the selfie. But we reproduce the Gaze by acting by ourselves to police our selfies to be acceptable. There is no position outside of the Gaze
calling upon the fury. these poems are spells…badan holding hawa, pani, dharti, aag, yaadein, beej:
"The body is a storyteller. Each act of illness is an epic tale about interactions of flesh, spirit, and environment, for which we have no language, since we have split existence into these three domains. Language, naming, is a way to make the overwhelming sensory flood of experience manageable, and for the sake of defining this against that, we distinguish things, separate them, hold them against each other, make culture and are made by it, and still the truth of our bodies lies in a realm language can’t fully grasp… “-Aurora Levíns Morales
I had left Sri Lanka, which is still a very unsafe place. For me to get here, I had to learn to speak English, I had to go to art school, become a rapper — because it’s what America understood the most, in terms of communication — get to America, stand in front of respected TV channels like CNN and Fox. And I was like, “Hi, my name is M.I.A. I’m a Tamil and I come from Sri Lanka. Oh, by the way: There’s a war coming to an end, but it’s not as easy as the government killing terrorists. It’s a lot of civilians getting killed, and they’re using chemical weapons. Footage is being uploaded to YouTube, which is disgusting.” And everybody told me to F off. They were just like, “We don’t understand you; you’re a liar,” and discredited the work that I had done for 10 years. […]
One is a story where an American person goes to Uganda and picks out the story, puts it into context and then uploads it to YouTube, and then a lot of Americans can understand it. And me, I can be in the same category as Jacob, but I did the journey myself — nobody had to come to my village and save me and articulate my story. I’d learned the language myself, I built the platform myself, got to a microphone myself, got nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar the same month, to make the biggest platform possible in America. Then I told the story — and it didn’t translate."
you know what’s really “rapey”? being part of demographic which is overwhelmingly subject to rape and forced into sex work by a society which justifies treating you in such a way because you are “disgusting” and a “freak” and compares you to a rapist when you possess the political consciousness required to question the underlying cultural assumptions behind being portrayed in such a manner
Who are the most oppressed people in England? Gender and sexual minorities, disabled people and… soldiers? Yes, according to England’s “left” party, who want to add “being in the military” to a list of legally protected characteristics. (Unless anyone can tell me different, I’m assuming the actual motivation here is dogwhistle Islamophobia.)
At times like this I’m glad that the GGGG movement has established a firm international movement against militarism, and is hence in a strong position to push back. Ahahahaha. Anyway, next up, I hope to see trans* protections being expanded to include cisphobia, and spot fines for anyone who makes a white woman cry.
Who needs the right wing, when you’ve got a ‘left’ party like this?
Last week, Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham in South London signed a letter to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling asking that the criminalisation of squatting in residential buildings (brought in last year) be extended to commercial premises too. This afternoon Umunna, who has come under public attack for this letter has responded by writing a little article on his blog defending his position. I can’t offer a full critique of what he has said on squatting (it’s late at night, and I have already had too much to drink), but I did want to pick up on a couple of points.
Imagine the scenario of a jail with ten prisoners. The governor of the jail decides one day that he will organise a race that all the prisoners must compete in. At the end of the race the three who come last will be shot. The others will return to their cells. Now imagine that one of the prisoners gets a head start. What are the attitudes of the other prisoners in the race towards him? Of course they hate him, they pour scorn on him. The governor spots the prisoner getting a head start, stops the race, and shoots that prisoner immediately. He then allows the remaining nine prisoners to line up and restart the race, announcing that now only the last two will be shot. The prisoners thank him for that decision.
It’s a strange scenario because here the governor stands for “fairness”. But fairness is double-edged here: he not only guarantees that the prisoners will have an equal chance of surviving, but he guarantees absolutely that three of them will be shot. The prisoners’ hatred for the one who got the headstart is certainly misplaced: instead they should hate the governor who put them in the position of having to race for their lives. The prisoners’ thanks to the governor for being fair is certainly misplaced too. Sure, he was fair to each of them within the scenario. But for having created the scenario, for having overseen it, and carried it through, he is demonic.
Such a notion of “fairness” seems difficult to defend, but this is precisely what Umunna did when he wrote on twitter,
No doubt Umunna would question the analogy with a prison, but what we are talking about is that people who can’t afford housing – and there are hundreds of thousands in Britain who are homeless, that alongside just under 70,000 mortgages more than 6 months in arrears, of which 70% or more than 12 months in arrears. Many of these people will, in the coming years, be made homeless. Some of them will end up living on the street. In the past many of those on the street would have squatted, as it is much safer than sleeping rough. Where squatting is criminalised people who would have otherwise squatted are condemned to needlessly die. This is why the homelessness charities Crisis and Shelter made submissions to the government against the criminalisation of squatting last year.
Umunna tries to avoid mentioning this when he writes, “For those particularly vulnerable squatters, homeless through personal tragedy and deep structural forces, do I think that squats are safe places for them to live or part of a long-term solution to homelessness? No.”
What he doesn’t say is that they are considerably safer than the street. Many people each year are saved from dying by squats. They might not always be ideal – indeed I know very few squatters who wouldn’t rather live somewhere they didn’t have to worry about police raids, violence from property owners, not having heating etc. But they are certainly better than the street.
We ought to remember the scenario of the race here. This is a matter of needless and arbitrary death - mainly of the vulnerable - presided over by a government in the name of fairness. But where this fairness kills, surely it is time to start asking questions. Those who thank the government for their administration of fairness fall in line with the pointless murder of their fellow humans, rather than realising that the administration of a system that arbitrarily kills is what really needs to be removed. These people favour themselves over those who run a little slower, and are willing to take their chances. They often forget that the race will happen again tomorrow, and the day after.
Nettlefold Hall and Patmos Lodge
Among Umunna’s various statements and tweets about squatting over the last couple of days, two cases have come up that he claims have cost the local council very large amounts of money. It might be worth looking at them a little more carefully. (I have done this quick research from Germany so if I have made mistakes please correct me and I will correct the article.)
Umunna claims in his blog post that squatters have done £150,000 of damage to an old closed library called Nettlefold Hall. But this is only part of the story. Nettlefold Library has been closed for two years. It closed because someone stole the copper off the roof. In the process the thieves managed to dislodge asbestos that was in the building, and consequently the library was shut. The council have been extremely slow to move on opening the library again, because they had other plans afoot. Amidst libraries closing across the country, the council decided that it would take advantage of this misfortune of having the roof stolen in order to get a private company to redevelop the site. By the middle of 2012 the deal was done: a company called City Screen Ltd (since June this year Picturehouse Ltd) was to redevelop the site, and would build a cinema there, but would also keep the library running. So essentially, the council decided it was going to give away some publicly owned real estate to a private company in order to get their library done up for cheap. I can’t find figures on the internet for the nature of the deal (more often than not these will not be available to the public because they are “commercially sensitive”) but apparently the plans for the complex will be available at the end of the Summer. To some this may sound like a good idea, but to most the story will be well-known that this type of transfer of land involves local people losing out in the long run. The value of the land to be given away likely exceeds the £150k clean-up operation by several orders of magnitude.
But, I can imagine, some readers might have a soft-spot for the picturehouse chain. The are some of the few cinemas that show a wide range of films, and only a medium sized business (turnover of about £25m a year). Well maybe you like these small business, but last year City Screen Ltd was bought out by Cineworld Ltd (current market cap.: £623m, annual turnover 2012: £359m) in a deal that has been reported to the competition commision, with the result that the new conglomerate will probably have to sell some of its cinemas as it was creating monopolies in some cities. That’s knocked 10% off the share price in the last couple of weeks alone, so perhaps this is why the story has ended up in the media. Anyhow, that doesn’t sound to me like the sort of company anyone – regardless of your political affiliations – ought to be supporting giving public land away to, in order to save money clearing up some asbestos.
It is worth being clear here that if the building is full of asbestos and is having significant building work done on it, then there will be expensive clearing work that needs to be done. The squatters in the building just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – the council had kept the library closed for well over a year just to save a bit of money by making a deal with an enormous cinema company, much to the disdain of the local community who like the runners in our race are now backing the council against the squatters.
Patmos Lodge, another property mentioned by Umunna (this time in his Letter to Grayling), which he again claims is costing the council £150,000, is a slightly more straightforward case. Patmos Lodge is a victim of the current cuts. The page on the Lambeth website reads,
“Patmos Lodge is a vacant site in Myatts Field North, Brixton, which once provided sheltered and residential care to the general public. However, following the Sheltered Housing Review in 2008, it was decided by Cabinet that the building was not fit for this purpose and should be redeveloped. The Cabinet decision was based on a thorough options appraisal. The Council does not have the financial resources to redevelop the site, so it was agreed that redevelopment of this site could only be achieved by transferring ownership to a registered provider, other Provider or by an outright sale. The sheltered and residential care residents were decanted in June 2010, and this project supports the Cabinet objective of demolishing the site, as it is believed a cleared piece of land is deemed more attractive with regards to expressions of interest. The Patmos Lodge site consists of a void sheltered scheme, a vacant residential care home and an empty three bedroom warden’s house”
That’s right, this is an old unused council building that used to be used to care for infirm people in a community, which is not only closed down, but is due to be demolished so that Lambeth can sell the land to a private developer.
It’s interesting to me that what Mr Umunna really seems to care about are those squats that jeopardise the possibility of the transfer of large capital assets from public hands into the hands of large private companies.
Is squatting about homelessness?
Umunna uses a popular notion of “posh squatters”, or as he puts it, people who are “avoiding paying for housing when they could do so”. Without meaning to sound trite, I am yet to come across any squatters who happen to have £500 a month going spare (the current going rate for a room in London.) Indeed, the best research shows that squatting is most definitely about homelessness. As the homelessness charity Crisis summarise, “Squatting, then, typically reflects a lack of other options, a scarcity of provision, and inadequate support and assistance to single homeless people.”
But not content with ignoring good research, Umunna wants to draw a distinction between squatters and the homeless. He writes,
“Homeless people who squat tend to do so for very short periods of time, rather than the years that other squats operate.”
I genuinely don’t know what he’s on about – because people who are forced to squat for years really are among the most vulnerable of all. Maybe some squats exist for a long time, and maybe some have a changing population. And maybe some people can just about survive squatting for that long. But Umunna’s words here are intended to evoke a popular hatred for those who in many cases most need society’s support.
Even if there are a few squatters who do decide to live in squats as a true lifestyle choice - even if one believes Umunna’s attack on these few to be justified - one must wonder if when Umunna attacks them with a weapon that also hits all of the most vulnerable in society, whether it’s really worth it.
For more info on squatting, and campaigns against criminalisation
Website of last week’s Squatting Exhibition in London: http://www.madepossiblebysquatting.co.uk/
George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin because he perceived him as dangerous. The defense argues he was, the prosecution argues he wasn’t. No one, of course, argues that Zimmerman approached Martin with kindness, or stopped to consider the boy as anything other than suspicious, an outsider. Ultimately Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. A lack of empathy can produce national tragedies. But it also drives quieter, more routine forms of discrimination.
Let’s do a quick experiment. You watch a needle pierce someone’s skin. Do you feel this person’s pain? Does it matter if the person’s skin is white or black?
For many people, race does matter, even if they don’t know it. They feel more empathy when they see white skin pierced than black. This is known as the racial empathy gap. To study it, researchers at the University of Milano-Bicocca showed participants (all of whom were white) video clips of a needle or an eraser touching someone’s skin. They measured participants’ reactions through skin conductance tests—basically whether their hands got sweaty—which reflect activity in the pain matrix of the brain. If we see someone in pain, it triggers the same network in our brains that’s activated when we are hurt. But people do not respond to the pain of others equally. In this experiment, when viewers saw white people receiving a painful stimulus, they responded more dramatically than they did for black people.
The racial empathy gap helps explain disparities in everything from pain management to the criminal justice system. But the problem isn’t just that people disregard the pain of black people. It’s somehow even worse. The problem is that the pain isn’t even felt.
A recent study shows that people, including medical personnel, assume black people feel less pain than white people. The researchers asked participants to rate how much pain they would feel in 18 common scenarios. The participants rated experiences such as stubbing a toe or getting shampoo in their eyes on a four-point scale (where 1 is “not painful” and 4 is “extremely painful”). Then they rated how another person (a randomly assigned photo of an experimental “target”) would feel in the same situations. Sometimes the target was white, sometimes black. In each experiment, the researchers found that white participants, black participants, and nurses and nursing students assumed that blacks felt less pain than whites.
But the researchers did not believe racial prejudice was entirely to blame. After all, black participants also displayed an empathy gap toward other blacks. What could possibly be the explanation for why black people’s pain is underestimated?
It turns out assumptions about what it means to be black—in terms of social status and hardship—may be behind the bias. In additional experiments, the researchers studied participants’ assumptions about adversity and privilege. The more privilege assumed of the target, the more pain the participants perceived. Conversely, the more hardship assumed, the less pain perceived. The researchers concluded that “the present work finds that people assume that, relative to whites, blacks feel less pain because they have faced more hardship.”
This gives us some insight into how racial disparities are created—and how they are sustained. First, there is an underlying belief that there is a single black experience of the world. Because this belief assumes blacks are already hardened by racism, people believe black people are less sensitive to pain. Because they are believed to be less sensitive to pain, black people are forced to endure more pain.
Consider disparities in treatment for pain. We’ve known for at least two decades that minorities, primarily blacks and Hispanics, receive inadequate pain medication. Often this failure comes when people need help the most. For example, an early study of this disparity revealed that minorities with recurrent or metastatic cancer were less likely to have adequate analgesia. Racial disparities in pain management have been recorded in the treatment of migraines and back pain, cancer care in the elderly, and children withorthopedic fractures. A 2008 review of 13 years of national survey data on emergency room visits found that for a pain-related visit, an opioid prescription was more likely for white patients (31 percent) than black patients (23 percent).
Some of the problem is structural. We’ve also known for some time that pharmacies in nonwhite communities fail to adequately stock opioids. In a 2005 study, Michigan pharmacies in white communities were 52 times more likely to sufficiently stock opioidsthan in nonwhite communities. But this does not fully explain the problem. When pain medicine is available, minorities receive less of it. Medical personnel may care deeply about treating the pain of minorities. Even so, they might recognize less of it—and this may explain why the pain is so poorly treated.
The racial empathy gap is also a problem of our criminal justice system. Consider research on the impact of race on jury decisions. A 2002 experiment showed the power of race, empathy, and punishment. The researchers asked 90 white students to act as jurors and evaluate a larceny case. The manipulation, as you might suspect, is whether the defendant was black or white. But before jurors decided the defendant’s fate, they participated in an “empathy induction task.” Some jurors were assigned to a high-empathy condition and asked to imagine themselves in the defendant’s position. Other jurors were assigned to a low-empathy condition and asked to simply remain objective. Ultimately, the jurors gave black defendants harsher sentences (4.17 years) than whites (3.04 years)—even in the high-empathy condition (3.26 years versus 2.20 years, respectively)—and felt less empathy for black defendants.
This helps explain harsh sentencing in juvenile justice. Nationwide, youth of color are treated more harshly than their white peers. What is a prank for a white student is often treated as a zero-tolerance offense by a minority student. Minority students are more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension, even if they have a disability, more likely to be referred by their schools to law enforcement, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be tried in adult court, and more likely to receive a harsh sentence. Recall that participants assumed blacks felt less pain because of their perceived hardened lives. Stanford University researchers found something similar in juvenile sentences. In Stanford’s study, people perceived black children as more like adults, who deserve severe adult punishment, and not innocent kids, who deserve our empathy and compassion.
If we know part of the problem is a lack of empathy, is it possible to learn empathy and overcome an implicit bias? In the study of jurors, we saw empathy induction did not eliminate the empathy gap. But it did produce somewhat more lenient sentences. Perhaps this is a first step.
The perspective-taking approach seems to help. In a 2011 study, researchers tested whether empathy induction reduced pain treatment disparities. Participants assigned to the perspective-taking group were instructed to “try to imagine how your patient feels about his or her pain and how this pain is affecting his or her life.” As other studies have found, many people exhibited an empathy bias that drives their bias in pain treatment. But this study gives us some hope. It shows that the perspective-taking intervention reduced treatment bias—in this case by 55 percent.
But this approach misses something crucial. Perspective-taking must account for—and eliminate—the assumptions about what it means to be black or a minority in the United States. After all, imagining how pain affects a person’s life will not completely extinguish bias. Part of the problem is how we think about other people’s pain—and how when we stereotype their lives, we don’t.
"The human world is an open or unfinished system and the same radical contingency which threatens it with discord also rescues it from the inevitability of disorder and prevents us from despairing of it… Such a philosophy cannot tell us that humanity will be realized as though it possessed some special knowledge apart and were not itself embarked upon experience, being only a more acute consciousness of it. But it awakens us to the importance of daily events and action. For it is a philosophy which arouses in us a love for our times which are not the simple repetition of human eternity nor merely the conclusion to premises already postulated. It is a view which like the most fragile object of perception — a soap bubble, or a wave — of like the most simply dialogue, embraces indivisibly all the order and disorder of the world." — merleau-ponty, humanism and terror
I <3 Merleau-Ponty
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