Posts Tagged 'protest'

On Ferguson and silence

I have read a lot about Ferguson over the past couple of days and months.

There are some times, as a friend of mine wisely said on Facebook, that white people need to just shut up and listen.

I agree, I have and I am.

However, I also feel that, as a white person who benefits from the privileges denied to people of colour in American en masse, I should speak out, too.

Because silence can be read as complicity.

And I want to state, unequivocally, for whatever it is worth, that what happened was wrong. Darren Wilson shooting Mike Brown was wrong. The failure of the grand jury to hold him accountable was wrong. And that this injustice is part of a huge, terrifyingly racist legal system.

It is unjust, and appalling, and heartbreaking.

The American justice system does not afford Black people the same rights as white people. Police are taught to profile Black people and other people of colour. Prosecutors and judges mete out more severe punishments for non-white people. This is all part of a larger social and cultural infrastructure that oppresses Black people and people of colour – by restricting their education, their job opportunities, their healthcare, their lives.

People are kept in poverty, schools are neglected, and our culture finds a thousand ways to tell Black people what their roles are, what is expected of them – stereotypes abound, of the thuggish hoodie, the drug dealer, the thief. This culture makes it somehow ok, or permissible, or understandable, to see any Black person as life-threatening. As an enemy. As a combatant. As expendable.

It chokes something in me to write that there are white people, and clearly far to many, who struggle to see Black people as people, or who don’t even bother to struggle, who see only difference and inferiority and some grotesque innate barbarity – that the legacy of imperialism and slavery remains so much a part of our everyday life when its injustice is so painfully clear.

People die. People are killed because these structures not just allow but encourage the view that Black people are somehow less – less important, less valuable, less human. That is what is barbaric.

And I do not have a voice loud enough to scream that this is not ok. That this is a moral failure of such magnitude that I cannot find the words for it.

More than anything, I want to aver that grief and rage are completely appropriate responses. It is an insult to basic humanity to insist on ‘calm’. A huge group of people are not just told but shown, repeatedly, by the powers that be, that their lives, their children’s lives, don’t matter. That the loss of these lives is not worth protesting. That there is no recompense. That there is no justice.

Of course rage is an appropriate response to being told you and yours do not matter.

I am only one person. I cannot dismantle an entire system or mete out justice, as much as I wish I could. But I can say that this, as often and as loudly as I can: all of this is deeply, fundamentally, morally wrong.

And that it matters to me.

It should matter to everyone.


You Won’t Fool the Children of the Revolution

I sometimes tease my dedicated communist friend about when the revolution is coming to England. I am all for a grassroots movement to shift the existing democratic structures in such a way that the government actually functions to provide the greatest good to the greatest number while doing no harm, but I think, perhaps with too much optimism, that in a country like England, this can and should be done gradually, through rational discourse.

Day of Anger water cannon firing in air

The revolutions, for there is no other word, now taking place in Tunisia, Egypt, and rippling protests in other parts of the Arab world, are amazing. They represent something quite magnificent about the human character – an ability to move together to insist upon change.

In the American news, as Philip Weiss at discusses, a rather fearful tone in the reportage. Why? Because this kind of seismic political shift in part of the world that is already a crucible for a variety of political, religious, and financial (oil!) tension threatens the structure and investments Western countries have made with existing governments.

It is to be expected that the government of each country will act to protect their national interests. However, these events are drawing attention to the relationships that exist between the challenged dictators and governments, and the leaders in Europe and North America. And this, in turn, raises some interesting moral questions, where it has become clear that international policies have, essentially, been founded on the principle of ‘better the devil you know’.

I’d like to think that the democratic governments with such obvious diplomatic relations hoped for a shift towards democracy. History would suggest otherwise, but a girl can dream.

There are a lot of political things to be worried about: revolutions do not always end peacefully, and there is some question of how a shift in government in the area will affect the situation with Israel.

I hope that the protesters and revolutionaries succeed in reshaping their countries (and region) into fairer, safer places.

Happiness and Optimism for 2011

We are now in the second decade of the 21st century.

It certainly sounds quite impressive. The future is now!

In an attempt to leave the misfortunes of 2008-2010 behind, several countries have inspired massive social unrest with ‘austerity measures’ – cuts to social programmes and civil service pay that can no longer be sustained by the international equivalent of Mastercard (which is apparently China).

This is on top of the riots and demonstrations inspired by police violence in France, a threefold increase in university fees in the UK, certified nutbar Silvio Berlusconi, the G20 in Toronto, and, um the Lakers (to select only a few – google ‘2010 demostrations’ and ‘2010 riots’).

Hilariously, and ‘look! The Goodyear blimp!’-ily, the UK Conservative/Liberal Democrat government has decided to start measuring ‘gross national happiness’, (just like that shining beacon of justice and democracy, Bhutan) rather than the terribly outmoded ‘gross national product’.

What’s funny (aside from the blatant attempt at misdirection), is that the imbalance inherent in the current austerity measures is almost guaranteed to increase unhappiness.

Because, you see, scientifically speaking, the wealth of a country has no real effect on people’s individual happiness. Moreover, income beyond a certain sustaining rate has no long-term effect on happiness, it just temporarily boosts it.

People are happiest in egalitarian environments, where there is a smaller gap between the income of the richest and poorest members of a society. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that, in societies where social mobility is considered high and meritocratic, there is a greater level of contentment with income disparity. (Remember that perception is not necessarily a reflection of truth)

In either case, the common element is the perception of fairness.

From the age of about 3, every child is told that life isn’t fair. However, we learn just as quickly that we, as individuals and as groups, can be fair. That is, after all, the premise for every justice system in the world. The success of said attempt at fairness is often dubious at best, but it is something for which we, as humans, strive. Life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be.

So will 2011 bring greater happiness, now that governments are attempting (or pretending) to measure it?

Well, if the key factor is equality, probably not. The cuts to national programmes make life considerably more difficult for those lower on the income totem pole (single mothers, the physically and mentally challenged or disabled, children). David Cameron’s Big Society so far is hobbling a lot of federal institutions and charities that supported the little guys. I don’t think that’s going to make anyone happy.

Science has shown that the rich folks who get to keep whatever percent of their income won’t really notice, the businesses that get to keep a greater percent of their profits won’t feel anything, because they are institutions and don’t actually have feelings, and in times of financial difficulty tend to retrench rather than reinvest so they can’t boost people’s happiness by employing them, and the banks, the source of all the trouble, are already back to playing Russian roulette with everyone’s finances, giving gigantic bonuses, and refusing to loan the money they have received free from the taxpayer to revive the economy.

The other difficulty is that as individuals, we are terrible at gauging what will make us happy.

I suppose it’s only fair that governments be as obtuse on a national level as people are individually. However, there’s a lot more science on what makes groups of people happy.

Then again, there’s also a lot of science on why people maintain and defend their pre-existing beliefs despite significant evidence to the contrary (I’m looking at you, climate change deniers).

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to stop being so pessimistic.

If it’s backed by science, it counts as realism, right?


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