Sentenced To Death For Being A Lesbian

Originally posted on New Missive:

I recently received an email from All Out with the story of Aderonke from Nigeria. Aderonke is a lesbian. She’s been sentenced to death for being a lesbian. She managed to flee to the UK, where her case is still being decided, but three members of her family have already been killed because of her sexuality. The law in Nigeria is harsh and ruthless, yet they are still considering deporting her. Although there will be no shortage of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK who are fleeing the punishment for their sexuality, this could become a landmark case. Should Britain deport Aderonke because of who she loves?

Theresa May’s already said that some people have been forced to submit video of themselves having sex or answer humiliating questions during hours of interrogation. And, many people who provide evidence to the Home Office that they will be jailed or killed for who they love have been deported back into…

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Aderonke Apata: On Movement for Justice, Immigration, Asylum, Refuge and LGBT

By Sam

Aderonke Apata, a lesbian asylum seeker fleeing death threats and or imprisonment under anti gay laws in Nigeria is currently under threat of deportation from the UK back to Nigeria. She set up Movement for Justice campaigning group in Manchester and speaks to Black Feminists Manchester about her personal case and calls for change of the current immigration, refugee and asylum system.

Aderonke article photo z

 Interviewer: ‘Why did you set up Movement for Justice in Manchester?’

Aderonke: ‘I set up Movement for Justice (MfJ)  in Manchester because there is so many injustices going on in the asylum seeking and immigration system that I think people should be aware of, and so that immigrants and asylum seekers here can have support from MfJ who has been solely London based, I thought it was something worthwhile as I have been and still being supported by them. MfJ do a lot of campaigning for immigrants and asylum seekers, LGBT groups and they have been at the forefront for quite a number of years now and have always been successful in their fights.

I was detained in Yarl’s Wood that was when I first came into contact with MfJ. I first started working with them in 2012; I formed a MFJ Group in Yarl’s Wood which is still waxing strong there; that led to so much publicity about the ‘rotten culture’ of Yarl’s Wood management being exposed. All the injustices and unfair treatments of detained immigrants and asylum seekers fleeing all sorts of abuse women routinely face around the world such as rape, female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual abuse, forced marriage, anti-gay persecution, trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, ‘honour’ killing etc being exposed to the public following the peaceful demonstration that I led inside the centre and MfJ were able to help with that publicity.

So I thought setting up an MfJ where I live will allow me to give more support to people like me in the asylum system and who really need their voices to be heard and need so much support from people and challenging all this bureaucracy and hypocrisy of policies around immigration and asylum seeking. These are the reasons why I set it up in Manchester.

Right now nearly every organisation and groups supporting asylum seekers and immigrants are joining in to campaign to shut down detention centres, which makes me glad as MFJ has been able to expose the psychological, mental, emotional effects detention is having on asylum detainees and the illegality of detention centres.’

I: ‘How does MfJ campaign and how can people support?’

A: ‘We have several ways we campaign in MfJ, because as a movement it involves everybody. Not a particular sector of the community or society whatever you are British, non British, asylum seeker or not.

We advocate on people’s behalf if given the authority, with their solicitors, different support agencies that could assist in their asylum claims. Support people at their appeal hearings in court etc.

We go out, we do demonstrations in Home Office buildings, we go to reporting centres to campaign, we have leaflets all over the place, we have public hearings, people come and give testimonies about what they have witnessed as their treatment of the asylum seeking process – awareness raising.

If anyone was under imminent threat of deportation, we contact the airline not to collude with the UKBA, ask people to do so, go to airport to speak to other passengers on the flight and raise awareness of the person’s plight for their support in influencing the pilot not to fly the person etc.

Also we have campaigns like online petitions where people’s stories are being told to the whole world. We believe that anybody that is bold enough to publish what they are going through, I’m not saying that the other people that cannot publish their petition or cases are not telling the truth, don’t get me wrong, because there are some people who are not bold enough, they don’t have that courage to go public about what is happening to them , for some people who are bold enough and can go public, MfJ does support such people to launch petitions online, call for support of their situation, then we take the signatures forward to the Home Office. The ones that aren’t bold enough to launch online petitions are equally supported in whatever way they are comfortable with.

We hold rallies, meetings, talks, we raise awareness, there are several ways people can support us, one is to attend weekly meetings in Manchester, which is usually on Tuesdays at 1.30pm at St. James’ Church in Higher Broughton, Salford.

You can share your own experiences, we encourage people to come to rallies, sign petitions, donate because MfJ does not take money from the government because it is a political organisation that stands up to the government, so we rely on what people can give us or what we can raise ourselves.

If people want to donate they can see how to donate on the MfJ website. Come to our meetings and spread the news, talk about it in your churches, in your mosques, in the school, your universities, be aware of what is wrong and what we want to right. Infact that is the most important way to support a movement really, being part of a movement and being able to fight a good cause.’

I: ‘You’re currently part of the asylum seeking system; tell us more about your personal journey.’

A: ‘ It’s a very very long journey, it’s not been an easy journey, it started about 10 years ago, but lately it’s been quite inundated with refusals, if you have seen my own online petition, where I have to cry out to the world about what I am going through; which I do not have to, because being a lesbian is not what I ever wanted to talk about with anyone … in fact even if you’re not a lesbian I don’t think sexuality is what we should publicise, as I think it’s a private thing to anybody. But for me to go the length of doing an online petition that everybody in the whole world is able to read and talking about what is private in my life. That tells you how desperate point I am at being faced with deportation and for whoever to take the decision to NOT believe what and who I say I am, being a lesbian, other people have the right to their privacy, heterosexual people, they don’t have to prove they are heterosexuals.

It’s nerve wracking to have to prove you are a lesbian or gay person to the UK government. When it comes to claiming asylum based on your sexuality it is a very ,very big war, because they won’t believe you to start with, that’s not just particular to anyone claiming homosexuality, the unbelief culture is across the board for anybody claiming asylum, anybody who is an immigrant, they just don’t believe us, so then when claiming homosexuality it’s another big problem because there is no way you can prove your sexuality to anybody who is not your partner or has the prior knowledge of your sexuality but it’s made so nerve wracking, that now have you video record what you do with your partner, in privacy, and send it to the Home Office as evidence for your sexuality.

It makes me so sad we have to go to this length, it’s like you’re producing pornography, that is the way it looks to me because you have to make love to your partner and you have to record it and send it to whoever is going to make a decision on your case, it is that serious.

So I have been through so much, even though it’s not been very easy for me to come out at the beginning, because where I was born I was never out and nobody was out or out now, I’ve been in the closet for maybe over 20 yrs of my life that I could remember, could not talk about my sexuality to anybody. The only girlfriend I had knew and just one other close friend of ours so I could not talk about it, even when I came to the UK I could not come out and say I’m a gay person, it took me a very long time to have the confidence to come out and even talk about it and claim asylum based on my sexuality and that to me is quite harrowing and horrific what I have to go through, not only that I’ve been locked up in prison locked up in detention centre, just because I am claiming asylum.

When I was back home (Nigeria) I was locked up because I was a lesbian, I was arrested by the police and had to pay a bribe so I didn’t go to court for that but in the UK I have been detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre for nearly a year just because I am claiming asylum in this country.

I have worked illegally because I had no recourse to public funds, no house or support in any form from the government and I have to eat. I can’t peddle drugs, claim benefits that I am not entitled to and do all sorts so I went to work, I was sent to prison for working. I was paying tax and NI when I was working, I wasn’t evading tax.

My experience of the asylum system is so mixed, it’s giving me this thought that coming to seek asylum in this country is like you have signed yourself off to go to jail, which is what I don’t think it should be, because so many policies are set up for people to fail and nothing more than that.

I was with my partner for 20yrs in Nigeria before I flee to the UK in 2004, but I was informed in 2012 that my partner in Nigeria was killed brutally by vigilantes who found out she was a lesbian and she was going out with me and they killed her.

I’ve had several death threat letters from them, and some other individuals calling me all sorts of names, being sodomised, ready to set me ablaze if I come to Nigeria, so it’s heartbreaking and terrifying if I have to return to Nigeria, it’s not an option for me anyway, because I am out in the UK, even in the UK I’ve had homophobic attacks from Nigerian women in Yarl’s Wood for a period of almost a year were physically and verbally always attacking me, calling me names.

Even in Manchester I was physically  attacked by a woman I didn’t even know, I presume she was Nigerian, who said ‘ I don’t know if you are a man or a woman but I know what you are, you are one of them that suck women’s pussy’ which I reported to the police. If I was in Nigeria I would not be able to report to the police because it would mean going to the government and report myself for homosexuality! So who would I have gone to call to come to my rescue?’

I: ‘It’s essential we address the political and historical root causes relating to immigration, refuge and asylum systems, hearing about your experience of seeking asylum and reasons for setting up MfJ, how can we best examine the underpinnings of the systems to build further momentum to make positive change?

A: ‘ We need to be aware of the fact that, changes to the asylum system in the UK predate the colonial era, looking at the fact that the door was opened for people to come to this country, for instance from India, Nigeria where I come from, Africa, even Jamaica for them to be used as workers to develop this country.

At that point in time there was no restriction saying you cannot live in this country, but I think now, we’ve been made to develop this country, which I am proud of and want to be a part of this country, but looking at what is happening to me and looking inwards I’m beginning to think ok though it’s a case of we’ve been used and we’ve been dumped and because we don’t need you again, you don’t need to be here again, but above all there is a political aspect to it, wanting to use the immigrants and asylum seekers as scapegoats for any political party to score goals, so they are seen as a party that is in control of bringing down immigration numbers, but that’s not the real thing.

Why do we have all this political scoring to start with? Because I can’t see any need for it, I’ve listened to the news; I’ve read in the newspapers there are so many people talking about the fact that there is no evidence to show that asylum seekers and immigrants add any strain to this country in terms of NHS or benefits.

There is so much documented evidence showing that we do not strain this country , we come into the UK we want to be a part of it and want to build a UK that is prosperous and accommodating, we want to make it a good community to live because we are fleeing our country. It’s not because we just want to come here and start claiming benefits.

We have good skills we are educated and we can contribute positively to this country, and they know this, but because of political reasons they have to make us scapegoats in the name of wanting to control the immigration numbers, which I think is very sad.

Looking at the fact that most people, when you trace your roots, most people were immigrants to this country, why is it becoming so difficult for them to embrace immigrants or asylum seekers now? So it makes me think, one, it’s political, secondly it is racism, and when I talk about sexuality claims I want to say it is homophobic what they are doing to anybody of my sexual orientation.

Look at people who are fleeing to this country because they are victims of human trafficking. A lady was detained in Yarl’s Wood said to me she went to claim asylum because she was raped, she was a victim of torture in an area in the Congo or something where there is war, and she said the immigration officer said to her’ no you were not raped I’m sure those soldiers were having fun sleeping with you’ and I was like goodness me how can an officer representing this country say that to somebody who was fleeing torture and telling you they were a subject of rape, gang raping, and then you say ‘ no I’m sure you enjoyed it and those guys were having fun’. How does that translate to any human feelings?

There is so much embedded in this system that you cannot unstrand. The minute you start to unstrand one you are entangled into another one, it’s so complicated, there is so much racism and homophobia in it, and this is why even when their own agents are being abusive to immigrants and asylum seekers, it doesn’t mean anything to them, that’s what they want anyway, to frustrate you and send you back to whoever is torturing you, I don’t think that is fair and proper.

Looking at the petition I would say the support has been very high and I would encourage people to keep supporting and keep signing for us to gather the signatures and take it to the Home Office in support of my asylum claim.’

You can sign Aderonke’s petition here

Movement for Justice meetings are held at:

St James Rectory, Great Cheetham St,Salford M7 4UH http://www.achurchnearyou.com/higher-broughton-st-james/

Movement for Justice contact details:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/movementforjustice/

Email: mfjmanchester@gmail.com

Web: http://www.movementforjustice.org/

Tel: 07448 483914

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Caribbean Feminists Exist & Some of Them Do Not Yet Know That They Are Feminists

By Cherise Charleswell

Love

When ah leggo mih cock yuh betta tie up yuh hen

Caribbean women located at home and those abroad in the Diaspora have heard and readily understand the implications behind such warnings issued by generations of Caribbean parents to their daughters. Within this warning there is the familiarity of male privilege and a culture steeped in patriarchy, and thus dismisses the actions and behavior of men, as something that is innate and expected, while placing the burden of social order and the fault of rape and sexual harassment and molestation on women. See, it is the hen (women) who must be responsible for how they may dress, dance, speak, and walk, because they may temp and arouse the Cocks (men), and will have to rightfully deal with the consequences of doing so. Thus, good Caribbean parents raise their daughters and sons within this context, and sons grow to believe that any unattended women in their paths are available to them, and at the least should be receptive to their advances. The acceptance of these misogynistic, outdated, and openly sexist gender roles form the basis for Caribbean Rape Culture, and helps to understand the epidemic of rape and intimate partner abuse in the region and throughout the Caribbean Diaspora. Central to this culture is the notion that women are the temptresses, and that their colonized bodies are not their own. They are not free to adorn and clothe their bodies as they choose, without being told that they are inviting sexual violence, or deserving of domestic violence, if their partners find their actions disrespectful. They are not free to travel without fear of objectification, molestation, and violence.

Caribbean women throughout the Diaspora understand that there are socio-cultural double standards involved in the assignment of gender roles. However, only a small, but increasing number of Caribbean women have openly challenged, denounce, and work to combat these double standards and inequities, and a growing number of them now self-identify as feminists or Womanists. The term, feminist, although it still remains taboo, is actually being embraced by more Caribbean women. Within the Caribbean Diaspora, feminist is still viewed as an inflammatory, divisive, and foreign bad word. Yet, a number of Caribbean women have looked beyond the many misconceptions of the term, and in looking at its most simplistic definition,which is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, realize that they are indeed a feminist. While some Caribbean feminists find it more feasible to carry out their work without openly wearing the label or using the word feminists; as described by the Barbadian blogger at The Mongoose Chronicles “If advancing the ideology without using the F word is going to improve women’s access to economic goods, then I’m prepared to use other words.”

Finally, there are Caribbean women (and men) who share the belief of gender equality, and thus have not yet realized that they are indeed a feminist. For those of you, who may be part of this group, I offer the following to prove that you may actually be a feminist:
If you believe that women deserve equal pay as men, especially when considering the many households that are headed by single mothers
If you believe that girls have a right to education, particularly post-secondary education, which is an opportunity that our mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors did not have just a few years ago
If you believe that women must be allowed to have a voice and representation in the political process
If you expect a man to help out, and actually pick up and push a broom across the floor at home, the same way he would use his legs to “do di sweep” in the middle of a dancehall jam
If you believe that you should be able to go to a fete, dance and enjoy yourself without molestation, and certainly without a random stranger believing that it is perfectly acceptable for him to rub his erect genitalia along your backside.
If the familiar and annoying pppsstt sound makes you vex as you attempt to walk along the government streets
If you are angered by the fact that men believe that  you are obligated to entertain their sexual advances, and even worst approach them when they yell out such comments as, “yea…di one in di red”.
If you believe in family planning and would appreciate being viewed as livestock, who are meant to be constantly breed
If you are proud of your liberated womanly body, which you happily adorn in the most colorful and festive carnival costumes
If you have a problem with pedophilia — the open courting of young girls by grown men   within the Caribbean culture
If you do not believe that traveling to a certain place, being seen casually drinking, or wearing a certain type of clothing can justify raping you.
If you are not willing to tolerate any form of intimate partner violence or abuse, despite the legacy of our foremothers who lived lives without many options, and thus felt compelled to endure the abuse.

Cherise Charleswell, MPH is a Bio-cultural anthropologist, self-proclaimed Womanist, author/writer, poet, public health researcher/practitioner, founder, host & producer of Wombanist Views radio, as well a contributing producer for Feminist Magazine 90.7FM KPFK broadcasting live in Los Angeles, and globally online. She is the Chair of the Women’s Issues department of the Hampton Institute, and is currently working on the book projects: “Walking in the Feminine: A Stepping Into Our Shoes Anthology” and “The Link Between Food, Culture, & Health Inequities in the African Diaspora”.

(Published with author’s permission, original source Redforgender)

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On football and identity: what does it mean to be a female Muslim football fan?

 


Everton

By Sanaa Qureshi

I’ve been an Everton fan for as long as I can remember. I watched us win the FA cup in 1995, survive relegation on goal difference at the end of the 1997 season and finish 4th in 2005. The current season has exceeded my expectations and I can’t imagine ever not feeling those butterflies in the pit of my stomach just before kick-off.

I’m used to having to prove my football credentials, not just because I’m a woman but also because I’m Pakistani. A culture that is widely perceived as oppressive and unforgiving for women, it always seems to come as a surprise to people that orientalist stereotypes may not actually be true. Not only was I encouraged to take an interest in watching football, I played the beautiful game throughout my childhood and teenage years, eventually giving up playing competitively for personal reasons.

Born and raised in Birmingham, I’m also used to being asked why I’m an Everton fan, with people bemusedly searching for any hint of a scouse accent. I’ve never lived in Liverpool and I have no physical connection to Everton. I’ve only ever been to Goodison Park once and have seen Everton on the road around eight or nine times. For a working class Pakistani Muslim woman, the lack of physical closeness and connection to Everton is arbitrary.

Football is widely considered a universal language, a useful tool to break down boundaries, something that brought me to the work of Football Beyond Borders. However, it wasn’t until a conversation I had recently that I really began to assess the role football has played in creating a safe imagined space for my own belonging and, more specifically, why my connection to Everton remains so deep.

For working class Pakistani immigrants, the search for a place to belong is a tireless one. ‘Fitting in’ is an ongoing conflict that doesn’t just end when you speak English like all the other white kids at school and let them bastardize your name until it’s unrecognizable. I was born here. I’ve only ever really known what living feels like here in England but I have had to navigate an environment where my community is seen as a threat to national security and unwilling to assimilate. The continuously touted failure of multiculturalism feels like I am being repeatedly told to try harder, be less brown, be less muslim and ultimately, go home.

There are a number of ways immigrants try to overcome feeling like outsiders. Moulding and hiding parts of their lives in order to create an identity that is ‘acceptable’. I’ve seen brown men twist and contort their accent as though that’s going to disguise the colour of their skin, aunties embarrassed to wear shalwaar kameez (traditional Pakistani clothes) in public, kids that refuse kebabs for their lunch – the constant fear that people will remember the hyphen after the British in their identity.

Until recently, I felt I had negotiated the complexities of being British-Pakistani and Muslim without shrinking and apologising. A result of the struggles of the generation that came before, I had been taught to wear my brownness and muslimness with pride (we can talk about how problematic ‘pride’ as a facet of identity is another day). It was only when questioned about my relationship to Everton that I began to take apart what exactly football means to me in practice. I have been using football as a tool of temporary assimilation and acceptance. I’ve sat at awkward dinner parties with people whose realities will never come close to my own and have switched the conversation to football because I’m almost certain there will be some common ground. In uneasy situations, I have asked potentially hostile white men whether they think Baines is the best left-back in Britain or if Defoe really is capable of leading the line for England. I have drawn attention to one part of myself in order to deflect from the other – being a Pakistani woman.

For me, it’s uncomfortable to have to come to terms with my own complicity in creating and perpetuating a respectable or safe identity, even if it is to survive in a sea of whiteness and mythical Britishness. Despite this unsettling realisation, football remains more than just a tool for navigating disconnect in social situations and is an important part of my identity. It has been a useful avenue to better explore and understand values that are important to me in practice, none more so than through being an Everton fan.

Although I remember the reigns of Joe Royle and Walter Smith, the tenure of David Moyes during my formative years was perhaps the most instrumental in cementing my personal connection with Everton. He embodied the intense work ethic and determination that became a mainstay for the current squad – the ability to achieve more as the sum of its parts. He fostered unity and brotherhood, each player working hard for the others. These themes are mirrored in the narrative of working class immigrants who use the collective power of a community to navigate unfamiliar systems and survive the expectations of two continents, cultures and identities. The idea of a loyal, tight-knit group of people without an embarrassment of riches scraping together to build something resonated strongly with my own realities.

Nevertheless, despite my deepening connection to Moyes’ Everton, this could only manifest itself in a subscription to Sky Sports and occasionally buying some kit. Even if I had lived in Liverpool, it’s unlikely I would have attended more than a handful of games. For a Muslim woman of colour, finding safe spaces is a continuous and necessary activity but as a football fan, this means avoiding stadiums full of intoxicated white men involved in the kind of tribalism that won’t get you bombed. I’ve been in stadiums alongside Everton fans, the kind of people I shared highs and lows with every weekend, and overheard racial slurs, misogynistic insults, casual banter about the threat of muslims and immigrants destroying the country they hold so dear. What is this imagined connection worth if my existence is so violently dismissed? What does the temporary and arguably superficial bonding of backing the same team actually amount to?

These are not the types of incidents that make the back pages and evoke public outrage but they certainly alienate people that identify as football fans from supporting their team in the same way as others. I happily watch football at home because no atmosphere will ever be good enough for me to give up my safe space. It’s also important to note that these attitudes are also not just contained to stadiums and football pubs; these fans exist in the real world too, opening their newspapers to find their thoughts echoed by wider society.

While I am far too invested in the beautiful game to be driven away, it is becoming increasingly important for me to continuously interrogate my relationship with football and Everton within the constructs of white supremacy and patriarchy.

(Article republished with author’s permission.Source: http://fbeyondborders.tumblr.com)

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Some thoughts on bell hooks – on angry women and postcolonial feminism

By Sara Salem

I don’t usually find myself getting very emotional when I watch interviews or debates, especially between academics. But this talk with bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry somehow managed to make me feel a lot of things I hadn’t before. There is no doubt that bell hooks is one of the most formative feminists out there, whose work has made postcolonial feminism and intersectionality what it is today. But there’s something else about her, the ease with which she speaks about her own personal life and struggles, and weaves them together with her theoretical understandings of global gendered structures, that makes her truly unique. There isn’t a distinction between ‘theory’ and ‘real life’ because they are co-constitutive, and yet we see time and again the inability of academics to show clearly how they use everyday experiences in their own theoretical work, or how their theoretical work can be useful for non-academics. bell hooks doesn’t have this problem. Reading or listening to her, it becomes painfully clear how the experiences we go through are constituted through complex power relations. I guess the best way to put it is that she is so relatable. She speaks and people, especially women of colour, simply relate. So it made me want to write down a few of the things she said that really resonated with what I’ve been feeling these past few months.

bellhooks

At the beginning of the interview she spoke about how Melissa had recently taken down an economist on her show, and how immediately people condemned her for being too harsh, too ‘out of control.’ She was characterised as ‘the angry black woman’ even though, as bell said, she hadn’t been rude, or condescending. She had simply demolished the other person’s argument. Now the ‘angry black woman’ trope should be familiar to anyone who has been in a power relation like that before. The classic example is the woman-man situation, where no matter what the woman says or does, she is often labelled as overly-emotional, overly-sensitive or just angry. (“Are you pmsing?” – the question all women love to hear.) Not only do these types of questions create a dynamic of powerlessness and function as a way of silencing women (especially women of colour in relation to both men and white women), they also construct emotion and anger as negative and as not belonging in a ‘rational discussion.’ This has never made sense to me. Women are angry, women should be angry. Why are we still stuck on the myth of rational and objective exchanges? Why does anger, or the expression of anger, delegitimise? Clearly it’s linked to age-old notions of people of colour and women as inferior because of their irrationality, whereas men (especially white men) are constructed as rational, calm, objective and in control. I love the way Melissa put it: “I’m mad, but I’m mad about something. I’m not mad as an inherent part of being a black woman.”

bell hooks talks about how white feminists saw her first book as such as angry book and she had no idea what they meant because to her it didn’t feel that way. It seems to me that accusations of ‘you sound angry’ or ‘you’re not being rational’ often emerge in spaces where one group (in this case, white women) feel threatened and feel that there might be a possible shift in power dynamics, and therefore immediately go on the defensive and attack the Other (bell) as being too emotional, too angry, and too aggressive, thus not focusing on the content of the book itself. “People are constantly using anger and ‘being difficult’.” And that’s exactly what it is – a tool to silence. It reminds me Sara Ahmed referring to herself as a feminist killjoy. That’s exactly how it’s perceived – you’re ‘killing the mood’ or being a ‘buzzkill’ – in other words, you’re challenging power (the status quo) and making people feel uncomfortable. A good example is this piece by a good friend of mine, Usayd, where he talks about the everyday sexism of men. I wonder how many men call out their friends when they say sexist or homophobic things? Who wants to be a killjoy in the end? Being told you’re angry or difficult is exactly a way of maintaining the impenetrability of power structures.

When bell talked about how little power we have over how our representations are received, it made me think of a quote from Lila Abu Lughod’s recent book, ‘Do Muslim women need saving?’ She wrote, “It’s hard to hear through the noise of familiar stories.” And it seems like a lot of this talk is about that. About how difficult it is to create new representations and new ways of thinking about black women. And how does one do this without being reactionary? One example is when Muslim women are portrayed as liberated by Islam, a clearly reactionary narrative that is simply responding to Western assumptions about Islam, women and oppression. Such reactionary narratives often end up creating a new type of representation that is equally problematic and serves to further embed the power dynamics the representation was trying to undo.

The part where bell talks about white female complicity in the patriarchal-capitalist system was reminiscent of how influential she’s been in theorising that reality. There are many days (most) when I question the term ‘feminist’ itself because it seems impossible to move away from its foundations, from the reality that as a term and as a movement it was defined by white women, women who – undoubtedly – at the time were implicit in imperialism and capitalism. Women who saw non-white or non-affluent women as Others, as victims to be saved, as objects, as indicators of their own progressiveness. And this isn’t even a thing of the past. Until today, I have rarely met white women, even those who call themselves feminists, who are not implicitly imperial in their approach to non-white women. There is always something, whether it’s a comment, a justification, a defensiveness when you critique white feminism. And so today we have postcolonial feminism, which has managed to create alternative notions of what feminism is, but it also seems to be a bubble. When people hear ‘feminism’ they think ‘white feminism’ and this seems almost inescapable at this point. We have feminists like Nancy Fraser writing in the Guardian about how neoliberalism has co-opted feminism – yes, true, but why is this a revelation in 2013 when feminists of colour (including bell) have been talking about it for decades? And why are you surprised that it was so easy for neoliberalism to co-opt a feminism that was inherently liberal in and of itself? What are the major differences, anyway? And why did Fraser frame this ‘discovery’ as something that deserved praise, as an example of white feminists being self-reflexive and critical? All it was, to me, was proof that white feminists continue to ignore feminists of colour, as simple as that. Because engaging with feminists of colour would have meant that Fraser would have reached this ‘discovery’ some time ago.

Another thing that struck me was when bell talked about the cognitive dissonance black and brown people experience, where on the one hand they know that white capitalist supremacy is a real, actual thing (or at least most seem to know) but on the other hand, seem to believe that democracy, justice, equality, etc. are also real things. She speaks of this as the ‘innocence about whiteness’ and it struck me how many people I know who have this. Who think that yes, there is racism and bad things happen, but it’s just kind of there, not because white people or a white system enable it. They seem to have bought the ‘good intentions’ argument where if a white person says they didn’t mean something or aren’t perpetuating something, then it’s fine, all’s forgiven. I was at a conference 2 weeks ago, at a panel on the EU and migration, and Germany was being criticised for how it treats migrants. This German guy there puts up his hand and says “You mean the German state, right? Because I’m German and I have nothing to do with it.” And it was just shocking to me, that someone could so easily brush off his own involvement and – by extension – his own guilt. Because that’s just it: it is about him, too. We are all tied to oppressive structures and implicated in them. The way out of that is not to deny it and transplant the blame onto someone else. The way out – or through it – is to be be self-reflexive and self-critical. But I guess it’s easier to go on and on about how we’re ‘post-racial’ and ‘post-imperialism’ and how it’s all a conspiracy.

Melissa, during the q & a, answered a question from a lady who talked about how she gets criticised by other black women more than by white women. She had four children by three different men, and talked about how other black women constantly told her that it was hermistake and that she should have made different choices. Melissa made the excellent point that this individualizing of misery – where when something goes wrong it’s about the wrong choices you as an individual – made and not about structural violence or structural inequality – is the problem. And this is a direct legacy of the neoliberal world we live in, as well as of the Enlightenment era (the two of course being linked) where it is all about rational individuals and “choice.” If someone is poor, they chose to be poor, or they’re lazy, or they didn’t try hard enough. If a single mother is struggling to raise her children, it’s about the bad choices she made. It’s never about structures. I never quite realised how strong this narrative is until I lived in the Netherlands and saw how the liberal illusion of choice is simply untouchable. At a deep level, it is so dangerous – as Melissa points out – because it prevents people of colour from collective organising that would bring about structural change. bell also mentioned how traumatic shame is, and how useful it is to control groups of people. This reminded me of how prevalent shame is postcolonial contexts and how it continues to shape narratives and identities in relation to imperialism.

Finally, the most striking moment was when bell quotes Paulo Freire, who said: “We cannot enter the struggle as objects, to later become subjects.” And I think that one line sums up, for me, the problems with feminism and non-white women; the problems in general with trying to ‘reform from the inside’ structures that are seen as exclusionary to you. Because the reality is, you are probably not seen as a subject, as even deserving of being in the struggle. Worse, the struggle has already been defined. Ramón Grosfoguel, borrowing from Fanon, uses the concept of the zone of being and the zone of non-being. The  argument is that racism is a structure of power and domination along the line of the human being. People in the zone of non-being are not recognised as full humans. While there are people who are oppressed within the zone of being (women, queers, etc), it is important to realise that they have racial privilege that the people in the zone of non-being do not have. The way the system regulates conflicts in the different zones is important. In the zone of being, conflicts are regulated, and are peaceful with exceptional moments of violence. In the zone of non-being, the system manages conflicts through violence, appropriation and dispossession. Thus the norm is violence with exceptional moments of peace. People in this zone are oppressed along class, gender, sexuality, AND race. So then how can feminism be defined as including people that have historically been in the zone of non-being? Or more importantly, has feminism (I mean mainstream, hegemonic feminism) even recognised that these two zones exist?

 

Read more by Sara Salem at Neo-colonialism and its Discontents

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There is no shame in coming out

By Huma Munshi

As an equalities professional I have always been extremely keen to get people to tick those little monitoring boxes – the ones that ask your ethnic background or gender, for example. All my professional learning has led me to believe that we need accurate equalities data to ensure we are recruiting diverse staff or to ensure our services and projects are being accessed by diverse groups, otherwise we would need to adapt to make our work fit for purpose.Not only is it our legal obligation to get this right but, to me, it has always made practical sense.

But what happens when you are the one being asked something which (i) you have not come to terms with as part of your identity and/or (ii) the thought of disclosing publicly fills you with dread? This was the reality that I found myself in recently.

There is no stigma in disclosing an identity that you feel comfortable with. I am a woman; I am British Indian; so far, so clear. Of course, I have experienced disadvantage and discrimination, both implicit and explicit; I have had to fight harder for my opportunities, have had to be more assertive and more competent to demonstrate my ability. As a woman of colour, I learn every day that there are certain privileges I will not be enjoying.

There are some forms of disclosure, however, that takes one by surprise. The disclosure rates for disability, sexual orientation and faith remain low. With regards to disability, there is the complex matter of the stigma attached to being disabled and the fear of experiencing discrimination, implicit if not explicit.

There is also that messy thing called life. Statistics indicate that people may not be born with an impairment but are likely to develop one through the course of their lives, this is likely to be the case particularly in the area of mental health. Trauma can often be a catalyst for a period of mental illness, the repercussions of which remain long after the incident.

There are particular associations with mental illness: you feel weak for not being able to cope; you wonder if people will gossip about your illness; you will know there are times when you will not be able to cope and in the midst of all this, when does one think about ‘ticking that box’?

With regards to disability more than any other form of identity, disclosure is a journey – deeply personal, complex and, at times, tinged with shame. You feel you have failed in some way at not being able to manage. It was at this crossroads that I found myself at recently. Of course, when one feels shame – and mental illness is shrouded in such a stigma – one seeks to hide the disability, but this perpetuates the feelings of shame and it helps no one. Feelings of shame feed mental illness; indeed it is like adding fuel to the fire.

It is at this juncture that an open dialogue on this subject is of huge benefit. It benefits the individual because it gives them the autonomy and space to disclose what they feel comfortable with and ensure the work environment can be supportive; it begins to provide a safe space for others to speak; it enables managers to support disabled staff; it ensures HR understand the complex needs of disabled staff and ensure appropriate reasonable adjustments can be put in place; it creates a workplace which tackles the stigma of being disabled and allows people to feel comfortable in the entirety of who they are.

For all those reasons and more, there is no shame in coming out.

You can read more by Huma here.

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Malala: An inspiration to women and girls everywhere

By Shahida Choudhry

Malala didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize today, but the news around the announcement reminded me of first hearing her story, and how it moved me. This young girl in Pakistan had very nearly paid the ultimate price for standing up for the most basic of rights: the right to go to school. When she arrived in Birmingham, my home town, it was like the arrival of a hero. Local campaigners were being asked to talk about girls education in Pakistan: an issue that had been largely ignored until then. The world’s press arrived – desperate to catch a glimpse of this incredible young woman.

Malala Yousafzai Opens Birmingham Library

That’s the power Malala has: the power to make people think, to inspire a global conversation about the importance of education and about the inequalities that still exist all over the world between boys and girls when it comes to schooling.

To me, though, Malala isn’t just a distant icon, her story isn’t just one that I try to imagine. When I was 16 I was taken out of school in the UK and sent to Pakistan for marriage.

While my friends completed their GCSE’s and A-levels I was trapped and my education failed. Eventually, I managed to escape back to the UK and aged 30 I graduated with a 1st class honours degree in Social Work. They can take you away from education but can’t take education from you. I still think about the years I missed. I also think about all the other girls in our communities today who are in the same situation.

Malala finds herself in a global spotlight with much responsibility on her young shoulders. People watch her in awe as she talks about education, politics and gender equality in a way that makes her seem far wiser than her 16 years suggest.

Now, a generation of girls watches on in hope that this 16 year old can push world leaders to deliver what they have failed too so far: universal education. It’s a scandal that there are 57 million girls and boys who will not go to school today — or any day.

Almost half a million people across the world joined the call for Malala to be nominated for the Nobel prize. I started the Change.org petition for the nomination because I wanted to do something to show my support. I could never have imagined what happened next. This simple idea went global. Change.org petitions on were started around the world from Brazil, Singapore, Kenya, the UK, US, India, Italy, Germany, France, even Pakistan.

The overwhelming support for Malala and her nomination is just one indication of how much people love her story; of how much we all want her to succeed in her mission. In the ongoing noise of political rhetoric and grand statements its on young woman’s real life story that’s resonated with people loudest.

One comment on the petition summed up the sentiment. It was left by Farina from Pakistan who says she signed “because Malala gives me hope.”

In following Malala’s example I also found my voice and was able to share my story. That is the lesson that I take from Malala, a sixteen year old schoolgirl from Pakistan.

Malala may not have won a Nobel Prize but to me and to millions across the world she remains a true people power hero.

Shahida Choudhry is a campaigner and social worker from Birmingham. In November 2012 she launched a change.org petition calling for Malala Yousafzai to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize)

Article republished with author’s permission. Source: The Independent 

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