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Diversity and Emotional Insecurity



Is the Bush Age responsible for the return to the racist '60s?

 


I have no scientific evidence to prove it and, no doubt, my American colleagues who can find such evidence will fish it out for me, but my gut instinct tells me that there have been far more openly racist incidents in the America during the presidency of George Bush than that of Bill Clinton. There appears to have been some awful openly racist acts, culminating in the recent Jena 6 debacle, and I believe they are not coincidental. They are happening for three main reasons.

First, the climate of care and compassion has eroded. With the Iraq war embedding Americans in an unwinnable morass of responsibility, it seems time to turn on each other, to accuse one another of not playing the game, not being supportive and not being 'patriotic enough. It means that people with the power, the political allegiance, the economic clout and the colour to match can dish the dirt, while the more vulnerable have to just take it or turn on their fellowmen to get their kicks.

Second, the dictatorial nature of the Bush regime where anything goes, where basic civil rights seems to be losing ground, where even human rights are being flouted openly, and with impunity, in the questionable 'war on terror' and the suspicious and fearful regime that is being fostered from the White House and secret services, especially against Muslims (interpret that to mean anyone not White). These elements do not encourage confidence, unity or respect among the different communities within American society.

At the heart of respect is sensitivity, and as the Bush regime seems to display very little of that with regards to the Iraq war, small wonder there is so little sensitivity between communities. A nation usually follows its leaders and when the leaders behave in a particular way which does not have majority consensus, that's a divided nation in the making - a nation where the powerful can always forcefully exercise their right against the weaker members.


History of Slavery and Repression
Third, the entrenched denial about current racism in American society. An outsider can easily see the cracks and painful joints, the semantics which override the reality, the false perceptions which rule every interaction while ignoring the contexts and the outcomes. A country with such an awful history of slavery and repression of one group of people cannot expect healing without some major effort to stem the inequalities which derive from such foundations. Yet the foundation of any house is its most essential part. It will cause everything else to crumble if it is not firm and stable. Americans are trying desperately to ignore their oppressive, unequal foundations, to deny their deleterious effects, to paper over the cracks of resentment and suffering while the justice system, and pockets of entrenched racism, constantly embarrass and remind a nation in denial just how weak that foundation is.

The devil-may-care Bush regime, which seems to be broadly pleasing itself is not setting a great example of national unity or care. Americans are losing their confidence and power as they lose worldwide support, not a familiar position to find themselves in. Those who cannot cope with such feelings of impotence, and lack the knowledge to aid their understanding, easily seek scapegoats and what better ones to take the flak and boost the ego than the people who stand out.


When you can have a 'White Tree' used only by White students in a multicultural school, nooses used as a 'prank' and a White man with authority telling someone Black that he could end his life 'with the stroke of a pen' in 21st century America, something is deeply wrong.

So what is the answer to this sorry state of affairs?


Communities Listening
A desire on both sides of the fence to actually LISTEN to what the other is saying, to stop the constant insults, accusations and blame, and deliberate power play; to accept that the justice system is not run by a mechanical 'system' but by human beings with their own prejudices, biases, allegiances and agendas, and that the PERCEPTION of getting actual justice is even more important than its reality.

White Americans have to begin the painful task of acknowledging that they are encouraging a racist environment in which everyone will lose every time that they sit and watch an injustice done and do nothing about it. They are the major power brokers and have to take responsibility for their outcomes. And Black Americans have to stop seeing everything in colour codes, to leave that slavery past behind by taking greater responsibility for their lives and carving out the future they desire right here in the present.

Neither White nor Black Americans can succeed on their own. They have to begin to change their perception of each other and begin the healing process to have any hope in hell of strengthening that foundation and uniting as a nation, otherwise it will continue to disintegrate around them. That is the only way they can send the right messages of hope and genuine equality to the children of the future and the rest of the world. Most of all, it is the only way they will ever learn to forgive, get rid of the guilt and appreciate each other.




Will Ordinary Muslims Rejection of Extremists Hasten The End of Terrorism?

 


Yes, I believe it will, because terrorism is like any other evil. When it is ignored, it multiplies faster than an ants nest because of the assumption that the terrorist is acting on behalf of the majority. In this respect, there is a veneer of unity. However, the minute the majority stands up and speaks for itself, denouncing every act of aggression on innocent people, those vile actions will begin to abate because the extremists would have lost their power and become more vulnerable and exposed.

The current spate of terrorism is not limited to terrorists, nor, surprisingly, is it controlled by them. Terrorism thrives because the Islamist clergy dictates the pace through their unassailable 'truths' about the Koran, the brutal treatment of others and the imposition of their particular beliefs on everyone. Meanwhile the majority do nothing, their SILENCE and INACTION condoning the atrocities while fuelling the continuing negative perceptions and gross injustice done to powerless victims of their hate. This complacent majority has looked on disinterestedly, steeped in denial, convinced of Islam's righteousness in what is happening, while extremists carry out terrible acts in their name.

Until members of this silent majority are forced to take notice to preserve themselves, their beliefs and their own freedoms, just as it is killing off the future of Iraq, such mindless terrorism will only engulf us all on cultural, racial and religious lines. It follows that when the majority decides to take a firm public stand, to condemn terrorism in the strongest terms and to uphold the law which applies to all, terrorism will have far less appeal to young radicals because the majority support it has tacitly enjoyed would have been diminished.


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Living in dead Men's Shoes:
The Problem with the Religious Holy Books

 


The pastor from the Evangelical Church in Hackney, London, was patient but firm. There was definitely life after death, one where we would all be judged by God. But eternal salvation was possible only through strict adherence to the teachings of the Bible, and these were not negotiable.

Though I listened to him with interest, and respected him and his views, my convictions were set in concrete. My only afterlife would exist in someone else's head. I too believe in God but I also believe I was placed on earth for a reason and any judgement would not be reserved just for the future. The full works would be meted out right here and now: in the quality of my life and for treating others in ways which reflected God's teachings of charity, kindness and forgiveness. Not just for following the holy book while slagging my neighbours into the ground with selfishness and greed, being discriminatory towards them or blasting them into oblivion to feed my desire for power.


Life in Heaven or Hell?
The pastor wouldn't budge. He spoke slowly and softly, as if to a lost child in need of paternal guidance. Life on earth was insignificant compared to life in heaven or hell and, anyway, my ideas had no foundation because they were not in the Bible. Black people were hardly mentioned in the Bible either, but that did not negate our presence! It seemed that everyone could quote the Bible, or their holy book, to suit their own purpose.

And that is the problem with anything written so long ago. The messages get lost down the ages, gathering momentum in their obscurity as the messengers grow bloated with bigotry. Being learned charlatans of each faith, they continually use such books to maintain their power while the meanings and application become more irrelevant to our world and our needs, and the interpretation of each phrase multiply faster than an ant's nest to suit every act and occasion.

The customary straw poll of students within British educational establishments, to assess current levels of faith, might be unscientific but no less indicative of a growing areligious society. The average of people still attending church, or considering themselves religious, is now about 12 out of every 30, and falling. While these students turn their backs on Christianity, yet with nothing else to fill the gap, the Bible marches on in its obscurity and irrelevance, with its singular emphasis on Jews, Gentiles, Hebrews (no Blacks), its strange outdated place names and its virtuous tales of simple minded folk, living equally simple rural life and with not a single computer, mobile or Ipod in sight. Far removed from the technological and social revolution that is our world today. In this narrow, moralistic way, it traps each unsuspecting soul in the antiquated verbiage of a bygone age.


No Women and Gays for High Office

Meanwhile, much is done in the name of God, religion and the Bible. Despite a queen as Supreme Head of the British Church, the ordination and promotion of women is still threatening to split it because arrogant men, apparently enjoying a direct line to God's intentions, have decided that one female is more than enough! This is indicative of some key anomalies within the Church system: like women and gays being welcomed as worshippers, as children of God, but not when it comes to being ordained within God's church.

Again, South Africans worship God every day yet kept apartheid alive for many years without the slightest reference to conscience or belief. Obviously their White God would not approve of their Black neighbours either! And once when I needed a priest badly, as a staunch Catholic, this man of the cloth had better things to do than to share some comforting words with me, a devout parishioner. I have not been in a church since that occasion, 35 years ago and what a wonderful difference it has made to my life!

Now the good pastor was telling me that I needed to explore my faith further. My personal beliefs did not match up to his so they couldn't be right. But I had been this way before and how much closer could one explore the teachings of God than as a trainee nun? For three years I dwelt ceaselessly on God's words, rejecting the hypocrisies of religion when my brain reeled with instructions and ideas which promoted nothing but evil. I do not know about other religions, though, if the actions of a few fanatics are anything to go by, the Muslim faith is even worse in its capacity for cruelty, but Catholicism has a lot to answer for and we won't even mention the Inquisition or the abuse of young minds and bodies down the years. Man himself commits vile acts then call on God to condone them!

The Hindu gods also appear to take pleasure from the destruction of other people's temples and keeping their faithful members in an intractable colour system where the fair Brahmins are blessed with the right to kick the hapless, dark-skinned Harijans perpetually trapped at the bottom of the social pile. Being insignificant and, obviously, with no god on their side, these Untouchables are assigned to an immutable life of poverty, meanness and loveless inhumanity while the gods lavish attention on the favoured majority.

The Christian ethos and vocabulary are only marginally better. Each word seems to echo an unmerciful God always waiting to pounce upon us terrible sinners with the worst retribution possible. The fact that God merely reflects the moralistic and narrow ideals of the messengers in His name has been lost upon humanity. Instead, God is portrayed as an all powerful being with nothing better to do each day than to be picking us off in turn to note our numerous sins! The Bible said so, the male priests preach it and we have to live it. So, as a teenager, I had a miserable anxious, guilt-ridden childhood. I was painfully aware that we could not really enjoy ourselves because everything that made us happy appeared to be an abomination to God and He was always ever present watching us. Sex was dirty and definitely out, so were rude jokes, raving parties and boys! No chance of escape as even our very thoughts constituted sin.


Preoccupation With Sex
Yet it was all a natural part of growing up, this preoccupation with things sexual, because the changes within our body were phenomenal and not really understood. The Church's obsession with sex was a revelation in itself. Only attending mass and confessing our sins regularly would save us. But save us from what? Innocent thoughts? Our bodily functions which were a natural part of our growth and evolution? Gradual self-discovery and truth about our faith? What I did not understand then was that the love of God which was so regularly trumpeted by the priests was in chronically short supply because it had been replaced by fear of God, and nothing ruled by fear can ever be positive and uplifting.

If we missed church just once that was a mortal sin. So each Sunday I competed with the lark for the 5 o'clock call, eager to be first in line for confession, compassion and communion, but they were as straw against the merciless wind of sin and shame. I would enter the convent, that would do it, I thought. I could serve God wholeheartedly and be free from all these 'wicked' thoughts. But in between the daily masses, novenas and spiritual rituals all I heard about was sin - huge massive mortal sins; medium sized original sins; tiny fluttery venial sins. Where did it all end, this world full of sin? Did we ever get good on earth? Not on your life. We had to wait until Judgement Day.

Then one day I visited a handicapped neighbour who was a devout Catholic but was never able to attend mass. A saintly cheerful woman who would give her last penny to others, she worried and fretted constantly about committing various sins through missing mass. She had no means to travel to church and her pastor never once visited her either. I often wondered if her soul was riddled with massive black spots for all the services she missed? So many huge mortal sins. How did she cope? She must be damned in hell for good. The realisation of how such cruel brainwashing affected her peace of mind, the way it preyed on her conscience and stopped her from enjoying her life and faith fully, propelled me from the convent faster than a bullet.






Do the Tottenham Riots, and the invisibility of minorities,
reinforce their belief that 'There's no black in the Union Jack'?

 


The riots in Tottenham, north London, which took place over Saturday and Sunday were a grisly reminder of various flashpoints among Britain's minority communities through recent decades. What was most shocking about this one was the ferocity of it, the sheer disregard for the community itself and for other people's possessions. Amidst the mindless violence was a resigned alienated attitude to authority and the rule of law.

Not long ago, three months to be precise, at the time of the Royal wedding, I drew attention to the fact that Britain's minorities, especially the non-professionals, were virtually invisible in the country, and that the wedding would have been meaningless to them. In fact an extremist group, Muslims Against the Crusades, planned to protest in London to draw some attention to themselves. Publicity was obviously their main aim, but it was a symbol of the invisibility of minorities in the UK that they feel they had to use that significant day in order to be seen and heard.

The clear message is that such important times - national economic debates, political and Royal events - are all exclusively white affairs, because minorities are not perceived to be British when it comes to national celebrations. They were on the wrong side of the colonial divide: the ones who were governed, not the rulers. That superior attitude still permeates the places which matter, breeding and fuelling exclusion on a massive scale, regardless of the fine words and intentions around it.


Elephant in the Room
Some time ago, some British blacks coined the sentence: "There is no Black in the Union Jack" flag. On issues of state and politics, at tragic times like these, such perceptions really come alive in their truth. The uncomfortable elephant in the room regarding minorities and the white majority is that black people are tolerated and sidelined in times of peace and plenty, but when there is conflict they serve as the source of any 'problems', handy scapegoats, that the country is experiencing.  British politicians, and the media, especially when there are benefits to be had from it, love to boast about our multicultural society.

The truth is that there are two societies, in a covert vein - one which contains the power brokers and people of influence of one particular colour (white), and the powerless, invisible ones on the periphery of the action, those blessed with a different colour (black), who will be safely kept a good distance; the same ones, who for some inexplicable reason, are starved of positive press coverage in the routine of daily life, but can be exposed in all their glory at tragic moments like these. That is the reality of being Black in Britain today: one of exclusion and invisibility, especially at such times when they really should be involved to ensure unity, harmony and mutual respect - to be part of the routine in every sense. But who, instead, are paraded publicly in times of strife as caricatures of the British way of life, so long as they know their place and keep it.

Violence of any kind, and on such a scale can never be condoned by anyone. But there is a clear difference in the treatment of white violence to black ones in Britain. When there is a white riot in Belfast, for example, it is seen as part of a bigger picture demanding some political action to redress imbalances. When it relates to the Black community it is regarded merely as 'mindless violence', an indulgence without any base or reason, and to be stamped on indiscriminately by the authorities.

Sadly, that is the kind of racist ostrich-like response that has kept minorities invisible, angry and alienated down the years, and does nothing for the good reputation of an otherwise fine country.






5 Reasons Why Islamic Law Would be Wrong for Britain

 


There has been an unholy row around Archbishop Rowan William's recent remarks about the "inevitability" of parts of Islamic (Sharia) law being introduced in Britain. Apart from the fact that an Anglican leader has no business commenting, promoting or even involving himself in the laws of another religion, unless he wishes to join it, there are 5 key reasons why implementing such a law nationwide in Britain would be very wrong.

First, we are a secular society and Sharia Law is based upon religious teachings. The separation of Church and State, though not formally applied, has become a jealously guarded right that Britain has upheld down the years. To enable any religious law to creep in by the back door now would be a rather backward step in time.

A few Sharia courts are already mushrooming, presenting the serious spectre of a small community reinforcing their difference within the wider society, with religious laws taking precedence over civil ones. Has anyone stopped to think that if all the various religions demanded adherence to their own particular laws, while ignoring the laws of the country, what chaos there would be? And why should one sector be granted such a right when others are not?


Minority religion
Second, Sharia Law is part of a minority religion in the UK. We cannot ignore the wishes of the majority to implement a minority law upon them in any form without acknowledging the foundations of that law, i:e the Muslim faith, in much more than a cursory way. Soon aspects of that faith would be imposed upon the general public, if that law is to be implemented with any real effect.

Third, a law which has to refer to men every step of the way before women can be accorded individual justice flies in the face of equality of opportunity and respect for diversity which Britain firmly espouses. There is much that is unequal in the treatment of women within Sharia Law. It's very essence is based on asserting, reinforcing and maintaining male power and domination (note the all-male courts) especially when, historically, only men have been religious imams and interpreters of that law. The United Kingdom cannot strive to be a multicultural and equal society on one hand, yet condone the unequal treatment of women anywhere within it, on the other.

Fourth, the introduction of such a law would encourage members of the white majority to feel sidelined and resentful at the perceived privileged status of a minority group and is likely to cause massive backlash, divisions and rebellion. That is not the way to encourage harmony and respect among a diverse community. Respect has to be mutual to be effective and also perceived to be applied. Many white Britons would also regard any such religious imposition as a lack of respect for themselves, their country, their values and their own needs.


Insecurity and Exclusion
Finally, and most crucial, Britain already has its laws which have been decided by parliament and the democratic process, not by religion and minority interests. These laws must be obeyed by every person within the country to carry any credibility, to demand any respect and to be applicable in a just manner. The minute there are competing laws and judgements, they set up a confusion and perception of vulnerability which robs those laws of their protection and power. Moreover, once certain citizens of a country are perceived to be outside the law of the land, it leads to feelings of insecurity, resentment and exclusion.

There is nothing wrong with services similar to that offered by the Citizens Advice Bureau being available among Muslims, operated by Muslims or any other religious groups, for the benefit of their users. Neither is there anything wrong with people seeking religious advice in practising their faith. But there can only be one law in a country - the overarching law that is meant for everyone as part of a singular community, the law that defines who we are, that protects our interests and is unequivocal in its interpretations.

Every newcomer to Britain should be made aware of our laws and, as part of any permission to reside in this country, there should be the clear requirement to abide by them too. Nothing else can apply if we really value a multicultural community. The only two essential glues that will hold diverse communities together are: shared communal values and being judged by the same laws. The minute there is a perception of one law being available for some and not for others we have a recipe for social disaster.

True diversity is the acknowledgement and celebration of difference while sharing and enhancing similarities. If the emphasis remains only on that difference, there will be confusion, division and resentment instead of the true national pride in being British, regardless of creed or colour. We really need to stop now and have a good look at where we are going as a society, to implement some basic public behavioural requirements of our citizens, to emphasise the importance of equality to our people and to ensure only one law rules and guides us.

Otherwise we will not only become fragmented and divisive, we will also change the focus of what we truly value and desire as a nation, realising, perhaps too late, that it had already been surreptitiously changed for us by a small but determined section simply because we lacked the leadership to decide our collective identity.




Five reasons why burning of the Q'uran was such a bad idea

 


This past week we have been treated to the most amazing scenario of one man's desire for publicity and power putting many people's lives at risk, and one did wonder where it would all end.

The threat by a so-called 'reverend' of a church in Gainesville to burn copies of the Q'uran was so wrong on many levels, it truly defies belief. Sadly, the more he said it and attracted similar fanatics to him, the more it assumed a life of its own, one he had perhaps not intended, and the more he had to continue with his deadly game in order not to lose face. Now he says that he has 'suspended' his action (obviously it will come in handy for another time when he wants more publicity!) while he played brinkmanship with the lives of fellow Americans. It really is time that cowardly people, especially die hard racists and covert terrorists, stop hiding behind the First Amendment, or using it to give their dastardly deeds continued credibility.

We are all entitled to free speech and actions in a democracy, but when that speech is used to inflame and to denigrate rather than to uplift or enhance, to cause consequences which could be pretty far reaching and deadly, there is nothing free about it at all. It would be pretty costly.

The actions of this man of the cloth (whose own Christianity appears to have deserted him!) has been so wrong primarily for the following reasons:

1. If he is a real Christian, a religion which mainly teaches LOVE and FORGIVENESS, where is his forgiveness? Or does his religion allow him to pick and choose the bits he wants while he speaks for God and ignores the rest?

2. Would any Christian like the idea of any number of their Bibles being publicly burnt, which would have shown a marked disrespect for their beliefs and chosen way of life?


The Danger of Collective Responsibility
3. It is dangerous to hold any group of people, of whatever creed or culture, collectively responsible for the bad deeds of a minority among them. There is no such thing as a perfect society to be found anywhere. Every community has good, bad and indifferent, hence the consistent crime all over the world. If we are not going to hold a whole street of people responsible for the murder committed by someone that lives there, why would we wish to hold a whole race of people in similar light for the actions of their deviant folks? It is only our desire for superiority and our low confidence in ourselves - wishing to boost that confidence at the expense of others - why we would treasure our uniqueness and individuality, while denying others their own!

4. Such actions do nothing to bring people together, further greater cultural understanding or help to foster the world peace we all crave. They are guaranteed to keep the wounds open, the resentment running deeper and the anger relentless. Anyway, how does behaving like a terrorist, with little regard for others and their belies, make the good reverend any better than those ghastly perpetrators? We do not make ourselves, or the situation, any better by sinking to the level of the evil we condemn.

5. Most important, it sullies and cheapens the memory of 9/11 and diverts attention away from the loss. It makes the perpetrators into martyrs and associates the anniversary even more closely with mindless violence, instead of keeping that memory alive for posterity in love, forgiveness and hope. Instead of Americans focusing on that tragic loss on each anniversary, the memory of the proposed Q'uran burning will divert the focus of remembrance.

One cannot blame the reverend too much for what has happened. One has to place it against the current free-for-all backdrop where some pretty ghastly things seem to be happening under the protection of the First Amendment. For someone outside America looking in, tis good country seems to be going trough some pretty scary times, particularly where those with the power and the privilege assume a God-given right to create mayhem in His name, while using all kinds of excuses to justify their actions. It really is a sorry time for the world's greatest super-power.

As Christianity itself teaches, "An eye for an eye makes everyone blind."

We all hope America finds its way pretty soon before this kind of obvious lawlessness makes everyone blind to the basic truths of learning to live together in tolerance and respect. After all, Americans cannot demand respect for their beliefs while deliberately disrespecting those of others.






Does the arrival of a white baby to black parents
signal something profound about the whole aspect of
spirituality and our collective consciousness?

 


A completely white baby was born recently to a black Nigerian couple in London. This baby had features, especially her blonde hair, that not even other white babies had at such an early stage. There were no white ancestors in the parents' heritage and, if the real father had been white, the baby would have been definitely mixed race, no matter how "white" she appeared to be. Not even the learned doctors in the field have any explanation for the phenomenon and have put it down to mutated genes.

Professor Bryan Sykes, head of human genetics at Oxford University, described the birth as "extraordinary." He commented that, for the baby to be completely white, both Ben and Angela would need to have "some form of white ancestry...The hair is extremely unusual. Even many blonde children don't have blonde hair like this at birth."

But I wonder if the answer could be something else?

I have read tons of books and some of them espouse the belief that we are spiritual beings inhabiting a human body, hence why death is not such a trauma as we think, while a few more actually believe that children CHOOSE their parents, not the other way round. If we are really spiritual beings in human clothing, it follows that anyone can be our parents, regardless of colour or creed. It really wouldn't matter except to racists!

Again, as strange as this might sound, if children choose their parents, then perhaps this baby belonged somewhere else but 'chose' these parents instead for whatever reason!

It all sounds outlandish and improbable, but there are TONS we do not understand about our bodies, our minds and our world. Pretending we have all the answers won't give us the true answers either. Only an open mind, the willingness to explore the improbable and the confidence to appreciate that there are many possible answers to unexplained phenomenon will move us closer to greater understanding of where we have come from and where we are heading!






The Enslavement of our Children Through Semantics

 


Once I attended a meeting in London of very keen, Black professionals, who had each paid £75 for the privilege of discussing a particular report and its potential impact on the community. I waited eagerly for its content. However, my one abiding memory of that meeting was the negative way three very vocal 'sisters' totally hijacked the proceedings to question who had written the report and what colour that person should have been.

For the next two hours, absolutely nothing was discussed until the terminology was sorted out and the colour of participants was fully checked and analysed: a total waste of delegates' time, money and talents. Months later, I am still trying to work out what we achieved on that day because we never did get to the actual findings! I am sure my experience is not unique and could explain why often so little is achieved within our community.

Black though we may be, if we have never been to Africa, we are no more 'Africans' than the descendants of the early Britons across the Pond who fought with the UK for their independence and are now very much Americans. They cannot call themselves Britons when they have very little physical or cultural ties with the mother country. Names are extremely important when they are associated with a sense of wellbeing and a definite history. However, people who cling to the past, long after it has lost its meaning, tend to be stagnant in their ambitions, fearful in their thoughts and fossilised in their actions.

Having a sense of continuing frustration, yet not sure how to deal with it, they gradually find it easier to look towards another utopia, to see it as the answer, even when it is alien to them and is merely just a dream. Thus the place they left decades ago, like Bangladesh, Jamaica or India, is still 'home' even forty years afterwards. This view stops them facing their new reality, keeping them exposed as very obvious minorities, forever on the periphery while they abdicate responsibility for their future and blame the past for any present predicament.


Insceurity and Underachievement
The notion of a home far away also harms their children's present and future. It implants a constant reminder of instability and impermanence and is one of the biggest causes of insecurity and underachievement. If their parents are going 'home' sometime in the never never, why should they bother to work here? Why bother with making real friends? With buckling down to school work if you are going to be uprooted suddenly to 'go home'?

Sadly, 15 or 20 years down the line, when the parents are still in Britain clinging to their outdated memory of 'home', the children would have completely lost theirs through apathy and alienation. In the meantime, the 'home' they fondly hang on to has changed beyond recognition. Trapped in time and fossilised in their brain, the cherished perfect past is a far cry from the actual reality; one which is a vibrant, moving form of constantly changing mores; one which would be almost as alien to them as to anyone else.

We stop developing when we live in the past and hang on to it for its own sake, while being constantly bitter and vengeful. In this way we learn nothing from it to safeguard or improve our future. Black people are of African descent, and that is labouring the obvious, but we have chosen, or been given, a different future which we must develop to the fullest in the brief time available. If you feel strongly about any country, more than you do about the place you live in, then DO something about it! Why not visit that place, examine its prospects and help to build it up? Share your expertise with the community to enable others to benefit from your contributions while you gain a sense of fulfilment.

Hankering daily after somewhere else, while we do little to improve our current existence, makes life needlessly difficult and frustrating. It becomes a good excuse, and a handy ploy, to prevent us ever facing our own reality. It also keeps us stuck in the paradise of our dreams while the paradise we could help to build disintegrates around us. A country divided cannot thrive. Its people has to work together, not against each other, to give it life and success.

It really doesn't matter what we call ourself. We can only extend and conquer the earth when actions take precedence over words; when we know who we are and wish to be, when we accept that identity fully and head off into the future to give it life. Only then will we be able to deal with any obstacles in our way; to feel confident about our potential for making a difference to ourself and our environment. Repressing our ambition under a daily concentration on labels, names and theories indicates real fear and little self-esteem as we replace deeds with semantics and a lack of vision.


Key Questions for Our Future
Whether you are an African who has never been to Africa, an Asian who left your country years ago, or a Briton who is going nowhere else, here is a little challenge to tease out your true identity: Apart from mere words, what have I done for Africa lately? For Jamaica? For India? For Pakistan? For Britain? For Me...?

The answer will not only be truly enlightening, it might actually point you in the right direction for the greatest achievement of all time: liberating yourself from the semantic slavery which has chained you for long enough to the aimless sinking ship of negativity and regret. There really is a connection between the death of seven Black youngsters in six weeks, the state of the Black community and how it views itself and the apology demanded from the British government over slavery. They are all linked to our self-perception, sense of impotence and genuine frustrations. We have got an apology from Tony Blair about what happened hundreds of years ago and the legacy it has left.

Fine, so what now? Only self-confidence and high self-esteem can propel our children to greater self-love and achievement. Unless we love and respect ourself, our children have no hope of loving or respecting themselves too. They will always be ashamed of who they are and keep taking it out on each other. Many of us are still back there wallowing in self-hate and slavery. But it's time to start taking responsibility for our lives so that we can give our children the reinforcement, strength and pride to take responsibility for their lives too.

An apology from the politicians might force some superficial accountability and assuage some egos, but it is an empty gesture which reflects the past and does little for us and our future. The real question is: When are WE going to forgive ourselves for our distressing past and actually discard our slavery mentality to realise the wonderful, talented beings we are? This is fundamental to the progress of Black children, to their feelings of security and value, and to leaving our own positive legacy, no matter where we are in the world.







An Essential Part of Empowering a Child

 


Some time ago the British government said that schools can ban students from wearing Muslim veils, if teachers believed they affected safety, security or pupils' learning. School administrators now have the right to ban students from covering their faces under a new uniform policy, but educators should speak with parents before introducing such a ban.

Naturally, some leading Muslims objected to the ban, but I welcomed the government's leadership on this issue. As both a former education manager, and a keen promoter of diversity and a multicultural society, I agree wholeheartedly with it because it is all about human respect, inclusion and value. We use the word respect regularly in our daily lives, but very few people understand what it really means. It is not a singular cure-all for worthy intentions, but a very powerful 6-dimensional word which goes to the heart of diversity, human worth and appreciation.

Genuine respect is all embracing. It carries much compassion, little judgment and is entirely non-selective. It sees positivity before negativity, strength before weakness and possibility before judgement. Above all, it is mutually reinforcing, not one way. So respect is never present where only one party claims the need to be respected for their values and traditions through appeasement or bullying. That expectation would reflect mere power and a lack of respect, making it an extremely good pointer to interpersonal interactions. At the heart of respect is sensitivity through compromise. If we are not prepared to compromise with another, there is no respect.


Consequences of Emigrating
When we settle in a different country, we choose that country because of what it offers us, at the beginning, but also what we feel we can contribute to it over time. One of the consequences of emigrating is that we lose at least 50% of what we cherish and value, unless we remain in the past, holding on to something we can never regain. Then we lose much more than that in security and self-worth. If we wanted that country to be like the place we left, why emigrate at all? Simpler to stay put and preserve the cherished customs and traditions which are reinforced by others around us.

The minute we leave our homeland, the need for compromise becomes essential because nothing will be as we left it. Our new life will need negotiation, adjustment and embracing change in a massive way. It will be pretty scary but very rewarding. We cannot impose our values on the new country of residence. It is bound to change us over time because that is the natural law of change. We can never resist it, no matter how long it takes, otherwise we will be fossilised in a time warp while everything briskly moves on around us, as shown by the conflict between the older generation of immigrants who are stuck back there and the new generation born in the UK. Furthermore, only oppressors and colonists seek to impose their language and customs on the new countries they inhabit.

For me personally, as a former education manager, the ban is appropriate and well overdue. We cannot have equality for some women in Britain and not for others. I would also NOT employ someone veiled to teach young children, or have them wear the veil in school either, for one single important reason. The greatest encouragement to anyone, let alone a young child, is a SMILE. It is at the heart of inclusion and belonging. It is very powerful, it costs nothing and can move mountains when everything else fails because of its inclusiveness and reassurance.


The Power of a Smile
Without that smile there is nothing familiar and welcoming. Children of whatever age live for that smile of approval and reinforcement. At the youngest ages they soon learn that a smile is the essential currency of love and inclusion, a reinforcement of their worth; that the simple smile takes on a life of its own and opens doors to other aspects of enjoyment. Take it away, and there is doubt, fear and insecurity in the young mind.

Teachers are there to teach but children do not learn just from what they actually say. Children learn from example, from expressions, from a sense of being valued and wanted; from a simple smile of encouragement to improve their efforts. Boys do not cover their faces in a classroom. In a land striving for equality, girls should not cover their faces either. It is important that children communicate with each other from as early as possible, if we are to reduce prejudice, ignorance and bigotry.

A smile is one of the most powerful forms of communicating in any language, especially when other communication isn't possible. Covered faces in a classroom do nothing to bridge the cultural gap, to aid understanding of others, or to enhance self-worth, self-esteem and belonging. Neither do they communicate anything about the joy and positivity of being a vibrant and exciting part of a true multicultural society. They simply breed suspicion and mistrust, continually reinforcing them and us.




The True Legacy of Slavery

 


When Britain commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, it got me thinking about the real legacy of slavery on Black people, particularly in how we perceive ourselves and the names we use.

Names should be positive terms, but they can be cultural baggage. If you belong to a 'minority' group, what do you call yourself? The choice is easy if it has a definite historical, geographical or religious base. However, what if you are from the Caribbean but insist on being called African? Or an Asian who left your birthplace decades ago but still hark back to it as 'home'? Does all that really matter?

Take any name we call ourself: man, woman, doctor, priest, African, Caucasian, Asian. They all have one thing in common. They represent a specific persona as an individual, a member of a social and cultural group, and set us apart from everyone else who does not share the same background or characteristics. Names and titles are important for establishing individual identity, maintaining tradition, emphasising a particular skill or lineage, marking our place, unmistakably, in a historical and geographical context. Names are usually positive. We are meant to be proud of who we are and what we call ourselves. However, for Black people outside of Africa (like African Caribbeans) that is not always the case.

Black people living abroad have been desperately trying to come to terms with themselves for a very long time because of their chequered past and broken links with their countries of origin. Judged by their colour first, before anything else, it has been a painful demoralising process which some have managed to overcome but to which others have helplessly succumbed. Yet the answer to their anxieties lie in their eventful past. Whether they call themselves Melangian, African, Afro-Caribbean, African American or simply Black, there is a continuous search for a lost childhood, a huge gap in their past when everything happened but very little was spoken about it. Black people everywhere share this unique history.


Dirty Secret
They have been the only race, in modern times, who were forcibly ejected en masse from their place of birth and dispersed all over the world to be the slaves of another race of people. That one conscious slice of being Black, which continually haunts them, will never be understood by a White person in any number of lifetimes. It is such a powerful, pervasive and debilitating emotion, a kind of dirty secret scanning years of discrimination and entrapment, that Black strangers passing by only have to look at each other briefly in the street to share something instantly familiar, oddly binding and utterly unspeakable which hovers relentlessly through time.

It is not easy to appreciate, or empathise with, this legacy of slavery, because it is a legacy of displacement, not only in purely physical terms, but also in emotional, historical and psychological ones. For Black people of the African Diaspora there is a continuous sense of statelessness, of not belonging; of lacking the roots and experience of a promising childhood which was rudely torn apart, summarily dispensed with and utterly destroyed by slavers; cut short by something vastly alien, bewildering and shocking.

As a consequence of this brutal act there has been a marked absence of glory in anything black. No Black heroes, no great victories or inventions (those have been kept hidden). I was really surprised to learn, through the musical Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame, that the traffic lights were invented by someone Black! All my life, robbed of role models, I naturally assumed the inventor was White, my childhood having taught me that only White colonists did great things.


Serving and Obeying

Like a form of imprinting, White Europeans were the first 'parents' Black slave children saw, received their value from and had to serve and obey in a kind of sub-human state. This affected them not only for the rest of their lives but down the ensuing centuries through the generations that followed. How can one ever talk of true equality when one group started off being the slave of another, being deprived of basic human rights and freedoms, and their own dreams and hopes?

If you start with a disadvantage, which follows you down the years, how do you recover from it to enjoy real parity with the masters who exploited you to build themselves and their fortunes? It is very difficult. That is why there has always been this desire, in the absence of anything positive about being Black, to use the White culture as a role model in all spheres. One only had to look at the way singers form the 50s presented themselves to the public, how 'White' they were made to look, or tried to be, in order to be 'acceptable'.

For a long time, devoid of ancestral role models and any sense of self, the lost children of Africa looked to the White race for inspiration, as well as guidance in decorum, style of dress, hair care and general behaviour. They did learn how to assimilate a different culture, in their desire to be recognised and to belong, but they lost something valuable in the process - their own identity, sense of worth and sense of direction. Black people saw the White aura and tried to capture it. They admired White inventiveness and tried to emulate it. But these White role models saw only their colour and forever damned it, especially through their language. This has left many Black people confused about their roots: stateless, nameless and, at times, unwanted caricatures of another race.


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What's in a Name?: The Language of Slavery

 


When the UK commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, it got me thinking about the real legacy of slavery on Black people, particularly how we perceive ourselves and the names we use.

Even today, every word in the English language connected with the word 'black' is full of nastiness, darkness and foreboding, and I won't even quote Shakespeare to prove it. Courtesy of my thesaurus, the colour white is 'virginal, unblemished, immaculate, innocent, pure'. Black is 'dark, murky, funereal, evil, villainous, wicked!' They may be just words on a page but they reflect the anxiety of the people who gave them meaning and demarcated human beings into roses and rejects. Worse still, constant daily usage ensures their transformation into lethal psychological weapons for those affected by it.

With enlightenment and time, that instant identification with past masters has begun to fade among Black people. Admiration and hero-worship have gradually given way to suspicion and anger through the gradual acknowledgements of painful truths. For the first time ever, the full horror of the slave trade and Britain's part in it, and its financial benefits from it is being openly discussed, not from a sanitised blameless corner but through education of man's inhumanity to man. African Caribbeans, or African Americans, are fighting back, actively seeking that lost childhood to recapture their worth, self-esteem and true identity. But it is an uphill task because of its entrenchment in our psyche. We may have lost too much too quickly and are in danger of leaping too far to the other side to compensate.

Under the guise of 'discovering' themselves, there has been a definite slide towards directly aligning with Africa, where many Black Britons have never been, and with which they have little in common except the colour of their skin, instead of the country of their birth or residence; the one that nurtures them and protects their interests. Asians do the same by refusing to let go, even when they know that they are never going back 'home'. Scared of losing their roots and traditions, they trap themselves and their families in a cultural time warp which eventually stunts their growth, slows their evolution and heightens their feeling of insecurity. In this way we all label ourselves like useless packages which are being knocked from pillar to post in a wilderness of denial.


Turning to Africa for Comfort
Instead of a solidarity in being Black, acknowledging a common past and linking together for a better future, wherever we are, many eagerly turn to Africa (or Mother India) from whom they descended for their comfort and validation. Many Blacks wear their African label proudly, while turning inwards on their brothers and sisters to put them down, to revile their efforts and to mock their successes.

Someone has to be blamed for the legacy of servitude and self-hate. Their peers and colleagues easily become the identifiable enemy while the real culprit (lack of self-belief, lack of self-love and lack of forgiveness) stalk wantonly inside them, eating away at their consciousness, hopes and ambitions, rendering them helpless, vulnerable and emotionally sterile. Then they wonder why, as a people, they are not more successful, they are dogged by crime and delinquency and they feel so bad within themselves. But wherever there is little self-respect, one cannot have the respect of others.

The names we choose for ourselves do matter. They are clear signs of personal confidence, self-perception, basic identity and future potential. Personally, I prefer Black Briton. I might have descended from a slave but I do not have to be one in my thoughts and mentality. As Bob Marley sang: "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourself can free our mind."

I cannot go back in time to right any wrong, and another White person cannot do that either, but by treating myself with love and respect, I can command the respect of others too; by teaching my children to love themselves and respect themselves, they will also be able to free their thoughts from the negative past to boldly go into the future to claim their birthright. By celebrating my presence and the gift of life, I can make my own legacy and a huge difference to my world.


Conscious Decision on Nationality
Being a Black Briton, is a conscious decision. I am not a member of an 'ethnic minority' because minority emphasises being out of the majority; on the periphery of the mainstream looking on longingly, but never allowed the opportunity to join that privileged majority. Being 'Black' also emphasises that, though I may not be a member of the White majority, I am equally proud of who I am and where I hope to go. I used to be a Jamaican, representing the land of my birth. Deep within me I will always have a fondness for, and a sort of wonder, that a tiny little island has had such a phenomenal impact on the rest of the world through creativity, music and sports! Jamaica represents my history, and a very proud one too. Regardless of how my ancestors got to Jamaica, someone elsewhere decreed that I should be a Jamaican and I am very proud of that roots.

Yet, at a time when racist folks continually threaten to make life uncomfortable for all Britons, and others talk of 'apology', 'repatriation' and 'compensation', there will have to be one person standing aside from all that to take a different view - me. I have no wish to return to my past because there is nothing happening back there.

The past is important for placing us in time and noting the significant moments in our history, for reference, not for residence. A concentration on the past robs us of both a present and a future. If we are busy back there, we cannot be busy here too. It is a short step from simply finding scapegoats for feelings of inadequacy which then prevent us looking at ourselves. The past is useful for changing the present and developing the future in a more enhancing way. It is not for wallowing in self-pity or harbouring futile thoughts of revenge.


Loyalty to Our Country
Whether I like Britain or not, this is now my home, not Jamaica, not Africa not anywhere else. My ancestors could not choose to go to Britain. They were forced to be here. But I had the choice of going to America, Canada, Europe - mostly anywhere I wanted to, and I chose the UK. I adore this country and wouldn't live anywhere else. That was a conscious choice and has remained so. This is where I live, and where I now celebrate the 40th anniversary of arriving in London from Jamaica; where I have spent many wonderful years, where my children have to live when I am dead and gone and where I wish to contribute my skills to enable us to enjoy a fulfilling life.

The fact that I am finally sure in my mind who I am, what I want and where I am going has helped me to move on to another important plain: to other essential things like future achievements, a rewarding career reflecting my purpose in life and the support I can give to my children and any grandchildren by being close at hand for them when they need me.

Importantly, I am now able to focus upon my own self development in a way which would be denied me if I had to be continually worried about who I am, where I am and where I want to go. Self knowledge comes gradually over time but if, after 15, 20 or 25 years spent in one place, those questions are still causing anxiety without a real sense of belonging, there is major psychological stress and dissonance which needs to be addressed. In fact, one thing has always fascinated me about the semantics of identity, especially in America. All the weak minority groupings attach a prefix to who they are: like Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans.

The White ruling class, the one with the power and the resources, the media and the control, have virtually jettisoned any overt claim to their roots and simply settled for being Americans! Are they the only true Americans then? Could that be the secret of their success? I suppose if we are not serving two masters there will be only one set of instructions. European Americans have moved away from trying to prove their existence because, having proven it already, they now flaunt it proudly.

Black Britons, and to a large extent, African Americans, are still trying to prove themselves and it will carry on in this new millennium for a very long time. This could explain the deep divisions among them, the basic lack of self-respect reflected in the language they use for their women, the obsession with the 'right words' and clothing labels, an even stronger obsession with things African - but from a distance - and a negative, inward looking perspective which helps to rob their children of their birthright and the security needed for them to belong.






Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sacked amidst claims of
weak diversity management

 


Sir Ian Blair, the beleaguered head of Scotland Yard and the UK capital's police force has been sacked by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson. And one could say: About time too!

Whatever he was good at, managing a crisis wasn't obviously one of them. He has presided over the worst senior management debacle in the history of the Force by allowing one of his high ranking deputies to actually take the Yard to a tribunal for alleged discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The same officer even received threats from anonymous colleagues, which appeared to have been ignored by the Met. The Black Police Association, that normally works with the majority officers to promote diversity, especially in recruitment, even threatened to withdraw from the recruiting process and to stage protests outside Scotland Yard. All that seemed to have fallen on Sir Ian's deaf ears! Fiddling like Nero while Rome burnt, Ian Blair's handling of the crisis in his Force over the past few months has been a shambles and a disgrace for the highest ranking officer in a multicultural Britain.

One of his former assistant commissioners described him as 'detached, aloof and arrogant', someone who 'did not listen', which was exactly how I found him when I invited him to the British Diversity Awards some time ago. Even though he was acting on my behalf to present awards to deserving recipients, his manner was so aloof and condescending, compared to all my other presenters, it sent a chill through me, as a Black woman fighting for equality and justice. I felt that this was not a gentleman I could ever work with, or even wish to work with. I've never been able to forget his manner, especially when I was on his side, aligning with his diversity goals and the Met was actually sponsoring the event!

If the Metropolitan Police needed new leadership, especially after the Charles De Menezes shooting tragedy, and the very low morale of the dedicated officers serving with him, it is right now. Boris acted superbly by taking a difficult decision because 2010, when his contract expired, is just far too long a wait. It has been a real surprise that Ian Blair had not exercised his own judgement ages ago and tendered his resignation, gracefully. But what can one expect of someone who believes he is right and everyone else is wrong?

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has publicly affirmed her support for him when she accepted his resignation. That was a wrong move and a slap in the face for the hard work being done by everyone for a cohesive workforce. Sir Ian needed to be publicly thanked for his service, but not publicly supported or praised. That should have been done privately. This poor judgement demonstrates, once again, why the current Labour government is really in the pits, and digging even deeper!

There is no doubt that Sir Ian Blair made a valuable contribution to the progress of the Metropolitan Police during his tenure. But the mark of a real leader is being the first to acknowledge when you are wrong, when something could have been handled with more sensitivity and understanding and when to call a halt. In all three areas, particularly in relation to simple staff management and motivation, Ian Blair failed miserably.

Boris Johnson did the right thing in acknowledging the significant part Sir Ian played in fighting terrorism, introducing the safer neighbourhood schemes and falling crime levels by applauding his 'lasting and distinguished contribution to policing in London'. That is deserved. But someone else's leadership is sorely needed and London cannot afford to wait a moment longer simply because, if the Met Police is occupied fighting among itself, how can it be fighting crime effectively?


 

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