It’s 2014 and Blackface Apologism Still Exists

Earlier this week Toni Duggan, the Manchester City footballer, decided to dress up as Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, for fancy dress, and the photo was posted on Instagram for the world to see. As Duggan is white, and Goldberg is black, Duggan decided that it would be appropriate to employ ‘blackface’ to approximate the appearance.

This recalls the fall-out of last Hallowe’en, Julianne Hough used blackface to impersonate Crazy Eyes from Orange Is The New Black. She also apologised. This was written about in the Guardian by David Dennis. It carried the headline, “I shouldn’t have to say this in 2013: blackface Hallowe’en outfits aren’t OK.

Inevitably, Duggan was roundly criticised by many of the public and also anti-racism activists. Using blackface recalls racists acts like minstrelsy. We all know that blackface is offensive, and so it was welcomed when Duggan apologised for her mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, and the important thing is not to defend them, and to learn from them. Duggan has this chance, and ideally she won’t make similar mistakes in future. Duggan said she was, ‘very sorry,’ clearly demonstrating an understanding of the transgression.

She was retained by Kick It Out, an organisation that attempts to eliminate racism from football. Given it has been snubbed in the past by Jason Roberts and Rio Ferdinand, amongst others, it demonstrates that it does not have the full support of prominent footballers who are at the same time committed to work against racism. It is not infallible on race and racism itself.

Given the opprobrium and Duggan’s apology, and referring back to Dennis’s article, it should be accepted that something wrong was done. Which is why it was a surprise that Michael Butler’s Fiver of 5 March referred to those upset by a white woman in blackface as, “people desperate to be offended by very little.” It sits very awkwardly that the Fiver should be lecturing people of colour what is and isn’t offensive when it comes to race.

It should be said at this point, that this section of the Fiver – Bits And Bobs – was not written by Michael Butler – a shame, then, that many people will have assumed that he holds unacceptable views on race, and white privilege. It has not been made clear who wrote it, but it was not Butler. Indeed, everything after the opening section of the Fiver, from Quote Of The Day onwards, is never written by the bylined author. The unacceptable views on race and white privilege are hanging in the air – somebody wrote them.

Referring back to Dennis’s article in the aftermath of the Hough transgression, this is the key passage:

“Some readers may think I’m overreacting; as if I’m placing a meaning to simple face paint that harkens too far back to still be relevant. The fact is, blackface is still seen as incredibly offensive by a large segment of the community – black or otherwise. Shouldn’t that be enough to make someone want to not put the black paint on his or her face?

Too often, though, it’s the offending party who tries to determine exactly what’s offensive to subjugated groups. That conversation is always a disaster. Trying to convince a subjugated group not to feel a certain way about oppressive symbols – with decades or even centuries of history – is an exercise in hegemonic privilege:

“Because I don’t feel offended by it, you shouldn’t either.””

The Guardian, a supposedly progressive newspaper, using their platform to tell the subjugated what is and isn’t offensive – what progress. Because the white author is not offended, we shouldn’t be either.

A number of people contacted Marcus Christenson, the football editor who referred the matter to Ian Prior, the sport editor. In an email to me, Prior said that he didn’t, ‘regard the segment in question as an attempt at a joke, neither, on reflection, do I think it beyond the boundaries of acceptable comment.’

Regarding this email to me, a black woman, Prior complained that he was being asked to provide a prompt reply. He was busy tweeting at the time. In another email, he said there was ‘no need for an apology or correction’ on the matter. He however required no prompting for this response – it was a response to a white man, by the way.

We can assume, then, that the point made by whoever the author is, is a serious one and not made as a ‘joke’. Prior also thinks that it is acceptable for a white author to lecture people of colour on racism, with a sneering tone. Given he also sees no reason for apology, one could infer that he is also of the same view on this matter, and given that he wants to issue no correction, he his happy for Butler to be saddled with a seriously damaged reputation.

There are three ways for Prior to put things right:

1. Clarify who wrote the offending section.
2. Issue an apology for the racist section.
3. Learn from his mistake.

You can invite Ian Prior to do so via his email address ian.prior@theguardian.com and/or on Twitter @ianprior.

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Can a feminist wear high heels? Is the Pope a Catholic?

The question ‘Can feminists wear high heels’ is asked inexplicably often. It’s hard to see why, because there’s little evidence of me or anyone else using somebody’s shoe choice on the deciding factor of their personality, moral worth or intelligence. Nobody doubted Steve Jobs because he turned up at his product launches in grey New Balance sneakers. Nobody doubted Nelson Mandela because of his preferred type of loafer. Why do some women regularly fixate on whether or not a high heel is compatible with subscribing to feminism?

 

Charlotte Ravens, on this website, likens the wearing of high heels by a feminist to Richard Dawkins wearing rosary beads and a crucifix. It’s a nice line, but it doesn’t really mean anything beyond that.

 

Atheism is the rejection of religion in any form, so wearing a crucifix would be, indeed, a strange choice by the anger-toting honey-fondler. But would his choice of accessories remove the substance of his argument? Only if you wanted to glibly miss the point. As far as I am aware, feminism lies fundamentally committed to the autonomy of women, and for the end of patriarchy. I argue with my words, not my feet.

 

She continues her argument by saying that feminists look silly in high heels. This doesn’t make sense. I’m a feminist and believe that I look fantastic in high heels, and that my feminist friends do too, if they wish to wear them. I’m sure some people look silly in high heels, feminist or otherwise, but I haven’t seen any correlation between their fashion choices and the intellectual rigour they apply to their lives.

 

I’ve worn heels when giving a speech in Parliament, discussing the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have worn heels whilst attending Reclaim the Night. I even wore heeled boots for the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day, marching from Borough Market to South. I celebrated and promoted the interests of feminism, while using free choice to wear heels at the same time. The view that women can be dismissed as silly for having an interest in fashion seems like it should be followed by an instruction for us to know our limits.

 

Raven then says that feminism isn’t about making women feel comfortable about bad or harmful decisions or choices. The key word here is choice. There is no reason to conclude that feminists in heels are making bad choices or bad decisions. There’s just as much evidence to suggest that my activism is caused by wearing heels. That is, none. It’s like saying you cannot be a feminist if you wear a dress, a short skirt or a push up bra. 

 

There’s also a comparison between those who choose to wear heels and those who stay in relationships with domestic violence. “We can condemn the choice without judging.” Why condemn at all? There are plenty of reasons why people, especially women, end up in abusive relationships, and plenty more why they stay in them. At a time when women’s refuges are closing, and cuts are hitting women hardest, it’s not hard to explain why some women may make that choice, a choice that is rarely a free one.  Condemnation of the choice while not acknowledging the reasons why there may be little other choice is damagingly reductive and wilfully ignorant.

 

You may think “You’re not a bad person but the decision you’ve made is stupid” sounds logical, but more often, telling a victim of domestic violence that their decision to remain is terrible ends up doing more harm than good. Women are at their most vulnerable leaving and just after leaving abusive relationships, and there aren’t enough resources or the universally sound opinions in society to protect them at that stage. That’s not a particularly feminist approach to a seriously feminist issue. 

 

Calling heels “stripper heels” – denigrating sex workers by extension, comparing it to self harm – making light of mental health – is damaging and offensive comparisons. 

 

“We need to understand, but not consent their behaviour. I understand and empathise, because I could have ended up in casualty myself last NYE”. The problem you seem to have with high heels is that because you have trouble with them, they are not feminist.

 

There is an argument to be made about whether the wearing of high heels is encouraged by patriarchal standards of beauty, there is a proper critique of whether the fashion industry works against women, and there is absolutely an argument to be made about whether women who wear high heels are making an informed choice, with all the knowledge of the health issues that can arise from wearing them. But this is not what we have been presented with. Patriarchy’s effects are felt through fashion, as they are through almost everything. It seems bizarre to me to fixate on heels.

 

No, it would only not be feminist if despite your trouble with them, you didn’t have the choice to stop wearing them. You have the choice not to wear heels, I have the choice to wear them. Some women have the choice to leave abusive relationships, many don’t. No one choice is the same, and no women has as many choices as men. That’s what feminism is for.

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Where’s Your Compassion, Suzanne Moore?

Suzanne Moore’s latest piece, a review of that shining great white hope of female journalism Liz Jones’s book “Girl Least Likely To: 30 Years of Fashion, Fasting and Fleet Street”, managed to both make me angry and deeply hurt all in one go. That’s some feat. Rarely will someone be able to elicit sympathy for Liz Jones, but Suzanne Moore managed it. 

 Jones has a column which requires some level of self-hatred required to read on a regular basis, in which she espouses on whatever topic has aggrieved Liz Jones. Having written astoundingly awful articles on depression, or stealing your husband’s sperm or [insert badly informed and often absurd topic here], the consensus seems to be that she has to either be a parody of sorts or a deeply troubled woman, probably equal parts of both. 

 Every so often, Jones will write an article so infuriating and damaging that we can’t help but share it. The Daily Mail get the page hits and Jones gets the infamy. The internet has a term for this. It’s called “feeding the troll”. Whether she believes what she is writing or not is largely immaterial. Her column serves to get The Daily Mail page hits, and for Jones, it seems there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Were they a responsible publication, this would be the first sign that The Daily Mail should take some control, rather than exploit her obvious craving of attention.

 Make no mistake about it, the things she writes range from the simply absurd and almost comical, to the deeply disturbing and problematic. It seems she has imbued the very worst of patriarchy and deems to vomit it back in our faces like an infant.

Obviously, there is a critique of her poisonous form of journalism to be done. This isn’t it. 

 In reading Moore’s critique of Jones’s book, the only thing that leapt out was an asinine and personal contempt for Jones. Suzanne Moore is a feminist, that is, when she isn’t writing transphobic articles and displaying breathtaking levels of ignorance and privilege when told she has been offensive. Who can forget the “chopping off their dicks” comment which spawned so much controversy it caused her to temporarily depart from Twitter as yet another way of getting attention – much like her target Liz Jones employs in her articles – only to return having learned (it seems) very little. 

 There is nothing feminist about Moore’s piece on Jones, however. Were it feminist, it would’ve have shown a sliver of compassion to the fact that Jones has openly spoken about her eating disorder. Whether she calls it fasting or anorexia, is neither here nor there. The media’s constant thrusting of unattainable bodies which are deemed as “normal”, only leads to internalised self-hatred of the natural body form. Moore knows this, and yet completely ignores it in this piece, choosing to go on the attack.

 Liz Jones, however nasty and absurd her opinions may be, is still a woman after all. She is a woman very likely to be suffering from a mental illness. Those who suffer from eating disorders are well versed in its effect on the psyche. How it can change not only what you see in the mirror, but in others, how you treat others and even your beliefs. It permeates every aspect of yourself. For Moore to acknowledge this and then decide to continue with an attack-ridden article is nothing short of bullying. This piece is published in The Guardian, so it’s hardly contrarian. It reads as the equivalent of shouting at an alcoholic to stop drinking. Giving a woman with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia and other problems what is tantamount to a load of abuse, is not going to get her to seek the help she quite clearly needs. It will only make her more unhappy or go on the defensive. 

 Perhaps The Guardian should consider for a moment here that this is the second time this year that Suzanne Moore has used her platform at the paper to bully the vulnerable, and review her articles they sanction for publication.

 The piece also fails to separate Jones’s views, which rightly should be challenged and forcibly so, from her human self. It is almost entirely ad-hominem. Moore makes no acknowledgement of the effect a misogynistic society and internalised misogyny, combined with a mental illness, can have on people. She makes no reference to the fact that the kindest and most moral thing we could do for Jones is to not indulge her views, rather than giving her something to kick against. 

 Instead, Moore chooses to describe Jones’s miserable life as “almost entirely self-inflicted”. We all know that eating disorders are a form of mental illness, one that lends itself readily to women (and men) in a patriarchal society obsessed with dictating (especially to women) what we should look like and how much we should weigh. Moore knows this, as this is a common issue feminists have with the media. Nobody chooses to have a mental illness, to suggest otherwise shows a lack of understanding on how eating disorders manifest, and an incredible lack of compassion.

 As for the “tainted love of narcissism”, Moore omits the fact that any and all form of social commentary, and indeed her very article, requires a degree of narcissism. Why else would you assume anybody gave a fig about what you had to say? To paraphrase The Bible: Let the writer who is without narcissistic traits cast the first stone.

 As feminists, we regularly get angry at the victim blaming culture that surrounds rape and violence against women. It would serve Suzanne Moore well to consider how similar she is to those she claims to despise when she next chooses to write a hatchet job on someone she disagrees with. 

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Iraqi Women are worse off than 40 years ago

Four Iraqi women got together to make a documentary film to draw attention the challenges women face in Iraq one year after the war officially ended.

One year after newly re-elected President Obama announced the official end of the war in Iraq, the country is in a state of turmoil. Operation Iraqi Freedom may officially be over but violence has escalated and women are particularly affected. 

40 years ago Iraqi women and men were equal under the law and women enjoyed many rights similar to those of women in the UK today. However, since the early 1990s women have seen their rights curtailed and their participation in all areas of society dramatically inhibited. There has been a sharp decline in female literacy and one year after the Iraq War women are even worse off. Today, the lack of security and policing has led to women being attacked in the streets by people with different political agendas who want to impose veiling, gender segregation and discrimination. Women are finding it more and more difficult to go out alone and, in addition to that, many women suffer violence at the hands of their fathers, brothers and other relatives; particularly those who try to choose how to lead their lives.

Four women who are graduates of Women for Women International’s year-long holistic training programme of life, business and vocational skills recently made a short documentary film to show us in the UK what life is like for Iraqi women one year after the withdrawal of the troops. 

“We wanted to make this film because we want our voices to be heard. Iraqi women are strong and they need to know that they have rights and that they can use them to make their lives and those of their families better,” says Nihayet, a graduate of the Women for Women International programme and assistant camera operator.

The film titled Hands of Hope explores how women can overcome economic hardship and lead change in their families and communities through access to knowledge and resources.  

“Our economic difficulties were the greatest challenge we faced,” says Zainab. “But I was able to overcome them because of what I learned during the Women for Women International programme.”

Zainab, an Iraqi mother of three was facing major economic hardship as her husband’s low wages were barely enough to cover their basic needs. Zainab never had a paid job. The vocational training of the programme allowed Zainab to realize her potential in tailoring and helped build her self worth. Now Zainab has started her own sewing business and is even able to save!  

The plight of Iraqi women is serious and ever mounting. Women for Women International is launching an urgent appeal for donations to help these women and their sisters in the seven other countries where we work. Between 25 November and 10 December all donations made to Women for Women International will be matched pound for pound by a generous group of supporters. This means that your gift will benefit twice as many women who are rebuilding their lives after conflict and war. Go to www.womenforwomen.org.uk   

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Jude goes international (squee!)

Being the vain person I am, I somtimes google the documentary to see if it’s still fresh in people’s minds. Nothing wrong with this, after all it’s not like I have a PR agent or anything, I like to see the feedback from the audience and engage with them.

So trawling through the search results last week, I saw that it would be airing in Australia today (in fact, it just finished airing on ABC1 there and will be available on iview shortly). After the initial excitement of appearing on Australian TV (and thus becoming one step closer to my goal of being the first black person on Neighbours), I was immensely proud that the documentary had been picked up by BBC Worldwide for international airing.

Reading some of the live-tweets as the documentary aired in Oz-land, the thing that touched me the most was not just the reaction of the viewers, but the fact that they were aware of the fact that the Congo just isn’t reported on enough, and were genuinely pleased that the documentary had been shown.

Even as I write this hastily planned blog, I have tears in my eyes because I know that the world over, people are crying and are angry and care, and that’s all I can ask for.

When I think that it’s almost a year now since I flew out there not knowing what to expect, I’m proud of how far I’ve come since I was that slightly naive 23 year old who went out to Congo a girl anxious to see her parents again and came back awakened with a purpose.

I’ve had so many people email me or tweet me to say that my documentary touched them or enocuraged them to take action and get involved and it’s exactly for that reason that I know the tears and sleepless nights were all worth it because I’m doing what all those amazing incredible people wanted me to do: I’m sharing their stories and letting the world know that they are suffering and in return, they know that they’re not alone and that someone cares.

So if you stumbled across my rather badly maintained blog after the Four Corners documentary. Thank you for watching, and please tell everyone you know to watch and to take action. It will mean everything to all those incredible women whose faces you were introduced to tonight.

xoxo

Jude

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“Interview” with Anil Arora

Here is the “interview” I did with Anil Arora via Formspring. If anyone feels like asking me a question or two, feel free to do so!

So without further ado, here is the interview! (hey that rhymed!)

Do you think the recent discovery of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth will lead to a similar situation as DRC? AA

I sincerely hope not. Afghanistan is different to Congo in that it’s much more high profile and, to put it bluntly, more people know about it. For Afghanistan to end up in a similar situation to DRC it would require the world to suddenly stop caring about it and for it to disappear from the news. I don’t think that will happen, but it is a very real threat that Afghanistan will be exploited for it’s minerals much in the same way DRC is

I agree on Afghanistan. Alan Doss, former head of MONUC, said the only way to stop the LRA was to kill them. Considering the LRA has many child soldiers, what would you do? AA

Alan Doss is incorrect. There are many charities, like Search for a Common Ground who do amazing work to help child soldiers. What I would do would force the government of Uganda to better resolve the situation. Museveni is not faultless in all of this, neither is Kagami or Kabila and yet they are not being held to account for the destruction that their actions are wreaking on the Great Lakes region.

Most of these child soldiers are abducted or forced in against their will. For them to be slaughtered with the aim of stopping the LRA would make us as bad as the LRA.

(Note by AAWar Child is another fantastic charity doing great work in this area)

I agree with you once more, although I do believe the leadership of the LRA need to be dealt with severely and SSR actually work. As for the Congo Now! event, did you not feel there should have been more on what the audience could do? AA

I agree that they do need to be dealt with more severly and SSR does work, I just don’t think culling them is the answer. A reactionist group would just spring up.

With regards to the event, what we have noticed in past events is that it does sometimes get hijacked and the discussion moves from the actual theme of the evening to a more politically-leaning one.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been on a panel where we are discussing the atrocities occuring to women in the country only for it to end up a debate with members of the audience as to which group is to blame and who should be arrested and effectively only speaking about the very male problem of the country. It was decided that, so as not to distract the main theme of the evening that the event would be closed to audience participation.

Also the event was attended by a wide range of people, some were finding out about Congo maybe for the first time. In some respects, we wanted this to be more learning based rather than offering the audience advice on what they can do.

Of course, on the leaflets we gave out information on where to go to find out more.

What could the UK government do to improve the situation for human rights defenders in DRC, in light of the recent deaths? AA

well the UK is the biggest bilateral aid donor to the DRC. We fund some great programs, but the money could be spent more efficiently. With regards to the situation for Human Rights defenders, the UK should put pressure on the UN to find a stable solution for the DRC. It’s no good giving aid if we look the other way and allow the Congolese people to continue to be exploited and those who speak out murdered.

We can’t claim progress in the DRC when those who speak out against the government are then murdered. That is not progress, that is regression.

I was made aware that past events had turned into debates, but I meant purely a one way exchange. I understand your rationale however. I thought the evening was excellent and I wish I had brought someone to dance with. AA

no worries about the anonymity! If you want to learn more in terms of what you can do to help, the BBC blog for my documentary has a whole slew of charities where the money goes directly to those affected.

I’m very big on knowledge. I believe that once we are all made aware of the situation then there can be no excuse for not acting.

Right now, it’s easy to say “oh I didn’t know this was happening, otherwise I would’ve done something”

Well if we spread the knowledge of these atrocities, then that can no longer be an excuse. Then people will have to truly examine their conscience and ask how they can sit by and watch a country be systematically destroyed for no other reason than the fact that it is naturally rich in resources.

So if you tell one person of the plight of women in Congo, or if you tell a class, or your workmates, you are helping without having to donate a penny.

Thank you for attending and I’m glad you enjoyed the evening. You should’ve come and asked me for a dance! I’m very obliging

A phrase that comes up at work a lot is “put pressure on X”. What does that actually amount to? AA

for me “put pressure on X” amounts to just calling louder for action, for a solution. The best place to start is obviously the government but in order for effective pressure to be put on the government, enough people have to feel strongly enough to do something about it and that can only be the case if more people know about it.

That’s why my message is always about educating ourselves on the situation in Congo, and then educating others. Once enough people are calling for action, we won’t be ignored for much longer.

Very idealistic of me, but I am quite the idealist

A recent report suggested that most rapes were being committed by civilians. How would you combat this? Aside from SSR reform, a changing of attitudes is required. AA

I touched on this at an event and also in my documentary. The attitude towards women in the Eastern DRC is quite negative and very controlling. I wondered if this was not the reason why rape had been such an effective weapon of war.

In order to combat this the civilians need to be educated on the rights of humans, to actually be able to differenciate what is rape and what is not (incredibly there are a lot of men out there who don’t believe what they are doing constitutes as rape)

Education and a change in cultural attitudes towards women may well be the way to go on this front. This is just my personal opinion on the situation of course.

See, answers like that I don’t tend to get when I speak to others in the know about the region. One wonders, if they do not consider what they’re doing to be rape, what then is their idea of “rape” …AA

I asked this exact question! Women for Women International did a survey and do male education in the Congo and at their event on Tuesday where I was on the panel, one of the quotes they got from the men was “now we are both consenting, the sex is so much better” and therein lies the problem really. It’s a combination of a negative cultural attitude and a lack of education on rights and gender equality

Feel free not to answer. I have no “personal” connection to the Congo (eg ethnic origin). Only professional. Sometimes the things I hear are almost too much. How do you hear/see the things you do and yet continue? I can guess but I’d like to hear. AA

wow, this is a toughie.

For me personally, I have to continue. My parents are out there, my sister, my brother in law, my nieces, so much of my family. I have to continue for them.

I have to continue for all the amazingly strong people I met whilst I was out there. When you hear their stories and you see how strong they are even though inside they’re incredibly fragile on the inside, and you want to keep going for them, to tell their stories until they can tell it for themselves. To speak up on their behalf until they can speak up for themselves.

So there you have it. Many thanks again to Anil for his brilliant questions.

Until next time folks,

xoxo

Jude

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Who needs printed media when you have formspring?

So I tend to live on Twitter (it’s ridiculously addictive and I have succumbed) and when I’m bored, I invite people to Formspring me, opening myself up to questions of all kinds (I do sometimes get the oddest questions, not that I mind!)

However, the other day what started as a formspring session ended up a interview of sorts with an at-that-time anonymous questioner!

The interviewer turned out to be A. Arora, a Parliamentary intern for the All Parties Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Great Lakes Region.

He asked some cracking questons which he then blogged so I thought I’d put the interview on here also. Of course, you can always read the original on his very own wordpress if you like.

Whilst I’m doing an update on all things me, I shall be on the panel of the CAFOD exhibition next week in Waterloo on 50 years of Congo independence. Sadly, I do believe this event is closed to the public, but I will be sure to blog all about it (this is a promise).

In the meantime, I would like to point you all to one amazing guy named Chris Jackson.

Chris is running 12 marathons in 12 months to raise money and awareness for Congo on behalf of Amnesty International UK Section.

I met Chris recently when I was on a panel for an Oxfam/Women for Women International event in London (which was attended by none other than Annie Lennox!) and I was truly moved by not only his dedication in raising awareness and making a difference in the DRC but by this challenge he has set himself.

Writing as someone who barely runs to catch a bus, I cannot stress just how amazing and incredibly a challenge this is. Chris is close to reaching his target amount of funds raised. If you’re reading this and feeling particularly generous, kindly head on over to his donation page and pledge a few quid, he’s almost there! Chris will also be running one of these 12 marathons in Congo, a country with very few roads. I can only wish him the best of luck!

xoxo

Jude

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