Why I’m talking to white people about race

Because I am a trans woman.

Because when I was about to transition, I was representing at about a hundred tribunals a year, and decided the tribunal members should be told, so that my change did not distract them from my client’s case. After one hearing I went back in to tell the tribunal I would transition, and ask how to notify other panel members. When I explained, the doctor on the panel said that tribunals do not discriminate on any ground, and I saw the shutters close behind his eyes as he said it.

You can see their eyes shut down and harden, wrote Reni Eddo-Lodge, in Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. It’s precisely the same experience. Because there are quotes from people on the back endorsing the book, and all of them are people of colour, apart from Paris Lees, a white trans woman- who is also the only person allowed to be herself, a recognisable name, “Paris Lees” not “Marlon James, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2015”. In that list of endorsements, the men come first, then the women.

Because all that stuff about telling people before we transition is problematic. Human Resources might get an expert in, to give training to the staff members- “Stephen is going to transition. From 25 April, she will be known as Clare”- as if this was something weird or unusual which no-one had ever heard of before, or the correct pronoun to use was in some way difficult or complicated. To give people a chance to ask the intrusive, insulting questions, so that they would not have an excuse to for months afterwards- “Are you going to have the operation?” If you want to find out about trans, there’s this thing called the internet. There are even books!

Because we know this stuff, and yet we still face it. “People talk to my husband over my head,” said the woman in the wheelchair. Oh, God. “‘Does he take sugar?'”- disabled people have been complaining about this, framing it, mocking it, pointing it out, with simple phrases to lodge in people’s heads, for decades, and it still happens. Or my friend suffers this:

-Where are you from?
-Wolverhampton.
-No, where are you really from?

Wolverhampton. Really. We have been getting closer to mere courtesy for some time. We said Asian people, then Asian origin, now Asian heritage– because they were born here, as were their parents in many cases, so they are not Asian nor do they originate in Asia. We do need to label these matters still, because people of colour can’t be colour-blind, they notice that they stand out, that white is the default normal- just as trans women stand out. She still gets “Where are you really from?”

For so long, the bar of racism has been set by the easily condemnable activity of white extremists and white nationalism, writes Eddo-Lodge, and I feel yet again the recognition I feel, over and over again, reading her book.

There have been black people in Britain for millennia- the first colonists, walking over Doggerland, were black, there were Roman soldiers from Africa, black sailors in our ports-

slaves

and lots of black immigration in the 1950s, because the mill-owners of Lancashire, rather than investing in new plant and equipment, wanted to keep costs down by employing immigrants. There were century-old looms working in mills closing in the ’90s. So the hard work for diversity and acceptance of all people came from people of colour first, and GSD (Gender and Sexuality Diversity, I still feel the need to explain that abbreviation and wish I did not have to, straight publications even spell out LGBT) rode on their coat-tails.

Because everybody benefits from acceptance of diversity.

Because I see people being wronged, and their fight is my fight. The book is excellent. It gives history. Muriel Fletcher, reporting on “The Colour Problem in Liverpool” in 1930, said white women who married black men fell into four categories: “the mentally weak, the prostitutes, the young and reckless, and those forced into marriage because of illegitimate children”. That’s vile. Her use of the word “half-caste” has contributed to its use today.

Homophobia II

File:William Holman Hunt - Amaryllis.jpgSome people get steamed up about the word homophobia. They are not afraid of LGBT, they say. Well, OK, perhaps they are not. As a matter of tactics, we could stop using the word. There are others, after all. What about-

Prejudice. Our opponents have come to a position on us without knowing us. They have prejudged. They might have less wiggle-room to challenge the word “prejudice” than “homophobia”.

Lack of empathy. Not everyone feels disgust about the same thing, and so saying “That’s disgusting” rather than “I find that disgusting” betrays a lack of imagination. If you find two people holding hands disgusting rather than lovely or sweet, that says more about you than about them.

Meanness. You want your relationships recognised and privileged by the State, but not those of other folks. This is mean-spirited.

Judgmental. If you think gay lovemaking is a sin, don’t do it yourself. Don’t tell other people how they should live their lives.

Obsessive. There are blogs by straight people entirely devoted to the issue of LGBT rights- arguing LGBT rights are a bad thing. File:William Holman Hunt - The Birthday.jpgDon’t you have anything else to worry about? And if you find gay lovemaking disgusting, stop thinking about it. All sex is more or less weird. Or, complete loss of the sense of proportion: here is a bizarre fellow in a pink waistcoat who imagines that a candidate saying “homosexuality is normal” is, by itself, a reason not to vote for her.

Discourteous.

The problem is that “homophobia” is a word recognised by a majority of the population, but resented by a minority: some even call it a slur. So, if someone gets unduly het up, and denies feeling fear, the solution is simple: there are plenty of good simple descriptive words to apply to them. Tell them they fall below the standard expected of civilised human beings.

I got the idea for this post from Joshua R Ziefle, who asked for alternatives. Vera’s comment there illustrates the point perfectly: she is not fearful, she says, she “disagrees” with the “homosexual lifestyle”, as if there were only one. Fearful or not, she is certainly prejudiced. I suggested the new coinage antihomoïsm- from which I get antihomoïc, antihomote- but it is unnecessary.

“Obama as Hitler”

Never was there a post more needing illustrated by Matisse- pictures of sane, beautiful people doing their thing to balance out the descriptions of madness. I did a google image search, but would not pollute my blog with the stuff that emerged. Do it only if you have a strong stomach.

There are pictures of the President with a toothbrush moustache, pictures of Obama, Hitler and Stalin, pictures of him waving with the subtitle “Seig Heil”. One picture compares calls for those other than the little people to pay taxes to Hitler inciting hatred of Jews. “Fiscally responsible achievers who paid mortgages on homes they could afford are responsible for your misery!”

Mmm. That is an interesting one. I do find Leona Helmsley hateful, but that is based on reason. The way the richest one percent take more and more of the wealth while others are squeezed is more a product of globalisation and the greater increase of people with skills than work for them to do- and if globalisation is the cause, that does not mean trying to prevent globalisation is the solution.

Mmm. Maybe I should take down that Leona Helmsley reference. It is an appeal to emotion. I am dealing with the whipping up of fear and hatred here, so should be particularly careful to avoid it myself. I leave it in to illustrate the matter, and, well, because this is a blog. I criticise it because Leona Helmsley is not typical. So we see a way of propagandizing: that cartoon seeks to widen the Good People to people who have paid off their mortgage, and people who still believe they can- place a divide just below them, to the scrounging improvident workshy. My allusion seeks to widen the Good People who should be on my side, and portray the bad people as the rich: anyone richer than you, perhaps. This us and them, they are the enemy, is so destructive- indeed disastrous.

It is so tempting. If you do that google image search- one of the main horrors of it is the exuberance, the joy of invention of it. It is as creative as tax avoidance schemes (Oops).

When a fbfnd described going to the post office and finding two men outside with an “Obama as Hitler” sign, who catcalled her, a commenter said that had happened to her too, again outside a post office. “But that’s insane”, I think. The reality of it is terrifying.

When some in Rwanda dehumanised others, they called them “cockroaches”. Dehumanising the President, some call him “a Muslim”. It is so hard to ascribe degrees of vileness to such hatred, but I think the American tactic is slightly viler. Not the people who employ it, though, as that is to fall into the same trap. When I am absolutely clear about abhorring the sin, that is the time to make sure I love the sinner.