‘Casual’ racism is not entertainment

 

 

20180510_232656 Casual Racism.jpg‘Casual’ racism is not entertainment

After a long day I decided to relax in the late evening with film, something light and entertaining, maybe even a comedy or a drama. So I flicked through the menu of films on offer and read the accompanying descriptions of new films from my streaming provider. My attention was arrested when I saw one film described thus: a young boy “gets lessons in the American way … However, with a disapproving father and casual racism, it’s tough to make it in the Land of the Free.” Hold up. There’s so much wrong with this description but I’ll start here: “Casual racism”?

When is racism ever casual?

Isn’t racism just racism? Like the behaviour of the KKK and white supremacists? Overt, obvious, plain for all to see.

Apparently, it has become trendy to refer to racist microaggressions as casual racism or everyday racism. They are used as humorous interactions and in familiar settings. However, I repeat, there is nothing casual about racism.

Here’s a handy guide to microaggressions that are accepted in some places as ‘just a joke’ or normal behaviour:

You didn’t sound Black / you speak so well / you have great diction.

No matter how you form this, it is not a compliment.

Where do you really come from?

Translation: you’re not white so you don’t belong here. Another option would be to ask the question you really want to know: “What is your cultural heritage or background?”.

Oh, you have a chip on your shoulder.

Because you express your dissatisfaction at racism and unfair treatment you may be pathologised as ‘the angry Black person’.

But, I don’t see colour, I see … you.

Theoretically wanting to see only the humanity in a person is wonderful, but not realistic or practical. Not seeing colour is only possible if you are colour blind.

It’s a joke! Don’t get offended.

I can’t say your name, it’s too … difficult.

You mean like Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Rachmanioff, Puccini, Mendelssohn, Salieri, and Bach?

I have Black, Asian friends, I’m not racist.

I’m not racist but … (then the racist statement)

People like you

What? What aspect of my personality are you referring to?

I’d rather not live / sit / travel near a Muslim / Hindu / Rastafarian

You’re really pretty … for a Black / Chinese (insert colour or nationality here) person

You’re so … exotic!

I’ve had ex-partners refer to me as exotic. As yet all my research skills have failed to find anything exotic about life in the county of Wiltshire. Maybe it was just their white privilege showing …

That’s reverse racism!

This statement is often used by people who are reluctant to acknowledge racism to minority groups, yet as soon as policies are introduced to reduce the inequality in society this trump card is pulled out as white people (generally) get affronted and defensive.

This type of discrimination aka ‘casual racism’ normalises racial stereotypes and emboldens bullies by offering them everyday validation of their views, this in turn perpetuates societal discrimination. Presenting people of colour as different (code word for inferior in this context) entrenches the problem – even amongst people who consider themselves enlightened and liberal.

Language is filled with antiquated references to ethnicities and race: e.g. the phrase “Indian giver” that is used to denote a person who gives and then takes back a gift, whilst in fact the saying arose because gift giving between Native Americans and European colonisers of the Americas was based on cultural misunderstandings. It is time to question the use of these phrases and to refuse to use them or accept them in conversations.

‘But I don’t mean any harm’ and ‘I haven’t got a racist bone in my body’ are regular responses that I have heard when I question people on their phraseology. The comeback is usually ‘I didn’t intend to offend’ – but you did. What you said and did was offensive. What are you going to do about it now?

Not many people react well to being called a racist, because a racist is someone who belongs to a far right group like the KKK, Britain First, or the National Front, aren’t they? Someone being overtly violent and discriminatory, surely? They’re not a regular person having a laugh and joke with words and common phrases, are they?

How did those phrases become common? They are part of the systemic and often institutional forms of oppression that are the backbone of many societies. They need to be questioned. For example, the ONS census data categories for ethnic group and nationality still does not have a category for Black English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish, whereas you can be white and English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, Irish, Gypsy, Irish Traveller, any other white background.

I’ve always wondered if ‘Black’ is also a nationality as well as a political term.

It is systems like this that portray white as right, as standard, that are the root of the problem. ‘White is right’ is the concept that white English / European / American culture is always right, pre-eminent, ‘normal’ and the standard by which the ‘other’ is judged: this is an Eurocentric world view. This is where racist terminology has its roots.

Just a final note to the unwitting performer of ‘casual’ racism – racism is never casual to the person you are discriminating against. Never. The racist words and behaviour has a direct impact on people’s lives every day. Racism is not a joke.

Neither is sexism, or homophobia.

Mostly people do not like to be identified a racist. The usually react with either guilt or anger. Professor Robin DiAngelo said, “If you call me a murderer, I’ll just laugh, because I’m not a murderer. But if you call me a racist, I’ll lose my s***. … ‘It’s like the N-word for white people.” Really? Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism? A case of white fragility or white privilege? It appears that most conversations about racism are started by POC. This needs to change.

Here is a Harvard test to check implicit bias. Just in case you’re not sure where you stand. We need to call out ‘casual racism’.

All I wanted to do was watch a film.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2018

Advertisements

Kanye West, Performance and Controversy

Kanye West MAGA hat

 

Kanye West is no stranger to controversy. He calls himself a genius. Causing public outcries appears to be part of his toolkit of skills – unless you buy into the idea that he is a hair’s breadth away from insanity: but isn’t that where genius resides?

In an interview on TMZ Live, on 2 May 2018, the discussion subject was free thinking and Kanye West used the opportunity to throw hot oil, disguised as words, onto a burning fire when he contended that enduring 400 years of slavery could be seen as a choice by people from the African diaspora. The comment has had its desired effect. Social media immediately went into a meltdown, and after the initial outrage people started using the clapback hashtag #IfSlaveryWasAChoice to show what an incredulous reception that statement received.

Kanye West is a public figure, he is an artist, he is a performer. What he is not is the spokesman for the whole of the African American people in the world, or those of the wider African diaspora. His comments are his opinion, he is one man in a world of 7.6 billion people; many of whom are scholars of the history of the world and have facts to confirm their assertions.

The TMZ interview was a peak moment in West’s strategy that could have been taken from his personal playbook I believe is called ‘The Art of Performance’. I believe that West’s history shows that controversy is a part of his normal currency – this interview was, in my opinion, a carefully calculated performance in the carnivalesque style of destabilising or reversing power structures, or it could be true that Kanye West is continually experiencing an existential and mental health crisis in the public arena. It could be either of those situations or it could be the fact that he is due to release an album soon.

When Kanye West to comments that, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice,” it is obvious that responses to this assertion will be met with anger.  West contends his main belief is in the mental slavery of the present and not the historical past, however his comments intentionally created a strong emotional response from supporters and detractors alike.

Van Lathan, a TMZ employee, confronted West about his on screen comments stating, “I am unbelievable hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something to me, that’s not real.” West apologised for using his words to hurt Lathan and explained that his strategy – his performance with meeting President Trump and also wearing the MAGA hat – is to get close to people in power to alter outcomes by using the mode of love instead of hatred. West explained that using the media is his artist’s way of opening up a conversation by creating images with a “paintbrush and [a] canvas”.

To prove his mental stability West quoted Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” So, is Kanye actually a genius? He says he is because he learns from his mistakes. Is his bromance part of a bigger plan to destabilise the fragile sensibilities of the 45th President of the United States – who courts publicity and fame in the same way that some musicians do? It appears to be working as Trump noted an increase in his African American approval rating following West’s photo of his signed MAGA hat.

West also spoke to the whole of the studio floor of TMZ employees and suggested that his dream is to encourage people to be free thinkers instead of people who chose to live in the stimulation, the forced reality – like the Matrix? Kanye West insists that he will not be minimised to mere memes of a hip-hop artist, or a Black man in a Black community; he insists that he represents the world and speaks for everybody’s right to think freely and choose alliances freely. Should he be restricted by his musical history, his community history or his social history?

Kanye West is one person who chooses not to be corralled in behaviour or thought – apart from if people think he’s overweight, then he’ll have liposuction and take opioids. That’s his right he says. Who am I to disagree with someone who says in the same interview, “White supremacy is a redundant statement in America – whites are supreme, that’s what we’re taught”?

Kanye West is a performance maestro. He knows his craft and completes his acts well. Every time.

©Marjorie H Morgan 2018

Why the Windrush scandal is a portend for Brexit under the leadership of Theresa May.

2000-t-may-downing

Amber Rudd, has resigned following the Windrush scandal in the UK, although her resignation letter states her reason for stepping down is because she ‘inadvertently mislead Parliament’. Rudd was Home Secretary from 13 July 2016 until 29 April 2018. Her predecessor in the Home Office is Theresa May, the current Prime Minister. May was Home Secretary from12 May 2010 until her appointment as Prime Minister in 2016.

It was Theresa May who, during her six years as Home Secretary, introduced and designed the ‘hostile environment’ that became Amber Rudd’s legacy. Theresa May has yet to take responsibility for her design and creation of this system that has, seemingly intentionally and systematically targeted and harassed British citizens who originally migrated to the UK from parts of the Commonwealth.

Immigration control is essential to any nation, however the central concern in Britain is how the Home Office implements its immigration policy. The Windrush generation, who have been incorrectly and cruelly targeted by Home Office officials, have had the misfortune to be victims of a system that has failed to protect them as British Citizens. Specific legal protection for the Windrush generation was removed from the statute books in the 2014 Immigration Act when the specific clause was omitted without consultation or debate.

Amber Rudd can be viewed as a sacrificial lamb for Theresa May; Rudd now has to consider her options as a Conservative backbencher, where before the Windrush Scandal the main option she was considering was when would she become Prime Minister – as happened to the two previous incumbents of the post of Home Secretary: David Cameron and Theresa May.

Theresa May was the longest serving Home Secretary since WWII (James Chuter Ede, (Labour) was the longest serving Home Secretary of the 20th century, he served from 03 Aug 1945 – 26 Oct 1951); in modern political history May is the single person who has had the longest period of time in post to make her policy’s political mark on a department.

May’s approach to immigration is well documented, in 2016 she noted that her preference was to lock people up, not let them out. Also, her approach to civil liberties was noted as ‘careless’. One of May’s initial steps in office as Home Secretary was to torpedo the national identity scheme proposed by the previous Labour government, her statement in 2010 was “first step of many that this government is taking to reduce the control of the state over decent, law-abiding people”. A Windrush debacle question is whether the implementation of that scheme would have saved the distress caused to thousands of Windrush generation British subjects. We will never know, but we can speculate that having a national identity card would have prevented predominately Caribbean elders being incorrectly identified as illegal immigrants – despite Government held data that proved their status as British citizens.

May, as Home Secretary, frequently conceived strategies and policies to cut net migration figures – that reached a high of 330,000 in June 2015 – including splitting up families, enforcing English language use requirements, and removing overseas students from the figure

George Osborne, the then Chancellor of the Executor, said of Theresa May’s migration reduction plans, “They’re not government proposals. I’m not aware that there has been any agreement in the government or any hard and fast proposals that have been discussed. As I say, these are not government policy; we are not advancing them.” In 2015 it was reported that Osborne had plans to increase net immigration to achieve a budget surplus at the end of the parliament. These plans were in opposition to the policies and proposals of Home Secretary Theresa May – who was determined to fulfil the Conservative party pledge to reduce net immigration figures to tens of thousands.

The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto (2017) reaffirmed Theresa May’s commitment to the ‘strong and stable leadership’ set out at the previous election’s manifesto (2015)  – May confirmed that she would “stick to the plan that has delivered stability and certainty”, “reduce and control immigration” from the annual net migration figures of around 273,000 to “annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades. We will, therefore, continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union.

This coded statement is, I believe, the root of the issues that focused on people who were not seen as white British. In 2015 the Tory Government promised to extend their ‘deport first, appeal later’ rule – that was initially applied solely to foreign national offenders – to all immigration appeals and judicial reviews. These are the promises that were the foundation stones for discriminatory practices against British citizens, mainly elderly people of colour, who were former Commonwealth citizens. David Cameron, as Home Secretary, then Theresa May, constructed and built this system and ignored the diversity of the British population as implemented laws that directly opposed their promise to “build a[n immigration] system that truly puts you, your family and the British people first.” All I can deduce from the treatment of the Caribbean elders is that they Conservative Government did not view this cohort as British. Ignoring and erasing Black British communities is an act of representational violence when there should be representational equity in contemporary British society.

At the beginning of the media outcry of the Windrush scandal, the Home Office issued a statement confirming that the Government continues to implement its ‘compliant environment’ whilst making “no apologies for our commitment to build an immigration system which works in the best interest of the country and prevents vulnerable people from finding themselves at risk of exploitation.” (12 April 2018)

If Britain can treat its legal, law abiding citizens in this inhumane, horrendous and cruel manner, then I wonder if there is any hope for humane treatment of fellow European citizens, especially as the Conservative’s manifesto (2017) gleefully states that leaving “the European Union means, for the first time in decades, that we will be able to control immigration from the European Union too.” This far-right rhetoric was also used by UKIP in the successful effort to persuade the general British public that immigration was the cause of all the country’s problems. Theresa May, has also stated that the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) “can bind the hands of parliament [and] … makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals,” like retired Caribbean elders? The actions and records of all the Tory Home Secretaries needs to be examined in detail, from David Cameron through to Amber Rudd, and also the newly appointed replacement.

The appointment of Sajid Javid as the new Home Secretary (30 Apr 2018) is, in my opinion, an attempt to stave off the cries of colour discrimination policies against the majority white Conservative party. What needs to be remembered is that class is as great a division in British society as culture. Managing directors of investment banks do not get treated in the same way as NHS employees – no matter what their colour.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2018

The Commonwealth, Colonialism and the Legacy of Homophobia

How are these three disparate entities connected? The answer is – very closely.

When is an appropriate time to review this subject? Any time is, but especially now as the UK hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) between 16 – 20 April 2018 in London and surrounding locations.

 

2.35490582 anti lgbti laws

The Commonwealth consists of 53 member states  and 80 organisations that exist in locations around the globe and work together to promote democracy and peace. Over 40% of the world’s young people (640 million out of 1.8 billion) are members of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth countries include 19 in the African continent, 7 in Asia, 3 in Europe, and 11 in the Pacific: these are all locations where the footprint of colonialism has been stamped, and where the legacy of the imperialist laws relating to same-sex relations, are still being experienced. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge, comments that colonialism is not historical, it is contemporary: the effects are present everyday. 

Of the 72 countries in the world where same-sex intimacy is categorised as a criminal offence, 36 of them are member states of the Commonwealth, and 9 of these have life imprisonment as a penalty, whilst in two there is risk of execution. The colonial legal legacy from the British Empire in 1860 criminalised ‘unnatural carnal desires’ under section 377 of many country’s penal systems. This conservative Victorian edict has remained entrenched in the legal structures of 36 Commonwealth member states.

In March 2018 there were 37 member states against equality for same-sex Commonwealth citizens. However, a recent challenge to these homophobic colonial laws, which deny a legal right to privacy, was made in 2017 in the High Courts of Trinidad and Tobago by the UK based LGBT activist Jason Jones. The pronouncement, on 12 April 2018, has become a landmark ruling as homosexuality has been decriminalised in Trinidad and Tobago. Justice Devindra Rampersad, delivering his ruling from the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago agreed that Section 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, which criminalise anal sex, were unconstitutional and violate Jones’ right to privacy, liberty and freedom of expression – the colonial sodomy laws are an inbuilt Imperial homophobic threat carved into the common law of many countries.

The colonial ‘saving clause’ dictated that laws could not be changed after independence, yet the Government of Trinidad and Tobago have twice amended the Sexual Offences Act since the country’s independence from Britain in 1962: in 1986 the Trinidad and Tobago parliament increased the maximum sentence for sodomy to 10 years imprisonment, and in 2000 the penalty for ‘the offence of buggery’ was again increased to 25 years. The government changes to the law enabled Jason Jones to bring his case to the courts as the Government’s 1986 and 2000 Sexual Offences Act changes nullified the ‘saving clause’.

Following the April 2018 ruling, the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, Faris al-Rawi, said “Our society has changed significantly in its view on tolerating homosexuality, and radically so within the last generation,” yet Stuart Young from the Ministry of the Attorney General, confirmed that the State will appeal Justice Rampersad’s decision.

The week of the CHOGM has seen protests outside of Commonwealth House in London, where activist groups such as African Equality Foundation, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation, along with members of the public have been lobbying the Commonwealth Heads of Government to discuss LGBT issues at the meeting. This proposal has not been accepted in over 6 decades of meetings, with any discussions on LGBT matters being sidelined to NGOs.

There are some Commonwealth leaders who are supporters of equality, however these people, for example Desmond Tutu, Christopher Senyonjo, Festus Mogae, and Joaquin Chissano have historically not been given a voice in the global Commonwealth forum. A petition, by Edwin Sesange, of the African Equality Foundation, calling for an end to LGBT+ persecution in the Commonwealth, was delivered to the Commonwealth headquarters  with over 104,000 signatures the week before the summit began.  This petition appealed for all Commonwealth countries to:

  • Decriminalise same-sex relations
  • Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation & gender identity
  • Enforce laws against & violence, to protect LGBTI people from hate crime
  • Consult and dialogue with LGBTI organisation

At the start of the CHOGM Peter Tatchell, who has been campaigning against anti-gay laws for over 30 years, wrote a letter to Theresa May, as the British Head of State hosting the Commonwealth summit, asking her to apologise for imposing anti-gay laws – the full apology did not happen, although in a NGO Commonwealth Forum, that ran concurrently with the Heads of States meetings, the UK Prime Minister did express ‘deep regrets’ for Britain’s historical legacy of homophobic laws across the Commonwealth.

The criminalisation of LGBT+ people is a clear breach of the human rights of the Commonwealth citizens and goes against the Section II on Human Rights as written in the Commonwealth Charter that starts with the words:

“We the people of the Commonwealth …”

We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments. We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies. We note that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively. We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds. (Section II on Human Rights)

The last sentence of this Human Rights section confirms that the member states of the Commonwealth are opposed “to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.” Unfortunately, by their continual refusal to openly discuss the matter of colonialism and the legacy of homophobia on the formal agenda, the Commonwealth Heads of Government are denying their commitment to equality and protection of civil, social, social and economic rights of the citizens of their individual nations.

The CHOGM sessions have concluded without LGBT+ rights being included on the agenda.

However, following the victory in the Trinidad and Tobago courts on 12 April 2018, Jason Jones said, “This victory is much more than just the legal challenge and constitutional reforms. It is a rallying cry for the LGBT community and our allies to stand up and be counted! This represents the first moment in the history of the English speaking Caribbean that we have become truly visible and in a populist and meaningful manner. Yes, there was pushback but we are pushing forward in ways never seen before. This is the Rosa Parks moment for LGBT people of the Caribbean and we shall NEVER sit in the back of the bus again.”

In Britain, UK Black Pride – led by Phyll Opoku-Gyimah – and the African Equality Foundation, continue to work alongside other LGBTI activists to campaign for full equality for all within the UK and the Commonwealth.

Opoku-Gyimah was widely reported for turning down a MBE in 2016, some of her reasons were relating to the toxic legacy of colonialism on LGBT+ people, she stated: “I don’t believe in, and actively resist, colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth, where – among many other injustices – LGBTQI [lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) people are still being persecuted, tortured and even killed because of sodomy laws, including in Ghana, where I am from, that were put in place by British imperialists.

As the CHOGM 2018 closed in London on the 20 April 2018, the resistance that Opoku-Gyimah expressed in 2016 must be continued by all equality activists until there are full human rights for all Commonwealth citizens regardless of nationality or sexuality.

Marjorie H Morgan © 2018

While the Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in London, former Commonwealth citizens are still being mistreated in the UK: Urgent Questions are asked in the House

As the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) starts in the UK today (16 April 2018) it is an ideal time to ask what will happen to the children of the Commonwealth who came here as British citizens over 70 years ago?

The infomercial promoting the CHOGM states “This is our Commonwealth” and “What’s agreed on this week matters to us all,” so it seems ironic that for weeks the British Government has refused to discuss a situation that affects such a large number of former Commonwealth citizens within its own borders. Amelia Gentleman, from the Guardian, tweeted that she contacted Downing Street on Friday (13 Apr 2018) about these cases that she has been reporting, yet the Prime Minister’s office have said that Theresa May “had only become aware of the request on Monday morning and confirmed that she would be holding a meeting ‘at the earliest possible opportunity’ with Caribbean leaders.”

At around 13:00 today, the Prime Minister, Theresa May tweeted, “The Commonwealth has never just been about heads of state and government. It has always been an organisation in which people and businesses from around the world can come together and work together to improve all our lives,” yet she initially refused to discuss the case of the ‘Windrush Generation’ at the CHOGM.

When asked last week to discuss what appears to be a travesty of justice, the Prime Minister rejected the formal diplomatic request leaving the Caribbean heads of government to conclude that the British government was not taking this matter seriously. 

Theresa May has also stated that the CHOGM is the “largest summit our country has ever hosted.” Apparently in the Commonwealth every country has a voice, yet the Caribbean people who migrated to Britain over half a century ago have so far remained voiceless and unrepresented by the British Government.

Following the publication of a letter signed by over 140 MPs from across the political parties, Theresa May has now agreed to meet with representatives from 12 Caribbean countries who are at the CHOGM in the UK. The immigration minister Caroline Noakes has also admitted that some Caribbean British citizens have been deported in error, although she would not qualify the amount of people that have been affected by the “terrible mistakes” in this way.

The Commonwealth had 2.4 billion citizens across 53 countries – many of them have requesteda discussion on this matter, yet the Tory led British Government will not agree to open the discussion on this abominable situation that is clearly a breach of the Commonwealth Charter.

Charter_of_the_Commonwealth_8548868771_l

The current Commonwealth Charter was signed by HM Queen Elizabeth II on Commonwealth Day 2013. Its firsts words are “We the people of the Commonwealth …” Section II on Human Rights is shown here in full:

We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments. We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies. We note that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively. We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.

The last sentence of this Human Rights section confirms that the member states of the Commonwealth are opposed “to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.” Alas, by their continual refusal to discuss this matter openly, the British Government is following several other Commonwealth nations who disregard the commitment to equality and protection of civil, social, social and economic rights of the citizens of their individual nations.

Labour MP, David Lammy has secured an Urgent Question in the House of Commons at 15:30 on the immigration status of the Windrush Generation. This is following a letter signed by 140 cross party MPs urging Theresa May to take action, and correct this “historic wrong”. Lammy stated that having to raise this question in the house was indicative of a “national day of shame”.

In response to Lammy’s question the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, read from a prepared statement. Her opening remarks asserted that, “there is absolutely no question about their right to remain,” and she confirmed that she will establish a new team of 20 people who will help these residents evidence their right to be in the UK, and to access the necessary services.

The Home Secretary suggested that with this dedicated team cases will take a maximum of two weeks to resolve, and she also assured members of the House that they would be no charges levied on applicants, as “no one should be left out of pocket”.

David Lammy noted that the relationship between the UK and the Caribbean is inextricable since the arrival of the first British ships in the area in 1623. Lammy reminded the house that the Nationality Act of 1948 ensured that Caribbean people migrating to the UK did so as British citizens. He continued that it is “inhumane and cruel for so many of that Windrush Generation to have suffered so long in this condition, and for the Secretary of State only to have made a statement today.”


Lammy also enquired if the Home Secretary could “tell the House how many have been detained as prisoners in their own country … how many have been denied help under the National Health Service, how many have been denied pensions and how many have lost their jobs?”

These questions were not directly answered.

With obvious emotional Lammy stated that having to raise this question in the house was indicative of a “national day of shame”  that “has come about because of a hostile environment policy that was begun under her prime minister.”

The only concession from Rudd was her concern that the Home Office “has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes lose sight of the individual.” Rudd asserted that she has acted now because she has seen the individual stories now and, “some of them have been terrible.” Following this statement she reasserted her commitment to ensuring that cross-departmental information is shared to verify the identity of these individuals and to protect the ‘Windrush cohorts’. Rudd repeated that she was not aware of any specific cases or deportation in these circumstance of lack of up-to-date documentation.

I believe this ‘Windrush Generation’ crisis is deliberate. It’s not an anomaly – it’s structural discrimination. The lives of these Caribbean British elders and their families was deemed collateral damage when the latest immigration laws were enacted. This is the result of systemic and discriminatory government behaviour.

Cross party members of the house raised several questions about individual cases of their own constituents as well as general queries relating to the status of Commonwealth citizens from countries such as India, Uganda, and Poland. The Home Secretary used her stock phrase to respond to these queries – she suggested that the Members contact the Home Office with details of each case so that they could look at them individually, because she repeatedly declared that the “Home Office will be more focused on individuals rather than policy.”

There were several questions from members across the floor including Simon Hoare, MP for North Devon, who asked if there would be a refund of the fees that Caribbean elders had already expense.

Anna Soubry, MP for Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, was interested to know if this statement from the Home Secretary meant that the default Home Office response of saying, ‘No’ would now alter.

Mark Harper, MP for Forest of Dean, asked what proactive steps the Government would be making to communicate information to those British residents that might be affected by this institutional discrimination. While Joanne Cherry, SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, observed that this the Home Secretary was wrong that this issue “is not just about individuals it’s about a systemic policy put out by her (Home Secretary) department and it’s symptomatic of the politically driven hostile environment policy, and it’s a sign that it has to stop,” because according to the Migration Observatory at Oxford, there are up to 50,000 Commonwealth born people in this situation.

To many of these questions the Home Secretary responded that she would seek advice or data and get back to the individual Member because the ‘Windrush Generation’ “are here legally and we will help them.”

Diane Abbot, MP for Hackney, asked why in 2014 the Government, under the direction of the then Home Secretary Theresa May removed the protection for Commonwealth citizens without parliamentary debate or scrutiny. Much like Theresa May choosing to engage in air strike in Syria without parliamentary debate or scrutiny this week.

Abbott also requested a cessation on deportations of this groups of people aligned with an apology, and possible compensation, to those wrongfully deported in this immigration policy scandal.

Amber Rudd tried to reassure members of the House with her concluding remarks that indicated that the Government is regarding this situation seriously when she announced that the Prime Minister would be meeting with the Heads of Government on Tuesday 17 April 2018 while she, as Home Secretary, would be meeting with High Commissioners this week to discuss this issue “as a matter of urgency.”

The Home Secretary’s final words to the House were “what I am interested in is effective, sympathetic outcomes.”

Most people simply want justice for Caribbean British elders.

Well, we will have to wait and see what we get from this Home Secretary Amber Rudd and her dedicated team of 20.

A Home Office official stated that legislation “is complex and, when revising it, it is the normal process to simplify it where possible and remove duplications.” Laws are complicated, and anomalies occur, yet all available evidence seems to indicate that the Caribbean British elders were deliberately targeted by the removal of their protection in 2014.

The outcomes of the meetings arranged this week with the CHOGM and the Caribbean High Commissioners is eagerly awaited.

 

© Marjorie H Morgan 2018

Cruelty by design towards British Caribbean elders

windrush flags 70 years

 

Information about the cases of the Caribbean British elders being systematically targeted and often deported from their British homes has been widely circulated in the past few weeks. Many members of British society, included the affected British elders, were unaware that they were a part of a group of people who were not officially categorised as British until they tried to access health care or were required to provide additional documentation for their employers in line with the online Employers’ Checking Service for Biometric Residence Permits (BRP) that began in June 2012.

This anomaly has arisen because the Government system has failed to correctly file papers relating to the adults and children of Windrush generation – the British subjects who migrated to the UK from the Caribbean and other parts of the Commonwealth in the late 1940s and 1950s to help to rebuild the Mother Country.

As the shock of this situation reached across the British nation public figures such as David Lammy MP, and celebrities, including David Harewood, and Sir Lenny Henry – who is himself descended from Caribbean British parents – have called for the public to sign a petition created by Patrick Vernon OBE, requesting an amnesty for anyone who was a minor that arrived in Britain between 1948 and 1971.

To be considered for a debate in parliament, petitions have to obtain at least 100,000 signatures, this petition, created on the 6 October 2018, has already exceeded this amount of signatories. The Government is also required to respond to all petitions once they obtain more than 10,000 signatures. As a response to this public outcry, the Government has finally, on 13 April 2018, published some guidance around this matter. This appears to be the first Government response to repeated requests for guidance and information around the process that has targeted this group of British citizens.

The information on the Government website has been produced by the UK Visas and Immigration department that is part of the Home Office. The Government provides information for this group of Caribbean British elders that they are now referring to as ‘Undocumented Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK.’ The page is careful to note that the information therein is not a substitute for immigration advice, although it does note that if “you entered the UK before 1 Jan 1973 then the chances are you are entitled to live here permanently. Your status is only broken following a long period outside of the UK (2 years).

There are a number of steps that these Caribbean British elders will now have to undertake in order to verify their status as British citizens and prove they have right of abode in the UK. The first step is to apply for a “no-time limit” biometric resident permit (BRP), followed by applying for British Citizenship if they are successful with the initial step.

The “no-time limit” biometric permit application is for someone who already has indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK. There is a standard associated cost of £229 per person, and applications can also be made at Premium Service Centres for same day consideration of the application – at the premium cost of £610 per person. A mobile super premium service is also available at the cost of £10,500 per visit – this final service tier means that you will usually get your decision with 24 hours, as you can decided the location and time of the visit (between midday and 3pm, Monday to Friday) when the premium service staff will visit you to get your biometric information (fingerprint and photo), and your signature. This last service option may have to be used in a desperate final effort to stop impending deportation because the process of challenging the Home Office decisions increases in complexity and cost when a person has been forcibly removed from their British homes and relocated to a different country.

BRPs were introduced in the UK in 2008 and have automatically been distributed to members of the British public when they have replaced old documents; these cards are used to confirm identity, the right to work and study in the UK, and the entitlement to access any public services or benefits. The BRP is a card issued by the Home Office that contains evidence of immigration permissions (also known as leave to enter or remain), and includes a microchip with two of the resident’s fingerprints and a digital photograph. The BRP is required documentation if the resident does not have indefinite leave to remain (ILR) endorsed in a current passport.

The current procedure for obtaining permanent British residency dictates that once a resident gets ILR they cannot apply for British Citizenship for at least 12 months and have to have been in the UK for five years preceding application for citizenship. Therefore when these Caribbean British elders, who have been living and working in the UK for their entire lives, do obtain their official ILR they will still be faced with another delayed wait for a year before their British Citizenship is confirmed. British Citizenship is now dependent on where you were born (in the UK or a qualifying British overseas territory), when you were born (before or after 1 January 1983) and your parents’ circumstances at the time of your birth.

The Government website states that, “All citizens of Commonwealth countries were British subjects until January 1983,” therefore this should be a straightforward matter for those Caribbean British elders who have been subjected to extensive questioning regarding their status. Yet, a raft of recent cases have proved that this has not been the situation that many, like Elwaldo Romeo, Sarah O’Connor, and Albert Thompson have found themselves in.

The Home Office have also published a blog to say that Government policy around the rights of Commonwealth citizens has not changed, however because of the introduction of the hostile environment towards migrants in the UK who wish to work, live and use public services, there have been new laws implemented to ensure that these migrants have the correct documents to demonstrate their right to be in the UK and entitlement to use public services.

On the same fact sheet page the Home Office claims that there are existing solutions available to obtain the correct documentation for settled status, and that they “have no intention of making people leave who have the right to remain here.” These solutions all involve hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of pounds in application fees, forms and tests for people who have been British citizens for their entire adult lives.

The facts of the cases already listed above and in previous posts seem to contradict the statement that the Government made saying it has no intention of making people leave because many Caribbean British elders have already been detained, deported or refused entry back into the country after a lifetime’s work here.

The Home Office also states that the government makes “no apologies for our commitment to build an immigration system which works in the best interest of the country and prevents vulnerable people from finding themselves at risk of exploitation.”

These newly implemented laws have highlighted an error in the Government system relating to the right of abode for long-term British residents from the Commonwealth. These people, have somehow mysteriously remained undocumented and ignored in central government systems – despite paying taxes, having National Insurance numbers, and decades of employment records – and they are now being unfairly treated and labeled as people with ‘no status’ and therefore categorised as not being the British Citizens the 1983 law identifies them as.

As Gary Younge, from the Guardian newspaper, succinctly states, this is cruelty by design as people like Michael Braithwaite have violated no law; it’s the law that is violating themTherefore  all financial charges relating to proving British citizenship should be waived for Caribbean British elders who have been long term residents in the UK – that’s justice. They should not have to pay for an error that has been created by the Government systems that are supposed to be in place to protect them.

National Geographic continues to fail

Nat Geo cover 1

April 2018 cover – “Black and White: These twin sisters make us rethink everything we know about race”  – the National Geographic (Nat Geo) says it’s covering and addressing its past racist coverage, yet in the article associated with the cover photo of the April 2018 issue, Patricia Edmonds continues the form of reporting that Nat Geo says it’s moving away from.

The fraternal twin girls shown on the cover, Millie and Marcia Biggs, are described thus: “From a young age the girls had similar features but very different color schemes. Marcia had light brown hair and fair skin like her English-born mother. Millie had black hair and brown skin like her father, who’s of Jamaican descent.” Therein lies the continuing problem of discriminatory reporting.

“English-born mother … and … father, who’s of Jamaican descent.”

As an English-born person who is of Jamaican descent this description is problematic for me because Edmonds’ article insinuates, in standard Nat Geo racist tones, that the white mother equates to the English-born descriptor and the Jamaican descent father is the black hair and brown skin ‘other’ in the equation.

Nat Geo is still reinforcing the idea that to be English-born you are automatically viewed as white, whilst Jamaicans are generalised as black; this diametric opposition is what was the root of Nat Geo’s historical reporting, and this issue, as well meaning as it is supposed to be, has failed to reposition itself away from stereotypical statements, photographs and phrases like ‘very different color schemes’.

Some of the questions that arose for me when reading this article were: from what nationality does the English-born mother, Amanda Wanklin, descend? Where was the black hair and brown skin father, Michael Biggs, born? If it is important to describe the birth place of one parent and the descent of the other parent, then in an effort to reduce racial stereotypes and promote equality surely the same conditions should be applied to both parents?

Isn’t the tone of this article reinforcing the same stereotypes ingrained in white American culture that the editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg, suggests that this issue is supposed to be pushing its readers beyond? To me, this article resets the tone as one of continued racial divisions based on both birth location and heritage.

Or have I completely missed the point?

In the Nat Geo “Black and White” essay Alicia Martin, a statistical geneticist is referenced as stating that the traits of fraternal twins that emerge in each child depends on numerous variables, including “where the parents’ ancestors are from and complex pigment genetics.” As this article does not directly address where the twins’ maternal ancestors are from, the reader of the article is left with the assumption that ‘English-born’ relates to an unending line of similarly born ancestors who will be categorised as white and therefore quintessentially British.

Afua Hirsch has an essay in the same issue that continues the analysis on what it means to be British – Hirsch investigated this concept in her recent book: Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging. Hirsch notes that, “Britishness, as an identity, is in crisis. It is still linked in the imagination of people of all races to the concept of whiteness.”

Nat Geo may have had good intentions, but from my reading of this issue they have faltered and failed on the first steps to explore race and diversity in America. I know that many people have lauded the publication of this issue as a wonderful event, yet I still see it as a P.R. exercise to excuse a back catalogue of discriminatory reporting, and to feed the American white supremacist’s and far-right’s angst about them again becoming a minority in the country they invaded: “In two years, for the first time in U.S. history, less than half the children in the nation will be white.” (From the editorial by Susan Goldberg).

National Geographic, you cannot correct past mistakes by perpetuating them.

Maybe Marcia and Millie should be left to define themselves in line with the Nat Geo’s hashtag: #IDefineMe

© Marjorie H Morgan 2018