March 11, 2007

R.I.P CRE

The government have confirmed the abolishment of the CRE and its replacement with the umbrella body, Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) which begs the question will the new commission do a better job fronting the campaign for racial equality or become another unpromising whitewash organisation?

When the CRE was first established under the Race Relations Act 1976, blurry visions of racial equality and social justice shifted into political focus. It seemed that the new organisation, spearheaded by Trevor Phillips, would champion the rights of ethnic minorities and challenge the supremacy of the white heterosexual males but with powers limited to advising employers and government and making recommendations to public sector bodies the CRE has made limited headway in enforcing equal opportunities. The CRE had become known for Philips’ infamous comments- such as multiculturalism is a catalyst for segregation- than for its progressive steps towards ethnic inclusion. The CRE has even been accused if neglecting the ‘hard-edged issues of urban deprivation and discrimination that fuel such racial tensions’. So of course, it must be of no surprise that the government have planned to scrap the CRE by 2009 but the CRE’s inability to have any significant social impact is not necessarily due to Philip’s bolshy remarks but down to political muscle. The CRE, despite being formed under government legislation, has as much clout as the European parliament. The British government formed an inactive talking shop with sufficient freedom to discuss the problems but not an adequate amount to enforce any possible solutions. Chatter and tea as opposed to Red Bull and resolutions. Is this a valid reason for institutional change? Most certainly. A little more power would go along way to enabling the CRE to better the opportunities available to ethnic minorities and to talking racial discrimination but this is far from the opinion of the government. After two years of round-the-table discussions the government created the Single Equality Act (SEA) 2006 in which the CEHR was theoretically formed- a super organisation that centralises the powers of the CRE, the disability commission and encompasses the fight against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, age, religion and gender. Such an expert-filled independent body may seem credible- the banding together of resources to contest multifaceted prejudices but that is exactly what was said of the welfare state some 61 years ago before the substandard education system and a deteriorating health service.
Black rights campaigners are somewhat suspicious of the CEHR as in the aftermath of the passing of the SEA the government decided upon a 3 year opt out for the race body and admitted to the unlikelihood of their being any black commissioners in the race body. When the CRE morphs into the CEHR it could become another gentlemen’s club for (the interests of) ‘white heterosexual males’- a move that will only serve to increase the distance between ethnic communities and public bodies and a move that will ensure that such communities are overlooked in the political arena. Reassuring words and sympathetic smiles are not enough to encourage faith in the new organisation among black and Asian communities. If the CRE has so few powers but yet exists within its own right what hope is there for the campaign for racial equality in the CEHR which has just as much power but no guarantee that it will consist of a sufficient number of black representatives? It seems that the fate of ethnic minorities may fade into the political abyss. Rather than strengthening the campaign, the CEHR could be a political move to sweep it under the societal carpet and replace it with a vague and abstract view to protect human rights.
After reading the SEA one discovers two things: 1) there is very little on any of the aforementioned prejudices and 2) a significant proportion of what the CEHR does is make plans- plans for change, plans to prioritise other plans, plans to review plans for change and the odd investigation into companies displaying signs of racial unfairness. The CRE, in spite of the stigma attached to it, is the nerve centre of black political action yet the CEHR will become the all-encompassing base for the promotion of human rights but will the multidimensional organisation be able to multitask or will some activities be given precedence over the race body? It may be R.I.P CRE but this does not apply to race. If race exists then so should a body to fight for its equality; if individuals are discriminated against because of their faiths then an organisation should exist to combat it. Blanket legislation cannot adequately address the needs of such varied groups. Policies must be tailored to needs of each group. Now would be as good a time as any for politicians to make an effort to sit up and listen to the disillusioned groups they are meant to be legislating for.


Bigotry: the problems and the solutions.

As Britain becomes increasingly culturally diverse the Government are recognising the need for a more tolerant society. Often one hears the words, “Britain is multicultural but not tolerant” but whilst this remains a constant hindrance to its the progression there is a tendency for the government and wider society to tackle intolerance by adopting and adapting policies and initiatives to clearly defined discriminated groups. In recent years, the Home Office have released a number of manuals to police forces, schools and employers on creating social acceptance of recognised communities and individuals and although this is undoubtedly a prerequisite for the harmonized society that the government is attempting to construct, it only scratches the surface. Whilst society may become more tolerant of certain social groupings the problem of creating a standard level of liberal thinking with regards to differing beliefs, creeds, values and opinions is thought to be an inevitable consequence of ridding society of socially-earmarked prejudices. But this assumption coupled with the survival of the age-old Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) attitude embedded in British behaviour has allowed bigotry to prevail.
Should one be concerned with what level of intolerance certain individuals feel if they themselves are not wronged by it? Should discriminated Asians, for example, care about prejudiced lesbians and gays?

The Government have aired their concerns over a potential culture of intolerance in Britain. What may begin as a dogmatic perception of single parents or cohabiting partners may develop into a chauvinistic attitude towards unconformity to the conventional and conservative married couple. Bigoted views may not affect one initially but the potential domino effect of bigotry is a society lined with bias over slightest deviations of opinion.
When Jack Straw stated that the Muslim women in his Blackburn constituency should remove their veil while visiting his surgery there was outrage among Muslims and MPs alike. Straw defended his statement claiming that “wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations difficult” but Muslim representatives argued that Straw did not have the authority to ask Muslim women to adapt to unnecessary requirements. A month later, a legal advisor was told by judge to remove her veil in a Stoke-on-Trent court. Such events have been described as blatant displays of bigotry and an infringement on the very basic of human rights.
In speech in 2003, former Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart said: “In Britain we have a proud tradition of supporting free speech and allowing people to follow their own beliefs. The British way is to support religious freedom. The government’s duty to all its citizens is to give them the freedom to practise their own faith”. Certain traditions like the veil in the Muslim faith are part of one’s right to practise one’s faith but if members of society are biased towards aspects of one’s belief system that do not visibly impede their way of life then it is the party with the contested beliefs who will experience a violation of their rights.
Bigotry also acts as a catalyst for violence. The 1980s and 1990s saw Northern Ireland rife with violence based on intolerance of dissimilar political allegiance and the intolerance has continued to hinder peace talks.

In many cases bigotry is dismissed as harmless banter but its affects can be detrimental and effective. In June last year, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) launched a Ron Akinson bigotry award- praising radio stations, TV stations and newspapers for “the most egregiously negative contribution to race relations in the past year”. Critics argue that such events are building traditions of acceptable bigotry. Whilst government pushes political correctness to new extremes basic respect for diversity and difference may soon become a thing of the past.

What, then, are the solutions? Scotland paved the way by introducing a Bigotry Bill in 2002 which imposes tougher sentences for bigots but the Association of Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) are wary of the number of criminals that will be brought to justice under the new law, suggesting that proof will be much harder to obtain. Policymakers argue the real solution lies in educating children about bigotry or risk rearing a new generation of intolerant narrow-minded individuals. Schools in Scotland have teamed up with the European Parliament in a bid to teach children about the wrongs of bigotry and this has been deemed a “success”.
Bigotry awards or the BBC-backing of a Radio One DJ’s negative use of the word ‘gay’ suggest a need for tighter media regulations on prejudicial presentations that do not necessarily infringe upon freedom of speech but simultaneously, do not quietly support the voicing of bigoted views.


Bad move for Blair: Penal Punishment for Young Offenders.

In the aftermath of the four London murders in February Tony Blair, criticised for responding to the growing level of gun crime with “knee- jerk” reactions, has upped his a-game to tackle the escalating firearm culture in Britain.
The Prime Minister has vowed to take a tougher stance on gun crime, proposing an extension of mandatory sentencing of 17 year olds from the already implemented three years to five years- the current ruling on 18+ teenagers toting firearms. Blair is also considering introducing surveillance methods to track down individuals suspected of carrying weaponry, another dogged step toward creating Labour’s model “surveillance society”. There is definitely something to be said of Blair’s iron grip legislation. Indeed, implementing such policies will reduce the number of reported crimes in the short term yet gun crime itself will continue to fly under the policy radar. It has already risen by 0.6:% in the past year.
Some of members of the black community have also voiced there concerns over whether the law will drive gun crime off the streets or merely into the hands of younger individuals. Drug dealers, using firearms to protect their trade, will target legally-protected youngsters to run their violent errands. How will Blair propose to tackle this? How far will the legislative bar be lowered? Will we soon be handcuffing infants?
Moreover, it is important not to forget that someone as young as 16 can purchase a knife. In 2006, knife crime rose to 42,020 incidents almost 72% more than gun crime but in the furore surrounding the London murders, tackling rapidly rising knife crime has been blindsided.
Blair has lucidly stated that gun crime is not a “general state of Britishness” and “British young people” but concerns a specific culture and specific group of people. The commonplace notion is that the problem is-primarily- within the black community but with such undertones highlighting government’s course of action how is the trust of the black community to be enlisted when the Downing street introduces its new spy kit. It is too early to have the phrase “institutionalised racism” bandied around but one cannot escape the possible detrimental effects this could have on community-police liaisons.
Lords and MP alike have grappled with why youngsters engage in gun crime, citing phrases such as the “glorification of guns and knives” and “the alienation of young people” but as is the case with judges who sit on their aristocratic pedestals and dictate how the law should be obeyed, the very people who recycle these overused statements are those who are considerably distanced from young black teens. Occasionally The Times will draw on the words of a youth worker from south London for solid social backing but talking about teens as opposed to talking to them is to alienate them even further.
The truth is, one can not be sure whether it is the broken family or the lack of male models in society that can account for high levels of crime without talking, communicating and trying to understand the young people themselves.
If we continue to treat them as individuals at the margins of society; statistics to be analysed or a scapegoats to be criminalised rather than stamping out weapon-related crime we would have given it the perfect catalyst.


The Olympics, the World Cup and the World Stage

It was like a World Cup win. An anxious London suddenly came alive with pride and celebration. They had won the 2012 Olympic bid. It seemed as though all the hard work had paid off but then the nerves settled in. Cost estimates began a slow and steady upward creep. Newspapers suggested billions, hinted tax hikes and patriotic Londoners became sceptical. Meanwhile, months after finding out they will be hosting the 2010 World Cup, South Africa are still clearing away their party hats and streamers.

In the 1800s Baron Pierre Coubertin went on a global mission to convince the (Western) world that sport was vital to a superior education. His determination eventually led to the Olympic Games renaissance but there must be more to the Olympics than the ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ theory and large financial investments. During the World Cup, Britain is split along geographical lines. England, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales become The Competition and subtly draw on historical conflicts. The Olympics is the only sporting event where differences are pushed to one side and athletes proudly drape the Great Britain flag over their shoulders. Cost aside, London has been given the opportunity to demonstrate their solidarity to the world, if not set an example for others.
There are two sides to the London Olympics debate. On the one hand, Londoners have deemed it a “hassle” and making “regular trips in London more difficult” but on the same token, they speak of pride and worth. One Londoner said: “It is a sign that our country is able to provide for guests (…) a sign of self-worth”.

In the 2006 Olympics North and South Korea joined forces and both Israel and Palestine competed in the Games. Would anyone have thought this possible 34 years ago? Not likely yet almost a year ago, the Olympic Games created history and for the first time in centuries, peace and honour among competitors. In 5 years time London too will have the chance to be part of this.

It is a feeling that has made South Africa euphoric. After a gruelling 18-month process, Mandela was finally able to announce “Africa is worthy. It is wonderful to be an African today”. For years, the Western view has been that Africa is underdeveloped, riddled with disease and poverty and rife with violence but their World Cup host win suggests they are a force to be reckoned with.
The apathy as opposed to empathy among Britons over the Olympics is national complacency. Britain has nothing left to prove. It is international knowledge they are a leading economic power in the First World but for Africa the World Cup is the first step in showing the world just what they are capable of. Mustapha Fahmy, the General Secretary of the Confederation of African Football said “many people will be shocked at how well it will turn out. It will give a different image of football and Africa”.

It may even create hope among African countries. South Africa will be the first country to host a major sporting event and there is trust that many more will follow and stimulate some much needed economic growth. African leaders are already saying, “If South Africa can do it, so can we” and why not?
The excitement among young avid football fans can hardly be contained in South Africa. Suddenly, their ambitions seem pursuable and they have a little more optimism than they did two years ago. Sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup are not just economic boosts or burdens; they are an international reservoir of hope, patriotism and worth.


July 26, 2006

Banned: the hoodie, Wronged: the youth

Is it just me or is this ‘hoodie wearers are criminal’ a remarkably patronising and exaggerated media/government ploy to conjure up yet another scapegoat to blame for societal problems? Another ‘if all else fails, blame the people’ idea?
I am sick and tired of the endless government trawl splashed onto newspapers and poured out of TVs blaming certain sectors of society for the incapability of government. Who are they blaming now? hoodie–wearers.

The less than subtle suggestion that hoodie–wearers are criminals is appalling but this has not stopped the government and silly political parties headed by he likes of 'lets–make–the–conservative–party–hip' David Cameron from suggesting otherwise. Why? Because it is an easy explanation, and easy way out and attacks one of the most vulnerable and unrepresented sectors in society– the youth. Such stupid and condescending accusations only serves to marginalise an already marginalised social group not integrate it.

I feel as though I have been taken back to the 1980s and early 1990s when a darker skin colour made one a criminal except now it is also based on whether I wear a jumper or not.
It is ridiculous that people tend to think that just because one dress a certain way, they will act a certain way. If I wear a pair of jeans what am I capable of doing? If I wear a suit does that make me capable of running the country??

I am even more angered by the fact that the government dishes out so–called attempts to make young people ‘happy’ and ‘part of society’ (how we all love to take lessons in citizenship!) and then sneakily, suggests they are criminals. Their amateurish playground tactics have not gone unnoticed. ‘Back stabbing’ in politics is a school invention! In my eyes, this preposterous hoodie –wearer= criminal idea is ridiculous and just goes to show how blatantly out of touch the government is with young people.
I can just hear Mr Blair whispering to Mr Reid, ‘a teenager with a hoodie? Slap an ASBO on it!’

If the government want more youth in jail then they should continue with their condescending and marginalising debacle. If you label someone a criminal, chances are they will get sick of trying to prove otherwise and instead fulfil the label they have been branded with. Then crime among young people will go up, statistics will show this and then bam! You’ve got yourself an ASBO/terror law– harsher sentences and fewer rights– and a smug looking government mouthing ‘I told you so’ from behind the crumbling walls of Parliament.

As if it is not bad being discriminated against because of the colour of your skin, your gender and your age but now one’s choice of clothes supposedly has something to do with whether one decides to vandalise a park bench.

As a young person myself I do own a hoodie and to be perfectly honest when I bought the hoodie I did not think ‘will this make me look thuggish?’ or’ is this a good look for stealing from the newsagents?’ I thought ‘will this keep me warm?’ and let me make it absolutely clear, the only crime I have ever committed is squandering my overdraft on ridiculous university fees.
Hoodies, if anything, are a style not a criminal record. Soon we will be stopped by police officers for the kind shoes we wear.


May 27, 2006

Exams, chocolate and magazines: a lethal cocktail.

Having recently turned 20 and taking yet another set exams for I have come to realise two things:

1) I am getting old
2) I do not like it.
3) I am eating twice as much as I did two months ago. Chocolates and fast food inclusive.

Normally, I am not too bothered about my diet. A chocolate bar here, a bowl of chips there. All worked off in an hour dancing away in Top B but now, like most 'hardcore' students I am hibernating in the library, consuming a bag of doritos every hours and still I find myself trying to hide the sound of my stomach grumbling by noisy page–turning and then there is the endless gossip from relatives about cousins at universities somewhere close to nowhere, engaged to a men from their halls and lectures, 'what about your love life Chinwe?' they say. 'The clock is ticking'.

Not only am I eating my body weight in Mexican Heatwave doritos everyday but now I am an ageing spinster.
So, I am into the ninth hour of my revision session in the library and ninth packet of doritos when my friends arrive with what seems to be every women's magazine in Costcutter. Catching glimpses of magazines I find numerous articles about this soapstar who ate cabbage for four weeks and lost this amount of weight, or the woman who can prance about in bikini because she ate nothing but Ryvita for dinner and before I know it my friends are racing down the stairs to Cafe Library to buy apples and bananas and this is why I despise such magazines particularly around exam time.

Like quite a few students, I feel like rubbish as it is– revising all day and eating foods that willl cling to my thighs in the near future, whilst the 3rd years are gallavanting round Leamington like Julie Andrews from the Sound of Music on the hills but with alcohol and degrees so when it gets too much I may want to read about some godforsaken celebrities embarking on more fruitless journeys in reality TV show just to make myself feel a little bit better but as summer draws near every inch of the media is covering stars eating nothing but Japanese plums for 6 weeks to drop from a healthy size 10 to an unhealthy size 4 and the last thing I want to do is eat fat– free, sugar– free, dairy free yoghurt or chocolate– free chocolate when I have a 300 page textbook to read that was written five decades ago.

So I propose that magazines should hold off on their media madness until after June 16th!


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