Update on BMI Phone Blockade

November 20, 2008

BMI are planning on deporting 3 Iranian migrants TOMORROW!!!

Jila  Kalkhoran her sons Emad and Aref Pirouzeh are nationals of Iran and residents of Middlesbrough; they are currently detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC and due to be forcibly removed from the UK on Friday 21st November on BMI Flight BD931 from London Heathrow @ 17:15 to Tehran Imam Khomeini International, Iran.
Jila, Emad & Pizrouzeh were ‘snatched’ from their Middlesbrough home Wednesday morning.
Jila and her family became targets of violence and intimidation in Iran following her husband’s involvement in political activity proscribed by the Iranian government.  Jila’s husband Ali Pirouzeh was a journalist for a publication, which was critical of the Iranian regime’s record on women’s rights, poverty and religious rights.

Jila & the children came to the UK in October 2007 for a visit, fully intending to return to Iran. News from her partner in early 2008 said that the situation was getting worse and he advised her not to return to Iran. Jila made an asylum claim in March 2008. Jila’s husband was forced to flee Iran in June 2008 following a number of violent incidents against him and others. He fully intended to try and get to the UK to join is wife and children but only got as far as Holland, where he made an asylum claim which is still under consideration.

After claiming Asylum in the UK, Jila and her children came to live in Middlesbrough, where they have settled down to become much loved members of the community and a local evangelical Jubilee Church Teesside.  Jila’s Christian faith is her second well-founded fear of persecution. Jila and the boys have become Christians in the UK and regularly attend, and are actively involved in, the life of Jubilee Church Teesside.

No Borders Wales is calling for a phone blockade of BMI for 20 November, in memory of their group member and friend, Babi Badalov, who was deported by BMI to Azerbaijan on 20 September 2008.

How does this work?  On 20 November, call, email or fax BMI whenever you can asking them about their policy on whether they will deport asylum seekers.  Try to drag out the conversation a bit if you can – apparently the call centre operatives have been told to hang up as soon as deportation is mentioned, so maybe don’t mention it right away.

Do remember to be polite and courteous to the call centre people – it’s not their fault that the BMI higher ups are happy to send people away from their homes, potentially to their deaths.

 

BMI Contact Details

Head office
Donington Hall, Castle Donington, Derby. DE74 2SB

E-mail Nigel Turner, BMI Chief Executive Officer at:
nigel.turner@flybmi.com

Switchboard
Telephone: 01334 854 000
Open Mon-Fri 8am-6pm

Customer Relations
Telephone: 01332 854 321
Fax: 01332 854 875
Open: Mon-Fri 9:30am-4:30pm

Reservations and general enquiries
Telephone: 01332 854854 & 01332 648181
Fax: 01709 314993
Opening hours: 7am-9pm

Bmi baby reservations
Telephone 01332 648181
Opening hours: 8am-8pm

So at the last Feminist Fightback meeting, we were having a debate about where capitalism and racism fit in our analysis of women’s oppression.  One woman, B, was arguing that women’s oppression had it’s origins in class exploitation.  As is obvious if you’ve read this blog, I strongly disagree with that.  What really disturbed me about some of what she’d said, however, is that she outright denied the existence of white privilege – all working-class people, in her opinion, are equally oppressed.

I was arguing for the intersection of all oppressions, but because of what she’d said about race, I spent a fair amount of time on white privilege.  I figured someone in a feminist group might say that sexism is less important than class exploitation, but she’s here, right?  However, white privilege is clearly a huge issue in the British feminist movement, and one which I struggle with alot myself.

Somewhere, however, things went horribly, horribly wrong, insofar as I managed to alienate B’s friend C, who is one of the few Afro-Caribbean women to ever come to a Feminist Fightback meeting, who said she felt as if I was being condescending and that she generally felt alienated and erased.

Now, I think there are things on which C & I would disagree no matter what.  But clearly, I must have made several serious errors of communication if I ended up alienating C to that extent. 

My comments are below.  Where do you think I went wrong?  I’d really, really appreciate feedback.  There are very few people that I can talk to about trying to develop as an anti-racist feminist.  Feminism here is really segregated, and rarely goes beyond trying to get a woman of colour to speak at your event.  There’s no real commitment to fighting racism as a key structure of UK society.  So I really need your help & input.   And yeah, if you think I was completely out of line, please say so – there’s no need to try to soften the blow or anything.   Thanks!!!

NB for non-UK readers – BME means Black & Minority Ethnic and is the preferred term (I think) for people of colour in the UK, at least in non-academic circles.  I tend to use both terms.

*****************

What I said 

When I went to get my visa in Liverpool, my partner and I were the only couple in the room where both parties were white.  Most of the other people in the room were people of colour.  At the time, we were worried because we technically did not have enough money to support ourselves – luckily, the immigration officer barely checked.  She literally flipped through my paycheck and said “what’s important is you have a steady job.  Come back in an hour.”  Meanwhile, we couldn’t help but notice that the immigration officers treated my partner & I way better than everybody else in the room.  When I came back to pick up my visa, the same woman was speaking rudely to an African couple.

This is what I mean by white privilege.  It’s not my fault that the immigration officers were polite to me and rude to the BME people.  I was unhappy that they were like this.  But I benefited from it nonetheless, regardless of whether I agreed with the immigration officers’ behaviour.

Class exploitation does not directly cause women’s oppression.  Yes, women’s oppression began in a class based society, but that does not mean it was caused by a class-based society – after all, women’s oppression also came about in a world where the atmosphere is 80% nitrogen, and women’s oppression is not caused by nitrogen.

Even if you do think that class exploitation causes women’s oppression, it should be clear that today sexism as an ideology exists independently of capitalism as does racism, as do numerous other oppressions, like transphobia, homophobia, ableism, ageism, etc.  In the interests of simplicity, I am going to focus on Capitalism, Sexism and Racism.

Basically, I would argue that Sexism, Racism and Capitalism are interconnected systems of oppression.  What that means is that they all feed into each other, and shape each other, and you can’t really consider them separately.  I tend to think of this as a tangled ball of yarn.  Sometimes, you can tug a small piece of yarn free – and women get the vote; a Black man is elected President; a minimum wage is achieved.  But you will never untangle the yarn completely unless you are working at all the oppressions at once.

So, women’s oppression won’t be ended while capitalism exists, but ending capitalism won’t automatically end women’s oppression.  And as a white woman, I think it’s important for me to fight against racism, not out of a sense of charity, but because I will never be liberated while racism still exists.

I think we realised this when we were campaigning in solidarity with the tube cleaners.  We didn’t say that they were working-class people who happened to be immigrant women from Africa & Asia.  Rather, we recognised that their gender and their race and their immigration status were also key to their oppression.  That they were underpaid because their work was viewed as “women’s work”, but that the type of work they were doing is often assigned to BME women.  For example, the Windrush generation of women often found themselves employed in the heavy care industry, because it fulfilled the gender stereotype of women doing care work, and the racial stereotype of black people doing the heavy lifting. 

And in the tubecleaners campaign, we were able to use the privilege that some of us have of being white and holding British passports (not me, obviously) in a subversive way in service of the tubecleaners campaign, by risking arrest.

So, white privilege exists and that has to be recognised.  You can’t change the world unless you recognise how the world works.  And once you recognise your white privilege, you can then try to figure out who to use it subversively.

We’ve been quite properly critical of the Fawcett Society’s sexism in the city campaign because they treat the sexism experienced by the CEO and the sexism experienced by the cleaner the same.  Of course, the sexism experienced by the cleaner is very different from the sexism experienced by the CEO.  If we don’t recognise white privilege, I think we risk becoming the class-based version of the Fawcett Society.  Women experience sexism differently because of their race and class, and our campaigns have to recognise this.  We have to fight all oppressions simultaneously, not out of a sense of charity, but because while racism exists none of us will be free.

There’s actually a fairly interesting piece in The Guardian today by Zoe Williams on the subject of prostitution.  I say fairly interesting, because I think she’s right about how prostitution is viewed by the general public.

Basically, Williams argues that the current discussion around sex work tends to divide sex workers into three areas – “high class” prostitutes like Belle De Jour; street workers feeding drug habits, and “proper low life sex industry hookers” with no “personal agency” and who are so disadvantaged they can be considered as “kidnapped.”  Therefore, the issue becomes less that people go to prostitutes full-stop but that they exploit vulnerable people (and Williams gets serious bonus points from me for including European women who travel overseas for sex from local men as exploiters; shockingly, I find exploitation based on racial and class privilege as appalling as exploitation based on gender privilege).  This is especially true if you take the stigma out of sex – then it does seem like for “high class” prostitutes, sex work is just a job like any other.

Williams argues, though, that ultimately no feminist can align herself as “pro-prostitution” because so much of it involves violence against women.

First of all, I think it’s very perceptive of Williams to recognise that “ordinary” sex workers, the ones working in brothels, flats, etc. are often constructed as having no personal agency, and I think that the feminist movement actually has a lot to answer for here.  I remember having a surreal conversation once with some radical feminists where they argued that it was OK to chant outside a strip-club because the strippers were colluding with the patriarchy.  About 5 minutes later, the same women were arguing that all sex workers are effectively slaves since no one can be said to “choose” sex work.  Obviously, both of these statements can’t be true.

Any discussion of sex work has to involve a discussion of what we mean by personal agency and “choice.”  No one makes completely free choices; are options are limited not only by material factors (ie I’d like to do a full-time PhD but I can’t afford it) and also by ideological, discursive factors (I don’t like showing my bare legs when they are hairy, which is clearly internalised sexism).  I do believe that within these confines, however, free will is possible.  I can’t afford to do a full-time PhD, so I’ll do a part-time one; but I’ve still made a decision regarding whether I want to do a PhD.   I don’t feel comfortable in bare legs if my legs are hairy, but I can choose whether to shave my legs or whether to wear trousers.  This is the arena of personal agency.

Most of the writing I’ve read by sex workers, and many of the sex workers I’ve met, are people trying to make the best of some fairly appalling situations.  There was a well-known case in Thailand a few years ago where some American missionaries attempted to “rescue” a whole bunch of sex workers, who then ran away from the American mission at the earliest available opportunity.  The missionaries weren’t going to feed their families.

This doesn’t mean that sex work is a “good job” – and I’d really appreciate it if certain radical feminists could stop caricaturing everyone else’s beliefs in this way.  I agree wholeheartedly with Williams that it usually involves appalling violence and exploitation.  What it means is that we should be focusing on the structures that put people into situations where sex work seems like the best of a lot of bad options –  not only sexism, but capitalism, racism (First Nations women are disproportionately represented among sex workers in Canada), imperialism, homophobia, migration controls, transphobia (trans*people are disproportionately represented among sex workers), the lack of routes out of sex work, a justice system that treats an illness (drug addiction) as a crime, etc.  And clearly, neither side of the criminalise/decriminalise debate addresses these issues.  I believe in the decriminalisation of sex work myself, but only because I think it would make addressing a lot of the above issues a lot easier.

I also do think it’s fair to say that not only are some people properly forced into sex work (kidnapped and held against their will), but that for some people the constraining factors are such it’s hard to see whether they are actually exercising agency.  I’m thinking particularly of people who get into sex work to feed a drug habit, and also people who were subjected to such appalling sexual abuse as children, and have so many mental health issues because of it, that it’s hard to see what they are doing as a choice.  I know at least one person who falls into the latter category, and she does not see herself as having “chosen” sex work, but does see herself as having been “forced”.

But what of “high class” sex workers?  Victims?  Or are they colluding with violence against women by suggesting that sex work is a job like any other?  I certainly feel Williams’ discomfort on this issue.  As a friend of mine once said “I don’t judge sex workers, but I feel perfectly comfortable judging their clientele.”  No matter how “high class” the sex worker in question is, no matter how able to choose his/her clients, I still have this gut feeling that buying sex from someone is somehow inherently exploitative.  And I can’t tell you exactly why – as sex workers have pointed out, there are a lot of people whose jobs are just as intimate and are “affective”, ie. designed to make other people feel something.  Is the care worker being paid minimum wage to give people sponge baths really less exploited than the “high class” sex worker?

I think part of it is that we live in a society where sexuality is considered key to our identity in a way that washing other people is not.  And I do think it’s significant that most sex workers are women in a society where women are often reduced to sex; in that light buying sex  from a woman seems almost equivalent to buying the woman (though I know many sex workers find this idea objectionable).

I do think the existence of people like Belle de Jour serves as a sop to the patriarchal conscience.  She’s not a victim, so it’s perfectly OK to buy sex, even from women in more dire straits!!  However, that seems to hold the sex workers accountable for the actions of their clients, which is clearly unfair.  Sex work as an industry exists because people are willing to buy sex; is it fair to blame the people who take advantage of this to make ends meet?  If all the Belle de Jours of the world gave up the sex industry, that might put a dent in the idea that buying sex is OK, but it wouldn’t end the industry in and of itself.  So while “high class” sex workers might be reinforcing the sex industry, that reinforcement is dependent upon a complete abdication of moral responsibility on the part of the clients.  Guess who I think is really responsible in this case?

Additionally, I’ve met a couple of “high class” sex workers and they’ve always said that they felt less exploited as a stripper/dominatrix/porn star, etc. than they did in their regular jobs.  That’s pretty significant and suggests, once again, that the overarching issue of capitalism has to be addressed when discussing the sex industry.

With regard to the aforementioned care giver – I think we have to stop seeing it as a competition.  Certainly, this is also something the feminist movement is responsible for; the notion that no other job is as exploitative as sex work and consequently that no other workers are as exploited.  It’s not a competition.  The care giver is alsoexploited, and you know what – that’s a feminist issue.  Please see BFP’s fantastic post on migrant farm workers in the US and then ask yourself if you still believe that sex workers are automatically the most victimised people in the world.

 As in so many other areas, I think often feminists are looking for a “magic bullet” or a quick fix – and I definitely think that’s what Harriet Harman is looking for.  There is no quick fix; prostitution is the consequence of multiple systems of oppression, not the cause, and it will not be solved by a simple legal change.  The best statement I’ve ever read on the issue of  sex work was from UBUNTU! a sex worker’s collective from North Carolina (h/t BFP).  They argue that activism around sex work should move away from criminalisation v decriminalisation and reconceptualised as being responsible to the communities involved?  What would this look like?

More on class and activism

October 31, 2008

I discussed a lot of the issues I brought up in this post with my friend The Historian, as well as reading the excellent posts on Pink Scare.  This led to an email, which part of which I’m publishing here as well.

 Dear xxxx,  

 So I actually spent a fair amount of today, when I wasn’t busy with work, thinking about our conversation last night.  Basically, I would agree that at this moment class seems the best site of struggle for revolutionary change.  I think that’s true because the gains made by other movements, like feminism, anti-racism, and gay rights, have been important but are often co-opted by capitalism.  Capitalism is able to modify itself and live to see another day.  

I will however attach the caveat that such a movement can only succeed if it recognises that capitalism intersects inextricably with racism, sexism, abelism, homophobia, transphobia and other oppressions.  

There are two reasons for this.  First, the intersection of oppressions means that if an anti-capitalist movement isn’t also fighting sexism, racism, etc., it’s probably not doing a very good job of fighting capitalism.  A woman worker’s experience of capitalism can’t be separated from her experience of sexism, nor can that experience be reduced to class.  Moreover, sexism, racism & capitalism all work together – and not just in a simplistic “dividing the working-class” way.  “Heavy care” work in the NHS, for example, is largely done by women of colour because of the combination of gender roles (women do care work) and imperialist racial roles (people of colour as little more than pack animals).  An anti-capitalist movement that fails to understand this can’t possibly succeed.  Our modern ideas of gender & race were forged during the industrial revolution but are not merely byproducts of it.  Pardon the academia, but the relationship is more dialectical; they fed into each other, shaped each other, promoted each other & supported each other.  At this point in time, these oppressions are like a giant ball of tangled wool – it’s impossible to pull at one strand and hope that that particular strand will come free, or that the ball will magically unravel.  Instead, the hard work of carefully picking our way through individual strands lies ahead of us.  

 Secondly,  as with so-called identity politics, a movement based solely on class will just lead to the privilegeing of working-class white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cissexual men at the expense of others.  We will have a socialist utopia where women are still doing all the dishes.  Lesbian separatism came under a lot of fire in the 1970s from working-class women of colour, not only because it failed to address these women’s needs to work with  men in their community in opposing shared oppressions (like racism), but because it just ignored the differences of race and class among lesbians.  Rather than creating a non-hierarchical movement, white lesbians became the elite.  

In envisioning this class-based movement, how we define class obviously matters.  There are disadvantages in this case to both the Marxist and what I’ll call Liberal (North American) view of class.  Interestingly, I think it should be noted that these definitions are not completely separate.  Obviously, the Marxist working-class are more likely to be “poor”.  But, there’s also a fair amount of slippage in how the terms are  used, even among orthodox Marxists.  When I said in the last meeting that assuming that everyone has a garden in London is classist, which everyone agreed with, I was using the Liberal definition.  A well-paid lecturer or accountant can afford a house with a garden, so clearly not everyone in the Marxist working-class is living in flats.  When we object to classist stereotypes in the feminist movement or in the media, like the use of the term “scally” what we are really objecting to is the denigration of the poor.  Our activism also tends to focus on the most vulnerable workers, like the Tubecleaners, who are struggling the most financially.   

The Liberal Definition of class is in a way more inclusive when we talk about organising along class lines, as it extends to basically anyone who is low-income.  However, as you pointed out last night, there is serious potential for conflict within the movement because of different short-term interests (I’m assuming the end of capitalism is in everyone’s interest in the long-run).  Farmers and workers might not necessarily see eye-to-eye because of their different short-term goals – it is not necessarily obvious to farmers why they would benefit from the workers seizing control of the means of production, and certainly small business owners would not like this at all.  Organising around the Liberal Definition would also mean probably not working with the more affluent members of the “marxist” working-class.  However, these people often have the most resources and the most personal freedom, and therefore can participate in social and political movements with the most impunity.  When I was helping to organise my call centre, the reason I was brave enough to do it was the fact that I knew I could afford to lose my job.  

However, there are also serious issues with organising solely along the Marxist definition of class.  First, a lot of orthodox marxists I’ve met have an unfortunate tendency to an “us & them” mentality.  Some of the conversations at the Marxism 2007 conference were fairly bloodcurdling, as speakers suggested with a straight face simply killing the entire bourgeoisie if you wanted your revolution to succeed.   People’s politics aren’t reducible to class – farmers, small business holders, doctors, other professionals, even people from wealthy backgrounds may support or come to support an anti-capitalist movement.  Ultimately, like racism & sexism, capitalism damages the people who benefit from it most as well.  We shouldn’t assume the existence of enemies.  Furthermore, in a socialist utopia, we’re still going to need farmers, doctors, etc.  Someone has to grow food, someone has to cure the sick.  The revolution is going to have to include people who aren’t working-class.  

There is also the issue, already discussed above, of privileging white working-class men by organising solely from a Marxist standpoint.  Affecting both kinds of class-based organising is the fact that other oppressed peoples may simply have different priorities.  Women may feel that sexism is more significant; people of colour may feel that racism is more significant.  They may feel that sexism and/or racism is why they’re poor.  Any class-based movement has to figure out how to reach out to these people and work with them – and not just lecture them about how wrong they are.  I think organising along the Liberal definition of class probably makes this easier.  Women who see sexism as the reason they are poor will still get involved in an anti-poverty  movement, but may not want to be involved in an anti-capitalist movement they don’t see as reflecting their reality.  

My solution is that we should be organising along both definitions of class.  Ultimately, despite my criticisms, I believe the Marxist definition is more transformative, but the Liberal definition is more inclusive and provides an answer to the plight of impoverished people who do not fall under the Marxist definition of working-class.  

I think here it is important to differentiate between short-term and long-term goals.  While both kind of organising should go on simultaneously, in the short-term, the Liberal definition is in my opinion more useful.  It allows the linking together of various groups and social movements, and for increased popular education.  It allows us to improve the material conditions of the lives of small business owners, for example (because no one should be struggling to make ends meet), while working to convince said small business owners of the wonders of anti-capitalism.    Alot of these changes will happen in the short-term within the system – I would favour, for example, government help to small business owners provided certain workplace conditions are met.  This may not be revolutionary in the short-term, but the revolution is unlikely to happen tomorrow and small businesses not only provide jobs, but their owners should be able to pay their heating bills.  In the long-term, organising along Marxist lines is more transformative, but the use of the Liberal definition in the short-term should have allowed us to integrate small business owners, professionals and farmers into our revolutionary society.

 

Maybe we all feel isolated?

September 23, 2008

Charlie Little is calling for a radical feminist gathering up north, because she feels that radical lesbian feminists are underrepresented in present feminist politics.  She specifically mentions FAF as being a “queer feminist group” and also that socialist feminists are active (which I assume means Feminist Fightback), but that there aren’t any visibly active radical feminists anymore.  She also wants an “unapologetically women-only space”, which means no transwomen.

 What I feel is fascinating about this is that it completely mirrors my own feelings.  As you can see from this post, I feel like radical and liberal feminists dominate the feminist movement in the UK.  Activism seems to focus on all anti-porn all the time.  The only feminist group where I live for a long time was a radical feminist group, the members of which made it pretty clear they considered me misguided at best, and a sellout to the patriarchy at worst.  The two biggest feminist events of the year are Reclaim The Night and the FEM conferences.  RTN is very much a radical feminist event – not too friendly towards transwomen, and don’t even TRY discussing the way rape is a weapon of war, or whether it should accept an endorsement by the police.  As for the FEM conferences – I walked out of the first one after someone suggested that, actually, feminists shouldn’t concern themselves with racism.  Subsequent conferences have been better – actual women of colour spoke!! – but it’s still overwhelmingly a radical/liberal feminist conference.  Combined with the sectarianism of some radical feminists – Object won’t attend ANY event organised by Feminist Fightback, including events completely unrelated to pornography, like protests about immigration detention centres – I feel like socialist feminists are the ones who are underrepresented and isolated.

That’s part of my undying devotion to Feminist Fightback, incidentally.  I went to the first conference, where people weren’t convinced that censorship was a good idea, and they had speakers from No One Is Illegal, and when I schlepped down to London for a subsequent meeting they took me out to the pub afterwards.  It was worth the trip to London every couple of months just for the feeling of community that I had been missing (that’s not to say that FemFight is above criticism).

Now, I’m not saying Charlie’s wrong.  I’m saying that it’s interesting that every group of feminists basically feels like an isolated, marginalised community.  Why is that?

Part of it might be geographic location.  It could be that where I am radical feminism dominates and where Charlie is there’s more socialist feminism.  It could be issues of definition – what I think of as radical feminism may be different than Charlie’s definition, so I see radical feminism everywhere and she sees it no where.  It could also be that everyone (or at least, me) thinks that everyone else should agree with them (‘cause, I’m right about everything), so the people who don’t loom larger than the people who do.  In my case, it’s also a culture shock thing – in the feminist circles in which I travelled in Toronto, intersectionality was the watchword, and transwomen were welcomed without question.  So, I was pretty surprised when I got to the UK, and that might make it seem like radical feminism has more influence than it does.

It could also be the “cachet of victimhood”, which is something I want to write a post about, but basically – standpoint politics, which is a very good idea, is sometimes misinterpreted as saying that whoever is the “most oppressed” (and yes, the post will deal with the ridiculousness of that concept) must be right.  Therefore, whichever strand of feminism is the most isolated must be the most awesome strand of feminism!!  So everyone begins thinking of themselves as isolated crusaders, bravely challenging an uncaring feminist hegemony.

While I disagree pretty strongly with some of Charlie’s politics, I know from personal experience that feeling like you have no feminist community sucks.  So best of luck to her in organising her event.

Just please – next time Feminist Fightback is supporting striking workers, or protesting immigration controls, can we have your support?  We swear that protesting against detention centres will not lead to an increase in pornography.

The Other Side of the Divide

September 16, 2008

Zenobia at The Beadshop has a great post up about feminist relationships, in particular her experience as a secretary in a feminist group where a lot of the members were economically privileged, had postgraduate degrees, and their own secretaries.

As I’ve posted about before, I had a pretty negative experience in one of the feminist groups I joined, but in many ways it was the mirror of Zenobia’s.  In this group I was conspicuously well-educated (formally); one of the only members of the group with a postgraduate degree.  I was also one of the only members who identified as middle-class, even though I was flat broke at the time; everyone else in the group identified as working-class.

I want to write a post one day about how a “working-class identity” in a lot of activist groups becomes a way of denying any other form of privilege – “I couldn’t have said something racist, I’m working-class” or “my fear and loathing of transpeople isn’t transphobia, I’m working-class”.

Today though, I want to discuss my experience of privilege within a group, and how to better take responsibility for my privilege in the future.

To a certain extent, my privilege within the group didn’t necessarily do  me a lot of good in terms of group dynamics.  Everyone else in the group adhered to a pretty rigid radical feminist line (one that, weirdly enough despite the working-class identity, wasn’t much interested in doing anything practical to challenge capitalism), and as I didn’t, I usually found myself being ganged up on.

BUT, I also know that my privilege can be intimidating and, to my shame, that sometimes I can use that to defend myself.  I’m wicked smart, and I’m well educated, and I’m very articulate.  I speak better than I write, generally speaking.  And when I’m angry or nervous, I actually get MORE articulate – if I feel backed into a corner, out come the £10 vocabulary words and bibliographic references.  My middle-class, white, English-as-a-first-language upbringing means that I speak in a generic, mid-Atlantic accent – no regional or class-based accents for me!  I sound like the people on Canadian television.  My middle-class upbringing and education means that I have the self-confidence to believe that what I’m saying is important and worth listening to – and the ability to fake that confidence where I don’t have it.    

So, I could actually hold my own when everyone else in the group was against me, which isn’t to say that it wasn’t an incredibly stressful experience.  But I know I appeared to others (based on comments people occasionally made) completely convinced of my own correctness and also of my own superior intelligence.

This leads me to wonder two things.  First, could things have gone better in the group if I’d been more aware of my privilege and done something to counteract it, so I didn’t make others feel stupid, or inferior?  And how do I do this in the future?  It seems really patronising, to me, to suddenly “dumb down” your language, for example.  But clearly, somewhere between talking to everyone like they’re 5, and talking to everyone like they have a PhD, there’s a happy medium.

 Secondly, to what extent did my privilege keep me from hearing valid criticism?  People in the group did tend to use their working-class identity to fend off any accusations of other kinds of privilege, particularly around transphobia and racism.  But, to what extent did I begin to assume that any attempts to call me on my privilege were just attempts to avoid these discussions?  Looking back, I wonder if the frequent references to working-class backgrounds were also an attempt to let me know I was alienating other people with my class privilege, and that consequently people were feeling defensive.  Was I inadvertently constantly reminding people that they were working-class (in comparison to my privileged self)?

I have an extremely biased memory of many of these events of course because even after all these months I’m still pretty angry about the whole experience.  But I do think the time has come for me to be honest with myself and examine the experience in a way that may not be terribly self-flattering.

 P.S.  This was dashed off in about 10  minutes as I was leaving the office, so there may be errors, and I may come back to edit it more.

Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, is speaking at a panel on Monday 22 September at Committee Room 3, Town Hall, Albert Square in Manchester.

And the name of the panel:    “How should progressives respond to Europe’s immigration anxieties?”

This is the same man who recently said in New Statesman that “medical care at a removal centre is as good as it is on the NHS”.  That’s right, apparently the Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green is making it up.  I hate it when Children’s Commissioners do things like that!!

Byrne takes the view, shared by Keith Vaz, that really, any suffering that children in detention centres endure is the fault of their parents, for daring to exercise their right to seek asylum (article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).    According to Byrne “The sad fact is that children end up within our detention estate because their parents refuse to go home – even when an independent judge reviewing the case at first hand, or on appeal, says they have no right to stay.” 

Yes, some people have the oddest notion of parental duties – they remain convinced that returning to a country where they will face persecution would be bad for their children!

Byrne has claimed that he always thinks of his three children before signing an order permitting asylum-seeker children to be detained for more than 28 days.  Presumably, though, Byrne thinks of his three children as being human, where he clearly does not accord that status to asylum seekers; if he did, how could he possibly justify this treatment?

All of which is to say:  In what UNIVERSE is Liam Byrne a progressive??

All of you in Manchester that day – why don’t we go to the meeting at ask exactly what definition of progressive Liam Byrne is using?

More about the meeting here (as you can see, he is sharing a panel with other “progressives”, including Patricia Hewitt).  Please RSVP to Jade Groves, events assistant at jgroves@policy-network.net.

I’m quite late on this (and WHY didn’t I read this in The Guardian), but according to Debs The European Commission has approved the Italians finger-printing the Roma.

Because apparently NONE of them have heard of the Holocaust and were consequently unable to remember why shit like this NEVER ENDS WELL.

There will be a solidarity demo on Friday September 19th at 11:30 am at Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester.

I know most people, myself included, will be at work that day.  But this is so important, I’m going to try to get the time off, and I urge those of you who are able to take holiday on short notice (which I know is a privilege) to do the same.

Or so says the UK government, basically, with regard to children in detention centres.

Channel 4 ran a story tonight about the mistreatment of children in detention centres, focusing in particular on children being denied medication while in detention.  The Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green described the conditions as “inhuman” and gave several examples to corroborate this view.  One story of mistreatment can be found at Nursing Matters detailing how a baby was denied the special formula she needed and basically left to starve overnight.

However, when asked for her opinion, Lin Homer, chief of the UK Border Agency rejected the criticisms out of hand.   Keith Vaz, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee then gave an interview to Channel 4 arguing that, while there might be some mistreatment in Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres, it was all because asylum-seekers weren’t being deported fast enough!!  He claimed that he had spoken to some inmates at a detention centre near Heathrow that wanted to be returned to their countries of origin!!!

This is clearly complete bullshit.  No one wants to be returned to persecution, possible torture and possible death.  I’ve never met a single asylum seeker who was hoping to go back.  If there were any people who said as much to Mr Vaz, it’s more an indication of the appalling mental torture asylum seekers endure, knowing that their freedom and possibly their lives depend upon the whims of an increasingly xenophobic and inhumane state.  But what really upset  me was the suggestion that the solution to the mistreatment of asylum seekers is NOT the abolition of detention centres – as, last time I checked, detaining people who were innocent of any crime was generally considered a no-no in a democracy.  No, according to Keith, the solution is to send people to their deaths at a quicker rate.

Hey, if they were smart, they would have been born in a safe, wealthy country.  I just don’t understand why people refuse to choose their parents more wisely.

You can write to Mr Vaz here:

Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP
House of Commons
London

SW1A 0AA

And to Ms Homer (asking her in what universe denying children  medication is OK) here:

Lin Homer
12th floor, Apollo House
36 Wellesley Road
Croydon
CR9 3RR