What can I do?

5 May

My last post was despairing.  I ended with the statement that I didn’t know what to do about the awful ways that people treat each other.  Since then I have carried on, continued living my life and letting that question sit unanswered in the back of my mind.

Sometimes, when something disastrous happens it seems clear what we can do.  The recent Nepal earthquake has been devastating, and yet I know that there is no blame to be laid for the horror, this was a natural disaster, and I can donate money to the excellent organisations that support people in disaster areas, like the Disasters Emergency Commission.  I can help in some tiny way – but it is people like me donating in a small way that lead to millions of pounds of support being raised.

When it comes to a situation where people are causing the suffering, and the origin or rights and wrongs of the conflicts are tricky to trace through historical accident and grey areas, it is much harder to know what to do.  Yes, you can give money to the organisations that support the misplaced, the refugees.  You can even support the work of organisations that support refugees or asylum seekers that make it to this country.  You could definitely start by NOT demonising people who try to get to safe countries to seek asylum, unlike most of the UK press (I’m looking at you Daily Mail and The Sun).

But that doesn’t stop the suffering, that doesn’t end the conflict.  There is no neat way to resolve the power struggles, corrupt governments, rebels who are also terrorists, externally funded militias, the interests of other preying nations or corporations.  How can we make any kind of change to these underlying evils?  How can we do that without martial intervention, invasion, drone attacks, more and more death?

I don’t know.  I still don’t know what I personally want to do, which ways I can best make an impact.  So instead I have started thinking about the means by which I might make an impact.  As a free person in a largely democratic country, earning a living that makes me relatively very wealthy compared to far too many in the world, I have two powers.  I have the power of the consumer, and I have the power of the vote.  In other words, the only thing that those who hold the power really want from a plebeian like me is my democratic support (VOTE!) and my support as a consumer (MONEY TALKS!)

First off: money.  This is going to take some time.  The concept of shopping ethically is not new, for decades people have been compiling lists of providers and their ethical credentials.  I want to buy from suppliers who pay a fair wage for labour, support a minimum wage (a living wage) in the countries they buy from, don’t harm animals, limit the environmental damage their business causes, and who obey the law and pay their taxes.  It shouldn’t be as difficult as it is to check those criteria.  Most of the shops and suppliers that sell to us do the bare minimum in terms of informing us about the ethics of their business.  They think that what we don’t know doesn’t hurt us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hurting someone.

Top priority to move on with for me (I’m already vegan and try to buy from independent businesses and locally where I can) is to stop spending my money with companies that support the arms trade.  The UK has merrily sold arms to all sorts of dodgy regimes, including Syria, in the past.  Even now, British companies with the support of the UK government are selling weapons to countries with appalling human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, and countries which are illegally occupying lands not theirs, such as Israel.  The UK’s flagship arms company, BAE Systems, not only sells to murderous regimes but has also had to buy its way out of corruption allegations.  Who knew arms dealers would be so despicable?

So after the money, the vote.  This Thursday is the UK’s general election, and a chance for the UK electorate to make its voice heard.  I swear now that I will never vote for a candidate who supports the UK’s role in the international arms trade.  Arms for defence are one thing, selling weapons that have any risk of being used against civilians is another.  It’s only a small act from me, but my conscience won’t let me do otherwise.

The UK government fully supports the UK arms trade, with UK Trade and Investment Defense and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO – a non-ministerial government department) hosting and sending people to international arms fairs such as this one in the Gulf.  This organisation is tax payer funded and exists to support private UK businesses to sell weapons overseas.  What part of that is okay?  Particularly in a so called capitalist system, where private companies should be sorting out their own damn commerce, not being supported by un-elected government officials.

I know that my little vote won’t lead to the end of such dirty hook ups between our government and companies who value profit over humanity, and that my little money won’t be enough to instill ethical practise in global corporations, but it’s all I can do at the moment.  Maybe one day enough of us will use our little bits of power, cash and the ballot, to make a stand against warmongering and corruption.  Maybe not.  Either way, for me its a start, a way to try to feel like it isn’t all utterly hopeless.

Make sure you vote on Thursday if you are entitled to do so, our power is small but we must use it when we can.

Fuck Humanity

31 Mar

I like my life.  Usually I feel pretty fulfilled and interested.  Sometimes I’m irritable, or lonely, or lazy, or annoyed, but I’m usually pretty positive about life on this planet, and that I’m doing enough good things.

But today I feel that all of my security and confidence and happiness is just so much shit in the wind, because humanity is fucking awful.  I know I usually like to present positivity and talk about how people are people and we should all be excellent to one another, but today I don’t feel like that.

I feel like people are just nasty, selfish, grasping monsters.  We bitch and we fight and we snipe and we hate and we kill.  And those of us that aren’t hating and killing and destroying happily live in our own bubble and let it happen to others.

I saw this picture today, on my lunchtime read of the news.  I was okay with it, until I read the story behind it.

And it made me really fucking angry.

This four year old girl, a Syrian refugee, is afraid that the photographer has a weapon pointed at her.  She has her hands up in surrender, and she is waiting to see if she will be killed.

How fucked up is this world?  How full of evil and despicable people is it when tiny children know what it is like to be threatened by guns?  When their mothers and fathers and siblings have desperately taught them to show that they are surrendering, in the strained hope that they might not be shot dead?

Suddenly, I’m on a downhill rush, remembering that in Nigeria there are hundreds of children missing, stolen by lunatic rebels Boko Haram, and that this is just the latest in a series of kidnappings and that these are the same monsters who sent a child into a village with a bomb strapped to her body, and that the evil fuckers will do this again and again.

In India, rapists and murderers are supported by judges and ministers blaming the victim for the crime, even going so far as to ban a documentary into the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh which horrified the country in 2012.

In Bangladesh writers have been hacked to death in the street by religious extremists who don’t want atheists to have a voice.

In Mexico hundreds of people are “disappeared” in conflicts between cartels and government forces to keep people in fear lest they threaten the profits of the drugs trade.

In Gaza ordinary people are caught between Palestinian militants and the Israeli military – in 2014 more Palestinians were killed by Israeli government forces than in any other year since the occupation of the West Bank began in 1967.

There are civil wars going on in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, and fighting between government forces and rebels and/or extremists in over 60 countries, some on the brink of wider conflict.  Those fighting use rape as a weapon, indoctrinate the kidnapped and train stolen or orphaned children to be soldiers who will go on to commit horrific acts of violence themselves.  There’s no honour in these wars, many of them are the result of the arbitrary slicing of territories that took place in the European land grabs, the dispossession of land by “civilised” colonial forces, the implementation of racial hierarchies by the “enlightened” viceroys or governors.  Seeds planted in the profit-led annexation of other people’s homes that have now grown into ever evolving tribal, racial and religious hatred.  Except in places like Australia, where genocide was practiced openly.

And in the UK, the rational, secular, enlightened emblematic nation of nations,  we are still waiting for the punchline to the sick joke that our own government and police may have played a part in covering up systemic sexual abuse of children and perhaps even the murders of rent boys, whilst our politicians simper and sing about British fucking values.  Meanwhile, the statistic of two women a week murdered by a partner or former partner holds steady, and over 13 million people (one fifth of our population) live below the poverty line.

This is just a little slice, a list conjured in my momentary break down.  I can’t even begin to list the hurt we are doing to each other in destroying homes, habitats, the global environment – in sweatshops, mines, brothels, factories – in violence and murder and hatred and distrust – worldwide!  All of it justified by a god or a prophet or a book or money or power or just fucking because.

Our species is a waste of fucking atoms, a violent, twisted sick joke of consciousness.  I want to go back to safely mocking extremists, ’cause ya know, if we can still laugh, then we win!  But I can’t.  I look at the face of that terrified little girl, who should never have needed to know this fear, and I can’t laugh, because I’ll fucking choke.  I can’t pretend its okay that sometimes people do bad things because humans create art and music, and give great hugs and buy the Big Issue sometimes, or drop coins in a charity box.  Humanity is fucking awful, despicable, abhorrent.  Not only those that commit the atrocities, but those of us that let them.

People are people, and I can’t stand it anymore.

I don’t know what I can do.

Race is a state of mind

7 Mar

I’m serious.  I’m not just referencing old slogans for the fun of it, it’s too early in the day for that.  For a long time I’ve wanted to write a post fundamentally stating, without the merest hint of doubt, that race is a social construct with no basis in science.

Turns out Adam Rutherford has already written it!  In this post he straight up states that race, scientifically, does not exist.

Rutherford, who describes himself as “partly of Indian descent”, leaving the reader to assume that his ethnic heritage is otherwise white European, is a science writer and editor.  If I were to be flippant I would point out that he’s also rather handsome, ’cause, ya know, I’m also partly of Indian descent, and I’m damn cute.  Maybe it’s a thing?

HA NO!  It isn’t!  Just because Adam Rutherford and I are excellent eye candy* doesn’t mean that all European/Asian heritage people are because, get this, as Rutherford says in his post “There is no genetic basis that corresponds with any particular group of people”.  Yes, you can predict some things about a person’s genome from their phenotype (outward appearance) but you can’t predict someone’s race from their genome with any confidence.  You can make reasonable assessments of their ancestry, and some of their probable appearance, but the divisions of what makes someone one race or another, according to the phenotypic and cultural criteria most of us use, are not seen in the genes.  Within any single “race” is such variance as to render the racial categorisation unusable in science.

Rutherford gives some great examples of conditions and genetic factors, long thought to be consequences of racial heritage, which are more scientifically explained by geographic area and the populations that live there.  Ah, you might think, Ms Mongrel, surely those geographically defined populations can be called races?  Well sure, socially you can go with that, but there is no scientific definition to back you up.  As Rutherford rather bluntly and brilliantly points out, humans are “too horny and mobile to have stuck to our own kind for very long” meaning that virtually every population has “DNA mixed and remixed through endless sex and continuous migration”.

I think that this message about the arbitrary nature of racial ‘definition’ is really important.  Rutherford also points out the way that the early science of inheritance and then genetics attempted to find a scientific rationalisation for racism (including the genocide of native peoples by European empires, the subjugation of others, the transatlantic slave trade, and various 20th century eugenics schemes).  Somehow the educated, European elite felt that by scientifically showing that the other races were “lesser”, they could justify their murderous expansion and the imposition of their values on alien cultures – all driven by profit except perhaps for a minority of genuine adventurers or earnest missionaries.

If someone can show me that the human race can be scientifically subgrouped into subspecies or races, with a consistent definition that can be shown in the lab to be “nature” rather than based on the environment and cultures in which we are raised, I’ll change my mind, don’t you worry.  I’m all about evidence.  But, as someone whose existence already disproves a number of stereotypes pertaining to my racial heritage, I’ll continue to challenge any racial definitions based loosely on appearance, geography, religion, and old prejudices.

There’s no such thing as race people, unless you choose to believe in it.  If that’s your choice, fine.  Just don’t expect the rest of us to live by your definitions.

*okay well maybe Rutherford more than me.  It’s a matter of perspective!

Ch-ch-ch-changes

20 Jan

Dear reader,

Sometimes you need to change things up in order to unleash motivation.  It is for this reason that I’m making some changes to my blogging activities.

For a start, there’ll be more activity!

I’ve realised that I need to make time to write, as per my last post, if I want to be a better writer I’d better get writing.  To that end, I’ve formed two other blogs, each with a different goal.  Firstly, I’m beginning to set up a blog that will have links to resources for anyone interested in the “mixed race experience” which will hopefully eventually be a useful resource in itself, this is still in the early stages.  It’ll be more a-political and less imbued with my personal perspectives.

Secondly, I’ve accepted that sometimes I shy away from writing blogs because I like to fact check any statements I make and take the time to reference where I can, so in order to blow that obstruction away I have set up a blog that is purely opinion and anecdote, and is about my love life and/or lack of love life.  You can read more here if this interests you or if you just want to see what my writing style is like when freed from attempting to maintain accuracy.  New posts late on Wednesdays.

Lastly, I’m going to refocus this blog as more of a purely personal blog, a space to write about things that interest me, lay out arguments that I want to make, and generally put the world to rights as though I was in the pub next to you having a pint and decrying the status quo, or similar.

There is so much going on in this world of ours, so much to discuss, I hope to see you here soon to talk about it all.

As always, remember people are people.

Much love,

Ms Mongrel xoxo

Getting better

7 Jan

Practise. Practise hard. Don’t just visualise or plan, or list or fret or anticipate… practise.

There is an energy around you and it can only reach actualisation through your activity. The words are there, but you have to write them, the colours are there, but you have to paint them, the evidence is there, but you have to find it. You can imagine the results every minute of every day but that will not bring them into reality. You have to achieve them.
So practise.

Practise singing in the car. Practise poetry on the back of receipts on buses. Practise drawing in the condensation on windows. Practise drumming on… anything. Practise your lines. Practise your perfect side swept half-updo with curls. Practise your sewing. Practise your serve. Practise being friendly. Practise love, by loving yourself.

In your mind’s eye, the opportunities are there for the taking. So why aren’t you taking them? Often, we don’t put ourselves forward because we don’t think we are good enough. There is only one way to get better.

Practise.

 

Try again

A war to end all wars

4 Aug

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the recognised start of The Great War, the moment that Britain declared war on Germany after the Germans remained silent in reply to a British ultimatum regarding Belgium’s neutrality.  It is often said that when Britain entered the war that the politicians and population expected it to be a short war, with the soldiers leaving in August apparently calling back to those they left behind that they’d be “home by Christmas”.

As you should know, this war lasted 4 years.  Here are some numbers you may or may not know:

  • During the war an estimated 9 million combatants were killed
  • It is estimated that the total death toll including civilians was 16-17 million
  • 38 countries were involved in the war – at a time when the total number of sovereign states was 62 (different sources give different estimates due to the statuses of some countries, as low as 32 out of 59).
  • 3 empires were wiped from the map during the war or in its aftermath: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the German Empire.

 

A map showing the countries involved and the sides they shared. From a collection of posters by Laura Hobson

A map showing the countries involved and the sides they shared. From a collection of posters by Laura Hobson

Although not the bloodiest war in history, it was remarkable not only for the scale of the killing and casualties but also, arguably more importantly from a historical perspective, the number and variety of combatants.  For Britain of course, this was a time of empire, and the Empire was mobilised.  Many empires were mobilised.

Today, memorials and other ceremonies are being held in Britain, Europe, and elsewhere, to commemorate the sacrifice of those who died in the war and the effect it had on our societies.  I find that I cannot think about World War I without thinking about the legacy of that time for so many parts of the world.  In my mind particularly are the conflict zones where conflicts were carved or accelerated by occupying imperial powers, whose arbitrary boundaries were affected by both world wars, and furthermore, where people are still dying as a result of these historical actions.

The ongoing conflict between the Israeli administration and the Palestinian freedom fighters/terrorists can be traced back through centuries, if you so wish, but the establishment of the Mandate of Palestine, ruled by the British who had won the region from the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, is a turning point in that region’s history.  Subsequently, the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel would take place after World War II, with the British gifting the land to the displaced diaspora, and ever since then Gaza and the West Bank have been in limbo, with no recognition of sovereignty and continued conflict over Israeli occupation of more and more Palestinian land.

Last week, around one and a half thousand Palestinians and over 60 Israelis died in a resurgence of violence between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.  The majority of deaths on the Palestinian side were civilians.

When I think of World War I, the Great War, I think about the sentiments that came out at the end of the war.  The symbol of the red poppy for the fallen, and the goal of remembering them.  Not only remembering their sacrifice on a personal level, but also remembering the war that their sacrifice might not be just a historical footnote, but a reminder that our goal must be peace.  When I hear the words “Lest we forget” and “we will remember them” I want to honour their memory by doing all that we can to ensure that young men are not sent to die or be maimed in wars that centuries later will be half-remembered or seen through the lens of costume dramas.

I want to honour them by searching for the peace that they fought to defend.

That peace should be sought for by all people, everywhere, and whenever we can we should be enabling peace, not conflict.

Not selling weapons to brutal regimes.  Not invading sovereign nations on false pretences.  Not using our influence to maximise profits whilst the local populations suffer.

So whilst leaders across the world, including our own British government elites, pay lip service to the dead of the Great War, to the killed and wounded and the families they left behind, I want them to know that we are watching, and willing them to truly honour the sacrifice in both world wars, and every conflict since, by doing their utmost to ensure that wars and armed conflict are avoided, especially when increasingly in modern conflicts it is swathes of civilians who die with indignity and anonymity, with no memorials or poetry.

Interestingly, this week marks another anniversary that should never be forgotten: the 69th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the USA.  The combined death toll of these attacks is estimated at over quarter of a million people (including those who died of radiation effects afterwards) for two days of action, so 125,000 for each day .  Compare that with 17 million over four years – an average then of 12,000 a day, and you can see how human effectiveness at taking lives increased in just the 30 years after the “war to end war”.

I leave you with that great warning to all modern people “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  Let us learn from the past, let us remember.

 

Lest we forget.

It always seems impossible until it is done

6 Dec

I just heard about Nelson Mandela.  I know I never met him, and he’s just someone I heard about on the news, but I heard about him on the news all my life.  He has been an inspiration ever since I was tiny.  He was an icon in my house growing up, a hero.

Here is something I have always struggled with: apartheid in South Africa only ended when I was twelve.  How do you square such antiquated barbarism with being a child of the modern era? That was 25 years after man walked on the moon!  I have often reminded myself of that fact throughout my adult life, because it brings home to me that we are not as enlightened a world as we often like to believe.  The fact that I saw the end of this anachronistic inequality in my lifetime makes me realise how far humanity has come, and how far we have yet to go.

To me, Mandela forms part of a holy trinity along with Martin Luther King and Gandhi.  Now, none of these men were perfect, but they chose to stand for something so important, so basic, so fundamental as to be missing from nearly every society in the world: equality and respect.  They are the fathers of my motto for life, that people are people.  Mandela’s approach after his release from prison was to seek reconciliation and peace for the future, not retribution and revenge for the past.  It takes a big heart and a wise head to choose forgiveness when bitterness can be such an easy choice.  I look at these men, and the women of the suffragette and feminist movements, and I see people who said no to injustice, no to inequality, and who decided that they would not just let things be and hope for better but that they would risk their own lives to affect the change they believed in.  Those I admire the most did this with argument, demonstration, honesty, courage and integrity.

People like Mandela make me feel that I can be strong enough to stand up against the wrongs I see in this world.

I feel bereft, for a man I never met, and for the people he inspired and who loved him.  I don’t just want to cry because Mandela has died, I want to cry because of the pain he worked so hard to heal in a country riven by hatred.  I want to cry for all the unofficial apartheids that still exist across the world.  I want to cry because of all the small braveries people need to get through the day wherever hatred holds sway.  I want to cry because so many people are still not free.

And when I stop crying, I hope that I have just that bit more strength, and that bit more resolve, to strive harder for the world I want, one where kids born today won’t find out aged 12 that some countries in the world still treat people differently because of their colour, or religion, or gender.  When I stop crying, I hope I have that bit more kindness and forgiveness in my own heart to try to affect that change with love and courage.  Most of all, I hope that now Mandela has finished his long walk, the rest of us continue that journey, to be the kind of people he believed we could be.