Monthly Archives: June 2015

Deadly weapons, racism and mental illness

But it’s not mental illness, is it? Put bluntly, it’s racism. When Dylann Roof decided to enter a famously black church in Charleston with a loaded weapon, he did it because he hated black people, and he hated black people because he had grown up in an environment where he was taught that the outer 5mm of a person’s body is what gave them value.

Or gave them no value.

It seems that a person’s humanity resided only in the epidermis, and those with more melanin were a blight on the landscape, not really human, and were there only to be labourers in the white plantation.

The lineage is clear, of course. Slavery’s long shadow lies heavy on the landscape. It’s easy for us in the UK to say that it’s an American problem: they need to get over it. The thing is: we did this. When we sent shiploads of human cargo to the New World, we set up the system that confined black people to the poorest parts of that country, and the the lowest parts of the social scale. I’ll stop before I vanish into rich white man’s guilt, but that’s the history. I wish I knew how to fix the problem, but education has to be a part of the mix.

On the subject of education, Australian aboriginal child Samara Muir recently received a lesson that she is not going to forget for a long time. She had queued, with her mother, for two hours to get into a Frozen-themed snow zone in a shopping centre in Melbourne. Dressed in her favourite Elsa dress, she was looking forward to frollicking in the cotton-wool snow and having her photo taken. All well so far, until another young shopper and her mother challenged her right to exist with the words “Elsa isn’t black: black is ugly.”

Nicely done, white girl.

Australians have rallied around Samara and have proven determined to show her that she is beautiful, just the way she is. Hopefully, she will take the latter of these lessons, and the bigots who hate her on utterly specious grounds will feel the national poke in the eye.

The child who told Samara that black is ugly, however, learnt that message from somewhere. She wouldn’t have reached that conclusion all by herself. I guess the biggest tragedy is that humans still spend time and effort teaching their children how to hate one another. We spend time and effort teaching our youngest that others are worth less than them, that others aren’t really people.

But we are. We are all people, and we are all created beautiful.

Pride month 2015: how far have we come, really?

For those of us with special someones, how many of us hold hands with them as we walk down the street?

There is nothing more natural, nothing more simply intimate than walking out and about, hand-in-hand with one’s significant other. It is something I have been doing since I was seventeen, and I’d never given it much thought. Then again, that’s because my significant other has always had the “opposite” gender presentation from my own.

The law of the land, and the law of many other lands has been changing rapidly in the last dozen or so years, keeping pace with equally rapidly changing social attitudes towards gay relationships.

Isn’t it wonderful, we say, that our friends can enter legal partnerships (civil partnerships and marriage in various different countries around the world) with their same-sex partners, can get all the legal recognition and benefits so long enjoyed by opposite-sex partners who decide to go all-in and get hitched. They can buy cakes, have parties, appear as next-of-kin on each others’ hospital admissions, and so on.

But how many do you see walking down the street hand-in-hand?

Thought not.

Back in January, a couple of guys from the local radio station in Luton tried it. The photo on the Independent article says it all, really. Of a group of six blokes, five of them have turned to stare at the couple of guys walking down the street holding hands.

Irish gay man and ‘gender discombobulist’, Panti (Rory O’Neil), spoke eloquently on this issue at TEDx Dublin (also back in January). He spoke of his raw jealousy of happy opposite-sex couples holding hands. As simple as that: holding hands. Just for the sake of affection, not as a political statement, not as a big ‘fuck you’ to the establishment as they go, and certainly not having to evaluate each passer-by as a potential source of violent reaction to seeing a couple walk by hand-in-hand. He’s not even talking of sucking each others’ faces off at a bus stop (I’m sure most of us have seen teenagers doing that from time to time): just holding hands for the simple fact that holding hands with a loved one is nice in and of itself.

I think that, in the UK at least, we are too British to admit that we still find the sight of two men holding hands to be icky (double standards apply here: two women holding hands would, most likely, produce a quite different reaction from the group of men in the Independent’s photograph). When questioned, we will boldly state that we are proud that our country accepts everyone for who they are, that two people in love can marry, fall out and divorce regardless of their legal sex or gender presentation, and that’s all hunky-dory just as long as I don’t have to see it with my own eyes. It’s fine to know, in principal, that gay relationships exist, and that some guys fall in love with each other, I just don’t want to see it, thank you.

We haven’t developed, as a society, as rapidly as we think we have. In principle, we are an equal-opportunity nation. In practice, less so.

I experienced the tiniest hint of that myself a few years ago. I was walking, hand-in-hand with my wife, through a moderately up-market part of London and I was a little taken aback to discover that I was the subject of a death-glare from the guy walking past in the opposite direction. He was clearly upset that I, a white man, had had the audacity to be seen in public with a black woman (an incident that objectified my wife in several different ways).

We’ve made a start, of course, but it’s going to be a while yet before we all view each other as people.

When “Christian” means “one who hates”

Melissa, over at Nonconforming Mom, posted an impassioned piece this morning that has already been picked up by Huffington Post. She and her family have been at the sharp end of hate-filled speech from people who claim to be Christians and who use their Christian faith to justify harsh words and actions directed at others.

Let us not forget that Jesus himself was not afraid to speak harshly to and about people when he could see that they were doing wrong. We could legitimately claim to be walking in his very footsteps when we stand up and proclaim messages that go against the values and opinions of our modern and evolving society. Jesus was forthright in his condemnation of the Pharisees when they sit in the seat of Moses, tie up heavy burdens for others’ shoulders and never lift even a finger to help (Mt 23:1-4). He said that anyone who receives a child in his name receives him, but if one should drive a child away from him, that it would be better for that person to have a millstone put around his neck and drowned in the sea (Mt 18:5-6). In telling us what we should do to live good and righteous lives, he was equally explicit. We should feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the lonely, sick and imprisoned. People who refuse to do this, he said, would be rounded up and thrown into the fire (Mt 25:31-46).

As I have said before (here and here), St John the Evangelist was equally forthright. He states it plainly in 1 Jn 4:20 that “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” He calls the haters liars. Purely and simply. Liars. And he backs up his claim, too. Those who do not love those around them cannot love God.

So when I see our bishops, archbishops and cardinals getting in a tizzy about things, for example:

  • After the Irish referendum (Ireland became the first country in the world to adopt same-sex marriage by popular vote) Darimuid Martin complained that nearly all the young people who voted in the referendum had recently been in the nation’s Catholic schools. His clear implication was that those same schools had failed to instil Catholic teaching on marriage.
  • San Francisco archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, showed off his ignorance about biological reality in the wake of Caitlin Jenner’s Vanity Fair front cover. If transgender people are real, then “the very foundation of our teaching evaporates and nothing we have to offer will make sense.”
  • Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope’s Secretary of State, described the Irish result as “a defeat for humanity.” The pope himself has been very big on the heterosexuality of marriage and how what he calls gender theory is against nature.
  • I have mentioned Cardinal Raymond Burke before, and will not waste my time on him now.

So I am standing up to be counted. I am a Christian, that is one who follows Christ. I believe that he came to Earth to show us that God loves each and every one of us, and that he called us to share that love with everyone we meet. Throughout his life on Earth, he met people where they were and showed them his love. He didn’t lecture people on their faults (excepting when he berated people for harshly treating those less powerful than themselves, as in the examples above). His approach to evangelisation was to love people where they were and allow them to respond to his love in their own way. That is what I want to do in the world.

Today’s gospel reading (Mt 5:13-16) tells us that we are the light of the world. It is up to us to shine out in the darkness and spread the love of God where all around us is hatred.

It is up to us to learn about people’s situation and to love them where they are, and to let God do God’s work. If God wants to change someone, he will. It is not up to us to tell anyone how God made them, or that they are deviating from God’s plan for their lives. We need the humility to admit that God didn’t share that information with us.

To LGBTQIA people out there, my simple message is that of St John. If anyone hates you yet claims to be a Christian, they are lying.

Go in peace.

White Mike says Black Lives Matter

Speaking at TEDx Jacksonville, last year, White Mike (aka pastor Michael Smith) spoke about his experiences of being the only white face in the room for 30 years and how this has given him a particular perspective on the lives of black Americans and of how the media portrays them. He has chosen to use his privilege to help to spread the message to people who should be listening to the actual black people, but won’t.

Apparently, if you want to listen to songs about how great it is, how normal it is, to drive through town shooting people dead with your military-grade weaponry, you just have to tune into a radio station that plays a lot of rap music. There, you will find lots of black young men rapping about how it is super cool and super manly to get a gun and kill someone. The example White Mike gives is from a song where a guy in a car shoots a guy on the street, at the traffic lights, using an AK-47 assault rifle.

Mike goes on to talk about how presenting this as normal, for one particular demographic, has the effect of isolating that demographic. Once isolated, the message becomes the “truth” that others believe about them. This quotation from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air took on a new meaning recently. One wonders if Michael Brown would have got quite so many warning shots in his back if the policeman who was warning him hadn’t had the opinion that all black young men are murderers and that he had better warn first, lest said young black man get in some warnings of his own.

White Mike pointed out that the white-owned radio stations and white-owned sponsors and advertisers are all involved. The radio stations choose what music to play, and choose to play music that graphically depicts young black men killing each other. The sponsors and advertisers give their money to the radio stations in return for getting their brand some air-time. These same sponsors and advertisers see no conflict between their brand image and the songs talking about how cool it is to kill people. As long as it is young black men shooting and killing each other.

Mike showed a photograph of MLK standing in front of a bus, on the day after segregation was outlawed and black people were allowed to sit at the front of the bus. On the front of the bus in the photo is a Pepsi advert. Pepsi was quite happy to sponsor the bus company who ran segregated buses, and didn’t see any reason why that would harm their brand.

At the root of this is the theory that some lives are worth more than others, and that the white, heterosexual man is worth the most of all. It is the long, long shadow of slavery that still falls across Western societies (the USA particularly, but we’re not immune over here in the UK). None of us are responsible for causing the situation, and everyone who is is long dead. It is our situation, however, and we are the only people who can clean it up.

We can start by recognising that we are all people, and that we should treat each other as such, and demand that our broadcast media providers treat us that way too.