How Margaret Thatcher Hacked My Brain And Made Me Slightly Less Sexist

Margaret Thatcher

“My nephew Luke has no memory of a white male president” says Melissa Ryan.  “Hillary Clinton just made history but for millions of children she won’t be the first woman president. She’ll just be the president.”

This is exactly right, I responded.

I was born right before Margaret Thatcher became the British Prime Minister and she remained so until I was nearly 11 years old. In my head, the word ‘Prime Minister’ was inherently gendered female and whenever, in fiction or historical context, the Prime Minister was referred to with the male pronouns he/him, it felt odd. Continue reading “How Margaret Thatcher Hacked My Brain And Made Me Slightly Less Sexist”

Do cis white straight men know what its like?

In an enlightening article on Little Atoms about ‘safe spaces’ and free speech, Marie Le Conte writes:

While discussions of identity and privilege online haven’t always been constructive in recent times, it’s hard to deny that this isn’t something cis straight white men will ever get. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they never get picked on, or that their lives must therefore be perfect; it’s just that they’ll never know what it feels like to be continuously attacked for what they represent, not who they are.

The phrase “its just that they’ll never know what its like” jumped out at me, because in its absolutist form I think its very wrong. Cis straight white men might not know what its like; and they will certainly never know what it is to be picked on in this way; but it is certainly possible that they can know what it is like to be picked on… because those who have experienced it can describe it to them! Continue reading “Do cis white straight men know what its like?”

Flags Matter

Flags are symbols, full of historical meaning.  Just ask Emily Thornberry.

Following the despicable shootings in Charleston, South Carolina last week, there has been renewed debate over the Confederate Flag, the banner under which the secessionist Southern states fought the American Civil War.  Some people claim that the flag is simply a symbol of Southern culture and ‘heritage’— that flying that flag is merely an expression of an independent, libertarian spirit.  But that is disingenuous.  The Confederate cause was explicitly racist, about fighting for the right to subjugate black people.  Ta-Nehisi Coate catalogues the unequivocal words of those men who rallied their fellows to the ideology of white supremacy, and argues “Take Down The Confederate Flag—Now“.   The recent discussion has unearthed this article by Christopher Hitches from 2008, where he excorates the former Governor of Arkansas and (at the time) Presidential Candidate Mick Huckabee for lauding those who would fly the Confederate flag.  A “straightforward racist appeal” for votes, Hitchens called it.

On a more positive note, watch this wonderful TED Talk, done in the style of a radio show, by Roman Mars (my favourite podcaster).  His show, 99% Invisible, is all about design, and the talk is about the importance of flag design.

Roman outlines the principles of good flag design, draws attention to some good city flags, some bad city flags, and some truly terrible city flags.  He also explains why we should care.

A well-designed flag could be seen as an indicator of how a city considers all of its design systems: its public transit, its parks, its signage. It might seem frivolous, but it’s not. .. Often when city leaders say, “We have more important things to do than worry about a city flag,” my response is, “If you had a great city flag, you would have a banner for people to rally under to face those more important things.”

 

Racial Euphemisms at the Telegraph

Here’s a euphemism laden sentence from a Daily Telegraph editorial:

[The research] shows a continuing pattern of “white flight” from areas where indigenous Britons find themselves surrounded by new minority communities.

Where they say ‘indigenous’ they mean ‘white’, and when they say ‘minority communities’ they mean not-white (Aisha Phoenix called this out in The LIP Magazine, a decaded ago).  The posh language dresses a racial issue as a cultural one.

And the research in question is questionable.  I found the Telegraph editorial via a blog post by Jonanthan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.  Portes was taking on the grand claims for “white flight” by David Goodhart in his book The British Dream.  If people in the ‘White British’ group are leaving London, they are doing so in relatively small numbers.

Analogising Science in Political Debate

According to Sunny Hundal’s new web service Rippla, Joseph Harker’s Guardian article, about racism and the demonisation of communities, was the most shared article in the UK yesterday.

And quite right too.  It’s a truly sublime piece of analysis, comparing recent news sources, real demographic data, and an apt turn of phrase, to analyse the differing media coverage given to the same crimes, when committed by different perpetrators.  When Muslims are convicted of sex crimes, the stories receive much more attention than when generic white Englishmen are found to have done the same deed.  Worse, the actions of wayward Muslims are deemed to be somehow inspired by their culture.  This same extrapolation never happens for white people.

This article feels like the definitive statement on the issue of how the media treats minorities.  It raises its head in various guises all the time.  Like many people, I have been mulling it for years.  Back in 2003, when I was part of The LIP Magazine‘s editorial team, we published ‘Do You Belong To A Community?‘ by Aisha Phoenix which begins with a bite: “Whenever the media describes someone as coming from a ‘community’, you know they are not white.” Almost a decade later, and I see the same anxieties in this comment from the novelist Kamila Shamsie to the columnist David Aaronovich: “Could we have a moratorium on the phrase ‘Muslim leader’ please?”

Much rhetoric in politics is of a kind where the speaker (or writer) claims that his or her special interest group are being treated unfairly, and if they were of a different skin colour or religion (or whatever) they would be treated better.  This is often an incorrect assumption, which betrays a lack of understanding of the society in which we live.

Harker makes precisely this kind of argument in his article, too.  However, instead of making a vague assumption, the nature of the issue means he does have the ‘data’ to back up the rhetoric, and the article becomes akin to a scientific experiment.  Since the two prosecutions he examines are so similar, it is almost as if one is the control group for the other, in one of those attitude surveys invented by psychologists: Keep the details similar but change the ethnicity of the person, and see how attitudes change.

I would love to see other scientific analogies used in political discourse.  In particular, I yearn for an equivalent of dye tracing or radio-active marking when a controversy flares.  This would be very useful during some of the free speech arguments I follow, when some kind of institution has to decide whether to support or withdraw an offensive text, event or artwork.  It would be great to trace the decision-making process in such a way as to perceive the point where the support for the principle of free speech breaks down.  That would help us identify where these values should be reinforced.  Unfortunately, I cannot quite imagine how one might set the ‘tracer’ off… short of manufacturing an argument.  So, if Anjem Choudary is reading this, perhaps he would give me advanced warning of his next stunt?  Then I can track the reactions he provokes with academic precision.

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting

The Winklevoss Twins
Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, as played by Armie Hammer in The Social Network. I'm well aware that these two are even more priviledged than your average Straight White Male, but they are the perfect illustration. I'm also aware of the hyper-realistic implications of choosing to illustrate the point with a picture from a stylised film, rather than a picture of the actual Winklevoss twins. Umberto Eco has written whole books on this subject.

Via Kottke, a fantastic explanation of white male ‘privilege’ using the metaphor of role-playing games. If ity hasn’t already become a meme, then it should be.

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

It’s essentially a pop-culture way of thinking about John Rawl’s ‘veil of ignorance‘ from as described in his Theory of Justice. I think this will be useful for debates around political correctness, like the Diane Abbott palaver a few months ago.

Formerly, the meta-data for this blog was simply “white middle class heterosexual English man” which was my attempt to make a similar point. See also, this piece of juvenalia where I spoke of the British as “privileged, Platinum-Plus humans”, a line I now realised I subconsciously ripped off from The Onion. Indeed, The Onion followed up on the theme with the fantastic ‘Judge Rules White Girl To Be Tried As Black Adult‘ sketch.

Update

At the New Statesman, a report on a growing “men’s rights” movement.