Archive for Family

On Donald Trump, “the naysayer”, and deep-space travel.

So Donald Trump has been elected as the President of the United States; and so I would like to say two things. The first is about the naysayer, and the second is about deep-space travel.

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend of mine about a distressing recent incident, where I was racially harassed (and perhaps assaulted) in the street. I mentioned my discomfort at what had happened, and offered the opinion that choosing where to live as a black person, in many parts of the world, was often a matter of choosing the place that was “the least shit” (not the most poetic of phrases, I will admit). I didn’t think this was a very controversial statement – after all, whenever a friend recommends that I visit a particular city, my first question is frequently “what’s the racism like there?” (This, I assure you, a question borne of painful and personal experience.) I was very surprised, then, to hear my friend tell me that he had “lost all respect” for me. His reasoning was that I should not be scared away from a city by its racism, but that I should stay and confront it. I was upset by his reaction, for which he subsequently apologised, and we parted on friendly terms; he is a very good person, after all. Why, though, had he reacted like that?

We actually discussed this, and we got to the bottom of it; which was important, I think. There are some people, like my friend, who have a very positive outlook on the city around them (in this case, Berlin). Their emotional attachment to the city is so powerful – for them, it is a place that gives them unparalleled freedom – that any presentation of its more unpleasant sides immediately meets with a negative reaction. It is a little like telling someone that beneath their beautiful pedicures lies a fungal infection. And this is the insidious thing about racism – it is so ugly that its mere presence unsettles people; good people, who would be horrified if they saw a Nazi trying to intimidate you on the train. But these good people need to do more, otherwise they become “the naysayer”: the person for whom the existence of racism is so uncomfortable that they would rather turn away from it, in the hope that by covering their eyes it will no longer be there.

What can these good people do? Well, that’s where we come to the second thing I would like to say. There are two places in this Universe, both equally remote, to which I will never be able to travel: one of those is deep space, and the other is a conversation about racism at an all-white family dinner table. As a black person, I won’t be in the room when white people discuss how they feel about ethnic minorities, but I really think – given the emerging demographic details of Trump’s victory – that the all-white family meal is the most important conversation in America. It’s at this dinner table where fears and misconceptions about non-white people will be aired, and it is here that those who are unafraid of us must speak up, and not turn away; it is here that they should try to respond with the same degree of indignation, that my friend replied to me. I don’t think for one moment that this conversation will ever be an easy one: in some cases, those people will be outnumbered at the dinner table by people they dearly love, and who have always shown them great kindness. Nevertheless, it is the kind of conversation that is essential, in its own way as revolutionary as any street protest; and, if we look at the current polls, it is not happening nearly enough.

As for me? I am not here merely to point fingers at others. I will continue to write as I always have, and to speak as boldly and precisely about these issues as I can. I will try to listen, and where I can reassure those who are only afraid, rather than triumphant in their bigotry – because I am not arrogant enough to think that I can affect that latter group. And, most of all, I will try my very best not to despair; since while I may be despondent now and then, prolonged misery is a luxury that I cannot afford. On I go, then; away from fear, and hopefully towards more effective work.

Child abuse, and priorities

Child abuse.  It’s probably best to begin with these two words, lest they are lost in any of the analysis to follow.  In fact, recent events have actually been an excellent study in how child abuse, however unwittingly, is enabled, neglected and allowed to continue.  The initial revelations have been met with horror, confusion and indignation, and now the discussion has moved to whether the enabling institutions should be reformed from the roots or broken up altogether.  Any institution that allows such offences within its walls should expect the most severe of inquests.  However, with much investigative work to be done, I do not think that it is quite the right time or focus for this discussion.  Not just yet.

Because: child abuse. One of the reasons that it continues to happen is that its existence is often too horrific to contemplate.  Its details, when they emerge, make us turn away.  Maybe we would rather think about something else.  Perhaps that is why corporate opportunists can easily distract us by swerving the conversation into a campaign for the privatisation of the UK’s media.  Meanwhile, those who suffered child abuse are rarely keen to talk about it privately, let alone publicly, and in the absence of their voices arrives a flurry of concern and denial from the individuals and institutions who surround them.

Given that the truth is coming out, it is this atmosphere of confusion that the child abuser is perhaps most content to see.  I have only known of two child abusers, and both were as far from the Jimmy Savile stereotype as could be imagined.  They were gregarious, smart, successful fathers; widely respected, and wholly reliant on the denial of those around them to continue doing what they were doing.  They had woven themselves so effectively into community life that the only thing which would extract them was intensive scrutiny and fearless investigation.  In the end, no charges were brought against them, and their victims survived – physically, at least – and went on to build lives for themselves.

Child abusers are difficult enough to identify as it is.  Many of us would rather believe that their acts belong to times past – that things are different now: that the abusers are long gone, long dead.  But no: they aren’t.  They are still alive, and still sitting precariously at the centre of webs of deceit.  Unfortunately, many of them will be not stopped from doing what they do, given the considerable resources of wealth or untruth that they have devoted to concealing themselves.  But for those children whom we can help, it is worth asking the hard questions.  The first place we should look to ask them, I think, is in the 300-page report into abuse at Clwyd County Council children’s homes, whose full publication has been suppressed for fear of libel.  One of its main findings, though made almost two decades ago, seems appropriate to describe the scenario that now unfolds at the BBC.  “There has been a conflict of interest”, it stated, “between safeguarding professional positions versus the safety of children and young people. The interests of children have almost invariably been sacrificed.”

So: here many of our institutions are again; caught between the protection of professional positions, and the safety of children and young people.  It is to be hoped, in the months ahead, that this time they will make a less comfortable choice of priorities.

A new poem, “Two-seventy”

I’ve been thinking a fair bit recently about the watchful approach that I have often taken to life, and wondering how much my family’s background as refugees has anything to do with that.  To try to sum up my thoughts, I wrote this poem, “Two-Seventy”:

Before I walk any course that’s ahead of me,
I always look left and right- two-seventy:
This life is sly: it’s a clever beast
That strikes from the side if you move too readily…
Two-seventy: watching my flanks,
If caution were cash, I’d have lots in the bank;
And I’ve got to thank my kin from Uganda
Who heard trouble singing in the wind of the savannah;
And who fled Amin, and fled Museveni –
In a past life, these feet knew jeopardy…
Legacy: two-seventy genes,
From a family of some very shrewd refugees:
Blessings mixed are these gifts from my past;
The nerves that preserve me, deter me from calm:
And so, I’ve a fox of a soul
As I slip through life’s net like a soft finger-roll

A Father’s Day piece, “Passport”

My father is one of my greatest influences, and so I wrote a piece about him some time ago.  I thought it would make sense to share it today; here, at the following link, is “Passport”.