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Don’t let the bullies win

12 Nov

On Tuesday, as Americans went to vote, I sat in a coffee shop with a friend and our four children. It is an amazing space where children roam freely while parents sit and drink coffee.

As my friend and I chatted, a man (and he was a tall man) pointed at a young boy and shouted, “Whose child is this?” A granny responded and he loudly told us all about how this boy had hit his much-smaller toddler. He said that if it happened again, he would take discipline matters into his own hands and “give the boy a hiding”.

We sat there stunned.

Not content with his tirade, this tall man then went up to the much-smaller boy (who was no older than four years old), and repeated himself. This time standing over the boy, pointing at him and letting him know who was boss. “I will give you a hiding if you ever hit my daughter again”. 

And he stormed off, out of the coffee shop, leaving us all wide-eyed. And outraged. 

I must confess though that, despite feeling utterly indignant at the public bullying of a small child by a much-taller man, I did not say or do anything to intervene. The truth is that I was so shocked that I had no words. But that is not an excuse. I could have done or said something. And I didn’t.

The next morning, I woke up to the news that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States. I hungrily consumed social media, attempting to absorb this extraordinary news. 

A man with no political experience. 

A man who has never held public office. 

A man who called Mexicans “rapists”, boasted of his sexual conquests, demeaned the military, started the Birther movement, set up and bankrupted several businesses, promised to build a wall to keep Mexicans out and vowed to deport all (criminal) immigrants.

A man who fibbed his way through the election campaign.

This man was the President-Elect.

Again, I was stunned. Indignant. 

Outraged.

But this time, I was not lost for words. 

I ranted on Facebook, overcoming my usual fear-of-confrontation. Unable to contain my disbelief, I was particularly incensed at suggestions that aligned Trump-as-President with “God’s will”.

I have many, many thoughts about the phenomenon of Trump-as-President (here are just a few).

Church leaders who endorsed Trump (especially those who are white and male), I have a question for you: Do  you know how many people are terrified about what Trump-as-President means for them? As you sit in your position of white, male privilege and long to “make America great again”, do you have any idea, at all, what that means for people who are different from you? The potential victims of Trump-the-Bully? 

The gay community, the immigrant community, those with sick relatives who rely on Obamacare, Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, women. 

Don’t tell them it’s “not that bad”, for it is. 

Take a moment to listen to those who feel vulnerable before you use your pulpit to celebrate the fulfilment of “God’s will”. 

As Van Jones said on CNN, “You have to hear the pain first, before you tell people it’s not alright to hurt”. 

Since Trump triumphed, there have been numerous reports that people of color are  being abused. Hispanic children have arrived at school to chants of “build the wall” from a group of white children. Children. At a university, a Groupme chat  added black students to chat about n****r lynching. Racist graffiti is found in universities and schools, as white people let others know who is no longer welcome in “Trump’s America”.  

This is the Trump effect. 

Potential victims include anyone who isn’t white/male/wealthy.

Anyone who isn’t like Trump.

The fear is real. The threat is real. Those (of us) who are privileged – who do not have to fear – cannot, and must not, capitulate. We must not “move on”. 

So many people are afraid. The colour of their skin, gender, faith or sexual orientation- the very essence of their identity – is being mocked and dismissed. They cannot be reassured, for the future is truly unknown. 

(We cannot even look at Trump’s political record to speculate about possible Presidential policies- for he does not have a political record.) 

We only have his rhetoric. Trump is a bully. And the fear is real.

I am ashamed of my silence on Tuesday as I watched a tall man bully a much-smaller boy (and his granny). I will not be silent, I will not allow myself to hide, as a President-elect bullies those he perceives as smaller than him. 

I am a card-carrying Christian but I cannot believe- as so many do – that “this must be God’s will” (it wasn’t God who was voting, it was American citizens). 

And I will not sit at my computer, blind to the huge-potential-hypocrisy of this blogpost.

For I am a Brit living in post-apartheid South Africa. I must confess my white privilege – for I am one of the powerful, the wealthy, the elite. I live in a nation that remains deeply divided along racial fault lines. A nation still in (slow) recovery from a political system that legalised and enforced separateness. A nation still in turmoil, whose scars are still raw.

I hate racism and yet I recognise the racist tendencies in my heart, I criticise those who only want to be around those who are “like them” and yet I confess my preference for my comfort zone. 
I long to be a bringer of change and yet I recoil at my oft-displayed unwillingness to engage in the painful task of dismantling this separateness. 

Today, we look back in horror at the evil of apartheid. We find it hard to believe that it was so widely accepted by those who were privileged. We find it hard to accept that Christians used the Bible to justify their belief in white supremacy and black inferiority. We balk at the premise that those in the Dutch Reformed Church truly  believed they were doing God’s will. 

And yet it was this belief – that they had exclusive access to truth – that justified the horrific behaviour that followed. 

Is history about to repeat itself? For this is the dangerous ground on which America now teeters. Has God blessed Trump to enforce the lies of white supremacy and black inferiority? Do Trump supporters want to Make America Great (Again) or rather Make America White (Again)? 

And yet. 

And yet, how easy it is to comment, and be outraged, at what is happening in the USA. It is much harder to engage with the injustices all around me. Much harder to stand up to the bullies standing next to me, as I discovered again on Tuesday. 

How easy it is to be brave from afar. 

How tempting to simply sit here, phone in hand and critique only on social media. 

How much harder to stand up to the much-taller bully in real life. 

And yet we must commit, again, to both. 

Let us not be silent in the face of oppression. 

We cannot allow the bullies to win. 

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Power is expensive, but words are free

13 Feb

This is a really interesting article about how Cameron and the Conservatives are flailing. Interesting because it’s written by Tim Montgomerie, the man behind the Conservative Home website, whose strap-line is “the home of conservatism”. To spell it out then, if the editor of your most important pro-party political blog criticises you in a national newspaper, you are probably in trouble.

Where did the Tory party go wrong? Some would say they should never have been allowed to govern.

I, for one, did vote for them – inspired two years ago by their commitment to social justice, to the long-awaited political transformation this country needed, inspired by the new message and new faces bringing this message.

Last year, I spent quite a lot of time writing for, and working closely with, someone who is now one of the PM’s special advisers. I was “in there” for a while, or at least vicariously, and I loved it. I ended up writing this article for the Guardian in the wake of the riots, and for a while I felt close to the action. That all changed when I changed jobs a few months ago. And now, in retrospect, I am really, really glad.

Really glad I no longer have to defend ideals like the “Big Society” (I never understood what it meant – and I spent a month writing a policy paper about it!). Really glad I can distance myself from a party that is, I believe, failing – failing to do what it said it would do, failing to listen to the ordinary man and woman, failing to lead our country forward at a time of great economic instability.

For a while now, I’ve been pondering a similar thought to Tim Montgomerie  – how can people who have always known abundance ever truly understand poverty and need? How can the rich (and I mean truly rich) ever get what it is to go without, to make heart-breaking decisions and see your children suffering as a result – simply because you don’t have enough money? How far can human empathy spread?

The thing about poverty is – however compassionate and kind-hearted you might be, you can never truly understand the pain that poverty brings until you experience it yourself. The sleepness nights. The constant worry and anxiety, 24 hours a day hovering over you. The tension it brings into your relationships. The exclusion zone it creates as you watch your friends go out/buy new shoes/grab another coffee/buy healthy food for their children and know that you cannot join in.Poverty divides and isolates. It rarely unites.

Our leaders have failed to understand. If they understood surely they would not be pushing through these deeply unpopular changes to the NHS and our welfare system. Surely they would not be allowing the judiciary to lock up young people involved in riots – impressionable teenagers whose main crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Surely they would not be continuously pushing up the cost of public transport as the service received continues to decline. We have been failed. I feel duped. And it makes me angry. Angry because it feels like we – the general public – are not being listened to.

Yet words are free. I love words. I love it when words are conjoined and sculpted together in ways that give voice to those without power. It does not cost money to use our words to challenge those in power – whether here in the UK, or amongst those on the front-line of opposition in Syria, Russia or Zimbabwe, or globally amongst those campaigning to end human trafficking and the round up of kids living on the streets.

How will you use your voice today? And tomorrow? Let’s no longer allow the powerful – wherever we are in the world – to think they know what is best for those fighting to survive in the face of injustice, poverty and human greed.

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