sH&Me on us

To point fingers at the parents and ask why they didn’t say no is a distraction. To suggest H&M <enter stage left riding their Scandi-white-horse> were acting as moral guardians, reclaiming the word “monkey” and saving black people from its use as a racial slur (a necessary step in securing a post-racial society donchaknow) is so far-fetched I would laugh. If it was funny.

The more likely explanation is that this is another incident to add weight to the argument that when businesses, brands and organisations are largely homogenous and/or unaware, things go wrong.

At best the offending image is tone deaf: it is a symptom of an organisation so steeped in a single story that no one sounded the alarm, or at the very least no one listened.

At worst it is outright racist.

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In another life as a teacher I once had to discipline a teenager in my care for calling another child a “monkey” during a dispute. I also had to explain to his father why his son being called “yellow teeth”, while cruel, was not the same.

In amongst the anger and disbelief at the image, plus the consequent reactions of some people, I always try to remember that father is probably not alone in his lack of awareness.

So here goes:

The word “monkey” was used to dehumanise black people in order to justify their enslavement and the brutality of colonial rule. As “monkeys” black people were less intelligent than white people – we were doing them a favour in taking over their lands and putting their natural resources to work making us money. As “monkeys”, black people did not “feel” the same way white people did, so when we bound them in chains, beat the men, raped the women, and stole the children, we could tell ourselves it was just like working and not paying an animal; whipping a mule to make it move faster; mating a cow and a bull to create more livestock. It was all justifiable because black people were “monkeys”; they were not human.

And to anyone who says the word “monkey” is not used as a racial slur anymore (we’re not in the 1980s wrote one Tweeter) – just Google “monkey chants football” to find the easy answer to that.

But beyond who was to blame, and why it was offensive, one more thing has struck me about our reaction.

A day after the offending image went viral across UK social media, the outrage has spread across seas. The heartfelt response from many has been to produce counter-images of the little boy in question: pictures of crowns, the words “king”, and “regal”, have replaced the offending slogan and been reposted across social media.

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But not on all parts of social media.

Perhaps it is my own fault for the timeline I have curated, but even when I searched #shame #handm on Instagram for the images it seems to me that most (all?) were being posted and reposted on accounts owned by POC.

But the original picture was not styled, taken, approved and published because the room was full of black people. This image is the result of many, many rooms full of white people, blinkered by their privilige.

This picture and the issue it exposes is, by its very origins, a white people problem.

So why are POC doing all the work to correct sH&Me’s “mistake”?

Why are white people being so quiet? Why aren’t we paying the same attention to this as we do when Oprah makes a speech? Who are we trying to protect by not speaking out?

And I say this from a place a empathy. I am a white woman. Every time I dip my toes into the quagmire that is race relations my insides clench and I question the validity of my voice. We don’t have lived experience so have to finely balance being vocal about the injustices we see, while being respectful to the people who live those injustices every day.  We can empathise without speaking for people.

If you find that difficult to navigate then join the club! But if you truly believe in working towards a more equal society then you have to see this risk for what it is – a tiny speck of insignificance in the face of the onslaught of inequality POC experience every day. White people and our feelings are not the priority here.

Instead, the priority must be to voice our dissatisfaction – not meekly behind closed doors, not in a tut of disgust in response to a social media post, not just a comment on something someone else has written. We have to get our hands dirty.

Raising our voices and saying THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE has never been easier. The keyboard warrior is a figure of scorn in some circles because it’s easy to sit at home, post a picture, signal your virtue to the whole world, and go on with the rest of your life unaffected by the actual issue. And I don’t disagree with this criticism – indeed, activism does not and should not stop at the blue light of a phone screen.

But the power of social media is undeniable – #metoo has proven that.

So if you care, if you no longer want to be complicit, but you’re not sure you have the right words, go and read. Go and learn. Do the work. Google shit. Channel your anger – don’t ignore it because you can and the issue is not “yours”.

In the same way that women’s rights are not a female issue, racial equality is not a “black” issue. They are both human issues.

And in the meantime, know that your voice counts, your dissatisfaction is valuable, your offence is valid. If you’re still not sure what to say, just say this: “This is wrong. I don’t yet have the words to explain why but I know it in my bones. I stand with you.”

Because yes, we must listen to People of Colour to learn; yes, we have to be careful what we say; but this is not the same as saying nothing at all. 

 

 

 

Want to know where to begin?

Google these terms: unconscious bias; white privilege; intersectionality; complicity; inclusion; diversity; micro aggression; whitesplaining

Read Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Read anything and everything here http://www.gal-dem.com/politics/

There is a list of books here http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/16-books-about-race-that-every-white-person-should-read_us_565f37e8e4b08e945fedaf49

And that is just to start you off 😉

 

 

Never mind shadow bans – a self-imposed Insta-ban can be good for the soul

It’s important to say from the start that I know this is not a real problem.

But.

It’s a week since I threw my toys out of my pram, had a tantrum and realised I needed to prioritise a few things above Instagram.

I know.

I wish I could say it came from a wholistic desire to improve my life with less screen time and more outdoor yogic breathing and green juice. Or something. But the main drivers were actually a need to concentrate on my relationships; work that paid cash money; and a gasping need for some headspace.

First though, came fear. Contrary to the FOMO comparison culture that we’re warned about when on social media, rather selfishly I was not nervous about missing out on what other people were up to, and I wasn’t bothered about being involved (ok, maybe a bit). More alarmingly, I was fearful of giving up my daily dose of validation.

Pre-procreation me got her double-taps from work. It felt important, and I felt good that I was good at it. A new career has meant starting all over again and confidence is at times in short supply. I’m a dictionary definition for Imposter Syndrome: certainty that I know what I’m doing is fleeting, and it doesn’t take much to knock my confidence.

Motherhood meanwhile offers little opportunity for congratulations on a job well done. Parents hope that at some point in the future someone will stand up at a wedding and say, “Thank you for raising such an awesome human”, but 30 years or so is let’s say, a long-term goal.

For the rest of the time the bulk of the work is unseen and unappreciated accompanied by an additional kick in the teeth that if you’re doing your job well, and raising a child who feels confident and loved, the likelihood is that they will at times make their security clear by being an arsehole.

And contrary to the sacrificial mother-figure we’re expected to be, I have realised that I need validation. I crave feedback; I want to feel like my opinions matter; and I want to feel like I am something other than “just” someone’s mum.

You can call it selfish if you want to, I’m sure there are elements of that in there, but I’m also pretty sure I’m not alone.

The social media explosion of insta-mums, mum bloggers, vloggers and floggers can surely be attributed in part to the current climate of talented women being pushed out of the workforce once project procreation kicks off.

We’ve been sold a dud one – we can’t have it all afterall, and as we wrestle with the knock that delivers to our sense of identity and self-esteem, strangers on the internet become a source of the approval that we don’t get anywhere else.

But that first evening, as the time crept towards my “Optimum Posting Time”, I reminded myself that tonight was not the night and I felt… relieved.

Mining my own life for coherent thoughts and feelings that I deemed thoughtful enough, funny enough, informed enough, good enough, for the internet had become a burden.

And that first evening’s relief was not the only moment. So often I thought, “oh I need to write that down… where is my phone… oh no I’m going to forget… that would make a good picture…that would make a good Story… WHERE IS MY PHONE?” and I found freedom in the realisation that there was no need .

I had been existing in a constant low level of anxiety, always on alert in case one of my mind’s mental tabs closed down. My brain constantly scanned and flickered over thoughts, checking they were still there and not lost in the same vortex of knowledge as The Krebs Cycle (A level biology, 1998), and the Corn Law Reform Act (GCSE History, 1996).

This bonkers pressure – which most insanely of all was completely self-imposed – had to be released. And the manic cheerleader in my mind, who for months had been waving her pompoms of gratitude so that my internal tickertape didn’t turn to the darker side of comparison, needed a rest too.

As a result I was smiling more, and thinking less, taking notice of the kids eating their breakfast, and not plotting my next trip to tidy the toys which would invariably lead to me standing still amongst the debris staring down at my device.

In general though, the house has got messier as my mind has got tidier – it seems lower levels of anxiety equal a lesser desire to control my environment.  And my desire to create is back. To write properly, not for social media, but because I like words.

But that’s not to say I’m giving it up. No, because like all the best addicts I’m good at justifying my habit: it’s my job; I learn from it; I get to “meet” people I would otherwise not meet’; and it is a source of inspiration and ideas. But with time to reflect on the damage social media demons are inflicting on my mind, I do have to get control.

So my new rules are that I’m not posting every day, and I’m not posting because I feel I should. You won’t find those two statements anywhere in social media best practice, but maybe applying what works to make an online living, might not be the best approach to actual life.

I’m going to post because I want to. Whenever I wonder whether or not to share pieces like this self-indulgent twaffle, I’m also going to remind myself that this is what is happening in my life, so it might be what is happening in yours.

Because while we all accept that the truth often isn’t pretty, the temptation is to make sure it is always emotive and altruistic. In reality, as embarrassing as it might be to admit, the reality is that honesty is sometimes just horribly self-absorbed.