Sunday, 5 July 2015

Dimitris Christoulas of Greece

Picture this, a young man commits suicide by jumping in front of a train because he has lost his job and the prospect of finding another job is almost nil due to austerity cuts. His individual story maybe a tragedy but his death is only another statistic in a figure totalling 10,000 suicides over a period of five years. To put it into context, that number could represent the total population of a village in Britain. Picture this, an elderly gentleman puts a gun to his head and shoots himself because he is afraid of the very real possibility that he will have to scrounge for food in dustbins. 

Now, stop picturing these tragic scenarios and start coming to grips with the fact that these two scenarios are real life events that have occurred in Greece. The young man killed himself in May this year. The elderly gentleman, Dimitris Christoulas, shot himself in 2012. Both deaths were attributed to austerity. In fact, Mr Christoulas left a suicide note which blamed the Greek government of the day. He wrote: "...annihilated any hope for my survival and I could not get any justice. I cannot find any other form of struggle except a dignified end before I have to start scrounging for food from rubbish bins.”  Angry Greeks called his death a 'murder' and that it had sent a strong message to the world about Greece's struggle under austerity.

Greece will be voting on 5 July on whether to accept or reject the deal that it has been presented with by the Troika (International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank). The deal put on the table calls for raised taxes and cuts in spending in Greece. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, decided to call a referendum after repeated dead-end efforts to get the Troika to negotiate on more favourable terms to the Greek people. 

According to The Guardian newspaper, if Greece had signed up to the Troika's demands the country's debts would still be 118% of GDP by 2030. Currently, the debt level is at 175% of GDP. 

As ever, where there are austerity cuts there are pixels of human stories that make up a picture of misery and hardship which question the wisdom of austerity. There are two ways of looking at Greece: it has to answer to its' political masters who are the Troika and Germany as they are the creditors and where money is owed it has to be paid; and secondly, where the debtor is not able to pay back because previous repayments have resulted in very little benefit but high costs in the form of people starving, killing themselves and being unable to buy medication that they need to keep them healthy. 

The choice that Greeks face is whether to continue with the status quo which will bring a guaranteed more of the same or whether to vote for 'Oxi' (which means 'no') that will result in their PM being given a mandate to negotiate for debt relief.

I know which one I would choose but I don't live there.  I have had some fantastic holidays in Greece and it is a country full of hospitable people who go out of their way to provide good service. Whatever the outcome I hope that the story of people like Dimitris Christoulas will be remembered and factored into the potential human cost of any post-referendum negotiations that take place. 

All the best Greece

Monday, 22 June 2015

Has Anything Changed for Black Americans?

Parishioners attend the first church service four days

A little girl turns up for Sunday service at the Emanuel African Methodist Church after the shooting incident which killed 9 Black people. People have drawn comparisons between this picture and the one below of little Ruby Bridges who was the first Black American child in 1960 to attend a previously all White school. Ruby was aged 6 at that time and had to undergo a terrifying experience for the simple act of trying to get an education.

This is Ruby's story:

As soon as Ruby entered the school, white parents pulled their own children out; all the teachers refused to teach while a black child was enrolled. Only one person agreed to teach Ruby and that was Barbara Henry, from Boston, Massachusetts, and for over a year Barbara taught her alone, "as if she were teaching a whole class."  That first day, Ruby and her adult companions spent the entire day in the principal's office; the chaos of the school prevented their moving to the classroom until the second day.

On the second day, however, a white student broke the boycott and entered the school when a 34 year old Methodist minister, Lloyd Anderson Foreman, walked his 5 year old daughter Pam through the angry mob, saying, "I simply want the privilege of taking my child to school...." A few days later, other white parents began bringing their children, and the protests began to subside. Every morning, as Ruby walked to school, one woman would threaten to poison her; because of this, the U.S. Marshals dispatched by President Eisenhower, who were overseeing her safety, allowed Ruby to eat only the food that she brought from home. Another woman at the school put a black baby doll in a wooden coffin and protested with it outside the school.

Has anything changed?

Sunday, 21 June 2015

White Woman Poses As Black Woman

Do people in a multicultural society adopt racial identities of others? I know of White teens who love rap music. I see White teenage boys walk around with their jeans pulled down below their underwear like the rappers do. There are mixed-race girls who classify themselves as White despite bearing a darker skin colour. Then there are mixed-race children whose skin colour is White, like my daughter, who consider themselves, well, mixed-race rather than identifying with one colour. 

It's all enough to do your head in isn't it? To add a further complexity which trounces all other racial complexities is the case of a White woman who is not mixed-race but who passed herself off as a Black woman for 10 years. It isn't the 10 years that gets me so much as the fact that someone went to all the trouble to change their identity to join a group that is much discriminated against. 

rachel dolezal white black

Rachel Dolezal, was a civil rights leader who worked at the National  Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Washington. She was well known in her fights for racial equality but her parents outed her last week by telling the press that Rachel was their daughter and was not mixed-race in anyway. There was not even a smidgen of racial cross-overs in her ancestry. They were all White throughout their lineage. 

Rachel has since attempted to defend herself. In her words: "I am consistently committed to empowering marginalized voices...Please know that I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me, it's about justice". 

Putting aside the legal considerations about whether she misrepresented herself in her employment contract, I think Rachel ought to be reemployed because anyone who goes to such lengths to fight anti-racism is a keeper. Anyway, according to social scientists (e.g Ruth Lister), race has no scientific basis as a classification of peoples because there is greater genetic diversity within groups classified as 'races' than between them. Race is seen as being a social construction rather than an empirical fact. If somebody wants to adopt another race then good luck to them. I thought Eminem was a Black rapper when he first came on to the music scene till I saw a photo of him some months later. 

Friday, 19 June 2015

Rick Perry Classes Charleston Shooting As An 'Accident'

Rick Perry is running AGAIN for the Republican nomination to be the candidate for the American Presidential Election and it is quite clear from this video that the Republican party has learnt NOTHING from their losses of the last two elections. When a White man who sports an apartheid badge goes into a church in a Black area and shoots 9 Black people dead it is NOT an accident. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Oh For The Days When Mountains Were Associated With 'The Sound of Music'

'Climb Every Mountain' had a raw appeal. Julie Andrews' vocals drew you into the song and made you feel as if you were on a journey of some sort that involved tearing yourself apart. The second line, "Search High and Low" only served to reiterate the point that you were being asked to make a decision to forge a path in life which involved getting out of your comfort zone.

So it was not to be with the young people who climbed a mountain last week in Asia and went straight into their normal routine of behaving as if they were at a nightclub in Ayia Napa. The clothes came off, cameras out and then a finale which involved waterworks. For an oldie like me there was only disappointment. The association with the mountain of a childhood memory of  'Sound of Music' was thrashed.

While I attempted to play 'Climb Every Mountain' in my head as a way of cleansing the whole dreadful fiasco people kept asking me for my opinion. Every so often a question would pierce my thoughts, 'What do you think about ....mountain...?. I was suddenly cast in the role of Asian cultural expert. This operates in the same way as when English people go to great lengths to tell me about their Asian friend and provide me with a description of the person plus their name and then look at me expectedly, hoping that I know this friend. This is as funny as me asking an English person whether they know Matthew who studied law with me, has red hair, comes from Lincoln and whom I lost touch with. (Seriously, does anyone know where he is?)

As for the mountain, Dan Jones in an op-ed in the Evening Standard, 12 June, wrote that: "Local politicians are blaming this disrespectful act for causing an earthquake...I suppose they may consider themselves lucky that they were not visited by the girl who last summer gave 24 men blow jobs in a Magaluf bar...The mountain would probably have exploded".  I was finally able to laugh after reading this.