What A Mess

I was on a rollercoaster ride these past two weeks, and not just because I was monstrously sick.

The weekend before the elections, it came to my attention that there were massive anti-fascism protests all across Italy. In a period of time in which all I heard coming out of my country is hateful and racist rhetoric, I was overjoyed to hear that all was not lost, and that these protests attracted thousands of progressive people who still live in Italy, and who believe that racism and fascism is incompatible with our Constitution and democracy.

Then, the elections happened.

You might remember the dire predictions that I made in the run up of these elections, where I predicted the triumphant return of the Bunga-Bunga in chief. What actually happened was both better and much worse than I thought. On the better side, it looks like the country has a better memory for who was responsible for this mess than I thought they would, and Berlusconi’s party actually did quite poorly. Also on the better side Liberi e Uguali (Free and Equal), the progressive party that I supported managed to break the 3% barrier, and thus will have a spot (albeit a small one) in Parliament, and good for them.

On the worse side, the Five Star Movement is the party that got the most votes, which shows me that Italians either did not get the message of their gross incompetence, or they simply don’t care and want to burn the whole country to the ground in the hopes of stirring the pot.

On the much, much worse side, Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord had a very good showing, actually getting more votes than Berlusconi. That is worse, because Matteo Salvini is so horrifically racist that up until this recent election he was seen as a national joke rather than a serious candidate (remind you of anyone?). He also believes that the euro is a “crime against humanity”, and that douchey little neckbeards are the way to go in modern day politics. Unfortunately, the racism is still embarassingly strong in my homeland.

Of course, given the fact that there are now three major parties in Italy with one of them whose claim to fame is not forming coalitions with anyone, there is still no consensus nor acting goverment in Italy at this time. Apart from this update, I do not plan on bringing this up again. So, if you want to ask me about how it’s going, or my thoughts on the matter, or make fun of me for the shambles that my country is in, the comments section of this post is where to do that. Other than that, I plan on thinking and writing about other things, because this is just too depressing for me right now.

Wow, That’s Actually Not the Worst Thing She Said

I’ve posted before about how deeply annoyed I get with people who flippantly dismiss illnesses like depression as if they are not real, or in need of medicine. I made it clear that it is close to the top of my list of pet peeves, and so of course when I saw this exchange on my FB feed I shared it immediately, taking heart that it had gone viral not for the pseudoscientific drivel, but for the epic response underneath.

Spoken like a true Gryffindor good sir/madam. I shared it, then I sort of forgot about it.

After a few days of likes and a revisiting of the post, I realized that I had no idea who Katie Hopkins was. I figured she must be a celebrity, or her name and picture would have been redacted from the meme, but I wanted to be sure. While I agree with vehemently educating anyone who perpetuates such ignorant and dangerous ideas, if she was just a private person with a minor following of friends and family who then became infamous because of a viral takedown, I might feel a little sorry for her. So, to be sure, I googled Katie Hopkins.

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The Difference Between Racism and Classism

In talking about white privilege and racial slurs, Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey talks about the historical context of words like “cracker”, “redneck” and “white trash”.

 

Her point may seem obvious to some, but it is an important message to spread as for many it is not. Racism and classism are often jumbled together, and it is important to unpack the two into separate categories, while at the same time acknowledging that they can and do intersect. White privilege exists, as does Wealth privilege, but just because all white people don’t have both doesn’t negate the existence of their privilege, and just because some people of color are wealthy doesn’t mean that their race is obliterated in the eyes of everyone they encounter in their lives.

As she says in the video you can change your class but you can’t change your race, and the fact that it is slightly easier for white people to change their class in society is at the heart of how poor white people have white privilege, usually without even realizing it.

Is That… A Political Correctness Shark?

I haven’t posted anything about the current Brexit debate, and that was quite on purpose. Not that I don’t have an opinion on it (I definitely think that the UK should stay in the EU), but simply because I do not have the know-how of the current inner workings of the British economy and political climate, the time nor the energy to give a post the depth it deserves, nor to continue a heated debate in the comments section.

But then this cartoon crossed my path. It has left me torn between amusement at it’s ridiculousness, and disgusted by it’s racism.

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A superficial glance at it makes it seem like an unimaginative, old-fashioned cartoon. But go ahead and focus on the EU ship for the juicy bits.

Some of it is obvious, referring to debt, taxes and regulations. But ho, there is some very potent racism entwined in there. Notice the “waves of immigration”, the “diversity” canon shooting a hole into the ship and, the crowning jewel, a swarthy bearded scimitar-wielding man making Sweden walk the plank right into the jaws of a… political correctness shark.

Really? A political correctness shark? That’s what you’re worried about, that’s what you’re fleeing. Diversity and political correctness. That’s embarrassing.

I’ll let Andrew Brown deliver the final smackdown on why this cartoon is particularly vile.

Two swarthy, bearded figures, one carrying a scimitar and one a bag of money, would have been immediately familiar to my father, except that in the cartoons of his captivity they would have been Jews. Here they appear to represent Muslims. The one with the scimitar is forcing a blond Aryan young man carrying a Swedish flag to walk the plank while the one with the money bag holds it excitedly. At the front of the boat another of these figures attempts to grope the figurehead.

These tropes are not just racist. They are callbacks to the particular style of nationalist antisemitism that we thought had been purged from Europe for ever in 1945. The figures in those cartoons are drawn from the same stock as those that populated Nazi papers.

It may seem absurd to conflate the fear and hatred of Muslims with the fear and hatred of Jews when the two groups are united in the popular imagination only by their fear and hatred of each other. But they both appeal to the same dark archetype in the European imagination: swarming, sinister, lecherous, and dirty. Both are supposed to have subverted the elites to strike at the common people. Both are supposed to constitute an existential threat to civilisation.

We were supposed to have gotten passed this. I guess not.

There’s A Type of Porn I’m Against

I’m generally a pro-porn type of person, but one kind I can’t get behind is poverty-porn. Now, it seems, Africans are fighting back on social media.

Poverty-Porn is the tactic of media and charities that uses sympathy as a catalyst for monetary gain, exploiting the poor and uneducated, to showcase desperate conditions for an emotional response. And while the tactic may be effective at heightening profits—by misrepresenting an entire continent as slum—the fate of an entire continent is stamped with pity. What this means is that outside of Africa, Africans are expected to look up.

The media is about drama, afterall, and miserable poverty is definitely going to draw eyes. But the next part of the article, explaining the necessity of this campaign, actually surprised me.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist who came from a middle-class family. Her father was a professor and her mother an administrator. Adichie attended an American university at 19-years-old and in her TED Talk, Adichie talks about her experience with a roommate who was shocked to find that she could speak English, knew how to use a stove and listened to Mariah Carey instead of “tribal music.”

“She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa, a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”

Crap, I really did grow up in a bubble.

I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in Italy, which is geographically much closer to Africa than the US, or if it’s because I happened to grow up around particularly travelled people. But seriously? There are people who think that an entire continent is a wasteland of poverty and suffering? It’s ridiculous.

Where I grew up, people often spoke of the mal d’africa. It is supposedly a feeling that certain people get the moment they step off the plane in any African country. There is the cultural notion that, to some people, Africa speaks to their soul, and the moment you get there, if you catch the mal d’africa, you won’t be happy living anywhere else in the world. I know a few people who ended up moving there, retiring there, and many more who winter there every year. There are very few people I know who haven’t been to Africa at least once in their lives, and three of my friends from high school live there right now. That is the context I grew up in, I always saw Africa as an alluring and gorgeous continent, which unfortunately had some problems in some places, but that many can’t help but fall in love with the second they see it. It never really registered in my mind that this picture of Africa is one that I formed because of where I grew up, rather than what I saw on everyday TV, and that others might have a completely different view of the continent. It never crossed my mind that some people might think that every single African in the world was a starving child covered in flies. It’s depressing, and now I fully understand the social media campaign.

In response to the oversimplification of African identity, and connectedly an oversimplification of the roots of poverty in some nations, Africans have taken to social media to show the diversity of the continent. Twenty-two-year-old Somali-American student, Diana Salah (@lunarnomad) helped spur the social media campaign #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou. Since it began a week ago, the hashtag has been used over 54,000 times.

The pictures are well worth it, and every bit as beautiful as I would expect. Can you tell that I’m still bitter that I didn’t get accepted into a summer masters program in Uganda when I was in college?

I really, really want to go to Africa.

It Was Deliberate

We know that the American “War on Drugs” disproportionately affects minorities. We know that, despite the fact that white people and black people use drugs at approximately the same rates, black people are arrested far more often. However, I have often encountered skepticism about whether or not this was an intended repercussion of this so called “war”. Was is just a bungle? Was it a genuine attempt to attack the problem of drugs in the States, which then became a tool to undermine African American and Hispanic communities by racist police departments?

A recent article in Vox makes me think that their intentions were clear. As Nixon’s domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman put it, many years later:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

This pronouncement was made in 1994. I’m only finding out about it now, though I don’t know if it’s because I have been blissfully unaware of it, or because it actually hasn’t seeped into the discussion about the war on drugs.

Have you heard about this before? And, if so, why does this not come up far more often when debating whether or not to continue this failure of a policy?