Ok, so I wrote the first part of this three days ago. I haven't had the chance to post until now... Some events and opinions may have altered.
I’ve not felt this removed from the world in a long time and I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing. I haven’t watched the news in weeks, or any TV. I’m on a break from teaching as of last week and all I’ve done since then is catch up on work and see family and friends.
I’ve caught snippets of goings on from Twitter and emails, and it makes me almost want to know less. Royal babies, yeah, great. Speculation about what to call him (Go on, push the boat out and name him something exotic like... George. Honestly!)
Even the Man Booker Prize got in on the act by announcing their longlist via a tweet (later deleted) which mimicked the official Royal birth announcement. Pshh! Not that I'm surprised at their giving themselves over to royal abandon, believing that "popular" means "inclusive". They're cheering themselves over the diversity of the books they've chosen, but in all likelihood - unless things change this year - the winner will be another British author of a certain kind (as it has been for the last four years, with such names as Hilary, Howard and Julian.)
Ouch... that sounds bitter, but what I mean to say is the book industry isn't going down a worrying route, as some suggest; it's always been elitist, sexist and as far from transparent as it's possible to get. I hope I get proved wrong.
I think the latest JK Rowling saga (again, picked this up from an email thread, not from actual news!) says more about the cult of branding than anything else... but it's nothing new. I found this story very funny; but as someone who wants to have a first novel published in the next couple of years it's also disheartening to know that, if I ever want to go down the commercial route, I will encounter gatekeepers who operate on a system that seemingly has no rhyme or reason.
I won't lose any sleep over it; there are worse things in the world that don't make sense to me, which I find genuinely disturbing. Ever other day I'm forwarded emails about Russia and other places where human rights are being massacred, along with fellow humans.
Something that stuck with me was the story of Warren Hill, a few days before he was due to be killed by the US state of Georgia. I ran a workshop last week and took part in the free writing exercise I set. He was on my mind and his case took up all my notes so I decided to check back after last Monday to see if he had actually been killed. I saw his death sentence was halted on the grounds that he should know where his death pills come from, not on the grounds that they SHOULDN’T BE KILLING HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE. Am I the only one to think this? Clearly not, otherwise it wouldn't have got Amnesty's attention, but....???
On a slightly related note (thematic tags: Southern states, weird attitudes, race, murder) I've also been following the Trayvon Martin story since it broke, but for different reasons. I don’t particularly care what happens to George Zimmerman; he killed Trayvon already, whether it was consciously racist, or "hoodyist", or whether he "felt threatened" for legitimate reasons or otherwise. Cynically perhaps, I take it as a given that non-white males of a certain age are going to be killed for walking down the wrong street, so long as prejudice exists, so long as weapons exist, so long as dodgy police exist. Even Obama had to stick his neck out to speak up about how black men are profiled; it's an accepted fact. The tragedy for me is how we stop this happening so often, and how we hold the people to account who are supposedly protecting us.
Speaking of dodgy police, why did no one even try to contact Trayvon’s parents in the two days that they were looking for him? Perhaps they were overworked and there was a surge of bodies to investigate, so they didn’t have time to go through the wallet (missing, apparently... despite having just used it at the store) and phone (he had been speaking to his girlfriend just before being shot) of an unnamed teenager. As much as I find the actual shooting disturbing, I find it much more sickening that people whose job it is to serve and protect citizens would rather treat a dead young black boy as garbage (or "rubbish" - I've been using my British-American dictionary again) than call his mum to let him know he's not coming back. All this focusing on Zimmerman takes away the focus from those with real power. He's just an individual who killed the boy - legally, as it turns out - but there are many more people behind him, colluding with what happens, and that's what makes me angry about idiotic arguments like this. In case you didn't click the link, the author thinks Obama's speech about identifying with Trayvon was incomplete; that he should have talked about how black people aren't taking responsibility for what is happening in their society (yawn) and he uses the tired argument that fatherless homes are creating gang members and failing social housing projects in black communities that make white people feel vulnerable and start vigilante groups.
Maybe I shouldn't comment on what's happening thousands of miles away on another continent; but I feel I have to, because we seem to be following the same pattern. Despite evidence of recent police racism, despite Doreen Lawrence pretending to be shocked when it came out that, instead of just investigating the who, what and whys of her son's murder, the police also tried to smear his name (bear in mind this also happened when they shot a Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes in South London in 2005, remember? Everything from jumping over ticket barriers with a padded jacket in summer to rape), despite the so-called "Independent" Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) botching an investigation into how a mentally ill man ended up as yet another death in police custody, our attentions will always settle on the easier targets. This stops laws being changed, police being prosecuted, our values being altered, real change actually happening.
It's all well and good changing our profile pictures on Facebook and writing "I am Trayvon Martin" (been there, done that, got the t-shirt), but until we accept that we have to be critical of the government, of the police and of the media and not just the individuals that are killed/being killed, we end up having tacky debates about political correctness going mad. I enjoyed reading this post for that very reason; until we stop these superficial "solidarity" measures, we will fail to really and truly "get it".
End of sermon.
P.S. Adding to this post, Thursday night... Internet's back... Still no real news being reported apart from royal babymongering; a great way to bury a new, disturbing government initiative involving a van going around different London boroughs (among them, Barking & Dagenham, notorious for racial tensions) telling illegal immigrants to 'Go Home' or face arrest (loaded language, perhaps?)
I'm personally insulted as a former Barking resident; when I was a kid, I remember having the words "go home!" shouted out of a van at me. Incidentally, I wrote a poem about it for my Edinburgh show. I'll be previewing it on the 5th August in London, so more deets to follow.