Things I read this week that I found interesting

I read some things with my eyes, and I found them interesting. Perhaps you will, too?

On the figure of the troll (By Strategy)- Just about the finest article on trolling from someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Misogyny and Twitter – confusing cause with medium (Aaron Peters and Jo Afiya)- The talk of the abuse button is missing something important. Excellent analysis here.

Room to breathe in defence of the NHS (Ramona’s blog)- A line negotiated on how we can defend the NHS, but still criticise how bad its mental healthcare is.

Come one, come all! Feminist and Social Justice blogging as performance and bloodshed (Flavia Dzodan)- A provocative, must-read post from Flavia.

On banning pro-ana (zedkat)- As an ED survivor, zedkat makes the case against banning “pro-ana” websites when the filtering comes in.

10 thoughts…on mental illness, abuse, and survivors (Grace)- Really important discussion of solidarity, survivors and abuse.

Transphobia in the academy: feminist edition (Shakesville)- That same old story again, with a different set of characters.

Have gay rights groups abandoned Bradley Manning? (Christopher Carbone)- On the echoing silence from mainstream gay right groups towards Manning, and why that may be.

We Think He Might Be a Boy (Su Penn)- A deeply personal story about a mother’s relationship with her trans son. Heartwarming.

Billy Bragg Is A Knob, Ignore Him And Help Save The Southbank Undercroft (the void)- Ronseal.

An Open Letter to Carol Vorderman (Pipopotamus)- Calling Vorderman out on some anti-traveller bollocks.

“Mother” is a gender identity; it’s not my gender identity (Hunter not the hunted)- A really interesting exploration of “mother” as a gender identity, and why this blogger doesn’t find it fits.

Renegotiating Love – how I introduced non-monogamy into my existing relationship. (Little tales of misogyny)- A gloopy, happy-making story.

And finally, here are some men in pin up girl poses. Inspired a lot of emotions, beautifully photographed, and more like this please.

A love letter to Twitter

I’m here today, talking to you all because of Twitter. Twitter gave me my voice. It empowered me to say the things that had been brewing in my mind. As I talked to people, strangers became friends. My opinions grew and changed as I spoke to people I would have never met in the meatspace, never found any way of connecting. I conversed, and I grew and I learned.

My voice felt stronger than ever, and just over two years ago, friends on Twitter persuaded me to start a blog. And so I turned the conversations I had had into a longer form. I got ever more feedback, especially from Twitter. And my opinions continue to grow, and I continue to learn.

I hear from people who are silenced. I hear from voices I never would have heard had I not joined Twitter. Before Twitter, people who were not like me seemed alien to me. Now they are not, and I am learning to ally with causes I had never given a moment’s thought to.

Twitter challenges the way things used to be on a vast scale. I’m just a woman with a blog and a Twitter, but I can share my thoughts and experiences with so many people. I can listen to people from all walks of life and educate myself. These are voices that once would have only been heard had a journalist taken an interest, and everyone had to hope for a sympathetic portrayal that only sometimes came. Those days are fading, the age of the gatekeeper dies, but it does not go gently.

I will not be silenced. So many people have tried. I get a lot of harassment. Misogynists and bigots who want to attack me for allying with people they despise want me to be silent. It would be easier for them if I shut up. And now, I am being told I ought to boycott Twitter and if I don’t I am in favour of abuse.

But what other medium is there to so swiftly challenge hate? There is none, and that’s what frightens the spiteful, the vicious and the vile. They want us silent so we can never be in a position to challenge them. And yet we do. We challenge them, and they will try ever-harder to shut us down, but they won’t win if we won’t be silent.

So no. I will not be voluntarily moving away from my precarious platform. I will not shut up, not now, not ever. I will not willingly concede to what those who would have me silent want.

I have a voice, and I am going to use it. And I have Twitter to thank for that.

When #ibelieveher goes out of the window

Content note: This post discusses rape, transphobia, apologism and the effect of not being believed when reporting one’s experiences.

We are seeing a slow shift how we think about survivors, guided by the phrase “I believe her*”. It inverts the status quo; politically siding with survivors, a statement of undoing the way things are by believing the story of a person who we are socialised into not believing. Disbelief in the accounts of survivors of rape, of domestic violence, of child abuse creates the conditions of silence necessary for such abuse to continue. Fear of not being believed is a weapon, wielded by our culture to keep our lips sealed and prevent anything being done about it. It is an attempt to create a safer space.

It is gaining momentum, this culture of believing survivors, and has been broadly adopted by many groups striving for social change. Sadly, while the ethos of believing survivors is perhaps becoming increasingly accepted, the practice itself is often not. We have seen this, for example, too often amid left-wing groups who will happily say they believe survivors until it turns out one of their mates might be a perpetrator, and cognitive somersaults begin in order to justify what is going on.

We see it too when people talk about their experiences of microaggressions. While it’s easy to believe when women talk about gendered microaggressions, those times when we are made to feel less than human by something which is often dismissed as trivial by patriarchal society, this is not extended to women experiencing intersecting oppressions. We see, for example, trans women talking of feeling invalidated and attacked by high-profile cis women to a reboant chorus of dismissal. Far from being believed in these scenarios, trans women end up being on the receiving end of the same old apologist tropes: the victim blaming, the trivialisation, the gaslighting and the flat-out denials. We see similar things happening to women of colour, to disabled women, to sex workers and queer women. Suddenly, it’s not “I believe her”. It’s a demand for a case laid out, meticulous documentation of “evidence”. If evidence is produced, it is thrown as an overreaction or not really evidence at all. Or perhaps everything is explained at the survivor having somehow “brought it on herself” by not behaving exactly according to some unwritten, unknowable, ever-shifting code.

It’s the same tune played on a different instrument. Whatever happened to “I believe her” in these situations?

As a cis white woman, sometimes I find it difficult to recognise where exactly the problem lies. I am not sensitive to some microaggressions, because I am not subjected to them day after day after fucking day. I am never on the receiving end of cissexism or racism, and, as such, sometimes I fail to recognise very veiled abuse. Which is precisely why, when a woman of colour or a trans woman says it is happening, I believe her.

As a cis white woman, it’s not my place to explain that something isn’t racist or cissexist, because I don’t get to define what these things are, and what is crossing a line and what is not. So, when I listen to a survivor, I believe her.

I feel like this is the least I can do. I’ve had experience with not being believed, I’ve had experience of being on the wrong end of victim blaming, I’ve been gaslit and dismissed when I talk about horrible things which have happened to me. I know how awful it can be, that sense that either the world will end or you will, that you’re mad and you’re wrong and you’re twisted and disgusting. I also know that feeling of the light coming in as you hear the magic words “I believe you”. Not being believed hurts like fuck, and being believed makes the pain more bearable, like you might just be able to get through it. It’s helpful when someone else sees the gas go down, too, even if they don’t quite understand it as well as you do.

And so these are the principles I use. I believe those who talk about microaggressive abuse. I believe those who talk about rape. I believe survivors. I believe her.

__

*This is not to say abuse does not happen to people who use male and non-binary pronouns. Of course it does, and the sense of belief ought to be extended to anyone reporting such experiences. However, this short phrase also encapsulates the gendered nature of such abuse.

Signal boosts: Racial profiling and racist raids–don’t look away

The Home Office Twitter account has been gloating of late, after having rounded up a lot of “immigration offenders”, who it looks increasingly likely were racially profiled. The raids have, unsurprisingly, not been received well in local areas. This is in conjunction with the Home Office’s other immigration project, where it looks like they believed they were blowing a dogwhistle, but actually ended up reaching for a bassoon and playing a jaunty, racist melody.

The raids are nothing new. I urge you all to read and share this story from SandiaElectrica from three years ago, where the same causes for concern have been happening. It happened to her family again, only a few days ago.

This is Britain now, and it is a Britain which many white people will remain unaware of. A Britain steeped in racism, a fascist Britain where state bullies harass and intimidate people of colour, dragging them away to rot in detention centres if they are considered “illegal”. No human being is illegal, and yet the state considers some people’s mere existence to be illegal, and so do the dribbling racists who hang off their every word. They claim their concerns about immigration do not make them racist, except they are completely and utterly wrong. The state has played off of their racism, and amplified it and tickled them with glee.

We mustn’t look away from these horrors that are happening, feeling that it is a hopeless battle we are fighting. Instead, we must address what is happening head-on. First of all, if we see these raids and stops in progress, it is important that people know their rights. As this article points out, immigration officers actually have fairly little power and have basically been pushing it and abusing it. While it’s worth reading the whole thing, here are some important things you can do if you witness or are victim of any of these spot checks:

Do not change the speed of your walking or suddenly change direction. Maintain a steady pace. Do not hang back from the barriers. Do not behave confrontationally or aggressively. Enter into the conversation willingly, and then state that you are aware of your rights and can walk away unless the officer can give a reason for having reasonable suspicion of your status.

Use your phone to film the entire encounter. Any officer who speaks to you must identify themselves verbally and by producing a warrant card. They must explain their reason for questioning you.

At this point ask them what gave them reasonable suspicion to have stopped you. They must tell you that you are not obliged to answer any questions. They must tell you that you are not under arrest and are free to leave at any time. If they fail to do any of these things, tell them.

Make sure you clearly record the identification number of the officer. Sometimes this will be covered up or not present – it’s a common tactic. Insist on knowing the number before you cooperate with the officer. If at any point you decide to leave they cannot pursue you unless they have sufficient basis to arrest you under paragraphs 17(1) & 16(2) of Schedule 2 or of the Immigration Act 1971, or if you satisfy section 28A of the Act.

If you are not being questioned – and if you are white and middle class that is very likely – you can still help. You can record everything. You can inform people of their rights when they are stopped by officers. You can take people’s contact details if they are stopped. If there is a case against them, a failure of protocol by the officer will be relevant. You can get a useful fact-sheet of your rights for printing out and handing to people here.

Tell your story. Bear witness, and tell other people’s stories, while maintaining their privacy by not giving out any of their details. Amplify and signal boost the stories of others who have suffered through this. Join a local anti-fascist group and discuss coordinating responses–maybe you might like to follow the example of Southall Black Sisters, or maybe distribute information?.

We need to create an environment where it is impossible for people to look away from what is happening, the repeated harassments and attacks on people for the colour of their skin. This needs to be absolutely fucking everywhere, these stories, this information for how to cope. We need to challenge the state repeatedly, every day, through any action we see fit to take.

If you have your own story, please leave it here, and I will signal boost it. It is so important that people hear about what is going on beneath their radars. I firmly believe that most people are decent, and that most will be horrified when they realise what is happening. Of course, there’s the dribbling racists, but they were beyond help in the first place.

Don’t look away from what is happening in Britain. It is silence that allows abuse to thrive.

Projects people are working on:
Anti-raids network Providing information and support for victims of raids.

Listen to our story A theatre project, telling the stories of asylum seekers

Stories:
Pensive Observer talks about UKBA racism
Yasin Bangee on fears about coming to London