Who are we?

Below I will describe a group of people who are marginalised and live in Europe, America, Canada and Australia. Who are we?

We are part of a tradition stretching back centuries.
We can and do live in every part of the world.
We are sometimes considered to be a race or a nation yet we are of many races and have no particular leader, government or land.

We have no leader yet each of us is held responsible for the actions of others like us.
We are each made to explain over and over that we are peaceful and acts of violence committed in our names were wrong.

We suffer violence daily in the so-called “Western World”.
Our children hear racist taunts.
We are harassed by strangers in the streets.
Our religious clothing is openly mocked and derided.
We are attacked and even killed.
Our places of worship are frequently graffiti-ed and desecrated.
We are stereotyped, mocked or invisible on TV and in films.
Our symbols and art are appropriated.
We are pressured to conform to white christian national norms.
If we manage this, we are mocked. If we fail, we are still mocked.
We form communities of our own and are accused of not trying to integrate.
We try to integrate and find ourselves isolated.
We can feel the target on our backs whenever we are out of home.

People who even “look” like the racist stereotype of how we “look” face the same slurs, the same exclusion, the same violence.
We try not to “look” like ourselves.
We are told we are ugly.
We can never do enough to “fit in”. Our names, our clothes, our food, our bodies will betray us.
The target never quite disappears.

We make ourselves small.
We make ourselves quiet.
We try to be “moderate”.

We are told we “take over” spaces; we take too much space.
We are accused of having too much influence; we “control” too much.
And we are called radical even if all we ask is to live our lives in peace.

Our loyalties are always suspect.
We cannot claim loud enough to love the country we live in,
Sending money abroad is a sin if we do it.
If we cannot love this country, we are told repeatedly to “Go home” –
No matter how many generations it’s been since “home” meant anywhere else.

Who are we?

The answer isn’t: “Jews”
And it’s not “Muslims” either.

It’s “Muslims AND Jews”.

Islamophobia and Anti-semitism are two sides of one very racist coin.

And that constant feeling of being a target, being unwanted, being impermissible because we can’t or won’t live within white christian cultures? That pressure is hurting Muslims and Jews across Europe and I suspect across the US, Canada and Australia as well.

Anti-Homelessness

There’s been a fair amount of talk recently about how various architectural features are “anti-homelessness”. This has lead on to discussion of various laws and practices in the UK and beyond that are “anti-homelessness” and how awful this is and how the world should just be less shit already. This is good and worthy discussion BUT one important thing to remember: these architectural design features, laws and practices are NOT “anti-homelessness”. What they are is anti- homeless PEOPLE. Ridding the public sphere of safe-ish, dry-ish places to lie down and sleep outside will not getting rid of homelessness. Making begging illegal does not get rid of homelessness. Tying most social security, employment opportunities, bank accounts, GPs, forms of ID and other vital services to “having a permanent address” does not get rid of homelessness. All this does is make being homeless less visible, less safe, less escapable and, to be quite blunt, less SURVIVABLE. All this does is condemn people who are vulnerable and have already suffered great misfortune to more suffering – and force them to take their suffering elsewhere so those of us fortunate enough to currently have somewhere warm, dry and relatively safe to live can go about our days without seeing people who are homeless.

So, what would it actually mean to be “Anti-Homelessness”?

I am against homelessness. I believe that safe, warm, dry homes should be available to *everyone* who needs them. I do not think it should even be possible for a person to find themself without somewhere to sleep, eat and socialise. Everyone should have a home.

There is only one long-term solution to homelessness that has any chance of actually working. It’s breathtakingly simple and obvious – and could realistically be implemented in the UK within the year if people wanted it enough.

GIVE PEOPLE HOMES.

There are enough empty buildings to house everyone. If everyone had somewhere to live, some space that was theirs where they could sleep and eat and work and play, no one would be homeless.
Note that I have not said “Sell people homes” or “Let people homes” or mentioned the word “affordable” even once. If we really took the idea that shelter, safety, privacy and family life are human rights seriously, people would be given somewhere safe to live for free. No rents, no mortgages, no “but do you have a local connection and also do you really need a home?”, no “but why can’t you just live with your parents well into your thirties?”.
I know a lot of people would find this unfair and claim that the years they spent renting / paying a mortgage / buying and letting houses / inheriting multiple houses from their Dad means that they somehow “deserve” a place to live more than other people who didn’t or couldn’t do that. I see why they might feel cheated but ultimately I disagree. Somewhere safe and stable to live and a bit of space for yourself is not a luxury that you can “deserve” any more or less than anyone else and it shouldn’t be something you have to buy – it shouldn’t be something you can lose in the first place. There should be homes for all. We all deserve somewhere to live.

That is how you end homelessness. Until the only condition required for safe, decent housing is “be a person” there will be people who cannot meet the required conditions and find themselves homeless through misfortune.

Born This Way?

I’ve written and deleted four drafts of this post already because this is difficult to say and because I don’t want to keep sounding exactly like a philosophy graduate here. There’s some complicated stuff to unpack and I want to keep this blog as clear and accessible as I possibly can – especially on this because I think this is really very important.

So. It seems to be quite popular these days to assert that LGBTQ people deserve equality because we were “born this way” and can’t help or change how we are. I really hate this line of argument, I would like it to go away and I think it’s bullshit.

I happen to believe that was, in fact, born trans. I think there is something about my brain structure that caused me to regard myself as the same sort of a person as the boys and men around me and as a different sort of person from the girls, women and androgynous people around me. Whilst I believe as I have touched on in previous posts (here and here) that I had a choice about when and how and whether to come out as trans and transition, I believe that I had no choice but to be trans. My brain, my body and the society around me determined that from the very beginning of my life I would regard myself as a kind of person others did not think I was.

Similarly, I was born autistic, dyspraxic and dyslexic in that I was born with a brain and body that deviates from the “typical” human brain and body into a society that is built on the flawed assumption that everyone is or can become typical. I did not choose my brain any more than I chose my eye colour. G-d or nature or chance or evolution gave me that brain – a brain which differs significantly from the norm in ways that the society that I live in often cannot accommodate.

I was not born mentally ill (though I may have been born predisposed to mental illness). I was not born with fibromyalgia. I was not born Jewish – I chose it. And regardless of whether or not I was born innately bisexual, I actively choose to maintain a proud bisexual identity (even though it’s hard).

What I’m trying to say is: some parts of who I am have always been there, some have not, some parts I actively chose, some I had no choice in.
All should be respected.

Not because “he can’t help being that way”. Not because “he was born like that”. Not because “he has no choice”.

Because I am a human being like any other and I deserve to be treated with respect, justice and compassion. I am a person, whether I am “just like you” or not and whether or not I choose to be different.

Whatever my gender, sexuality or disability was caused by, whenever it first came into my life, whether or not it has ever or will ever change, whether or not I could change it if I wanted to… none of that matters if the question is “Do I deserve just and equal treatment?” The only thing that matters is that I am a person and therefore deserve to be equal with every other person. We all deserve liberation. We all deserve not to have to beg for it.
It doesn’t matter WHY I’m autistic or WHY I’m bi or WHY I’m a man. I just am.

I am a person. I am your equal. “Born this way” or not.

Whiteness, Racial Prejudice and Racism (Part 2)

Part 2: What happens when you stop following whiteness’s unwritten rules

I am White.

That is inescapable. Unless White Supremacy ends during my lifetime, I will always be a White person born into and living in a world built to give White people extra privileges and to protect White people’s interests at the expense of everyone else.

In Part 1, I discussed how my race and skin colour likely influenced how I was treated by teachers and staff at my High School. The unfair advantages I was given then will have much longer lasting effects than the bullying I endured at the same time – the school gave me a good reference to get into college, when I then acted out in college I was given help and support because I had “no record” of bad behaviour… I have always been given the benefit of the doubt when others acting as I did would be branded “problem children”. Help and support to manage my learning and behavioural difficulties continues to this day.

However, since beginning to live publically as a Jew I have discovered something about White Privilege that should have been obvious to me before. It’s that tiny, tiny writing at the bottom of the metaphorical form for the white privilege I was signed up for at birth which says “Terms and conditions apply”. There are exemptions to White Privilege. There are terms and conditions you have to keep up with and if you don’t, your privilege and even your Whiteness itself can and will be revoked at any time.

One of those conditions? Don’t be Jewish.
Or rather, DO be Christian. Or at least an ex-Christian atheist. If you’re White and British, you *must* be Christian. If you insist on being Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Pagan or Sikh then at least look like you’re a White British Christian. Don’t wear strange clothes or jewellery, speak strange languages, eat strange foods, refrain from British foods, celebrate strange holidays and go to strange places of worship. DO celebrate Christmas and Easter, dress like a native, eat British foods and generally stay quiet about the entire topic of religion so people never have to confront their unspoken assumption that all White British people are, by definition, Christian. If you’re not White or you’re an immigrant, feel free to practise any religion you like, even Christianity. But if you’re Christian, you’d best make it obvious because people will spend your whole life looking at your skin and making the snap second judgement that you’re not.

Since I began publically living as a Jew, by wearing a yarmulke, keeping kosher(ish), celebrating Jewish festivals and refusing Christmas cards, giving tzedakah, not working on Shabbat and reciting Hebrew blessings occasionally during the day, people have suddenly started asking me where I’m from. And specifying that they mean what part of Israel (or Poland or Lithuania) did my parents come over from and how long have they been living in Britain? People have been complimenting my English. Asking me if I know Adam Finkelstein. People have on numerous occasions *literally refused to believe that I was born in Britain and so were my parents and their parents*. I am White but not Christian so I cannot be British.

Alternatively, I am British but not Christian, so I cannot be White. I am allowed to be British but only on the assumption that my family hasn’t been living on these Isles for more than 50 years. I am allowed to be British as long as I am grateful for being “allowed” to exist here at all. I am allowed to be British at the price of reassuring White British Christians that “Anti-semitism isn’t that big a problem now, is it?” If I can be a walking Encyclopedia Judaica, yet still absolve White Christians for treating me as one. If I accept that “Jew” or “Ashkenazi” is my race now (complete with commentary about my nose, my skin, my eyes, hair..) then maybe I can be British.

The combination of White, British and Non-Christian is erased constantly. Those actions of erasure literally try to erase ME by asking me to either deny, hide or exceptionalise my lived experience as someone who is all three.

I am told that I am not from around here. I am told to my face that I am not white. I am told that I “don’t look Jewish” and spoken over when I protest that there isn’t one way that Jews “look”. People are shocked when I turn down Christmas invites or won’t go out on Friday Night. People stare at my yarmulke in the street and stop to whisper loudly if I’m heard to speak Hebrew. People invite me to their Bible Studies classes so they can learn from me without asking, nevermind answering, the question “But how does that help me?” I am used as “the good Jew” by people whose politics agree with mine and the “self-hating Jew” by those I disagree with. I am taken as spokesperson for all Jews everywhere frequently. People make false assumptions about my body, my background, my finances, my education, my skills, my interests, my politics… because I am a Jew first and an individual human being second.

And there is a simple way to get back the fullness of that unearned White Privilege that I was born into. I could stop wearing a yarmulke. I could whisper my prayers under my breath. I could come up with other excuses for not going out on Shabbat. I could stop mentioning antisemitism. I could quietly let “Jewish” become just a box I tick on a form and not a vibrant and vital part of my life and something intrinsic to who I am. I could assimilate into White British Christianity: where you don’t have to actually be Christian but you can’t be actively something else.

I won’t assimilate. I would lose too much of who I am and gain only unearned advantages I should never have been given in the first place.

Anti-semitism is a strange beast that has become a constant companion to me. It seems to be, in part, a mix of xenophobia and racism and just distilled hatred based on the perceived failure of White Jews in the Diaspora (or, at the very least, in Britain) at being White *properly*. I see the same hatred at work against Travellers, Eastern Europeans and White Turks. We are White but not performing Whiteness adequately. We look like White people but we act like people of colour. To the eyes of a racist, we must look inferior. Anti-semitism of course also contains a hefty component of fear and hatred of Judaism but it seems to me often to be a hatred of Jews as a whole. We are seen as outsiders and infiltrators, bringing our strange languages and foods and customs and clothing into Britain – no matter how many centuries we’ve been here. We are always “not from round here”.

People of Colour in Britain can’t escape being forever seen as “Not from round here”. If, like me, they have names that White British Christians might have, then like me they might get invited to the interview only for a White British Christian to get the post. They may be asked to speak for all people of their race, like I am asked to speak for all Jews. Where some people get to be “the Black friend”, I sometimes find myself “the Jewish friend”. Society treats me like “Jew” is my race, my nationality and the whole of who I am. White privilege opens doors for me, antisemitism shuts them in my face. I feel like I have more in common with People of Colour than White people yet I know that what I get is but a shadow of the racism some of my friends face every day.

I’m not sure how to conclude this except to say that I could be wrong. I’m coming at this talking about my experiences as one person living in one part of Britain. I lived here as a Gentile and now as a Jew. The difference is huge and only many years of reading great writing from people of colour about their experiences of racism came anywhere near preparing me for it. I know that,to an extent, this too is escapable (I can pass for a Gentile if I need to and there are places in the world where Jews are more common and accepted than Britain) and that my White skin still signifies a certain level of respectability, trustability and authority that I am given over POC whether I deserve it or not. I am committed to dismantling the structures that place me unconsenting above my POC friends *as well as* those (similar? linked?) structures that place those who appear to be White British Christians above me.

Why counter-protesting Fascists isn’t “feeding the trolls”

In the last couple of weeks, fascists have been meeting and demonstrating across the UK, using a senseless tragedy to fan the flames of racism and Islamophobia and to collect more people into their hateful ranks. This terrifies me.

I will say it. I am scared. I am scared not just for my Muslim friends and acquaintances currently living under the very real threat of senseless violence against their homes, work places and mosques and the very real possibility of being attacked in the street. I’m scared not just for my friends who aren’t white, who face much the same threats as my Muslim friends. I’m scared for me and for everyone who lives in the UK, scared of a potential future of a fascist UK. I don’t want that future to ever become reality, not in my lifetime and not even in my great great grandchildren’s lifetimes. Fascism has to be stopped, here and now, while it is still small.

Yet people have been trying to argue that the best response to fascist and far right groups like the EDL is to ignore them. To pretend they aren’t there. Someone I know said last night about an EDL rally planned for the city in which I live, “Don’t feed the trolls, they only want attention”.

THIS IS LIKELY THE WORST POSSIBLE RESPONSE TO THE GROWTH OF FASCISM. Possibly even a worse response than trying to “rationally debate” with fascists. I’m all for refusing fascists a platform, but when they are mobilising we should not look away and pretend they aren’t there.

Why?

Firstly, because it’s not true that they “only want attention”. What fascists want is a fascist state, which by its very nature is a place where many people could not safely live – people who can’t live up to some kind of nationalist ideal. In the past, this has meant anyone who isn’t sufficiently white, able-bodied, Christian, heterosexual and normatively gendered and I fear that if groups like the EDL, the BNP, the British Freedom Party and UKIP gain more support in the UK then it is these people again who will find themselves faced with living in a country that doesn’t want them, that may try to expel, punish or kill them for being who they are or will encourage or ignore violence against them. This has happened before and it’s not a great stretch of the imagination to see it happening again. It’s not attention the fascists are after, they have goals and those goals should be vehemently opposed by anyone who believes in freedom and human worth.

The second reason that fascists should be meet with resistance from antifascists is that they commonly believe they are (and in the UK at least will often present themselves as) representatives of the “silent majority”. That is, they believe that most people secretly agree with them but are too afraid of the consequences to say so. This is not true. When counter-protests draw more people than the fascists can, it shows them that their views are not widespread and certainly not shared by everyone. Ignoring their protests allows them to continue to assume that everyone is quietly agreeing with them.

Relatedly, opposing fascist actions shows those involved who are not wholly committed to fascism that there are other views and other ways to think about and solve the problems they turned towards fascism to solve. I accept that some people end up involved in fascist, neofascist and far right groups in response to very real and important problems – I can’t accept the proposed solutions they found (which usually involve people like me assimilating away our differences or facing persecution, punishment, expulsion or death for failing to do so). Showing those people that there are other ways to solve their problems (like, say, pushing for better pay and working conditions and affordable housing rather than complaining that the Muslim family down the road get a council house and benefits to look after their disabled daughter) might help them come to see that their energy would be better expended elsewhere.

Perhaps the most important reason why fascism has to be publically, openly opposed to to show those people who would suffer under a fascist state that we are not alone. We need to see that there are people around us who will speak out, who will not allow fascist far right groups to decide for everyone else who is and isn’t sufficiently “British” to live here, who will not look away and pretend it’s not happening when our homes and lives and cultures are under threat. We are scared and it’s all too easy and understandable to see potential fascists in every unfamiliar face, to worry that quiet racism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, homophobia, disablism and transphobia hides behind the smiles of our friends and acquaintances. The lie of the “silent majority” is a disguised threat, inviting us to believe that the people around us could turn on us at any moment if we are not “British” enough, not apologetic enough for daring to be here and still be culturally different from the mainstream. Any public demonstration against fascists is a public demonstration of solidarity with us, a public declaration of the belief that people who are very different from each other can live together in peace. By countering fascist demos, we can send a message of hope to the people who live or work nearby and the people who hear that the demo was countered by an anti-fascist one and that message is “We want you here, we want people like you”.

SO:
Do whatever you have to do to keep safe when fascists are nearby – even if that means staying home. But do whatever you can do to show both the fascists and those they threaten that fascism is not wanted, needed or accepted here. Show solidarity with those who are threatened and make clear that you want to live in a place where people are different from each other and still get along peacefully, not somewhere where a fragile peace is kept by forcing everyone to try to be the same.

Don’t ignore the fascists, don’t pretend they aren’t there. Work against their ideals and for a world where no one is punished for being different.

World Down Syndrome Day

I’m not a person with Down Syndrome and sadly I don’t currently know anyone who is. I do, however, know that the 21st of March is World Down Syndrome Day and since I have a blog now I thought I’d best make sure my readers know that too.

I believe it’s very important for disabled people to stand together in solidarity with each other and fight for inclusion for all, not just people with the same impairments as us. I know that sometimes it’s tempting to paint ourselves as a group that is easy to include in society not like those other disabled people who need 24 hour support / who can’t talk / who can’t work / whatever but that’s really not a good way to do things. In little impairment-specific groups, we are tiny minorities. All together, we are one huge minority (making up at least 10% of all people depending on which impairments you count in). So, it’s important that I highlight the day and we all do what we can to help other disabled people.

I’ve spent the best part of an afternoon searching unsuccessfully for the blogs of people with down syndrome to link to. I’ll have to try harder and would greatly appreciate links to blogs of people with DS in the comments. I’ll likely read parent blogs too but I’d like to first get a good grasp of what people with DS think about issues which affect them.

What I have found that I hope will be useful are some organisations which look pretty good to me as a disabled adult and seem to be doing the kind of things I’d want autism organisations to be doing.
My criteria were:

  1. Actively includes adults with Down Syndrome as well as children with Down Syndrome and their families
  2. Any research focuses on stuff that will actually help people with Down Syndrome rather than focussing on preventing them from being born in the first place
  3. Supports people with Down Syndrome advocating for themselves rather than treating them like eternal children
  4. Lobbies for change in laws,policies and practices to further inclusion of people with Down Syndrome
  5. Has no view on the ethics of abortion (a number of Down Syndrome organisations are very pro-life which, while I find it quite understandable, would potentially upset, trigger or put off many people)

So, with those criteria in mind, I’d like to direct UK readers to the Down Syndrome Association and US readers to National Down Syndrome Congress. Both have ways to donate, get involved or learn about how people with Down Syndrome live in those countries.

I’d also like to direct you towards this man with DS’s T shirt shop.

And finally, even if you do nothing else as a result of reading this post, please, please go and look through the photographs of and by people with Down Syndrome on this website as it will challenge and change any ideas you may have had about what people with Down Syndrome look like and what jobs they do.