Recognising intersecting identities

There is no one way to be part of a group — whether that be ethnic, LGBTQ+, religious, or any other group — and it is time that society and media recognise that.

We have previously written about the problems with colour-blind casting and the importance of representation in media, and with the release of the In the Heights film, another issue of representation has once again become apparent: that of recognising and accepting multiple, intersecting identities.

The In the Heights film is an adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (who most will know as the creator of the musical Hamilton) debut musical, which tells the stories of multiple people, most of them Latinx, living in Washington Heights in New York. When the musical first ran in the early 2000s it was seen as ground-breaking for its representation of the Latinx community, and many Latinx viewers were emotional about seeing themselves reflected on Broadway — which often lacked (and still often lacks) representation of ethnic minorities. However, the film adaptation has been criticised for its lack of representation of Afro-Latinx people — especially because Washington Heights is a predominantly Afro-Dominican neighbourhood.

The experience of Afro-Latinx people watching the In the Heights film is unfortunately only one of many. Other groups which are often made to feel invisible are Black MuslimsMuslim Latinxspeople of colour in the LGBTQ+ community, and disabled people in any group — and this is not an exhaustive list by any means. The lack of visibility can lead to feelings of loneliness, lack of acceptance, and being questioned for their presence.

While there are many issues at work here, including colourism and inter-minority discrimination, the central issue is that identities tend to be defined in relation to the norm of white, male, non-disabled, cis-het, and Christian. For example, Black people are defined in relation to Whiteness, Muslims in relation to Christianity, and so on. This creates a very simplistic framework for identity as it paints minorities with broad brushstrokes, and has its roots in racism and imperialist thinking. In other words, it puts minority groups into “Others” and society then has difficulties comprehending when someone belongs to more than one “Other” group.

Unfortunately, when these labels and stereotypes are imposed on minority groups by the majority, they often become internalised. So, for example, a Latina woman is supposed even by her own community to be a light-skinned, black-haired woman who speaks Spanish fluently. This can create a certain blindness within communities towards those who also identify with the community but do not have those stereotypical characteristics. Bi- and multi-racial people can suffer particularly from these internalised stereotypes, as they often visibly belong to several groups. 

Bi- and multi-racial people have spoken about struggling to feel a sense of belonging and feeling like they need to choose a group and the Duchess of Sussex is an example most will know of for her public controversy with the royal family. As a young girl, she was told to check the box “White” on a census form, where there was no alternative for a bi-racial person, because that was how she looked — which illustrates how bi- and multi-racial people are not recognised in their intersecting identities.

Historically the effect has been seen in various civil rights movements, which have tended to be split up to target issues specific to certain minority groups: for example, the civil rights movement in the US, the feminist movement, and the LGBTQ+ rights movement. The fact that this split was seen as necessary in order to have a clear message which could produce change is symptomatic of the difficulties society has in dealing with intersections, and many have therefore felt left out, or partially forgotten, within the movements.

Identities are complex and multi-faceted, and there is no one way to be Black, Muslim, LGBTQ+, Latinx, or anything else. While social media helps in lifting the people who belong to intersecting groups, media as a whole needs to do a better job of representing complex and intersecting identities.

At JAN Trust we work with intersectionality in mind to make sure that we can help and empower women from BAME communities and address their diverse and different needs. We also work closely with women from these communities to make sure that they get the help they want, rather than have a top-down approach.

Posted in BAME, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, Inclusion, International, islamophobia, Muslim, Muslim women, Racism, Representation, Society, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boys and Their Blades: A Forced Error Or A Chosen Pathway?

The associations of knife crime are commonly linked to the work of gangs — the idea that knives are the answer to turf wars and gang-related violence. But, over the past few years, this dynamic has changed. The BBC stated that 75% of people that have been involved with knives have no links to gangs. So what is the current situation? 

It’s no secret that, in the UK, knife crime is a prevalent issue, particularly in the capital. Boys as young as ten are carrying blades because “there are situations where your fists are not going to help you. That’s why people carry knives, because they are scared.”. The fear that these young boys carry upon their shoulders is so immense that they feel there is no alternative but to protect themself with a blade. However, this form of protection tends to carry with it a worse outcome: in the 12 months leading up to March 2020, 23 children aged 17 or younger were killed at the hands of a knife. 

Children and young adults are afraid to go outside alone out of fear they will be stabbed by rivals. Imagine a mother waiting up for her son, worrying that he might never walk through the door, because he lives in an area where knife crime is rife; or the young 13-year-old who has to go and visit his older brother in prison instead of playing catch with him in the garden, because he stabbed someone to death; or the shop keeper that has to sit behind protective panels all day, because he is at risk of being mugged with a blade. All of these scenarios exist. All of these scenarios can be avoided.

But what is it exactly that is failing these boys? Is it a deeply embedded form of discrimination? Is it a flaw in the education system? Or is it simply that they feel they have no other option? Some young men believe that carrying a knife is a result of not knowing their worth; others say it’s for a sense of belonging. The need for humans to find their people is innate, but, for some, that road is not so simple. 

One argued reason that has been largely controversial is that the changes in knife crime numbers are a reaction to the reduction in stop and search powers for the police. Some argue that more people feel comfortable carrying a knife because the police hold less power to carry out a stop and search check without it being warranted. However, this tactic left many, predominantly people from BAME communities, feeling victimised by racial discrimination embedded within the police. Is the intimidation of a stop and search approach reason enough to enable an entire group of people to feel segregated? We don’t believe so. The consistent discrimination towards minority groups continues to isolate minority and vulnerable groups within communities, but that innate drive to belong is deep-rooted within all of us and for some, they find that sense of belonging with those engaging with knife crime. 

Whatever the reason for carrying a blade may be, there is a deep-rooted cause. A lack of schooling and education around the impact of knife crime on individuals and communities results in people falling into this path. If people feel as though there is no other option for them, perhaps because a teacher did not provide them with the right support to pursue other avenues, or because the education system is tailored towards the wealthy, we cannot just expect them to choose a different path. At JAN Trust, our Against Knife Crime initiative is aimed at changing all that. We are working with BAME women and mothers to raise awareness of knife crime and the dangers associated with it, in the hopes of making a difference to those communities it impacts the most. 

Posted in Advocacy, BAME, british, Crime, discrimination, Inclusion, knife crime, London, police, Politics, radicalisation, Radicalisaton, Representation, Society, Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The “two-child limit”: forcing women to choose between abortions and poverty

The UK’s Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the “two-child limit” to child benefits, one of many austerity policies which have affected BAME women disproportionately. 

At the beginning of July 2021, the UK Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the government’s “two-child limit” on child tax credit and Universal Credit. The rule has been in place since April 2017 and restricts the child benefits parents can receive to the first two children they have (for children born after April 2017). The main justification for the rule is that the families receiving benefits should “face the same financial choices about having children as those supporting themselves solely through work” and that the government wants to “encourage people to move into work and increase their hours”.

The problem is, for those struggling to make ends meet, that it is never that simple. There may be little work available, and it may be impossible to increase hours, either due to caring responsibilities or the availability of shifts and hours. The justification also fails to account for the rising poverty amongst those who are working: 3 in 5 of the households affected by the two-child limit are households where the adults have jobs. Wage inequalities mean that 1 in 3 children in larger families where at least one parent is employed currently live below the poverty line. Effectively, the government has implied that only those who have access to well-paid jobs, sufficient savings to have a buffer in case things go wrong, and are confident that they will continue to have that for 18 years, should have more than two children.

It should be clear that this rule and its justifications are discriminatory, and therefore unacceptable. The rule primarily affects single parents — 90% which are women, and with BAME communities being overrepresented amongst single parent households — and large families with low incomes, a large portion of which are in BAME communities. Therefore, it takes away the fundamental right to build a family and making personal decisions about how that is done. However, the UK Supreme Court’s conclusion was that there was an “objective and reasonable justification” for this discrimination, namely to “protect the economic wellbeing of the country”. 

As a result, women are having to choose between having an abortion or having the means to raise their children. Women have spoken about their regret and sadness at not feeling able to continue a wanted pregnancy, and at a population level, abortion rates for women with two or more children have risen by 16.4% — significantly more than for any other group. For those who have gone through with the pregnancies, or fallen on hard times after having more children, they can face challenges ranging from not being able to afford a school trip for their child to having to count every penny and still not be able to cover basic necessities. The policy has directly led to increased child poverty, and Carla Clarke at Child Poverty Action Group has pointed out that, with this policy, children are not recognised “as deserving social protection in their own right”. 

The policy also implicitly assumes that pregnancies and finances can be perfectly planned, which is not possible; as the pandemic has shown, huge, unpredictable events can hit at any time and can change circumstances for families quickly.

The two-child limit is only one of many policies implemented in the name of austerity which have affected BAME communities disproportionately, particularly BAME women. In 2016, it was predicted that by 2020 women of colour would have lost out on nearly double the amount of money that poor White men would have due to changes in taxes and benefit cuts. This disproportionate effect has occurred because BAME women work in the public sector to a greater extent than other groups, therefore suffering more from the cuts made there, and they are also more likely to be in low-paid jobs and insecure work. Racism and sexism also make it harder for BAME women to find work at all. All around, BAME women have suffered the most from austerity measures, having had to make difficult choices and go through stress which could easily have been prevented with better policies.

The social safety net should be just that: a safety net. It is meant to provide those who are most vulnerable and most in need with financial and social support so that they at the very least do not need to worry about basic necessities. It is deeply problematic that the government has pushed the rhetoric that those who need benefits should simply ‘work more’ — without addressing the deep-seated inequalities which make it difficult for people in BAME communities, particularly women, to even find jobs, and which have caused a rise in in-work poverty.

At JAN Trust, we work to empower minority ethnic women, and we strongly believe that they should have the ability to make choices about their own lives — and not be forced to make choices because the government is prioritising the “economic wellbeing” of the country over the wellbeing of its inhabitants.

Posted in BAME, british, Citizenship, Ethnic Minorities, Health Issues, Inclusion, Politics, Society, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hijab bans, Islamophobia, and cultural norms: Muslim women’s fight to participate in sports

Facing barriers due to gendered Islamophobia, cultural norms, and lack of representation, Muslim women often struggle to participate in sports.

In 2007, a young Muslim woman from Ontario was going to play a football tournament in Canada. Her name was Asmahan Mansour. At her team’s first match, the referee told her she would not be allowed to play with her hijab. Her team withdrew from the tournament in protest, and the case was brought all the way to FIFA, who decided to uphold the ban — effectively ending the potential career of Asmahan Mansour and countless other Muslim women.

At first, the ban was justified as a ban on “religious symbolism”, but this proved too difficult to uphold given how common tattoos and celebratory cross signings are amongst prominent male footballers. Instead, the ban was justified for health and safety reasons. Similar bans have been in place in other sports, such as basketball and boxing, even though there is no evidence that wearing hijab is a health and safety risk. Ironically, unbound hair is more likely to cause injury; several female players have been whipped in the face with braids or ponytails.  

Given how the sports federations needed to bend over backwards to try and justify their rules, it is clear that the primary concern was not health and safety. Instead, it was an expression of Islamophobic prejudice which almost exclusively affected women. Effectively, Muslim women were being asked to choose between their faith and their sport — a choice no one should ever have to face, as it infringes on the right to religious freedom. 

Noor Alexandria Abukaram, a high school cross-country runner in Ohio, said about her own experience of being disqualified for wearing hijab at a race in January 2020 that she was anguished and humiliated, and she started the campaign ‘Let Noor Run’ to prevent other women from feeling the same. Similarly, Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, who was on course to become a professional basketball player in the US, has spoken about how she felt when FIBA (the international basketball association) announced their ban on hijabs: “I remember crying and feeling like I lost a sense of direction”. Now she works as a mentor for young Muslim women and runs the programme Dribble Down Barriers.

These are only some of many examples of Muslim women athletes who have faced exclusion from their sports due to the hijab bans — and only some of the many Muslim women who have taken up the fight to challenge these discriminatory rules and encourage Muslim women’s participation in sport. Most of the bans have been lifted now, largely due to this tireless activism, but incidents of discrimination still do occur.

Now, with increasing initiatives to encourage Muslim women in sport, such as the Sisterhood FC (London’s first football club for Muslim women), and increasing numbers of Muslim women participating in sport at an elite level (in the 2016 Rio Olympics, there were 14 Muslim women medallists) which show Muslim women that being Muslim and being athletic and Muslim are far from mutually exclusive, more and more Muslim women are participating in sport.

Sport is, and has typically been, a form of empowerment, and provided that the remaining Islamophobia, discrimination, and sexism within sport are combatted, there will be many more Muslim women participating at all levels of sport in the future.

JAN Trust speaks out against all forms of racism and strongly believes in religious freedom. Our mission aims to help Muslim communities and to empower women within those communities.

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, BAME, Campaign, Campaigning, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, girls, Inclusion, International, Islam, islamophobia, Muslim, Muslim dress, Muslim women, Racism, Representation, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stop and search is a crime: Why the government must rethink the latest crime reduction plan

How this series of measures threatens to compound discrimination, divide communities, and neglect the deep-rooted issues that permeate the criminal justice system.

At the end of July, the government unveiled its latest crime reduction strategy to make the streets safer and protect victims, and it has been widely disputed ever since. The Beating Crime Plan promises to “level up” parts of the country that are plagued with high crime levels by ensuring that everyone has the “security and confidence that comes from having a safe street and a safe home”. Instead, it delivers a series of measures that threaten to compound discrimination, divide communities, and neglect the deep-rooted issues that permeate the criminal justice system.

Among the proposals include trialling the use of alcohol tags — which detect alcohol in the sweat of offenders of drink-fuelled crime — on prison leavers in Wales, making unpaid work more visible by getting offenders to clean up streets and public spaces, and extending the use of electronic monitoring for burglars and thieves for 24 hours a day upon release from prison. Perhaps the most controversial measure is the permanent relaxation of the conditions of the use of Section 60 stop and search powers ­— which allow a police officer to stop and search a person without suspicion. 

Expanding such police powers remains at the forefront of political debate, where its effectiveness as a strategy to tackle knife crime has been denounced time and time again. The powers were restricted in 2014 by then Home Secretary Theresa May, meaning that they could only be used if police believed there was an imminent threat of violence, during a limited number of hours. “If you look at the evidence – it shows no link whatsoever with violent crime,” May claimed in 2015. In 2019, the restrictions were eased by Priti Patel, empowering police to carry out searches 24 hours a day and on account of possible violence. And now, these powers will be fortified further. 

It is undeniable that stop and search powers are disproportionately used, discriminatory, and racially charged. Young Black males were nineteen times more likely to be stopped and searched in London in 2020, as revealed in a study of official data by UCL’s Institute for Global City Policing. At a broader level, Black people were nine times more likely to be stopped than White people in England and Wales — just one statistic that elucidates the lived experiences of structural racism within the criminal justice system. 

Yet most police forces cannot explain or justify why there is disproportionality in the way in which these oppressive powers are utilised. Undeniably, the common abuse of such powers by the police has impacted the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. It is unsurprising that those who experience such injustice should develop a level of hostility and distrust towards the police — a prevailing issue that has been highlighted by both the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and Scarman report into policing incidents.

The expansion of discriminatory stop and search powers ultimately serves to negate the lived experiences of many at the hands of the police and reinforce such injustice. In the context of the recent UK report that denied the evidence of institutional racism, these proposed policing measures further reflect the government’s negligence and blasé attitudes towards addressing the structural racism prevalent in the criminal justice system. It is undeniable that knife crime is endemic on our streets. However, to truly tackle the epidemic of knife crime that is destroying so many lives, we must tackle the root causes of the problem. Alienating communities by extending Section 60 stop and search powers is not the solution.

We at JAN Trust have long advocated for a joined-up approach to enable society to address the root cause of the violence, as discussed in a previous article for inews, including a focus on education about knife crime in schools, reducing school exclusions, and the involvement of the communities that it impacts. Our CEO Sajda Mughal stated: 

“To begin to tackle the issue of knife crime we must start to view its causes as multifaceted, meaning as a result, that there is not a singular solution and as is often the case in such circumstances, there exists a desperate need for holistic approach to this challenge.” 

Our work through the Web Guardians™ programme empowers women and mothers to help protect their children both online and offline, encouraging them to maintain an open dialogue with their children about the dangers that exist to young people today. Our Against Knife Crime programme is run with BAME women and mothers to raise awareness of the dangers young people in Haringey and surrounding boroughs face in relation to gangs and gang violence. 

JAN Trust continues to provide sensitive and confidential advice for women and mothers who are worried about their children being affected by gang related violence. This work is vital in protecting our future generations.

Posted in Advocacy, BAME, british, Crime, discrimination, Ethnic Minorities, Extremism, knife crime, London, MET, Politics, Prime Minister, Racism, Representation, Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What does Instagram activism do, anyway?

Is sharing Instagram graphics an important way of organising and educating, or an exercise in performative wokeness?

Instagram, the land of brunch photos and fitness bloggers, has not always been a political platform. But, in the last year, with the increasing online visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, the app has seen a boom in infographics, artworks, and slideshows sharing quotes, resource lists, and bitesize chunks of information about important social justice and political issues.

In many ways, this trend is an immensely positive one. Infographics, famous quotes, artworks, and lists of resources are an excellent means of putting complex social and political issues and ideas into simple, easily digestible terms for those who feel alienated by highbrow academic texts and scholarly jargon. Eye-catching images and graphics can coax people into conversations that they might otherwise not be having — mobilising them around a cause and encouraging them to get involved. Sharing posts becomes a statement of solidarity, a way of pressuring others into helping out, and an act of advocacy. They are a tool for both education and organisation, and their ability to reach a huge audience is invaluable.

However, problems can arise when sharing Instagram posts becomes the full extent of one’s political action. You share an infographic or a quote in pretty pastel colours, and then you forget about it. You’ve done the bare minimum, and your work is done. Critics have called out this kind of ‘performative wokeness’ or ‘performative allyship’ as a lazy way of showing that you care about an issue without actually putting in the work to challenge it.

I think we are all guilty of this — I know that I am — and the peer pressure associated with social media doesn’t help. There is an expectation of digital activism from others — an implicit pressure to share posts about pertinent social and political issues. Not sharing anything can be taken as evidence that you don’t care, that “nobody is talking about this”, even though you may be reading up on it, or discussing it with friends and family, or taking part in other forms of activism that you aren’t documenting online. You are required to broadcast your ‘wokeness’. 

As a result, sceptics have criticised the way that issues like Black Lives Matter have almost become a meme, because there is a pressure for social media users — especially popular influencers and brands — to speak out, even when it’s obviously not genuine. Sharing posts can make people look good — and feel good about themselves — but it isn’t always accompanied by any thought or action beyond that.

This kind of post-sharing-as-activism can backfire. For example, the #BlackOutTuesday movement saw the #blacklivesmatter hashtag overtaken by black squares that swallowed up important posts sharing resources or information. The act of posting a black square — and then moving on with your day — was paraded as a symbol of one’s solidarity and allyship, whilst actually damaging the movement it claimed to be in aid of. People looked good, but they didn’t necessarily do good.

As such, it’s our responsibility to critically engage with the things that we share online, making sure that we are more intentional with our digital footprints. What are we contributing to the cause by sharing this? Are we sharing as a sign of solidarity? Are we doing it to educate and to encourage others to take positive action outside of social media — and intend to do so ourselves? Are we doing it to spark constructive dialogue? It’s important that we try to ensure that our sharing is an act of authentic allyship, rather than something we’re doing either to look good, or because of peer pressure. 

Whilst a critically important starting point — so long as they aren’t harmfully oversimplified or misleading — informative graphics must not be seen as the endgame for advocacy and activism. I can speak for myself when I say that I am trying to make sure that I take other forms of action alongside sharing things online — things like donating to relevant causes, carrying out more in-depth research and reading, and political lobbying. Expressing outrage and solidarity is easy. Making conscious offline efforts to make a difference is the hard part. But it’s these conscious efforts that will see real change.

At JAN Trust, our use of graphics is designed to educate and inform as an accompaniment to our advocacy and campaigning work. The Instagram account for our Another Way Forward™ programme is designed to share important facts about issues like extremism, hate crime, and gang violence — with the intention that it will spread awareness and encourage young women and girls to tackle these problems in their own communities. Our hope is that reading these graphics will not be the extent of our followers’ engagement with these issues, but that they will feel empowered to use them as a resource for pursuing positive change. 

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, Another Way Forward, BAME, Campaign, Campaigning, discrimination, Diversity, Hate Crime, Inclusion, Online abuse, Online hate, Politics, Racism, Representation, Society, We At JAN Trust | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Real Fanfare Behind #FreeBritney: A Case of Sexist Treatment Towards Famous Females and their Mental Health

In June, JAN Trust wrote about “the not-so-hysterical problem of sexism in healthcare”, underlining the most blatant stereotype of the “hysterical” woman that has long been established in history and now in popular culture. The historical precedent for this sexist approach to mental health is undeniable. Since the advent of ‘insane asylums’, female mental health problems were an excuse to commit women as a means to control them in order to maintain the male-dominated status-quo

Today, the news is dominated by another phenomenon, the #FreeBritney movement, that toes the line between awareness and exploitation. Many likely remember Britney Spears’s meltdown in 2007 when she shaved her head and did a stint in rehab. The meltdown was the front page of tabloid news, capitalising on the mental fragility of the then 25-year-old pop star.  After the public crises and her failed time in rehab, many wondered if she would end up like Marilyn Monroe, whose very public death in 1962 similarly took over the news cycle. 

Britney fell out of public interest for a while until she started making more public appearances again. Despite the hiatus, the public never really forgot her meltdown. Over a decade later memes of her meltdown still circulate the internet and a reference to Britney became the easiest punchline for jokes. Again, today’s interest in the singer has little to do with her prolific career, but rather the status of her legal battle with her father regarding the decade-long conservatorship due to her struggles with mental health. 

In 2021 the New York Times released a documentary titled Framing Britney Spears. The feature looks at the nature of the conservatorship and the star’s lengthy court battle over who should be in control of her estate. The public intrigue was so great that BBC also created a film about her troubled life. 

Both films criticise how the media in 2007 and 2008 capitalised on her misfortune, exacerbating her already very public struggles. Britney herself described them as hypocritical for similarly capitalising on her life’s misfortunes and her mental health struggles. Britney Spears didn’t ask for this publicity in relation to her personal life. While — rightly or wrongly — there is an expectation for stars to open up their lives to the public, the burden mostly falls to female stars who are unduly scrutinised.

As an Atlantic article noted: “There’s Never Been a Story like Britney Spears”. Although the fanfare in relation to #FreeBritney may indeed be a unique occurrence, the interest in stars’ mental health problems has always been a public fascination — especially those of female celebrities.

In 2018 when Mariah Carey opened up about having bipolar disorder, the announcement covered headlines. In that case, however, it was an attempt to take back the narrative of her mental health that was robbed from her after spending decades in the spotlight. 

The conversation about mental health may be changing, but stars like Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston had to live through a different time. In 2001 when Mariah Carey was hospitalised and put under psychiatric care,the news reported that she was in “hysterics”. She fell into the same patriarchal gaze of early psychiatry. The event in 2001 labelled Carey as a “diva” and, similar to Britney, she was never quite able to get out from behind the shadow of her meltdown. Houston, similarly, became defined by “crack is wack” after an interview in 2002 until her untimely death a decade later. 

“Who doesn’t love it when celebrities go crazy?” said a blogger at NewNowNex in a Carey-appreciation post. Whether its Britney Spears, Jade Goody or the Duchess of Sussex, the public is willing to sit and watch any spectacle unfurl. 

This isn’t just a generational issue — the manner in which media scrutinises and talks about ‘normal’ celebrity behaviour is also a question of gender. Not only that, BAME women in Hollywood are even more likely to have their conditions ignored. Race often plays into the personification of racial stereotypes like “inclinations of women of color toward addiction, excessive sexuality, and anger”. These stereotypes build on mental health problems so that, when a BAME star shows inclinations towards preconceived notions of their race, instead of having their mental health problems dealt with they are criticised for their predilections towards “bad habits”. This is seen with the treatment of Mariah Carey who, even after the announcement of her bipolar diagnosis, is still unduly criticised for her behaviour unlike Britney Spears who, with the same diagnosis, garnered public sympathy.

Mental health organisations have guidelines for news and media networks on how they should write and publish stories about mental health issues. Unfortunately, despite their efforts, mental health gossip still makes front page news. Stars that are public about mental health are put on lists regardless of the intention behind it.  If news organisations are not going to change the way they cover news, then it is up to the consumers. Your clicks matter and avoiding those articles helps take away their power. 

JAN Trust works to help create safe spaces for the communities we work with, including online communities. Through our Web Guardians™ programme, we empower and educate women to know how to protect their kids from dangerous exposure online, including the headlines regarding mental health crises. For more information about our work visit our website.

Posted in Advocacy, Campaign, Campaigning, discrimination, Ethnic Minorities, girls, Health Issues, mental health, Online abuse, Online hate, Representation, Society, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grenfell Tower: The Cognitive Dissonance of the Response

The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy is full of contradictions.  

Behind a charade of solidarity, national and local government have continuously failed to deliver justice to victims. This blog explores the cognitive dissonance of the Grenfell Tower response and how we may be seeing the same things repeated in the aftermath of Covid-19. 

The significance of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower should not be understated. On 14 June 2017 the UK’s worst residential fire since the Second World War ripped through the tower, killing 72 people and causing hundreds of other residents suffer trauma and lose everything. The response in the immediate aftermath of the fire was one of shock and an outpouring of support for the victims. Politicians across all parties were dismayed and Theresa May, then Prime Minister, declared: “The fire at Grenfell Tower was an unimaginable tragedy for the community, and for our country. My Government will do whatever it takes to help those affected, get justice and keep our people safe.”  

Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Boris Johnson renewed May’s promise to the victims, stating “we will continue – as the previous Prime Minister promised – to support the affected families”. So, over four years after the fire, have those promises been kept? 

Government at both a local and national level have failed to uphold their commitment to bringing justice to the victims of Grenfell Tower. Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) Borough Council were responsible for Grenfell Tower prior to the fire and offloaded the property management to a separate organisation established in 1996, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO). KCTMO’s decisions and negligent behaviour, acting on behalf of RBKC, were key factors that caused the blaze. In response to the fire, the chief of the RBKC council resigned, and the council now boasts a Grenfell Recovery Strategy that is committed to supporting and bringing justice to victims, while centring recovery on the needs of the community. Yet, at the same time, over four years after the fire, six families are still awaiting permanent rehousing by the council, despite the council being the richest local authority in the UK.  

The borough council has a history of ignoring the needs of the more deprived areas of the borough. This rangers from refusing to buy up the famous Notting Hill slum buildings that housed some of London’s poorest in the early 21st century and use them for social housing — instead allowing their redevelopment as middle class housing — to building the Westway motorway directly through Ladbroke Grove, destroying homes for a convenient route out of central London for wealthy Londoners. Since Grenfell, the council has continued in its ways. Its leadership is unrepresentative of the diverse communities it serves and its decision-making, especially in regards to redevelopment projects, continues to cause friction with the local community.  

Even recent victories by local campaigners, like stopping the demolition of Wornington College in late 2017, are seen as only made possible by the ‘Grenfell context’. Kensington and Chelsea council has long been seen as a local authority that fundamentally misunderstands the communities it represents; if it is committed to justice after Grenfell, it must do more to understand community needs and put people before profit. 

Meanwhile in national government, while Downing Street is lit green every year in tribute and Boris Johnson promises the mistakes that led to the fire will not be repeated, Conservative MPs recently voted against an amendment to the Fire Safety Act 2021 which would have protected private residents living in buildings covered in the cladding that made Grenfell so flammable. By blocking the amendment five times, the government voted for the interests of landlords and property managers above those of residents, so that the cost of making buildings safe falls on residents. The Prime Minister’s words about lessons being learned and justice being served to residents everywhere were seemingly empty. Until government stops siding with landlords and property management companies and instead actively holds them to account, any ‘commitment’ to post-Grenfell justice is just a façade. 

With the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing the same tactics of government repeating empty words of remembrance without facing the reality of the role it played and changing for the better. Groups like Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice are facing an uphill battle to get any accountability for the UK’s Covid death toll. Their fight is similar to that of campaigning groups set up after Grenfell, like Justice 4 Grenfell. It has also been pointed out that both the Grenfell and Covid-19 outcomes are inextricably linked to race.  

We must recognise where the words of those in power do not match their actions, so we can fight to ensure history does not repeat itself. JAN Trust is committed to advocating for BAMER communities on issues that disproportionately affect them. 

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, BAME, british, discrimination, Ethnic Minorities, Health Issues, Inclusion, London, Politics, Prime Minister, Representation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Overcoming White fragility is the first step towards anti-racism

Discomfort with confronting whiteness, and a fear of being labelled as ‘racist’, is preventing White people from engaging in important conversations about race. 

The last year has seen the explosion of a global conversation about race, with an increased focus on the importance of being anti-racist. However, conversations about racism can often find themselves shut down by White people who refuse to properly cooperate with them. 

Sociologist Robin DiAngelo famously describes this phenomenon as ‘white fragility’, the “disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged”. It’s easy to want to defend yourself when discussions about racism arise, or your own inadvertently racist actions are challenged. “But I don’t see colour!” you may cry. “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!”. “My friend/sister-in-law/postman is a person of colour!”. I think I can safely speak for the entire White community when I say that we’ve all been there. 

This discomfort with discussions about race and racism is understandable. Our society, which is grounded in White privilege, has shielded White people from having to think about our race and the role that it plays in our lives, the lives of others, and society as a whole. Whiteness is treated as the default, the norm for human beings. To be White is to, ironically, be raceless. If anything, the idea of “not seeing colour” applies more to whiteness than to any other race — ‘race’ is seen as something possessed by people of colour, not White people.  

As White people, we usually don’t ‘see’ our own race, and our position of privilege means that we don’t have to. We exist in a space of comfort that people of colour are unable to inhabit — the impact of race is felt in every area of their lives from a young age, and is something that constantly has to be navigated. People of colour cannot be ignorant to their own race, but White people can. As a result, conversations about racism in which we are required to confront our whiteness and its negative connotations can be incredibly uncomfortable because we aren’t used to having to do this kind of work. We lack the “racial stamina”.  

Having to confront our place at the top of a racial hierarchy can also be difficult because it’s easy to feel like you’re being implicated with white supremacy. As DiAngelo points out, much of this comes down to how we define ‘racism’. As a 2020 study demonstrated, the majority of the British public see racism as a matter of ‘personal prejudice’. Racism is seen as a good/bad binary — people are either bad, mean racists, or good, compassionate non-racists.  

Seeing racism in this way makes it easy for White progressives, like myself, to detach ourselves from it. If racism is purely about the N-word, or hate crime, or far-right extremist groups, then I am not racist. I can happily argue that discussions about race and racism are completely irrelevant to me, and secure my status as a good, non-racist White person.  

Obviously, it isn’t this easy. Racism is not just about extreme, individual prejudice, and I am not free from discussions about it just because I’m not a member of National Action. Individual cases of discrimination and violence are ultimately grounded in a systemic mishmash of hierarchical power dynamics, institutionalised prejudice, and structural barriers — this is what anti-racism is about confronting, with cases of far-right extremism and white supremacy an obvious part of that. Conversations about race are not about forcing White people to throw our hands in the air and shout “yes, you got me, I’m a horrible racist!”. Instead, they are about making us acknowledge how the system is designed to benefit us at the expense of others; recognise how we contribute to this system; check our own privilege; and unpack the deep-seated prejudice and biases that we may not be aware of.  

The central issue with white fragility is that it shuts down important conversations: silencing the challenge, delegitimising important points of discussion, and instead operating to maintain the current racial hierarchy. For White people trying to become effective anti-racist allies, a continuous process of unpacking and overcoming this fragility is a critical first step. We cannot effectively tackle racism when we refuse to acknowledge the system that we both benefit from and contribute to. Racism is a White problem that White people benefit from, and it is our responsibility as White people to try and fix it. Recognising this is not the same as admitting to being a neo-Nazi. It’s just being a good ally.  

At JAN Trust, our advocacy work encourages women and girls to be anti-racist, with our Another Way Forward™ programme, in particular, empowering young women to lead their own online campaigns. 

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, Another Way Forward, BAME, british, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, Inclusion, Racism, Representation, Society, We At JAN Trust | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jake Davison was an extreme misogynist. Doesn’t that make him a terrorist?

How the Plymouth shooting illuminates the urgency of de-normalising such misogynistic ideologies in society.  

On 12 August 2021, Jake Davison embarked on Britain’s worst mass shooting in over a decade. Davison, a 22-year-old White male who repeatedly declared his hatred of women, shot and killed five people in Plymouth, including his own mother and a 3-year-old girl, before taking his own life. The police soon determined the shooting as non-terror-related. Yet, the investigation into the Plymouth shootings has since emphasised the role that his adherence to extreme misogynistic ideology played in his murderous decisions. Indeed, Davison had links to the ‘incel’ community.  

“Women are arrogant and entitled beyond belief,” Davison ranted to a 16-year-old US teenage girl on a subreddit forum, just five days before he murdered five people. In the online exchanges, obtained by the Observer, Davison expressed his belief that women “treat men with zero respect or even view them as human beings,” and implied that sexual assaults were justified because “women don’t need men no more.” 

Evidence of his misogynistic views goes further, with his claiming that he was “entitled” to a “16, 17-year-old GF [girlfriend]”. After the teenager questioned why Davison would pursue young girls, he responded: “If I were to walk into my room and find a 16-year-old spread wide on my bed yeah I would have sex with her.”  

Incels are men who describe themselves as “involuntary celibates,” referring to an online community that blame women for their failed relationships and the fact that they are not having sex. “In other words, they’re not having sex and they want to be,” explained Laura Bates to the Guardian, author of the book Men Who Hate Women. The incel movement encompasses a spectrum of different attitudes and beliefs, but expressions of violent misogyny are common. Online forums have detailed what they describe as a ‘day of rebellion’ or ‘incel uprising,’ where they pursue their beliefs in the real world and murder women. The incel movement has inspired several well-known murders in the US, including Elliot Rodger, who killed six and injured fourteen in attempt to instigate a “war on women” for refusing him sex in California in 2014. Indeed, incel culture is considered to strongly overlap with extremist right-wing ideology.  

Yet, the men who have carried out attacks in the name of incel culture are almost never classed as terrorists by the justice system or police. In attempt to understand why, it is important to refer to the definition of terrorism in the UK.  

The  Terrorism Act 2000 outlines the definition  as: 

  • The use or threat of violence designed to influence the government, an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of it 
  • The use or threat of the violence is for the “purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial] or ideological cause” 
  • The violence must be “serious violence” or actions that would endanger someone’s life or cause serious damage to property 

Would misogynistic incel-inspired violence not be prosecuted as terrorism? Are these men not being radicalised to advance a male supremacist ideological cause? Does this not pose a serious terrorist threat that could lead to further attacks?  

Yet, just hours after the Plymouth shootings, local MP Johnny Mercer determined the murders an “isolated incident,” claiming that it was no longer ongoing and there was no reason for people to be afraid. However, the extreme misogyny ideology that it is propagated by incel culture is a threat to all women and all communities. We cannot normalise the radicalising nature of those online spaces, and the extreme acts of violence that it inspires.  

Indeed, it is feared that the Plymouth shoots may be a sign that incel culture is gaining traction. As highlighted in a BBC news article, research from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London shows that one of the biggest forums for incel online activity has around 13,000 active members and around 200,000 threads. In fact, the impact of the pandemic, lockdowns, and subsequent social isolation risk pushing people towards extremism, and will undeniably have led to the radicalisation of more men by the online incel community. 

An investigation has commenced  by the Independent Office for Police Conduct into why Davison’s firearms licence was returned to him in July following an allegation of assault against him since September 2020. Perhaps this is reflective of a gender-blind approach to prosecuting violence against women and girls in the UK. On average, a woman is killed in the UK by a man every three days. Had Davison’s public misogynistic beliefs been taken more seriously by police watchlists, perhaps tragedies such as that in Plymouth could have been avoided. It is time to reframe the normalisation of such women-hating ideologies in society. And perhaps viewing these misogynistic acts of violence as terrorism is one place to start.  

At JAN Trust, we put a focus on minimising the prevalence of domestic violence by providing impartial, culturally sensitive and confidential advice and guidance in English and South Asian languages for women suffering or fleeing from domestic abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, try to maintain social connections online or over the phone, if it is safe to do so. We also offer  workshops  that aim to raise awareness of how to detect cases of FGM, as well as offer advice on how to support victims.

Posted in british, Crime, Extremism, Far right, girls, Hate Crime, Racism, radicalisation, Radicalisaton, Sexual Violence, Terrorism, Violence, Violence Against Women, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment