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Learning to love thy new neighbour

Deep down, I’ve always been a bit of a bigot.

That’s not an easy thing for a ranting lefty to admit, but I can only change what I accept exists so it’s time for my ego to face the music and do the dance of contrition.

Gentrify This billboard at the Cans Festival, Leake Street, London

Gentrify This billboard at the Cans Festival, Leake Street, London

If we are being truly open minded, our beliefs evolve, nurtured by experiences – both ours and those of other people, throughout our lives. Over the years, I’ve faced down my sexism, become comfortable with diverse religious doctrines and got over my homophobia.

There is a minority group, though, that I regularly let myself socially discriminate against, either with snide remarks on social media or just casual everyday bigotry. I’ve been pulled up for mocking the way they speak and dress.

I’ve caught myself tutting loudly when stuck behind them at the local supermarket as they squeal with delight because it now stocks some exotic produce or other.

I guess on some level I just doubted their intentions.

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Scotland – Don’t leave the party, help us change the music

I’ve always felt a weird connection to Scotland. I think it’s because of my surname.

Being a Mcleod allows me to wear a kilt when I want to show off at weddings but, as a descendant of Jamaica, my name probably has more to do with ownership than heritage.

Better Together?

Better Together?

Nevertheless, like most lefties, I have always had a massive affection for Scotland.

It was one of the few parts of the UK that refused to vote Tory even when much of the rest of the Union was greedily supping at the Thatcherite teat.

Stereotypes are always problematic, even when positive, but my view, through tartan-tinted glasses, of Scots is that they are calm, intellectual, socially-minded and humorous.

I have no doubt Scotland could be a successful and vibrant independent nation but I want Scotland to vote NO and stay with us.

Many on the left, like Billy Bragg, are supporting the YES vote, arguing Scotland should be free to form a socialist utopia which would be a beacon to the rest of the UK and Europe.

The sad truth is that even if Scotland achieved the society her people are crying out for, many in England would just shrug their shoulders in the same way they currently do about Scandinavia, and carry on.

The rest of England would be that little bit more Farage-friendly. For the left, Scotland’s exit would be like a sibling moving out of home and leaving us to deal with our bullying step father on our own – we would wish them well but be a bit fearful for our future.

Maybe if Scotland goes she can take Kent and Essex with her for balance?

I’d love our Scottish allies to stay and help us take back power from the forces of self-interest and social isolation.

Democracy works best when as large an electorate as possible has equal status on a macro level and as much genuine power as possible locally.

Despite the fear of sounding like John Lennon, I dream of a world with no borders and with a much more direct technology-aided democracy, devolved down to the lowest point possible.

Political leanings can change over generations but constitutional structures are more robust.

Picking one out of an alarmingly similar bunch of bad options twice a decade is a pretty poor version of democracy anyway.

Our societies have evolved from tribes, to villages, to cities, to states, to groups of states. This natural progression, if it comes with a genuinely fair distribution of rights and powers, offers the distant promise of a truly fair world.

With good reason, many fear sprawling, distant, bureaucracies leave people with less power and less involvement in the democratic process. This is simply because institutions like the EU and UK have been allowed to become detached from the people they serve.

The task is to make them truly democratic, not to break them up into smaller invented clumps of self-interested humanity.

Despite all of this, it’s been hard not to be amused by the woefully run ‘Better Together’ campaign.

In the last few panicked days of the campaign it sent three massively unpopular party leaders north of the border to remind Scotland what she might be able to escape from and apparently hired Mr Bean to hoist the saltire over Downing Street.

When your long-standing girlfriend says she needs time to think about your relationship, the decent thing to do is to give her space. The NO campaign instead decided to turn up on her doorstep every night shouting abuse and threatening to confiscate her puppy if she doesn’t take them back.

If Scotland votes to break free on 18 September, I won’t enjoy watching Alex Salmond striding around with a blue-painted face, laying claim to the iron throne of Scotland. It will be a small step away from the unified world I want to see but the short term silver lining will be an implosion of Cameron’s leadership.

I’m hoping for a NO vote but one that is dangerously close enough to give Cameron a bloody nose and to leave the Westminster establishment scrambling around for ways to make the UK more democratic.

The Greatest Show on Earth

Football frequently makes me a hypocrite.

I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my life thinking, writing and ranting about social justice but when it comes to football, I’m as blinkered as a Daily Mail reader.

A bunch of philandering millionaires, kicking a bit of leather around, get my full-hearted backing in a way that city traders and industry big-wigs can only dream of.

I’ve turned a blind eye to racism, violence and homophobia when it comes from men who happen to wear the red shirt of the team I randomly follow.

I’ve spent my last dime travelling to cheer a group of strangers who wouldn’t waste the steam from their Bentleys’ exhausts on me if I were on fire.

Off the pitch it gets worse.protests

Football is ‘organised’ by a multinational dictatorship which is dripping in blood, bigotry and corruption.

Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, has told gay people worried about travelling to homophobic Qatar to “refrain from any sexual activities.”

He’s suggested the way to increase popularity of the women’s game is to get women playing in “more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts.” Before adding “Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so,”

He even suggested that racism on the pitch should be resolved by no more than a handshake.

For years now I’ve been planning my trip to Brazil for this year’s World Cup.

With my small diverse group of football watching mates, I’ve travelled the world to watch this glorious game.

I’ve hugged and cried with strangers in the Ataturk stadium in Istanbul as my beloved Liverpool did the unthinkable.

I’ve been swamped by cheering Portugeezers after they knocked England out on penalties.

I’ve watched open mouthed as Zinedine Zidane, the greatest footballer of his generation, said goodbye to football with a head-butt.

Brazil promised to eclipse it all.

If England is football’s biological father, then Brazil is its spiritual home.

You can keep your Wemblies and your Stades de France, watching the World Cup final in Rio’s legendary Maracanã, would be a football Haj.

Three years ago I accidentally (don’t ask!) went on a two week holiday to Brazil and feel in love with this amazing nation.

The people are warm, the climate is beautiful and the setting is stunning.

While it isn’t quite the post-racial melting pot that it is sometimes held up as, it has some interesting things to say about the transience race.

Until last year, I was making my plans and looking forward to this summer.

Then 2 million Brazilians took to the streets during last summer’s Confederations Cup finals and I took notice.

Despite Brazil’s rapidly increasing wealth, there are many who have been left behind.

The favela’s, which are still predominantly black, are still places of squalor perched on hillsides overlooking some of Brazil’s most iconic sights.

The Brazilian World Cup will earn FIFA £3.5bn from the month-long tournament but Brazil’s poor face draconian policing and very little else.

The government has trampled on homes and uprooted communities to prepare for the games.

Some estimates say the bill for hosting the World Cup and Olympics two years later will be close to $1 trillion.

Brazil’s President Dilma will claim the bill won’t be that high and that the spending will provide a lasting legacy for her nation. Brazil’s poor will be wisely sceptical that any boost to the economy will trickle down to them.

Watching the World Cup leaves me way more excited than is acceptable for a grown man. This year I’m doing it from my living room and in the pubs.

Despite the lowlifes that run it and the dodgy politics that surround it, the World Cup is still the greatest show on earth.

This year, for once, football won’t make me a hypocrite.

Can Coca-Cola ‘open happiness’ in Swaziland?

Five years ago, I found my father via Facebook.

I had always known he lived in a small African nation called Swaziland but hadn’t seen or spoken to him since he returned there after a short stay in the UK in the 60s.

My father sadly passed away six weeks before I first stepped foot on Swazi soil but I have been lucky enough to visit the country four times since. I have met seven new siblings, gone to my grandmother’s 100th birthday celebrations, taught in rural schools and got to know something of this verdant, undulant, landlocked little nation.

Swaziland is one of the world’s last absolute monarchies. The present King, Mswati III, has enjoyed total power over his million subjects since his coronation in 1986.

The 45 year-old has a personal wealth estimated at £65m, two private jets, a fleet of luxury cars and last month, married his 15th wife.

Yet he rules over one of the planet’s poorest nations.

Almost 70% of the population lives below the international poverty line and Swaziland has one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates (26%) and the one of the lowest life expectancies (49 years).

Placed strategically between regional powerhouse South Africa and the potent Mozambique, resource-rich Swaziland doesn’t have to be poor.

But it’s hard to swim in a stagnant pool and the monarch’s tight grip on power has led to cronyism and an ineffective government.

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By a jury of my peers

12 people in a carriage.

Two Galatasaray fans, dripping in red and yellow, on their way to watch their team in the Champions League.  Clearly on TV in a Turkish bar, since Gala are playing in Istanbul tonight.

An Asian Brit, knowledgeably talking to them about violence in Turkish football – apparently, it’s all Trabzonspor’s fault.

A very smartly dressed, middle-aged Indian couple. He, in a shiny suit with a hankie poking out of his top pocket. Her, in a white sari and glasses that would have suited Gina Lollobrigida. Take in the scenes on the tube as if observing Dalits during the Raj.

A Canadian sounding young same-sex couple poorly pretends to be just friends. Holding hands, whispering and furtively looking around to gauge the reactions of the rest of the carriage.

A white architect in his 50s. Dressed in the scruffy way that says ‘I’m an intellectual’, buries his head in his impressive looking plans.

A couple of work colleagues, who ‘have been around as long as they have’, gossip about their mutual office hate figure who really doesn’t deserve the easy ride she gets.

And me, looking quite ghetto but wishing the too-cute-to-approach, corporate woman reading this over my shoulder knew that I was a writer.

The ugly underbelly of private renting

When my mum first came to Britain from Jamaica in the 60s, overt racism was just a normal part of her day-to-day experience.

She never tires of telling me about the famous ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ signs that landlords put up on properties.

pic by Paul Joseph

pic by Paul Joseph

In those pre-equality regulation days, bigotry didn’t need to hide behind plastic smiles, it was allowed to roam free and unashamed.

The  Race Relations Act 1976 was supposed to put an end to all that and the Equalities Act 2010 seemed to reinforce the message that discriminating against someone because of the amount of melanin in their skin was simply not acceptable.

Among other measures, the Act made it:

“unlawful for a person who has the authority to dispose of premises to discriminate against or victimise someone else …by not letting or selling the premises to them.”

An undercover investigation by the BBC’s Inside Out London programme into discrimination in London’s private lettings industry aired last night. It showed that, for some letting agents, these laws are just obstacles to be navigated….

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Black history gets the Hollywood treatment

Hollywood has a very dubious history when it comes to telling the stories from Black history.
For years America’s guilt at the way it has treated it’s Black population saw Hollywood airbrush Black people out of many of the stories it told.

12-years-a-slave-poster

If Native Americans were vilified in many Westerns, Black people were pretty much ignored. The almost all-white Wild West presented in these films bore little resemblance to the reality in which almost a quarter of cowboys were Black and even more were Hispanic.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) was widely credited with giving a more realistic view of the Wild West, and while it was a hugely entertaining and successful film, Django’s tale still had the familiar ring of the poor Black man being liberated by the kindly white man.

The ‘white saviour’ narrative has been repeated over and over again and has allowed stories that America finds difficult to tell seem more palatable.

For a film to work for mainstream audiences the perceived wisdom seemed to be that the stories of ethnic minorities need to be told through the lens of a character white audiences can relate to. Using the white saviour ploy allows a white audience to watch a film about oppression, even with white oppressors, and align themselves with the good white person and Black ‘victims’.

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