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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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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.

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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Oprah Winfrey and travelling while black

Oprah Winfrey is one of the world’s richest women but it didn’t stop a Zurich shop assistant from assuming she couldn’t afford the bag she wanted to buy. I talk about the real risks of travelling when black and sadly, they are more troublesome than having trouble buying a £24,000 bag.

Oprah Guardian

Oprah Guardian

 

There was a depressing familiarity to Oprah Winfrey’s tale of racism in an upmarket Swiss boutique.

Billionaire TV presenter Oprah is a household name around the world but this didn’t stop the staff in an Zurich handbag shop from assuming she couldn’t afford the expensive bag she wanted to buy.

In Oprah’s case, she decided not to make a scene or to play the ‘do you know who I am?’ card, instead choosing to leave the shop and spend her money elsewhere.

Oprah knew just mentioning her experience would be pay back enough and already the owner of the boutique has apologised and tried to explain away the incident as a ‘misunderstanding’.

While £25k handbags are not normally on my shopping list, being made acutely aware of your race when you leave the safety of home is all too familiar…

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This article was originally published in the Guardian with thanks to Writers of Colour

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Serve me up a Frankenburger but go easy on the branding

Yesterday’s announcement that scientists have created the first fully lab-grown burger left many feeling nauseous.
We have an emotional connection to what we put in our bodies and the idea of a burger made on a Petri dish leaves many people cold.

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I don’t share this revulsion.
Even when the rules are followed and our food isn’t bulked out with horse or fed its own dead, the way our meat is produced is already pretty vile. (more…)

Osborne and my Right-to-Buy

Giveaway George has me left in a quandary.

Despite the constant calls for him to let Britain grow its way out of this never ending downturn, he decided, in this week’s Budget, to put all of his economic eggs into the housing basket.

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“Owning your own home is the most basic human aspiration” said Gorgeous Gideon as he explained that, despite saying the cupboards were bare, he had managed to come up with £12bn for his mortgage guarantee scheme, £3.5bn for his Help-to-Buy scheme and £130bn to underwrite mortgages.

He also increased the maximum Right-to-Buy discount for council tenants who want to become home owners from £75k to £100k.

I’ve lived in one council flat or other for almost my entire life.

The flat I live in now, on a slightly grimy Tooting council estate, has been my home for over 20 years. (more…)

Through whose eyes? white saviours in film

There is an old African saying, made popular again by the excellent Somali rapper K’naan, which says, “Until the lion learns to speak, the tales of hunting will always favour the hunter”. I take this to mean if you are not writing your own history, you can’t be sure that your side of the story will be told.

The_Help_Movie

Last Sunday, I went to the Haymarket to watch The Help, Dreamwork’s adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller which looks at the lives of black maids in 1960s Mississippi. (more…)