This was the title of this bold programme, presented by the poet Dean Atta, broadcast yesterday on BBC Radio 4. I caught the second half in the car, between appointments. When I got home last night, I listened to the whole thing. For me, the programme, the subject matter, was a must listen.
As a white person, the N-word is not my word. That is to say, I don’t use it, but I am aware of its violent history. It was thought-provoking, through the prism of Atta’s poem of the same name, to hear Darcus Howe and the comedian Reginald D. Hunter share their thoughts about it’s use and their own relationship with the word. It was clear, after listening to the poem and the personal views shared, that there is no easy answer to the question of the N-word. But why should there be. Language makes us who we are, and who we are is different. And also the same. I prefer to focus on the latter, but I don’t ignore the former. I don’t use the N-word because it is not part of my culture. I don’t think in the N-word. Some people do. Who am I to tell people how to think?
Still, I admire Dean Atta’s poem and it was interesting to hear him reflect on how, since he wrote it and was exposed over and over to the N-word, it sort of lost some of its negative emotional power for him. That put me in mind of another poet, who wrote about washing words – that if you use and re-use them – over and over – they do lose some of their original meaning. This is contrary to Howe’s approach say, where the aim was to reclaim the word, something that Atta thought had failed to materialise, but not because it had not been reclaimed in some quarters, but because he still heard it used with all it’s former venom.
The fact is, we can’t wash words permanently. Meanings can change, but they can’t be erased. Negro became used in the Americas because it was the Spanish/Portugese word for black. Spanish and Portugese imported African slaves. The word carries it’s history on it’s sleeve, however we change it over the years. At the end of the day, categorising someone by skin colour seems reductive, but I understand why it happens. My own children can never be white, but they can always be black. Like Atta said, he may be of Greek Cypriot and Jamaican heritage – but, politically, he is a black man.
So, is it the words themselves that are the problem, or the apparently continued need of people to define similarity and difference in the most blindingly obvious of ways? Reginald D. Hunter said that Atta’s poem was idealistic because he personally, wanted to move beyond a label. Hunter’s point was that we are all labelled, whether we like or not and we don’t actually get to choose the labels. I guess that’s true, but a conversation about whether could ever move beyond that state of affairs is one that I think is worth having.
Warning: today’s post seems a bit catty but no cats were harmed in its production.
I have listened to what seems like Lib Dem after Lib Dem come on the radio since Friday, each producing some woolly burble about rumours and careers and informal complaints and emails and not sure who knew what or said what to who, but goodness bless my liberal soul, aren’t we all just absolutely on the rack over this whole Lord Rennard thing as it’s so not in keeping with our values.
Well excuse me, but, what? I haven’t ever voted for one of this party’s candidates and on the evidence of the last few days I am not likely to (and that’s leaving aside their general Judas-like record in the so-called coalition government (not so as you’d notice, Nick)) because they are all just infuriating wafflemeisters who have turned a blind eye. At least the ones on the media are (that’s my minor attempt at some balance in an otherwise biased rant).
Oh yes, they bleat on and on and on about doing the right thing, but when it comes to actually doing something about anything it seems they close their eyes, their ears and their mouths and hope that someone, somewhere with a bleeding Lib Dem heart and a dustpan and brush will come along quietly and sweep up the unsightly mess and pop it in a suitable waste disposal facility. Then the Lib Dems can get back to doing what they appear to do best: navel-gazing interspersed with hand-wringing.
And now I am going to say something that pains me because the person in question was one of Lord Rennard’s ‘victims’ and of course sexual harassment in the work place is a serious issue and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, this woman said she had one eye on Lord Rennard and one on her career and the last thing ‘any of them wanted’ was all this media fuss. Oh really. Well, if you do the right thing and invoke procedures against someone like that it’s bound to get in the media. Kind of goes with the territory, perhaps, sadly.
From what the woman said this lunchtime in a news interview, Lord Rennard came onto her at a conference dinner and she told him where to go, except she couldn’t quite tell him that exactly, because she was a Lib Dem with her career on her mind, so instead she extricated herself from an awkward situation as liberally-mindedly as she could manage and then went to her hotel room. She said at that point, she was so distressed, all she wanted was ‘her daddy’. Whereupon, she called her father, who calmed her down so she could fall asleep somewhere in the same conference hotel as the predatory Lord Rennard and then face him in a training session the following day.
Now, Lord Rennard obviously has questions to answer, but when any sleazeball tries it on with a grown woman, of all the things the grown woman might do or say about the infringement of her civil liberties, calling daddy is not top of my list. Maybe that’s just me, but it just doesn’t seem like the most pragmatic response. Furthermore, sharing this information made her seem overly-emotional and as many a woman with ‘a career’ will tell you, emotional incontinence doesn’t play well on the field of battle. As she felt compelled to share this information with the media and to speak the actual words, that she wanted her daddy on national radio, on the World at One, on BBC Radio 4, I now only have one thing I can say to her. I would have liked that one thing to be something along the lines of, ‘Sorry to hear about this.’ Unfortunately, I have had it up to here with the Lib Dems so the one thing left to say is:
Get A Grip.
In fact, that goes for all you Lib Dems out there. Get a bloody grip and stop whining around on the national media because if you were in trouble before last Friday you are rapidly turning into utter no-hopers in the political stakes now.
I feel mean writing this post. I feel I want to support the women who have allegedly been infringed by Lord Rennard. The trouble is that the Lib Dems are so wishy-washy in nearly every respect I end up getting so frustrated that I froth. That also is my excuse for the ill-considered use of punctuation. Apologies, but better in than out.
I heard this track a while back and loved it. Now I’ve seen the video I am blown away. Rudimental come from Hackney, a place I moved out of when young kids started to get caught, and killed, in gang crossfire. This video is a brave response to urban street life and the choices young men make. Boys evolving into manhood need to assert themselves and their identities and society needs rituals and markers for this to happen in both a symbolic and positive way. Work is one rite of passage that is harder and harder to come by for young men. With time on their hands and hope in short supply it is no wonder some get into gang culture to fill the vacuum modern society has created.
There was an insightful programme on Radio 4 this week about the absence of fathers in the black British community (listen again here). David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, who presents the programme highlights the sad fact that of nineteen youths arrested in the immediate aftermath of the riot in Tottenham last year, only two had fathers who played an active role in their lives. As Lammy puts it, directly from his own experience, he ‘struggled to cope… to fill the great father-shaped hole in his life.’
It sounds dramatic to say this, but I will say it anyway: there is an emerging crisis in masculinity in the UK. I regularly work with men whose skills and knowledge were once needed and recompensed, but as the world has moved on rapidly, they have been devalued and discarded. I work with young men who have no role, no apparent future and no obvious way of creating a meaningful identity for themselves in mainstream society. I see egos in need of emergency first aid and reinvention and I see a culture that would rather point the finger and label people than shoulder some of the blame itself.
The message from the Rudimental video is that there is another way. It is a short, film with maximum visual impact and as such it could be accused of being simplistic. Of course there is not only one answer. But I understand it as a response to a desperate hidden situation that no-one cares about, is barely reported and I believe it is a much-needed start. Rudimental are not the only musicians reflecting these urgent issues, I think also of Plan B and Chase & Status. We must try and harness the energy this music creates, talk about the issues openly and respond creatively to the situation.
The future of the 21st Century male depends on that happening.
Great word: Fudge-A-Rama. That’s what I am sure I heard Evan Davis say to the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, on Friday morning on the Radio 4 Today programme. Boris was being interviewed about a fourth runway for Heathrow, or something (link here at 8.10).
I know what it is, I am into amateur fudgearamatics myself, especially where domestic matters are concerned. Oh yes. New word, straight in the mental dicko. Good neologism promotion Evan (even if it came from Boris in the first instance). I’m a big fan of fudgearama now. I am also a fan of Evan who uses a healthy dose of *quick-witted humour along with an incisive interviewing technique. This makes a blissful change from the unhealthy dose of aggression or righteous shirtiness that often comes with other current interview technicians. He also Boris to ‘shut up’ – often a good idea in my book.
I wonder what grammar stickler John Humphrys has to say about it…
*hear the ‘annoy birds’ comment to Baroness Valentine for a good example thereof
This programme has been on Radio 4 all week. I only caught episode 3, but it was worth it for this introduction which I have transcribed. I thought it was beautiful. If this is it, then life is far more simple than we like to make it.
When you are holding bread… you are holding the cosmos in your hands.
Bread is a microcosm of the macrocosm.
In the bread, is the sun; if there is no sun, there is no bread. In the bread is the moon. In the bread is the rain. In the bread is the soil. In the bread is the farmer. In the bread is the baker. In the bread is the eater. In the bread are all the elements because the bread is made, only, by all the elements put together. So, when you make the bread, bread makes you.
This complete non-duality and complete wholeness of life is represented by bread. Therefore, in Buddhist tradition, also in Hindu and Jain tradition, annam (food), which is bread, is very holy, very sacred, very precious; and through bread you can find your salvation, your nirvana, and your moksha.
Satish Kumar, Editor, Resurgence Magazine and former Jain monk.