Is race a fluid concept?

Genetics do not always line up with personal identity. Fact. The most prominent example of this is transexuality. So does this apply to race too?

The recent news headline involving Rachel Dolezal, who pretended to be black, has bought this issue to light. The NAACP leader darkened her skin and fabricated her heritage in order to alter her perceived ethnicity. The reasons for doing so are blurred, some suggest that Dolezal merely pretended to be another race for her own gains, whilst Dolezal herself states that she identified with black culture from a young age. The issue here is whether it is possible to be transracial, or whether such acts are seen as cultural appropriation. There is a fine line between the two, and many debates are emotionally charged due to the history of black oppression.

The case of Rachel Dolezal is complicated, as she is a successful civil rights activist and appears to have consistently acted in the interests of the black community. If reports are true that Rachel only began to identify as black in her early 20s, then this is certainly a case of cultural appropriation. Adopting a certain ethnicity, or practices within an ethnicity, without fully understanding and experiencing the tribulations which come along with that race, is wrong. This further exploits and oppresses a particular race as a commodity which can be used by anyone. As Amandla Stenberg eloquently put it, what if we loved black people as much as black culture? ‘Blackness’ should not be worn as a style – this belittles the discrimination that black people face everyday. Being black is more than skin deep.

Whilst I believe that it is always wrong to appropriate another race, I do believe that people should be allowed to identify as transracial. After all, we have no right to tell someone how they feel or who they believe they truly are. This is an issue of identity and integrity. However, transraciality can only be acceptable in particular circumstances. An individual cannot truly identify as another ethnicity if they have lived within a family or community purely comprising of their own race. In this instance, how is a person supposed to properly understand the history and complexities of another race? This is the problem I have with Rachel Dolezal, she has consistently lived in majority white communities. Dolezal was born in Lincoln County, Montana which is 96.9% white, and now lives in Spokane, Washington which is 86.7% white.

However, transraciality may be acceptable in a case where a child is surrounded by a different race to their own. If a child grows up in a mixed race family, or is surrounded by neighbours of a different race, then it is entirely plausible for that child to identify as a different race to their own. In this case, the person has witnessed the culture, customs, and discrimination related to another race. Race is only a fluid concept when a person understands another race holistically.

Without a holistic understanding of races, this can lead to cultural appropriation, racism, and bigotry.


South Africa: a country of contradictions?

I recently visited Johannesburg and Pretoria, along with some rural villages, and the country has a fascinating political and cultural landscape. The country remains divided… yet diverse. It remains primitive… yet urban. How can a country seem so contradictory?

As South Africa is one of the leading developing countries on the continent, such paradoxes may be inevitable. Throughout the process of economic development, societies are bound to change rapidly and unevenly, but the added racial history makes this country all the more interesting. Paradoxes in South Africa are not only political and economic, but also very much racial. Although this can also be said for countries like the U.S., this gap is much more extreme in South Africa.

How can one part of the country be so prosperous when the majority live in a cycle of poverty? It is evident that disparity between races correlate with economic divergences, and the two together exacerbate each problem.

It seems as if there are numerous hurdles to cross in order for the country to develop further. Although South Africa is a member of the BRICS and a key regional leader, it must be said that development cannot occur without some level of equality. When we consider South Africa to be rapidly developing, we are only seeing this development in the minority of the country.

This also occurs in other BRICS countries, but perhaps the legacy of apartheid has worsened this problem in South Africa.


Emma Watson’s UN Speech #HeForShe

It seems as though a ‘Fourth Wave’ of Feminism is beginning to appear, as feminism is beginning to enter the wide spread public arena for the first time. Unexpected? Definitely.

Although feminism has long had the stigma of being ‘man-hating’, many public figures such as Beyonce, Michelle Obama, and Emma Watson are taking up the cause and disproving this opinion. Personally, I see this as a huge triumph.

HeForShe is fantastic because it shows that feminism concerns both men and women, and can strongly involve men instead of side-lining half of the population in such an important issue. Not only does HeForShe aim to involve men, but it also brings moderate feminism into the public arena, instead of the so commonly known and hated ‘radical’ feminism.

There is absolutely no reason for men and boys to not be involved in the struggle for gender equality. Yes, many will argue that men can never really understand the struggle as they typically do not experience sexual harassment and disadvantages in education or work around the world, on a first hand basis compared with women. However, Emma Watson made the extremely significant point that gender inequality also forces prejudices onto men too. I’m sure most people have heard phrases such as ‘men don’t cry’ or ‘real men are strong’. Such phrases are so detrimental to gender equality, and are certainly issues that can be taken up by the feminist movement.

After all, most men/boys have a close female relative or friend, so feminism concerns everyone. Fathers, I’m sure you want to live in a world where your daughters can succeed? Men, I’m sure you want to live in a world where your sisters and mothers are seen as equal to you?

How can a movement ever succeed if it only involves half of the population? Men, this is your struggle too. Help us to end gender inequality.

Feminism = equality. Feminism is NOT man hating.


Pro-Life or Anti-Choice?

Pro-choice = Anti-life?

It bothers me that the phrase ‘pro-life’ is so commonly used as an antonym to ‘pro-choice’. It suggests that the opposite of pro-life are somehow anti-life and support abortion unconditionally, which is simply not true. Such a phrase is unfair and attaches a huge stigma to those who do not agree with the pro-life stance. Pro-choice does not equal anti-life, as the phrase indicates.

I have always been a strong supporter of the woman’s right to choose, as pregnancy concerns her body and the inevitable changes it will endure. A woman should always have ultimate control over her own body.

It would be far more appropriate to label the phrases ‘anti-choice’ and ‘pro-choice’.

It seems that the debate over abortion within America is intrinsically biased, largely due to the fact that the Christian Right hold a great amount of influence over American politics, and drive the debate towards the anti-abortion direction. This begins with the subtle differences in the phrases used.

 

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#GazaUnderAttack

Like many others across the world, I have recently witnessed the actions of Israel within Gaza under Operation Protective Edge, which began on July 8th. Like many others across the world, I have been horrified and ashamed that this has been allowed to happen and gone unpunished by the international community.

It seems to me that Israel exists in an untouchable moral bubble where its actions cannot be prevented, and certainly not criticised. Most of the time, governments, groups, or individuals are afraid to condemn or disparage Israel for fear that they will be labelled ‘Anti-Semitic’. It should be made clear that a free Palestine is not equated with the abolition of Jews, and the Zionist philosophy of Netanyahu’s government is certainly not the same as Judaism. Zionism is the issue, not Judaism.

So far, 400 civilian Palestinians have been killed during this Operation in Gaza, many of which are defenceless children or elderly. Israel stated that Operation Protective Edge served the purpose of targeting and eliminating terrorists within Gaza, so please tell me, which of these civilians were a terrorist threat to the ‘eternally moral’ Israel? What does Israel have to do to cross this moral boundary and be stopped? Apparently the killing of innocent civilians is not enough.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/07/israel-steps-up-eastern-gaza-bombardment-2014720123112421823.html

Let’s look at this from an alternative perspective… if an Arab country were to consistently violate international laws and ignore United Nations resolutions, such a country would be immediately criticised and invaded by Western nations in order to protect the human rights of the citizens. Was this not the case with Iraq and Saddam Hussein? It seems that the governments of the Western world blindly support Israel. Hypocrite is the word that comes to mind.

A number of UN resolutions that Israel have ignored include Resolution 181 in 1947 regarding the appropriate partition of the land in Israel/Palestine, Resolution 2546 in 1969 outlining the condemnation of Israeli violations of human rights in the occupied territories, and Resolution 36/98 in 1981 demanding that Israel renounces possession of nuclear weapons. The international community needs to act now before Israel can commit further devastating war crimes.

Although many news outlets will report the current situation in Gaza, the picture given is often incomplete and watered down by the priorities and pro-Israeli associations of such news outlets. A key example of this is the notorious BBC, which has consistently failed to report the atrocities committed in Gaza, despite public uproar. I have recently taken to following the twitter accounts of Palestinians living in Gaza and watching live streams created by those Palestinians – one of which I recommend supporting  is Jehad Saftawi.

Please continue to support the cause for a Free Palestine.


The stigma of the benefits system

It often saddens me that government support for low income families, otherwise known as benefits, is seen in a negative light. It is the common perception amongst more wealthy individuals that those on benefits are merely scroungers who refuse to work, and get paid significant amounts of money for being ‘lazy’. The truth couldn’t be more wrong…

The most common stigma is that poorer individuals are on benefits because they “can’t be bothered to go out and find a job”. As the Guardian has outlined, 82% of those who claim benefits are in fact in employment. Furthermore, unemployment benefits take up a fraction of the overall benefits paid to families or individuals, as ten times more money is spent on pensions; and income support, incapacity, and housing benefits also outweigh the money that goes towards unemployment benefits.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/apr/06/welfare-britain-facts-myths

A friend of mine recently stated that those on benefits should be given food vouchers instead of money, as those on benefits often spend that money on drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. My first response was, “What? Where did you find that information?”, as the media often distorts and corrupts facts regarding low income families and their typical behaviour. This stereotype couldn’t be more wrong. Imagine living from approximately £100 per week as job seekers allowance in a central London location where prices are high. Without regards to any housing benefits or other tax benefits, the £100 is the main source of income for this individual and their everyday living costs. The £100 must include food, bills, and travel expenses, with often little to nothing left over. Yes, many individuals may purchase cigarettes or alcohol, but not more so than a high income family, and this is limited by other, more important, expenses. Aside from the fact that those on benefits do not receive large amounts of money, and are not necessarily lazy, it is so dehumanising to poorer individuals to suggest that because they are on benefits, they should only receive money for strictly food products. This suggests that a poorer person should be deprived of the right to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, for example.

We have become a generation of people who look down upon those on benefits, and this needs to change.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – Marx