Letter to Hugo Rifkind and ‘Intersectionality’ and ‘privilege- checking’

intersectionality pic

Hi Hugo,

I’ll start by saying I generally like your columns. I’m not an avid reader of them because I tend to buy yes- you guessed it- the Guardian and the Independent. I have a housemate who regularly buys the Times, and I read it when it’s around. Well, I read some of it. I always tend to read your stuff if I can.

That’s why I’m bothered enough to respond in an email- usually, despite our often opposing viewpoints on issues, you’re one of the few columnists who is politically different to me who doesn’t make me foam at the mouth.

I’m disappointed in your article on CYP because it makes a mockery of the principles behind it. The article may be arch, it may be wry, but let’s be honest- it’s for a Spectator audience, who will revel in the misinterpretation of both CYP and intersectionality (IS) (something I won’t pretend to be an expert on- and neither is spell-checker, such is the newness of the term in the common lexicon.)

It might be the case that you agree with the principles behind IS, and that you recognise the theories behind it have been subsumed by this new stupid buzz-phrase that you and others claim is being thrown around by everyone. It isn’t by the way- in much the same way that the media is the only entity to refer to mephedrone as ‘meow meow’, it’s also the only entity to have latched on to the phrase ‘check your privilege’. Be honest with yourself, and do a mental exercise noting all the times you heard the phrase uttered by someone other than a journalist.

The main problem with the phrase is the word ‘privilege’. A woman fighting against oppression, a gay or lesbian person fighting against homophobia, a black person fighting racism- these people do not feel ‘privileged’; they feel maligned. And so telling, say, Julie Bindel, who fights hard, every day, that she is privileged, misses the mark, and she doesn’t feel the term could possibly apply to her. ‘Privilege’ is a word most associated with someone like David Cameron. The term is almost a misnomer, and it isn’t helpful. I can see why when it is used, people get angry- ‘how dare they- do they know what I go through?’ would be a likely feeling.

Both detractors and proponents of the (bastardised) phrase are hashing it out, without really understanding the meaning behind it. I have been dismayed at the likes of Laurie Penny trying to explain ‘what it means’ and getting it wrong. A major, major problem is that the point is illustrated neatly by the Guardian ‘debate’ between Louise Mensch and Laurie Penny, with an analysis from Hadley Freeman. Three ‘privileged’ middle-class white women arguing over the meaning of the phrase, not really understanding the oomph behind it…with not a single minority voice in the mix.

The neatest example I can give is what happened with Laurie. Rod Liddle made a racist comment in the Spectator. People can argue about whether it was or not, but the bottom line is ‘black savages’ is easily perceived as racist, regardless of whether the men in question were indeed, savage human beings. The phrase is too loaded with history to be easily ignored by black people, even if we don’t defend the two people it was aimed at. When that phrase is uttered, it conjures a lot of history.

Laurie Penny said people should ignore it because Liddle is a troll. THAT is her privilege. The comment did not feel like a punch in the gut for her, because she is white. It felt like a punch in the gut to me, because I know my ancestors were thought of as savages, that I am thought of by some as savage. The two words together infer they go together like toast and butter. It felt like stepping back in time, reading those words.

Ava Vidal then says actually, black people shouldn’t ignore him, because we should fight and ‘call out’ racism when we see it, particularly at a time of racial tension (caused by the Woolwich murder, and more widely, the economy- extremism always rises in times of economic hardship, does it not?)

Laurie took the point graciously, and accepted that while it was easy for her to dismiss him as a troll, it wasn’t so easy for black people. That graciousness can be effectively described as Laurie checking her privilege. It was her recognising that different kinds of people will feel and react differently to things, and that though her advice might be wise, cogent, and sensible, it does not do the same job for everyone.

So when you mock the phrase, adding to a chorus of the likes of Louise Mensch, and make out that what the phrase means is ‘you can’t talk’, ‘I have more knowledge than you’, or merely ‘recognise that other people have different experiences’, you misrepresent, and ‘slap the face’ of people who know otherwise.
Even your later acknowledgement of what it might mean- that people should be ‘aware’ that people have differing degrees of oppression- misses the point. That is moot. It is obvious. It goes without saying. It is NOT what we are getting at. Yes, everyone should be, and IS, aware that some people are more oppressed than others.

That is merely the starting point. What multi- oppressed people want is a voice. A platform. I do not want someone like you to say ‘I am aware I am more privileged, therefore I will make sure to qualify every argument I make with a declaration of that privilege’. I do not want you to think that you must, every time you have a political point to make, use half of your 1000 words to ensure you got down everyone from a black guy to a disabled guy to a gay guy to a lesbian’s point of view, to cover your bases.

What I would like, is to at least feel spoken for. Of course, not every one of the three black people with big media platforms in this country speaks for me at all. I am not so stupid as to believe that just because someone is black, I will identify with them, or that they are my voice, my direct representation.

But when I see a debate on intersectionality, and it is conducted, in the Guardian, supposedly the paper that cares most about diversity and the voiceless, by three middle-class white women, I think ‘THAT is privilege’. These people then have to be made aware by others that whatever they say on the issue, they cannot know in the same way others might. People will ‘approach’ them on social media to remind them that they have more experience of what the arguers are saying.

And this is the concern- there is very little diversity in the media. People are generally cut from similar cloths. I, as a gay black guy, have to cross my fingers and hope, that when something that pertains to my life is being discussed by the media, that maybe, just maybe, someone will say something that is correct, or relevant. What I want is my voice, or a representative of my voice, giving a more in-tune analysis of things. Maybe a black woman will have something deeper, and more relevant to say on the matter of intersectionality, than Laurie Penny or Louise Mensch. NOT because Laurie or Louise aren’t allowed to talk about the issues- but because they aren’t directly affected by the issues.

The next problem is that the media self-congratulates when it hires the odd black person, or the odd woman, or the odd gay guy, who it deigns can speak for the rest of us. We are all very different. The job isn’t done by using a token, who often then has the weight of whole communities on his or her shoulders, and cannot bear that weight- because who could?

What people want is wider representation, a wider array of voices. Let me put it this way- NO ONE would have a need to say or think ‘check your privilege’ if it wasn’t for the fact that the vast majority of media discourse originates from a tiny set of voices- in the main, white, middle-class male ones. When people use the term, or when they ‘bang on’ about intersectionality, they are not asking you to be mindful of them…they are saying ‘We are here. We have a voice. Can we use it?’

If you believe that when someone says the phrase, they are saying: ‘But have you canvassed the views of Somalian refugees who are weekending female impersonators in Anglesea?’ then you have it woefully wrong.

If you don’t really believe that, but were just being humorous, then please, don’t continue to help the debasement and ridiculing of people who are really just saying they want to be considered, they want to be heard. WE want to be considered, we want to be heard. I don’t know any Somalian refugee transvestites ( I do know a Nigerian settled one though), but I do know plenty of people- including myself- who are getting tired of people in privileged positions- and in this case, I mean folk with big media platforms- taking the utter piss out of our desire to finally be involved in the conversation.

‘Can you tell him to pass me the salt?’, said even though the guy with the salt is right there- imagine what that feeling of being ignored is like, constantly. Twitter is a funny thing- it has, quite without meaning to I believe, morphed into a medium where journalists and their readers are put on a level field, and can interact with each other- and so people feel more able than ever to tell people like you what they feel. Please, be flattered that people feel you important enough to argue with, flattered we want you to understand where we are coming from. But don’t ridicule. Unless of course, the person deserves it because they are downright moronic. Then ridicule away.

Anthony Lewis- Binns.
( A very nearly NCTJ-qualified, KCL law-degreed, black gay guy, clearly with intersections coming out of my arse.)

Black People in the Media

We go largely unnoticed for a variety of reasons.

The Guardian, bless its heart, has published an article entitled, ‘Where are Britain’s Black Journalists?Class is the big one. The media industry is closed by and large, to anyone who doesn’t have a wealthy family who can support them through extended periods of unpaid work. Given the demographics of the country- the lack of ethnic minority representation in the middle classes being key- it is no surprise that there is such a dearth of black journalists. Just as there will be a dearth of working class journalists. Not that it was always this way; it is more recently that being a journalist has required so many impossible hoops. Being a talented writer could have been enough thirty years ago. It certainly isn’t any more. Further, there is a split within black communities that is rarely addressed. We are lumped together as a homogeneous group, but the social class issue is further divided. Black people of African descent are represented more, because they often come from higher social classes. Black people from Caribbean countries remain colossally under-represented in any profession deemed ‘middle-class’, more so than Africans. Not that the problem isn’t something that affects all black people. But it must be said.
Second, we only really see black people in political discourse when something has happened that is deemed ‘black’. So, unless the topic pertains to race, the likes of Newsnight remains a sea of white faces. Apparently, black people can’t or don’t have varied opinions on world and current affairs. We get wheeled out in droves when there is a riot, which tells us something about how the media elite subconsciously think about black people and crime. The riots were a result of many things- economic turmoil, as well as vast educational failings on the part of authorities. Not able to see a future worth being good for, it is no wonder that society ‘cracked’ for that period. But it wasn’t a race issue. It just got painted that way. And so then, patronisingly, the same old black people, who ‘speak for our community’ were given their platforms to speak, indirectly cementing the notion that the riots were a race issue. Merely by dint of being called to speak! Having said that, it was actually nice to tune in and see a black face for once. Look at what we are reduced to; almost being grateful for riots because it gives us hope that we might finally get a voice on telly.
‘Telly’ brings me to my next point. Western ideals of beauty negatively affect black representation in the media too. When was the last time you saw someone with an afro on television? Caveats of course being that you can’t include people you see on entertainment shows, music shows or sports shows? Black people feel they have to ‘sell out’ and ‘tame’ their natural appearances, because how we look naturally is just too scary for people to deal with. Afro hair gets called ‘wild’, or ‘unprofessional’. If a culture is created where our natural looks are demeaned, it’s no wonder that lots of black people won’t want to engage in the first place. And this is worse for women of course. The media, even without discussing this racial element, has serious problems with age and beauty discrimination. If it is deemed that ‘black is not beautiful’, why are we surprised at there being so few of us on TV?
It is important that the media reflects the diversity of the country. We aren’t just complaining because we want jobs. We aren’t just angry at being ignored. The point of media is to bridge the gap between ‘happenings’ and societal understand of those ‘happenings’. That requires a breadth of opinion and experience that we simply can’t get by being so racially homogeneous at the top.
Black people have opinions. We might, you know, have an opinion on Israel/Palestine. We might have opinions on the relationship between trans people and radical feminists. We might, as people who have been historically oppressed, surprise you with levels of empathy you didn’t know we had, because we’ve had to be angry for so long. Give us a try??
grace jones

Killing Machines

Gun laws in America are a throwback to an age that couldn’t have predicted the sheer growth in population size, the myriad of ways vastly different people thrown together can find to hate each other, and the force of the media which perpetuates the misery we inflict upon each other.
I know the second amendment protects the right for US citizens to bear arms. That it was adopted in 1791 is a cause for concern, because of the specific damage that guns cause. They are designed solely for killing. Killing often comes out of rage. Could those in 1791 have known there would be so many instances of rage, so much glamorising of violence, so many people thinking that owning a gun was akin to having an extra, dangerous limb? It’s become cliché to say ‘guns don’t kill people, people do’, and cliché to point out that the semantic squabbling is ridiculous. Guns are FOR killing, nothing more or less.
The unrealistic and disproportionate power a gun affords a person is another problem. It’s like giving people super powers. We all know what too much power concentrated in one person ends up doing. The US seems to have no problem with everyone being their own Superman, their own Wonder Woman. I add Wonder Woman to be fair, but let’s not kid ourselves that this isn’t a very male issue. Something about guns seems to symbolise masculine rage. Perhaps it’s something to do with the male preoccupation with destruction. That women and girls tend not to be obsessed by these machines should give us pause for thought.
That masculine rage is a dangerous thing, and if there is a perception that men , and in particular white men, are losing power as the cultural demographics of the world change, it will get yet more dangerous. It isn’t an excuse for murderous behaviour to point out that the reality is that white men, in America, are losing their grip on society. Some will be willing to protect their old privileges violently. The advent of these ‘survivalists’ who stockpile food and weapons is likely a manifestation of the belief that the world- their world- is ending, even if a meteor isn’t on the horizon.
Except of course that those superheroes exist in fiction, and they exist to help others. What help does owning a gun generally afford others? Yes, you can protect your family from attack. Perhaps more stringent gun laws would lessen the likelihood of being attacked in your home? Of course you feel you need a gun if everyone else has one. That is why I sympathise with many Americans who defend their 2nd Amendment right. You would feel that not having a gun made you less safe. You would see these attacks happening in schools, at the cinema, at the drive-thru, and you’d want to feel you had some sort of defence if the worst should happen. I can imagine the feeling of nakedness one might feel without a gun.
But it’s time to get smart. If someone is hell-bent on causing murderous destruction, there is little to stop them. Guns, whether legal are not, can be found. Black markets will provide. So the issue is not about the US gun laws being lax. It’s about what makes this type of spree killing such a phenomenon.
They are a phenomenon. Too many to count now. More to come. Names of the perpetrators immortalised. And therein lies the problem, if you ask me.
Why do these boys want to take out people they know in a spectacular show of murderous might, before blowing their own brains out? They are usually very antisocial, or described as so by their peers. Not mentioned, because of insensitivity to victims, is the probable fact that they were bullied. Often badly. Made to feel completely insignificant. They are usually found to have loved violent videogames. It is hardly surprising that if people in your real life treat you badly, you might be drawn to spending hours in your room, pretending to kill folk instead. I don’t want to let the perpetrators off lightly by excusing their behaviour. It also takes a high level of sociopathy, psychopathy, lots of pathologies in fact, to make you able to murder innocent people. But there are lots of sociopaths. There are lots of psychopaths. All it takes is a confluence of certain factors, and a big gun and a load of ammo, to get a result like Newton, Connecticut.
Back to the feelings of insignificance. In an age where being noticed is everything, not being noticed, ever, must be crippling. It must have a terrible effect on the psyche. Facebook, Twitter, Myspace. These social media tools are just extensions of the very modern human desire to be ‘out there’ for everyone to see. Then we have reality television, which parades vast swathes of talentless people around, leaving one thinking’ Why is this person famous?’’ If even the likes of [insert any reality television figure you want] can be noticed, why can’t I?’ must be a unspoken refrain for a lot of people.
How does one get noticed then? How does one become significant, and really make their mark on society? How does one immortalise oneself? Go and shoot up the school. That’ll make ‘em notice me. All it takes to join the glorious pantheon of school spree killers is enough sociopathy, enough bullying, a gun, and of course…the slavering media.
I believe the media is partly responsible for the spate of killings that has blighted America for the past couple of decades. The utter lack of restraint in reporting the murders glamorises the actions. It makes the perpetrator important for a short time, it imprints them on the psyche of the world. Their names are forever known. The act of killing becomes the single best way someone who thinks they have no other hope of ever being noticed (remember, they often kill themselves after, and so suicidal ideation and severe depression are elements) will get noticed. The media perpetuates this. It almost enjoys the circus.
There were children being interviews mere hours after what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty-six people shot, and microphones, fast as bullets, into faces. Inanities- how do you feel? Were you scared? – aimed at youngsters who could only feel shit and in terrible shock, and yes, scared. The survivors have had their lives ruined. Photo’s of parents crying, too abject to protest, which I’m sure they would do if they noticed the media were exploiting their grief.
All this circus does is show some people that rather than just killing yourself, you should take a load of people with you, to garner the attention you’ve been denied most of your life. It’s very unhealthy. And because these spree killings are losing their power to shock, they will only get more extreme. Younger children, or doing it to the cinema instead of school. Hospital wards.
I’m not an oracle. I don’t know how we get out of this quagmire. But I do really, really think that the media has to be more responsible in its treatment of these events. It needs to practically ignore them. In this age of austerity, age of the internet, age of social media, this is going to get a lot worse

Daily Wail



A swan charged in connection with the mugging of a Little Old Lady has been found dead in Brixton, London. The swan, known to police as Tyrone, had a string of convictions stretching back four years which included:




The one-swan crimewave had also been caught on camera quacking uncontrollably as he left a post office with a bag containing the pensions of a string of Little Old Ladies who are dying because they can’t heat their houses and they are really old and we don’t mind because although we hate women between the ages of 14 and 30, and especially hate women between 40 and 60, when it’s time for the blue rinse to come out, we can let them off the hook and merely report whenever they get mugged by bl[EDITORS NOTE- SWANS!AND TRY TO STICK TO THE STORY AT HAND]

But in a shocking twist, days before the swan was due to appear in court, a bag of swan bones was found next to a bus stop near Brixton Tube Station. Assuming it could only be the swan in question, the investigation has drawn to a halt because there aren’t enough police on the streets and this is a SHOCKING state of affairs given that the Tories have put so much effort into cutting government budgets because our editor wants a smaller state precisely so that we have more crime stories to write about in the end [EDITORS NOTE- DON’T QUOTE ME ON THAT]

The bones had apparently been eaten by a group of immigrants in an area of South London notorious for its large fried- bird eating population. The Little Old Mugged Lady, speaking to us from hospital where she is recuperating from her broken arm, said ‘ I was in the post office, minding my own business, when I turned around and a huge swan came flapping his wings at me. I thought he wanted the fish supper I had just brought, you know, him being a swan, but he stole my money too. I don’t know what swans need money for. But I’m glad he’s dead. If he hadn’t been eaten, I’d have suggested tarring and feathering.[EDITORS NOTE- CHANGE HEADLINE TO MUGGED FOR FISH SUPPER]

Speaking to the chief of police, it appears that the swan bones found may in fact have been chicken.


‘We should just deport everyone’

‘I pay my taxes so that swans can walk around willy-nilly breaking everyone’s arms? I’m moving to Australia’

‘Feminism has meant birds are now out of control’

‘I feel this kind of, impending sense of doom, and I just don’t know why’

Oh, Amy

winey-150x150She was one of the best singers of our generation. From Frank to Back to Black (how it hurts to have to stop just there), she showed herself to be a consummate song writer, with a flair for wit, charm, and good phraseology.

Her ‘dick wet’ lyric perfectly sums up the above. But some of my favourites are her ode to weed “Without you I’m misery, blue without my green, all the songs sound better when you’re next to me…” and” Laying on my bed, i reach over for you, and you’re so fresh you even make the standards new”, ” You should be stronger than me, but instead you’re longer than frozen turkey….” That’s a brilliant lyric, for anyone with a passing knowledge of current(ish) vernacular. Someone who is ‘long’ is a major annoyance, and the confluence of that term with the turkey metaphor (we all know how long it takes to defrost a turkey) is genius. Because that’s the other thing, her lyrics often contained a lot of slang that older people might not understand. But if you did understand, you’d agree with the brilliance of it. Very poetic, very styled. She was one of few people who consistently won Ivor Novellos for her songwriting, and they were well deserved.

Her voice was drenched in soul and pain. She growled, and she croaked, and she had that jazz phrasing going on, that sound that makes you think of vocals as another instrument in the song, separate from the lyrics . She could belt, though she rarely did, because she understood, in a way that far too many modern singers do not, the value of restraint…always leaving the listener wanting to hear that little bit more.

I’ll admit I’m one of her ‘biggest fans’, but i was always disappointed with most of her live vocal performances post- Back to Black. By then, she had lost the control, and lost her confidence. Anyone wanting to see her at her BEST would do well to seek out her Frank- era live performances on Youtube.

Take the Box:


No Greater Love:


Those are just two where if you know anything about good vocals, you’ll be very impressed by the soul, control, range, and basically just the pure sound of it.

People who have addictions are trying to escape from their reality. Reality, for whatever individual reason, is unbearable, and having an addiction, to almost focus on, helps excuse you from society, from responsibility. Obviously there are strong physiological aspects to addiction that are usually overlooked by the “It’s a choice” brigade. A cursory look at studies on how substance addiction physically changes brain pathways, and buggers up your brain’s reward systems by wrecking dopamine and seratonin receptors, tells you that addiction isn’t a choice. BUT there are choice elements to addiction. It is opting out of ‘normal’ society. It becomes all-encompassing, and only a prolonged period of being away from substances, and being around people who love you ferociously, will get you back to where you should be.

With Amy, i think there were a few things she couldn’t cope with. One was fame. She never wanted to be massively famous. She always said she wanted to be a lounge singer, a gig singer. The career she had during the Frank era was about right. Suddenly she got world-wide fame, and she couldn’t cope with the constant attention. That is one reason she turned to drugs. It is also probably the reason for the excessive tattoos, and the beehive. That was a smokescreen, a costume, designed to psychologically protect herself from the unwanted attention. It’s ubiquitousness appears ironically self- defeating, as yes, it was more noticeable. But it wasn’t AMY you saw, it was a character. She literally hid behind the image of herself for a kind of subconscious protection. Fitting into this, she thought she was unattractive. And the constant barrage of paps always ready to take unflattering photos of her, along with wicked people making fun of her looks, damaged her psyche even more. She didn’t like to be stared at and look at all the time.

Imagine trying to cope with world-wide fame when you 1, don’t want it, 2, are prone to stage fright, and 3, are very, very insecure. It was a recipe for disaster. But her success made the pound signs flash in the eyes of her management, who basically pimped her out to line their own pockets, regardless of whether she was capable of performing or not. The same thing happened with Michael Jackson. A man in very ill physical health, made to perform against better judgement, because there was money involved. This is what rampant capitalistic mindsets do to people. We commodify actual human beings with no regard for ethics. Who is responsible for allowing someone with such mental and physical health problems to keep performing, keep travelling to other cities? The record company have a lot to answer for.

She became very rich, and once drugs are factored in, it isn’t hard to see why she was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of people who didn’t have her best interests at heart. It was only a matter of time before the end came. My heart still breaks when i hear her sing.

What’s the Point of Facebook?

hatefacebook-150x150I don’t use Facebook any more. I realise people who aren’t on it and proclaim they aren’t to all and sundry are a little annoying. But anyway….

I used it whilst at university. It was a good way of always knowing when something good was going on, good for house parties, clubbing etc….ironically this was one of the main reasons i deleted my account. Lack of self-discipline, and my inability to say no to anything that got me out of studying, meant that deleting Facebook was good for my finally getting my degree.

I hate the invasion of privacy. The argument against this is that you can put as much or as little as you want on it. But given it’s a completely egocentric medium, if you don’t post much and put little detail on it, what’s the point?

Is the point to hear about what hundreds of people you might have met once when you were smashed at a rave but can’t really remember but you vaguely recognise the name so you accept the friend request out of fear of looking like a bastard are doing?

Is the point to psychologically buffer the pain you feel at living in the city by partaking in ‘Farmville’, whereby you feed cyber pigs, grow cyber vegetables, and get paid cyber-less the proper rate for your cyber milk, before trying to cyber screw the cyber animals out of derangement when you’ve been on it for so many hours that the porn on the other page has merged with the farm?

Is the point to find out ‘what kind of sock’ you are, how many children you will have, what you would look like if Whoopi Goldberg had been your mother, or Bush your father, by answering inane questions set up in ridiculous non-correlatory quizzes and photo merging applications?

Is the point to ‘reconnect’ with a load of people from school whose hatred of you back then is only equalled by your hatred of them now? People you didn’t speak to now wanting to know what you are doing, in some sort of bizarre ‘high school reunion’ that goes in perpetuity?

Is the point to laugh at photos of the night out you just had, despite the overwhelming feeling that you should ‘untag’ the ones where you look like you just escaped from a nudist colony for the criminally insane? Your boss is probably going to fire your arse when they see the pictures anyhow- if you are lucky enough to be employed, once you’ve been FBCRB-checked.

Is the point to tell everyone every last banal thing you did today, from getting up and boringly eating cornflakes, to when you last shat, to musings over what you might boringly have for dinner?

Is the point to join countless fan pages of disparate activities that you never did, aren’t doing, and never will do? Or to reduce the human ability to emote feeling into the single-syllable ‘like’?

Is the point to shock the sensibilities of older relatives who didn’t know you were gay by coming up in their news feed pictures sucking some guys nipple half naked on a podium surrounded by topless guys, a bottle of Lambrini in one hand, and the other hand somewhere inappropriately placed….on someone else’s crotch?

Is the point to boast about how utterly fabulous everything you do, feel and say is? Is it to declare to the world every time you get into a new relationship that has depth commensurate to the fact all you’ve done so far is poke them…and not the good kind of poking?

I just don’t really get it.

Zadie Smith has written a FANTASTIC essay on the advent of Facebook, which starts out as a kind of review of the film The Social Network, but turns into an in-depth analysis of the way that social media has debased the nature of human relationships. The link is here. Read it.