Tag Archives: racism

I am anti-fascist. Trump thinks that makes me a terrorist

When Donald Trump was first elected, I joked to my family that should I disappear, they ought to look for me in a gulag in the Utah desert. I was convinced a man with authoritarian leanings would attempt to crack down on free speech, especially from those of us opposed to his racist regime. It took a little longer than I expected, but with his latest tweeted edict, the mango Mussolini has finally ripened.

“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a terrorist organization,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. Antifa is short for “anti-fascist,” something you would think an American president would naturally be. Not so. Eager to jump on the “anti-anti-fascist” bandwagon, Trump’s tweet was quickly followed by a Senate resolution introduced by Republicans Ted Cruz and Bill Cassidy “[c]alling for the designation of Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization.”

This is bonkers, not least because Antifa is not an actual organization. Rather, it is a nebulous collection of autonomous activists, a loose web of folks who share similar tactics and an opposition to fascism. Antifa is not a club you can join. There is no structure, no leadership, no membership roster.

It is not the Junior League for anarchists, nor is it the second coming of the Weather Underground, though that is what Donald Trump would have us think. They have blown up no buildings and they have killed no Americans. Yet, according to Republicans, they are domestic terrorists.

What makes them terrorists? They disagree with the president, and anyone who dares question Dear Leader, like the press, is an “enemy of the people. This is about cracking down on opposition to the Trump regime, as historian Mark Bray points out in a recent column for the Washington Post. “If antifa groups are composed of a wide range of socialists, anarchists, communists, and other radicals, then declaring antifa to be a ‘terrorist’ organization would pave the way to criminalizing and delegitimizing all politics to the left of Joe Biden,” he writes.

Donald Trump is a man who pathologically loathes dissent. Charlottesville Nazis are “very fine people” because they support him. Black Lives Matter protestors are “thugs” because they do not. This is not about terrorism. If it were, Republicans would be going after white nationalists, who since 9/11, have killed 110 Americans according to the research institution New America. Antifa, remember, has killed exactly zero people. This is about criminalizing leftwing activism and speech.

Historically, the United States has not labelled domestic political groups as terrorist organizations, and for good reason. Belonging to such groups is protected under the First Amendment. You cannot be arrested for simply believing in or espousing radical, even odious views. We don’t criminalize thought in this country, only actions. It is why belonging to the Ku Klux Klan is not a criminal offense but burning a cross in someone’s yard is.

And while setting fire to a police station is not the wonton act of racist terror that burning a cross is, it is still a crime. Last night, Washington burned brighter than it has since the British torched the White House. Whether vandalism, looting, or arson are committed by white nationalists or Antifa or some other group (and right now there’s a lot of confusion as to who is doing what), they are prosecutable. It is the act that is the crime, though, not the belief, not the speech, not the peaceful protest that came before it.

Trump, Cruz, Cassidy, and the braying mob of rightwing pundits all know this. It is why the Senate Resolution uses “Antifa” and “leftwing activists” interchangeably. The goal of Donald Trump is not to combat domestic terrorism. It is to silence leftwing opposition. If Trump and the Republicans get their way, simply belonging to Antifa will be a criminal offense. Yet because there is no concrete way of defining Antifa, this regime can label anyone who disagrees with it a member, and therefore a terrorist. Dissent will become punishable by law.

Pack some sunscreen. I’ll see you in the desert.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Fortnight of 13 – 24 April 2020

Has the pandemic changed the way anyone else watches EastEnders? I used to watch every night, but lately I’ve been saving up four episodes (or what would be a week’s worth in normal times) and binging them at the weekend. In some ways this is nice—Friday night was spent in Walford, for example, and I made an event of it—but then I go two weeks without seeing my favourite show and dodging spoilers, which isn’t easy given how many EastEnders stars and fans I follow on social media.

I touched on the decision to move to two episodes a week in my last blog but didn’t discuss it in depth because I didn’t see much point. I still don’t—the producers were left with an impossible choice and are making the best of a bad situation, which I respect—but I do wonder how this change will affect future viewing habits. I don’t know if I’ll go back to watching every night or if I’ll continue to binge at the weekend. It might not matter; iPlayer has already revolutionised how we watch tv. Then, it might: will people used to getting only two episodes a week go back to demanding four? After all, our attention spans are getting shorter, not longer. Might two episodes a week be all people want to commit to once our hectic lives resume?

This was certainly seen as a justification for cancelling my favourite American soap opera, All My Children, back in 2011. Executives at ABC didn’t feel people wanted an hour-long drama five days a week anymore. Of course, British soaps are a different beast in so many ways so the analogy is far from perfect, and I don’t think any of the British soaps are in any danger of being cancelled. This is all idle speculation on my part. Still, if and how the pandemic changes our viewing habits will be interesting to see going forward.

Until then, there’s still a lot to unpack from the last fortnight in Albert Square.

From the moment Iqra convinced Ash to go to Vinny’s party, I knew it would be trouble. Nothing good comes from convincing your partner to go to a party they don’t want to attend, especially when it is thrown by a family member. It’s like Iqra has learned nothing from her year in Albert Square.

That party was very confusing to me. At first, I thought it was just a way for Vinny to show Ruby his sick beats. Turns out there were drugs there, though I’m still not entirely sure I understand why. Was Vinny selling the drugs? Were people just doing drugs (as they’re wont to do at a party/rave)? What was Dotty’s role in all this? I freely admit it might just be me who missed these things—the flashing lights and loud music made it difficult for me to follow what was happening, just as it would have in real life (I’m not a nightclub kind of guy). Still, I was left with more questions than answers.

Still, a couple things were clear to me—both regarding the Panesars. One is, as has been hinted before, this is not a family to mess with. So much has happened since last autumn that it’s easy to forget the Panesar brothers first came on the scene by kidnapping Lola in revenge for Ben stealing Kheerat’s car. This is a family of violent gangsters on par with the Mitchells. Now we know they also do, or sell, drugs (again, unclear on what was happening there). We know that they don’t keep this a secret, that it’s a family operation which even Ash was, if not involved with, okay with—she lied to the police and paid off the homophobic guy Vinny (understandably, if not rightfully) beat up with aplomb. I mean, in those moments I saw in Ash Panesar everything Louise Mitchell wishes she was.

So did Iqra, and that is bound to cause problems for the couple going forward. While their row over Ash’s behaviour was resolved with “I love you” this week, it’s clear that the Panesars and their seedy dealings are going to continue to drive a wedge between the couple. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—soap is nothing without conflict—but it does raise some questions in my mind, specifically regarding Ash. It made no sense to me that Ash would suddenly act like a stone-cold thug when that is not what we’ve seen before, and it made even less sense to me that she would subsequently warn Iqra not to make her choose between her and her family. This is a woman who spent years avoiding her family, to the point or changing her name—have they ever addressed why she was Ash Kaur, now Ash Panesar?)—so I felt like I got whiplash watching how quickly her personality changed. Was it the booze? Is something else going on with Ash? I hope the show explains this change soon.

Still, I’m glad to see Iqra and Ash getting screen time. They’re one of my favourite couples, and both Priya Davdra and Gurlaine Kaur Garcha are capable actresses and just a delight to watch. More of them, please.

The other big development to come from this party was Keegan’s arrest. After months of issues with racist coppers, his storyline has finally reached a rapid boil with his arrest in the melee outside. I’ve been very glad to see EastEnders tackling this storyline, and I think they’re handling it very well. Keegan is one of the most interesting characters of the past decade, and Zack Morris is such a talented young actor. I love seeing him front-and-centre where he belongs.

There’s a lot to unpack here, though, and frankly I could write an entire entry on Keegan. So, let’s start with the smallest. That near-riot outside the party escalated very quickly and was very clearly just a plot device to get Keegan arrested. That the police were called I understand—Ruby warned Vinny that Marsha (whom I have never heard of before now but want to know everything about) would call them—but that instead of dispersing the crowd threw bricks at them I don’t get.

Still, as a plot device it worked, and Keegan was arrested for something he didn’t do. Perhaps coincidentally, this all happened because of a party thrown by Vinny, who was the first character to mention to Keegan that the cops were targeting him because of his race. That is clearly what is happening here, even if the police officers themselves don’t seem to think so.

Too often we think of racism as only being outward projections of hate—burning crosses, racial epithets, violent hate crimes, overt discrimination—when in reality it is much deeper and more pernicious. People can be racist in little ways, ways they might not even be aware of. Ever cross the street when you see a Black person walking? Ever make an assumption about someone’s intelligence or education because their name or accent sounds “Black?” Ever hear about a violent crime and assume the perpetrator must be BME? These are just a few examples of subconscious prejudice. We live in a society which teaches us that Black people are danger, or less intelligent, or more prone to violent crime, and even if we don’t want to we internalise those messages.

Denise Fox understands this, which is why she was more sympathetic to Keegan than Jack. It is important that Denise is the one siding with Keegan here, too, because Denise has never been one to let Keegan’s shitty behaviour pass without comment. Keep in mind that in their first meeting Denise slapped Keegan for being a disrespectful brat. Denise now being one of Keegan’s allies—and, I suspect we’ll see, his fiercest—is telling. She understands what he’s going through better than almost anyone else in Walford. She also has, in the eyes of both the audience and her neighbours, moral authority. Denise is unflinchingly fair, so if she says “nah, this is some racist bullshit,” it carries an added weight. I’m not saying it should be this way, mind you; Keegan saying “this is racist” ought to have been enough.

No one wants to admit they might be even a little bit racist, though. Zack Morris himself tweeted earlier this month that “[t]this storyline isn’t about ‘racist police.’ [I]t’s about the unconscious bias that is imbedded within society when it comes to black people.” He’s right, and I think the story is even more interesting and relevant because they are tackling these subconscious biases. It would have been so easy to make these police officers foaming-at-the-mouth racists, but by bringing Jack Branning into it, we’re meant to see how even people we think of as “good guys” can have subconscious prejudice.

Full disclosure: I’ve never liked Jack Branning, even as I love Scott Maslen and the way he plays the role. He’s smug and self-righteous. But most viewers think of him as a “good guy.” His unwillingness to believe Keegan, then, indicates to the audience that even those of us who see ourselves as decent, non-racist people can, in fact, be unaware of our own racial biases. I am very excited to see how this storyline plays out over the coming weeks, especially as Keegan and Denise deal with their white partners’ inability to see their point-of-view, and I continue to commend EastEnders for tackling this important topic with sensitivity and nuance.

This feels like a good place to leave off, even though there is so much else to discuss. I’ll put some of it in my stray observations section, but most of them could do with much more analysis. There was just so much happening in the last fortnight, it is hard to narrow down what to write about in detail. The past four episodes are the best since the 35th anniversary, and everyone at EastEnders should be very proud of the work they’re doing. The show is in rare form, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Stray observations: I got a distinct 90s feel from these episodes, with the way that they went from one conversation to another in the Square and the market. I liked it. I really like the sense of community which has returned to the show. Chantelle’s scene with Kheerat in the caff felt forced. I know they’re going to end up having an affair, but I’m not yet convinced. Mikayla coming back was random enough, but for her to now be so upset about the son who tried to kill her (and who she said she never wanted to see again) feels like a heel-turn. She’s Leo’s mum, so I guess no matter what he did she would be sad he died, but Christ alive, this feels contrived. I also feel like Gray and Whitney are destined for an affair. It’s going to happen. Ugh, Whit really does have the worst taste in men. “Ugh, like at what point does Whit decide to become a nun or a political lesbian?” is literally a line from my notes. MORE RUBY PLEASE. Louisa Lytton is so sorely underused. Tiff getting the ring Keanu gave to Louise seems like a bad omen. Tommy’s dyslexia storyline will be interesting, and Davood Ghadami was very good in his scenes with Shay Crotty. Glad Sharon’s going away to see Michelle; her and Phil should not get back together. Where the hell was Bernie in all the Keegan drama? Tiff could have used her best friend and Keegan could have used his sister. Honestly, they need to use Clair Norris a lot more than they do. I feel like Oates and Sen just don’t know what to do with Bernadette, but I love Bernie and want more of her. Did anybody else notice the cups from the caff got a jaunty redesign? Love the Rainie and Stuart scenes. They’re so good together. Ricky Champ and Tanya Franks are so charming and imbue such humanity into two broken characters. It’s a pleasure to see them act together. Jean thinking Daniel was in the box had me howling with laughter!

Scene of the fortnight: Rainie asking Max for a divorce and not knowing Ruby’s name. I know I didn’t talk much about Rainie and Stuart, but they really were a highlight of the week.

Line of the fortnight: “I only blow on my husband’s dice.” – CHANTELLE!

Performance of the fortnight: Zack Morris as Keegan Baker. Just absolutely broke my heart. I love both Zack Morris as an actor and Keegan Baker as a character so, so much.

Character of the fortnight: Ash Kaur Panesar. She really surprised me this week and is clearly more complex (and messed up) than any of us realised. I’m looking forward to learning more about Ash and her crazy family.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

 

 

Pete Buttigieg, Hillary Clinton, and who gets to show emotion in American politics

Last night the New York Times editorial board endorsed Senator Amy Klobuchar and/or Senator Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination. Leaving aside the arguments for and against each of these candidates as well as the arguments over whether endorsing two candidates makes sense (I think it does), I want to—quelle surprise—talk about Pete Buttigieg. Chiefly, I want to talk about Mayor Pete, emotiveness, and who gets to be expressive in American politics and culture.

First, let’s get something out of the way. I am supporting Pete Buttigieg for president. I think the New York Times’ interview was at times very unfair to him, especially Binyamin Appelbaum’s outright lies about his time as a consultant for McKinsey. I am not happy with the Times’ endorsement, though I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mayor Pete was the fourth-place pick of the editorial board (behind Warren, Klobuchar, and erstwhile candidate Senator Cory Booker).

With that said, there was an exchange that I think is worth discussing in a bit more detail than I’ve seen discussed elsewhere. In response to Appelbaum asking whether he feels the same anger a lot of young people feel about the state of the country, Mayor Pete answered that “while I may not be as emotive sometimes about my sense of anger or frustration or injustice – and I would argue that some people are given more room to be emotive than others – I would not be doing any of this if I were not propelled by a level of passion.” While debating the pros and cons of each candidate (as shown on The Weekly), Michelle Cottle complained that “Pete talking about how he doesn’t emote as much as some, that’s a real problem. I mean voters love that ‘I feel your pain’ stuff,” prompting Lauren Kelley to rightly point out “he also almost surely would be painted in some unfair way if the gay man on the trail was overly emotional, right? I mean, it’s a bind.”

Indeed, it is a bind – one in which many gay men have found themselves. I don’t know if Pete Buttigieg meant to imply that others have more leeway to be emotive because he’s gay or not (he never expressly says), and I understand the point Cottle was making. Voters really do love a passionate, emotive candidate – think Bill Clinton, think Bernie Sanders, think Donald Trump – though Barack Obama showed that sometimes cool-as-a-cucumber works, too.  But Kelley raises a point that I think is important to make, if not about Mayor Pete specifically, about politics and business in general. Who gets to be emotive, and who gets dismissed when they’re emotive, is something worth discussing.

Gay men have long been portrayed as flamboyant and dramatic, from Nathan Lane’s character in The Birdcage to Jack McFarlane in Will and Grace right on up to Cam on Modern Family. There’s nothing wrong with being flamboyant and dramatic—lots of gay men (myself included, frankly) are, just as lots of all sorts of people are. For a long time, though, the stock character of the gay “drama queen” was the predominant depiction of gay men in pop culture, and that image has become a stereotype of gay men in general. The problem arises not because some gay men are dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant, but because the straight world assumes that when a gay man is dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant it is because he is gay and that is, inherently, a bad thing.

As I said above, I’m an expressive and sometimes flamboyant gay man. I’ve never felt any shame in this. One of my nicknames among my friends in high school—given in good nature— was “Bitchy Diva Queen.” (The other was “Zazu,” because I always knew the gossip.) The nickname itself didn’t bother me. The way my emotions were often dismissed because of it, though, did. I developed a thick skin back then—you had to as an openly gay boy in a southeastern Kentucky high school in the early 00s—but when something really did upset me, such as sophomore year, when a group of bullies apparently planned to attack me, my genuine fear, anger, or hurt was dismissed as being “overly dramatic” by my friends, my classmates, and even the administration.

This attitude followed me into adulthood. I was heavily involved in student government during college. During one contentious meeting at a retreat, frustrated, I got up to go smoke (a filthy habit, I know). This was allowed considering how long the meeting was going; people were taking breaks as needed. I walked quickly and with purpose (as I always do, a product of trying to make it from one class to the next without getting attacked in high school), hurrying outside to light a cigarette. The next thing I know the student body president—my boss, as her chief of staff— is outside chastising me for “storming out.” When I tried to explain that I simply needed a cigarette, she wouldn’t hear it, dressing me down for being so dramatic.

Even into the professional world, even in a big blue dot like Chicago, this attitude has prevailed. When I was in meetings with management at the corporate headquarters of a large American mortgage company, I often felt dismissed if I showed even a hint of emotion. One well-meaning boss, who herself could often be heard cussing and screaming from her desk, suggested that I “tone it down” a bit. Another not well-meaning—and to no one’s surprise, male—boss told me to “stop being a diva and stop complaining,” even though I was one of several employees—though the only gay man—raising concerns that day.

Learning to keep cool is an important skill for anyone of any background, because sometimes you can’t just fly off the handle—and sometimes you won’t want to. I’ll be the first to admit there have been times that I have let my emotions get the better of me, when people had every right to pull me aside and tell me to chill out. I think that’s happened to most of us. For many years, this was compounded by an undiagnosed anxiety disorder which I only discovered I had in my late twenties. But time and again, people have somehow linked my emotiveness with my sexuality, othering me in the process.

This is why it matters who gets to be emotive and who does not. Hillary Clinton famously had a similar problem in 2008, when she was first accused of being cold and unfeeling. When she did show emotion at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, she was pilloried for it. “ A common first instinct was to treat the episode as a ploy, a calculated effort to ‘humanize’ the candidate—an interpretation that depended heavily on its having been somehow staged or faked,” Hendrik Hertzberg wrote at the time in The New Yorker, “but the authenticity of Clinton’s emotion was apparent to anyone who took the time to study the many replays with an open mind…”

Hillary Clinton herself has addressed this double standard several times. In 2016, she told the viral photography project Humans of New York she “had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.” In her 2017 memoir What Happened, she rightly called this “another variant on the impossible balancing act” women must perform in order to show enough emotion to be quote-unquote likable while not showing so much that they’re thought of as quote-unquote shrill or overwrought. “If we’re too composed, we’re cold or fake. But if we say what we think without caution, we get slammed for it,” she writes. “Can you blame us for feeling like we can’t win, no matter what we do?”

I suspect the similar double standard experienced by Hillary Clinton and—it must be said, to a lesser degree—Pete Buttigieg is rooted in the same patriarchal, misogynist notions about how women and gay men behave. It’s why when a straight man gets angry, he’s “passionate,” when a gay man gets angry, he’s “dramatic,” and when a woman gets angry, she’s “hysterical.” This is further compounded by race, with tropes such as the “angry black woman” making it even more difficult for Black women specifically, and women of colour more generally, to be allowed space to have and show emotions without ridicule or prejudice. Black men, too, are often viewed as angry or violet where white men aren’t, as a 2017 American Psychological Association study reveals.

Homophobic, sexist, and racist double standards influence how we perceive people’s emotions and emotiveness. Mayor Pete never says why he can’t be as emotive as others, nor does he say who gets to be more emotive than he does. Zooming out from him and looking at the culture more broadly, though, it’s clear that in America, not everyone is equally free to express themselves. So long as stereotypes and double standards continue to affect who gets to show emotion and how that emotion is perceived, we should all remember that sometimes a candidate is guarded not because they aren’t passionate, but because they aren’t allowed to be.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

This isn’t just about SAE. Greek life has a problem with racism.

Photo: Flickr

Photo: Flickr

Content warning: racism, racial epitaphs, lynching, and violence against Black people

One of my dearest friends, Ethan*, is a Sigma Alpha Epsilon (colloquially known as SAE). He is also a person of colour. So as I watched the Oklahoma Kappa chapter gleefully chanting they’d lynch a Black man before they’d let him pledge their fraternity, my friend—someone I’ve known since we were freshmen living in the same residence hall, someone who has stood by me for over a decade now, whom I’ve grown even closer to since we both moved to Chicago, someone I’d rank as the sweetest, kindest man I know—must have felt when he saw the sheer vitriol and unadulterated racism of some of his brothers:

Warning: this video contains graphic, racist, violent language; viewer discretion is advised

I’ve frequently written about Greek life in my career. When I was working at Rise Over Run I did a feature on a sorority’s homecoming queen candidate. I interviewed a closeted fraternity president. And after the now-infamous (and largely discredited) Rolling Stone piece on rape at UVA, I dissected Phi Kappa Psi’s response. I consider myself something of an expert.

This is also because, as I wrote for Salon earlier this year, my college years—spent in Kentucky, not Oklahoma—were defined by Greek life. I rushed, but never pledged, encountering a different bigotry (homophobia) along the way. But I stuck around. My best friends are sorority women. My ex-boyfriends are fraternity men. Aside from paying dues and participating in ritual (some of which I still learned; drunks like to tell secrets), my collegiate experience was the Greek experience. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it.

Which makes me wish I could say I was surprised by the SAE video. That would be a lie, though. Because the truth is that white Greek life, at least in the South, is a bastion of white privilege and segregation.

I say white Greek life because there is also Black Greek life. The “Divine Nine” fraternities and sororities of the National Pan-Hellenic Council were founded at the turn of the last century to redress the racial segregation enforced by white chapters. Today, most of the houses on Fraternity Row belong to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, while the National Panhellenic Conference serves as an umbrella organisation for what can safely be called the “historically white sororities.”

And never the twain shall meet. It wasn’t until some time into my college career that the Divine Nine began participating in Greek Week, which was still largely dominated by the white organisations. At some point after the university began selecting Homecoming pairings, white and Black Greek organisations would team up, but before then there was little mixing and mingling. I don’t remember a single instance of a mixer between an IFC fraternity and an NPHC sorority or vice versa.

There were a couple white kids in some of the Divine Nine organisations, and a smattering of Black people in white houses, but they were rare enough to become somewhat famous simply for existing; everyone knew who the Black AOP was, even if we didn’t know her name. There was, after all, just the one. And I can’t count the times I’d mention Ethan, only to get blank stares from white faces until I rolled my eyes and said “the Asian SAE?”

So I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Chrystal Stallworth, a mixed-race woman, found it difficult to impossible to rush white sororities at the University of Alabama. “I started noticing when I would see all the girls in sororities, there were no minorities,” Stallworth told Marie Claire last year.

There was a reason for this, according to AOP Yardena Wolf: “We were told we do not take black girls, because it would be bad for our chapter—our reputation and our status.”

In what now feels like some great irony, it wasn’t until Stallworth, who is originally from Oklahoma, spoke to a friend from back home that she realised what was really happening, though. “I probably wouldn’t have even noticed if I didn’t have a best friend who is in a sorority at the University of Oklahoma. Her sorority is so diverse… That was the point I realized, Whoa, people still do see race here.”

Which brings us back to SAE, which has a long, sketchy history of racism as reported by Think Progress yesterday. However, on my campus they weren’t known as the racist fraternity (that dishonour went to Kappa Alpha Order, which cites Robert E. Lee—yeah, the Confederate general—as their “spiritual founder”). They were the rich kids, the sons of the upper-middle-class; dressed in Ralph Lauren polos, chino shorts, and Sperry Topsiders, they were basically ripped from the pages of (what I hope to God is the satirical) website Total Frat Move. They were the rich kids, with a reputation for being somewhat snotty and a little coked out. But not racists.

That changed in my mind one night towards the end of my time in my college town. The fraternity house I spent most of my time at was right across the street from SAE. There was a Black pledge at the time, and while I’m not sure what prompted it, I remember sitting with him as he tearfully explained that the SAE’s across the street had started shouting the N-word at him. The entire group was incensed, but I don’t remember anything ever really coming of it, perhaps because it never got reported. I honestly don’t know.

I also don’t know the SAEs who called that kid the N-word, and I probably never will. But I do know Ethan. And I know several other SAEs from my alma mater and elsewhere, and I count a few as friends (and at least one was a brief romantic liaison). They are good men, stand-up men whom have shown me friendship and kindness.

This isn’t (I hope) about them. And that’s important to note, because I don’t ever want to see #NotAllSAEs trending on Twitter. In some ways, it’s not even about the young men from Oklahoma who sang that despicable song. It is, rather, about an institutional racism which is executed and perpetuated through a system of segregation and white supremacist thinking, as Derrick Clifton recently catalogued at Mic. This isn’t an isolated incident. This is a wider issue effecting white Greek life across the country.

Which makes this not just about individuals—though those in that video certainly need to pay—but about the culture which allows this type of bigotry to thrive, from the House Mom who shouts off the N Word all the way up to Nationals, which celebrates SAEs founding in the antebellum south without seeming to consider exactly what that means. Indeed, the message I’m getting is “We deplore racism, but we’re proud to have been founded in a time and place where Black people were chattel.”

It’s as much about these boys’ parents, many of whom were probably SAEs too (legacies, we call them), who in the South at least raised their sons with the expectation of Greek life and the entitlement of white privilege. It’s about the wider Greek system, an institution built on exclusion and supremacy and itself one of the most pernicious and blatant manifestations of white heteropatriarchy in modern America. This is about a nation that has long made killing Black people a national sport, something to be turned into a catchy little ditty sung by some of the most privileged people in our society.

But on a more focused level, if white Greek organisations want to eliminate the racists in their ranks, they’re going to have to first address the racism at their core.

*Not his real name

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2014

Top row - UKIP in LGBT, Theresa May, Ferguson Police Bottom row - Vicky Beeching, Michael Sam, Laverne Cox

Top row – LGBT in UKIP logo, Theresa May, Ferguson Police
Bottom row – Vicky Beeching, Michael Sam, Laverne Cox

Santa’s going to be coming down (but hopefully not in) a million billion chimneys tonight, and whereas last year I was expecting coal in my stocking, this year I’ve been a fucking saint. Seriously, thanks to the FDA’s reuqirements that gay men only be celibate for a year before they donate, I can now give blood. It’s been that kind of year.

Some have been equally as good this year. Some, though, have been very, very naughty. And with that, I give you my annual naughty and nice list!

naughty

3. LGBT in UKIP

Where the fuck do I even begin? Well, there’s their Aunt Mary MEP who is against equal marriage. Or the time UKIP Leader Nigel Farage referred to him as a “great big screaming poof” when using him as an example of how they’re not homophobic. Oh, and the branch chair who said gay adoption was tantamount to “child abuse.” And the list of homophobic UKIP comments just goes on and on.

That UKIP doesn’t like LGBT people is not news. But the fact that LGBT in UKIP, the LGBT pressure group within the party, exists, is. And the fact that they’ve continued to support the party despite its large opposition to LGBT equality and offensive rhetoric is deeply troublesome. To their credit, they stood up to UKIP HQ when Kerry Smith referred to LGBT people as “poofters,” though he was speaking specifically of LGBT in UKIP at the time, so that may have been more a personal than principled reaction.

UKIP stands a good chance of entering Westminster en masse at the General Election, and it’s entirely possible they could hold the balance of power in a potential hung parliament. That LGBT people are backing an anti-LGBT party which could determine the future of Britain is not only mystifying, it’s infuriating.

2. Theresa May

Theresa May hates me. As a gay foreigner, she’s made that abundantly clear in 2014. Only this month, a lesbian refugee from Uganda was nearly deported, despite fears for her life; she received a last minute reprieve, but the allegations that the Home Office ignored evidence and medical experts is concerning. When considered along the myriad of other cases involving LGBT asylum seekers, it’s evidence of a systemic problem within the Home Office. In October, the Guardian reported that “more than a tenth of Home Office interviews of gay and lesbian asylum seekers include ‘intrusive or or unsatisfactory’ questions about their sex lives.” This came in a report by Chief Inspector John Vine, who found some of the questions so graphic even I blushed.

This comes in a year where May has taken a hardline stance on migrants, refugees, and even students. Most recently, she has backed tightening restrictions on foreign students in the UK, requiring them to leave the country and apply for a work visa, as opposed to the four months foreign graduates currently have to find a job and switch from a student visa to a work visa. You can study at our universities, May is essentially saying, but you can’t contribute to our society.

The increasingly hostile rhetoric towards immigrants coming from the Home Office is concerning, and it seems unlikely to temper as we approach the General Election, which means it’s a shitty time to be a gay person, a foreigner, or a current or future international student. As someone who ticks all three boxes, this is some bullshit.

1. The American Police

Tanesha Anderson. John Crawford. Michelle Cusseaux. Tamir Rice. Yvette Smith. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

These are but a handful of the unarmed Black people to be killed by American police this year. We need to have a national conversation about institutional racism within the ranks of the American police forces, and we need to have it now. We need to talk openly about white privilege and white supremacy, and how Black bodies are inherently viewed as criminal through white eyes. We, as white America, need to look in the mirror and see the ugliness of our own racism.White supremacy and structural racism are problems as old as America itself. Older, even, when you consider the transatlantic slave trade began more than two centuries before slaveowning Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. These are not problems America has solved, because they’re the problems America was built upon. Racism is not just a founding principle of America, but the foundation of American society. It is handed down, generation to generation, an inherent trait in the American bloodstream. This country was stolen from the Native Americans and built on the backs of enslaved Africans. Yet white America denies it, denies it, denies it.

This year was no different, except we were forced to confront it. The institutional racism inherent in police forces—which are, in the end, agents of the state—was finally exposed. White America, and the police in particular, were quick to bury their heads in the sand as they continued blowing the heads off Black men and women. Instead of grappling with the realities of institutional racism (which, by the way, doesn’t mean all cops are racist), cops like New York City’s Patrick J Lynch, who heads that city’s police union, has been quick to cast blame—on Garner, on the mayor, on activists, basically on anyone but the police.

We have to attack institutional racism in this country, and police forces are as fine a place as any to start. Until we do, we will never truly get to an equal society.

Dishonourable mentions: The NFL, Russell Brand, Boris Johnson

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3. Michael Sam

Michael Sam shocked the world when, as an All-American football player who was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year, he came out. Sam went on to make history, becoming the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. Things didn’t go so well from there; Sam was cut from the Saint Louis Rams and, later, the Dallas Cowboys. His future in the NFL remains to be seen, and what role homophobia played in slashing his prospects, first in the draft and now in the league, is hotly debated.

All of this matters. But none of it matters as much as Michael Sam matters, simply for existing. By coming out in the macho, misogynistic world of the NFL, Michael Sam provided hope and inspiration to countless young gay boys throughout America, and even abroad, who were struggling to reconcile their masculinity and sexuality. He became a role model over night, and blazed a trail which future openly gay athletes will follow. He also opened up a conversation on institutional homophobia within sport, one of which gay, lesbian, and bisexual athletes will benefit from in the years to come.

2. Vicky Beeching

Like Michael Sam, Vicky Beeching blazed a trail for LGB people this year. Long a public ally of LGBT* people of faith, Beeching sent shockwaves throughout Christian media when she came out in August. In the subsequent weeks, she has shown herself a tireless and effective advocate against the institutional homophobia of the Church, as her Channel 4 debate with the homophobic preacher Scott Lively shows. She has also been pivotal in reframing the conversation about the role of LGBT* people in Christianity, all the while teaching a more inclusive interpretation of the scripture.

In a year where the religious right redoubled its efforts to combat equality, in which LGBT* Christians fought to reclaim our own narratives, Beeching’s brave stand, and her subsequent tenacity, have been invaluable. She has shown what it means to live faithfully as an openly gay person, and she has opened a dialogue between LGBT* Christians and our sisters and brothers in Christ who wrongly condemn us. She is interested not just in advancing the cause of LGBT* people, but building bridges and mending fences, tasks for which she is uniquely qualified. Her importance will only grow in 2015, and I look forward to it, as she continues to offer fellowship to both those margianalised by the Church, and those responsible for it.

1. Laverne Cox

The Transgender Tipping Point.” That’s how Time described it when Laverne Cox, the Emmy-nominated star of Orange is the New Black, made history as the first openly transgender person on that esteemed magazine’s cover. 2014 has been the year of Laverne, culminating most recently when she became the voice of reason—by which I mean, intersectional feminism—in a debate on racism on The View. Laverne has consistently raised the concerns of trans* people of colour to the mainstream in a way that few, if any, others have.

She is, in many ways, a transformative figure, as Time pointed out. But she also seems so remarkably down-to-earth, the woman next door who says hi every day, and maybe pops over for a glass of wine and a Scandal binge. Laverne’s politics are on point, but its her personality—her wit and her warmth—which has endeared her to the American public.

2014 was big for Laverne, and 2015 looks to be even bigger, with a starring role in the film Grandma. As her star continues to rise, I look forward to seeing more of her talent, and hearing more of her succinct, biting cultural analysis.

Honourable mentions: Anitia Sarkeesian, the Ferguson Protestors, Owen Jones

I think we can all agree it’s been a shit year. But through it all, you lot have stuck by my side. For that, I am entirely grateful. I want to take this opportunity to thank a few of you in particular: Sara, Kellee, Vanessa, Michelle, Kayla, Jenna, Elizabeth, Nick, Robyn, Peter, Lily Jayne, Alex, Nathan, Wes, Derrick, Parker, Michelle, Sarah, Kat, Bryan, Kevin, and as always, Mamaw and Papaw. I am so grateful for everything you have done for me. Your friendship and support has been most humbling.

Now Happy Christmas you lot!!!!!

White Privilege and You: A few quick thoughts on Ferguson

michael-brown-darren-wilson

I landed in London this morning. While I was in the air, a grand jury in Missouri decided not to charge an armed agent of the state for shooting dead like a dog an unarmed teenage boy. He is but one of many innocent, unarmed Black people being gunned down by American police every year, as Derrick Clifton succinctly explains here.

I knew the decision was coming before I took off, and I knew what it would be before I even landed; there was no way Darren Wilson was going to be indicted. America doesn’t care about Black people, and we’ve shown it time and time again. But it’s not just the state. White America, our racism is showing.

I’m friends with a lot of white people. Like, literally thousands. And scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I’ve seen so many-far more than decrying the death of an innocent 18-year-old-criticising the riots in Ferguson. “Go ahead and destroy your town you fucking morons, that’ll make a point” is the basic refrain.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

White America, here’s the point.

  Here’s you.

See how you’ve missed it?

If you’re more concerned, and more vocal, about the isolated rioting in response to endemic racial violence; if you’re more interested in policing Black responses to oppression rather than policing the police who kill Black people; if you’re more worried about protecting the rights of property owners than you are protecting the lives of Black teenagers; I need you to A) check your privilege and B) actually fuck off.

I know. I know. You think you’re being reasonable. You think you’re being pragmatic. How can rioting solve the problem? Why can’t we all join hands and sing kumbaya? Isn’t that what Dr King would’ve done? Huh? Huh?

Maybe listen to him. You know, that bit about how the silence of “allies” was more damaging and devastating than the words of enemies? Or that one time he talked about how deadly silence is?

White people who think themselves “colour-blind” need to wake up and see that colour still matters in America. Those of you who are posting statuses condemning the riots in Ferguson but had nary a peep to offer on the actual death of Mike Brown (or the myriad of other Black Americans gunned down by white police officers or white people) need to understand that this is not just a bunch of “thugs” (the modern day N-word, by the way) rioting. This is the steam blowing the lid off the crucible of racism and white supremacy which Black Americans are forced to live and, as Mike Brown shows, die by.

This is about oppression. Real oppression.

Instead of condemning the throwing of bricks, condemn the killing of unarmed Black Americans. Instead of condemning riots, condemn the racism. Instead of condemning the reaction to oppression, condemn the actual fucking oppression.

Otherwise fuck off with your privilege and racism.

What if Britain had a First Amendment?

There’s been so much talk about the importance of a free press and free speech lately that I feel as though I’m at a salon with Milton and Locke. In light of the Royal Charter regulating the press and furor around the Guardian’s reporting on and release of classified GCHQ intelligence documents , there’s been a lot of talk, including from former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans, about the UK’s need for an American-style First Amendment. Indeed, I’ve spoken at length about my passion for the First Amendment and the freedoms it guarantees, and I realise that I can’t approach British politics through a British lens because my own perceptions are intrinsically coloured by these deeply ingrained principles.

You see, if in the canon of American civil religion the Constitution is our Bible, the First Amendment is most certainly our gospel. In one run-on sentence, the framers articulated the essence of the new nation, the core principles for which so much Yankee blood was shed and which would transform the world:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of greivances.

Now, I refuse to play the part of the arrogant American who feels Britain ought to adopt the First Amendment verbatim. Though our legal system stems from your common law, the two have understandably evolved differently since separation. I’m not even suggesting that our way is the best way. But I think it’s important to understand what the First Amendment means to Americans before discussing whether Britain ought to adopt it as its own.

The problem is, articulating the first amendment in tangible terms is a challenge. Like our taste for cold and flavourless beer and our belief that every household should be armed like South American guerillas, the First Amendment runs in our blood. We don’t really notice it on a daily basis, because it’s not something we often think about. It just is. The First Amendment is like the air around us-it isn’t really palpable; you can’t really feel it until a storm rolls in.

For that reason, it’s easier to explain what the First Amendment isn’t. It isn’t government intelligence agents ransacking a newspaper office and destroying intellectual property in an attempt to curtail publication. It isn’t sending the police to grandma’s house because she doesn’t like gay people. And it isn’t breaking up a peaceful protest and arresting a lawmaker. I’m not saying America always gets it right either. (See: my alma mater’s horrible policy on freedom of speech in e-mail ; the case of the Legal Schnauzer out of Alabama ; or all of the 1960s.) But by and large, it gets the job of protecting our liberties done.

The First Amendment doesn’t grant permission to be like Jeremy Clarkson on steroids, spouting off every inane thing that comes to mind. It doesn’t mean that you can threaten bodily harm to someone, or falsely report a crime, or the favourite example on this side of the pond, shout fire in a crowded theatre. With great freedom comes great responsibility. I think Spiderman said that, or something close to it.

So what does it all mean? I don’t bloody well know. Asking an American what the first amendment means is like asking a Canadian to define maple syrup. We know it tastes sweet, we know that we love it, and we know that it’s intrinsic to our national identity, but we can’t really tell you why. I suppose it means being able to crassly and tastelessly joke that Prince Harry got a handjob from an Abercrombie manager without fear of the guillotine. It means questioning whether your leaders are who they say they are without penalty or sanity, and it means being able to say the the most vile, repulsive things about me and yet have me defend your right to say it (while laying a verbal smackdown on you, of course).

That’s one of my biggest concerns with the British approach to hate speech. I’m choking on my words right now, but David Starkey articulated it quite well . Britain’s laws against hate speech would never survive under the First Amendment, and thank God for that. As Jonathan Rauch recently wrote in The Atlantic, the freedom to offend minorities is imperative, not only to the cause of liberty, but for the social advancement and acceptance of the minority itself-a similar, if not an exact, argument to that of Starkey. “The best society for minorities,” Rauch writes, “is not

Political cartoon by Robert Ariail. First published in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
Political cartoon by Robert Ariail. First published in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

 

the society that protects minorities from speech but the one that protects speech from minorities.” Indeed, its only by exposing bigotry and ignorance in the public sphere that we can attack it head on and continue to win not only legal but social equality. This applies to gay, Muslim and black Britons today as much as it applied to open disdain for the working class, suffragettes and papists in days gone by. It’s hard to attack an enemy in the shadows, and laws restricting speech push bigots into the night, where they silently seethe with contempt, stifling not only their own hatred but any chance for social growth. Or, to put it another way, you have to counter speech with more speech, not less speech.

Of course, the primary medium for speech has historically been the press. On last week’s Question Time, Paris Lees asked what made newspapers so special that they needn’t be regulated by Parliament. Well, it’s quite simple: for 300 years the British broadsheets have been the conduits of liberty and democracy, as outlined by more than 70 human rights organisations in an open letter to David Cameron. Similarly, Louise Mensch brilliantly makes the point while simultaneously taking the press to task for its own meandering failures. Laws regulate what is or isn’t shown on television, as they also do in the United States, because the First Amendment provides leeway for some censorship of material deemed contrary to public taste and decency, but it’s a fine line and one which is frequently challenged.

But saying that you can’t show nekkid people before the threshold isn’t the same as restricting what can be reported on; nobody dare argues that the journalistic integrity and independence of the BBC ought to be regulated. Likewise, as an American, the thought of a government agency-even one as loosely affiliated with Westminster as that established by the royal charter-sits very uneasy. As schoolchildren, Americans learn of John Peter Zenger, a German-American writer johnpeterzengerwho successfully defended himself against charges of libel and is widely regarded as the Ron Burgundy of the eighteenth century. The Supreme Court has upheld the freedom of the press to print the Pentagon Papers, and set the bar very high for plaintiffs to claim libel in New York Times vs Sullivan, birthing the so-called “Sullivan defence” mandating that the plaintiff prove “actual malice” was involved and intentioned, citing and strengthening press freedoms. The UK, on the other hand, has no Sullivan Defence, and it is much easier to prove libel in Britain than America. A First Amendment, though, could feasibly alter British libel law, and in the United States has continually prevented government (and any public figure) from meddling in what our newspapers report. Still, we’re by no means perfect, as evidenced by the arrest of journalists covering the Occupy movement and the treatment of Michael Hastings prior to his fiery and mysterious death led to an outpouring of shock and grief from journalists around the world, even though his family continues to insist he wasn’t murdered.

It’s for this reason that Reporters Without Borders ranked the United States three spots behind the United Kingdom in this year’s Press Freedom Index, though the US rose fifteen spots from 2012 in large part because of public outrage about the detention of the Occupy journalists. The United Kingdom, is it reasonable to say, should expect its ranking to plummet in light of the current fires of regulation and oversight the Government and Hugh Grant have stoked. David Cameron’s warnings of consequences to publications disclosing the Snowden leaks , as well comments by Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps’ on reforming the license fee, widely interpreted as a threat to cut the BBC funding unless it produced more favourable reporting on the government, are about as helpful as sending Pétroleuses or Mrs. O’Leary to put that fire out.

The debate about a free press and free speech isn’t contained to the broadsheets, though. As important as it is to protect the rights of the good and noble, it’s just as important to protect the rights of the tasteless and crude (here’s looking at you, Jack Whitehall.) In the United States, that means protecting the smut published by Larry Flynt, who recently gave an interview touching on free speech to the BBC’s Newsnight. In the United Kingdom, it’s Page 3. Despite an online petition to ban Page 3 (which, in case you’re gay or American or both, is a page in The Sun with scantily clad women), David Cameron has said he doesn’t support it, despite his admittedly noble but ultimately flawed plan to filter internet porn. That’s a good Tory, because curtailing the freedom of a paper to publish what it will and of consumers to vote with their pocketbooks is decidedly antithetical to small-c conservative principles. Oh yeah, and democracy.

A similar First Amendment argument can be made against the oft-debated banning of the burqa or niqab. This has come up a lot in the last few years, especially following France’s outright ban on full face coverings, and most recently in September, when a judge ruled that a woman could not give evidence in her own trial whilst wearing the veil. Ken Clarke seems to support it, but Baroness Warsi summed it up as un-British. “I think people should have the right to wear what they want in this country,” she said. “Women won the right on what to wear many, many decades ago.” Well, yeah. Baroness Warsi speaks pointedly of the feminist arguments, echoed earlier this fall by Laurie Penny, who drew the conclusion that this isn’t just an issue of sexism, but also of Islamophobia. But if Britain had a First Amendment, would this even be a topic of debate?

Probably not. Take, for example, the case of two Christian women who appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to be allowed to wear crosses on the job. This case would be easily decided in favor of the plaintiffs on this side of the Atlantic, as is evidenced by the prolific case law on religious freedom. Similar is the case of Celestina Mba, a Christian who was sacked for refusing to work on Sundays. She lost her appeal. Accross the pond, though, the Civil Rights Act 1964 requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for people of faith, as a nod to freedom of worship and the First Amendment.

Now, this isn’t to say Americans aren’t bigots. Duh. We’re the nation that produced Michael Savage and Mel Gibson. Look at the ongoing struggle of Muslims in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to simply have a mosque, which while being challenged on planning and zoning laws, is rife with religious subtext-and, also, less-subtle nods to Islamophobia, including the plaintiffs citing fears about “sharia law” and “terrorists.” The Tennessee Supreme Court refused to take the case, allowing for an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Then there was the furor of the pastor burning the Koran in Florida and the New York mosque built close to Ground Zero, which had striking parallels to the case of mosque being built on the eastend of London several years back.

Despite the wishes of the good denizens of Murfreesboro, the First Amendment doesn’t give way to a right to discriminate in the public sphere, though-at least not really. Your rights end where mine begin, and in 2009 I made the argument that it was right to sack a Christian registrar who refused to officiate same-sex civil partnership ceremonies. The same goes for the Christian couple that wanted to ban gay people from their bed and breakfast. If you’re offering a public service or operating in the free market, you must abide by certain rules, and one of those rules is that you gotta play fair. It’s oft said that freedom of religion is freedom from religion, which is why the Supreme Court banned school-led prayer but not prayer in schools. The distinction is fine yet clear-free exercise of religion in a public sphere is acceptable, but the public sphere exercising religion is not. Frankly, it’s always baffled me why the United Kingdom-with an established church-is so antsy about the former. (If I ever meet Owen Jones, I’ll ask him.)

Less convoluted than the muddy waters of religion, though, is the the freedom of assembly. Two years ago I was living with a rather senior member of the Occupy Chicago movement-well, as senior as a horizontal leadership structure can allow-who was arrested for refusing to leave Grant Park after hours. The Occupy folks didn’t have a permit, which led to quite a few of them spending the night in jail. Still, the right to freely assemble is often cited by those staging protests, such as the storied

Caroline Lucas, the Green party's only MP, was arrested for protesting fracking

Caroline Lucas, the Green party’s only MP, was arrested for protesting fracking

March on Washington. From what I can tell, Britain’s pretty good on this one too, and the aforementioned fracking protest with Caroline Lucas was busted for reasons similar to the Chicago Police breaking up and arresting the Grant Park occupiers. The difference seems to be that the Balcombe protesters believe the police were ‘heavy handed’, while shockingly, the folks in Grant Park thought CPD did a fair job of things. This isn’t always the case. Birmingham police turned hoses and attack dogs on children in the Civil Rights Movement, and Chicago Police notoriously brutalised protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention. And none of this has to do with the First Amendment and everything to do with alleged police brutality, though the First Amendment could feasibly be construed to ensure the people have a right to assemble in a public space. In fact, this was pretty much the mantra of the Occupy Chicago protestors, and regardless of what you think of them, the First Amendment allows a compelling argument to be made.

What’s also compelling, if only for both its blatancy and banality, is the right to petition. It’s oft overlooked in American discourse, because really, writing a Congressman isn’t nearly as flashy as giving a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and certainly less scandalous than posing on Page 3, unless of course you were writing to former Congressman Anthony Weiner. But it’s important to note that the right to petition grievances was one of the primary factors propelling the thirteen colonies to separate from the motherland. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, in the Declaration of Independence, that “…in every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury,” and provided just cause for insurrection and independence. That King-in-Parliament wouldn’t hear-or rather, validate-the concerns of the colonists was the driving force behind its inclusion in the US Bill of Rights.

What most Americans don’t realise-and would be loathed to admit-is that this right already existed under the British constitution. It’s included in the Bill of Rights 1689 (called the “English Bill of Rights” over this way). So that’s not exactly a novel American concept.

Really none of it is, as pretty much all of this has its roots in Magna Carta or subsequent acts of Parliament. But don’t tell my compatriots that, because it’ll just hurt their feelings. America likes to think it invented liberty. Of course, it didn’t. But it did codify it in a succinct and explicit way, providing the framework for American case law, in turn allowing for the growth of those freedoms, which developed in a way distinct of their British antecedents.

It’s for this reason that looking at what a First Amendment would really mean for contemporary Britain is so interesting, and frankly, needed. The roots are the same, but the blossoms quite different, and in the more than two centuries since our two countries parted ways, my side of the Atlantic has taken things on a slightly different trajectory, ensuring personal liberties over collective cohesion. This is purely anecdotal, but it seems to me the British public prefers it this way. From Question Time/Big Question audience reactions to debates about multiculturalism and secularism to broad support for the HackedOff charter (because really, that’s what it is), and even in conversations with British friends who just don’t understand why we allow the Westboro Baptist Church to picket everything from funerals to fun parks, the Brits seem to like things the way they are. And that’s fine. While I personally feel very concerned about press freedom in the UK, overall, it’s still a functioning democracy. Still, it’s an interesting notion, and as the debate over religious freedom, hate speech, and press regulation continues, I imagine one that will resurface from time to time. Best be prepared.

For an interesting, more learned, and British(!) perspective on this issue, see Jonathan Peters’ July 2012 interview with Lord Lester in The Atlantic.