It’s Time to Silence White Supremacists

Late last year, I interviewed a self-proclaimed (white) ‘ethnic separatist’ for this blog. The idea was to try and understand how a person came to buy into such a belief system: that the races should be divided into separate states. I thought that, perhaps, if we tried to understand people like this, if those members of the population who decried racism in all its forms could somehow manage to listen and – to a degree – respect those who wanted it enshrined in law, then perhaps we’d be able to open a dialogue. And perhaps, that dialogue could change those people’s minds. Perhaps diplomacy really could convert the alt-righters, the neo-Nazis, the separatists and the supremacists.

Recent events seem to suggest that the coverage these groups have received in the media, all the discussion and exposure, has not served to open a dialogue so much as to legitimise their views and spur them on to cause more real-world harm.

The person I spoke to last year seemed eager to start discussions with political opponents, to talk about  race and identity and the reasons why such different schools of thought have emerged. He expressed a feeling that ‘the questions we’re asking deserve answers’, but almost a year on, I’m not so convinced.

Politics can always be debated, but when it starts to – directly or indirectly – dehumanise and advocate violence against specific groups of people based on nothing but race, those people’s safety must come before their detractors’ freedom of speech. To argue otherwise is to argue that their lives are worth less than the consideration of divisive ideas.

 

The KKK’s history of violence

Let’s begin this discussion by looking at the rhetoric and actions of one of the most famous white supremacist groups; a group which, perhaps not-so-incidentally, survives to this day.

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) emerged after the American Civil War and has historically attacked primarily black Americans, but also Jews and Catholics. They are infamous for their lynchings, bombings, rapes and murders particularly, perhaps, in conflict with the 1960s’ civil rights movement, although also a long time previously and after, as they fought to retain white supremacy by intimidating anyone who might seek to dismantle it. As recently as 1981, the KKK lynched 19-year-old Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama. This was reportedly the ‘last’ lynching by the Klan in the US, but what about the propaganda that inspired it, and countless other murders before it?

Here is one leaflet from 1924, about 60 years after the group first formed:

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Just as the white supremacists today try to frame their hate with respectability, so does this near-century-old KKK propaganda. It speaks more of God, of the Constitution and of kinship than it does of race, and in the one paragraph that the crucial issue appears, it speaks of the racial ‘distinction’ that presumably is the reason why the group desires the ‘faithful maintenance of White Supremacy’ it mentions directly afterwards. If one were talking about objects, not people, it could almost be mistaken for a debatable issue.

Thus, it was framed as reasonable, but caused incredible violence.

Another example of ‘reasonable’ rhetoric that legitimised violence is this:

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This image is from some years later; a boy in 1956 at a protest. However, again, the same tactic is used. The slogan on the car tries to hide the hate it promotes – it seems to suggest a warm sentiment, even, towards those it wants to oppress. The supposed comradeship with the ‘negroes’ works to make the opposition to integration seem more benevolent. And yet, a year previously, 14-year-old African American Emmett Till was famously and brutally murdered for speaking to a white woman by the same group who authored this message. It doesn’t matter that it is highly unlikely that the author and the murderers were the same people. It doesn’t matter if this particular writer would never consider murder. It was ideas like this, promotion of segregation, that spurred the violence on, and phrasing like this that legitimised that racial hatred.

White supremacist action today

Today, white supremacist violence is thought, by many, to be a relic from the past. It is not.

The obvious example is the recent ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville which, startlingly, happened only a month ago. Although perhaps it should be reassuring that the death toll was so low (1), the sentiment and propaganda behind the march was very similar to that which caused so much death just decades ago. As in the KKK leaflet from the 1920s, posters assert that there is a significant and important difference between whites and other races: ‘us’ and ‘you’. The direct address to people of colour (POC) is threatening, naturally exclusionary and protests at the very existence of POC in what this group presumably sees as ‘their’ space.

UniteTheRightPoster02.jpg

There is also evidence that the white supremacists intended to use violence, and thus that the actions of the attacker were not unsupported by the rest of the group. Indeed, The Daily Stormer website, a far-right platform, posted content mocking victim Heather Heyer. This, obviously, goes far beyond reasoned political disagreement, and demonstrates that white supremacists are not and perhaps cannot be, peaceful.

Beyond Charlottesville, there were similar rallies in May and July of this year, the latter organised by the KKK.

This flyer, meanwhile, has been being distributed across Suffolk County in the US: and, once again, it equates race with having the right to occupy a certain space and is exclusionary to all but white people.

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The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has identified three major white supremacist acts of domestic terrorism in the US since 2012: in 2015, when a gunman in North Carolina opened fire at a predominantly African American church; in 2014, when a former KKK member killed three Jews after opening fire at a Jewish institution in Kansas; and in 2012, when another white supremacist opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six.

White supremacy is not just harmless theory. It is being put into action and it is killing people.

 

Silencing hate

Such deadly consequences, evidenced both in history and today, are precisely why silencing white supremacists is necessary and right. It can be no coincidence the the same rhetoric appears time and time again alongside murderous, racist action. Preventing supremacists from spreading hate is not an infringement of free speech, therefore, but rather an effort to protect those who they wish to harm.

It is incredibly positive, therefore, that in August both Stormfront and The Daily Stormer were taken offline when their service providers decided that their content contravened their terms of service. The latter posted content that lauded white supremacist violence, while members of the former were reportedly responsible for 100 murders in the last five years alone.

Furthermore, those who might feel uncomfortable about ‘silencing’ any group insofar as it could set a dangerous precedent for future violations of the right to freedom of speech, should consider other human rights, too. Alongside Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights which gives one ‘the right to freedom of opinion and expression […] through any media and regardless of frontiers’, Article 3 gives one the ‘right to life, liberty and security of person’ and Article 15  states that ‘[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality’ (as the separatists ultimately want). One group’s right to freedom of expression does not trump people of colour’s rights to live safely or reside in the country in which they choose. These ideas are already preventing the former, and aim to impede the latter.

White supremacists may have the right to hold the opinions that they do, but they do not have the right to threaten – directly or indirectly – other people’s safety.

Therefore, they need to silenced.

This is not a job for governments – after all, until they directly begin to violate the rights mentioned above, a government should not intervene – but for everyday people. It means shutting down people who express these views – whether family, friend or Internet stranger. It means actively working to make sure racial slurs are not normalised. It means avoiding at all costs legitimising the views that seek to divide people on racial grounds.

While we use slurs ironically, fail to confront racism when we see it and dignify hateful rhetoric with thoughtful discussion, we will not silence them. We need to show them that white supremacism is wrong through our own conduct, and then demonstrate that we are willing to fight it and will never be converted.

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The BBC Pay Gap: Two Perspectives

The BBC recently released the details of the salaries of its highest-paid stars, a move which has reignited the discussion around the so-called ‘pay gap’.

Two people, with differing political opinions generally, express their views on the release of the figures and the issues around them. Neither saw the other’s responses before writing their own and as such, the following provides an insight into a spectrum of thoughts and concerns, as well as two different sets of priorities.

 

First impressions

S: The BBC, over more than 60 years of service, has provided a veritable mountain of quality content across a broad spectrum of genres and media. As a state-funded and endorsed body it still has a measure of gravitas and authority over its sibling; Channel 4 which was established by Margaret Thatcher with the specific intent of having no public funding, leaving it free to be more critical of the state. However, this public nature means all of its funding is provided by the taxpayer. Is it the best investment? And are there areas in which it can be more efficient?

N: Although I’m very conscious of the gender pay gap as a concept and see it as something that needs to be actively combated – whether that’s via encouraging women to ask for pay rises, breaking through societal norms that cause women to go part-time when they otherwise wouldn’t or valuing more highly female-dominated professions – I hadn’t thought of the BBC specifically as somewhere where the pay gap might be a significant problem within the organisation. Also, the important thing here is principle: it’s not that Alex Jones is going to starve if she doesn’t get a pay rise. Why is the top male star paid 4.5 times more than the top female star? And, looking beyond gender, why are minorities paid so much less than their white counterparts?

 

Any notable commentary?

N: I saw a particularly interesting breakdown of the news that not only discussed gender, but also race and age. As well as finding that high BME (black and minority ethnic) earners fell overwhelming into the lower end of that scale, it also highlighted that BME stars are quite absent from the list of the BBC elite – there are only 10 on the released list. Predictably, the list also showed that of the corporation’s most valued stars, women were on average younger than men. I think it’s really important to consider all kinds of groups who are being treated unfairly, rather than just look at it from the perspective of gender as is generally being done.

S: Whilst the issues raised by the row are worth noting and rectifying, we must consider the possibility they are merely symptoms of a deeper systematic failure, as this article expertly presents. Beyond that, we encounter the issue of high-pay itself: should public sector workers earn anywhere near so much, even for such high-profile positions? Historically, the public sector has earned less wages in return for greater pension provisions and other benefits that were not enjoyed in equivalent jobs in the private sector. However, since the early-mid 2000s, public sector workers have on average had higher wages than their private counterparts.

 

What are the next steps?

S: The BBC will invariably cave to the demands of the presenters and raise their wages by a significant amount, which will be hailed as a great victory for feminism despite not bringing these, generally very well educated and privileged, women even close to the highest-earners overall. Meanwhile lower-class and unemployed women will continue to be targeted disproportionately by the BBC’s attack dogs at TV licensing. “Top talent” will continue to be paid corporate-level wages despite being in a publicly funded body. We will probably also get a number of naff documentaries about the fiasco airing within the next couple years.

N: Ideally, everyone who is being underpaid due to their gender or race or age would get a pay rise. I think this is unlikely – and I think it’s unlikely also that those potentially being overpaid will take a pay cut to even it out from the other direction (although there will always be some variation in pay in an organisation where roles are so varied and where public profile is part of what makes someone valuable). Because there isn’t a quick fix, I think the BBC just needs to ensure that it actively values its female and minority workers both financially and in terms of their on- and off-screen contributions to the same level that they would anyone else with comparable skills and a comparable workload. Part of it is getting to a point where female and BME talent attracts the same amount of interest as do their white and/or male counterparts so as to justify paying for their public regard – and this is a societal issue, one which the BBC cannot solve on its own.

 

Does it change your view of the BBC?

N: I was surprised, but in hindsight it is perhaps not-so-surprising, and therefore my view is not much changed. Despite its lambasting by those who object to the tiniest increase in diversity, you can see, just by watching, that the BBC is quite white, quite middle class and quite male. It’s got some great people outside those labels (and inside, for that matter), but it’s not a diverse paradise yet. This just clarified that.

S: Not especially. Whilst it provides further evidence that the BBC is far from a perfect organisation (quelle surprise), and illustrates that some civil servants and others on the taxpayer’s pound are given frankly extravagant wages for performances worth far less, it nonetheless does nothing to diminish the years of service the BBC has given us. In an ideal world perhaps some of the cash would be rerouted from top-tier wages (or those middle-managers who fail to successfully explain their role in one sentence) to the average techies and stagehands, but unfortunately that seems doubtful.

 

Final thoughts

S: Is this how public service was meant to be? When the BBC (and, I suppose, the NHS) was established as a public body, do we believe it ever went through the minds of the founders that public sector workers should be paid “competitive” wages with the private sector, “to retain top talent”? Or did they feel that the pride of doing a valuable duty to the public, along with generous retirement plans, was enough? For those who fetishize Old Labour individuals like Attlee, it is worth considering. Would he want a crisp-advertising footballer to be annually worth 11 times the Prime Minister? Food for thought.

N: In many ways, this has simply highlighted lots of problems that a lot of people already knew about, and reasserted who is truly valued in society, and who still needs to demand equality. It’s not particularly heartening, but perhaps it is good to be reminded every so often. If a high-powered BME BBC journalist, for instance, can’t be treated equally in the workplace, what hope is there for people without a public profile? It’s something than can be forgotten by some, and this kind of story helps bring those thoughts back to the fore.

Arrogance Killed Curiosity

Curiosity can be frustratingly elusive.

We watch others as they seemingly gather endless pools of knowledge, dispense obscure facts in social settings and then dive back in to absorb yet more information. Their brains seem to yearn for that which they do not know.

Meanwhile, we sit. We stare. We scroll. We want to want to know, but we can barely make it through a news article or a blog post or a book chapter without saving it for later, exiting the page, snapping it shut.

We feel as if we are stuck in perpetual stasis as everyone else surges forwards. Their mental energy is surely boundless. Our own, meanwhile, sputters on the damp floors of our own apathy and threatens to go out completely.

 

The Science of Curious Minds

The first problem with attempting to restore one’s curiosity is the fact that there is little research into the area, and therefore we aren’t really sure how it works. That being said, there is one recent study that has looked into the mechanics of curiosity, and this is a good place to begin.

In essence, the study finds, curiosity is linked with the reward centre of the brain and the production of dopamine. In fact, when a person is curious about the answer to a question, dopamine molecules are transmitted even before the answer is revealed – showing that curiosity in itself should be pleasurable. On top of this, curiosity seems to correlate with increased activity in the hippocampus, where memories are made. The level of interaction between the reward centre of the brain and the hippocampus during the time when a person is posed with a question that they don’t know the answer to, generally predicts how well they will remember that answer once it is revealed. Increased curiosity equals increased information retention.

It perhaps isn’t surprising that we learn better when we are curious about the subject, although it is certainly encouraging to think that self-motivated curiosity will not go unrewarded: if we’re interested, we should remember what we discover. What is perhaps more interesting to consider, however, is the fact that our brain will reward us for curiosity and thus, that our brains do want to be curious, and do want to learn. It shouldn’t be a struggle, and with this being the case, we should investigate other reasons why we might find igniting our curiosity difficult.

 

Causes of Reduced Curiosity

Truly, no one seems entirely sure of the reasons why curiosity might decline, either temporarily or permanently. The research cited above does note that those who have low dopamine due to health conditions will find it more difficult to be curious and to retain memories, but what about the rest of us?

Inevitably, technology is blamed by some. After all, search engines mean that the answers to everything is at our fingertips, and as a consequence, perhaps we are less inclined to go searching for knowledge and to be truly inquisitive – we can always just Google it later. It deadens meandering exploration and the stumbling upon of ideas that we specifically weren’t searching for, as one can do in a library or a bookshop.

Meanwhile, Einstein reportedly blamed modern teaching methods for a drop in curiosity in children, while Socrates theorised that it was hubris (excessive pride or overconfidence) that fuelled a person’s lack of interest in acquiring new knowledge.

Of the three, given that none can truly provide evidence for their theories, Socrates’ theory feels the most watertight. After all, to a truly curious mind, Google is a goldmine. And, while a standardised curriculum could certainly be argued to be a destroyer of individuality (something which is concerning although not strictly relevant here), can the relaying of accepted fact and method really be touted as the downfall of curiosity? A boring class might turn a student off academia, but academia is not the same as curiosity, and the student is bound to find something to engage them outside of lessons, something which piques their interest and inspires them.

Thus, we are left only with the idea that a lack of curiosity is down to the feeling that we do not need any further information, that we are endowed with enough knowledge to carry us through our lives as-is. This may be something that we are aware of, or it may be internalised, but it rings true.

Think of the times when you have most urgently sought knowledge. Perhaps you Googled your symptoms, perhaps you searched for reviews of something to gauge its worth or check your opinions against wider critique. Perhaps you were researching something specific that you were unfamiliar with in order to pick someone a good present. In all these cases, you were curious because you felt that you needed the information and that you could not continue without it. The mistake in this reasoning is that you come to believe that you do not need information that is not instantly and directly useful to you.

As an adult particularly, it is easy to think that you have accumulated most of the knowledge necessary for life – after all, if you sustain yourself, what else is there that is truly important?

This is where the arrogance lies: the idea that no knowledge apart from that which you already have could benefit you.

 

Learning to be Inquisitive Again

If we accept Socrates’ idea, then, the key to being curious is humility. Certain behaviours – listening, asking questions, engaging with alien points of view – can remind us that our worldview is not the be all and end all, and that there are vast gaps in our knowledge and in our reasoning.

Importantly, curiosity and humility shouldn’t come at the cost of self-confidence. Self-confidence is not the same as arrogance; you can be humble and self-confident: confident in the knowledge and abilities that you have, but self-aware enough to realise that these abilities and accumulated knowledge do not mean that you have nothing left to learn of importance.

It’s all somewhat abstract and theoretical anyway. We may now know how the brain functions when curious, and the benefits to learning that curiosity brings. However, we are left with the task of re-evaluating ourselves, of being critical enough to realise our own overconfidence and working to redress this. It seems impossible to simply force ourselves to be curious simply because we wish it, but equally, how does one force humility?

There may be no easy answers, but if we wish to crave knowledge again, we must learn it. Perhaps we can start our journey back to curiosity by further researching how to.

 

A Deficit of Humanity

Economics is always at the forefront of political discussion as elections near. It’s an important issue, and with every side claiming that their economic theory is correct (and with some research, generally, there to support every argument) it can be difficult to determine who really has the best plan.

The easiest divide to analyse is the ‘spending versus austerity’ debate, which has dominated in recent years.

The first important point to grasp here  is that the deficit – that entity so often cited as the thing that must be reduced via government action – rises and falls completely independently of the government. The deficit is the difference between the amount that is raised in taxes and the amount the government spends, and is not the same as national debt. If the economy is growing, tax revenue will be greater and unemployment benefit lower quite naturally, which will lower the deficit or perhaps even create a surplus. Equally, if the economy is shrinking, the opposite will happen, and the deficit will increase.

Thus, what the government needs to do is stimulate growth. This is the opposite to recession which is, quite simply, the private sector trying to make savings and cuts – while potentially prudent for individual businesses it then lowers demand, which requires more cuts from more people…and the economy spirals into recession.

Although the term ‘austerity’ is often used synonymously with ‘cuts’, it does not necessarily mean, as one might expect, literally saving money. The first year of the coalition’s austerity measures in 2010 saw the government running a deficit of 9.3% of GDP. Although this meant that the government was still losing money (and adding to debt), it was austerity because 9.3% was lower than the deficit running the year before (11%).

The problem with analysing different economic models at all is the fact that there are so many things that affect the economy. One cannot isolate single factors as in a scientific experiment, and consequently there is a great deal of room to interpret data differently.

What follows is an overview of some of the most credited ideas, and what they might mean in the context of the coming election.

 

How Austerity can Work

Ideally, if one is going to implement austerity as an economic policy, one needs to cut taxes alongside cutting state services. Although seemingly counter-intuitive, this would allow interest rates to be ‘tightened’ or raised. This would make the pound stronger against other currencies, which would make imports cheaper and thus reduce inflation, making the cost of everyday items lower. This, then, would encourage consumer spending – increasing demand and helping to boost the private sector and grow the economy.

Austerity is an easy policy to sell in some ways – saving money when in debt makes sense from the point of view of an individual, and therefore does not really require the politician promoting it to go in-depth into how the economy works. It is also a good platform from which to discredit another politician who does wish to spend.

 

Austerity Downsides

Although when coupled with tax cuts, austerity might be a valid economic choice to stimulate the economy, there are a lot of drawbacks. Primarily, these can be encompassed as ‘strain on public services’. This strain can be made even worse by demographic and technological changes, particularly in services like the NHS. An older population, needing ever greater amounts of care, coupled with the need for investment in new technology, means that the health service is in no position to even withstand a freeze in funding – and in real-terms austerity measures are decreasing funding to it (despite the fact that spending is, literally, being increased year on year).

Furthermore, if interest rates cannot go down – and they cannot, for reasons stated above – cutting welfare reduces the public’s ability to spend money. Once again, this lessens demand, harms businesses and weakens the economy.

Some economists even warn that imposing austerity on an already weak economy could cause the deficit to rise further.

Finally, if those implementing austerity decide to protect certain services from cuts, it will only worsen the cuts necessary for other services – potentially eliminating very valuable provisions.

 

The Case for Spending

The IFS has stated that government borrowing for investment could currently promote long-term growth, as low interest rates do have the advantage of making borrowing very cheap. They have also noted that it is spending for investment purposes which has the most stimulatory impact on the economy overall.

Higher levels of government spending generally are also likely to promote faster economic growth than any austerity programme would, as spending would help address problems caused by the private sector making cuts.

 

Spending Drawbacks

The drawbacks (ironically) in increasing spending, lie in the selling of the concept. Firstly, in order to tighten interest rates and encourage consumer spending, one ideally needs to raise taxes quite widely. If people are currently struggling, the prospect of losing more income is unlikely to be a vote-winner. Furthermore, just as ‘saving’ makes sense when one thinks of the economy like personal finances, spending seems counter-intuitive. Thus, the politician who decides to follow this path has a much harder task ahead: because they need to discuss economics in more depth. They cannot simply rely on slogans and buzzwords.

 

Election 2017

In this election, neither of the two major parties are offering the ideal combination to best serve the economy. The Conservatives are sticking with their austerity line, and while they are being evasive regarding their tax plans, it seems pretty clear that they do not intend to lower them. Meanwhile, Labour is prepared to spend and, moreover, invest – but its taxation rises are not comprehensive, targeting only the richest 5% and corporations.

Therefore, if you want to vote based on economic credibility, neither Labour nor the Conservatives are solid choices. Both include elements in their policies which could help or hinder the economy – it is uncertain.

As this is the case – and as economics is an inexact science at the best of times – surely it is better to judge the intent of the manifestos, and to think about who has the potential to lose or gain from what is proposed. Increasing the size of the state stands to benefit the most vulnerable. Decreasing it could hurt them immeasurably.

If the numbers don’t add up, the least we can do is vote kindly.

If you’re not in need, think of all those who are.

GAD-gal

She is very anxious about a number of quite varied things, but she can also feel totally fine.

Nostalgia brings forth tears and self-disgust at the prospect of the future person that is coming. Those in the present leave her cold.

  • Panic is going to bed drunk not-at-home.
  • Sickness is the end of the world.
  • Familiarity and knowledge of proximities are a comfort blanket.
  • The ill are to be avoided, dodged, smiled at from behind bursting lungs.
  • Coughs are just warning shots.
  • Cross the road, jump away, any excuse.

Jump-scares through to anguish.

Crushing.

Or nothing.

She’s scared of phones (sometimes), she gets itchy and uncomfortable away from home (quite a bit), trips away are daunting, online arguments are terrifying (compulsive), she feels like she always needs to do better and be more, and she worries so much about the success of relationships that she ends up self-centred and spiralling towards sabotage as she digs deeper and deeper into the hole that she started. She makes up anxiety-inducing scenarios in her head and can feel the adrenaline running through her.

It’s a beautiful day. She’s fine.


Structure is a crutch.

Lists and methodology, visible or not, are integral.

Despite a diagnosis, she’s worried: he was wrong, she was wrong, she walked into his office and exaggerated and lied because she wants attention.

She does want attention.

Kindness is hard when it gets in the way of certainty.

Her symptoms aren’t as bad as everyone else’s. She doesn’t have panic attacks (she cries). She’s perfectly capable of functioning day-to-day (almost always). She doesn’t usually feel that bad. (What is the problem, again? Possibly she’s just used to the tension, or possibly she can’t bear normality).

‘I have anxiety’.

‘Ok’.

‘I have anxiety’.

‘You need a label for being a snivelling human shitbag who doesn’t have the guts to swallow her pride and face her insecurities and her fears and stop leeching off others’ pity is what you have, but ok’.

Low points: crushing doubt and hysterical tears, thrumming tension, DOUBT.

High points: same as everyone, I guess.


I’M NOT OVERREACTING I’M REACTING TO THE LEVEL OF EMOTION THAT I AM FEELING


She’s fine.

How Privilege Builds Success: and Why We Shouldn’t Be Threatened by Quotas

Privilege should be a good thing but, today, it is often seen as an accusation as opposed to good fortune. In fact, having privilege is a very good thing. It breeds opportunity, it gives those who have it a better chance to succeed. It can buy quality education, good work experience, contacts, and a successful career. Those without it would be glad for it, and those with it have no reason to be ashamed.

 

The things that need to be changed are the avoidance of discussion around the issue, the privileged few’s blindness to having it, and an unwillingness to share good fortune with those who were not born with it.

 

Privilege and Money

Money and upbringing can be as sensitive a subject in talking about privilege as gender or race because, for the person benefiting from it, it can initially be as out of their control as their felt identity or the colour of their skin. After all, no one decides who they are born to, so why should one apologise for a factor in their fate for which they are not responsible?

This discussion has become important again in the wake of Conservative plans to increase the number of grammar schools – schools that select pupils, age eleven, based on academic prowess. Grammar schools are not as overtly tied to money as fee-paying schools, and May supposedly sees these schools as a vehicle to increasing social mobility: and theoretically, they could be.

However, once one begins to consider the effects of privilege on academic achievement, this theory falls apart. May’s hypothesis is based on the idea that such achievement is founded purely on personal intelligence and drive, and not influenced by factors such as money. This could not be further from the truth.

A recent BBC infographic succinctly demonstrates how grammar schools can actually hinder the social mobility of the poorest, and benefit the privileged even further.

bbc grammar schools

Money opens doors, even at a young age. What is key to combating this privilege (and key to wanting to combat this privilege), is understanding that the problem is not that lots of richer children are gaining access to high-quality education. The problem is that lots of poorer children aren’t.

Of course, this issue with education stretches a long way past gaining entry to a grammar school.  However, let us assume that a place at such a school ensures the hard-working pupil a successful career, regardless of family money. Why, at age eleven, is there already so much disparity in the ability of children to pass entrance exams, and why does this correlate with parental income?

Firstly, to gain a place, a child will need to have certain expectations of themselves. They will need to be confident in their abilities, and they will need to believe that they can achieve. This is what will then encourage them to work hard. A child who has little faith in their own intelligence and who does not believe themselves to be capable of gaining a place at a grammar school – or does not see the value of doing so – will not be motivated to put in any effort. This is something that is heavily influenced by parental success, and by extension, parental expectations of their children:

“…researchers have found that the average three-year-old born to a professional family has had 700,000 “encouragements” addressed to him or her, against 60,000 for a child born to parents on welfare.”

Already, children born to professional parents have the advantage. They are privileged not just in the money available to be spent on them, but in the support that they are likely receiving.

More obviously, it is also more likely that children born to richer parents are going to be able to benefit from tutors, perhaps from better living conditions, and even from their parents’ own experiences in being successful in education.

When they take the entrance exams, they have all this support behind them. They gain entry. A poorer student, without access to similar support, does not. The quality of the two students’ educations becomes even more different: benefiting the richer child even more than before. This is not social mobility.

However, the government’s sudden fetish for grammar schools is not the only issue when thinking about privilege and how it affects life chances. A popular Wireless comic takes a much broader look at the problem:

 

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Just as parental wealth can determine the chances of an eleven-year-old gaining entry into a grammar school, so too can it contribute to a persons’ chances throughout life. Of course, this is not to say that all rich people are successful and all poor people destitute: just that one’s start in life is likely to affect the opportunities that one can take.

The last panel of the comic is what really demonstrates the problem: having privilege and not recognising it.

Of course, not every privileged person will reach the peak of success, and in that sense, Richard’s achievements should be lauded – he did work hard. However, he fails to recognise that his success is not purely driven by his work – that a person can work hard and still end up in Paula’s position – or much worse. This is a problem because, due to this mindset, Richard will not advocate for the less-privileged. Paula will not get help. Schemes suggested to help people like Paula will be rebuffed by people like Richard as an attack on hard-workers, as a ‘handout’. His company will not set up quotas for talented low-income people, it will not offer alternative pathways into the industry. It will stay closed to all who cannot take the road that Richard took.

Having privilege is not the problem. Blindness to having that privilege is.

 

Gender, Race and Privilege

Being privileged is not simply tied to family money, however. Factors such as race or gender, sexuality or disability, can really affect a person’s opportunities, particularly in the workplace.

For example, a report published this year found that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers still have a number of disadvantages in the workplace. This includes a 12% lower employment rate than their white counterparts, a slower progression rate when in work, and a greater likelihood of working in low-paid or low skilled jobs, despite being more likely to be degree-educated. As well as implying that prejudice may well be hindering BME workers in their search for employment and in their chances of promotion, these statistics are significant when considering how parental wealth affects a child’s start in life. This disadvantage at work could easily be one part of a vicious circle with the potential to send future BME children into poverty: further and further from opportunities that might be available to their wealthier, white peers.

For women, there are similar issues. Excluding very young adults, men have higher employment rates overall. They also make up the majority of the top 10% of earners in the UK – with women over thirty making up an even smaller percentage of this group than their younger counterparts. Furthermore, female graduates tend to work in slightly lower-paid and lower-skilled occupations than their male counterparts, as well as men generally gravitating, more so than women, into professions associated with higher pay. Again, this implies a level of discrimination against women in the workplace, as well as, perhaps, a lack of confidence or aspiration in comparison to men: again, a vicious circle, with girls modelling themselves on the women who went before them, and being stunted by gendered expectations.

Just as with the problems with monetary privilege, so too can privileges afforded by race or gender be overlooked, and schemes to perhaps help boost BME, female, or other underprivileged workers be dismissed as ‘handouts’. This attitude is borne of the same skewed mindset: that having privilege is somehow shameful (and thus must be ignored). It isn’t (and it mustn’t be) – the shame lies in the neglect of those less fortunate.

It is for these reasons that schemes such as quotas, designed to increase diversity in business or education, cannot be ignored. Of course, a quota to increase the number of BME board members for a particular company might feel unfair to individual hard-working white candidates, but a quota is not designed to bar genuinely talented people from a position because of their race: it is designed to help those who also deserve the position, but might otherwise really be barred due to their race. In the same way, men could be intimidated by female quotas, the well-off by quotas and grants designed to give the poorest a leg-up, but such schemes are not meant to kick people down.

In fact, they benefit everyone. If quotas and grants and schemes can work together to put everyone on a level playing field, then success truly can be attributed to hard work. If privilege can be redressed, there is no reason why a rich white able-bodied male can’t boast of his success and claim that everything was down to his hard work and ingenuity. Because, beside him, a poor black disabled female is able to enjoy the very same success.

 

The Power of Political Anger

 

 

Anger is not generally seen as the most productive of emotions; it is also invariably seen as involuntary or difficult to control. In politics it can be polarising, motivational, violent or community-building. Furthermore, politics, tied up as it is in the everyday lives of ordinary people – and yet seemingly so out-of-reach – is naturally going to incite emotional reactions, and it will therefore be impossible to ever eradicate anger entirely, even if this were a desirable outcome. In fact, as destructive as it can be, anger in politics can also be positive, particularly for those who find themselves otherwise excluded from debate.

 

Anger as Emotion

Psychologically, “anger results from [the] combination of [a] trigger event, the qualities of the individual [getting angry], and the individual’s appraisal of the situation.” Thus, depending on whether the person getting angry has appraised the trigger event in a way that is reasonable and correct, the anger may be misplaced, or it may be justified. Personality, current mood and circumstance also enter into the equation. What is clear, however, is that anger cannot always be prevented. Even if the situation could have been appraised differently, if a person is naturally competitive or aggressive, or if earlier events have affected them in such a way to predispose them to anger at a particular moment, the fact that reasoning or logic might eliminate their trigger is irrelevant. It is a reaction. It is involuntary.

Therefore, it follows that political anger is much the same, and that cool debate may not always be an option. There are numerous reasons why politics may trigger anger in a person: from feeling attacked to feeling isolated. Moreover, “…politicians tend to make exaggerated claims …claims are often designed with the explicit purpose of making people angry. …[and] those who don’t believe them respond with anger over what they perceive as dishonesty.” In short, whether the level of political anger is productive or otherwise, it cannot be reduced just by wishing it so.

 

Minimising Potential Triggers

Anger cannot be eradicated, but there is good reason for it to be minimised where possible. Firstly, as Nussbaum argues, anger is divisive: it is bad because of its consequences—alienating political opponents, breeding revenge and violence, inhibiting progress…” This line of thought is only too evident in today’s politics, both in the UK and US. Anger and resentment divides Remainers and Brexiters in the UK, just as it does pro-Trump and anti-Trump supporters in the US. In both cases, bridging the ideological divide seems like a daunting task. For the sake of national unity at least, unnecessary anger needs to be quelled in some way.

Moreover, as hinted previously, those in power have learned to utilise political anger to consolidate or elevate their position, and halting this abuse of public feeling for personal gain is especially important. Although apparently evident in the campaigns of Donald Trump and ‘Leave’, this phenomenon is not new. It was observed by then-student Nick Licata in 1968, upon visiting a rally for presidential candidate George Wallace. “He was a master at reading the crowd and reflecting their anger.” Nick goes on to note that such an ability is not limited by a person’s ideology: conservative, liberal, communist… it is a method widely employed by politicians.

Although it may be infuriating that politicians are actively promoting division, this is a solvable issue. Leaders could be prevented from knowingly creating anger, something which could be policed particularly via outlawing deliberate factual distortion or lying. People could still be angry at policy or behaviour, but preventative measures against deliberate public provocation is one way to minimise anger in politics, and thus minimise the alienation and violence Nussbaum fears, and thus promote progress.

 

A Tool for the Oppressed

While removing unnecessary anger may desirable, and while alienation is best avoided where possible, this does not mean that anger – even anger which may cause some negative effect – should be discouraged in every case. In fact, when one discourages marginalised groups from expressing anger, one is enforcing the status quo and quite possibly legitimising the oppressed person’s plight. This is because discouraging justified anger means that one is failing to acknowledge its root, and in doing this, one dismisses the person expressing it and deems their concerns unimportant. Doing this to a marginalised group angry at being sidelined by society, one only further entrenches that marginalisation. This idea is perhaps put best in response to Nussbaum‘s staunch anti-anger stance:

The anger of women, or black people, or gays, or Palestinians is counterproductive…because those in power have made it so. It is a matter of contingency…that women’s and black people’s anger is dismissed as evidence of their inferiority and used as an excuse to bar them from public life”

Significantly, this is not just theory. A very notable example of it is that of the depiction of the suffragists and suffragettes during the fight for women’s suffrage. Cartoonists depicted the campaigners as grotesque, unlovable, hysterical old maids – an attempt to dismiss their anger and thus retain the status quo. They were made ridiculous. Although it is debatable whether militant or peaceful tactics were most significant in gaining the vote, anger was a vital component of the movement. It was a motivator, an organiser; it drew these women together. They alienated men and women alike, but few today would argue that their eventual achievement of their goals was not worth it.

Today, perhaps the dismissal of anger by marginalised groups is less blatant, but it is still present. An example that gained a great deal of publicity comes from a Prime Minister’s Question Time in 2011, when then Prime Minister David Cameron told Labour MP Angela Eagle to ‘calm down dear’ as she shouted out in protest. As the clip below demonstrates, the room is filled with angry exclamations – but it is a female MP whom he particularly chooses to chastise. He dismisses and patronises her in a way that he fails to do with his other hecklers: implying that her anger in particular is less justified.

If a woman as privileged as her cannot be taken seriously by her peers, why should other women be forced to speak quietly about their grievances?

 

Of course, ideally, anger needs to be minimised in politics. If a person’s privilege allows them some form of platform where they will be taken seriously, reasoned debate is preferable and sensible. Accusations and harsh words are unlikely to endear a person or group to their opponents, and thus calm, peaceful debate is likely the best policy. This should ideally apply for settling differences within allied groups too. Moreover, steps need to be taken to prevent those in power from promoting divisiveness through aggravating rhetoric. However, anger does have a place in politics. If one does not have a platform, or if one’s opinions and emotions are used to dismiss or de-legitimise that person or group’s position, anger is an entirely appropriate response…and possibly the only way to incite change.

Arranged Marriage and a Culture of Coercion

 

The phrase “arranged marriage” is enough to make most Westerners recoil. It brings to mind girls too young to be out of school forced to bear the children of men old enough to be their fathers. It brings to mind not only arranged, but forced marriage, and of all the trauma and tragedy such an occurrence could bring.

Sadly, such associations are grounded in reality. For far too many, arranged marriage is a life sentence. But there are success stories too. Given this, arranged marriage as a concept cannot be seen as fundamentally bad – it is the attitudes and beliefs of those who arrange marriages without considering the needs and rights of the participants, which need altering.

Consent must be the key consideration. Any marriage forced upon a couple without the consent of both must be condemned – thereby condemning all marriages involving a child – or indeed any situation where coercion is employed: literal or societal. If one accepts that arranged marriage can be good, one has to be stringent in identifying anything which might harm a person entering into it.

 

Child Brides

Perhaps the most dangerous and toxic form of arranged marriages are those that involve a child, as a child cannot give informed consent. This is a problem all over the world, even in places like the U.S., where children can marry under 15 in some circumstances – leaving the door wide open for parents to exploit their children by marrying them off young. In Bangladesh, for example, things are even more dire in this respect, despite child marriage technically being illegal. The country has the highest rate of child marriage in Asia, with 52% of girls being married before their 18th birthday. Being married as a child negatively effects the child’s education, as well as increasing infant and maternal mortality rates.

In terms of consent, as well as being unable to consent to the arrangement, a child cannot consent sexually, and thus marriage at a young age could condemn a child to years of rape and sexual assault. As well as this, even today, countries like Bangladesh are loosening laws which protect children from rape. Where child marriage was always illegal – although widespread – now a child can marry in “special circumstances”, for example, to legitimise an unplanned baby. In potentially forcing children to marry their rapists, this enshrines in law a disregard for the need for consent, something which sadly already seemed set at a societal level. These are the kinds of attitudes that need to change: from Bangladesh, to the U.S., and everywhere in between.

 

Forced Marriage for Adults

Where children cannot give informed consent, adults can, but that does not necessarily mean that they are doing so.

The first eventuality is that an adult lives in a culture or family where arranged marriage is expected; they themselves do not wish to follow the tradition, but they do not feel able to defy their loved ones. In this vein, one Muslim commentator likens the practise of arranged marriage to sacrifice, and describes a hypothetical bride-to-be: full of anguish, lonely, and dreading the day when her family would provide her with a groom.

It is a spectrum, however, and perhaps not all adults who do not consent to arranged marriage are affected so negatively. Perhaps, even, they do consent to the idea, but feel coerced into following specific aspects of arranged marriage which they would rather avoid. In either case, the lack of consent is still unacceptable – it merely illustrates how difficult it is to identify non-consensual arrangements. It might be a lesser evil than forcing children to marry, but it is still a violation of the couple’s freedom.

Interesting examples of these greyer areas appear in the Channel 4 documentary “Extremely British Muslims“. Here, many of the young Muslims featured seem happy and willing to enter into an arranged marriage, as they felt it to be an integral part of their religion and thus their identity, but they wanted different things from the marriage than their families did. Invariably the parents’ views were more conservative. One young woman, for instance, wanted to marry, but wanted to experience life – to travel, and to focus on herself and her husband – before they settled down and had children. She found it very difficult to find any like-minded men, or indeed much support at all. When, at the episode’s end, it was stated that she had not yet found a husband, but intended to keep looking with her family’s help, one couldn’t help but worry that their help would result in her unhappiness.

For the young British Muslims, pressure came from their community to follow traditional ideals of marriage, while British ideas of romance sometimes made them feel as if they were missing out. This pressure, surely, is multiplied one hundred fold if the entire country subscribes to the idea of arranged marriage, and perhaps is the reason for the extraordinary statistic that 74% of young Indians would prefer an arranged marriage over a free-choice one. Is this preference truly freely made, or is it pressure from a society where an estimated 90% of marriages are arranged? It seems insulting to suggest that societal and cultural norms can interfere with an adult’s informed consent, but presumably they can contribute to a person feeling pressured to act a certain way, and in that way, culture contributes to coercion.

 

Happy Arranged Marriages

The counter argument, however, is that the huge proportion of young Indians wanting arranged marriages is testament to the fact that many are successful, and that arranged marriage is not fundamentally oppressive.

This argument is supported by various theories and research surrounding the practise in India specifically. The reason that so many arranged marriages do succeed – success being defined by an incredibly low divorce rate in the country and reported high levels of marital satisfaction – is due to three fundamental benefits. These are thus: an arranged marriage takes away difficult aspects of choice (eg. choosing your own criteria & the size of the pool of candidates), it requires participants to make a choice quickly (which some research shows produces better results that lengthy deliberation does), and it generally gives partners lower expectations of their marriage (producing greater satisfaction ultimately). While this theory was proposed with reference to Indian arranged marriages specifically, it does demonstrate that as a concept, arranged marriage could be very successful.

Indeed, one couple in an arranged marriage, interviewed by Cosmopolitan, showed that an arranged marriage can, in ideal circumstances, be very happy, and very modern and equal:

Ankur: I think marriage is a partnership — an equal partnership. And there is no one perfect out there for you, because no one is perfect. If you think, This is not working out and I will find someone else because they will be better and more perfect, that’s not likely, especially if you are just fighting over small issues because that is everyone.”

Coercion Culture

It seems then, that arranged marriage is good in theory and, if formed with consent by all parties, potentially just as likely to succeed as any free-choice marriage.

 

Marriages involving a child are never acceptable. Abusive relationships are never acceptable. This much is clear.

The problem lies in being able to distinguish between arranged partnerships founded on consent, and those that were forced into being by families. Even if a marriage is relatively happy, if it was created without consent, it is a problem. It is a problem because it creates a culture where consent does not matter and it creates a culture where rational adults feel compelled to give consent where they do not want to. It is a problem because if consent has been ignored once in a relationship, why should it be taken into consideration at any other point?

Arranged marriage is not necessarily bad. A culture of arranged marriage – where real consent is hard to distinguish – must be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Immigration Became a Smokescreen for Political Inaction

The topic of immigration seems to permeate all political discussion these days. The everyman, we are constantly reminded, wants less immigration.We need autonomy from the EU in order to control our borders. Immigrants are stealing our jobs, living off benefits and terrorising the British people – literally and figuratively. Only the out-of-touch liberal elites can possibly tolerate the situation a moment longer.

The rhetoric is often harsh, and needlessly so. Reasonable discussion is avoided for fear of ‘defying’ public wishes, and the positives are therefore seldom aired.

Yet, this vilification of immigrants is not really a noble effort to give the public what they want.It is merely a smokescreen, a trick, designed to divert attention from government inaction on more significant issues. It is time it was recognised as such.

 

The Economic Impact of Immigration

A frequent argument used to support the need for greater immigration control is the pressure immigrants place on public services. In the UK, headlines tend to focus on the impact specifically on the NHS. Despite there being scant evidence that this is an issue – even taking into account ‘health tourists’ and non-permanent residents the impact is minimal – still this fear of the money-sucking immigrant is encouraged by those in power.

In fact, research demonstrates that immigrants are economically beneficial to the UK. For instance, since 2000, EU immigrants have contributed £20bn to the UK economy. UK nationals have cost the country £617bn over the same period. It is also worth noting that these immigrants, typically better educated than the average UK national, have saved the UK money in bringing their skills and services to the country, thus reducing the need for billions of pounds worth of extra education spending. For those worried about immigrants attracted to the UK primarily for its benefits system, it is important to note that they are 43% less likely to receive benefits or tax credits than UK nationals.

One commentator does point out that this highly positive contribution is partly down to a lower average age – meaning less reliance on public services – and that as these people age, their demands on services such as the NHS will increase. Nonetheless, they concede that the UK will still economically be better off in 50 years with the current levels of immigration, than if it was more limited.

The only real negative impact, in fact, is on British workers in unskilled and semi-skilled professions, such as care workers or shop assistants. However, this is so small – a 1% slip in wages over eight years – that it is virtually negligible.

Overall, it is evident that, economically, immigration is exceptionally beneficial for the UK. If the government wants to alleviate the negative effects on the low paid, it might want to turn its attention to issues such as the minimum wage, rather than scapegoating immigrants who actually help fund public services.

 

The Social Impact of Immigration

It might seem intuitive that immigration would be more likely to affect a country negatively in a social capacity, but again, this is not really the case. Impact is minimal, and deprivation is a better indicator of social division than immigration.

This, at least, is what a government advisory report finds, making their encouragement of anti-immigrant feeling ever more baffling. Social cohesion – defined by people’s perceptions of neighbourliness in their area, and their levels of trust in institutions such as the police – is not notably affected by immigration. Deprivation, by contrast, does correlate with low social cohesion.

It should be noted, however, that existing diversity is also a predictor of social division. This does complicate the picture somewhat, as it suggests that historic immigration has had a negative social impact on Britain, even if current immigration does not. Perhaps it is an indicator of changing attitudes: if immigrants are typically younger that the average Briton, perhaps those arriving today are happier to conform to ‘British values’ than their predecessors, and perhaps prejudices in Britain are slowly eroding too.

Finally, and crucially to those who truly feel threatened by the influx of new cultures, the report states that immigration has had a very limited effect on the shift in national identity (which now focuses on values and responsibilities rather than ancestry). If ‘Britishness’ is changing, it is not the fault of immigrants.

 

The Politics of Immigration

Despite all this, the UK has been left in a position where immigration not only dominated discussion before the EU referendum, but is now also reportedly the ‘primary concern’ of the Prime Minister in her Brexit negotiations.

Over the course of the referendum campaigns, the significance of immigration to voters grew, and this is surely no coincidence: particularly given that the issue was almost four times as important to ‘Leave’ voters. The Brexit campaigns especially gave undue weight to the issue: from Nigel Farage’s poster that was later likened to Nazi propaganda, to ‘Vote Leave‘ describing the current immigration system as “immoral and unfair” and threatening a spiralling loss of border control dictated by the whims of EU decision-makers.

If anything, however, this gross exaggeration of the ‘problem’ of immigration has only got worse. It is one thing to play on prejudices to win a vote – and a big thing at that – but it is quite another to continue to overlook the facts because reduced immigration is supposedly what people ‘want’, and will therefore make one more electable. Quite apart from the fact that it was thrust down the public’s throat during the campaign, no where near a majority of voters are even particularly concerned about immigration. The Ipsos MORI statistics (link above) show that overall, only 33% of voters rate immigration as important to them. This is not a majority, and certainly nowhere near enough people to warrant Parliament casually passing the Brexit Bill unamended, with a 494 to 122 majority, in the knowledge that May will prioritise immigration, meaning that Britain will be leaving the single market. Prior to the intense focus on the subject, the economy was the top concern for voters, something which seems altogether disregarded now.

All in all, this focus on immigration seems to be being used to cover up an altogether different problem: deprivation. Immigration is slightly affecting the wages of the lowest paid, but deprivation is a bigger cause of social division, and overall the influx of new people is incredibly beneficial. However, perhaps by playing on the discord caused by existing diversity, and even more so, just in giving disadvantaged people a target for their discontent, politicians are using immigration to hide the real culprit: themselves. And it works because they can then offer an easy solution: curbing immigration. It is altogether more hopeful than blaming governmental incompetence, when one has to wait years before a government can be ousted.

It is not even just the right who are to blame: Labour are complicit in the scam. In pandering to the populist anti-immigrant feeling instead of offering real arguments, they are allowing the Conservative party to avoid tackling inequality. And, in time, when easy answers create more problems than they solve, and when the poorest in society find themselves no better off in or out of the EU, their ire will turn, rightfully, onto the politicians too self-serving to care.

 

 

 

 

Mental Illness and the “Special Snowflake”: Damaging Stereotypes and the Long Road Ahead

Is mental health finally on the road to achieving equality with physical health? Certainly that’s what the Prime Minister expressed that she wanted to achieve in her recent speech on the subject – claiming that she wanted to end the stigma attached to having mental health disorders, and detailing a number of measures which she believed would help achieve this.

It may be debatable how committed Mrs May is to the cause – one publication worked out the new monetary investment to be 25p per taxpayer and made joking suggestions as to how one might improve one’s mental health with such an amount – but the key point from it all is this: mental illness attracts stigma, and it is being acknowledged even by the government. 

The extent of this stigma is wide-reaching, and can affect sufferers in a multitude of ways: from feeling unable to talk about their conditions to being unable to access treatment.

 

Mental Health Statistics

Mental health issues are not rare: in any year, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental illness. Not only this, but having a mental health problem in itself is not the only indicator of stigma. A person’s place in society can suggest additional hostilities and barriers.

Gender stereotypes contribute, for instance. There is more stigma attached to those who seek help for a problem ‘stereotypical’ of their gender: so, emotional problems in women, and alcohol abuse in men. Moreover, and more worryingly, gender stereotypes also mean that doctors are more likely to diagnose depression in women , even when men show comparable symptoms, and are more likely to offer mood-altering drugs to women. Possibly, this could partially account for the fact that male suicide rates are three times as high as female suicide rates in the UK. However, there are areas in which female patients are under-diagnosed significantly too, autism perhaps being the most notable, having been seen historically as an exclusively male disease.

More generally, being a member of a minority ethnic group significantly increases the chance of discrimination due to mental health. Overall rates of experienced stigma were twice as high for minorities as for white sufferers, and for the majority group “in all areas, discrimination was experienced by a noticeably lower percentage compared to Black and Minority Ethnic communities”.

Although there may be particular problem areas dependent on gender or race, perhaps we are still at a stage where the view has to be much broader. Mental health is under-diagnosed generally. The majority of people who experience psychological issues are not being treated. The NHS ‘Healthy London Partnership’ estimates that only a quarter of people with mental health problems are being treated. The key problem is that mental health is so stigmatised that no one seems to mind that hardly anyone can get the help they need.

 

“Special Snowflakes” and Invalidation

“Generation Snowflake” is an insult often thrown at millennials, and although people from all age groups suffer from mental health issues, this particular phrase connotes mental illness in a way that could affect everyone.

Admittedly some who use the phrase don’t directly attack mental health sufferers, but the implication is still there, particularly in the careless use of language. Generation Snowflake is “SO DAMN DELICATE” and will “probably have a psychological breakdown the second someone tells them they’re not as perfect as they think they are”. Amazingly, in an edit designed to defend themselves, the author expresses the opinion that some “fall back on mental illness or emotional turmoil as an excuse and crutch, or a bargain for special treatment”. Everything about the post exudes contempt at those less able to cope than the author, it invalidates emotional issues completely, and, if it was a viewpoint that a person considering seeking help came into contact with, could put them off, for fear of meeting similar derision from doctors, friends and family. It’s obviously not designed to hurt those with genuine ailments, but that’s where the problem lies: the snowflake metaphor cannot differentiate between mental illness and being ‘delicate’ and oversensitive, and nor does it have the nuance to recognise that both of those things could be genuine symptoms of a problem. It preserves only the very mentally strongest from contempt.

A personal blog is one thing, but it is more disconcerting to see similar views presented, more coherently, in a national publication. Once again, mental illness is blurred with a general diagnosis of certain people being a bit pathetic. The Spectator blames millennials’ ‘hypersensitivity’ on the over-protection of parents and bullying campaigns acknowledging the hurtfulness of words. In fact, the Spectator’s view is perhaps more worrying, because it contains more mixed messages. The blog above at least proclaims its intent outright: to deride the ‘softness’ of a generation it despairs of. The Spectator, however, tries to appear more sensitive: validating mental health problems in part, and yet painting them as if they are a sign of a flaw in character, albeit that flaw not being the person’s fault.

For example, the columnist declares: “I don’t doubt the sincerity of those students reporting severe symptoms of depression” and yet in the same paragraph states “we are encouraging a whole generation to perceive itself as mentally ill”, and goes on to (incredulously) announce that, at the prospect of exams, “they really are overstressed and unable to cope”. She paints this ‘severe depression’ as, simultaneously, a result of mollycoddling, not real in the sense that it is only perceived, and a symptom of being mentally weaker than the generations before, who could cope with exams. It is hardly a cocktail that would encourage someone to recognise their symptoms as a ‘real’ problem and contact a doctor. Rather, it seems more likely to encourage an individual to attempt to ignore any problem and beat themselves up about feeling the way they do.

Although this abuse is aimed at millennials, the ‘special snowflake’ stereotype will harm far more people than today’s twenty-somethings. A big part of the stereotype is tied in with mental health, as are many of the mocked terms that accompany it: “triggered” and “safe spaces” to name the most frequently parodied. It is not a desirable stereotype, and it would be hardly surprising if an older person did not wish to be associated with the group, or felt that they would be tarnished with the same brush if they were so weak as to seek help.

It is such a horrible, patronising term, which serves only, presumably, to make a few, bitter people feel better about their supposed mental resilience.

 

Real-Life Experiences

The problem is, is that this stigma and judgement can be incredibly damaging: not just in theory, but in reality. Below are a few thoughts from people with various mental health conditions, on how stigma and the ‘special snowflake’ stereotype have affected them and their relationship with their mental health.

On seeking help and talking to friends:

“It scared me away from looking for help/support because I’d seen the way people reacted to others that had been brave enough to find it. If I spoke out and got help, people would see me as weak or attention seeking or say I just wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy or help myself – asking for help just means you’re not trying. If you’re not suicidal, then you haven’t got an issue – You’re just a person who enjoys wallowing in self pity and being miserable. The stigma made me hold it all in and deny it until it grew into something that could no longer be hidden. I don’t think it would have had such a big effect if I hadn’t been taught to see it as an anomaly and something that shouldn’t be talked about or acknowledged.” – Anon.

Mental health, disability & isolation:

“The stigma is awful because despite being legally disabled people don’t take something they can’t see seriously. There’s an assumption that I must be overreacting. The anxiety around having to discuss ‘what do you do’ when not working has stopped me going out to social events before, furthering my isolation. No one takes note that unemployed and disabled are different. 
And it sucks not being able to talk about it like anything else y’know? Like if I talk about my asthma, everyone’s chill, but I know if I mention mental health I’m gonna get an awkward silence that makes me feel even worse. 
The snowflake thing … it’s a shitty way of invalidating often genuine ailments. People now won’t say if they have requirements because they don’t want to get a load of BS about being a special snowflake. And that makes me so frustrated, because invalidating your conversational partner’s conditions does nothing in getting a point across. It’s just bullying 2.0.” – Charlie, Oxford.

Fear of discrimination from within:

“I feel like both depression and social anxiety are fairly well recognised mental disorders but if anything I feel more worried that other sufferers would not accept me because I don’t have them bad enough, rather than other people judging me. What I feel more worried about is admitting that I turn to alcohol as a way to combat these because that is still something of a taboo subject.” – Anon.