A Tale of Two Britains

Others have written more eloquently than I about the political, social, and economic implications of all this. Laurie Penny, George Monbiot, Gary Younge, and others have all written about the social and economic tensions that led up to this, and the ways in which white privilege and colonialist nostalgia fed into the rhetoric around the vote (if you didn’t notice that the Leave campaign was racist, check your white privilege; if you did notice, but voted Leave anyway, check your white privilege). I am so angry and distraught about the way that rampant racism is spreading its vile poison. How did Great Britain become Little England?

It ought to be obvious to anyone that Tory-imposed austerity is responsible for the economic misery that has cut services and reduced jobs and rendered many areas  full of despair. Certainly, the brutal realities of capitalists accumulating wealth at everybody else’s expense also plays into this, causing division between the people they prey upon. Instead, people blame immigration and the EU.

So we have been led to the  brink by a group of irresponsible and out-of-touch upper class twits, as The New Yorker immediately grasped, with their “Silly Walk Off A Cliff” cover art.. And although the 17 million who voted to leave the EU didn’t all vote that way on the basis of anti-immigration, the racists who are currently committing vile acts of hate up and down the land have felt empowered to do so because they are assuming that the rest of the Leave voters agreed with them.

There are at least two Britains, maybe more.

My Britain is diverse and inclusive; my heritage is William Blake, William Cobbett, E M Forster, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, Edward Carpenter, the mass trespass of Kinder Scout, the Cable Street fight against the fascists, the Suffragettes, the Dissenters, the poets, the trades unions, the solidarity of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, and the miners who showed up to support LGBT people in the struggle for our rights; the Britain that welcomed Rammohun Roy and Mohandas Gandhi, the Britain that boycotted the products of slavery, a diverse Britain that has always been there, as Deasy Bamford says, from Libyans and Ethiopians on Hadrian’s Wall under the Romans, to Black people in 16th century London, the Jews returning to England in 1650, and always being welcome in Scotland, to the working men’s clubs that welcomed Black jazz and blues musicians during the 1930s: a history of radicalism, solidarity, inclusion, and working together. This is a Britain which recognises the distinctness of the Scots, the Welsh, the English, and the Irish.  And it has wonderful food, enriched by many different cuisines from around the world. This Britain is part of Europe and part of the wider world.

Then there’s another Britain: it’s a grim place, where diversity of all kinds is shunned, where the music is all nationalist, where the kinds of people who are held up as heroes are Horatio Nelson (a slaughterer of revolutionaries) and the Duke of Wellington (a rampant xenophobe). This is the Britain of stiff upper lip, compulsory heterosexuality, football hooliganism, dreams of wall-to-wall whiteness, and eating stodgy and dull food. This is the Britain that put its wellington boot on the face of half the world, and then complained when the people who had been subjugated by the Empire wanted to come to Britain. The Britain that came to the fore in the film V for Vendetta.

Both Britains exist, and have existed side-by-side for centuries – now and again, one or the other has the upper hand. For a few decades, inclusive, vibrant, multicultural Britain has had the upper hand. We emerged from the ghastly uniformity of the 1950s, into the explosion of colour that was the 1960s. The 1970s were pretty grim (especially the overt homophobia, the vile racism, the dreadful food and the tasteless wallpaper), and the 1980s were not much better. Then the effects of the prosperity brought by the EU started to have an effect, and for a short while, it looked as if inclusive Britain would triumph, despite setbacks.

Rhyd Wildermuth writes, in A Storm at the Crossroads:

“Would it not be better if we were to stretch into ourselves like felines?” Peter Grey asks, and is that not also how anything grows? The muscle always tensed becomes useless, the heart defended by castle walls will never dare to love, the soul constantly defending borders will never take flight in travel, and the mind that entrenches will never learn to dance.

You know that story about the two wolves that live in the psyche – the friendly one and the vicious one – and it’s the one that you feed that gets the upper hand? Well, the combination of austerity and cutbacks and racist demagoguery has fed the wolf of nationalism in the British psyche – especially the English and Welsh bits of it (though Scotland is by no means immune). There has been a massive vote in favour of insularity, nationalism, and isolationism (and even if you didn’t mean your vote for Leave in that way, that is how it is being interpreted both by the racist thugs, and by the rest of the world).

I am also reminded of the bit in the stories of Arthur and Merlin, where Vortigern is trying to build a castle on a hill, but it keeps falling down. Merlin sees with his inner eye that this is because two dragons are fighting each other in a lake underneath the hill, and advises Vortigern to drain the lake. We are trying to build a beautiful city of inclusion and welcoming diversity, but the dragon of hate and intolerance is having a fight with the dragon of inclusion and diversity. But King Arthur won’t be coming back to fix things. It is up to us now to build the circle of Camelot, in the realm of Logres, the dream vision of Albion, the land of diversity and inclusion and hospitality.

By William Blake - William Blake Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8310345

Two forms of Los with Enitharmon, Plate 100 of Jerusalem. By William BlakeWilliam Blake Archive, Public Domain.

So what can we do?

  • Build and strengthen your links with your local community – other faith groups, people from other cultural backgrounds. Talk to your neighbours. Hold a local event to bring your community together.
  • If you can facilitate workshops, create a workshop on civil courage and standing up to racism.
  • If you are a Pagan organisation or group or an individual with any sort of platform, make a statement rejecting hate and racism.
  • Sign and share the inclusive Wicca statement rejecting racism, and the Pagan Federation statement against racism.
  • Wear a safety pin to show solidarity with diverse communities – but don’t stop there. Be prepared to intervene if you witness a racist incident or attack.
  • Report it – if you are the witness or the victim of a hate crime, please report it to the police.
  • Join Pagans Against Racism (UK) and work to make Paganisms more inclusive.
  • Do rituals and magic to support a positive outcome. We need all the allies we can get. If my vision of an inclusive and welcoming Albion, with the round table of Camelot at its heart, speaks to you, then you might want to focus on that in your rituals. Imagine the round table being filled with people of different colours, ages, genders., and sexual orientations.
  • Here’s some suggestions from The Guardian on six positive things to do. I especially like number 3: solidarity with immigrants.

Black Lives Matter

I support equality. That means I support equality across the board – Black, Asian, Native American, white, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, queer, genderqueer, cisgender, people with disabilities, older people, people of all religions and none.

The thing about equality is that it is not enough to say, in a vague and woolly manner, that you support equality for everyone, or that “all lives matter”.  Specific groups of people are being persecuted and killed in specific contexts, and there is a particular historical context for that persecution. That means that we have to understand the particular struggle in the particular context. That means we have to do the work to get involved; and to be good allies, we need to listen to the people who have been engaged in the struggle, and use our privilege to promote their voices and agendas, not talk over them and erase their voices. Ignoring the fact that Black people are being disproportionately targeted and killed is adding insult to injury. The reason we are focussing on the fact that Black lives matter right now is that there are large sections of society, most of them armed and dangerous, who seem not to agree.

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So that is why I want to add my voice to the statement, by millions of people, that Black lives matter. Black people are significantly and structurally disadvantaged by the system in the United States of America, and in other majority-white societies too. Black people are getting killed and attacked in large numbers. That is the result of systemic and ingrained racism.

We are focusing on Black lives right now, because they are the ones getting killed in huge numbers. LGBT people, women, and people with disabilities are much more likely to be killed if they are Black. Black men, women, and children have been shot to death by police. There is a full list here, going back to 1999. These deaths are completely out of proportion to the crimes committed by some of those killed; there is no death penalty for shoplifting, for example. Many of the people killed were innocent of any crime. None of them deserved to be killed.

It is hardly surprising that faced with the massive injustice of these deaths – 14 teenagers have been killed by police since Michael Brown’s death (and half of them were Black), including 12 year old Tamir Rice – people are driven to riot. It is hardly surprising that when a peaceful protest is faced by tanks and  guns, people start rioting. When the authorities are doing everything in their power to destroy your community and take away your well-being, of course you are going to riot.

Why have I been silent about this issue since 14 September 2014? Because I am so horrified by what is going on that I couldn’t find the words. I have hardly posted anything on this blog since that post – but I have been posting numerous articles on Facebook about Ferguson, systemic racism, and other killings of Black people, trying to change hearts and minds, and reading stuff myself, trying to get educated. I have joined a Facebook group that is campaigning against racial inequality, and involves real dialogue between Black people and white people. If there was a #BlackLivesMatter protest in England, I would join it. (Mindful of the issue of allies not speaking over the people we are trying to help, I am not sure it would be helpful if I organised one.)

Here in England, anti-racists and allies are busy campaigning against the racist bigotry of UKIP and other far-right groups. There are significant concerns that their anti-immigration rhetoric is being picked up by the mainstream parties. I am also engaged in a campaign – Movement for Justice by any means necessary – to prevent LGBT asylum seekers (the vast majority of whom are from Africa) from being sent back to countries where they would be persecuted. The asylum and immigration system in Britain is deeply unjust, and members of the MFJ mailing list (including me) write to the government to ask them not to deport people. Also in the UK, there is a massive backlash against people with disabilities and a rise in homophobia and transphobia, all triggered by the rhetoric of the neo-conservative ConDem coalition.

If I was in the USA right now, I would be out there joining in the protests – but using these 5 tips for how to be an ally by Chesca Leigh. As I am not in the USA, I am trying to figure out what I can do to fight racism here at home, and trying to raise awareness about the issues via Facebook and Twitter and everyday conversations.

As a Pagan and as a human being, I believe that all people are equal, but that different oppressions arise in different contexts, and therefore we must address oppression and inequality in context, and we must engage in the struggle for equality, using all the tools at our disposal, because nothing is going to be handed to us on a plate by the powers that be – every right that we possess has been struggled for by generations of activists. The right to vote in Britain was gained by riots in the 1830s, and the protests of the suffragettes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The rights to fair pay, maternity leave, health and safety at work, equal pay, limited working hours, and all the rest, were gained by the efforts of trades unions. It is a myth that we get these things by waiting patiently.

I will finish with a quote from Rosa Parks:

I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.

Patheos Pagan on Ferguson and Police Brutality

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