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Until we learn what racism is, we need to stop talking about it

Get a Sharpie or a marker pen, and give it to someone else. Now try to take it off them without getting any marks on your hands or arms while they try to stop you.

Now imagine that the Sharpie was a knife, and you’ll get some idea of how hard it is to safely disarm someone holding a sharp weapon.

When this exercise is done on self-defence courses, the “wounds” are usually only to the hands and arms. In the real world, the face and neck would also be targets, and you don’t need me to draw you a picture of the damage that can be done.

This week in Ireland 27-year-old George Nkencho, whose family said he suffered from mental illness, was armed with a knife when he was shot dead by police. As George was Black, no time was wasted in turning this tragedy into the latest battlefield in the culture war so longed for by a tiny minority of Irish racists.

This poisonous minority of grifters and opportunists is not to be given the oxygen of amplification, but it is the “respectable” racists – the ones who, in their blissful ignorance, spread the lies and arguments on their behalf – that need to take a look at themselves.

It’s amazing how quickly they will out themselves when given the chance. I put out a couple of tweets last night pointing out the need for us to think about what racism actually is and what immediately dismissing it says about us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seconds later they were in my mentions, proving my point.

He was not “a bastion of innocence”, I was told – the inference being that the rumours circulating about the deceased having a string of convictions for violent offences were true.

They weren’t.

And even if they were, that is not a death sentence in itself.

Every time the state uses deadly violence, it is incumbent upon us to analyse the situation and ask what went wrong and what could be done better. Death is never a successful outcome.

In doing so, we must consider every possibility, and when the deceased person is a person of colour, then we must consider that too.

In doing so, we must consider more than the moment the trigger was pulled, or the person that pulled it. We must look at every circumstance that led everyone to that place, at that time, and to that outcome.

This means considering not just the motivations for all involved and the reasons for the outcomes. If race turned out not to be a factor in any of this, then there is nothing to fear.

If it was, then changes have to be made.

Then there is the broader perspective of George Nkencho’s mental health and the role race and racism played in his life until his untimely death. What effect did racism have on him growing up, and the necessary services and medical care he did or did not receive?

To immediately dismiss racism as a possible factor is to fundamentally misunderstand what racism is and how we understand it.

A clue – as white Irish people, we don’t. And we cannot.

What many seem to be saying is that “in the moment, the police officer would not have thought about skin colour before shooting”. While it may well be true, drawing further conclusions from that would be to miss the point entirely.

In a force where racism against Travellers is seemingly endemic, can we really say that racism could in no way have been a factor?

Are we so afraid of an open and honest discussion about racism because we are afraid of what we might find?

If your immediate reaction to the questions around George Nkencho’s death is to dismiss possible issues of racism around it, you are part of the problem.

If your reaction includes trying to find reasons why killing him was justified, you’re part of the problem.

If you are not capable of listening to the experiences of those who directly experience the kind of racism that you will never be subjected to, you’re part of the problem.

Racism is not simply hating Black people or Travellers.

It is a broad, sprawling mass of contradictions and fears and ideas.

It is individual and collective, personal and structural.

It is complex and confounding, and there are no simple answers – nor will we find any answers at all, if we are not prepared to listen.

The truth is that Black Irish people reacted strongly George Nkencho. Our duty is not to tell them about what racism is and isn’t, but to listen to them.

The pain and trauma of seeing a man shot dead in this way is traumatic enough; to see him so quickly and so gladly smeared as a criminal who deserved what he got is something else entirely.

This is not the time for the comfortable to be talking, trying to reassure themselves that there is no problem.

Instead it is a time for reflection and for listening and, later, for action guided by those exposed to the things we don’t understand.

Until we learn what racism is, we need to stop talking about it.

 

 

 

 

As Biden Wins, There Can Be No Forgiveness Without Repentance

The US presidential race hadn’t even been called for Joe Biden when the first predictable calls began to come to consider the feelings of the tin-pot junta of grifters and carnival-barkers that was in the process of being ousted.

Rick Santorum was on CNN, whingeing that this was a difficult time for Republicans, for Trump and for his family, and that the victors should show compassion for them.

The race may be over, but the gaslighting of the American people – and by extension, the rest of the world – goes on.

The same supporters who four years ago were wearing “Trump 2016 – Fuck Your Feelings” t-shirts as they celebrated his win were now demanding that their hot, salty tantrum tears be dabbed away.

What happens next is on Trump, his regime and his supporters. They cannot and should not be automatically forgiven – first, they must repent.

This is not the darkest period in American history; from the fact that a Civil War was needed to end slavery to the drone strikes on weddings in Asian mountains that were used as a sign of strength, there are many grubby, heinous episodes. Many of them happened while Joe Biden was vice-president.

But it has been four years of darkness, of open, vitriolic racism, of homophobia and transphobia, of lionising the absolute worst America has to offer while denigrating the best of it.

That is not on Biden, or his supporters.

That is on Trump, and his.

This election gave us many simple truths, but the underlying story is more complex, and not one many want to hear a day after Biden’s victory.

In truth, over seventy million people looked at the last four years, the persecution of minorities, the open murder of Black citizens by law enforcement, the shattered reputation of the world’s only superpower, the human dumpster fire that is Trump and his “politics” and thought – “Yes, I’ll vote for more of that.”

The final analysis is not yet complete, but many of those voters were white, middle-class Americans seeking to protect and preserve the privilege they have enjoyed for hundreds of years.

The fact that the race was close – Biden stuck on 253 electoral college votes for hours on end, despite having over four million more ballots in the popular vote – is a relic of the last time the victors sought to appease the vanquished.

The electoral college supposedly exists to ensure that the coastal “elites” (a word that has lost all meaning in American politics) from lording it over the good ordinary folks of the inland states, is a racist relic that allows the minority to punch above its weight every four years.

It doesn’t stop at the presidency. Each state, no matter how small, has two senators, which means Wyoming’s 600,000 people have the same number of lawmakers in the senate as California’s 40 million.

Still, it doesn’t stop. Districts are carved up and gerrymandered and systemic voter suppression is employed to ensure that the playing field is not just levelled, but rendered almost unplayable.

In 2016 the election data showed that, if only Black women voted, Hilary Clinton would have won all fifty states. A situation where Black women, and only Black women, could vote is of course unthinkable – until you remember that their forefathers found themselves in the exact opposite situation, where only white men could vote, not two centuries ago.

The Black American woman of today is still dealing with the racist legacy of that time; her vote is not valued, arguably not even by the Democrats who rode a wave of Black female empowerment back to the White House – and if push came to shove, over 70 million Americans would probably take it from her.

This is who we are asking to forgive and forget. But no Black American and no citizen of the world is under any compulsion to forgive anyone who has wronged them.

The process of healing does not start with a blanket pardon from its victims for the racism and fascist enablement of the last four years; it starts with the repentance of those who carried it out.

It is up to Republicans – politicians, political operatives and voters – to say “we got it wrong, and we’re sorry. We will never let this happen again.”

It is up to them to own their racism, their white supremacy, and the gullibility that allowed others to manipulate and exploit their unfounded fears for generations to the extent that America was almost lost to democracy completely.

The words of Biden and Harris in Delaware were a welcome salve on American wounds, but the onus is not on them to extend the hand of compromise. We know we are living in special times when the triumph of basic human decency and manners is somehow seen as a political revolution.

Trump is, as we have always known, a busted flush – a failed businessman, a failed president, and a total failure of the human spirit.

He will never repent, but America can.

Whether it will or not is up to those who so often claim to value the taking of “personal responsibility”, but who so often have no interest in doing so.

 

Dear Fellow White Journalists

This week I did a 20-minute podcast that I really didn’t want to make.

It bore the same title as this article and it came about because I got tired of seeing the same lazy ideas masquerading as compassion from journalists and media figures when it comes to Black Lives Matter.

As long as we’re not expected to do something or change anything, we’re all on board.

But ask us to give up anything – no matter how small – and the reservations kick in.

For most, by the time George Floyd was murdered it was already too late. The frenetic scramble to find Black people to comment belied the shallowness of their contact networks. They simply did not know anyone that they could talk to.

And even if they did, it’s not just any Black people that are acceptable – you need the right ones who will be illuminating but not angry, informative but not threatening. Preferably college-educated, well-spoken and with enough self-restraint not to cause us any embarrassment.

I’ve seen a lot of white people asking moving questions and stroking their chins thoughtfully as they drag the trauma out of people of colour before breaking for the commercials, never once interrogating the link between how our interviewees are treated and how are societal systems are constructed.

Now is not the time for us to be asking Black people to do our emotional labour for us, to be our unpaid tutors as they teach us the things that we should already know, because they have been telling us for centuries.

When we bring them in under the hot TV studio lights, we are not doing so to include them – we are doing it to make ourselves feel better.

We are doing it so that they can explain these things to us in a way that makes us feel comfortable about the choices we make and the norms we perpetuate.

Black Lives Matter, but not as much as our prosperity and peace of mind.

And when someone does something concrete, such as removing or re-editing a TV show, we cluck our tongues about how that’s going too far.

In the case of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers – one of the most brilliant comic shows ever made that also contained some of the most nakedly racist and xenophobic stereotypes ever on TV – is a good one.

“BUT WHERE WILL IT STOP?!” they cry, ignoring the simplicity of the answer.

It stops when a person of colour no longer has to worry about turning on a streaming service or a TV show without the risk of them hearing the word “n*gger” said by a white person, for laughs.

It may come as a shock, but we as white people are not the arbiters of what others find racist or offensive. It is not up to us to tell them how to feel – in doing so we reinforce the very racism we claim to abhor.

And then there’s the statues. Yesterday the beer-bellied white lads gathered in their numbers to “protect” monuments to slave-traders and racists all over England.

“THEY WERE OUR GREATEST LEADERS!”

Yes, but they were also racists and slave traders.

“THIS IS OUR HISTORY!”

Yes, and it too is racist.

Then the pseudo-intellectual daytime TV logic takes over.

“WE NEED TO LEAVE THEM UP SO WE CAN REFLECT ON THESE THINGS!”

Karen, these things have stood for hundreds of years, and you have never once reflected in a meaningful way about the racism that put them there, and how you benefitted from it. Now step aside as another bronze white supremacist is rolled off the pier.

And then when the TV lights go out and the Black interviewee leaves the studio, the number of Black people working on the production returns to its usual level – of zero.

Have a look at the media. How many times in the last month have you seen Black people comment on issues other than race? How many times have you seen them present a show about economics or education or science?

How many times have you seen a Muslim asked to talk about something other than terrorism or racial profiling or Ramadan?

Not that these are not important conversations in and of themselves, but if that is the only time they are allowed air time or column inches, then that is part of the problem.

So I’m asking you to do something that doesn’t come naturally to any of us as white journalists.

I’m asking you to think about why you are sitting in the seat you are sitting in, and why your Black interviewee is sitting in the seat they are sitting in.

I am asking you to not see things from your own perspective, but from their perspective.

I am asking you to leave your own world, your ego and your fragility behind and humbly enter theirs.

I’m asking you to be quiet for once and listen, and when you’re done listening to speak to other white people and tell them that the way things are is wrong and needs to change.

I other words, I am asking you to radically rethink the way you and those around you approach your journalism about the fundamental building blocks of our societies, and I’m asking you to change it.

It does not mean losing your privilege – it only means giving up the “white” part of that privilege and extending it to everyone else.

Because if you’re not prepared to do that, well then maybe Black lives don’t matter to you nearly as much as you thought.

Shocks Await The Privileged In America’s Uncivil War

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

 

Anger, as Ewan McKenna says in this week’s brilliant Black Eye podcast, has a shelf-life, and we would do as well to observe and take in as much as we can while it burns at its brightest.

Many things are obvious – the irony of protests against police brutality being met with even more overwhelming and widespread police brutality cannot be lost on anyone watching a TV this week – and some are less so.

And some are blindingly, staggeringly obvious, yet are either ignored or somehow unseen.

The protests at the murder of George Floyd (and yes, it was murder, as one man has been charged with it and three for aiding and abetting it) in a massive misuse of state power have shown us that the Second Amendment is not about protecting people from the violence of tyrannical state.

It is about protecting white people from having to concede that their fellow citizens are equal.

An old man violently pushed to the ground by a police officer in Buffalo, his skull splitting open.

A homeless man in a wheelchair in Los Angeles shot in the face with a laughably-named “non-lethal” round.

Journalists arrested and assaulted live on air.

And yet, not once have the “patriots”, who arm themselves to the teeth at Dick’s Sporting Goods and who were out cosplaying in camouflage over their inalienable right to get their mullet trimmed just a few short weeks ago, responded.

Not when a man was executed in the street for allegedly passing a fake $20 bill.

Not when the First Amendment rights of reporters and journalists, and indeed fellow citizens, were being trampled under the jackboots of the police and National Guard.

And not when innocent people were being left bruised and blinded by rubber bullets, batons and tear gas.

Nor did any African-American pick up their legally-owned weapon and go out to defend their community, invoking the Second Amendment rights that are supposed be vindicated in exactly these kinds of situations.

That’s because this is not about the “tyranny of the state”, and hasn’t been since the Boston Tea Party.

It is about preserving the structures of white power, where white people prosper because they control the police and thus the state’s monopoly on violence which is used to vindicate their rights at the expense of others.

View the social media footage of police actions this week. Take away the uniforms (they’ve already covered up their badge numbers), and what do you see?

You see armed gangs intimidating and brutally beating protestors for having the temerity to protest racial injustice.

“Ah, but the rioters! The looters! The mindless violence!” they intone, while never distinguishing who is doing what.

One doesn’t have to make too generous an interpretation to see that, in many cases, it is police that are instigating the violence, often under the guise of enforcing arbitrary curfews that effectively suspend many of the rights guaranteed in the constitution so allegedly beloved by the cosplaying cowards.

The looting is also worth a close look. Forget Target – zoom out just a little and you will see that Africa was looted of its people, but no armed man or woman stood guard to vindicate the rights of these slaves; in fact, they hunted those who escaped from slavery as if they were animals, looting their freedom, their dignity and their future, not to mention that of their children, for generations

The “mindless violence” of crowds is only mindless if you do not wish to consider or understand where it comes from.

If you do, you will find that riots are in fact complex social events with shared boundaries set depending on social contexts and power dynamics.

There are no singular “flash-points” that suddenly cause them; riots are a result of tension built up over time, in this case a pressure-cooker of injustice that exploded with the death of George Floyd, but that can be traced from 1619 through the murder of Clifford Glover in 1973 through those of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin and thousands of others, culminating in the knee on George Floyd’s neck.

Of course, all this is of little interest to a goober with an AR-15 who is petrified of pulling the trigger unless it’s a black child in his sights, or a man with skewed notions of “law and order” who is only protected from prison by a badge and the colour of his skin.

All they are interested in is preserving the status quo. After two terms of a black president, they voted in their droves for a racist demagogue to redress the balance and claw back what it was they felt they had lost.

That racist demagogue has not disappointed them.

America has always been a paradox; “discovered” by Europeans fleeing persecution at home in search of “freedom”, who then set up a rigid society based on norms and notions of morality, white supremacy and closely-guarded power and property rights.

It claims to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, but all too often it incarcerates and oppresses to protect the privilege of the spineless mediocrities who outwardly profess faith in the “free market” but inwardly fear it because it would expose the comical myth of their superiority.

In a democracy, the state’s monopoly on violence is accepted by the citizens, but only to a point; when that monopoly is turned against the citizens and the descent into dictatorship and oppression begins, there is a window in which the citizenry can use the threat of its own violence to arrest or reverse that slide.

In America, the guys and gals with the guns are standing idly by while the protestors are beaten off the streets. What they see is the police as vindicating their personal and property rights, so there is no need to intervene.

But the biggest betrayal is yet to come.

For decades, they have been flattered into believing that they can defend themselves against state tyranny by keeping some guns and ammo handy.

The oppression of America, hardwired into its policing, did not apply to them; the “well-regulated militia”, as they see themselves, could rest easy.

The truth is that the might of the now-militarised police will crush them if and when the time comes. The warm feeling of power they get from clutching the bump-stock of an automatic weapon to their shoulder gives them a false sense of security; for all the firearms in American society, they are hopelessly, overwhelmingly and inevitably outgunned by the police.

White supremacy is not about the supremacy of all white people; it is about the supremacy of some white people – the powerful, the manly, the fearless, whose destiny it is to lord it over the weak, be they people of colour or women or lily-livered liberals who are to be swatted aside, trampled in the dirt of the progress of the privileged.

But as the situation gets more serious, the definition gets narrower and narrower until such time as the “supremacists” wind up in an exclusive club too small and weak to defend itself before finally, grudgingly being subsumed back into society.

Anger does indeed have a shelf-life, thus the need for those who seek to right injustices to strike while the iron is hot.

If they don’t, the cost of this will be enormous, but this is not new; minorities have been paying it on the never-never since the foundation of the republic. Soon, however, those who thought they were immune will have to cough up too, and it is then that the lies of their “freedom” and “supremacy” will be exposed.

In America, you can be anything you want to be, as long as it is compliant.

If you enjoyed this piece, please consider supporting independent journalism at https://www.patreon.com/ourmaninstockholm 

 

Now Is Not The Time

Now Is Not The Time

Now is not the time for your hot take about how Ireland is not racist.

Not when an African-American girl put up an Irish dancing TikTok a few weeks ago was abused by social media’s basement-dwellers.

Not while local councils are still turning off water to sites where Travellers live.

Not while there’s still a single resident in Direct Provision.

Now is not the time to claim the Fortress Europe is somehow better than Trump’s America, because when it kills people of colour it does so using dodgy dinghies and ignoring their humanity, or crushes them in systems designed with their wholesale rejection in mind.

Now is not the time for your naive, folded-napkin, hands-in-your-lap activism, where peaceful protest is good and just and acceptable, but rioting apparently delegitimises everything any cause stands for and allows you to safely distance yourself from it and hold your nose.

Now is not the time to go on social media and reveal just how little you know about how discrimination affects others, some of whom you call your friends.

Now is not the time to aggressively defend that ignorant, myopic view, obscured further by the comfort blanket of privilege that envelopes your wokeness.

Now is not the time to ask people – black people, Asian people, people from the Middle East and Persia, gay and trans and non-binary people – to do your emotional labour.

Now is not the time to employ them as your unpaid teachers, expected to fill in the gaps of your ignorance just enough so that you can feel good about yourself again.

Now is not the time to hide behind ideas of law and order that are solely designed to protect the rights of property, rather than the dignity of people.

Now is not the time to claim that “all lives matter” when you know, deep down, that they don’t, and that as it stands your life matters so much more than some others.

Now is not the time to offer solutions you haven’t tested to problems you don’t understand.

Now is not the time for feeling hurt because, for once, your voice is not the one being listened to and your experience is deemed less relevant for once.

Now is not the time for excusing yourself for having taken advantage of these structures, from the passport queue at a port of entry to “your” country to the job and property markets.

Now is not the time for pretending that you didn’t have a head start.

Now is not the time for talking about yourself and how all this affects you.

Now is not the time to preach loudly about how you intend to do something that nobody has asked you to do, or not doing something different you have been asked to do that would actually make a difference.

Now is the time for compassion, for humility and for a listening ear, because it’s hard for us to learn anything when all we ever do is keep braying incessantly, only revealing the breathtaking depth of our own ignorance.

Suffer little children, but we won’t change

Having moved a lot of my journalism about journalism from this blog to the Patreon platform, I seldom use this one any more, but I cannot think of anywhere else that is appropriate for what I am about to write, so I dusted off the admin password and here goes. 

Image courtesy of Frontex

Every now and again something happens in the world that is a perfect storm, something that encapsulates the zeitgeist better than almost anything else.

In Ireland, those moments have been many and often wonderful – Italia 90, Riverdance, the Good Friday Agreement, but in this troubled world, the latest incident is a lot darker.

Yesterday, four Irish members of the European Parliament voted against a resolution that called for greater rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, and I haven’t been this angry, for this long, in a very long time.

The four – Mairéad McGuinness, Seán Kelly, Maria Walsh and Frances Fitzgerald – are members of Ireland’s conservative Fine Gael party. A party that, coincidentally, did everything possible to delay the granting of reproductive rights to women due to the “pro-life” views of many of its members and voters.

Now, what kind of people would cold-bloodedly vote to leave men, women and children to drown?

The kind of people who have been sucked in by far-right propaganda as Fortress Europe continues its decades-long lurch to the right, that’s who.

Now, not even this collection of clowns is so callous as to simply tip the brown people overboard; no, instead, there is an intellectual justification offered.

The “European Parliament Resolution On Search And Rescue In The Mediterranean” that they voted against contained a clause that called on Frontex, the Eurpean Coastguard and Border Agency, to “significantly enhance the information available about its operational activities at sea and to make accurate and comprehensive information publicly available as regards its activities at sea, while acknowledging its legal obligation not to reveal operational information which would jeopardise attainment of the objectives of operations”.

The point of this is simple – to ensure that everyone on the water knows who to turn to in the event of an accident that sees people go overboard. If fishermen and pleasure boat crew and the rest don’t know who to call, then the people cannot be helped. It makes perfect sense for EVERY European citizen to know who Frontex are, what they do and, to a certain extent, how they do it.

Of course, the far-right have twisted this clause into a welcome mat, framing it as an open invitation to greedy migrants to take the riskiest crossing possible, something that guarantees people from all over Africa and the east a five-star rescue party, should they inconveniently find themselves in the water.

It would also ensure that human traffickers – odious criminals who charge people thousands of euros a head for these dangerous crossings and who disappear at the first sign of trouble – can continue in business, say the nay-sayers.

But, like the dinghies that criss-cross the Mediterranean, that Frontex/trafficking explanation doesn’t hold water, for a myriad of reasons.

The first is quite obvious, and yet these four geniuses could not between them muster the individual or collective brain power to consider it.

It is this – do they really believe that ANY parent would risk their child’s life, or indeed their own, on the off-chance that they might be picked up by a Frontex boat?

Do they have no inkling of how utterly ridiculous – or indeed insulting – this sounds?

The only reason you would put yourself or your child in a boat is if what’s behind you represents an even greater danger.

- Let’s head to Europe!

- Isn’t it dangerous?

- Nah, they have boats all over the place ready to pick us up!

This the magical thinking of those barely capable of thinking at all.

And the European People’s Party, and their far-right tale of racists and neo-Nazis.

Secondly, it is going to have no effect whatsoever on the reasons that these people are leaving their homes in the first place.

A Kurdish family, abandoned by the U.S. after fighting off ISIS and now forced to flee from Turkey, is not going to stop their journey simply because Frontex has called off its patrols. Nor is it going to decide to travel to begin with on the off-chance of getting picked up by one of their boats.

Nor is a gay man in Uganda who has been run out of his village, or an Eritrean conscript who has escaped from military service, or the Somali family running from Al-Shabbab. Their path is dictated by what they are fleeing from, not where they are running to.

But of course, our well-heeled parliamentarians cannot be expected to know any of this.

Hours after voting to let these people drown, Seán Kelly – a man whom I have met and had great respect for thanks to his work wiht the Gaelic Athletic Association – was tweeting a picture of his airport hamburger.

Put simply, I don’t believe that Seán or any of the rest of these idiots has ever met anyone who has taken that journey.

Because when you sit with people who have, and they tell you of the fear they felt, and of the dead friends and family they left in the water, there is no way that you could vote any other way than in their favour.

Then, of course, the excuses came.

Walsh – a politician so shallow that the only thing capable of drowning in her is the tiniest sliver of human decency she may once have possessed – tried to trot out the talking points on prime-time morning radio, but clearly had no idea what she was talking about.

She has also said that the resolution in itself is not legally binding, which makes their voting against it all the more bizarre – why vote against it, if it can be changed at a later date?

Nowhere could any of the four indicate any ideas or amendments they had put forward of their own to improve the bill or to deal with their concerns. It was a no that simply said “sorry, we have enough brown people and we don’t want any more.”

For that is what is at the heart of this.

Any politician that truly wants to end the thousands of drownings in the Mediterranean and who genuinely wants to put the people traffickers out of business would quickly realise that the only solution to both issues is swift, safe and legal passage into the EU – which would mean an end to Fortress Europe.

It would also mean an end to producing the weapons that are being used to slaughter Kurds and Yemenis and Hazara, and an end for support to regimes who murder homosexuals, intellectuals and journalists.

But that is not a price that the European People’s Party is prepared to pay – the clue is in the name. It’s about keeping Europe white, and everyone else out.

In trying to hold back the torrent of political sewerage being unleashed by the far right in recent years, the EPP has to hold its nose and adopt positions like these.

It cannot be seen to back down on immigration, regardless of the fact that the rights of those fleeing war and persecution are ostensibly guaranteed under international law. And even if it could, these are not the kind of people who care.

Many will read this and feel a genuine, yet impotent rage about these four imbeciles and their blind following of what is essential a white supremacist doctrine.

A few more will laugh at the ineptitude of Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher, a man who “definitely would have” voted in favour of the resolution, but who was so committed to the cause of refugees that he left to get his bus to Frankfurt Airport before the vote was cast. It was subsequently lost by two votes.

These idiots are only partially responsible – back in May they saw their chance for a shot on the gravy train, and they took it. Hundreds of thousands of euros a year to push a button that sends others to drown in the Mediterranean.

The real fault lies with those voters who put them there – Walsh clearly didn’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about.

McGuinness – a woman who wanted more input from religious organisations into the workings of Europe but who has singularly failed in this instance to show any sort of compassion for her fellow human beings, has said her ethics should not be questioned, but she has been sucked in to voting against something so undeniably right that her political judgement is akin to the driving skills of a drunk that finds themselves upside down in a ditch on the way home from the pub.

Frances Fitzgerald was part of a government that continued to turn the screw on the Irish working class and nothing better can be expected from her, but as previously mentioned I have met Seán Kelly and I believed him to be a good man.

For that reason, I am both dismayed and distraught at how he has acted here. Mayou Angelou wrote that when people show you who they are, you should believe them the first time; it seems I was wrong, and there is very little chance of redemption here.

My question to their voters – the ones who bitch and moan yet vote for the same people, time and time again – is this; when are you going to start owning the consequences of your democratic choices?

When are you going to own up to the fact that your invisible hand is what is putting families into hubs, and others into boats, and destroying whatever hope for the future they might have?

When are you going to start realising that your lazy X for the tried-and-failed policies of the past is what is keeping this charade going?

The truth is that most voters are as ill-informed as their representatives – they don’t know what it’s like to leave a war and put their children in a boat in the dark, just to escape what they have left behind.

And as long as it doesn’t happen to them, they don’t care.

The questions is often asked – “but what are the alternatives?”

It answers itself – the alternative is NOT voting for parties that are in the pockets of developers, that gut social services and that condemn brown people to death in the cold, dark waters off Greece.

The other parties may have no track record of leadership, but on the upside, they haven’t bankrupted the country, given away its natural resources for a handful of magic beans, or destroyed the health, housing and education systems.

This is the zeitgeist - this is where Irish politics is right now, but change is possible, if you want it; and for the perpetually lazy, the good news is that you don’t even have to get off the couch.

You can start by asking those sitting beside you who they voted for, and why. Ask your dad or your sister if they are OK with the MEP they voted for callously cutting off rescue services for anyone, never mind children fleeing war zones, and leaving them to drown.

Ask them if they are OK with the rows of tents along the canals in Dublin, or homeless people dying on the streets of Cork, or children growing up in hotel rooms in Galway.

And if they are, ask them what their limit is – is it 5000 homeless children?

10000?

20000?

Is it 1000 Allan Kurdis, toddlers washed up dead on the shores of Libya and Greece and Italy?

Is it 3000?

5000?

In a functioning democracy, the only people who should live with any mild sense of fear are the elected representatives. They should feel the weight of their office and its responsibilities, and they should fear the fury of their voters should they fail to deliver.

In Ireland, there is no sign of that fear – instead there is a contempt that allows them to vote on each other’s behalf in the national parliament, thus blithely pissing on the constitution.

€94,000 a year and they can’t even push their own buttons in the chamber. They are coining it in, and thumbing their noses at you.

This is the Ireland we have, but is it the Ireland we want?

It is.

Because if you are not prepared to do anything to change it, then your answer has to be yes.

 

 

 

Losing Las Vegas

In the media tent for MayMac – just a few weeks later and a few metres behind where I stand in this pic, 58 people were killed by a gunman armed to the teeth and shooing from the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

A few weeks ago we sat in that white tent in the boiling desert, there to witness one of the biggest fights of all time between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.

On Sunday night, music fans visiting the lot-turned-concert-venue witnessed the worst mass shooting in American history.

When things happen in Las Vegas, they can be hard to ignore.

The lot across the street from the Luxor can be anything – a concert venue, a media tent, a trade show, a parking lot.

For MayMac it was the home of the media tent, a white vinyl oasis in the crushing August desert heat.

Outside, day and night, the security guards stood watch, searching our bags and ourselves with good humour, putting us through the metal detectors and making sure we checked in and out with our wristbands.

Every day for five days we made small talk – one man told us how he had come to Nevada from Chicago and had grown to love the dry desert that his grandchildren were now growing up in.

Another younger man wanted our opinions on the fight, a few dollars earned in the blazing sunshine burning a hole in his pocket on the way to the sports book across the street at the Luxor or the Mandalay Bay.

Then there was the supervisor from the midwest, her accent unchanged despite decades spent in Sin City.

The lot on South Las Vegas Boulevard, a short distance form the fabled “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign is adaptable, central and out in the open.

In other words, there is nowhere to hide – especially if someone opens fire on it from an elevated position.

From the gold-diggers to the dam-builders, Vegas has always been a rough-and-tumble town where folks go to let their hair down.

It’s big and it’s loud and it wears you out fast, but it’s hard not to love it.

It is one of those places that encapsulates everything about America, good and bad – the ambition, the drive, the will to win, overcoming adversity, the suspicion of regulation and the dream that anyone coming here can be anything they want to be if they just work hard enough.

It’s a place where people have no problem drinking a skinful and getting in their cars, careering home along the I-15.

“The most dangerous thing you can do as a motorcyclist is drive home after dark in a drinking state,” a motorcycle equipment salesman called Aaron told me in July. He has the scars to prove it.

Las Vegas is no longer the Wild West, but there are still plenty of guns about in Clark County.

I know, I’ve fired them.

I’ve fired .357 Magnums, MP4s, AR15s, pump-action shotguns, you name it.

It’s nothing unusual – all along the strip you’ll find flyers from gun ranges that will collect you and drop you off at your hotel in stretch Humvees.

In the meantime, you can fire as many rounds as you can afford from everything from a .38 special revolver all the way up to heavy, powerful weapons.

Don’t believe me? For about three grand you can fire an M60.

From a helicopter.

For the Europeans who make up a small but lucrative part of their clientele, guns can be hard to understand, especially if they have never fired one before.

For those who have, it’s makes slightly more sense – they have experienced having the power of life and death in their hands.

For that is what it is – to have a gun is to have the power to kill someone, or let them live.

It is a feeling so powerful that my friend Angus (an extremely knowledgeable gun owner and instructor) has told me of grown men crying the first time they fire one.

Apparently, it’s not uncommon.

Somehow, the Second Amendment to the Constitution has been interpreted as imparting the right to own and keep a military arsenal in a private home, with little demand for either security or training.

I spoke to Angus at great length about it, and it is no easy subject; nor is there a simple solution.

It’s hard to underestimate how much people distrust politicians in America.

Many want them to provide the bare minimum in terms of upholding law and order, and then just get out of the way.

Much has changed since the Gold Rush, but the self-sufficient mentality that fuelled that frontier spirit is still everywhere you look.

That is what makes rolling the gun laws back so difficult.

For a start, there are so many guns in circulation that it would be almost impossible to collect them all – and that’s before we get to the sense of paranoia and mistrust of the federal government that mean that many won’t give them up without a fight.

There are plenty of gun owners who are well-trained, who keep their weapons secure and who would never dream of marching down the street in combat fatigues in a show of strength to protect their privilege.

There are also and awful lot of them that have access to powerful, lethal firearms who have no idea how to handle them properly, and who lack the maturity to know when to handle them at all.

The Nevada desert is a harsh place at times, and this tragedy is unlikely to change attitudes to guns at all there.

At the root of that desire for lethal power is fear – fear of the other, fear of the unknown, fear of not being able to protect one’s loved ones or oneself.

Fear, as politicians and corporations have long been aware, is a powerful selling tool.

Whereas we see mass shootings as an obvious reason to remove as many weapons as possible from society, those who believe in the right to bear arms see it as the opposite – hence the rise in gun stocks yesterday in the wake of this tragedy.

If America can witness the deaths of children at Sandy Hook and remain unmoved, do not think for one second that the actions of the Mandalay Bay shooter will change anything.

To do that would require a long discussion about whose rights are most important, and a deconstructing of the apparatus of fear, driven by the media, politicians and vested interests, that keeps the buyers coming to gun shops in their droves.

It is a complex problem to solve, but it can be done. Airports are now bastions of security, and smoking is banned pretty much everywhere.

Once the country’s national sport, drink-driving is now frowned-upon in Ireland.

But I won’t hold my breath.

Instead, I’m waiting to pore over the list of the dead to see if any of the security guards on a few bucks an hour who were so friendly to us a few weeks ago are on it.

Because no matter what the outcome of the political or intellectual discussions around the subject are, the undeniable fact is that 58 more people are dead.

Nothing can change that now.

 

 

 

 

Time running out for MMA’s Tipper Gores

I have to say, I find it abhorrent.

Bare-knuckled, talentless thugs fighting it out for supremacy while the crowd, both those in the arena and those who pay for expensive cable subscriptions to see the spectacle, bays for blood?

Nope, ice hockey is not for me.

As a sports journalist I’ve covered two ice hockey world championships and an Olympic final, and interviewed numerous world-class players and officials but, if you’ll pardon the pun, I just can’t warm to it.

But despite my misgivings about the sport, its inherently macho culture evidenced in regular on-ice fights between team “enforcers”, and the undercurrent of performance-enhancing drugs at virtually every level, I do not question its legitimacy, nor do I judge its players or condemn its fans.

I write about it with the same respect I would any sport or any athlete.

I wish the same could be said of the modern-day Tipper Gores who, every time the name of Conor McGregor or the sport of mixed martial arts are mentioned, boom out their contempt for all involved form the highest of vantage points, despite their own admissions that they have no idea what they are talking about.

I mean, think about it – in what other area of sports journalism would ignorance of the subject matter be worn like a badge of honour?

You remember Tipper Gore, right? The busy-body wife of Al Gore who in 1985, before he became vice-president of the USA, demanded that music (in particular rap, hip-hop and hard rock) be censored?

Her legacy is not a world devoid of the evils of rap and heavy metal – in fact, both genres have flourished, with Jay Z now topping many entertainment  rich lists and tours of hard rockers raking in the millions across the world.

Instead, her legacy is one in which t-shirts bearing the imprint “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” are worn ironically, in tribute to the staggering arrogance and stupidity of her and the Parents Music Resource Centre, the gang of worthies she set up to decide what is and what is not acceptable culture.

Luckily music fans simply did not give a shit – much like the MMA fans of today.

Don’t get me wrong – I too find it difficult to watch sometimes.

When Ilir Latifi, a Swede from Rosengård in Malmö, was knocked out in a recent fight, I felt crushed – the few times I’ve met him he has been warm and decent to me, and to see him flying back unconscious was hugely unsettling.

And despite the fact that I rank the epic fight between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald as one of the best I’ve ever seen, I can almost feel MacDonald’s pain at the end as he finally succumbs, his nose a smashed, bloodied mess.

I get the fact that people don’t like it.

I get the fact that people don’t like McGregor.

On many occasions I have stated how I believe his foul mouth and his tendency towards misogyny and racial epithets is extremely troubling (and indeed damaging to his “brand”).

I’m not asking anyone to like it. Or him.

But there are a lot of people who do, and their interests are not being served or indeed taken seriously by many in mainstream media at the moment.

(One well-known Irish commentator actually sought me out in the press room at a soccer game to tell me how much he hated it, and editors regularly feel compelled to condemn the sport to me, even as they order coverage of it.)

The argument is made that criticism of the sport is not about class, and writers point to their own working-class roots as evidence that they cannot be biased.

Once again they are putting themselves at the centre of the story, rather than looking at the bigger picture.

The truth is that, wherever I go in the world at the moment, young, working-class men are the ones who talk to me most about McGregor and mixed martial arts.

When I asked him a question at last week’s press conference at Madison Square Garden, my phone started buzzing in my pocket even before I reached the end of my sentence.

All young lads, all watching live, all sending me messages, from all corners of the world.

In previous years it might have been Mike Tyson and boxing that were the subject of their affections, but things have changed.

It is not that young, working-class men are the only fans of MMA – it is that they make up a fairly large constituency, and they are the section of society that are roundly and regularly ignored in the media as it is.

That is what is meant by classism and snobbery.

In a week when an Irish athlete made history in Madison Square Garden, I would have expected sports journalists to put aside their personal prejudices and try to hide their ignorance while giving the sport and the subject the respect it – and its fans – deserves.

It hasn’t happened yet, but it is happening.

For the most part I work for very mainstream, respectable media outlets, and the fact that I have covered several UFC events for them this year is a good indication that the crossover is well underway.

Like Tipper Gore, the pearl-clutchers of Irish sports media will soon be left behind, left to celebrate their self-confessed ignorance to an ever-decreasing audience of retweeters and commenters as the rest of the world moves on.

And as has already happened in the USA, MMA fans will eventually enjoy the validation that comes from being featured in the mainstream media, and the sport will likely replace boxing as the number one combat sport.

And the UFC and McGregor?

They’ll continue laughing all the way to the bank regardless of what any of us says, so we better get used to it.

 

 

Hej media, kom inte hit nån mer

Hej alla ledarsidor som tror att ni är blåa, men har blivit lite sådär bruna i kanten senaste tiden!

Det räcker nu.

Vi i förorterna har haft nog.

Det är inte så att ni inte får skriva eller rapportera om förorterna.

Vi som bor här ser gärna att mer skrivs och rapporteras om dem.

Men helst av folk från förorterna – du vet, de som faktiskt vet vad de pratar om.

De som lever här och vistas här och pratar med folk varje dag.

De som har nätverk och känner folket och luktarna och nyanserna.

Eller åtminstone folk som någon gång har satt sin fot i en förort.

Någon gång.

Men att låta fokl idiotförklara sig och skriva bajs om att det ska vara utgångsförbud i Husby och Tensta efter 2100, eller kräva snabbare domstolsprocesser för ungdomar i orterna från folk som aldrig har varit här, och som aldrig skulle kunna tänka sig ens prata med någon här?

Tyvärr.

Nej tack.

Det duger inte.

Det här vet ni förstås, men ni vill inte göra något åt det.

Det är åt det här hållet den bruna vinden blåser, och ni hänger gärna med – antingen genom att upplåta era debattsidor till folk som vill “ta debatten” eller genom er tystnad.

Men det finns ju för många klick att skörda, för många ögonglober att locka.

Att det görs på bekostnad av de i förorterna – de som ni ser till att de aldrig får komma till tals – skiter ni i.

Och det är helt OK.

Vi förstår det.

Det är ni som har kontrollen över tidningarna och radio- och TV-program, och vår roll i det hela är att acceptera det.

I bästa fall kanske kallas vi för att försvara våra orter – men aldrig, aldrig någonsin får vi komma till tals först.

Vill ni fortsätta så?

Varsågoda.

Men i så fall kom aldrig hit någon mer.

Och sluta erbjuda pisssummor för reportage som journalister härifrån gör, som om de borde vara tacksamma från smulorna från ert publicistiska bord.

Sluta gärna rapportera från TV-Huset eller Radiohuset, eller Gjörwellsgatan eller Kungsholmen om det som händer här, som om det vore Baghdad eller Mogadishu när det är en del av Sverige.

Skicka inte ens hit folk, för det räcker inte med att vara här en kvart eller en halvtimme för att förstå vad som händer, och varför.

Och framförallt – sluta låta de som vill göra en politisk eller journalistisk karriär genom att trampa ned och klättra över samhällets svaga.

Vi förstår att ni inte vill ha med oss, vi förstår att ni inte vill hjälpa oss.

Men i så fall krävs det att ni inte skadar oss genom att berätta samma jävla trötta osanna historia gång på gång på gång, utan att ens fucking kolla med oss först.

Det räcker nu.

Why Prince wants you to pay for art

“Get off your ass and go pay to have someone entertain you.”

In the Internet age, the death of a great musician has its own pattern.

First comes the tweet.

Then the confirmation tweet.

Then the Facebook post.

Then the Youtube clip and the Spotify list.

But when Prince died yesterday, it came to an abrupt halt after the tweets.

Fiercely protective of his music, he’s not on Spotify, and there’s not much to be found on Youtube either.

Much was made in the obituaries of how staggeringly prolific he was, and virtually all of them mentioned his clash with Warner Brothers and the music industry in general.

In truth, he was the first to see where the business was going – towards a marketplace where everything was free, nobody wanted to pay and the only money being made was going into the pockets of the least creative people in the room.

He rebelled, and you should too.

Prince could rebel by giving away his music with concert tickets or newspapers, by scrubbing it from streaming sites and pulling it off video services.

He rebelled by releasing his music whenever it suited him, in whatever format and at whatever price he saw fit.

He rebelled by touring on his own with a piano, or by announcing shows a few hours beforehand, and then torching the venues with his electrifying brilliance and a never-ending mountain of hits to choose from.

You can rebel by sticking your hand in your pocket and going to see a band, or funding a Kickstarter, or buying a CD, a download or – and this might sound a little crazy here – a vinyl record.

You will be disappointed. There is an inordinate amount of rubbish out there, and you will waste money on shit live bands. You will get CDs with one decent song that are filled out with tripe, and stuff that you will listen to once before converting the disc into a coaster.

But you will be breathing life into art again, and whether artists, musicians and writers like to admit it or not, the audience is an essential part of the whole relationship.

Prince arrived on the scene almost fully formed, but there are few artists that do so. For the rest, they must hone their craft over thousands of hours of gigs and rehearsals and recordings.

The creation of any kind of art or journalism takes time, and if all the audience is prepared to pay is peanuts, then all they are going to get is a never-ending stream of monkeys who should never be let near a mic or a word processor in the first place.

Worse still, we will be limited to the mindless droning of the over-privileged, the only ones who can afford to document and project their experiences.

Many of those who mourn Prince most lambast the youth of today for sitting in front of their computers, happier to play FIFA on a Playstation than real football on a playground. When it comes to art and music, we do exactly the same.

Spotify is great, as is Youtube and iTunes and Twitter.

But nothing online can replicate the raw, visceral feeling of being in a dark room and seeing a comic or an artist or a poet on a stage performing something they have created themselves.

If we ignore the corporate whores filling the stadiums at staggeringly over-inflated prices, music and comedy and art has never been cheaper. For a few bucks you can see one of the world’s best improv groups at Dublin’s International Bar, and Stockholm’s music scene is full of promising artists in interesting spaces.

We mourn the passing of a great musician and songwriter, but at the same time, whether we will ever see his like again is now up to us.

We can either sit at home and take what this world spoon-feeds us, or we can take it upon ourselves to go out and invest the time and money necessary to give future generations something to marvel at.