Human rights are never popular

Many people have rightly celebrated the life and mourned the death of John Lewis, the US civil rights leader and staunch LGBT ally. Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who refused to accept racial segregation and who engaged in very public protest.

The Freedom Riders were very brave and very important. And they were also very unpopular. As the Washington Post shows:

This shouldn’t be surprising: before his death, nearly two-thirds of Americans disapproved of Martin Luther King too. The civil rights leaders we later lionise are demonised, victimised and sometimes even brutalised for telling the majority what they don’t want to hear.

When it comes to human rights, what is right is rarely what is popular.


“Q deserves to live”

Mic Wright has published a typically opinionated post on Q Magazine, which he used to write for and which may have published its final issue.

Q has been around since the mid-1980s, and that means it’s been a key part of my musical life since the time when music felt like it was the only thing that mattered. It was, and is, a wonderful magazine featuring some incredibly talented writers. But like many magazines, it suffered from a series of really terrible decisions that did permanent damage to the brand.


When the history comes to be written — if it is ever written — the villains of the story will be execs. Suited and booted bastards who have no real interest in music, no understanding of its effect beyond graphs and demographic data. They were the ones who killed the music magazines with a late-90s and early-00s obsession for creating scenes arbitrarily and pumping out list after list after list. They — and their supine editor-in-chief minions — were the ones who spent thousands upon thousands on cover shoots with ‘stars’ that everyone hated.

For me, Q became inessential in the early to mid 2000s when its reaction to the rise of online competition was to make the core product terrible. Instead of the great journalism I loved so much, journalism that made you excited about hearing new music or rediscovering music you thought you knew, the magazine became a collection of lists. It wasn’t quite “32 bands whose singers are quite tall”, but it wasn’t far off.

As I wrote back in 2004:

Q has fallen into the trap of thinking that the number of reviews (and lists, and songs) is all that matters, so an issue with 137 album reviews is much better than one with 122. It’s a trait shared by many other music mags too, many of which have reduced the per-review word count to enable them to squeeze more reviews into the same space and put the all-important “we review everything!” claim on the front cover.

[monthly music magazines] should do what online media can’t do: provide readers with access to big-name acts and tell interesting stories. It could also dump the dross, and instead draw people’s attention to the music that’s worth bothering with – the four- and five-star records, not the two- and three-star ones.

The shallow, list-based approach lasted for years and the magazine shed thousands of readers. Things started to get better in 2009 when Paul Rees became editor. Me again:

I’d hate to see the freelance bill, but Rees seems to have looked up the Big Book of Good Music Writers, hired them, and given them enough space to do something interesting. The result is a magazine that’s as good as, if not better than, it was in its heyday.

And it’s even better now.


Q over the last five years under the modish captaincy of Ted Kessler, ably assisted by a gang of old and young lags, and a freelance pool that has become more diverse with each passing month, has become genuinely brilliant. The final issue, if it is the final issue, is a masterclass in writing about right now alongside genuinely powerful reminiscences of scenes and people gone by. Q deserves to live. I hope it gets a rescue deal like MixMag and Kerrang! before it, because to go beneath the waves because of an unprecedented economic crisis would be a tragic end.

I’ve been Very Online since the 1990s, but I’m still a great believer in the power of magazines: I buy digitally rather than print these days, but whether it’s Cosmopolitan or Q, Total Film or Time, magazines deliver something valuable that even their online equivalents can’t. It’s not just the writing; it’s the curation, the presentation, the lack of distraction. Online reading is a speedy shower. Magazines are a luxurious bath.

I’ve quoted Q co-creator David Hepworth before: a new issue of a good magazine feels like getting a letter from a friend. Q has felt like a friend for almost all of my musical life, and I’ll be very sad if I have to say goodbye.


“You are part of the problem”

This, by Patrick Benjamin, is superb: Dear White People, If You Have Ever Said Any Of These Things Then You Are Part Of The Problem.

These riots are happening because no matter how black people have said it: taking a knee, marching the streets, bumper stickers, banners, signs, or chants, you still don’t get it. That doesn’t mean you’re bad people. That doesn’t mean you’re racist. It only means you’re white. And that’s not a crime, any more than being black is. The difference is, police aren’t going to shoot you in the street for it.


2020 is the most… what?

Here’s an interesting thought, which someone (I’ve lost the link, sorry) posted on social media earlier.

What if 2020 isn’t the most awful year we’ve experienced, but the most important?

That’s not to say it isn’t awful. Of course it is. But history is full of awful times that, with the benefit of hindsight, turned out to be hugely important. They weren’t just periods of awfulness; they were periods of transition. Sometimes very painful transition, but transition nevertheless.

What if 2020 is one of them?


It couldn’t happen here

Like everyone, I’ve been watching the US police brutality with horror. US racism is hardly new, but this – these vicious attacks on peaceful protestors, and the deliberate targeting of press photographers and cameramen and women – feels like the culmination of so many recent trends: the deliberate infiltration of the police by white supremacists, the militarisation of police forces, the mainstreaming of far-right views and the characterisation of the media as the enemy.

I’ve also seen a lot of British people posting on social media that they’re glad they live here because it isn’t a racist country. You’ll never guess what colour those people are.

The UK may not seem to be racist if you’re white, but of course it is and it has been for a very long time. It’s just not as visible as it is in the US. But this is the country of Grenfell and Windrush, of the hostile environment and Go Home vans, of Nigel Farage and racist newspapers and a Prime Minister who’s long traded in racist stereotypes. It’s a country where 1/3 of the deaths in police custody are Black or members of other ethnic minorities, where more BAME people than white people die from COVID-19 and where the report into those deaths is suppressed for fear it may “stoke racial tensions”. And of course, this is the country of Empire, an empire many of us choose to see through rose-tinted spectacles. We certainly don’t teach our children the murderous reality.

Some people would say that that’s England, not Scotland, as if Scotland is somehow better. The attitude was expressed perfectly over the weekend on social media, where I saw some apparently educated Scots claiming that Scotland’s participation in the slave trade was forced on it by the English. But it wasn’t. We were enthusiastic participants, and many Scots built their fortune on Black people’s blood. Many Glasgow streets are named after the slave trade crops, and many of Glasgow’s mansions were built with slave trade money.

You can’t learn lessons from history if you refuse to learn history in the first place. And you can’t make a better nation if you don’t understand where your nation needs to be better.

Scotland is not special and we are certainly not immune from racism. The author and playwright James Kelman wrote about this thirty years ago in his piece, Attack On These People Not Racist, Says British State. It’s about Britain as a whole but describes racist violence in Scotland and racist coverage by the Scottish press.

we all know that racist abuse and violation, including murder, are the experience of the various non-European communities from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

…The general public rarely gets to know about everyday racism except where it occurs in front of their nose.

Last year, more than 80 artists, academics, lawyers and activists signed an open letter warning that attitudes towards race and racism in Scotland are rolling backwards:

Solutions cannot be reached without discussing how racism operates as a social and institutional structure, fuelled by protections and advantages people perceived as white have received over time and in the present day.

If you don’t see racism here, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It means it isn’t happening to you.


“The violence of white women’s tears”

There’s a blistering editorial in the New York Times about Amy Cooper, the white woman who was asked by a black birdwatcher to put her dog on a lead in the park. She responded by threatening to call the police and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her life – a potentially lethal lie in a country where so many black men and boys have been murdered by the police.

She may believe these statements to be true. But even here she betrays her sense of white superiority; even if she didn’t intend to physically hurt him, she certainly was letting him know she had the power to do so and was attempting to corner him into submission.

…Ms. Cooper is not an exceptional example of racism but the latest in a long line of damsels who leverage racial power by dominating people of color only to pivot to the role of the helpless victim.

In America, Black women have a term for this: Karen. A Karen is a white woman who uses her whiteness and the privilege that comes with it to cause trouble for black people; she demands to call the manager in the hope of getting a key worker fired, or calls the police pretending a black man is threatening her.

Here in the UK, we like to think that we’re better than the Americans. And it’s true that while we have our own problems with racism – right now black people are more likely to be stopped for suspicion of breaking lockdown rules, for example; there are no end of examples of people of colour suffering abuse of authority – Amy Cooper’s threat wouldn’t have been quite so frightening if she were a Glaswegian rather than a New Yorker, because our police officers are less likely to be heavily armed racists who shoot first and think later.

But the threat would still be effective, because there would still be a presumption on the part of the authorities that she was telling the truth: as a white, cisgender, well-spoken, well-educated middle-class woman with a respectable job many people in authority will respond to her in a different way than to people who don’t tick some or all of those boxes. And some people try to use that power differential to their advantage: the Karens of the world, who are not exclusive to the US.

Something I found interesting about the online reaction to the Amy Cooper story here in the UK was people’s surprise that Cooper isn’t right-wing. But this  isn’t about which side of the political spectrum you sit on. It’s about power, power that enables you to protect your personal position even if it means harming others; power that enables you to call on the police or other authorities to deal with anyone who challenges, inconveniences or criticises you. It’s about the privilege you have in society and your willingness to use it as a weapon against those less powerful than you.


“People aren’t protesting for the right to BE waitresses and hairdressers, they’re fighting for the right to HAVE them.”

This is the sound of a nail being hit squarely on the head (video in the link).


Hate crimes and political shenanigans

Neil Mackay in The Herald writes about SNP factionalism:

The SNP has always had a fractious, bitter, conspiratorial base, which some politicians have pandered to in the past. Now, it seems as if the base is coming overground, as if the base is set on taking the party over.

…will I ever vote SNP again? What if I vote SNP in 2021, backing Sturgeon’s vision for Scotland, and end up with something very different if she’s dethroned, something which I’ve no trust in, and which, frankly, repels me?

I reckon many moderate Yes voters like me – greatly discomfited by nationalism, but hopeful that a better Scotland can be forged away from the failed Westminster model – would think twice about voting for an SNP without Sturgeon at the helm.

And in The Scotsman, justice secretary Humza Yousaf responds to lurid claims that the Hate Crime Bill will criminalise freedom of expression.

The Bill’s provisions on freedom of expression provide reassurance that stirring up offences will not unduly restrict people’s right to express their faith, or to criticise religious beliefs or practices or sexual practices. Freedom of expression is not without limit, but this Bill will not inhibit controversial and challenging views being offered as long as this is not done in a way that is threatening or abusive.


It’s time to reopen Jurassic Park

Carlos Greaves, writing for McSweeney’s:

Hello, Peter Ludlow here, CEO of InGen, the company behind the wildly successful dinosaur-themed amusement park, Jurassic Park. As you’re all aware, after an unprecedented storm hit the park, we lost power and the velociraptors escaped their enclosure and killed hundreds of park visitors, prompting a two-month shutdown of the park. Well, I’m pleased to announce that, even though the velociraptors are still on the loose, we will be opening Jurassic Park back up to the public!



Did your employer just requisition your home?

A thought-provoking piece by Dr Fiona Jenkins:

Although many employers are certainly being supportive, let’s not forget that those who until recently took their homes for private space are not gaining a privilege right now, but losing a set of prerogatives

…so “working from home” at present means something like this: employers have requisitioned the home as a condition of continuing to work, and they have taken away the office as part of what was previously offered to enable people to work.

I’m putting together some notes just now for people who are new to working at home. I work full-time from home and my work area is set up accordingly, not just with computer equipment but with furniture and accessories, some of which cost a lot of money. I chose my flat with the expectation of working from home, so it has sufficient space to do so; and the costs of working from home have been factored into the money I charge my clients.

But many people who are currently working from home have not got properties that are suitable, do not have appropriate equipment or furniture, and are not being compensated for the extra expenses of working from home – expenses not just including heating but the extra cost of electricity, of possibly requiring better broadband and so on.

And of course, those of us with children have to deal with the fact that schools are closed. I co-parent, so my children are not here all the time; I work on the days they are not. That isn’t an option for couples who may both be working at home.

Jenkins rightly points out that some employers are accommodating. She gives the example of an employer deciding that a 25-hour working from home week is full time. But many are not, and the costs their newly home working employees are incurring may be significant.


While I am completely behind the move to lockdown, and grateful to have an employer carefully addressing the issues so that we can maintain our core work, I worry that caught up in the urgency of crisis we risk forgetting just how problematic the “working from home” pillar of our strategy for mitigation is in multiple respects. Just because we accept the necessity of action in the context of emergency should not mean that we do not question its further implications and its practice.