Some words about hate, politics and love…

I’ve started writing several blogs this week. Each of them deleted before publication, because they were written in anger.

I’m genuinely scared we are going backwards in this world.

After decades of making progress towards equality for people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion…things are taking a turn.

At the weekend, 49 people were killed in a hate crime towards the LGBTQ community. I have many friends in that community. Friends that worried when I started going to church that I’d be banned from being friends with them. And then today, a terrific MP – one of the good ones who has stood for immigration, stood up for vulnerable children fleeing war, who has stood for peace, justice and diversity at home and abroad was brutally murdered – possibly for her beliefs – by a right wing nationalist while she was in her community doing her job, ready to listen to the concerns of her constituents.

And so this week, families and friends are mourning. Families and friends of people who welcome others. Families and friends of peacemakers. Families and friends of people who see what unites us rather than what divides us.

There are politicians and groups with extreme views. Yelling. Shouting. Spreading lies. Spreading fear. Taking exceptions and making them generalisations. To the point where the other week someone asked me advice because a woman was contacting everyone in her old church to try and get a pastor sacked because he was reaching out to a family of refugees who did not share their faith. According to this lady, this equated to supporting terrorism.

If all your friends look like you, think like you, follow the same religious/non religious belief as you…take a beat and reflect on that. It’s not good if that’s the case. Your mind will be narrower as a result. You will be more susceptible for believing propaganda and media nonsense branded as truth.

I’m not a sonnet writer, and I know Lin Manuel Miranda wrote this with Orlando in mind. It also fits today’s tragedy in Yorkshire too. To the families of those who were at Pulse on Saturday night. To the Cox family. I can’t speak for everyone else in the world, I can only speak for myself, but I stand for love. And hope with all my heart that love will always win over evil in the end. I’m angry for your loss, I’m sad about your loss, I wish with all my heart that you weren’t going through this pain.

Let’s stand up for love, peace and embrace our ability to create together a diverse world that has room for all of us, and our stories.

 

Wishing that Edinburgh women were valued more than dogs…

The other day I got slightly irritated when I was following a Edinburgh Council meeting, and a local councillor brought up the issue of asking the council permission for a statue of a male boxer. My immediate response was the following:

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They immediately retweeted my response, and I got a mixture of shock about my statement wanting to know if I’d made that up, and of course a man who tweeted a laughing emoji and I don’t think he used the term feminist in a complimentary manner.

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The person tweeting at the Edinburgh Reporter however, agreed with me when I replied that I thought it was shocking that we have no statues of Edinburgh women who have literally saved lives. And Mr Tweeter had no response to that.

 

Last year, I had to do a 4 month placement with a community education organisation. I chose to go into one that specialised in adult education, because it was the branch of community learning and development I had the least amount of experience in. While there I worked with a women’s history group. Hilarious, as I had no interest in History at school because what they taught and the way they taught it was dull, dull, dull. It was this group that enlightened me to the real stories of women’s suffrage and the campaign to abolish the slave trade and emanicipate slaves. I began to discover what the men that have had monuments and statues built in their honour stood for. It made me feel sick.

Our city values animals more than women when it comes to public statues.

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One of the women’s history group made me pose next to this statue as we were walking into town one day. It is the only statue of a woman in Edinburgh’s city centre. She isn’t named, she is more symbolic. A woman and child to remember the women and children who suffered during apartheid in South Africa.

5 minutes away, you can go into Princes Street Gardens and you’ll find a statue of Bum the dog – apparently needed because he is so important to remember Edinburgh’s connections with San Diego. You’ll now find a bear called Wotjek too. He was a mascot adopted by the Polish troops during the war. And of course, walk in another direction through the Old Town to George IV Bridge and you’ll find a statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby.

To find an individual named woman who has been commemorated with a statue in her honour like Bum, Wotjek and Bobby? You’ll need to go down to Leith to find a statue of Queen Victoria, then further out to the suburb of Craigmillar to find a statue of Helen Crummy.

Why was it as a girl that I felt that there were certain careers that I should shy away from? Why was it that when I came top in the year for Maths, I spent the next year trying not to be good at it (and succeeded). Why did I fear public speaking or debating even though I had plenty of opinions and information to share? Why was it that the only careers that ever came to mind as options growing up were nursing or teaching?

And then I began to look around. There were no women to look up to. The boys had footballers and rugby players that 1000s followed daily in the sports news. They had textbooks full of political leaders, history makers, scientists.

Go into museums…men. Look around at the commemorative statues in our city…men. On our TV shows…male superheroes. In our films…leading men outnumber the leading women.

It isn’t that there are no women who have lived in Edinburgh worth honouring in this way. Elsie Inglis has two statues in Serbia, but none in the city where she opened the first nursing home and maternity hospital for working class women and started the medical college for women since the University of Edinburgh refused to teach women medicine for so long and hospitals also refused to allow women to come learn skills there. The woman who was one of the first female graduates of medicine at Edinburgh University who helped her found the maternity hospital and nursing home. Her name is Jessie Macgregor. There was the woman who climbed Arthur Seat with Frederick Douglass and wrote to the Free Church Assembly asking them to send back the money they got from slave plantation owners to start their church. She helped fund the underground railroad and with other women tireleslly campaigned for the emancipation of slaves. Once that was done, she began the women’s suffrage movement in Edinburgh. Her name was Eliza Wigham. Her friend who became the first president of the women’s suffrage society in Edinburgh, her name was Priscilla Bright Maclaren. There was Flora Stevenson, and her sister Louisa campaigned for the education of women. Flora was also one of the first women to be elected to a school board (after women were finally allowed to do that). Flora has a school named after her in Edinburgh. Thomas Guthrie was honoured for his work in providing education for the poor with a statue in Edinburgh. Flora hasn’t been. Louisa was one of the first women to be elected to a nursing board. Both ladies were involved in campaigning for women’s suffrage. And there was Sophia Jex Blake. Sophia campaigned for many years for women to be allowed to study medicine. When the University of Edinburgh refused to let her in because she wasn’t allowed to be in classes with men, she found six other women to study medicine with her so the university were forced to provide classes and lectures for them. Sophia and the other six ladies became known as ‘The Edinburgh Seven‘. After years of campaigning to the university,  a plaque was finally placed in their honour late last year.

And of course there are our famous female writers. Helen Cruickshank and Muriel Spark to name two. Given that Walter Scott (a very good writer, but someone who openly campaigned for the continuation of the slave trade!!) has a big frickin’ tower monument, and Henry Dundas – another pro-slavery Scotsman – has a column with his statue on top paid for by Navy personnel (the money was taken straight out of their wages). Surely a wee statue for one of these women wouldn’t go amiss.

Heck, if we can celebrate an American dog, a Polish bear and a fabled Scottish dog…surely we can honour a few of these remarkable local women with statues as well.

And then maybe kids will see that your achievements are valued no matter what your gender. And that women are worth more than animals. Or at least equal to them.

BK’s YouTube Picks: Authenticity over Likeability

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It all started when I went to South Africa six years ago. My roommate (and now good friend) and I had many conversations in the evenings trying to articulate some of the anger and frustration we were feeling being there. When we returned home, we discovered a TED talk that articulated our frustrations so well called ‘The Danger of the Single Story’.

I am so grateful for her straight talking wisdom. And this is another important message for women – young and old.

Quote of the Week 2: Observing character

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J.K. Rowling is someone I’d love to have a ‘coffee’ with sometime, because so often the messages she writes and speaks are the ones I struggle to articulate. She’s just one of those women that I don’t actually know, but look up to as a role model. I think one of the best things about the Harry Potter series are the lessons from the development and interaction of the characters as they grow up and go through life. This piece of advice from Sirius to Ron is a little gem of wisdom and one that sadly, not many people in our culture take seriously enough.

This time last year, I was the manager of an organisation. A small charity, but I was the person in charge. I had become very used to being in that role, and when you’ve been a manager and the responsibility lies with you it’s hard to shake off. I naturally like to be prepared, assess risk, ensure people are looked after and problem solve. I like to encourage people. I also always felt that I should never ask someone to do a job I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself.

The second half of last year was spent unemployed and looking for work after I was made redundant when our charity closed. I struggled to find work, and in October/November started applying for Christmas temp roles in the city centre. I ended up with two temp jobs, and this week finished up at both. It was strange to be at the other end of the chain of command, and it made me realise how important that quote is.

Both workplaces had friendly staff, but the way they finished were very different. On my last day in one, the manager just said goodbye and I walked out the door after staying an extra half hour as another member of staff hadn’t turned up for their shift. On my last day at the other job, the manager took each temp staff finishing aside in turn down to her office, she guided us through end of contract forms, informed us how we would get our P45 forms, final pay and asked us how we’d found working there. She thanked each of us for our help, and every one of us got a thank you card signed by the four managers.

I know which job I felt more appreciated and encouraged by. In this case it wasn’t that I got treated like crap, but I really felt the difference. I came home from one feeling deflated. I came home from the other feeling sad but of value.

I’ve seen cases of this as a youth worker too. I remember the moment I made a decision to turn my whole career path around. I was in my third year of university studying Geography planning to become a Geography teacher and working part-time with a local community education project. I was in a high school, and I watched a teacher screaming at pupils as he came down the corridor before they’d even done anything wrong. The clincher was when one day a group of rambunctious teenage boys came bolting over to our wee workshop stall and asked us for the pens and info cards we would always give away. They turned around gleeful at their wares (many kids liked to collect the cards and pens which came in different colours) and the teacher bawled at them for stealing the pens and took them off them. He then came up to me and told me that he had told them off for stealing our pens. I was angry ” we give them away, and they know that. They took them and thanked us for them. They weren’t stealing“. The teacher was silent for a moment and said “oh well. they won’t be bothering you again” and walked away. I was fuming. A few of the boys could see him talking to me, and the teacher didn’t even go up and apologise to them for his mistake. What was worse is his idea that the boys not coming to talk to the youth advice workers was a good thing!

I worried that I’d become one of those teachers whose power went to their head and became bossy and shut people down without listening first or apologising for making a mistake ‘because I’m the teacher’. I went to my boss and told him about the incident. He shook his head and told me how many times he’d seen that kind of behaviour from teachers.

That was the moment I chose Community Education over School education. I wanted to help people learn as my equal, not as my inferiors.

We should all want to treat people as our equals rather than our inferiors.