Spiders. My love and hate for their fuzzy little backsides.

So … spiders.

Yesterday I found a spider ‘hugging’ a dead spider on the step leading up to my backdoor. I chased it away. No idea if it was eating or mourning it. I suspect foul play following a sexual liaison, but can’t confirm as my absence overnight precipitated the event.

This afternoon I accosted a smaller jumping spider, poised to make a drop into my cutlery draw. I foiled his attempt, shut the drawer, and bullied him into stepping onto a piece of kitchen towel. He made foolhardy leaps to escape, but was dumped outside, swinging from the bottom of the paper.

Tonight I opened the refrigerator for a midnight snack and discovered another small spider abseiling from the fridge ceiling. Swiftly removed with the same piece of kitchen towel and dumped in the aloe vera for the night.

We’ve had the best weather ever today. You’d think they’d prefer to be outside.

So, spiders.

My relationship with spiders

I always feared spiders as a kid. My mum is really funny about them, and used to leave them under various bowls and mugs for my dad to find and remove. Thing is, when you live on your own, you have three choices. Deal with them, ignore them, or turn it into a mental health issue worrying about them.

Some houses have lots; some hardly any, but even with one of those homes, the occasional spider pops up.

I moved into this house in 2009, and the first thing I discovered was a spider the size of Godzilla, in the bath. You could hear its feet as it ran around the bottom! It was so hairy, it made a rushing noise as it ran.

No-one was scheduled to visit until Wednesday, so I resolved to cope without a bath for three days. Luckily a couple of friends came to see me as a house warming surprise, and when I asked the lad if he could get the spider out, Janey jumped up and said “I’LL do it!” and two minutes later the bath was spider-free.

I got braver and less stupid, and my mum gave me a tall plastic dog chew jar that has since been known as the spider-catcher.

A boris, otherwise known as a common brown house spider

A boris, otherwise known as a common brown house spider

Spider-catching technique

  1. Gingerly place jar mouth over spider, leaving plenty of room if possible.
  2. Slide piece of rigid card across the mouth, taking care not to unhook arachnid legs or lose spider.
  3. Take to allocated dumping ground, whether different part of the house or outside the door.
  4. If spider is an annoying ‘sticky’ one that can easily stick to the card ‘roof’, throw the whole receptacle into allocated spot and shriek if necessary.
  5. Otherwise just tip spider out quite close to the ground.
  6. NOTE: If windy, just throw whole thing, or spider blows back into the house.

They still get me sometimes, though.

The spider who could control the electricity.

I spotted a spider on the ledge running up the stairs. It was so big, I ran to get my ruler so I could measure it before throwing it out. The perils social media put you in. I’d just made it to my desk when the lights went out and I realised the power had gone off.

I felt my way to the fuse box –  my house is pitch black at night as there’s no nearby streetlight – and knocked the electricity back on. Returned to the stairs to find spider had run nearly a metre down the stairs. I sprinted for the spider-catcher, but the lights went out again.

Back at the fuse box, I was now worried about where the magic spider was headed. I dashed back through and discovered it was only 12 inches from my handbag and coat. Instead of moving those items, I ran back to the kitchen for the spider-catcher. I was on my way back when the electricity went off again.

Long story short, I lost the spider, decided it was in my handbag, and dumped that outside the backdoor on the end of the ruler.

At 2am, I saw a big one in the bath, though I wasn’t convinced it was the same one. Didn’t have quite such an impressive girth, and I couldn’t face another spider incident in the same night. As I left the bathroom, my eyes fell on the missing monster, two stairs from my bedroom.

It’s moments like this, you realise you have to deal with something.

How I cope with spiders in my house

Spiders are little. They’re annoying and creepy, not that good at catching flies, and generally not too bright as far as I can tell.

I rescue them out of the bath and the sink, remove them from my bedroom, and warn them when I’m hoovering.

I used to tell them with a pointed finger ‘you can stay, but I don’t want to see you again’. Generally guaranteed they’d leave, and if they didn’t, I removed. Now I don’t even bother telling them most of the time.

I’ve watched two large ‘borises’ walk round the living room twice. One embraced the horse chestnut in the corner that was supposed to put them off!

I’ve shaken them out of my bed clothes, shoes, wellies, and socks.

I even found one dangling from my short-and-curlies one night as I got ready for bed!

They dangle unexpectedly from the kitchen beams, live behind the lavatory, in the aloe vera, and are occasionally good team mates for catching flies. I’ve twice bopped a bluebottle behind the aloe vera on the inside kitchen windowsill, only to hear frenzied buzzing but no reappearance of the fly. On inspection from the other side of the window: a small spider dragging the frantic fly towards it with admiral resolve.

If they make themselves a nuisance, they get thrown out into the weather, but I generally can’t be bothered any more.

My house is honestly not infested with spiders. This is over a period of 8 years, and the house was empty for years before that, so I’m pretty sure it was a haven for them all that time.

The trouble is, I don’t kill them on purpose, and I think word gets around spider world pretty quick when they find somewhere safeish to live.

Notwithstanding all the dearly departeds who have been accidentally despatched on the stairs, under the dog, in some cleaning chemical or soap, in terrifically hot water in the bath, on the cooking hob …

Not too bright, see?



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why your business website is pointless


Calling all business owners running local businesses.

Did you waste your money when you got your business website?

Does no-one visit it at all?

Is it hard to see the point of maintaining your website regularly?

Do you secretly believe website developers are just creative con artists?

When you’re in business you don’t want to waste time doing pointless exercises. You just want to know what the job is, and then get the job done. Then you can go back to doing what you really love doing, which is the reason you’re in business.

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions above, the problem with your website is that it doesn’t have a job.

A business website without a job is like an expensive signpost lost in long grass.

No-one really sees it, no-one uses it, except for opening times and telephone numbers.

Lots of businesses only have a website ‘because they should’. They don’t see the value in their website because no-one uses it, so they don’t update it, and it acts like a digital version of a very expensive Yellow Pages ad. Which it is. And no-one uses it because … you get the picture.

There’s only one way to change this problem:

Give your website a job!

What do you want your website to do?

Do you know what the options are?

First of all: what do you offer?

Are you a shop with products to sell?

Are you a service, like an architect or designer?

Are you a bit of both?

Are you an organisation that exists to provide information?

Do you have a duty to the people who use your services to provide them with information about what you do?

Decide what you want your site to do,  because that’s your website’s job.

That’s what a web developer helps you develop: the website’s job.

But what if ….?

“I have a bricks-and-mortar shop, selling gifts in an English market town. I don’t want to do internet mail order. How is a website going to help me other than being a signpost to my business?”

If you want to stand out against all the other gift shops in town, you’ll need to show off your specialness on the Internet. Tomorrow’s customers use the Internet every day, for everything.

What if you featured some of your favourite products each month? Maybe you could tag them with the name of your town and make a big deal about local products.  The ‘local’ thing really does work with Google and friends, so visitors to the town can also find out about you.

“I’m a small shop, without much money, business isn’t doing too well, and I’m not sure I should spend the money on a frivolous website.”

What if ‘frivolous’ meant ‘opens up new opportunities’?

What if business needs to be done a different way to make it work? Is it worth doing? Showing off your products, and more importantly, your expertise (because it’s that which makes you unique), is what will help people notice you and choose to visit you. Showing it off means regular blog posts at the very least.

“I’m a busy building construction company, and get tons of business by word of mouth already. I don’t need a website.”

You’re probably right. If you’re busy enough and you don’t want to grow any more, ever, you may not need a website at all.

A website can be an expensive business. It might cost £100-£150 for the text, between £500-£750 for the design and development, and £350+ for ongoing analytics and tweaking.

That’s why you have to decide what you want it to do before you start, or you risk spending a lot of money doing everything in the wrong order.

If you use a web developer to help strategise from the start, after it’s set up you’ll only need to factor in low on-going costs for keeping it updated, like ordering ghostwritten blog posts (unless you want to write your own).

If business is slow these days, or if you want to communicate with your customers more easily, your website could be the key to your future.

As long as you decide what job you want it to do.

Posted in Digital marketing | Tagged , ,

Why websites need a content strategy

business needs to be organised

So I decided to seek out a few new clients.

I love the ones I have already, but I always want more of everything!

So I went looking.

Just like last time, I felt pretty fed up after an hour.

The freelance platform sites are filled with potential clients who don’t understand what they’re asking for, offering pitiful amounts of money for vast quantities of work and people are applying for them.

People whose profiles look incredibly professional.

And the instructions are often written in a style that brooks no argument.

So the guy who has already wasted his money on a ‘premium theme’ at WordPress now wants to pay £120 for 11 web pages of writing, 3-4 paragraphs each. He wants that, and now he’s spent the money on the theme, no-one – but no-one – is going to change his mind.

It’s laughable, and horrible.

Why would you buy a website design that uses a kind of horizontal structure requiring pages and pages of words when statistics show:

a) Long-form vertical web pages do the selling very well, but they have to be really long, and written in a very specific style. So 3-4 paragraphs wouldn’t do it.

b) Long pages split up into short screen-sized panels in a range between 2 lines to 2 paragraphs of impact text are also really effective, and cost a lot less because they take less time to write and amend. Usually.

Why would you spend $80-$140 on a website design that forces you to need more writing when you haven’t enough in your budget to pay a writer properly in the first place?

What do you expect to gain from 11 pages of solid writing?

What’s a content strategy?

A content strategy for a website is a map of paths you create for your readers to enable them to get from:

a) your landing page/front page, to

b) the buy-now button.

On these paths, you will have certain points where you give your visitor an opportunity to hit the buy-now button. Inline links, buttons, adverts, banners and so on.

Pictures don’t offer opportunities, though design is important. But the real secret is WORDS.

Words make opportunities, so you have to use the right ones.

The design creates a visual flow, but writing has a flow too, when it’s good.

Good web writing is writing that fulfils a job. It enables the job of the website.

What’s the website’s job?

If that site is a signpost to your bricks and mortar business, its jobs are still to make you look attractive to your customers and provide clear information about what you do.

If it’s a shop of some kind, the job of the site is to sell.

If your site provides information–maybe you’re a public service or a charity, its job is to promote your interests, increase your authority, and give your users something relevant to read or view.

If you supply advertising space, your site’s job is to entice potential customers with content they’ll want to read before they notice the ads.

So what goes into a content strategy?

Your ultimate challenge is to get visitors to commit to the action itself: HIT THAT BUTTON, BABY!

And if at first you don’t succeed … give them something else to look at and provide another opportunity a short time later. In words.

So when you work on a writing strategy for a website you have to:

a) start with a goal,

b) understand exactly what that end point will be, then

c) leave a trail of jelly bean crumbs to give your visitors a reason to either buy now or move on to the next point on the path across your site.

If they haven’t hit the buy-now button already, you give them something else to look for.

Either they scroll down, or you gift them a new page with an exciting title, but it’s a bit less challenging if they can just scroll to the next part.

Whatever happens, don’t let them escape!

If you understand why your visitors are there, it will be easier to figure out what to offer them.

The beautiful and useful products you sell are the potential solutions to their needs, whether you’re a joke shop or an interior designer.

You’ll also be closer to understanding what will make them stay longer.

Offer them something that’s important to them to make it less likely they will click away.

Survey your existing customers! See what they are looking for on your site. SurveyMonkey is easy to use, and there are Facebook Surveys for your pages.

If you don’t have enough customers and interested followers, make up some very specific imaginary customers, and figure out why they might visit your site.

If you don’t meet anyone’s needs, no-one will buy from you.

But you don’t have to meet everybody’s needs; just some will be fine.

You can see how important it is to do things in the right way.

And there are sooooo many people out there doing it the expensive ineffective way.

Working together is great because …

What I’ve found is this:

it’s far more satisfying for both client and writer, if the relationship is a collaborative one.

It’s like working in a very tiny knowledge economy. I help you if you help me do that.

Sure, I may not know your business as well as you do, but give me information (that you probably already have) and I’ll know enough very quickly.

Tell me your goals and I can help you figure out what your customers expect to see.

Then I can help you get the writing you need.

I write it, you check it, we talk about it, I make amends according to our agreements, you check it … and when it’s ready, it’s ready.

It’s a collaboration.

So, once again, I’m done with freelancer platforms (for this week, anyway).

I’d rather go, as a business, to another business, and make them an offer.

Last week I spent all my free time creating some collateral. Two very simple ‘micro-courses’ with tips to help viewers understand the benefits their business will get from using good web writing.

Here’s the first one for you to check out!

I thought I might offer them up to another organisation for some kind of ‘partnership marketing’, where they get some original content for their email list readers, and I get exposure to a few more potential clients.

Good plan, no?

It’s gotta beat trawling the freelance platforms.

Posted in Digital marketing, Opinion | Tagged , , , ,

How to beat the bullies: the ONLY solution you (and your kids) need

‘How to beat the bullies’ must be a well-asked search term on Google and friends. NSPCCThousands of kids are affected by bullying every year, and bullying situations can continue to crop up into adulthood.

And yet ‘How to beat the bullies’ has to be one of Google’s more lacklustre search efforts.

The first page of result throws up quite a few helpful-looking sites, such as this one:

ADDitude Magazine

ADDitude mag-1You’d expect kids with ADHD, ADD and other learning difficulties to experience more bullying than others, I guess. I have a little cousin who is disabled and autistic, and he and his family suffer a lot.

So you’d want an article written for their benefit to be useful to them, right?

Thing was, I felt dissatisfied with the article.

Three of the five suggestions were basically the same thing: be quick.

Say something smart, sarcastic, or funny. All staple survival kits for any kid at school who stands out.

It was so off-the-cuff and smartly written, expecting kids to come up with some great put-downs somehow. As if they wouldn’t have already tried if they were equipped with a fast-mouth.

I trained myself for years to be sarcastic. I’m not that good at it. I got the tone pretty good, okay? At 38, I still can’t, as an occasional victim, handle bullies coherently.

So not really useful advice. When you’re being bullied, your blood pressure rises, your heart pounds, and the body’s stress responses kick in.

It’s hard to think through that fog of adrenaline.

So what’s the real answer? What authentic list to help beat bullies can someone who isn’t a psychologist come up with?

My victim credentials

I don’t think I’m an obvious victim. I’m confident, out-going, and a fighter. But how the bullies have tried over the years.

I know you’re bully-fodder if you have social problems, hygiene and health problems, disability, or if you stand out from the flock in a way that is viewed by the majority as ‘weird’, ‘creepy’, ‘strange’, or ‘annoying’.

And if you already find a social environment a challenge, you may be less confident, witty, or able to adequately protect yourself.

When I was a kid I didn’t get the same levels of early socialisation as most other kids around me. No TV every other year, no nursery. No Sesame Street (my mum didn’t like it).

I’m grateful for her interventions now, of course (not sure what was wrong with Sesame Street to be honest), but at the time it gave people a weakness to pick on because I often didn’t come up with expected responses in class. And I never knew what was happening in the soaps.

That might sound utterly childish, but I actually had this happen to me at the age of 25, too, when a Production Manager for a TV company saw me laughing at an event from Big Brother recited by one of the staff. She said ‘Did you see the programme, Sakina?’ And when I shook my head, ‘so why are you laughing then?’

Which made me feel            this big.

But the staffer had just told the story of what happened. And I wasn’t quick enough to point that out.

I’ve been affected by bullying lots of times in my life – even accidentally been one too, and been the proverbial rescuer as well – but one thing I’ve noticed is I don’t have the same attitude towards the experience that a lot of people do.

I have school friends who were deeply affected by their bullying experiences at school. I shared some of those experiences with bad treatment from the same people, but I wasn’t affected the same.

What makes a bullying victim?

So then on around page 18 of the above Google search I found this document: a US Swimming webinar (random, I know!) advising stewards How to beat bullies.

In its definition of bullying, it included the effects.

USA 1-1 USA 2-1 USA 3-1

I realised one thing from this.

Whether or not someone is classed as being bullied has a lot to do with the effect it has on the victim.

If the victim doesn’t take time off school/work, talks back, has – and even appears to instigate – fights, or is viewed as more obnoxious than the bully, they are not classed as a victim.

That doesn’t mean the bullying isn’t happening.

It means the victim is attempting to solve the problem rather than be a victim. But unless you appear to be a victim, you don’t get the support you need.

Managers don’t support you: “It’s just a personality clash.”

Teachers don’t support you: “It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.”

What’s the answer?

There is a strategy that can help you leave bullying behind forever.

Empower your bystanders

Avoiding a bullying situation just isn’t possible in the long term. If you know you’re prone to being bullied, you need a self-defence strategy.

The best one I’ve discovered, through years of trial-and-error, was this:

Involve the people around you.

As soon as you get other people involved on your side (crucial point), the bully loses power.

The power balance shifts. Ice breaks. Someone laughs, or says something in support of you, and the bully has nowhere to turn. They certainly can’t continue (unless they’re really stupid), with all those eyes on them.

You can involve and empower your bystanders in a bunch of ways, and all of them are effective.

 1. Get a laugh from an onlooker

If you’re quick of wit and have honed your sarcasm better than mine, go for it. It’s better to say something cheeky, rather than rude.

I am not good at this. Too sweary. Remember escalation is not the aim? Using bad language pisses people off, and bullying can be done ever so politely. The chances of the rude victim being cast as the baddie are high.

 2. Involve bystanders directly

It’s scary for all parties, but if you put on a show, people will watch. They may as well become part of the act.

Even though you don’t really want to, even though they don’t want you to, the best way in is to ask them a question:

“What would you do if someone said that to you?’ or ‘Can you believe he just told me I look like a ‘ragger’. What do you think?’

Bear in mind, this terrifies bystanders. But they are your only peaceful way out.

3. Make a fuss

Ask the bully about what they have just said or done, and be loud and very polite.

Make lots of very polite noise. Make sure everyone who is nearby can’t help but hear what is going on. Even with their backs turned.

They might have their eyes squeezed tightly shut in the hope they won’t have to become involved, but they can’t close their ears.

See, if other people know what is going on, you can then call on their assistance. If they don’t realise something is happening, they might be slower to catch on, if at all.

If you keep it polite-but-aggrieved, that helps the people around you understand that you are not the bad guy.

A more extreme version of this technique can be applied to extreme situations, such as a physical attack in the street:

Shout at the perpetrator, asking them who they are, that you don’t know them, and to stop whatever it is they are doing.

I practiced this one on a wannabe mugger in Leeds about 10 years ago at about 10:30 at night on a quiet, dark, residential street … and it worked a treat!

The mugger ended up hissing “Shhhh shut uuup, someone’s gonna hear you!”

Making a noisy fuss about what’s happening is embarrassing, awful, and makes everyone want to run away. Including the bullies.

But what’s better, is it enables people who have moral standards – of which there are more than you think – and who believe that fairness is important, to take a stand on your behalf.

All these techniques enable, and empower bystanders.

Now, there’s something wrong with this advice. Let me explain.

What’s the real long-term answer to bullying?

There are a lot of memes around social media that are focused on the rape culture that is so prevalent in the United States and the UK.

Ones like this:

rape culture meme

The point is, innocent people minding their own business shouldn’t have to change their own behaviour and their own natural reactions when it isn’t their faults that bullies behave the way they do.

Just like men shouldn’t rape, people shouldn’t bully!

With all the bullies (and rapists!) in the world, you might think it’s impossible to beget a culture change profound enough to enable this, but now here’s the magic:

If every victim of bullying involved bystanders, the bully culture will eventually die out.

It may seem natural for some personalities to pick on apparently weaker ones. Survival of the fittest, so-to-speak.

But that’s precisely why bystander involvement will change the culture completely!

When more and more bullies realise that their behaviour is not supported by anyone, they will tone down their behaviour and change their ways.

See, people are like dogs. When they identify positive experiences around certain behaviours, they are more likely to continue those behaviours.

So if the bully is the one who gets the laugh or involves the onlookers, their behaviour will continue.

But if that doesn’t work as a strategy for them, they will stop doing it. Eventually.

Until then, I recommend continuing with this anti-bullying practice. Let’s hope that your children never have to Google the phrase ‘How to beat the bullies’.

Have you or your child been affected by bullying? What do you think about my theory? Comment below! Also please share. Someone, somewhere, needs this information.

EDIT: To be honest, reading this almost a year later, I’m struck with how trite the tone of the piece. One thing I didn’t make enough of is that every bullying situation is individual — much depends on the personality of the bullied person and the type of bullying taking place. For example, bullying can be insidious, where people say things about a person, or put them in the spotlight in a negative way. It isn’t always someone pushing you around or being outright nasty to you. Perhaps these variances mean there is no definitive answer to bullying, but I for one would like this to be one answer to someone’s problems.

Posted in Life, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

PRESS THIS: When equality feels like oppression

I’m not the only one talking about privilege, and trying to declutter it to make it easier to understand.

When You’re Accustomed To Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression

This is a great post, with a story that explains why people get so upset when a ‘minority’ group get some form of equality. Goes some way to explaining why there are all those people yelling ‘All lives matter’ (because they don’t realise that their lives matter by default) in a misguided reaction to #Blacklivesmatter.


Posted in Uncategorized

Privileged and white? What’s next?

What’s bugging me about white privilege?

I can choose to ignore and be disinterested in race issues if I want.

This bothers me. So many people (white people) will say ‘This is so boring’, or ‘I don’t care about race stuff,’ or ‘Everybody’s equal, it’s as simple as that’.

No-one else has that luxury because racism rears its ugly head multiple times every day for persons of colour. That’s the majority of people in the world.


Photo credit to: The All-Nite Images via Flickr on a Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0

Everybody isn’t equal. They should be, but they’re not.

They’re not, because all these disinterested, well-meaning, relatively rich white people sit around doing nothing, accessing white privilege, and denying it exists.

Instead of dealing with it, people step back or put up barriers. They say ‘there’s no such thing as white privilege’. ‘I’m into equal opportunities’. ‘I’m white and poor and everything’s shit for me, who cares about anyone else?’

What white privilege?!

Need proof that white privilege exists?

Read this essay by Peggy McIntosh: Unpacking the invisible knapsack, or if you don’t have time, just skip to the numbered list.

Draw parallels between her life and yours. Are any of her statements true for you? With every statement she makes, the opposite is frequently true for a person of colour.

White privilege is systemic – at the core of everything we do – and that’s why you don’t know about it already (if you don’t). It’s hidden behind ‘the right way to do things’, ‘the way it’s always been’, and ‘there are more white people than black in this country, so it’s not commercially viable’.

Are there other privileges to contend with?

Sure there are! There are the privileges of the rich, of men, of heterosexuals, of married people, and the able-bodied – and these are just a few examples. Just because I’m (relatively) white and relatively privileged, doesn’t mean I get to state all the labels and decide who’s privileged and who’s not. Anyone can think about it for themselves. Most replies will be truthful.

At the core of modern society is a group of rich white men. Around that group are others, who have relative privilege, but whom also identify with a marginalised group. So, for example, white women, black men, gay white men. Around the outside of all these groups are those who identify with mainly marginalised groups. Black women, gay black men, disabled gay single mothers …

The problem isn’t that there are all these groups in the world who ‘suddenly’ need their rights to be respected.

It’s that those who are advantaged must let go of some of their power to enable the rights of all others.

Can we create a no-privilege system?

If the way we did everything was different. If no privileges existed for men, rich people, white, able-bodied, heterosexual people (and the list goes on) … Would that work?

• If laws were used fairly and those delivering them didn’t discriminate;
• if companies employed people on the basis of ability and skills and desire to do the job only;
• if access to education and health care was free at the point of delivery;
• if fashion and beauty from all cultures were given value across all platforms;
• if high streets and town centres were filled with independent shops and facilities, instead of a hegemonic, faceless, commercialised version of white culture.

If politicians didn’t simplistically equate worth with an expensive suit, maybe the world would be a better place for everyone.


You don’t know what life will be like without your privileges?

Unless you belong to the relatively small group of rich white men, you’ll definitely feel some benefit from changing the world in this way. Even if you’re a white person who lives in a mainly white area.

Besides, there’s another point: this isn’t about your benefits. It’s about enabling others’. It won’t hurt to to give them up – or to hold on to them, and that’s why it’s so difficult to get white people to consider letting go.

Truly altruistic acts come from the heart, because they have no benefit to the giver. It isn’t possible to get someone to be altruistic – when you’re persuading someone to buy, they need to see what’s in it for them.

But altruism has its own benefits:

Think about driving, and the indicator/signal light. That light is used a lot less than it should be, because it’s seen as helping others. Those people who don’t use their indicators properly don’t realise that it helps them as well, not just other road users.

Indicators on a motorway mean someone wants to move into a different lane. Other road users can then choose to back off, speed up, or change lanes … or they might stay where they are. If you don’t indicate, they’ll stay where they are, maybe forcing you to make a dangerous lane change. And we all know where that kind of road behaviour can lead.

Your signals (or not) affect other people’s abilities to make choices. It looks like altruism, but has real significance for everyone including you.


How can white privilege be challenged?

I am not a social commentator, a social scientist of any kind, or even an internet feminist. I’m just someone who thinks occasionally. Usually after the fact.

I’ve battled with this article for three nights now as some of the shell of my understanding has broken. The hardest part is how to hand back privileged power;  how to return the advantages.

I have no clear idea.

The only thing I know is that change can’t be constructed within the system. Change isn’t about infiltrating the dominant group and trying to make things better for our own identified groups; it’s about doing everything differently. The only place to start is within you.

Peggy McIntosh wrote:

To redesign social systems, we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects.

We have to learn to think about privilege with our eyes wide open, and lose the defensiveness. Part of that learning has to be talked through, otherwise how will word get out?

Explaining something always helps you learn it better, but talking about racism is hard. That’s why it’s the elephant in the room. If you can’t see white privilege, you’ll only see racism on a very one-dimensional plane.

What changes can you make?

Change starts at the bottom, inside individuals. That gives you the power to change the way the world works, any way that is authentic to you. You can do positive small things, and in doing so you’ll make bigger changes in your own immediate awareness.

No-one can tell you what you ‘should’ do. It’s up to you how you approach your life.

For my own part, I’ve started small. I’m a writer, interested in language, marketing, and creative contributions, so that’s where I’ve begun my journey into consciousness.

I try to notice when language used in ads, news articles and other internet content (all meant for wide audiences) panders to the privileged, or somehow ignores the existence of people of colour, and even if it speaks to me in some way (because I am pretty privileged) I pledge to boycott the product/brand or otherwise dissociate myself from it.

I’m more critical about popular culture now. Like the movie 47 Ronin where Keanu Reeves is shoehorned into an otherwise authentic Japanese historical tale, as a Japanese-English samurai. It’s a well-known producer trick to use a star to improve the film’s popularity, but it’s a cutthroat practice that undermines the authenticity of the story.

These are only tiny changes but by practicing being aware how privilege systems work, the brain should learn to think like that more readily.

That surely has to be the start of something useful.

Posted in Opinion | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The racism of well-meaning white people

the elephant in the room

Racism is the biggest pile of shit, right? It’s one of the hottest issues out there in the media, and it’s going as strong as it ever has, as far as I can tell. The Liberal press might be all over it, giving it wall-to-wall Ferguson treatment, but white trash commenters are spread right across the Internet, doing their twisted best for hatred.

As a white person I get to define the terms (as usual), so I generally tell the world I am not a racist. Not by my definition. Most racists probably aren’t. White privilege is not for nothing.

But yesterday I well and truly put my foot in it. In true Sakina style, I opened my mouth and my brains fell out. But (as usual) there’s more to it than just an innocent accidental sentence.

What happened?

My publisher finally asked me if I would like an audiobook recording of my novel, and, delighted, I caught up with an actor I worked with 15 years ago, because his voice has a huge range of character. We chatted about the book, and then I dropped my clanger.

“My book’s what you might call ‘whiter-than-white’, so I’m not sure your voice is the most appropriate for my novel (but I really want it to sound great and your voice has got so much depth and quality to it …” – this last bit largely imagined because I was too busy panicking about what I’d just said to notice what was said afterwards).

I noticed that he was annoyed by it, and scampered to cover my tracks, but it got me seriously thinking about what the hell went through my head. It isn’t the first time I’ve apologised to someone for my book having an entirely white cast, and that’s bad enough, but then suggesting that because he is black, his voice might not be the most appropriate ….!

You can tell I’m cringing, right? Well, sure I am, but I’m not self-flagellating in public for nothing. I learned a couple of lessons out of my stupidity, and it turns out they needed saying because the Internet doesn’t already say them enough.

Why say it?

What did I say? Basically I said ‘listeners will be able to tell you’re black and that might not resonate with the characters’. That’s what’s known as a fallacy. I’ve studied linguistics. I know different voice sounds come from language, not race. So what compelled me to say what I did?

I remember thinking it was true as a young kid. Have I retained that non-fact from then, or has it been reiterated in the media?

How or why is not the point, though; I have to take ownership of the facts that first, I had that belief in my head, and second, I’ve never addressed it till now.

So, there are two issues here:

1. Why say my book is ‘whiter-than-white’?

It’s an apology for being white. Apologising for having a white outlook. As if I think no person of colour would ever consider reading it, for that reason. (Why?!) I’m embarrassed by that, but why? Why should my book have included characters of different ethnicities?

At some level I believe writers have a responsibility to reflect the times, to represent more than just the privileged few, say more than the mainstream view, and do more than hide behind the excuse of ‘that’s what it’s like where I live’. My book should have done that, and it didn’t. That doesn’t mean it has no value, but I feel as if it has less than it could have done.

Why didn’t it? Just because some of my best friends are black; just because I’ve been to Carnival a few times, doesn’t mean I understand black culture. I can add nothing that black literature can’t do better, and if I’m not going to be authentic, writing characters of colour with details that are informed by their culture, I’m not going to attempt it. What I write can only be a representation of what I experience. Anything else is arrogance dressed up in imagination.

So not major characters, what about minor ones? True enough, surely I could have come up with someone? Few people of colour live in my town, and I used only my town as a template. I look around and regularly see only one – sometimes two – people of colour here. Or none. This is the great white rural north. I wrote as I saw. The culture I know. Why not? Apart from showing a dearth of imagination, I commit no crime.

2. Why believe the fallacy?

Why state something so stupid to back up a pointless apology for being white? I’m not going to repeat it again here. Waaaay too ashamed.

Honestly, I have no words. Fuck knows. Clearly I saw no problem with any perceived ‘differences’ in voice. This guy is the only one I’ve wanted for my book since I heard my publisher was doing audiobooks. But I’m embarrassed and angry enough at myself to want to share what I learned from it.

The lesson

Consider everything you say and think. Review your views on a regular basis and ask yourself why you think what you do. Hidden prejudices can remain within you, deep inside, no matter how clever, egalitarian, liberal, and culturally competent you believe yourself to be. If you don’t even acknowledge them, you can’t address them.

If you don’t address your own prejudiced views, they might become ingrained. Maybe they’re isolated – just one or two that simply don’t fit with the rest of you. But how do you know if you don’t think critically about them? People don’t start out ignorant; they become it, harbouring and feeding ‘views’ that are unpalatable at best, and which act to perpetuate the already strong position of the white majority.

White privilege is real, no matter how much you wish it wasn’t, and without breaking out of the system and changing it completely, one little white girl saying sorry isn’t going to change that.  Don’t forget, racism is the elephant in the room, because it’s huge and it’s obvious and no one talks about it at the time. But I can’t be the only idiot out there, and everyone’s views matter to someone, so it matters that we consider them more carefully.

Question your motivations, and explore the answers. Are they a fit with your world view? Would you find them acceptable if someone else told you them? If not, ditch them as falsehoods and find new ones. Don’t perpetuate them without thinking. There’s enough persistent crap already.

So this is the essence of the lesson: consider what you believe and what you’re going to say before you say it, because perpetuating bullshit myths, prejudice and privilege, through ignorance, is not acceptable. I learn these lessons so you don’t have to. And you needn’t sit there smugly, calling me a bigot and considering yourself to be more enlightened than me. None of us can escape the bigotry of our world; we can only apply critical thinking to it. Some are better at that on-the-fly than others.

I apologise.

Picture credit to: John Duffy via Flickr on a Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0

Posted in Life, Opinion | Tagged , ,