Imperfect Allegiance / One Army

It seemed inevitable that when the world changed in 2007 the world would change.

Working as an artist soon after that time, I made a piece in response to what appeared to be the implosion of capitalism and the welcome prospect of change in the structures of global power. The piece was called Refugee: End of Empire. It consisted of mass-produced Regency figurines in their gilded pomp, their faux bucolic innocence and pure whiteness in a refugee camp. I imagined them as both ends of the British and European Empire/capitalist order: the colonisers themselves, and cheaply churned out, whimsical representations of those colonisers populating windowsills and mantlepieces all over the home land, not a bullwhip or manacle in sight. With the financial crash I imagined their time was over and they were going to find themselves homeless, ejected, powerless.


But of course, a powerful system has many resources and the death-grips of that system are frightening and harsh.

Yesterday I listened to the last in the Undisclosed series of podcasts on the Freddie Gray killing. It is such a heartbreaking story. It is not a story, it is a reality. It is a heartbreaking reality. A boy was killed by the police. An appalling death, in a long list of such dreadful killings of black men and women, for which no one has been held to account. The podcast has an addendum hosted by D. Watkins in which the wider issues, the circumstances that made this boy’s death possible are pulled apart and investigated. There is invaluable historical insight from Dr Marcia Chatelain, demonstrating that the circumstances of America’s birth and rise to world power cannot be disentangled from its benefitting from slavery and that this context shapes all the arcs in Freddie Gray’s short and terrible story. D. Watkins, with eloquent anger, hones the contemporary context; the perfidious inability of so many white people to accept the current reality and take responsibility, beyond an occasional bit of privilege-checking, for the vastly, disgustingly unfair system that we live in. It isn’t enough to say you are not racist, if you are daily profiting from a system that is.

These are hard words to hear. Hard but fair. I know they are fair because I know I am the inheritor, however inclusive and broad minded and unbiased I may try to be, of empire. I may reject the regency figurine view of my past, may feel ashamed of the colonial history of the country in which I was born. But that is not enough. I know it when as a young traveller, hanging out in Amsterdam for a year, a feckless blow-in, I was considered less of a foreigner where I worked than the Turkish women who had lived there for years, whose children were born there and attended schools in the city. I know it when I read that my application for anything will be treated more favourably because I don’t have a foreign name. I know it when I think with sorrow, then relief, that also in England, my daughters will have to work harder than their black friends to get arrested and criminalised. I know it when I read about Freddie Gray.

A few days ago there was a programme on Radio Four called A Split in the Sisterhood. It was interesting and frustrating. It is easy to bemoan the constant levels of inter-factional warring that goes on within the feminist movement. I am an instinctive feminist. Not an academic or particularly learned one. I have read lots of the books and missed many others. So, often the differences are lost on me. There is one enemy, so why can’t there be one army? That has been the question that rises from my frustration. And yet, in the light of understanding gleaned from people like D. Watkins and in talks such as The Art of Trespass by Kit De Waal, and many others, I must understand that of course, there needs to be a reassessment of internal structures, that if women of colour feel that they have been sidelined, steamrollered by the white hegemony of the feminist movement, that is untenable; it is a huge failure. But many white women will reject this claim. As I said, it is uncomfortable.

And it is, practically, difficult to negotiate. We may find ourselves uncertain of how to operate alongside people who may expect allies to speak out on their behalf because ones own relative freedoms should be used to amplify the plight of those subject to greater restrictions. Others may want us to stop presuming our right to speak for all women in a way that, often historically, has meant only white, usually middle-class women. It is not easy.

But that is ok. Suck it up and learn.

One army is better, against such an entrenched and ruthless enemy as the status quo. One army. So I wonder if we could engage, with differences and faults accepted but subject to further honing, in an imperfect allegiance. Our paths through life may only give us limited ability to understand the complexities of other lives. But our hearts should be big enough, wide enough, to make an imperfect allegiance and learn from each other on the way. We may not get it right, but we can all respectfully act on the assumption that if we accept a view we haven’t experienced, stay open, it will be got right. We can accept the imperfections, make the allegiance and be open enough that in walking side by side, we will learn. Then maybe, we will make a world that has changed.

Suite Brexite


Unnatural lines stretch a manmade smile
awkward geometry
in a face that hangs like a crumpled sheet of beef

A smile engineered
to deflect and damn
the hate
that pools

rheumy spoil collecting in the folds




he thought
he thought
he thought
he thoughntleroy

I thought……

A whiff of talc
and knickerbocker nursey
an oink oink
soothes once more
untroubled brows


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Which Way is Up?


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I am currently reading the book my husband got me last Valentines day. It is our tradition, to mark the day with a gift to each other of a book. Mine from him was The Rebel by Albert Camus.

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Camus tells us that revolt is inevitable, an inherent part of the human state. And that a second inevitability is that the rebel become in turn the despot. Many examples in history demonstrate the truth of this. Camus refers most often to the French Revolution where perhaps the tendency of rebel to evolve into despot was most vividly, theatrically expressed. I imagine it thus; though the circle, implied in the root of the word revolution may be endless in its durational aspect, actually is an oval, created of two parts, above and below, oppressor and oppressed. It is an oval, like the link in a chain, that flips now and then to give the other side temporary dominion.

In so many political struggles the cry of the collective “Give us power!” is remarkably quickly trumped by the whisper, then the shout “Give me power!” Only a passing knowledge of the human psyche is needed to understand this. The power hungry need a base. They need an engine; the passion and the anger of the oppressed is that engine. Leadership in any field is likely to draw those whose souls are fed by the supplication or the love of others. It is part of our collective flaw.

On a day when Theresa May signs and sends the trigger for Article 50 and reflecting on The Rebel, it struck me that part of the reason that rebellion leads so inevitably to tyranny is that in times when life is shaken up, peace becomes more difficult to achieve as people are woken to their dissatisfactions more generally and thus tyranny is grasped for as a solution. It would be absurd to link our leaving of the EU to revolutions of history that have caused mayhem, death and destruction.  But a shimmer is visible. Whilst it is easy to believe the claim of our inherently revolutionary nature, I would add that most humans are reactionary. There are those on top, there are those underneath and there are the majority in between, the long sides of the chain loop, the oval, reacting. Threatened, they too can become active. But being active is not the same as being revolutionary.

I have wondered recently if the border-patrolling nationalism spearheaded by Trump’s narcissistic panderings and May’s opportunistic, hard-Brexit jingoism has come about as a fear reaction to Isis/Daesh. Not because we are able to blame them for it but because fear is the quickest trigger to reactionary action as opposed to revolutionary action. It is easy, even if it is statistically illogical, to feel threatened by a force that specifically desires your harm. Once aggravated, a few decades of grumbling peace becomes more difficult to achieve.

For years, there have been people fed up with the EU. There has been near constant complaint and dissatisfaction from many, including from remainers such as myself who would not have dreamed of voting to leave. Life went on. Not perhaps in tyranny but for many there was a depth of dissatisfaction and a sense of grievance that quietly hummed away. It is hard to imagine, now the shouting headlines of The Daily Mail and the embarrassing jingoistic stunts of The Sun have proclaimed the expanded bounty of freedom that any such quiet rumbling along will be possible in the near future. As well, the masked Anti-Fas will continue to protest, Black Lives will be protested and protected with no decrease in rage, logically, as no decrease in the very real peril is evidenced, no recompense for astounding historic harms is offered. And the long sides of the chain will continue to react, pushing more and more into one or other camp. Oppressor or oppressed. There is no handshake at the end of the game to tell the losing side they should revert to their quiet, possibly grumbling holding role. The victor will, as victors always do, bear down.

So, which way is up?

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