Saturday 31 May 2014

Anna Lo stays in job and fights rising racism in Northern Ireland

A positive story among the horrors of the European turn to the right. The UK's only parliamentary politician of Chinese origin — the Alliance Party's Anna Lo – has defied racists in Northern Ireland and will stay on in her job. Lord knows we need people like her.

It was bad enough that a Christian pastor in Belfast, James O'Connell, condemned the entire Muslim people of the world as following a "satanic" religion that was "spawned in hell".

Northern Ireland's First Minister, Peter Robinson, then inflamed the situation by agreeing with the rabble-rousing pastor by saying he would only trust Muslims to "go down to the shops". One wonders if he'd trust the loyalist mob who did go down the shops and chased Anna Lo out of Connswater shopping centre. Then there's Dineen Walker, Newtownabbey deputy mayor and Democratic Unionist Party member, calling Anna a racist. Which "satanic" dimension are these people inhabiting?

Imagine being a Muslim today in Northern Ireland. It must feel as if the First Minister has just painted a big target on you.

Name one religion or belief system that isn't a nightmare when it descends into fundamentalism.

The world is at war in various hotspots, we no longer love our neighbour ... it is the unholiest of messes and demagogues will always try and whip up hysteria against an entire group defined as "other". All other social and economic factors from which they themselves benefit are buried in a slurry of hatred: no challenge to the unneccessary austerity or the recession brought about by bankers' excesses which continue today. No serious measures to retrieve the billions in tax lost to evasion and secreted off-shore that should have been spent on health, housing, job creation.

Ed Miliband could do with learning from Anna Lo instead of capitulating to the Ukip agenda following their win in the European elections.

Anna Lo's defence of minorities dates back to even before she became the first ethnic politician to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2007. Not just the Chinese, who were subjected to a mail-out from the loyalist marchers who rerouted their parade past her home in the year of her election, but Poles, Romanians, Roma and anyone in need of an honest politician.

Speaking on Channel 4 News, Anna called out the racism of personal insults she's been subjected to. She criticised the "outrageous" anti-Muslim comments of Pastor O'Connell followed by Peter Robinson's "ludicrous and negative comments about a whole race, about a whole religion" in a climate of rising racism. In answer to whether the First Minister had made it worse, she said: "That was my concern and my anger, seeing the rise in racism in Northern Ireland in the last six months, and for him to come up with such comments supporting … such negative sweeping comments about the Muslim community." She thought he should make a public apology and retraction in response to public anger or else resign.

Widespread support and a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #istandwithanna has persuaded her to stay and continue her work.

Robinson may well have breached the rules of Stormont's Code of Conduct. Even Ian Paisley's son, Kyle, has called him "a condescending ignoramus", (although this was somewhat marred by his description of the DUP politicians' cowardice as "yellow". Still, it's the thought — or lack of — that counts). Decent politicians should give this brave principled woman maximum support — she is a model for us all.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Caleb Selah and Lenny Henry: TFYS radio show on Soundcloud

From Caleb Selah: "Recently this man accidentally became the TFYS's neighbour. Lenny may have done a few dodgy things on the tellybox but everyman has to earn a crust. I like the Brummie a lot, he has put many smiles on my face, given work to friends. It has been suggested by a politician that he should return to a black country. He's from the Black Country. UKIP must not be underestimated, first Lenny, then Craig Charles and then Lemmy from Motorhead will all be attacked by these stupid, cowardly wastes of blood and piping. Fuck You UKIP and Lenny, live long and prosper…"

Read more and listen to Caleb Selah's The Fuck You Sound show.

Friday 23 May 2014

Trigger warnings required on white churnalists protecting po' coloured folk

Dear lord …! A working-class BAME woman of colour, I am evidently a child in need of white commentators protecting me with "trigger warnings" on book covers in case my delicate sensibilities are offended by sexist, homophobic, racist content.

"Look, here I am, the good fairy, here to protect you while, incidentally, shutting you up." See how this works? I don't need "protection" from the arts: I need it from purported leftists who use us as career fodder.

Perhaps the New Statesman's own Tipper Gore should revive the Parents Music Resource Center (making me Frank Zappa versus the Mothers of Prevention) which campaigned to slap warning stickers on music that scared them.

Are we to cut a swathe through the culture and label film, music and print with "read with caution" stickers … or "may contain nuts"? Do I lack the resilience and analytical powers to read Sax Rohmer's yellow peril archetype Fu Manchu, or the critical faculties to watch DW Griffiths' Birth of A Nation without fainting in the aisle?

"Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?" Are we now "no-platforming" Mark Twain?

Am I allowed to make up my own mind or should the cultural commissars do it for me?

Who are the literature police who will decide what warnings go where? Oh, let me guess.

As the world grows nastier, the more some culture pundits attempt to infantilise us, to Disneyfy the culture that reflects our world. We must all be treated like trauma victims in a therapy group. However, art allows exploration not only beyond our own experience but of the experience of others: the world beyond our own personal space. It's an effective and empowering way of equipping us to deal with the real horrors to come.

This is the value of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Charles Shaar Murray says, "My parents stopped monitoring my reading by the time I was 14. After that, they assumed that I was sufficiently mature to deal with anything I was likely to find on the page — or, for that matter, on the screen. Hell, my late sainted mother even walked me into Polanski's Cul De Sac before I was legally of age for X films."

It's a rule of politics to think long and hard before taking on powers which you would not wish to see being used by your opponents. Here's a nice litttle dystopia for you. Imagine UKIP in government … or, more credibly, in charge of your local council library and plastering their stickers over everything.

Trigger warnings on literature will ultimately be like Asbos, a badge of honour for writers with integrity. It's a stupid idea only the worst half-wit click-bait controversialists would promote. Philistine commentators willing to wreck the culture for a few career points should be let nowhere near it.

In the words of Phil Polley, "Suggest a sticker applied to forehead of all newborns 'Warning: Life - May Not include Trigger Warnings'"

Laurie Penny responds

Monday 19 May 2014

Anna Chen's live dates coming up in London

Political poetry in London — Anna Chen at Campaign Against Climate Change

Looking forward to performing poetry at the Campaign Against Climate Change cabaret 6-11pm, Sat 31 May at the old Amnesty HQ, 25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA. £10 & £7

Wednesday 21st May 4pm, another China Diaspora in Britain talk for USC students in Bloomsbury.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Sisters: poem from the Fabulous Ninja Gurl about feminism and politics as sleight of hand

Put the blame on BAME, why don'tcha?

Yelling that you stand up against social injustice does not mean that you do. One of the things that has shocked me the most about my time in the left is how various characters can say and write one thing, and then do the exact opposite, like words don't have meaning.

It's a flimsy Potemkin village of left postures, a sleight-of-hand art mastered by a largely white Oxbridge elite who tell others to check their privilege while failing to do so themeselves; who loudly defend victims while slyly substituting themselves for such and booting out the incumbents; who insist they tell the truth while twisting the narrative out of shape.

Whiny and self-serving, brooking no challenge or debate, it is the art of perpetuating oppression while posing as liberator and utterly gobsmacking in its cheek.

I always thought the role of the revolutionary was to make visible the invisible. That goes for hidden power relations as well as flesh and blood human beings.

Face value and lip service are tools of the trade when you take the public for a ride. Perhaps the inability to discern between actions and words does indeed make you a sucker.

Cue drumroll: on a silver salver, may I present to you a blue pill and a red pill … Your choice.

Sisters (first draft)
by Anna Chen

The siren sisters call,
"Help her. Help her."
Help who?
"Help the woman of colour.
We'll tweet and link
if not our arms then our charms:
I am the good fairy, look at me."

But I am a woman of colour.
"We are all women of colour now."

No, I AM a woman of colour.
"Not sure your type qualifies.
That's almost white but not quite.
Help her. Help the woman of colour
except for the ... what is it you are again?"

But I AM a woman of colour.
"Then help yourself."

I would like to thank all the white sisters
who say they could not give a shit
or who say they do, without whom ...

I am the fabulous Ninja Gurl who dances among you
blowing kisses and raspberries,
turning cartwheels and juggling flames.
"Is there a draught in here? Shut that door,"
say the dames atremble
that some ghostly elephant has thundered into the parlour
and pissed on their parade.
You are chilly and chilled in your icicle tower
and can freeze me out at a hundred paces.
Your thousand-yard stare is as close as you can bear
my ashy traces in the sand.

I am not insubstantial, a helpless damsel in distress
who you can pet like a mouse,
neither am I an industry powerhouse, of use.
In your dark lens I am let loose, the barbarian at the gate
who you secretly rate,
but who you fear would play buzkashi,
pounding your carcass into dirt under my horse-hooves.
I, subspecies, stinking of animal skins,
ripping carcasses with graveyard teeth, blood on my breath,
who's fought in battle for our cause,
dived off sheer cliffs and hobbled
on smashed spine back to health.
No wonder you won't let me in.
I am the wind under your roof,
the fierce blast shaking your ballast,
that rattles your windows.
And how are you enjoying the view?

Every Cinderella should have such sisters.

In the shadows, in the cracks beneath the crags,
While you file your copy, I file my teeth to jags.

Case study of experience in the British left.

Chinese Britons could swing the general election vote in some constituencies

Sonny Leong and Ed Miliband

As the British local and European elections heave into view, watched closely for how likely the 2015 general election is to yield victory for feudal baron David Cameron or milquetoast Ed Miliband, here's my South China Morning Post column from last year in which the Chair of Chinese for Labour Sonny Leong explains why non-white voters may hold the balance of power in some constituencies.

Does this mean the end of racial discrimination against BAME Brits ? Or could it also partly explain why the white male establishment is hell-bent on protecting its last gobby bastion of crude race dominance, Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear team at the BBC?

City scope: Ready to be counted
Anna Chen in London
13 October 2013

With the numbers of ethnic-minority voters exceeding the electoral majorities of sitting members of parliament in 168 constituencies, it is being suggested that minorities hold the key to the outcome of Britain's next general election, in 2015. Britain's ethnic-Chinese population, meanwhile, has reached almost half a million, and Chinese voters exceed in number the MP's majority in 36 seats. Political parties may well decide it is time to attend more to their interests.

In an era of no outright winners and coalition fudges, those 36 seats might mean the difference between power and limping along in opposition for five long years. Sitting MPs, fearful for their survival, now have to target communities within communities. There could be some interesting horse-trading with Chinese constituents.

Sonny Leong, chair of the Labour Party's Chinese for Labour, says, "The Chinese have reached a certain size where they can be power brokers. The ethnic minority is an important group that no political party can ignore."

Leong alludes to a certain complacency that has existed until now. Labour was long able to take ethnic votes for granted, but politics have become less tribal and voters no longer adhere blindly to family tradition when choosing which party to put their cross next to. Just because Grandpa voted for a party all of his life doesn't mean his independent-minded grandchildren will back the same one.

More than ever, issues and policies determine who gets votes and, for Chinese, educational opportunities and immigration issues tend to be priorities. Every Chinese here is likely to know of someone affected by immigration clampdowns. For Labour that could be good news, electorally; for the parties who form the current coalition government - the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - recent accusatory, anti-immigration ad campaigns do not bode well for gaining Chinese votes, especially as the MPs of both are still overwhelmingly white.

Unlike in other Western democracies, in Britain Chinese have practically no parliamentary representation, other than one member of the House of Lords, the baby-faced Baron Wei of Shoreditch, of whom few had heard before Prime Minister David Cameron made him policy "tsar" for his Big Society initiative in 2010.

Just as little has been heard of him since he resigned his tsar-ship in May 2011 (because nobody had told him it didn't come with a pay packet).

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Calling all writers: catch the Early Bird price on Charles Shaar Murray's Hothouse writing course, London 29 May

Only a few more days of the Early Bird price on Charles Shaar Murray's essential Hothouse writing course in leafy West Hampstead.

Learn from the mahstah!

Legendary writer Charles Shaar Murray teaches his essential "Journalism as Craft and Art" writing masterclasses in north London.  He shares rigorous, hard-headed journalistic craft to bring literary quality into even the most mundane journalistic tasks, and offer an inspiring alternative to the flatlining culture, showing you how to inject style and make your writing stand out.

We'll skill you up, sharpen your claws, broaden your bandwith and widescreen your horizons.

"CSM is the Yoda of music writing" Julie Burchill
“The Johnny Cash of rock journalism” Phil Campbell – Motorhead
"The rock critics' rock critic" Q Magazine

Thursdays 7-9pm from 29th May for eight weeks at Emmanuel Church, Lyncroft Gardens, West Hampstead, London NW6. Check out the testimonials.

Monday 5 May 2014

Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang opens tonight National Theatre Shed for 3 weeks

Gemma Chan and David Yip in Yellow Face, opening at the National Theatre Shed tonight.

Here's wishing that the cast of Yellow Face, by Tony-Award winner David Henry Hwang, break a leg in style when they open tonight at the National Theatre Shed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play when it launched London's Park Theatre opening last year, reviewing it for the Morning Star. I also interviewed Hwang and found him to be charming, witty and self-effacing. He was still as politically aware as when he became the reluctant "poster-boy" for the Asian American community's angry campaign over Jonathan Pryce's reprisal of his role as the Eurasian Engineer when Cameron Macintosh's production of Miss Saigon transferred to Broadway.

This play, Yellow Face, was written as a response to the draining experience of that campaign, about issues of race and equality. The argument about sticking white actors in yellow face make-up to play east Asian roles resurfaced in Britain at the end of 2012 over the Royal Shakespeare Company's casting of only three minor roles out of 17 with Asian actors when they staged the The Orphan of Zhao, a Chinese classic play from antiquity. It was no surprise when Hwang and a host of East Asian American actors weighed in on our side, excoriating the RSC for their "contradictory and fallacious" self-justification.

Not one main role was played by an East Asian actor.

Various British theatre critics, including Mark Shenton, defended the RSC with some shockingly antiquated arguments. Shenton attacked both myself and Hwang in The Stage for daring to object to colour-blind casting that only goes one way. (Do check out the comments.)

One strawman argument was that the effniks were demanding that every character be played by an East Asian. Some of us were, but most of us were not, especially as The Orphan of Zhao was part of an RSC trilogy.

Shenton's position was that east Asian actors could not play roles in the other two plays produced in the same season and played by the same ensemble cast: Pushkin's Boris Godunov ('cause no Russian ever looked Asiatic, right?) and Life of Galileo by that master of defamiliarisation and arch-questioner of "reality", Bertold Brecht.

So it is with curiosity and optimism that we note Shenton's participation in the NT's Pre-show Platform on Wednesday 7 May, when he joins writer David Henry Hwang to discuss Yellow Face. One hopes that Shenton's presence on the same platform as the author of a play specifically dealing with the issues of racial exclusion from the culture means that some of what we've been saying has sunk in. I'm a great believer in the ability of human beings to learn from past mistakes and acquired wisdom.

So let us, like Bill Clinton, come from a place called Hope.

Yellow Face is on at the National Theatre Shed until 24th May.

Review: Mark Shenton

Review: Michael Coveney

Sunday 4 May 2014

Surfing the current wave of horrors: still trapped in that comatose science fiction writer's fever-dream

It's been a nightmare couple of months. Events that seem to confirm we are in fact trapped inside the dystopian fever-dream of a comatose science fiction writer are coming at us in an intensifying wave of horror.

I'm marking this current wave from the disappearance of Malaysian Flight MH370 on 8th March with 239 passengers and crew on board. Theories such as a rogue pilot, a terrorist hijack, a remote controlled hijack, a Diego Garcia landing like something out of the TV series Lost, and a mysterious cargo abound. We don't even know into which ocean it crashed … if in fact it did. The grief of the families who have no hope of closure for the foreseeable future is heartbreaking.

From natural causes to malice to rank stupidity, the disappearance or death of large groups of innocents in such a short space of time — not including the war zone of Syria where the daily death toll continues to mount numbingly — is removing all complacency we used to have in our western bubble of stability. There's a demonic force abroad in the world and it's getting closer, confirmation if any were needed that we are all in this together. None of us is an island, we are all part of the continent and it really is that every man, woman and child's death diminishes us.

Perhaps the most angering aspect of the capsized South Korean ferry is the order for the kids to stay in their cabins while the captain and some of the crew made good their escape. This is only relieved by the tales of the heroism of those crew members who did stay, and a diver who lost his life in the search.

Within weeks, Mother Nature dropped two mountains onto two towns thousands of miles away on two different continents. One waterlogged mountain killed 29 with at least 20 people still missing in a mudslide in Oso, Washington State on 22nd March. A few days ago in Afghanistan, another completely engulfed the town of Abi-Barak, with thousands buried and no more survivors expected.

For sheer malice, nothing matches Boko Haram's kidnapping of 230 young girls from their school in Chibok, Nigeria on 25th April. Having flouted the group's fundamentalist worldview by receiving a western education, regarded as evil, they now face being sold as "wives" or simply being killed.

It's tornado season in the US. The British climate now features regular flooding. The Chinese economy is looking alarmingly bubbly … and World War 3 might erupt in the Ukraine.

Meanwhile, no nuclear bomb has been dropped … yet. Nevertheless, here we are standing in the rubble of the Enlightenment with the buildings intact and our common humanity in tatters. Charlatans, hypocrites, phoneys, fuckwits and thieves run everything and fight for top-dog status. Meanwhile, it's all going up in smoke, down the swanee and through the looking-glass.

I'm half-expecting to hear of an asteroid strike wiping out a city. Or the Canary Island overhang finally dropping into the Atlantic, sending a tidal wave which will destroy the eastern seaboard of the US and West Hampstead. Either that or the ruling class will finally return us all to the feudalism they apparently miss so keenly.

So today I'm getting out the comfy chair, sitting in the garden and dreaming about what life was like before late capitalism grew totally decrepit. All that promise and no knickers, now running on empty and barely held up by a rusty zimmerframe while we scramble for survival.