IFLS talks on [video]tape: Margaret Thornton on The Mirage of Merit + Commentary by Lorraine Code

mmOn September 24 2013 the IFLS and the Centre for Feminist Research at York hosted Professor Margaret Thornton of the Australian National University, with commentary by Professor Emerita Lorraine Code of York.

The new digital age is all about you, of course, when where and how you want it – so this time we’re happy to offer you the video (streamed):

Prefer text over video?

You can read Professor Thornton here at Taylor and Francis online (probably not open access) – the cite is The Mirage of Merit: Reconstituting the Ideal Academic 2013 Australian Feminist Studies Volume 28, Issue 76, and you can read Professor Code (who graciously agreed to supply us with her written remarks) below.

delivered September 24, 2013, posted October 28, 2013

A Response to Margaret Thornton’s “The Mirage of Merit” by Lorraine Code


It is challenging to comment on Margaret Thornton’s paper for the perhaps unusual reason that I agree with almost everything she says. So the standard (if outworn?) philosopher’s strategy of parry and thrust with the aim of demolishing an opponent’s argument cannot be my approach. Given the dire picture Margaret paints, I only wish it could! Nor am I well versed in legal theory, so even though I claim to agree with her, I really do not know whereof I speak: a strange position for a self-professed epistemologist to occupy. And yet there are sufficient points of overlap with academic institutional issues in law and philosophy, and other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, for striking affinities to be apparent, even though there are no very obvious ways to counter Margaret’s counsel of despair with a counsel of hope! But there is a certain heuristic strength in naming the issues now, just fifty years after Betty Friedan began

cutline quote " least "we" all knew what "excellence" meant

 to change the world by naming the problem that hitherto had no name. And indeed, Margaret Thornton has produced a wonderfully astute analysis of the current state of gendered divisions in the legal world as she finds it, focusing on what she so aptly refers to as “the mirage of merit”. In what follows I will engage briefly with her analysis from the point of view of the beleaguered situation of the humanities and social sciences more generally in the English-speaking world in Canada, with the hope at least that there is strength to be gained from recognitions of mutuality/solidarity, and perhaps also inspiration about where to go from here.

 The aptness of Margaret’s reference to the “mirage” recalls certain debates about hiring policy more than a decade ago, here at York University, where affirmative action with respect to gender and other so-called “minority” identities was an active issue, and “excellence” was one of the principal attributes specified for a potential hire: an attribute believed, it would seem, to encompass all the rest. Members of one department remarked, as though in passing, that at least “we” all knew what “excellence” meant, intending then simply to move on to evaluating candidates, slotting them in to that category, or not. But it was not so simple, for this it seemed was the very issue: we did not and I think still do not know what “excellence” means except perhaps as a character summary of just that person who is the hero, or the villain, in Margaret’s presentation: “benchmark man”. Oh, things are better than these comments suggest, at least in many departments at York and elsewhere, where care is usually taken to be clear about faculty expectations, and fair in assessing potential applicants. But in the wide world of philosophy, which is the world I know best, and in academic hiring in North America more generally, it is hard to judge how much of a real, deeply effective conceptual shift has taken place, away from outworn  categories of “excellence” as tacitly embodied as much in white heterosexual maleness as in certain areas of credentialed  inquiry, and toward opening out into newer, more creative ways of deliberating and judging, especially in view of an increasing (if too often suppressed) awareness of changing demographics and concomitantly, of changing conceptions of the worthiness, as much as it pertains to certain subject matters as to certain human “kinds”: to subjectivities, people. Here, especially, a far-reaching conceptual shift seems to be required.

Yet I think the “atavistic fear” Margaret aptly refers to is partly a deep fear about prospects of having to navigate a range of unfamiliar ideas, outrageous questions, issues and new “styles of reasoning” that disrupt and unsettle the “absolute presuppositions” that have long governed academic life: presuppositions about the “ideal academic” that, she rightly notes, are now threatening to reaffirm their hegemony. This thought pertains as much to deep-seated assumptions about what kind of person a worthy academic must be as to what projects of inquiry, what thoughts, questions, and ideas are worthy to occupy physical and intellectual space in the academy, across a range of disciplines and sub-disciplines. There is a deep security in homogeneity; and the “timidity” whose history Margaret aptly refers to must surely figure into various forms of resistance to potential innovation and reconstitution projects, at this rather tenuous juncture in the history of “the academy”, loosely aggregated: innovation that responds to ways of being in the world that differ from the hitherto taken for granted ways of “benchmark man”, yet that require the kinds of openness standard typologies rarely allow.


What I want to call the “embodied specificities” of people who differ from “benchmark man” were once declared irrelevant (in principle, if not always in practice) to processes of judging that elusive quality I have mentioned: “academic excellence”. Yet at the same time, some of those specificities were tacitly (or not so tacitly) effective in practices of sorting the putatively deserving from the undeserving, and not always even-handedly. Often, beneath the surface, they were definitive of the deliberations and exclusions that sustained a demographically monolithic, monochromatic academic community, quite apart from its variations across disciplines. Their current troubling (if sometimes tacit) reaffirmation informs much of Margaret Thornton’s astute analysis. Such specificities manifest in external concerns about the public face of the university, interwoven with internal convictions about which matters are worthy of academic inquiry, which projects are deserving of grants, worthy of publication, cause for recognition and esteem; and in certain areas of research, about how their absence – or their tentative attempts to establish a presence – works to reaffirm the monologic status of the mythical “man of reason” (to borrow a phrase from Margaret’s compatriot, Genevieve Lloyd). Anecdotally, I am thinking about the eminent British ethicist Philippa Foot who, in the late 1960s, was to deliver a paper at a US university. In response to a request for her title she sent a illegibly scribbled note: evidently faculty members consulted up and down the corridors, trying to decipher it, saying to one another that it seemed she must be going to talk about abortion, but surely that could not be so!! I mention this incident not just for itself but to suggest that indeed there have been changes even in a subject so hitherto austere as philosophy, concomitant with wider social changes, at least to the extent that topics once beyond mention in the elevated conversations of philosophers have, in their acceptance into the discipline, changed the landscape of inquiry well beyond what the substance of that one landmark paper on abortion suggests.

But the change is tenuous, unstable: recent closings of women’s and gender studies programmes, ongoing reminders to job candidates at least in philosophy (and very likely elsewhere) that it is best not to list feminist philosophy as an area of specialization, small numbers of women on conference programmes, on faculty lists in full-time tenured positions, attest to an ongoing need for vigilance and – yes – for advocacy, despite the bad press it tends to attract. Issues internal to the disciplines: issues connected to what Margaret calls “numerosity” in evaluations of “merit” also attest to continued pressures to venerate Benchmark man in his presumptively autonomous, self-sufficient aspects. Of many possible examples, I am thinking now of an ongoing disdain for collaborative inquiry, with the complexities it produces for evaluations of merit; of the research evaluation exercises (REF) that haunt the lives of academics in the UK; and by way of illustration, of the exclusion of book reviews from items that figure as calculable evidence of productivity. These latter are perhaps less easy to characterize thus until one pausess to think that books that fall into limbo for want of having been reviewed are less apt to garner scholarly recognition of the sort that academics, both new and old, require not just for purposes related to “numerosity”, but also for confirmation and inclusion in a productive academic community. These aspects of academic life are not as straightforwardly calculable in their effects in maintaining an outworn status quo, but their contribution to a climate of collegial vulnerability, or not, cannot be gainsaid. Hence although in many disciplines, book reviews no longer count as contributions to scholarly achievement, their exclusion devalues both the book itself and the scholarly work that goes in to producing a thoughtful review. Moreover, devaluing book reviews as forms of academic productivity, together with other not-solitary forms of scholarly activity damages any tacit sense of universities as communities of inquiry while revalidating a spirit of competitiveness.  Although how some of these exclusions reinforce the stature of Benchmark Man is more oblique than with other examples I have adduced, their contribution to a solitary and stark individualism is part of this larger picture. 

cutline quote

So what does it all amount to? Clearly, the point cannot be to work toward displacing benchmark man only to replace him with an equivalently monolithic “alternative” figure. Rather, as Margaret’s paper invites us to do, the project must be to deconstruct the very thought of a monolithic ideal and thence to work toward aspirations that better reflect the demographic multiplicity and scholarly diversity of the early twenty-first century academy, and wider world. The thought is not simple in its potential for realization because the timidity Margaret refers to generates precisely the kind of “pull-back” into an older and more comfortable (for some) stasis that the so-called new social movements of the 1960s and after promised to dislodge, and neo-liberalism is now working to reaffirm. Nor is that “pull-back” straightforwardly reprehensible in an era of increasing insecurity in the academy, where whole programmes and sub-disciplines can be closed down with rationales justified by appeal to numerosity. But the process is in no sense ameliorative, and it needs to be acknowledged for what it is, not just for purposes related to “numerosity”, but also for confirmation and inclusion in a productive academic community. These aspects of academic life are not as straightforwardly calculable in their effects in maintaining an outworn status quo, but their contribution to a climate of collegial vulnerability, or not, cannot be gainsaid. Hence although in many disciplines, book reviews no longer count as contributions to scholarly achievement, their exclusion devalues both the book itself and the scholarly work that goes in to producing a thoughtful review. Moreover, devaluing book reviews as forms of academic productivity, together with other not-solitary forms of scholarly activity damages any tacit sense of universities as communities of inquiry while revalidating a spirit of competitiveness.  Although how some of these exclusions reinforce the stature of Benchmark Man is more oblique than with other examples I have adduced, their contribution to a solitary and stark individualism is part of this larger picture.

Thinking about the implausibility of imagining simply displacing the monolithic masculine ideal Margaret has diagnosed with a new, less coercive and restrictive one, recalls Genevieve Lloyd’s response, in the mid-1980s, to participants in discussions of her then-new book, The Man of Reason. There she documents the implicit or frequently explicit “maleness” of ideals of reason as – with culturally specific variations – they inform western philosophical and cultural discourse from the ancient Greeks through to the late twentieth century. When she was challenged, at that time, to propose an “alternative” to the man – and the maleness – of reason, she remarked that it had taken so long and so much careful analysis to deconstruct ideals of reason, and thus to expose its 2000+-year-old tacit or overt associations with maleness and exclusion of “the feminine”, that it would be facile, careless, to imagine that a new conceptual apparatus could without further ado be inserted, ready-made, in its place.

Although it may seem to be something of a stretch, I want to suggest that this thought has distant echoes with some readings of Audre Lorde’s caution against using the master’s tools to dismantle or rebuild the master’s house: a caution I am reading as a revolutionary declaration and not, as some of her detractors have claimed, as a reactionary shutdown ploy.[1] On the reading  I find plausible, Lorde is insisting she does not want us (whoever we are) to cower in fear of the master, but to stand up and disrupt the false consensus that constrains us. Hence she wrote, “… survival is not an academic skill. . . . . It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.” Lorde recognized that feminists, in 1979, had not succeeded in countering the separations and schisms within the movement, which only perpetuated the dominance of patriarchy.  So in arguing that, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” she is insisting that only if feminists “learn how to take our differences and make them strengths ”will true that equality be achieved (2899). The conundrum, of course, is that practices and processes that accord Benchmark man the definitive voice will persist; and those of us who oppose them cannot just stand in the rain, outside the house, waiting for new ways of building, doing, and being to evolve. So the challenge Margaret has presented requires renewed efforts from feminists, both female and male, to recover, and rethink the early promise of feminist thought: to bring about far-reaching conceptual change. From Margaret’s astute analysis it is also apparent that the forms such reenacting can take are still to be determined, given how insistently Benchmark man is currently being reactivated/reanimated!! These are the deliberations Margaret’s excellent paper urges us to undertake. They require ongoing, arduous effort just when some of us might have been tempted to sit back and believe the issues had been resolved. But this is the rallying cry Margaret Thornton’s analysis has sounded.

[1] I am grateful to Micah White for some of these thoughts about Audre Lorde. See accessed 9/23/2013.





Saudi women's resistance to driving bans

twitter avatar of @october26drivingThis October 26 will be another day of protest for Saudi women pressing for the right to drive.

The history of these protests goes back to at least 1990 (see wikipedia’s  roundup here).  This article sets up this year’s protests with interviews with the women who participated in and were punished for the 1990 protests.

There is no specific law to prevent women from driving in the kingdom, but they cannot apply for driving licences and have previously been arrested on charges relating to public order or political protest after getting behind the wheel. (see here)

The protests include a variety of social media moves – posting videos of women driving (see also here) a website (apparently blocked in Saudi after more than 12000 supported it) and twitter.

Here is the mission statement from the website:

 The October 26th movement is a grass-root campaign by the women and men of Saudi Arabia. Its aim is to revive the demand to lift the ban on women driving. The campaign has no anti-Islamic or political agenda for neither Islam nor the official laws of Saudi prohibit women from driving. Islam and the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia both ensure that all, regardless of gender, have the right to freedom of movement. King Abdullah has also stated that the ban is only societal.

Hence this campaign was started to urge the government to issue an official decree lifting the ban.

In addition, three female members of the Shoura Council (aka Shura council, Majles al-Shura) requested that the consultative, appointed-by-the-King body consider the question of women driving – but the Council was too busy for such trivia (see one response to that, here).

The issue is politically quite complicated – a complication not always well represented in the Western press.  If you were amused by the Saudi cleric who declared the ban necessary to prevent ovarian damage, consider what Dr. Madawi Al-Rasheed (now visiting at the Middle East Centre at LSE has to say about it:

The image of the reformist old king has so far rested comfortably with that of the conservative bearded cleric. This duality unfolds best in gender matters and serves to perpetuate the myth about progressive royalty against backward Wahhabi-Salafist clerics,

Yet, this myth may not hold for long despite all efforts to keep it intact. Neither the reformist king nor the conservative cleric is truly concerned with changing the status quo in fundamental ways that empower women as equal citizens. In fact, both work in ways that perpetuate masculine domination. Both the king and the clerics endeavor to free women from private patriarchy within the family only to place them under the public authority of the religious scholars and state institutions.

Read more: 

 Dr. Al-Rasheed recently published  A Most Masculine State: Gender, Politics and Religion in Saudi Arabia (CUP) and you can hear her discussing the book here via LSE’s podcast system.

In another context, she has written:;

Like other women in the Arab and Muslim world, Saudi women remain weak in Saudi Arabia. They bargain with a patriarchal system that continues to marginalise them. Some call upon the state to protect them, very much like the Nail Polish Girl, who reminded the Haya agents of the king’s orders not to harass people in the streets. Similarly, cosmopolitan, educated and connected women appeal to the state to implement international treaties on gender equality. A third group of women find refuge in the Islamic tradition as a framework for defining their rights and responsibilities.

As long as Saudi women remain unorganised and pushed by an authoritarian state to isolate their struggle for gender equality from other national struggles calling for democratisation, political participation and civil and political rights, we will see individual cases of defiance that are sporadic, uncoordinated and counter-productive. A time will come when women realize that their demand for more rights are part and parcel of a general need for a shake-up of the Saudi regime. The shake-up needs to be grounded in demands for both personal freedoms and political and civil rights for men and women. Until then, Saudis and the rest of the world will continue to watch YouTube clips of futile disconnected incidents, grounded in sensationalism and imagined heroism.

Read more:


In the spirit of not taking things for granted, and honouring women who do take risks to fight for rights – happy October 26th, everyone.

critique of critique: why don't we listen to people who don't look like us? [Listen up / Time's up!]

stock photo man in suit looking in mirrorWhen Nancy Fraser first published How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden – and how to reclaim it in the Guardian, I thought it was interesting.  I did think that perhaps she had made some rather naive assumptions:

As a feminist, I’ve always assumed that by fighting to emancipate women I was building a better world – more egalitarian, just and free. But lately I’ve begun to worry that ideals pioneered by feminists are serving quite different ends. I worry, specifically, that our critique of sexism is now supplying the justification for new forms of inequality and exploitation.

but generally I thought, better late than never, especially  when i read the concluding lines.

First, we might break the spurious link between our critique of the family wage and flexible capitalism by militating for a form of life that de-centres waged work and valorises unwaged activities, including – but not only – carework. Second, we might disrupt the passage from our critique of economism to identity politics by integrating the struggle to transform a status order premised on masculinist cultural values with the struggle for economic justice. Finally, we might sever the bogus bond between our critique of bureaucracy and free-market fundamentalism by reclaiming the mantle of participatory democracy as a means of strengthening the public powers needed to constrain capital for the sake of justice.









I tweeted the piece out in case anyone hadn’t seen it, and moved on. 

Others were more thoughtful and put this piece in a more complete context.  Denise Ferreira da Silva (Queen Mary), over at Critical Legal Thinking: Law & the Political,  title their response White Feminist Fatigue Syndrome. They write:

What appears at first glance to be a reasoned self-​reflection, one that takes stock and respons­ib­il­ity for past alli­ances and cel­eb­ra­tions of stra­tegic moves for the bet­ter­ment of women’s lives, at second glance reveals the innate and repet­it­ive myopia of White fem­in­ism to take account, to con­verse and think along with Black and Third World Feminists.

Having read their critique and then Fraser’s article again, I wouldn’t argue against them.  I’m grateful that they threw in the bone of “at first glance” so that I don’t feel quite so awful about my first read – so much for twitter academia (though retweets aren’t endorsements!).

In addition to the ignoring that Bhandar and Ferreira da Silva thoroughly document, they point out that Fraser does not question her liberal feminism – just the slide towards neo-liberal feminisms.  The scholars she ignored did largely work from socialist, critical or explicitly Marxist perspectives.  And Fraser’s piece does not ultimately reject liberalism (in my view).  I have no doubt she chooses her words carefully, and it is neo-liberalism she critiques.  The words she uses to describe where feminism should be are “social solidarity”, “solidary” and “solidaristic”.  This is not a belated and uncredited convergence, I think.

I then saw another two pieces of commentary which seemed quite parallel.  Maybe you agree.  The first was philanthropist Peter Buffet’s The Charitable Industrial Complex, which appeared in the New York Times:

Early on in our philanthropic journey, my wife and I became aware of something I started to call Philanthropic Colonialism. I noticed that a donor had the urge to “save the day” in some fashion. People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem. Whether it involved farming methods, education practices, job training or business development, over and over I would hear people discuss transplanting what worked in one setting directly into another with little regard for culture, geography or societal norms.

Oh that’s good, I thought, that he gets that and is saying it out loud.  As the son of Warren Buffett, he is probably well connected and will be listened to.  This piece inspired another (here) in the Guardian.   Then, thanks to facebook, I saw this Open Democracy/OurKingdom: Power and liberty in Britain piece by Guppi Bola, entitled On Posh White Blokes in NGO’s.  She writes:

My boss… isn’t the first white male to publicly question his position of power in the “doing-good” field. From his own admission, part of his learning about privilege was influenced by another powerful white male; Peter Buffet. It strikes me that it takes someone who looks like you to encourage a response to a problem that marginalised people have been talking about for many many years.In understanding what’s needed for a free and fair world, maybe my boss would have noticed the hundreds of other articles, emails and conversations that spoke of oppression, privilege, diversity and respect way before Buffet scored an article in the New York Times.

Bola goes on, like Ferreira da Silva and Bhandar, to catalogue the number of (mainly) people of colour who have made the same points, to much less fanfare.

1. This is very depressing.

2. These are newspaper commentaries where people regularly write without any acknowledgement of sources at all.  I agree that in both these cases, the problem is much more than a “lack of citation” problem.  It is the way in which the theorizing of women of colour or people of colour or critical thinkers is just not relevant at all and beyond not citing a source the ideas are put out as completely novel. But i’ll just throw it in there for all the times that I have failed to honour the people who inspired and developed ideas I have adopted.

3. At one point, very early in my teaching career, I used to teach a class where I thought a central piece of the foundation had to be “Criminal Justice is systemically racist”.  But there were a certain segment of my class who simply could not get past that.  They could not let me get away with saying that.  They wanted to pick on that point.  They did not want to read the reports on this or that that I was citing. They did not want to ignore what I was saying as they usually did.  They wanted to prove that I was wrong about it.   They seemed to be infuriated that I had said it. The fact that I said it was part of the proof that I did not get my job on merit (imagine how they thought I got it! No – don’t), was stupid, and would never learn to teach properly or fairly.  Eventually I got into the habit of having a judge from the local court come into my class for half an hour to give a little talk, the core of which was “criminal justice is systemically racist”.

Problem solved.

Did I mention – did i need to mention – that the judge was an older white man?  Nevermind, he was an ally in this.  I don’t know if I did the right thing (there are deeper ironies here that I will not get into) but i did manage to finish the semester.  This problem is old and it’s a reason that (we) need true allies.  The kind of genealogies and calling out that Bhandar, Ferreira da Silva and Bola have done looks to be spot on.  But it was all done (not surprisingly!) in spaces with much less circulation than the original problematic piece.  Quite depressing.

Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights Research Project: new website & save the date for talk at Osgoode

Lovely new “portal” for all the work this project is engaged in, under the Principal Investigator, York Fine Arts’ Prof. Nancy Nicol.  A significant variety of resources – taped talks, links to reports & chapters, events listings, and information about the goals, methods and commitments of the larger project.  Click through below.

Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights

On Thursday November 21 1230 (more information to follow), Osgoode IFLS will host a panel discussion featuring lawyer Maurice Tomlinson, representatives of J-FLAG (Jamaica Forum for all sexuals and gays) and Belizean activist/litigant Caleb Orozco on his (decision pending) challenge to the Belizean sodomy law (click here for some hopeful portents in this case). Nancy Nicol – the PI  of Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights – will provide introductions.  Thanks to Osgoode Prof Janet Mosher for helping this event happen – we look forward to also welcoming having a variety of student representatives from the Osgoode Feminist Collective, OUTLaws and other groups.  Hope to see you there – save the date and look for more information in this space.


Doreen Lawrence, women of conscience, spies, dissent, police, death

So Doreen Lawrence has become Baroness Lawrence of the House of Lords, which brings up so many associations for me that I thought I would just catalogue a few, in case any resonate with you.

In case you are not familiar with her life and work,

Lawrence was asked to become a peer by Labour because of her charitable work in the decades since her son was murdered in 1993.

She led a lengthy campaign for justice for her 18-year-old son, who was stabbed to death by a gang of white youths while waiting at a bus stop in south London (from the guardian article).

Path Breaking

In fact, the story of Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the struggle for justice is an immensely complicated and very important one – it changed laws and forced recognition of institutional racism in the police.  Read the wikipedia opening for a flavour of how critical this case was and continues to be.  It is interesting, I think, to consider this struggle alongside the crimes and protests which produced the report of the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry in BC’s, entitled “Forsaken”.

silencing dissent.

Earlier this year, she gave evidence to a Commons committee after former undercover officer Peter Francis alleged that the police made attempts to find information to smear the family while they were pushing for the case to be investigated properly.” [quote from guardian article]

This put me in mind of work i have recently been introduced to by some amazingly dynamic doctoral students at Osgoode.  The Voices-Voix project, (here) includes the Dissent Democracy & the Law ollaborative Research Network for Legal Scholars, Activists and Social Scientists convened by Charis Kamphuis, PhD Candidate at Osgoode and a Senior Research Fellow, Critical Research Laboratory in Law & Society.  Click through to their website for a great collection of resources around their mission:


Democracy is more than elections. Healthy democracies need the oxygen of active participation by citizens and civil society. The public service needs to be able to do its job. Scientists must be able to collaborate and publish their results.Faith groups, development organizations, the labour movement and so many others are important vehicles though which citizens, workers and activists organize themselves to make a difference. 

Civil society depends on an enabling environment – an environment where governments create the legal and political space that allows civil society to flourish. 

Unfortunately, in recent years, there has been a concerted attempt to restrict these spaces.

Those who disagree with the federal government have been defunded, intimidated, spied on, censored, fired and marginalized. Their work has been reframed as activism, human rights and “advocacy.”  And let us be clear – these are no longer viewed as good things, at least when undertaken by progressive organizations.  International development organizations, environmental groups, equality rights and women’s rights associations, pay equity organizations and immigrant and refugee resettlement groups – have lost their funding or found their charitable status under threat. Environmental activists have been labelled as “terrorists,” money launderers and agents for foreign interests. (see here)


The police spies issue now on the front pages in the UK (see here, for instance) is a good example of the kind of concerns that Voices-Voix wants to bring to all of our attention.


Voices of Mothers 

Mothers like Doreen Lawrence, who fight on behalf of their murdered children, can be heard in my city as well.  In Toronto, UMOVE (United Mothers against Violence Everywhere) have taken on the cultural roots of the violence that killed their children, and they also take on the police response by critiquing and working with the police.  Find them on Facebook here, and read more here and read/watch video of three members here.  These women (and others like Families of Sisters in Spirit) go beyond understandings of victims rights which track law and order approaches that I cannot support.


Police Lying

The Brits were recently having a little issue over police lying, to which Doreen Lawrence had some response.

The mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence said sections of Britain’s communities were fully aware that the “police do tell lies” long before the so-called “plebgate” scandal. More.


Naturally that leads me straight to Canada’s R.D.S. case, here.  Here’s a page from the CBA, which gave an award to Learn more about the judge of the first instance in that case Corinne Sparks, here (the CBA gave her an award about 5 years ago).  Her preference for the testimony of an African Canadian youth defendant over that of a police officer in a Nova Scotia youth court  led to allegations of bias which dragged all the way up to the Supreme Court.  Incidentally, this case is one with an interesting gender split.


Black British Women’s Activism 

The word “Black” sometimes has a different meaning in the UK, by the way.  In any case, there are loads of leaders here to watch, from individuals like Doreen Lawrence and Jayaben Desai.  Southall Black Sisters has long been doing anti-racist feminist work.  You may have seen their recent work on immigration

Doreen Lawrence participates alongside SBS and has said that she sees immigration enforcement as a significant part of her work these days.  See here, and especially here.


Cultural Impact

Here is UK poet Benjamin Zephaniah “what Stephen Lawrence has taught us”. (i usually think of Sinead O’Connor’s Black Boys on Mopeds, but in fact that song is about the case of Nicholas Bramble.  good song, though, and not unrelated case).

We know who the killers are,
We have watched them strut before us
As proud as sick Mussolinis’,
We have watched them strut before us
Compassionless and arrogant,
They paraded before us,
Like angels of death
Protected by the law.

It is now an open secret
Black people do not have
Chips on their shoulders,
They just have injustice on their backs
And justice on their minds,
And now we know that the road to liberty
Is as long as the road from slavery.

The death of Stephen Lawrence
Has taught us to love each other
And never to take the tedious task
Of waiting for a bus for granted.
Watching his parents watching the cover-up
Begs the question
What are the trading standards here?
Why are we paying for a police force
That will not work for us?

The death of Stephen Lawrence
Has taught us
That we cannot let the illusion of freedom
Endow us with a false sense of security as we walk the streets,
The whole world can now watch
The academics and the super cops
Struggling to define institutionalised racism
As we continue to die in custody
As we continue emptying our pockets on the pavements,
And we continue to ask ourselves
Why is it so official
That black people are so often killed
Without killers?

We are not talking about war or revenge
We are not talking about hypothetics or possibilities,
We are talking about where we are now
We are talking about how we live now
In dis state
Under dis flag, (God Save the Queen),
And God save all those black children who want to grow up
And God save all the brothers and sisters
Who like raving,
Because the death of Stephen Lawrence
Has taught us that racism is easy when
You have friends in high places.
And friends in high places
Have no use whatsoever
When they are not your friends.

Dear Mr Condon,
Pop out of Teletubby land,
And visit reality,
Come to an honest place
And get some advice from your neighbours,
Be enlightened by our community,
Neglect your well-paid ignorance
We know who the killers are.

Benjamin Zephaniah

you can watch the poet recite this poem here:



I have avoided the discussion of cooptation or tokenism or denial of the popular movement that might be a part of our discussion of Baronness Lawrence’s peerage – it’s out there (google it – I don’t feel like linking at the moment), but I as more interested in other things, like the ways that racialized women experience injustice and pursue justice.  And how about the picture below for the project of finding neat costumes for girls, like this photographer did? I do actually keep a set of photos for when I get around to it, see below.




set of photos (very small) of famus and interesting women