Monday, 8 February 2016

Changing Minds Fest

At the weekend the Southbank Centre in London held the #ChangingMindsFest, a weekend long festival dedicated to mental health. I had seen it advertised and thought about going, but that was before I started to become more ill in December and stopped really organising things to do.

As part of A Day In The Life, they invited contributions answering the questions:

"How was your day, what made your mental health better and what made it worse?"

I decided to submit the speech I made at the TUC Mental Health & Austerity event that day, and just found out that it was included. The slideshow played for 36 hours on a loop at the Southbank. 

My answer are slides 11 - 24, with a content note for suicide.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Calling in and calling out.

This post is inspired by conversations I've been having recently with people, mostly offline, on how we feel people should respond to criticism, critique, and call outs, particularly in relation to privilege. It's a conversation I've been having so often I thought I should properly write about it.

When I first got involved in liberation activism, I had no idea what privilege was. I didn't have a very good understanding of the structural inequalities that exist in the world, even though I thought I did. I had experienced sexism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia - but probably wouldn't have been able to name those experiences as being part of a wider structural issue. I looked at those experiences as a series of one offs.

The first time I was called out - for using stigmatising language in relation to mental health - I was appalled. I was disgusted. I was beside myself that I, someone with mental health problems, could ever possibly misuse words that can be seen as derogatory. The person who called me out did it - in a way I would now say - incredibly politely. They sent me a short email, off the email list, explaining that the language I used was problematic for A, B & C reasons, and were perfectly pleasant. And I still felt like I'd been wronged the biggest wrong to ever happen in the existence of the world.

Fast forward five years. I have wised up. I have changed a lot, my politics have developed, and I've grown up. I'm not 18 years old anymore. I still slip up, I am still called out on things, and I am still trying to grow and develop my politics around liberation in particular and I know I will continue to slip up and will need to keep reflecting on my behaviour and actions as I get older. And the way I look at call ins and call outs is radically different.

It is quite a human reaction to be upset or anxious or panicked (especially if you suffer with mental health problems around anxiety) when someone calls you out, no matter how respectfully or politely they do it (and they're under no obligation to be polite or respectful about it). You worry about who you've upset, and how you've upset them, and what the affect of whatever you've done/said has been. 

But, if you too believe that being called up on your privilege is a very useful and helpful process during which you are able to learn about an aspect of something you overlooked, or hadn't considered, then you must continually remind yourself that you want to be called out. You want to be a better ally to marginalised groups you do not define into. And that means listening whenever someone calls you up on your shit, and acknowledging that in all likelihood they are coming from a place or experience that you may not know as much about.

No matter how emotional your reaction, or how poor your mental health, the person who is giving you their time and labour to call you out should not have to calm you down, or console you, or reassure you that they understand you didn't mean to do whatever you did. 

They have no obligation to be polite when calling you out. In all likelihood they have a reason to be angry, and that reason is legitimate. They should not have to bear the responsibility of dealing with your emotional reaction. It's not up to them. They're doing you a massive favour by calling you out - recognise this. Recognise that you are incredibly lucky to have someone take time out of their day to tell you that you fucked up. You are not the injured party here, even if your initial reaction is to be upset.

It is important to develop coping mechanisms for immediate emotional reactions to call outs. When my anxiety is particularly bad, a message from someone telling me I've done something shit and oppressive can make me have a panic attack. And I have begun to accumulate skills to deal with this, including (but not limited to) breathing exercises, reminding myself that this is something I value and appreciate immensely when people take the time out to do it, reminding myself of how I wish people would respond when I call someone out on something, and as someone who can slip into black and white thinking and catastrophising quite easily, reminding myself that the world is not over because I fucked up.

To take an example - I am middle class. I have a financial safety net, I have parents I can borrow money from if I needed to. I did not grow up being shamed for getting free school meals, my parents were able to afford to buy my school uniform brand new, we went on family holidays, we always had food in the fridge. I am skint, but I am not poor. I am not working class. 

And so when someone who comes from a working class background decides to take time out of their day to tell me that I fucked up - I said something shitty (e.g. 'Omg, I'm so poor, this is so shit, you all have no idea how poor I am right now'); I didn't consider an aspect of something (e.g. 'We should totally all go to this event/club/bar/dinner/restaurant! Are you coming? Why aren't you coming?', forgetting that not everyone has disposable income and can afford to spend a fiver on a pint); or I behaved in an oppressive way - I need to sit down and listen. I need to consider my behaviour, and reflect on what I did. I need to appreciate that this person was willing to call me out on my behaviour, and recognise the fact that they may have an incredibly different life experience on this issue than I do, because I come from a privileged position. 

I see 'calling in' as something that people with privilege should do to other people with privilege - it's my job as someone who is white to educate other white people about racism and the impact and effect of white supremacy. I should 'call in' the fact that they may have done or said something racist. I am responsible for educating other white people to look inwards at our experiences of whiteness, how our whiteness is reflected everywhere in society, how we benefit from a system built on white supremacy and racism. I am also responsible for constantly reflecting on my own white privilege, looking inwards at my own experiences and questioning why they are the way they are.

I see 'calling out' as something that marginalised people have a right to do to people with privilege. As previously mentioned, I believe marginalised people are under no obligation to be polite with their call outs - if you're calling someone out on their oppressive behaviour it can be a very upsetting, frustrating and angering thing that they have done, and you are under no obligation to be kind about it. 

Here is a post about being a better ally in general, here is one about being a better ally to people of colour and here is one about being a better ally to disabled people. If anyone has any articles about being an ally they would recommend, please let me know and I'll include them in here.