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Diversity Issues

Why the notion of valuing true diversity is a false and uncomfortable one!



Many people who know me and my pioneering equality work in the UK will find this post, in particular, rather strange, and might, in fact, fall off their chairs in some surprise! But that is the beauty of evolving in life from one stage to another. If we are learning, we are always developing and always changing perspectives. If we are entrenched in what we believe and have closed minds, we've stopped learning and are in danger of solidifying into fossilised rocks of dubious certainty. It has to be far more exciting to learn!

Being on a holiday in Chicago by myself has allowed for a lot of free thinking time and I believe the most profound thought I might have had on the whole trip was triggered by a comment from a member of an online diversity group I had joined. Some members had not taken kindly to comments by two other French members and had blasted them somewhat for their views. One member, in particular was so upset by this, she wrote:

"I am very disenchanted with a group entitled Diversity for Obama that does not welcome diverse comments from its members and does not stop to think that everyone may not be familiar with email etiquette."

She had made an excellent point which immediately gave me a new insight into my own work, as I had spent the last 15 years advocating diversity in very strong terms. Retired from it now, it was easier to see the wood from the trees and appreciate that accepting true diversity, not the cosmetic form like our recent 'Black History Month' etc., actually comes with a cost for each group/individual.

The problem with a desire for diversity is that the ideal usually falls far short of the reality. We are basically selfish in our cultural and social needs and genuinely fear difference. Hence diversity tends to be only acceptable when it conforms to our expectations, does not appear threatening and reinforces our cultural perceptions and beliefs!! Thus diversity is fine, but only from a detached and comfortable position, as we each vigorously protect our own corners. The minute that diversity encroaches on our specific values and traditions, questions our beliefs or challenges what we cherish, it ceases to be attractive and causes us to feel vulnerable and exposed.

In essence, the current notion of diversity as practised by the majority community, in particular, is simply monoculturalism in a slightly extended form!

The False Concept of Diversity

In fact, the whole concept of welcoming diversity is a false one because, for each species, gender, type etc., to survive, as is, each has to protect its own culture. The minute it allows for genuine diversity to encroach, it has to accommodate, and even integrate, the culture, needs and expectations of others, which then dilutes what was there in the first place and even challenges its traditions and beliefs. However, if the additional diverse entity is broadly similar, then the reverse happens: it strengthens what was there originally, while giving it new perspectives.

What is pretty clear about acknowledging, appreciating and valuing diversity in any genuine way is that each cultural group has to be prepared to respect other groups, accept parts of what they value and even integrate some of their customs to accord that respect. How many people are prepared to lose what they already have and hold dear to accommodate the expectations, traditions and beliefs of others? After all, we simply cannot appreciate, value or celebrate what we are not prepared to practise ourselves. For example, immigrant minorities in the UK are expected to learn English and be able to speak it, but having any knowledge of their language is not even addressed by the majority, which immediately negates an integral part of their culture!

That is why, in any mixed society, genuine diversity has mainly been practised by minority groups. They have had to integrate or assimilate the majority culture in order to be accepted, respected and valued, to feel included and psychologically comfortable in their identity. On the other hand, members of the majority can afford to deal with such diversity in a detached way, to pay lip service, in fact, while continuing with business as usual, because their culture, group, association etc., sets the standards, the laws, the goalposts, the decorum and the protocol of acceptance for everyone else to follow.

In essence, minority groups that crave inclusion practise diversity by having to accommodate aspects of majority culture, while members of the majority can take it or leave it and are often untouched by it.

The whole concept and promotion of diversity is a fine and noble one, but unless everyone is prepared to lose some of their cultural heritage and beliefs, true diversity will always remain a luxurious pipe dream, especially to majority groups with the power to avoid practising it, while being an imposition to minorities who are impotent to avoid its diluting and inevitably absorbing effects.

That is why cultural celebrations like 'Black History Month', which are aimed at educating the majority while valuing diversity, will always remain peripheral to majority culture until there is a genuine desire to actively accommodate other cultures by moving beyond words and actually practising the ideal in some respects.

Three Powerful Words Used to Judge Others and to Block Their Development



It is very easy to judge others mainly because, at the heart of any kind of judgement, is a fear of difference and a desire to make others more like us, and thus more comfortable to deal with. Hence why we might say that we don't notice a person's colour because that's not important, yet we never ignore their gender! immediately dictating what should be important about the person.

Many people also fail to realise that their own view of life is only ONE view of the diversity we share. We are all shaped by different knowledge, experiences and aspirations, such that even two people sharing the same space will be vastly different. The best way to treat others is to accept them as they are, especially if we wish to be accepted as we are too, and beg to differ in communication where agreement is not possible.

The first thing to note is that the way we view people, and the way our opinion is formed, and dictated, are through personal perception and prejudice. These lead to the emergence of definite stereotypes to cope with how we feel. The three terms are interlinked and can be defined in the following manner:

Perception: This is formed mainly by individual beliefs, background, especially in childhood, and experiences. It is gradually shaped by one's culture, gender and age influences. Most important, perception represents how we individually see our world, what we prioritise in life and what we ignore. That is why when it comes to opinions and emotional issues, they are always a product of perception, our version of 'the' truth, and a personal experience of 'reality' which might be far removed from the 'truth' and 'reality' of others, unless all the elements and shared experiences are exactly the same (a near impossibility!).

Prejudice: This is dictated by perception according to what we like or dislike, accommodate or reject. This aspect represents the preferences one has according to how one views the world and what one believes matters most. Prejudice comes out of perception but is distinct from it in that we ALL perceive our world in particular ways, but we are not all prejudiced in purely negative ways. Most personal prejudice is benign, relating to the life choices we make. They are not malicious towards others. Such prejudice comes out of fear of difference or a desire to feel superior by denigrating what matters to others or their actual person.

Stereotype: This is when one applies that prejudice in a major way by ignoring differences, or exaggerating those differences negatively, to make the targets appear extraordinary, inferior and/or detrimental. Stereotyping can be a key part of prejudice in order to either understand the world better or to exercise personal power over it. It is also heavily influenced by perception, but the extent of any stereotyping is controlled by personal prejudice.

The subtle distinctions between prejudice and stereotyping often lead to the terms being misunderstood. But one can be prejudiced without being stereotypic. However, one cannot employ stereotypes without being deliberately prejudiced or naive. Where naivety is to blame, that person involved perhaps has never interacted with the subject before, has little education of them, and tends to stereotype everyone of that ilk from what they have experienced (the 'benign' intention mentioned above). They identify easily observed characteristics to aid personal understanding. But stereotyping really becomes malicious when it's entirely intentional and other known positive aspects of the target are deliberately ignored.

Do we Really Need a Black History Month?



As one who has spent the last 14 years promoting multiculturalism from the rooftops in the UK, through the only book on the subject and two annual national diversity awards, I have been pretty saddened to hear government ministers and others trumpeting that 'multiculturalism isn't working' or we 'cannot celebrate diversity because it encourages difference' and keeps us separate. But both statements are based upon ignorance and fear, which does not really help a diverse community to move forward together.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating diversity or encouraging multiculturalism. What has been terribly wrong is a marked absence of respect on both sides of the cultural divide which makes appreciation difficult. The word 'respect' is glibly shouted by everyone in times of crisis, but it seems to be only in connection with our own needs and viewpoints and very little to do with others. We all seek respect, we feel we are denied it, we accuse each other of not giving it. But in reality, we are simply in love with the idea of the word itself, not its application. This could be because we really do not understand the meaning of this important word. Let's take some glaring examples of disrespect.

1. Negative media coverage: Black History Month emerged because of a lack of positive attention to minorities (that respect again!) by the media. Minorities in Britain are virtually invisible in every aspect of life except crime. We hear about them ad nauseam in relation to terrorism, guns, gangs and street crime but hardly in any other dimension. The only time minorities take centre stage is when something negative is being reported. Black History Month was introduced to counteract that media exclusion, to give much needed positivity and visibility. Yet, there should be no need for a Black History month at all because there is just a flurry of activities in October (and February in the USA), a month saturated with events where everyone tries to be heard, to be significant and valued, and then nothing else for the other 11 months. Like tragic cuckoos, they coo loudly once, then go back inside their clocks for another year. What minorities need is to be treated ordinarily, like the majority community, with balance and value.

An exclusive and racist approach keeps minorities in the public eye as extraordinary and non-contributing beings who are simply taking from society. It uses them in situations that bolster national fear (immigration and crime) while ignoring the vast majority of law abiding, legal citizens quietly playing their part in their communities. Minorities are also used in a cynical way to show national pride abroad (as with the Olympics when multculturalism was suddenly cool and essential), but are largely excluded from the preparations, the promotion and the service contracts.

Exclusive labels: Black History Month celebrates black heritage and culture. This is not just a showcase but an educational opportunity for the White majority to learn about their minority neighbours. It also empowers Black people to take pride in their identity and thus a wholesome cause for celebration. There are also many pointedly 'Black', 'Asian' or 'Muslim' organisations which were created to encourage a positive identity and to guard against isolation, primarily because of their exclusion from the mainstream. Nothing wrong with that at all.

  • However, how would members of minority groups feel if they suddenly saw signs and promotion for a 'White History Month', 'White Women Forum', the 'White Professional Association' or the 'White Entrepreneurs Club', labels which are clearly racist and exclusive? They would rightfully be up in arms. Where is the sensitivity (respect again) for the pointedly White exclusion in those labels? Yet, in a diverse society, such cultural sensitivities are very important if we are to learn about, value, and appreciate one another.

  • Lack of Recognition: Visit the website of a top national newspaper in the UK and, of its 24 writers paraded for the public, only one will be black. I won't even mention television and radio because commercial radio, in particular, is dismal when it comes to representation of their diverse audience among radio staff. Is it any wonder that the views in the media are so skewed against minorities when there is a basic lack of recognition for them, with hardly anyone speaking with any cultural knowledge?

    That is why there is very little sensitivity (respect again) to minority views and feelings. Being on the negative end of any reporting, they are fair game for people seeking sensational headlines without any responsibility for the divisive consequences of their actions. The BBC has been recently accused of racism by a prominent writer in 21st century Britain. That is very sad today. The real worry is that if the BBC is still lagging behind in its own objectives, a service which is supposed to be serving, and representing, the whole community, what can one expect of lesser organisations?

    Need for compromise
    Diversity and multiculturalism can work harmoniously when all parties are prepared to compromise, and accord each other respect. But we cannot simply demand respect for ourselves while giving none because no country can thrive with a divided nation. If we really love our country, we strive together to make it a great place to live. However, we cannot respect what we don't understand or appreciate.

    Starting from that base, Black History Month should be scrapped and minority heritage and culture celebrated all year round, just like that of the white majority, but under a diversity label. For example, what about Our Diverse Music in January, Our Diverse Literature in February, Arts and Crafts in April, Dance in May, Diverse Foods in June?...You get the drift. It means that, instead of just focusing on minority crime and negative issues around minorities, the white-led media can actually begin to pay some proportional attention, throughout the year, to the positivity of being a minority, and the rich diversity of our nation, through the cultural exchange of knowledge, particularly encouraging involvement and patronage by white sponsors and patrons. That is the only way to make all people feel included, to engender loyalty and pride, and the main way to change white perception of their black neighbours.

    It is also the only way for all British (and American) citizens, whatever their origins, to feel significant, appreciated, valued and included. In effect, to feel respected.

    Can One Formally Learn a National Identity Like Being 'British'?



    The short answer is: No, they can't.

    You have to 'feel' something about a country to really appreciate it, and that takes time. One can learn the history of it, learn about the lifestyle, the crime, the values, but one can only appreciate what the country truly represents by being part of it for a while. We have to feel comfortable about that particular country, being in alignment with its aims, values and mores, before we can truly feel a part of it and what it represents for us. Otherwise one simply pays lip service to an ideal while feeling exactly the same. Worst still, one will also be caught in a kind of limiting limbo, while hankering after 'home'.

    Another important element is the whole concept of 'Britishness'. With its obvious fluidity and continually changing mores, who defines it for whom? Politicians, civil servants, sociologists? What do we leave out of those lessons and what becomes acceptable? Reggae is now an embedded part of the British culture, despite its Jamaican heritage. Will that be part of any information, question or discussion provided, or will it be some outmoded monocultural interpretation of the essence of Britishness? And what about the elements of Britishness that will not make it to the lessons but which are regarded as equally integral to those who adhere to them and value them?

    This is a cultural minefield, the effect of an evolving multicultural society, that only very courageous people would dare to tread.

    Personal experience
On a personal note, it took me 10 years after arriving in Britain 40 years ago to actually 'feel' British. Until then, I strongly resisted getting a British passport, despite my ex-husband's constant encouragement, hankering back to Jamaica at every opportunity, with strong loyalties to match. I was the epitome of Lord Tebbit's yardstick for measuring British loyalty. I certainly felt little loyalty to Britain because, during those early years, the only cricket team I ever wanted to win was that of the West Indies!

    The main effect of this split loyalty was that every time my British Sikh husband and I travelled anywhere with our family, he and the children would be whisked off to the fast queue while I was held back for a good old search for any ganga I was perceived to have, the dreaded 'weed' I might have carried back with me! Didn't matter that his suitcase could have been full of it too as he passed without scrutiny. I was Jamaican so I would be guilty. I soon learnt to give him all the extra bottles of rum we had that would have attracted attention! Being searched with little respect was so regular as to be ad nauseam. Having a Jamaican passport condemned me to the ritual of immigration racism and handy stereotype which I felt powerless to change. I certainly didn't feel 'British' when I was clearly excluded and being treated differently.

    Eureka! Moment
    Then one morning 10 years later, I just didn't wish to be Jamaican anymore. I wanted a British passport. I had gradually realised, on subsequent visits back to the homeland, that I had little in common with the folks back 'home'. My perspectives had changed dramatically, yet with a slow realisation. I thought like a Brit and did things like a Brit. Fellow Jamaicans used to point at us in some mirth noting how we 'acted funny'. My children and immediate family also lived in Britain and I felt I truly 'belonged'. Until that Eureka moment of acceptance, that feeling of being at one with one's homeland, any talk of teaching 'Britishness' is sheer pie in the sky.

    Today I adore Britain, I enjoy living here, and certainly wouldn't live anywhere else. Yet it took 10 years to have such a contented feeling of confidence and belonging in order to leave Jamaica behind. Sadly, many people never make that transition, depending on their experience. If it is negative, and they feel excluded, they tend to hanker forever after the perfect 'home' they left behind, one that would have been moving on with time, in reality, but had fossilised in their heads in an idealistic way - a situation that tends to have a tragic effect on their children's sense of self, identity and belonging too.

    Pupils can learn what a narrow perspective of being 'British' is all about, from a dubious monocultural perspective, but they can never learn what it is to be truly British in the essential emotional terms of appreciation and love in that superficial process. Only time can teach them that. Nothing else.

    Do the Tottenham Riots, and the invisibility of minorities, reinforce their belief that 'There's no black in the Union Jack'?



    The riots in Tottenham, north London, which took place over Saturday and Sunday were a grisly reminder of various flashpoints among Britain's minority communities through recent decades. What was most shocking about this one was the ferocity of it, the sheer disregard for the community itself and for other people's possessions. Amidst the mindless violence was a resigned alienated attitude to authority and the rule of law.

    Not long ago, three months to be precise, at the time of the Royal wedding, I drew attention to the fact that Britain's minorities, especially the non-professionals, were virtually invisible in the country, and that the wedding would have been meaningless to them. In fact an extremist group, Muslims Against the Crusades, planned to protest in London to draw some attention to themselves. Publicity was obviously their main aim, but it was a symbol of the invisibility of minorities in the UK that they feel they had to use that significant day in order to be seen and heard.

    The Royal wedding meant very little to the country's 10% minority ethnic communities - most of whom stayed away from it. They knew their presence would be a mere token representation on the day; that it would be swiftly back to the usual invisibility immediately the ceremony was over. And so it was. Back to being an all-white Britain where power and resources are concerned, but an all black one wherever 'problems' and 'victims' are highlighted, as the riot graphically showed. 

    The clear message is that such important times - national economic debates, political and Royal events - are all exclusively white affairs, because minorities are not perceived to be British when it comes to national celebrations. They were on the wrong side of the colonial divide: the ones who were governed, not the rulers. That superior attitude still permeates the places which matter, breeding and fuelling exclusion on a massive scale, regardless of the fine words and intentions around it.

    Issues of State and politics
    Some time ago, some British blacks coined the sentence: "There is no Black in the Union Jack" flag. On issues of state and politics, at tragic times like these, such perceptions really come alive in their truth. The uncomfortable elephant in the room regarding minorities and the white majority is that black people are tolerated and sidelined in times of peace and plenty, but when there is conflict they serve as the source of any 'problems', handy scapegoats, that the country is experiencing.  British politicians, and the media, especially when there are benefits to be had from it, love to boast about our multicultural society.

    The truth is that there are two societies, in a covert vein - one which contains the power brokers and people of influence of one particular colour (white), and the powerless, invisible ones on the periphery of the action, those blessed with a different colour (black), who will be safely kept a good distance; the same ones, who for some inexplicable reason, are starved of positive press coverage in the routine of daily life, but can be exposed in all their glory at tragic moments like these. 

    That is the reality of being Black in Britain today: one of exclusion and invisibility, especially at such times when they really should be involved to ensure unity, harmony and mutual respect - to be part of the routine in every sense. But who, instead, are paraded publicly in times of strife as caricatures of the British way of life, so long as they know their place and keep it.

    One of the reasons why I admire America so much is that, though it is a long way from real racial parity, minorities are well represented in all spheres of life, and are continually visible where it matters, from Oprah Winfrey down to ordinary professionals, to provide much needed role models. Look at the television medium there on any day and there will be a diversity of presenters and opinions. Here in the UK, the media as a whole tells the sorry state of being a minority in Britain.

    Even the BBC, which takes a good chunk of licence fees from minority subscribers, hardly included any black interviewees in their coverage of the Royal wedding. Their virtually all-white presenters seemed to find it an uncomfortable experience bridging the racial divide to make minority public feel included.  Yet every household in the country, whether black or white, has to pay a fee for its television licence; money that ensures continual jobs for majority members while minorities are denied their share of the cake.

    Violence of any kind, and on such a scale can never be condoned by anyone. But there is a clear difference in the treatment of white violence to black ones in Britain. When there is a white riot in Belfast, for example, it is seen as part of a bigger picture demanding some political action to redress imbalances. When it relates to the Black community it is regarded merely as 'mindless violence', an indulgence without any base or reason, and to be stamped on indiscriminately by the authorities. Sadly, that is the kind of racist ostrich-like response that has kept minorities invisible, angry and alienated down the years, and does nothing for the good reputation of an otherwise fine country.

    Will Ordinary Muslims Rejection of Extremists Hasten The End of Terrorism?



    Yes, I believe it will, because terrorism is like any other evil. When it is ignored, it multiplies faster than an ants nest because of the assumption that the terrorist is acting on behalf of the majority. In this respect, there is a veneer of unity. However, the minute the majority stands up and speaks for itself, denouncing every act of aggression on innocent people, those vile actions will begin to abate because the extremists would have lost their power and become more vulnerable and exposed.

    The current spate of terrorism is not limited to terrorists, nor, surprisingly, is it controlled by them. Terrorism thrives because the Islamist clergy dictates the pace through their unassailable 'truths' about the Koran, the brutal treatment of others and the imposition of their particular beliefs on everyone. Meanwhile the majority do nothing, their SILENCE and INACTION condoning the atrocities while fuelling the continuing negative perceptions and gross injustice done to powerless victims of their hate. This complacent majority has looked on disinterestedly, steeped in denial, convinced of Islam's righteousness in what is happening, while extremists carry out terrible acts in their name.

    Until members of this silent majority are forced to take notice to preserve themselves, their beliefs and their own freedoms, just as it is killing off the future of Iraq, such mindless terrorism will only engulf us all on cultural, racial and religious lines. It follows that when the majority decides to take a firm public stand, to condemn terrorism in the strongest terms and to uphold the law which applies to all, terrorism will have far less appeal to young radicals because the majority support it has tacitly enjoyed would have been diminished.

    Living in dead Men's Shoes: The Problem with the Religious Holy Books



    The pastor from the Evangelical Church in Hackney, London, was patient but firm. There was definitely life after death, one where we would all be judged by God. But eternal salvation was possible only through strict adherence to the teachings of the Bible, and these were not negotiable.

    Though I listened to him with interest, and respected him and his views, my convictions were set in concrete. My only afterlife would exist in someone else's head. I too believe in God but I also believe I was placed on earth for a reason and any judgement would not be reserved just for the future. The full works would be meted out right here and now: in the quality of my life and for treating others in ways which reflected God's teachings of charity, kindness and forgiveness. Not just for following the holy book while slagging my neighbours into the ground with selfishness and greed, being discriminatory towards them or blasting them into oblivion to feed my desire for power.

    The pastor wouldn't budge. He spoke slowly and softly, as if to a lost child in need of paternal guidance. Life on earth was insignificant compared to life in heaven or hell and, anyway, my ideas had no foundation because they were not in the Bible. Black people were hardly mentioned in the Bible either, but that did not negate our presence! It seemed that everyone could quote the Bible, or their holy book, to suit their own purpose.

    And that is the problem with anything written so long ago. The messages get lost down the ages, gathering momentum in their obscurity as the messengers grow bloated with bigotry. Being learned charlatans of each faith, they continually use such books to maintain their power while the meanings and application become more irrelevant to our world and our needs, and the interpretation of each phrase multiply faster than an ant's nest to suit every act and occasion.

    The customary straw poll of students within British educational establishments, to assess current levels of faith, might be unscientific but no less indicative of a growing areligious society. The average of people still attending church, or considering themselves religious, is now about 12 out of every 30, and falling. While these students turn their backs on Christianity, yet with nothing else to fill the gap, the Bible marches on in its obscurity and irrelevance, with its singular emphasis on Jews, Gentiles, Hebrews (no Blacks), its strange outdated place names and its virtuous tales of simple minded folk, living equally simple rural life and with not a single computer, mobile or Ipod in sight. Far removed from the technological and social revolution that is our world today. In this narrow, moralistic way, it traps each unsuspecting soul in the antiquated verbiage of a bygone age.

    No Women and Gays for High Office
    Meanwhile, much is done in the name of God, religion and the Bible. Despite a queen as Supreme Head of the British Church, the ordination and promotion of women is still threatening to split it because arrogant men, apparently enjoying a direct line to God's intentions, have decided that one female is more than enough! This is indicative of some key anomalies within the Church system: like women and gays being welcomed as worshippers, as children of God, but not when it comes to being ordained within God's church.

    Again, South Africans worship God every day yet kept apartheid alive for many years without the slightest reference to conscience or belief. Obviously their White God would not approve of their Black neighbours either! And once when I needed a priest badly, as a staunch Catholic, this man of the cloth had better things to do than to share some comforting words with me, a devout parishioner. I have not been in a church since that occasion, 35 years ago and what a wonderful difference it has made to my life!

    Now the good pastor was telling me that I needed to explore my faith further. My personal beliefs did not match up to his so they couldn't be right. But I had been this way before and how much closer could one explore the teachings of God than as a trainee nun? For three years I dwelt ceaselessly on God's words, rejecting the hypocrisies of religion when my brain reeled with instructions and ideas which promoted nothing but evil. I do not know about other religions, though, if the actions of a few fanatics are anything to go by, the Muslim faith is even worse in its capacity for cruelty, but Catholicism has a lot to answer for and we won't even mention the Inquisition or the abuse of young minds and bodies down the years. Man himself commits vile acts then call on God to condone them!

    The Hindu gods also appear to take pleasure from the destruction of other people's temples and keeping their faithful members in an intractable colour system where the fair Brahmins are blessed with the right to kick the hapless, dark-skinned Harijans perpetually trapped at the bottom of the social pile. Being insignificant and, obviously, with no god on their side, these Untouchables are assigned to an immutable life of poverty, meanness and loveless inhumanity while the gods lavish attention on the favoured majority.

    The Christian ethos and vocabulary are only marginally better. Each word seems to echo an unmerciful God always waiting to pounce upon us terrible sinners with the worst retribution possible. The fact that God merely reflects the moralistic and narrow ideals of the messengers in His name has been lost upon humanity. Instead, God is portrayed as an all powerful being with nothing better to do each day than to be picking us off in turn to note our numerous sins! The Bible said so, the male priests preach it and we have to live it. So, as a teenager, I had a miserable anxious, guilt-ridden childhood. I was painfully aware that we could not really enjoy ourselves because everything that made us happy appeared to be an abomination to God and He was always ever present watching us. Sex was dirty and definitely out, so were rude jokes, raving parties and boys! No chance of escape as even our very thoughts constituted sin.

    Preoccupation With Sex
    Yet it was all a natural part of growing up, this preoccupation with things sexual, because the changes within our body were phenomenal and not really understood. The Church's obsession with sex was a revelation in itself. Only attending mass and confessing our sins regularly would save us. But save us from what? Innocent thoughts? Our bodily functions which were a natural part of our growth and evolution? Gradual self-discovery and truth about our faith? What I did not understand then was that the love of God which was so regularly trumpeted by the priests was in chronically short supply because it had been replaced by fear of God, and nothing ruled by fear can ever be positive and uplifting.

    If we missed church just once that was a mortal sin. So each Sunday I competed with the lark for the 5 o'clock call, eager to be first in line for confession, compassion and communion, but they were as straw against the merciless wind of sin and shame. I would enter the convent, that would do it, I thought. I could serve God wholeheartedly and be free from all these 'wicked' thoughts. But in between the daily masses, novenas and spiritual rituals all I heard about was sin - huge massive mortal sins; medium sized original sins; tiny fluttery venial sins. Where did it all end, this world full of sin? Did we ever get good on earth? Not on your life. We had to wait until Judgement Day.

    Then one day I visited a handicapped neighbour who was a devout Catholic but was never able to attend mass. A saintly cheerful woman who would give her last penny to others, she worried and fretted constantly about committing various sins through missing mass. She had no means to travel to church and her pastor never once visited her either. I often wondered if her soul was riddled with massive black spots for all the services she missed? So many huge mortal sins. How did she cope? She must be damned in hell for good.

    The realisation of how such cruel brainwashing affected her peace of mind, the way it preyed on her conscience and stopped her from enjoying her life and faith fully, propelled me from the convent faster than a bullet.

    5 Reasons Why Islamic Law Would be Wrong for Britain



    There was an unholy row around Archbishop Rowan William's remarks about the "inevitability" of parts of Islamic (Sharia) law being introduced in Britain. Apart from the fact that an Anglican leader has no business commenting, promoting or even involving himself in the laws of another religion, unless he wishes to join it, there are 5 key reasons why implementing such a law nationwide in Britain would be very wrong.

    First, we are a secular society and Sharia Law is based upon religious teachings. The separation of Church and State, though not formally applied, has become a jealously guarded right that Britain has upheld down the years. To enable any religious law to creep in by the back door now would be a rather backward step in time.

    A few Sharia courts are already mushrooming, presenting the serious spectre of a small community reinforcing their difference within the wider society, with religious laws taking precedence over civil ones. Has anyone stopped to think that if all the various religions demanded adherence to their own particular laws, while ignoring the laws of the country, what chaos there would be? And why should one sector be granted such a right when others are not?

    Second, Sharia Law is part of a minority religion in the UK. We cannot ignore the wishes of the majority to implement a minority law upon them in any form without acknowledging the foundations of that law, i:e the Muslim faith, in much more than a cursory way. Soon aspects of that faith would be imposed upon the general public, if that law is to be implemented with any real effect.

    Third, a law which has to refer to men every step of the way before women can be accorded individual justice flies in the face of equality of opportunity and respect for diversity which Britain firmly espouses. There is much that is unequal in the treatment of women within Sharia Law. It's very essence is based on asserting, reinforcing and maintaining male power and domination (note the all-male courts) especially when, historically, only men have been religious imams and interpreters of that law. The United Kingdom cannot strive to be a multicultural and equal society on one hand, yet condone the unequal treatment of women anywhere within it, on the other.

    Fourth, the introduction of such a law would encourage members of the white majority to feel sidelined and resentful at the perceived privileged status of a minority group and is likely to cause massive backlash, divisions and rebellion. That is not the way to encourage harmony and respect among a diverse community. Respect has to be mutual to be effective and also perceived to be applied. Many white Britons would also regard any such religious imposition as a lack of respect for themselves, their country, their values and their own needs.

    Finally, and most crucial, Britain already has its laws which have been decided by parliament and the democratic process, not by religion and minority interests. These laws must be obeyed by every person within the country to carry any credibility, to demand any respect and to be applicable in a just manner. The minute there are competing laws and judgements, they set up a confusion and perception of vulnerability which robs those laws of their protection and power. Moreover, once certain citizens of a country are perceived to be outside the law of the land, it leads to feelings of insecurity, resentment and exclusion.

    Religious Advice
    There is nothing wrong with services similar to that offered by the Citizens Advice Bureau being available among Muslims, operated by Muslims or any other religious groups, for the benefit of their users. Neither is there anything wrong with people seeking religious advice in practising their faith. But there can only be one law in a country - the overarching law that is meant for everyone as part of a singular community, the law that defines who we are, that protects our interests and is unequivocal in its interpretations.

    Every newcomer to Britain should be made aware of our laws and, as part of any permission to reside in this country, there should be the clear requirement to abide by them too. Nothing else can apply if we really value a multicultural community. The only two essential glues that will hold diverse communities together are: shared communal values and being judged by the same laws. The minute there is a perception of one law being available for some and not for others we have a recipe for social disaster.

    True diversity is the acknowledgement and celebration of difference while sharing and enhancing similarities. If the emphasis remains only on that difference, there will be confusion, division and resentment instead of the true national pride in being British, regardless of creed or colour. We really need to stop now and have a good look at where we are going as a society, to implement some basic public behavioural requirements of our citizens, to emphasise the importance of equality to our people and to ensure only one law rules and guides us.

    Otherwise we will not only become fragmented and divisive, we will also change the focus of what we truly value and desire as a nation, realising, perhaps too late, that it had already been surreptitiously changed for us by a small but determined section simply because we lacked the leadership to decide our collective identity.

    Is Affirmative Action Fair?



    Affirmative action is fair, in the context of which it has been applied. But like anything else that has been in operation for a while, it needs reviewing and something else, perhaps more appropriate to these times, needs to be instituted.

    The biggest case for affirmative action to continue in some form is with the college admission systems. So far, in colleges which no longer use affirmative action to place applicants, the number of Black students being accepted has dramatically declined. Cynics might say that it proves they were not eligible in the first place, but American society is very racist in key parts. Until that racism can be stemmed to some degree, there will always be a need for some remedial or affirmative action. When we have a situation where only White students are being educated in a given area, for whatever reason, what are the economic and social implications for the future when the students of ALL races are that future?

    I have visited America as a Black woman on numerous occasions and have always been struck by the sheer apartheid nature of its society, the way people live in clear racial and cultural divides, hardly mixing at all, seldom understanding one another and with various erroneous perceptions of one another. There is an emphasis instead on getting the semantics right, promoting the jargon of equality without the substance to support it.

    Affirmative action is not there to treat anyone in more favourable terms than another. It is simply about representation: ensuring that a given community is reflected at all levels of activity, particularly in ensuring crucial opportunities to everyone in society, regardless of their colour or culture. The fact that most institutions in America are still very White in composition, despite the growth and success of minorities, show that affirmative action will be needed for a long time to redress the balance of routine and pervasive racism in society, not least because of its history.

    As to one writer who says that all colours in British society are treated 'equally' and 'fairly', she has obviously never lived in Britain! People might live harmoniously here but that does not suggest anything is equal. At least we don't live in exclusively racial ghettos. However, as a Black Briton, there is nothing fair about British society for minorities otherwise they would have advanced much further already. Britain is at least 20 years behind America in effective equality practices.

    Britain tagging behind America
    The reason why there isn't more of a fuss about it is because minorities are not as organised, socially or politically, due to lack of awareness and smaller numbers. The social norms tend to suppress such issues and the history is rather different. Minorities in the UK are a long way behind successful counterparts in the USA because, though we need something like affirmative action to redress some of the glaring imbalances and inequities, that kind of action has been repeatedly resisted by governments. Yet the latest economic report on the state of minority communities in Britain makes dismal reading.

    If a problem is never directly addressed and dealt with, it remains the same or gets even worse. Without doubt, racism is alive and well in America. Until one is on the receiving end of it, it really is a difficult concept to understand, appreciate and accept. A poor White person worries about not having any money and where the next crust is coming from. A Black person worries about the next crust, but also has the added burden of wondering who is going to stop him from getting that crust just because of his colour. That subtle difference between being White and Black can make or break lives.

    The fact that affirmative action is being questioned now shows how successful it has been. Perhaps it needs something else to replace it to be more in tune with developing times, but there is no question as to its fairness and the need for it to redress the relentless inequity. Affirmative action may not be the best thing to remedy the situation for minorities, but it has been a crucial start in the process of equality. Whatever many people feel about it, rightly or wrongly, it has given a lot of minorities a positive start in their lives which they would have been deprived of primarily because of their colour and the spurious belief that one can engender equality simply by saying it without believing in it or acting upon it.

    Five reasons why burning of the Q'uran was such a bad idea



    Recently we have been treated to the most amazing scenario of one man's desire for publicity and power putting many people's lives at risk, and one did wonder where it would all end.

    The threat by a so-called 'reverend' of a church in Gainesville to burn copies of the Q'uran was so wrong on many levels, it truly defies belief. Sadly, the more he said it and attracted similar fanatics to him, the more it assumed a life of its own, one he had perhaps not intended, and the more he had to continue with his deadly game in order not to lose face. Now he says that he has 'suspended' his action (obviously it will come in handy for another time when he wants more publicity!) while he played brinkmanship with the lives of fellow Americans. It really is time that cowardly people, especially die hard racists and covert terrorists, stop hiding behind the First Amendment, or using it to give their dastardly deeds continued credibility.

    We are all entitled to free speech and actions in a democracy, but when that speech is used to inflame and to denigrate rather than to uplift or enhance, to cause consequences which could be pretty far reaching and deadly, there is nothing free about it at all. It would be pretty costly.

    The actions of this man of the cloth (whose own Christianity appears to have deserted him!) has been so wrong primarily for the following reasons:

    1. If he is a real Christian, a religion which mainly teaches LOVE and FORGIVENESS, where is his forgiveness? Or does his religion allow him to pick and choose the bits he wants while he speaks for God and ignores the rest?

    2. Would any Christian like the idea of any number of their Bibles being publicly burnt, which would have shown a marked disrespect for their beliefs and chosen way of life?

    3. It is dangerous to hold any group of people, of whatever creed or culture, collectively responsible for the bad deeds of a minority among them. There is no such thing as a perfect society to be found anywhere. Every community has good, bad and indifferent, hence the consitent crime all over the world. If we are not going to hold a whole street of people responsible for the murder committed by someone that lives there, why would we wish to hold a whole race of people in similar light for the actions of their deviant folks? It is only our desire for superiority and our low confidence in ourselves - wishing to boost that confidence at the expense of others - why we would treasure our uniqueness and individuality, while denying others their own!

    4. Such actions do nothing to bring people together, further greater cultural understanding or help to foster the world peace we all crave. They are guaranteed to keep the wounds open, the resentment running deeper and the anger relentless. Anyway, how does behaving like a terrorist, with little regard for others and their belies, make the good reverend any better than those ghastly perpetrators? We do not make ourselves, or the situation, any better by sinking to the level of the evil we condemn.

    5. Most important, it sullies and cheapens the memory of 9/11 and diverts attention away from the loss. It makes the perpetrators into martyrs and associates the anniversary even more closely with mindless violence, instead of keeping that memory alive for posterity in love, forgiveness and hope. Instead of Americans focusing on that tragic loss on each anniversary, the memory of the proposed Q'uran burning will divert the focus of remembrance.

    One cannot blame the reverend too much for what has happened. One has to place it against the current free-for-all backdrop where some pretty ghastly things seem to be happening under the protection of the First Amendment. For someone outside America looking in, tis good country seems to be going trough some pretty scary times, particularly where those with the power and the privilege assume a God-given right to create mayhem in His name, while using all kinds of excuses to justify their actions. It really is a sorry time for the world's greatest super-power.

    As Christianity itself teaches, "An eye for an eye makes everyone blind."

    We all hope America finds its way pretty soon before this kind of obvious lawlessness makes everyone blind to the basic truths of learning to live together in tolerance and respect.

    Does the arrival of a white baby to black parents signal something profound about the whole aspect of spirituality and our collective consciousness?



    A completely white baby was born recently to a black Nigerian couple in London. This baby had features, especially her blonde hair, that not even other white babies had at such an early stage. There were no white ancestors in the parents' heritage and, if the real father had been white, the baby would have been definitely mixed race, no matter how "white" she appeared to be. Not even the learned doctors in the field have any explanation for the phenomenon and have put it down to mutated genes.

    Professor Bryan Sykes, head of human genetics at Oxford University, described the birth as "extraordinary." He commented that, for the baby to be completely white, both Ben and Angela would need to have "some form of white ancestry...The hair is extremely unusual. Even many blonde children don't have blonde hair like this at birth."

    But I wonder if the answer could be something else?

    I have read tons of books and some of them espouse the belief that we are spiritual beings inhabiting a human body, hence why death is not such a trauma as we think, while a few more actually believe that children CHOOSE their parents, not the other way round. If we are really spiritual beings in human clothing, it follows that anyone can be our parents, regardless of colour or creed. It really wouldn't matter except to racists!

    Again, as strange as this might sound, if children choose their parents, then perhaps this baby belonged somewhere else but 'chose' these parents instead for whatever reason!

    It all sounds outlandish and improbable, but there are TONS we do not understand about our bodies, our minds and our world. Pretending we have all the answers won't give us the true answers either. Only an open mind, the willingness to explore the improbable and the confidence to appreciate that there are many possible answers to unexplained phenomenon will move us closer to greater understanding of where we have come from and where we are heading!