2 October 2020

The Importance of Important Things

So I know it’s been ages since I’ve written anything (that’s another post in itself), but overall, let’s just say that COVID and quarantine sucks and has been much harder than I expected. And yes, I am very well aware of all my privileges in a time that has been so difficult for everyone. But it still sucked, and it was very hard to write – well, until today.

We all know that 2020 is a terrible year. The shitty level is measured only by if you were alive during the depression or in WWII, or you know, during the Black Plague. But overall, pure shit. One of the things that has been amazing about it though, is discourse. People are at home, discussing things that are important to them. And it’s not that this has never happened before – of course it has – it just feels like we’re all paying more attention to it. Or at least I know I am.

And so, after a few months of silence, I would like to share with you the latest thing, in to be fair, a very long line of things, that is pissing me off. What is it today? Well, it’s when you’re having a discussion about something that you consider important with someone, and they brush it off at the end saying ” yes, well, there are more important things to worry about.” Then, in an ever so haughty manner, list out all the catastrophes in the world today. World Hunger, War, COVID, Racism. Whatever.

BITCH PLEASE

These days, there’s some serious discussions about racism in the humanitarian sector. There have been numerous stories about it, including this moving testimony by Coleen Daniels, a number of very interesting stories in The New Humanitarian, which you can find here, here and here (there are many more but these are a good start), The Guardian and so many more.

While people are fighting to be heard about the racism they face within a sector that must, by nature, do and know better, others, generally the powers that be, respond (and I’m paraphrasing here, obviously) : these race problems are not our problems, this is how we work, discussing these issues will take the focus away from the good work we are doing in the world, the populations in need of our support, etc.

For those of you saying that, it is important that this message be CRYSTAL clear – speaking out about racism in the aid sector does not make someone worry any less about Ebola in Congo, the refugees in Dadaab or the malnourished in Yemen. The people who spoke to the reporters at The New Humanitarian said it much better than I:

In an indication of the level of tension over the issue, the MSF staffer said any message that MSF had to balance its priorities wouldn’t work: “You don’t get to say ‘sorry, but COVID is more important than racism’. 

“Don’t tell me I can’t battle COVID and racism. Fuck off.”

The New Humanitarian

Those that are bringing up the racism issues in the aid sector understand that the problems faced by those populations are vital, and are also smart enough to understand that by having an underlying, systemic racist approach (whether we see it or not) in the management and implementation of humanitarian interventions, it actually limits organisational capacity to intervene for these people. Designed programs are potentially less effective, communities and authorities are insulted and thus less interested in support provided, and as a sector we continue to perpetuate a system of dependance and saviour-ism that suits so many decision makers.

When most NGOs have more than three quarters of its staff hired locally, and they are telling you that racism is a problem, how can tell them that it is not? Are their voices so worthless to you that they are not worth being heard? Honestly, who do you think you are, with your highbrow lectures coming from your (and my!) place of inherent privilege? How does hearing them, dealing with these issues, take away from the other work that you do? Does it not enhance it? It is vital that these issues about race be properly addressed, because by addressing them, the quality of our interventions will improve. Isn’t that what we want? So yes, we can worry about the different humanitarian emergencies in the world, and also face our racist tendencies. As was said in the quote posted above, many of these important issues can be handled at the same time.

Another example is with this whole issue of gender pronouns, and trans rights. There’s been an important discussion on trans identity and rights – are trans women really women? What rights should they have? There are some that say that calling trans women “women” take away the long battle feminists have fought for equality. There are others that disagree, stating that this is simply another front for feminism in the fight for equality, stating that the premise for the argument is false, taking away the agency from those who decide to transition. Whatever your opinion is (FYI -mine is that trans women are women, just to be clear), those who say that discussing this issue in itself is a problem, that this is hurting feminism, are wrong. This is something that needs to be discussed, even if there is heated disagreement, because this is the only way that the discussion will move forward. And discussing this, saying that trans women are women, does not take away from feminism. In fact, Intersectional Feminism, is all about this. As outlined on the UN Women website:

Intersectional feminism centres the voices of those experiencing overlapping, concurrent forms of oppression in order to understand the depths of the inequalities and the relationships among them in any given context.

UN Women website, Originally published on Medium.com/@UN_Women

Discussing these different issues does not take away from the feminist argument, it enhances it, refines it, provides us with a better understanding of what people are facing out there. When we have a better understanding of the problem, we can come up with a better solution.

ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR WATSON.

In all honestly, the whole argument of “don’t we have more important things to worry about? Look at what is happening in the world right now!” (Insert list here) is an imperious and morally reprehensible argument used by people who cannot seem to convince you to see their point of view on a particular issue and thus try to reduce the validity of your opinions by making you somehow seem ethically immature. As a human being, I can worry about my weight, the explosion in Lebanon, the potential availability of a COVID vaccine world wide, racism in the aid sector, my hair loss, Angelina Jolie’s love of sack dresses, why people insist on putting raisins in cookies and think they taste good, and the British Press & Royal Family’s constant bullying of Harry & Meghan all at the same time. I can multi-task like that. Just because I am discussing Ellen’s bad behaviour and Kate’s latest button extravaganza on my fave weekly Zoom call (Hi Celebitchy!), it doesn’t mean that I don’t think the situation of migrants worldwide, the continuing divide between rich and poor, or the fact that Donald Trump will kill us all, are important issues. Of course they are, and I pay close attention to each of them. But because I have a functioning brain, I also pay attention to other things.

It’s called being human. Try it sometime, instead of being a patronising prick.