Stories in the news over the holidays are a poignant reminder of two putrid scabs that have been scratched, picked, exposed and festered in 2017.
In October, US civil rights group NAACP warned of “a pattern of disturbing incidents reported by African-American passengers, specific to American Airlines. Yet, Marquis Teague and Trahson Burrell were wrongly accused on Christmas eve of stealing blankets from the first class cabin on an American Airlines flight. They were thrown off the plane before it took off at Dallas – not believed that other passengers had given them the blankets. American Airlines later apologised and flew the men onwards to their destination. Teague and Burrell are black, that the flight attendant involved is also black is irrelevant, as it is institutionalised racism that is at play.
Also across the pond, the strange irony of misogyny at the heart of Miss America is unveiled. Senior officials in the organisation have been found sending derogatory emails about contestants appearance, intellect and speculation about their sex lives. This has resulted in the resignation of the chief executive, president and chairman of the Miss America Organisation. The beauty pageant represents the objectification of women. That overtly misogynistic behaviour pervades at senior levels is no surprise. It is time this cattle market was run out of town for good.
Calling out individual acts is not enough. Nor is merely mobilising liberal outrage against racism and misogyny. I continue to learn more and more of my own privilege from two very important black sisters with whom I work. Even as senior trade union officials for us three, everyday lived experiences can be starkly different. I value their friendship, comradeship and patience as I sometimes have to play catch up with what is blinding obvious to them. The intersectional racism and sexism seeps into every part of our daily lives, institutionalised, unthinking and unconscious bias as well as the outrageous, illegal abhorrant and overt.
Too many class warriors on the Left still feel uncomfortable in acknowledging their own White privilege. Until we do, women and men of colour will remain marginalised, patronised and on the fringes of our class politics. And many brothers well versed in workers rights and class politics are dangerously lacking in sexual politics.
I recall in my 20s a very uncomfortable meeting with a then senior trade union official at which he spent the entire hour talking to my breasts. Ironically I was asking him to help me with some work I was developing on policies on sexual harassment in the workplace. This was the 1980s and it was as unacceptable then as it is today. Why did I not call it out? The power relationship between senior men and younger women meant that he knew it would be more damaging for me than him to do so at that time. So I didn’t and I regret that.
Coincidently, US sister Jane McAlevey has written this week on the pervasiveness of this problem in the workplace and in our movement. Importantly McAlevey addresses the necessary challenge to power through women winning solutions that will end workplace harassment and change the culture for the better for all.
So ends 2017 – the year of the Trump, Grenfell, Weinstein and Damian Green. Joining #BlackLivesMatter to challenge privilege is #MeToo. The evil twins of Everyday Racism and Pervasive Misogyny – your time is up! These seeping wounds can no longer be allowed to heal over, scab and itch and be scratched again, spilling blood, and causing pain. They need exposed and gouched out once and for all.
For 2018 I hope to expand my Step Aside Brother challenge first mooted in this blog earlier this year. Everywhere I have tested it women in our movement love the concept. Some men have been very supportive too. Step Aside Brother is an idea whose time has come.