Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Utterly Fearless Sister

That's me and my sister.
Younger but not behind.
Creative but not unhinged.
Older but not darker.
Spiritual but with no more faith.

Empathic but not lost.
Talkative but not domineering.
Annoying but not unreasonable.
Standing firm but not inflexible.

Small but not ignored.
Bright but not dazzling.
Happy but not flighty.
Impulsive but not inconsiderate.

Angry but not unfocused.
Chaotic but not disorganised.
Intuitive but not illogical.
Child-like but not childish.

Truthful but not sugar-coated.
Real but not vicious.
Compassionate but not uncompromising.
Loving but not wordy.

My utterly fearless sister.

This started as a throwaway Facebook status acknowledging my sister on her birthday. I expanded it and wrote it in her card.

My mum read it and said, 'Where did you get this from?' When I told her that I wrote it, she didn't believe me!

I took it as a compliment.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Shades of Grey: People Sometimes Call Me Judgemental

People sometimes call me judgemental.
Don't Judge...

I say it is part of my job to be judgemental.

It is my job to take limited data and make some assumptions based on my worldview beliefs.

I am well aware that I am judged on my opinions, what I say, how I act, how I dress, my music taste, my religious upbringing, the colour of my skin...anything actually.

And I am willing to be responsible for my own judgements, the fact I express them, and therefore the way I conduct myself.

But if I gently (because it has to be subtle) point out the judgement you made about me, and laid bare your thought process, you don’t have to get annoyed. That’s your choice.

Perhaps people don’t know they’re being judgemental.

When you're young, being part of the group is almost all that matters. After the nice home and parents sorts itself out (and I'm lucky in this regard), being part of the crowd was essential for me.

When I was younger, at one point it was all that mattered. It became a driven thing.

Of course, the formative experiences with integrating myself into a majority-white culture have influenced my worldview. This is of course just a view - not the truth. Just my truth. My judgements.

Marketing is just making judgments based on data. Information is collected, collated and assembled about our behaviour continuously. Quite a few (somewhat accurate) predictions about someone’s behaviour can be made from which websites they use, the supermarket from which they buy their family shopping...even their postcode.

I've seen and used information on this in my job previous to a teacher.

It's not that difficult to make an educated guess based on available data (what could be considered a judgement) about someone's vote in a general election based on their job, likely income, car they drive, the area in which they choose to live, and upbringing.

They all paint a picture. And it's not black and white.

Don't tell me I'm judgmental and then shy away from an intellectual discussion with me because I can articulate my thought process. And. You. Cannot. I know I use assumptions to make a statement. I am aware of my world views, opinions and upbringing. I can explain all of that. I can give reasoning why I’m doing that. I am responsible for it.

We all make judgements and assumptions. It's how our brains work and conserve energy.

It's a survival mechanism.

Consider these facts.

Fact 1:
Young man grows up in Surrey. Goes to Catholic primary school. Does well. Passes 11+. Attends grammar school. Does well. Goes to university. Votes. Leaves with good degree. Starts working in marketing. Earns good living. Pays taxes. Goes to the gym. Retrains to become a teacher. Teaches in a private school. Buys a flat. Votes again. Gets married. Makes progress in teaching. Buys a house. And on Thursday May 7th 2015 voted...

Fact 2:
Teacher phones parent about son's progress. Teacher has Spanish-sounding name. Teacher speaks in perfect grammar-school home-county-grown English. Son enjoys lesson but needs to work harder. Parent comes to Parents' Evening and can't hide their flicker of surprise when they meet the brown-skinned-black-bearded teacher of their son. Who was brought up...

Fact 3:
Student walks into an off licence with friend. Student buys ice-cream. Friend buys alcohol. Friend pays for alcohol. Student pays for ice-cream. Shop owner speaks to student in foreign-sounding language. Student feels awkward. Student mumbles apology. Shop owner delivers withering but confused look. Student leaves with friend. And is angry because...

As you read those, you may have noticed your own judgements, thoughts and opinions.

Scratch the surface a little and you might be surprised what you find.

Response to Fact 1:
I registered to vote. I spend my time poking holes in the Conservative party facts. I do not like what they say they stand for. Thank you for immediately assuming I am Labour voter before giving me a chance to detail my views. Actually no. There are shades of grey amongst the blue and red. I went through the basics of each party’s manifesto. I could not personally align myself with any of them. Politicians are only interested in votes. Their job is based on serving interests other than the people’s. They do not conduct themselves with integrity. So I took my voting card, went to my polling station and spoiled my ballot. A perfectly legitimate expression in a so-called democracy.

Response to Fact 2:
I sit at my desk during parents’ evenings and observe. I have grown up on the edges and in the cracks. I’m happier there. I have the freedom to be thought of as ‘weird’. Some parents sit down and say ‘Do you have a brother who works for xyz? His surname is D’Souza’. Yes! Of course I would be related to someone whose name you had not been exposed to in your narrow existence. There are shades of grey amongst the blue-rinse and bleach-blonde. My first language is English. My parents’ first language is English. My Mum was born in Kenya. My Dad was born in Uganda. My family originate from Goa. My grandparents learned Portuguese in school. My parents met in the UK. Wrap your head around that. Thank you for attempting to bridge the gap between your majority-culture-superiority-complex mindset and the brown-skinned-black-bearded teacher who was brought up Catholic.

Response to Fact 3:
I know that withering but confused look. It says ‘you have betrayed your culture’; it says ‘you’ve become one of them’; it says ‘why did you turn your back? We’re supposed to stick together’. Actually it’s not that simple. There are shades of grey amongst brown, black, white and yellow. Thank you for assuming I could speak your language because I have brown skin. I’m sure you would have reacted differently if I walked in with the blue-hair I had the previous week.

I used to live my life desperately attempting to integrate. But the more I tried, the less I accepted myself. The more I wanted a standard family history like my contemporaries, the less I felt like participating. The more I craved attention for my intellect, the less I valued friendship. 

I could go on.

People sometimes call me judgemental.

I say it is part of my job to be judgemental.

It is my job to take limited data and make some assumptions based on my worldview beliefs.

I am well aware that I am judged on my opinions, what I say, how I act, how I dress, my music taste, my religious upbringing, the colour of my skin...anything actually.

And I am willing to be responsible for my own judgements, the fact I express them, and therefore the way I conduct myself.

Are you?

Can you see the people who are on the edge and living in the cracks? Can you see the shades of grey?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

My Last General Election

I am stating here categorically that I was *not* arrested the last time I voted during a general election.

It was May 2010.

I was hot.

I’d spent a day at school making people think - I was just going to continue doing it for a little while longer.

Some say we all wear masks anyway - we all hide our truest expression. Other teachers at my school wear masks: the fearsome; the nice; the tyrant etc.

I just put on a different one.

A Guy Fawkes mask.

Yes, I had just taught all day such a mask. I like the fact it has become a symbol of many things in recent times. ‘V for Vendetta’ and Anonymous have re-appropriated it wonderfully.
It's not Hallowe'en. It's Election 2010 style.

The funny thing is, I didn’t expect it to last. I walked around all day - and not once was I requested to take it off.

My classes found it disturbing that they had no facial expressions to read. I thought it was hilarious.

So by the time I walked into my polling station, I’d was used to it. There were a few stares. But again - nobody said anything.

I was just hot.

Now - if I’d been asked politely to take it off, I would have. I was ready to.

But nope - nothing.

So with a polite and gentlemanly manner, I handed in my polling card - which had my name and address on it - and collected my ballot paper.

I used my best, calm-sounding voice.

I am a grammar-school-educated-middle-class-Surrey-boy after all.

I made my mark, dropped off my ballot paper, and left.

Unchallenged about the mask.

At this point in the story, it gets a little surreal.

I was walking back to my car (tweeting of all things) when a police van pulled up and stopped. I sighed inwardly.

The interaction went something like this:

Policeman: “Remove the mask”.
Me: “Why?”
Policeman: "Take the mask off”.
Me: “Are you going to say please?"
Policemen: “Remove the mask or I will forcibly take the mask off”.
Me: Removes mask. Reveals sweaty face.

They then questioned me (doing their level best to intimidate me) saying that they’d had reports of ‘disturbing behaviour’ in the area of someone ‘intimidating people’. I nodded.

They questioned me about what I had done. I explained what I did. One of them produced a poster I had altered. (I had changed the word ‘candidate’ to ‘liar’ in pencil).

Criminal Damage
It constituted criminal damage which carried a custodial sentence.

They then searched me and found my board pens. And asked what I was doing with them. I explained I was a teacher. I was then informed that if they suspected I was *intending* to cause criminal damage with the pens, that they could arrest me.

They also said they understood that emotions were running high and that they would let me off.

But they did take my name saying that if I ever caused a disturbance on polling day again, I would be arrested.



I did wonder how they found me. When I asked, they said that they happened to be passing by and one of the polling officers  flagged down the van. They had taken a slow drive around the block and chanced upon me walking to the car.

Damn smartphones and Twitter.

The paperwork was completed and I was sent on my way. To ponder the whole interaction.

I am stating here categorically that I was *not* arrested the last time I voted during a general election.