Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Boys will be boys and politicians will be idiots

Following on from my previous post I'd like to extend a massive thank you to the MP from Mangere Su'a William Sio for explaining the issue of knife violence in south Auckland by saying that boys will be boys. Really.
Thank you Mr. Sio for starting the conversation that we need to have about our young men (there's a conversation that needs to be had about our young women as well, and one about our fa'afafine and trans* youth, but one boundary at a time). Through your comments, the media are now asking experts about what it means to be a boy (who, we are assured, will continue to be a boy). They are now discussing machismo in a way that never would have happened if you'd kept your damaging, shortsighted opinion to yourself.

He's done some good stuff. Really. Just.....not today.
Here's what "boys will be boys" means, Mr. Sio. Boys will be boys says men can't help themselves and it's a woman's fault when she's raped. Boys will be boys apologises for the harassment that almost all women and girls face every time they step out of their front door (see @everydaysexism if you still have a shred of belief in humanity left, you won't for long). Boys will be boys means that bullying is tolerated to the point of complicity in our schools and workplaces. Boys will be boys makes freaks and victims of our queer, trans* and otherwise "unmanly" young men who may be boys but just not the right sort for this swaggering statement that drips with contempt and braggadocio. Boys will be boys smothers the right of our young men to be honest and open about any feeling that can't be displayed with a raised voice or a fist.
We have created a culture that excuses the worst excesses of testosterone whilst demanding that our young men abide by the constraints of those excesses. We pillory and mock those young men who seek to live in a way that doesn't fit this straitjacket, and then wonder why they lash out when things are tough.
Stop pigeonholing. Stop stifling. Stop marginalising.

Boys will be boys Mr. Sio, but until we as a society address and change what it means to be a boy then your tautology will be nothing more than an excuse for violence. Of all the things you could have said to the community about these dreadful incidents, I can't think of anything less helpful. I hope you use this as an opportunity to open up the discussion about the young men you represent.

Your electorate will be watching.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

We need to talk about weapons

Today has been an upsetting one for education and south Auckland.
This morning two pre-teens at a private school got in a fight that left one of them in intensive care with stab wounds from a pair of scissors. The afternoon, two teenagers at a large south Auckland campus were also treated for stab wounds in an incident police say is unrelated to this morning's violence.
I come from a culture where knife crime is endemic. Social workers used to come into classes I taught to talk to 14 year olds about the consequences of carrying knives. In my home town, nearly all of my male peers have been at least threatened with a blade, some on multiple occasions. The penalties for carrying knives in public without good reason are severe. In the classroom, knives for practical use were unheard of, and any dissection required hawk-like vigilance.
Weapons amnesty, Glasgow.

So when I came to New Zealand to find sharp knives delivered with science practical orders, scissors left out in classrooms, and kids allowed to bring their own little retractable blades for cutting paper, I didn't know where to put myself. It seemed a recipe for disaster and led to some amusing-in-retrospect showdowns between myself and bemused kids. Over time I've come to appreciate the higher trust we have in our children and the behaviour with which our young people repay that trust.
Today's incidents have therefore left me rather shaken, my cosy antipodean worldview turned, in more ways than one, upside down. We teachers strive to make our schools safe havens for our young people, in some cases the only safe haven they have. Schools in NZ lack the security fencing, weapons-amnesty bins and police officers that I've seen in some schools in London and elsewhere, because we trust that our schools are free from weapons and provide an environment where young people feel safe enough not to need one.

Ad campaigns you never want to see.
There is a huge discussion that needs to happen now in schools and communities about whether this idyll is real or if there's been something fundamental that we've missed. We need to think and talk and discuss with our communities and whanau why these young people decided to settle their arguments with weapons rather than words. We need to ask where this need to arm themselves came from, why their anger has become such that it needs a sharp edge. It needs to be a discussion that is sensitive to the needs of the cultures of those communities, whilst not becoming another lazy "That's just south Auckland for you" hard pass. We can't afford to pass it off as isolated coincidence, and we can't afford to turn our noses up because of the postcode these schools find themselves in.

Am I overreacting? Possibly, but I'd rather schools and communities took today as a chance to have some real talk and thought about how they can support their young men and women, than end up with our own version of the London fortress schools.

Friday, 20 June 2014

John Key and the Ordinary Kiwi Bloke

It occurred to me today, listening to Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint and yet another vile National cabinet member ejaculate smugness over whatever pointless bullshit has been deemed Important by the media this hour, that John Key makes me genuinely concerned for the emotional wellbeing of "ordinary" New Zealanders. You know, the only ones politicians care about.

The "ordinary" New Zealander, from what I can gather, is straight, white, male, aged between 25 and 50, follows the All Blacks and the America's Cup, drinks domestic beer and likes his meat to be quality cuts and barbecued. He might even let the missus man the grill, because he's a modern Kiwi Bloke.

He also, if I understand Big John correctly, suffers from dreadful self-esteem and has some horrible toxic relationships that should by rights result in therapy or at the very least an intervention.

John Key's popularity would appear to hinge on his "ordinariness", his "blokeyness". He's like a mate, isn't he? He doesn't waste time talking to those leftie eggheads on RadioNZ, he's talking to the Morning Rumble about how pleased he is that Dan Carter's coming off sabbatical! He pulls derpface in selfies with young voters! He plays beer pong with acceptable homos at their annual funfair! He even bought a samosa at the Diwali festival! Man of the people!

If his popularity stems from the notion that he's a mate you could have a beer with, then you can extrapolate the friendships the Ordinary Kiwi Bloke has. And they are horrible.

Apparently, it's fine to put stuff your mate owns already up for sale, sell it back to your mates, then pocket the profits (what DID happen to all that money from asset sales, anyway? It must have been important if you had to FIRE SALE AIR NEW ZEALAND), if you also appear on Coast FM mid-morning to talk about how well our boys played against Australia.

If my mate decided to take away my access to adult education classes, it'd take a bit more than joking about gay red shirts to make me invite them over to my house again.

The "Regular Kiwi Bloke" seems to have friends who think it's OK to shit all over their front gardens, or sell those front gardens off as parking space to the global equivalent of a biker gang and then pocket the money, and they'll forgive them as long as those friends can sympathise when a yacht (paid for with the profits from all those oil-leaking Harleys tearing up your cuttygrass, incidentally), loses out to a yacht paid for by a different millionaire who is evil because he DOESN'T watch Outrageous Fortune.

If your friends talk to you with the same level of contempt that's shown to the electorate by Key, English et al, then I have some bad news for you. THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS. They are just hanging out with you to see what they can mooch off you.

I don't want my politicians to be my friends. I don't want to know their opinions of Game of Thrones, roller derby or where they are going for their summer holidays (especially if it's their fucking holiday home in Hawaii). I want to know their opinions on child poverty, education and healthcare. I can live with them not wanting to play beer pong with me if they will actively engage on issues a bit more pressing than Richie McCaw.

We need to stop being placated with trivial mateyness and start holding these people to account.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Your Snark is Problematic: NZ Politics and Voter Apathy

This is not a blog about David Cunliffe. It's not about Chinese businessmen, immigration letters or phone calls to police.

It's not about German multimillionaires flying MPs on amnesiac flights to mansions. It's not about Team New Zealand. It's not about the "Nasty Party", expensive jackets and powdered milk sitting on docks.

It's about apathy.

The only excuse you have for not remembering flying in one of these is if you are unconscious and being flown to hospital
It's about the white, middle-class and middle-aged complaint that "the youth" aren't interested in voting. It's the bewildered look in the eyes of politicians and journalists as they list poor voter turnout stats and wring hands about why aren't brown people, poor people, young people going to the polls. It's that faux-anger about "Well, why don't YOU run for office then?" when those who fail to vote point out that they have no voice and what is democracy without representation?

The handwringers are missing the point.

We watch the politicians as they tear phantasmic strips of trustworthiness off each other over letters that most of us would regard as junk mail. We listen to them sit dewy-eyed in the witness stands as they fail to recollect taking methods of transport most of us will never see up close, unless we become a traffic statistic somewhere picturesque. We grit our teeth as they talk about how there's "no money" to fund breakfast clubs in our poorest areas, while shrugging their shoulders as yet another thousand manufacturing jobs go to the wall. We facepalm as they talk about the economic benefits of funding a bunch of rich white guys to race a FUCKING YACHT against another group of rich white guys, whilst quibbling over the cost of making healthcare accessible to all, in a country with the highest rates of rheumatic fever in the developed world.

Cost to taxpayer: $26million

We see all this, and wonder why the hell we should bother with any of you.

You want to improve voter turnout? Be someone worth voting for.

Government grant to KidsCan for free breakfasts in D1-4 schools: $150,000
I dare you.

Stop with the grubby snarking in the House. TURN UP TO PARLIAMENT AND DO YOUR JOB. some of you have an attendance rate that would get us fired from our places of work, if we're lucky enough to have one. Look at the issues that actually matter. Do I care about some dinner some woman with a tinplate haircut attended with some chairman? Not really. I do care that every column inch dedicated to her hors-d'oeuvres is a column inch that's not asking you how you're going to ensure that every Maori boy gets an equal shot at education as the snottiest Takapuna Grammar girl. I want to see you pull your tongue out from between the cheeks of the investors who give no regard for either our tangata or our whenua (and definitely not for our tangata whenua) and instead get your hands dirty actually trying to make life better for everyone in your electorate, not just the ones who give anonymous cheques.

You can be a rich old white man and still have something worthwhile to say, if for once you stopped talking exclusively to other rich old white men.

There's fewer of them out there than you think.