Why this BULS member will be supporting the Holocaust Educational Trust motion to Guild Council – A response to Max Ramsey’s blog.
I empathise with the difficult task faced by anti semitism activists on campus. They are fighting a kind of discrimination that is at first hard to recognise unless you experience it and harder still to teach others to recognise.
It’s manifestations are numerous, coloured by thousands of years of oppression. Whether this is the overtly offensive comparison of Israel to the Nazi’s designed to invoke the pain of memories only as old as some people’s grandmothers. Or the much older still references to stingy money lenders, a product of Christians not being allowed to lend to each other with interest, or even simply the old standards of being hairy and big nosed. Recognition of antisemitism and understanding of antisemitism often rests on good historical education. Recognition of the racism involved rests on recognising a semitic race apart from others when their numbers are so few in the UK.
I empathise with the task of these activists but it’s not to say that I will ever truly know their experience of antisemitism. I am a firm believer that we cannot know other’s true experience of their own oppression.
You may or may not know what it feels like to be a 23 year old lesbian in Britain today, you can learn a lot about it, but you either experience it or you don’t.
From the moment I leave my house in the morning to the moment I return my experience of life is coloured in many thousands of ways by this identity. Some of these the non-lesbian reader will be able to recognise, more of these people who suffer similar discrimination might recognise (such as black or disabled people), more I will recognise, but still there will be decisions about my character made by others, jobs I won’t apply for or bars I wait just that little bit longer to be served in, things that I won’t even notice. All things that impact on me simply because I’m a lesbian.
Discrimination is a hard thing to pin down for yourself let alone trying to educate others to recognise it.
As an activist on campus then you have some difficult choices to make. There are types of discrimination that better education has led to better recognition of, however homophobia and anti semitism are two categories of discrimination that we are far behind on. Most people today could point to a limp wristed gesture at a gay man as homophobia, however they may struggle to pinpoint the problem with straight women saying they don’t mind lesbians as long as they don’t fancy them.
Similarly most people can understand the antisemitism in stereotypes about big noses, but many fail to see the latent antisemitism in referring to Jewish activists as secretive, sneaky Zionist lobbyists.
The delicate choice is what particular piece of discrimination do I choose to target first.
How much is too much to soon? What will blow up in my face? If I raise this particular issue will the retaliative discrimination be too much for me personally? Will my actions backfire on my already too reticent community? Will I cope? Is it worth it anyway?
But you have to be brave.
Max’s question about why we should pay for one type of education over another is misplaced. When chair of the LGBTQ I had many an argument with various guild officers about getting funding for various kinds of training for LGBTQ activists. On one occasion I spent 3 hours arguing for a one day course that literally cost £10. The prevailing argument against my efforts was what would they do if BEMA, women’s, disabled, international, home etc…students came along and asked for the same. But they weren’t asking and no one was giving. This is because the guild has no proactive plan for furthering equality and diversity on campus. We can therefore in the very least actually react when discrimination presents itself and we have an opportunity to act.
I had a conversation with a guild officer recently about how I never go to Fab’n'Fresh (the guild’s club night) apart from for results nights. I calmly explained to a shocked officer how every time I go I am aggressively verbally abused by people only too keen to get up in my personal space and point out to me I am a lesbian. This happens every time I go without fail. This is something I have told guild officers many times over the years and every time they tell me it’s a disgrace. And every time they do nothing.
This week I am at NUS Women’s Conference as our LGBT rep paid for by money raised by the Women’s Association’s doughnut sale. My varying experiences of hate because of gender and because of my sexuality apparently aren’t even worth £50 of the Guild’s money.
The motion in question asks for a lot of funding, but frankly it’s needed. Last year alone 639 incidents of antisemitism were recorded by the Community Security Trust, which when you consider the British Jewish community is estimated to be a population of no more than 350 000 and just how much hate crime is never reported, is a considerable amount. Come to think of it, I have never reported a hate crime against myself to any official recording body. The most important thing to note here though is that antisemitism is on the rise, both 2009 and 2010 were record highs since the records of the CST began in 1984.
This is not a kind of discrimination that is quietly stagnating whilst we do nothing about it, it is getting bigger and it is coming to campus.
The Holocaust Education Trust provides numerous and different approaches in it’s educational programmes. It possesses masses of resources on contemporary genocide not just the Holocaust. It plays an integral role in areas of the UK affected by racial tension seeking to educate against all kinds of racial hatred not just antisemitism.
I think also the point about paying particular attention to the Holocaust on occasion is not due to it’s proximity to the UK as Max suggested, but because there is simply no comparable example of genocide on that scale, because it was mechanised and systematic and because it was the defining and damning event of the last century.
We spend more time scrutinising every possible opportunity for progress in finding equality on campus till we end up doing nothing at all.
We stop numerous initiatives by individuals and groups in favour of a better, more multilateral, more equitable option that nobody ever offers instead. Equality will not be achieved by all, in equal measures, at the same time. This is a nice idea in theory but it is fantasy none the less.
The proposers of this motion are giving us a chance to put our money where our mouth is and be proactive, if we choose to wait for the ‘better’ proposal or for when we all think it’s ‘worth’ the expenditure, we will be waiting for something degrading, disgusting and downright dangerous to happen on campus before we do anything. That is shameful.
If you want to be part of a Guild that takes real action on equality support this motion at Guild Council.
By Emma O’Dwyer – BULS Member