Marie Lightman, an accomplished writer/poet/performer based in Newcastle, England was so incensed at the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees she asked for poets throughout the world to contribute towards an anthology Writers for Calais Refugees.
Reception conditions for the refugees in Calais are worsening and there is an increasing death toll of refugees attempting to cross the channel from Calais to Dover. People are getting together all over the UK to send basic aid, that is not being provided in the holding camp in Calais. Writers are in the unique position to be able to express their concerns about the situation that the state does not seem to share.
Writers for Calais Refugees is an anthology in support of people seeking refuge.
After one of my poems was chosen, Marie and I have kept in touch, through emails and Facebook. In the last few weeks, she called again for writers to raise their voices, particularly after the shocking death of Jo Cox MP and the divisive BREXIT Campaign but also many incidents across Europe and throughout the world, where bigotry and prejudice flourish.
A new website was born:
As I write this, an alarming number of cases of intolerance are being reported in the press. We as writers are in the unique position to express our concerns over people being discriminated against because of their race, faith, sexuality, or for any other reasons. Everyone should be appreciated for who they are, without fear or judgement.
1.an unfavourable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
2.any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favourable or unfavourable.
3.unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
4.such attitudes considered collectively: The war against prejudice is never-ending.
Prejudice is Everywhere
As a society, we have to be aware of prejudice, and consistently challenge each other about assumptions and word choice, even if that means being uncomfortable and starting controversial and difficult conversations .
Writers, in particular, must be aware – after all, stereotypes (we use them all the time in our writing, especially on screen), are assumptions and tropes about certain people (characters) whether it is the picture postcard Scot who is mean or drunk, the stiff-upper-lip or foppish Englishman, the stupid Irishman, the dumb blonde, the nagging mother-in-law, the larrikin Aussie etc.
Prejudice is often masked as jokes, perpetuated by media by sensational reporting, and stirred up by irresponsible politicians.
However, we can make a conscious effort to not be prejudiced. Choose to speak out for tolerance and harmony like Marie and countless others do. The power of storytelling and words encourages creative thinking as well as writing. Conversations can change relationships and attitudes.
Perspective -A Cautionary Tale
This week, my family experienced the perfect example of prejudice.
My youngest daughter was coming home late (10pm) Tuesday night after dropping her sister off in Elwood. She stopped the car at traffic lights at Glenhuntly Road and a man appeared from a nearby park and tried to get into her car.
She only got a glimpse of a hooded figure and a gloved hand at the window as he yanked at the door because she screamed and automatically hit the central locking switch, planting her foot to drive away as fast as she could.
Twenty minutes later, she was with me in Mordialloc, ashen-faced, shaken and relating what happened. I insisted on phoning St Kilda Police to report the incident. If the attacker is hiding in the parkland, the next female on her own may not have such a lucky escape!
The telephone call went like this:
I dialled the number for St Kilda Police – the nearest station to the incident. A robotic woman’s voice told me if it was urgent to hang up immediately and dial 000. If not urgent, I had a press-button selection to work through:
Press 1 to speak to a uniform officer…
I didn’t wait for the other options and pressed 1.
After what seemed an interminable delay Constable A answered. I explained briefly why I was ringing and handed the phone to my daughter.
I listened to her story again as told to the officer and she said the word caucasian a few times. She explained the man wore a hoodie or a beanie, it was dark, the encounter was scary and brief, but yes he was caucasian.
Apparently, the police officer’s first question after her explanation of events, happened to be, ‘Was he black or…’
His questioned trailed off into an uneasy silence as if he was searching for another word to describe people. This was why my daughter said ‘caucasian’ and why she had to repeat it because he asked her if she was sure.
Prejudice by the police against people of colour is well-documented and often in the news. But it isn’t until it affects you personally, or you witness the prejudice like my daughter did that you can fully comprehend the extent and consequences of such bias.
The officer should have asked: ‘Can you describe the person who tried to get into your car?‘ Not immediately lead with, ‘Was he black?’
There are a lot of homeless in the St Kilda area and some will sleep in the parks, and a percentage of those are Aboriginal and also migrants, but the preconceived idea and prejudgement that people of colour are more likely to car jack or attack lone drivers just perpetuate prejudice and intolerance. It also can’t be assumed that the man who tried to get into my daughter’s car was homeless or mentally ill – two other groups of people often targetted.
In daylight, there is an obvious scratch near the door handle of the car – the likelihood of the man being armed with a knife a probability.
We haven’t heard any more from the police – no follow-up phone call. We don’t even know if they bothered to go and check out the park or intersection. Perhaps my lack of confidence that they took the complaint seriously shows my prejudice!
Positive Action Required
In these troubled times, we all need to make more of an effort to encourage harmony and tolerance. To be careful of our choice of words, aware of our own cultural biases, the labelling and placing of people in pigeonholes.
If we make an effort to smile more, be welcoming and open to new friendships, barriers can be broken, prejudice lessened. You can make a difference to someone’s life.
To those who fear the
Look not only with
Eyes, but with
Respect, reason, logic and most of all heart.
Are people less human, more evil, if different?
Nationality and ethnicity
Culture, religion, identity
Each of us, ache, bleed, cry, desire – all children of Mother Earth.
To have Harmony
Set aside your prejudice
Give everyone a chance
And to End With a Bit of Positivity
Sunflowers in bloom
Symbols of sunshine
Petals flutter as bees buzz
And butterflies flitter
Beautiful sunflowers are
Tough and easy to grow
These tall bright blossoms
Enormous examples of
Resilience and adaptability.
Vacant blocks transformed
Into gardens of yellow
Stunning visual feasts
Sunflowers in bloom
Instant smiles installed!