Nicola Barry

Monthly Archives: June 2013

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Stephen Lawrence

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deutsch: 1964: Martin Luther King Português: Martin Luther King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Racism lives long after Stephen Lawrence

No one knows the pain of bereavement better than Doreen Lawrence, who is having to battle claims that the Metropolitan Police tried to smear her family’s reputation. She endured the racist murder of her son Stephen – and murder is a million times more painful than any other bereavement. All the boy did was try to get home after a night out – oh, and have black skin. I forgot that bit. If you are standing waiting for a bus, you don’t expect to be knifed by a complete stranger. By all accounts, Stephen Lawrence was a charming, intelligent young man going home to see his parents, when he was attacked with a knife. He fell to the ground then managed to stagger to his feet, his clothes and hair soaked with blood from his wounds. Moments later, he fell down and died.
That was April 22, 1993. A number of highly unpleasant young men were charged with Stephen’s murder but the Crown Prosecution Service in England claimed there was insufficient evidence. For Doreen and Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s brother, Stuart, and sister, Georgina, much of the past two decades have gone past like a bad dream, one from which they never seem able to awaken.
As I said, being black was Stephen’s only ‘sin’. Black death. No convictions. End of story. So, why didn’t the Lawrences just give up? Because the senseless murder of the son they adored hurt them beyond belief, because they are brave people who vowed they would seek justice for Stephen. Neville and Doreen Lawrence have spent all these years fighting back, overwhelmed again and again by a combination of Stephen’s brutal loss and the rampant disease of official indifference.
Isn’t it ironic how politically correct we have become since Stephen’s death? So quick to object to various words people use when they describe minority groups.
Half-a-century ago, Martin Luther King made his ‘I have a dream’ speech. Pertinent then, it is even more pertinent now, especially here in Britain where racism is an everyday story, whether it be name-calling, extremes of physical assault or worse.
Remember King’s immortal words: “I have a dream: that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths self-evident that all men were created equal’.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today”.
Doreen and Neville Lawrence had a dream as well. They dreamed their sons would live a long and happy life, enjoy good careers, marry and give them grandchildren. The fact that their dream turned into the worst of nightmares is an indictment on us all. Imagine if the victims had been white. It would be unheard of if no one went to jail after murdering two white boys. Just think of the fuss we make in this country whenever white children go missing or die a horrible death. Think Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, think April Jones. It does not happen very often, but, when it does, all hell lets loose. Once convicted, murderers of children go to prison and everybody from the governor down hates their guts. They killed a child. They did the unforgivable and they will be punished – by all of us. Either the child is found alive amid great national rejoicing or the evil perpetrator is caught as quickly as possible – mainly in order to still the inevitable public uproar – unless the child happens to be black. Then, suddenly, nothing is quite the same on the criminal justice front, is it?
The Lawrences have been hurt beyond our comprehension, because they lost a child they adored, because they have had to fight for justice on behalf of their boy. Their lives have been turned upside down and inside out by one single act of evil. Nothing will ever be the same again. Abandoned by every person they thought would help them, the family must feel destroyed by the latest revelations about the police operation to smear their reputation.
Racism in the UK is alive and well. And it is not just about a violent minority. It is about prejudices and assumptions which are ingrained. If urgent action is not taken by the criminal justice system, we will continue to see black people die violent deaths, followed by no convictions. Shame does not even come close.
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry had profound significance for race relations in Britain. It struck at the heart of all that was rotten within the police as well as within society. Or so we thought at the time. But the rotten stench never really went away. It hid its head in shame for a while, before, slowly but surely, coming up for air and stirring up the poison – all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lying husbands

Lying husbands advised to stop fibbing

When Mr & Mrs Joe Public divorce, there is, by and large, a fair financial settlement between the two parties, which, apart from anything else, reduces any subsequent legal bills. However, the rules we play by are being bypassed by the super rich. Take, for example, the case of oil tycoon, Michael Prest who has had to pay his ex-wife, Yasmin, a massive £17.5million – money he tried to conceal in various companies. A judge at the Supreme Court, in London, described Prest as “deceitful, obstructive and wholly unreliable.” The ex-Mrs Prest has warned lying husbands to beware and always behave “honestly and fairly”.

Yeah, right. That’s going to happen. Remember the saying: ‘All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to remain silent”? What amazes me most, however, is the way we all profess to be so shocked about somebody lying, especially if that person is an erring husband or a politician. Human beings lie all the time. Politicians lie even more. We are a nation of fibbers; people to whom lying has become second nature. The advertising industry is the worst offender. Most adverts whitewash our lives, giving us a sanitised version of what we are really like. I mean would we want to see an obese, toothless choir singing the praises of a top cola? Would we want to see a plain, frumpy couple, breakfasting on black coffee and aspirin instead of golden flakes in the California sun? I used to think truth was the be all and end all, until I discovered advertising. Honest.

Most lies are self-serving, protecting the person who utters them from conflict, disapproval or shame, although we also tell little white lies to protect the feelings of others. The truth can cause a lot of trouble. Sometimes you might want the truth, even if it is hurtful. Did your husband really go to the cinema with a male colleague? Was your best friend Sharon really out of town on your birthday, or did she forget like she has every other year? But do we always need to hear the truth? What answer do we really want to the question: ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ Supposing our partner replied: ‘It looks absolutely enormous’ or ‘I’ve been meaning to tell you, your bum looks massive in everything’ would we thank them? More likely we’d descend into a terminal sulk. Should we tell the truth about how much money we really spent; how much chocolate we eat and whether we have given up smoking completely? According to research, women are more effective liars than men. We lie to placate people or to make them feel better, for example: ‘Honestly, you look much more handsome fat, bald, ugly’. The truth can hurt. Lies do not. Lies are not so clear cut. They are multicoloured: white are the ones you tell to avoid hurting people’s feelings and black are the more serious and there are many shades in between. There are good liars as well as bad. A really good fibber makes his porkies sound convincing while bad ones make it so obvious they’re telling lies that they might as well have told the truth in the first place. Amateurs should never try telling lies face-to-face, not with e-mail and text messages to do the dirty deed for you. In political circles, not answering a straight question with a straight answer has been turned into an art form in this country. It is called spin and spin, basically, is shorthand for telling lies. Why would a politician tell the truth when an outright lie or piece of obfuscation will do instead? Other than watching a person’s nose grow as they speak, there are various ways of telling if someone is lying. Saying you want to know every little detail will force a fibber into a tangled web of deceit and you can then enjoy watching them try to worm their way out of it. A liar will become nervous, feel guilty, or just grimace with the strain of inventing the lie as they go along. If they start twitching or trembling when they don’t normally, that’s a pretty good yardstick.

Sadly, if anything, we have discarded the idea of truth as a social good and replaced it with a very banal form of honesty. Look no further than the popularity of so-called reality TV where truth is, of necessity, distorted by the presence of viewers. Of course, programmes such as Big Brother claim they are showing us the truth but, we all know, the minute a camera is present, people start behaving differently. The truth is that Big Brother and its ilk are nothing but an elaborately constructed lie. Sad, isn’t it? Honesty has to be the best policy, especially within marriage. So when my husband tells me I am beautiful and that he only drinks three pints a week, I believe him. Now, where did I put that large pinch of salt?

Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson in the headlines for the wrong reasons

The statements about domestic violence following the abhorrent pictures of Nigella Lawson arguing with her husband Charles Saatchi have been downright ridiculous; all about how unusual it is for successful, middle-class women to suffer abuse. How utterly absurd. We have known for years that domestic violence is no respecter of class. One newspaper reported today that we had always assumed “domestic violence was the grubby problem of the inarticulate and poorly educated”.

Nigella Lawson at a Borders book-signing

Nigella Lawson at a Borders book-signing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What poppycock. The fact is we are still – even after all these years of the life-saving organisation Women’s Aid – refusing to accept that violence is perpetrated by the most respectable people, invariably male. The real problem is they tend to get off Scot-free. If these guys were to attack someone in the street, punch and kick them, grab them by the neck and throttle them, society would go to great lengths to ensure they were properly punished. Look no further than burglar-shooter Tony Martin for proof of that. The theory is that women who are assaulted somehow ask for it – by being irritating and nagging. Violence against women is widespread and takes many forms. It can be mental, physical, sexual or emotional, or all four. Violence does not always take the form of blows. Emotional abuse is just as much of an issue. A word can terrify. So can a look. Domestic violence has a distinct pattern. The abuser only needs an excuse to let off steam and he’ll find one, no matter what. He may come home, bang a few doors; object to something his wife has said or done. That will be enough to set off alarm bells for her. She will know the triggers and learn how to cope with them. If she doesn’t, she could die.

Her family and friends mean well. They all care about her, of course, but they just don’t understand. They keep asking the dumb question people always ask women who have been battered: why don’t you leave him? The answer? Because most relationships are hard to walk out of; because a truly abusive man never lets his victim out of his sight; because a mother doesn’t want to take the children away from their father and disrupt their lives and schooling; because she still loves her man when he’s not being violent; because her home is the only home she’s got and she doesn’t want to be homeless; because she has no job to go to and no prospect of getting one; because she hurts all over, not just the bruises on her body but those on her mind as well; because starting all over again is so very tough; because years of physical and mental abuse have taken their toll.

And, believe it or not, running away may be hard but staying takes even more courage. Sometimes the solution is not clear cut. A man who is occasionally abusive, under the pressures of drugs, drink, adultery, financial distress, may be a good father and breadwinner. Would leaving him really be the answer? I would say yes, but life is not that simple. Some women put up with beatings year in, year out, until, one day, they finally snap and kill the man who has beaten them. What do we do then? We shut them up in prison just to see if we can draw a little bit more blood. Shocking adverts do not seem to work. Remember the woman in the original domestic violence adverts, who stared out at us from billboards and TV screens, with her face bruised and bloodied? It wasn’t subtle enough. Not all abused women look that clichéd. The harsh reality is that very few men are ever convicted of domestic violence. The reasons are complex. They concern women’s fear of repercussions but they also have to do with society’s attitudes. We look the other way when we see black eyes in the street, preferring to believe women’s stories about having walked into a door or fallen downstairs.

We need to change the behaviour of violent men. Until they take responsibility for their behaviour, women will continue to suffer. First of all perhaps we should do something about the scary, silent statistics:  two women are killed every week in the UK by a partner or ex-partner; in 90% of incidents, children are in the next room. One in four women will be the victim of domestic violence at some time in her life. Too many victims. Too much official indifference. Shame on us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Father’s Day

Louis de Bernières

Louis de Bernières (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Father’s Day

I was sad to read that the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres, say society has become biased against fathers. His letter in the Sunday Telegraph claims that Father’s Day is, for far too many men, a day of “sorrow, frustration and anger”. The reason, according to the author, is because family courts treat fathers as “nothing but sperm donors and bankers”.

Broken marriages are painful at the best of times. When children are involved, however, the trauma is magnified. Being a divorced father is hard: the equivalent of being cast out; lost in a maze of bureaucratic demands. Many divorced men have the additional burden of a second family as well, which is tough considering a large number are, technically, still breadwinner to the first. However, I do object to the way Louis de Bernieres casts the mother as the perpetual baddy. She becomes the wicked witch who makes it difficult for her ex to have access to the children, compounded by the courts who, nine times out of ten, give custody to the mother and, inevitably, the father is forced out of the family home yet he desperately wants to keep in touch with his children. But women have always done the dirty work. They have to carry children, go through the agony of childbirth as well as all the indignities which follow. There are dads a-plenty who are, always have been, little more than weekend parents. Work comes first, family second. They dip into their kids’ lives when it suits them and, when they divorce, nothing much changes. Some lose contact altogether. The truth is that a large number of absent fathers deserve all the flak they get. They desert the sinking ship. They don’t care what happens to their ex-wife and children. Unfortunately, these bad dads, the absent, don’t-give-a-damn fathers, have made life very difficult for the good ones who are doing the best they can. Consequently, we now have two extremes: the estranged father, who doesn’t have a job, who lives in perpetual fear of running out of money. And the one who does have a job, who is working a 15-hour day and has absolutely no life outside of that. The saddest thing is this: his first family only wants his money. They definitely do not want him. OK, I know. There are thousands of ex wives who make life unbearably difficult for their former spouse; who keep children away from him and turn them against him. All he gets is a list of complaints about how little he is contributing to the household.

Fathers have always been excluded. There was a time when children were seen as the exclusive domain of women; of mothers, more precisely. Fathers existed primarily as figures of authority; brought in at crucial moments to define boundaries – as in: ‘Just you wait until your father gets home.’ Otherwise they were out breadwinning, coming home to a hot meal, slippers and a pipe. In fact, a father’s status has changed radically and for the good. Men are allowed paternity leave – even if it is only for a couple of weeks; an acknowledgement at least that, when a couple has a baby, it marks a major transition in their relationship. A child is a huge commitment, for 18 years at least, if not longer. Already, the woman has to give up everything she has worked for in terms of a career. Yes, she can return to her job but her days as a high-flier are invariably numbered. Children come at a cost for both sexes. The way relationships work has to change. Some fathers want more time at home but women need to learn to accept men in what is traditionally known as the “female domain” – in other words, let them do all the jobs which are dirty, smelly and involve physical hard work. Too many women keep telling men they are “in the way” when they try to make themselves useful. What hope is there then for the new dad who prefers changing nappies to running a business?

Nor is it true that a couple make better parents. Many families flourish with a lone parent (one good parent is better than two bad). Children may appreciate having a man around but he doesn’t have to be their father. A sobering thought on Father’s Day, a celebration, which, in time, may well become redundant.

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