Tag Archives: diversity

The politics of editing

Editing is one of those things that does not self announce as a political process, but is. The impact of that process is with us in so much of what we read. There are class issues, race issues and pretty much any other kind of diversity issue you care to think about.

When you edit for a publishing house, usually your primary concern is to bring the author in line with house style. I’ve had this kind of work, and the notes about what house style is. I’ve also not gone after jobs where I’ve seen the house style information and found it so suffocating that I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that to an author.

Most publishing houses are run by white, middle class people – often men. The bigger the house or the imprint, the higher the likelihood of an Oxbridge education. The rules about what constitutes good and proper writing come out of that background – it is formal and official English and conformity may well be prized a good deal more than diversity. But, that said, smaller houses often seek to emulate what they think the big houses do, and nasty editing exists at all levels.

If your background isn’t white, middle class and educated, the editing process can be one of having your voice changed. An unsympathetic editor won’t necessarily recognise what it was about your voice that was important to you. Having your voice normalised to these standards is an intensely political thing. Being discounted if you aren’t close enough to these standards is also political. And it is not, let me be clear, that standard official English makes for the best writing. It may be clearer and more familiar to people who speak it as their language, but language use itself is far more diverse than this and modes of expression matter. The right to express in your own way matters.

Slang, dialect terms and personal quirks should not be seen as inferior or inherently in need of correction. That can be all about wiping the signs of class and race out of someone’s writing. The flip side of this is the way voices are ‘characterised’ by middle class authors so that the non-middle class folk are represented in non-standard English. The way Scottish accents are fetishised and caricatured is an annoying case in point.

These days I proof read for authors. The only proof reading I’m doing for publishers is at Sloth, where I’m the second set of eyes on works in translation. But, that’s a small house, and there’s no house style sheet.

When you edit and proof read for an author, they are the only person you answer to. At this point, the job is not to standardise them, but to help them do the best possible job of doing what they wanted to do. Proof reading for an author means protecting whatever makes them unique. It means supporting their voice and helping it carry. This is the work I prefer to be doing.

There isn’t enough diversity in publishing. This is not an accident.


The Revolution Must Be Inclusive

I’m not a member of Extinction Rebellion and it’s a movement I have mixed feelings about. There are a lot of people I like and admire who are getting involved. There are a fair few people co-opting it for self promotion purposes, or to further other personal projects. That it is getting attention for climate crisis is important. That its means do not align reliably with its intended ends is a problem for me.

I am absolutely in favour of gathering in Trafalgar Square to speak truth to power. Protesting in the right place, in the faces of those in power whose minds need changing, is a good idea. Not all of it goes this way, which I think is counter-productive. I’ve seen a lot of it locally and there have been too many actions that alienate people rather than engaging them.

To radically change our cultures, our behaviour, our laws and politics, we needs as many people persuaded as possible. That makes the question of who to inconvenience, and how, an important one. An inclusive movement draws people in and persuades them. There is going to be discomfort for people whose lifestyles are not sustainable, and there will be pushback, but if people feel too uncomfortable, they’re more likely to dig in and resist change, which does not help.

I worry about the way in which many Green activities look like middle class hobbies. It suits certain areas of the media to push that message, because persuading most people that it’s snobbery and hypocrisy and not for them is an effective way of maintaining the status quo. Activists need to think carefully about this because we need more people engaging, not being put off. It is important not to price people out of participation. Protesting in ways that hurt people who are already struggling isn’t an appealing look.

I’ve been in a lot of spaces where I was the youngest person in the room, as a middle aged person, conscious that an even younger person might have had a much harder time of feeling comfortable there. The assumption that you are retired and can afford the time is a big assumption, and a common one. I’ve been in so many spaces where the assumption of middle class affluence was a real problem for me, and I’ve heard people say some pretty awful things about ‘the poor’ in those contexts.

It isn’t easy for people who feel themselves to be normal, to see who is missing from the room. All-male spaces don’t notice the lack of women as an issue. All-middle-class spaces don’t notice the lack of working class people. All-white spaces don’t notice the lack of ethnic diversity. Able bodied groups do not notice the lack of disabled people. And so on. Invariably, it becomes the job of the first person in the room not to fit to try and make that space. Which is exhausting and difficult and thankless. We should not be making disadvantaged people fight to get into the room and fight for a space at the table. We should be smoothing the way whenever we can.

If you think ‘those people’ aren’t in your movement because ‘they’ don’t really care about that sort of thing, please rethink this. If you’re treating a demographic as all being the same, you are going to be making terrible mistakes. If you’re participating, and seeing someone else’s lack of participation as them not being the sort of person who would, you won’t change anything. When you ask what you can do to be more inclusive and to enable more people to get involved and see green movements as for them, in their interests, and spaces where they would be welcome, you can make changes.

A non-inclusive revolution won’t work. A revolution for the middle classes won’t tackle many of the ways in which poverty and environmental problems go hand in hand. A revolution that isn’t for everyone, isn’t going to work. It will take maximum engagement to really change things. It should fall to those who are most able to help people get involved. If something is easy for you that doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone.


Policing your community

Community means taking responsibility for how we engage with each other. It means dealing with bullying, not ignoring sexism, racism, abelism, ageism or anything else of that ilk. However, it also raises issues of gatekeeping and exclusion.

I’ve never seen a community improved by people making it their job to try and push others out for ‘doing it wrong’. If you have gatekeeping urges and feelings about quality and maintaining the integrity of a thing, there are better ways to go. Help people learn – give them pointers, tools, tips, insights, support and encouragement. This takes time and effort and doesn’t get you as much attention as standing at the entrance pushing people away. Where support and inclusion are the norm, people wishing to take power through gatekeeping are more easily identified, so they can be taken aside and supported and encouraged to do something more productive…

Here are some other questions I would like people to ask about how their community spaces function.

Who gets to speak, and who speaks most often? Who doesn’t get chance to make themselves heard? How could that better be rebalanced? Who gets to make decisions and how are those decisions made? Who gets a say in the process? Are the decisions made by the people doing the work? If there is a democratic say then there must also be a democratic sharing of effort and responsibility.

If there is conflict in your community, doing nothing is the choice that supports the person who is out of order and further harms the person on the wrong end of things. If you think both parties are equally to blame, please consider that other people may be silenced, shut down or made uncomfortable and unable to participate as a consequence of undealt-with conflict. The character of your community is in no small degree defined by what people do, and how they do it, when something goes wrong.

If there is sexism, and everyone looks the other way, then your community supports sexism. If someone raises bullying as an issue, and nobody wants to know, then bullying is something your community supports. If someone feels excluded because they can’t physically get into the room, and no one responds to this, then exclusion is something your community does… and there’s a startling amount of this around. Usually it appears in quiet, low drama forms, and is dealt with quietly with a shrug and a ‘this is how we do things’ that just leaves no room for change. I’ve been in a fair few spaces dominated by straight, white, middle class, middle age and older, physically and mentally healthy men, and I can say with confidence that many of them cannot see how business as usual excludes people who are not exactly like them.

Educating people who don’t understand how what they do needlessly excludes others, is a relentless and emotionally draining sort of job. It tends to fall to those least resourced to do it – the one woman in the meeting may be the one person who is able to talk about why the culture of the space means there aren’t more women in the room. The one disabled person will be the person telling you why the venue is so problematic. The one queer person will be the one explaining why the language used is so excluding. The one victim of bullying will be the person on whose shoulders falls the job of explaining why the culture of your community enables bullying. This is hard stuff to bear.

So often what happens when the person who has made it over the threshold but doesn’t fit easily into the ‘normality’ of the group, is that the group resents them for flagging up problems. The community may feel comfortable with itself, it doesn’t want the hassle of changing or the discomfort of looking at its own norms.

If you aren’t the person at the sharp end, and you see someone raising something like this, don’t dismiss them as a nuisance. Don’t call them a snowflake. Don’t insist that the problem is them and that what you usually do is fine. Don’t be part of the subtler forms of gatekeeping that keep out people in this way. Listen to the issues. Try and see it from someone else’s perspective. Don’t assume that your experience is what everyone else gets. Open your heart. Open your community space. Take pride in accommodating people and being flexible around their needs.


Avoiding an echo chamber

We seem to be increasingly polarised these days. One of the ways in which the more antisocial and unpleasant factions get themselves into the debate is by telling the rest of us that if we don’t listen to them, we aren’t tolerant, and we’re just in an echo chamber. It’s a set of arguments that open hearted, well meaning people can find it hard to resist. I’ve talked about tolerance before – here’s one of those https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/abusing-your-tolerance/ An it harm none, do what you will – no tolerance required. If you cause harm, I’m not going to tolerate you.

As for the echo chamber, I think it needs poking. When we engage in discussion or conversation with others, we legitimise them. Now, I will cheerfully talk to people of other religious backgrounds, different cultures, different ages – there’s all kinds of ways of being open to different perspectives. If your perspective is well meant but different to mine I will listen to you and try to learn from you. If what you do is destructive, harmful, or intending to harm others or the planet, I really don’t care what you think. I don’t want to engage climate change deniers in debate because that’s acting like I take them seriously. I feel the same way about fascists. I simply want to thwart this where I can.

It’s usually (in my experience) folk on the far right who use the echo-chamber argument to try and get themselves a place at the table. As though there’s them, and the rest of us, two groups only, two perspectives and that to ignore them is to only listen to people you agree with. The world is bigger than this, it is more diverse and more complex. I can explore a great deal of diversity without having to engage with people whose notions I consider totally unacceptable.

Let’s take hunting as a case in point. I’m not personally in to hunting – I’m a vegetarian. I know many people who hunt for the pot, which I take no issue with. I know people who fly birds of prey – again this doesn’t bother me. I’ve had all kinds of interesting conversations with people who hunt in these ways. I would not accept as a friend someone who hunted foxes from horseback because it is a cruel and appalling business and I have no interest in the justifications. I equally have no interest in the opinions of people who burn moorlands to raise grouse, and who raise obscene numbers of pheasants in order to kill them for amusement and leave their bodies to rot. These behaviours are reprehensible, and I have zero interest in why people might defend these actions. I do not think I owe it to them to hear them out.

Cars are another case in point. I’m anti- cars, as regular readers will know. But at the same time, many people are trapped in car use and would like to burn less fuel and use fewer resources but the whole way their lives are set up and the physical structures of the places they live and work make it nigh on impossible. These are conversations we can have – I want to hear about those obstacles, and I want to offer what solutions I can, and I think we’re all better off for talking to each other.

I’m a finite person with limited time. I want to have the conversations that are of most use. I can’t afford the time or energy getting bogged down in the opinions of people whose behaviour I find unacceptable. I don’t need to know what the justifications of white terrorists are. I don’t need that in my head and knowing it won’t enable me to do anything better, and it certainly won’t help me change their minds. We’re all finite. It’s essential to experience different perspectives but I think it’s also good and necessary to protect ourselves from perspectives that can only make us miserable and to step back from conversations that are clearly pointless. Trust that if you mean well, you’ll do a decent job, and that you do not owe it to every single person who wants your time to give that to them unconditionally. You do not owe it to anyone to hear their view. It is a gift you can choose to give. Do not be persuaded through the idea of the echo chamber that you have to take on things you cannot bear or that will harm you.


Value Powerful Women

This is the final blog post inspired by Molly Scott Cato’s suggestions for resisting fascism.

How we treat powerful women is an interesting question. Unpopular powerful women tend to be the targets of a great deal of sexist language. There’s also often an assumption that women are supposed to be kind, tender, gentle and that women who aren’t that, have something wrong with them. When it comes to politics, there are a lot of women who are no kinder or nicer than their male counterparts. If you don’t like the politics, that’s fine, but it is important not to attack women whose policies you disagree with on the basis of their gender.

One of the things that fascism does, is try to narrow everyone’s options. Where women are concerned, what it tends to celebrate is staying at home to have lots of babies and raise them. Now, for some women, that’s the life choice of preference, but certainly not for all of us. Any woman who wants to be a domestic goddess should have the freedom to follow that life path. No woman should be obliged to do it. It’s worth remembering that the Nazis had no space for queer folk, and that gay people also ended their lives in concentration camps.

In a partial democracy, the people who can vote and the people who can be elected get their concerns taken seriously while everyone is considered far less relevant. People without representation can be easily reduced to the status of property. They can be scapegoated, ignored, oppressed, and there’s nothing they can do about it unless the people who have all the power can be persuaded to include them. We need diversity in politics because a narrow selection of backgrounds makes for very limited views of how the world works.

It may be worth pausing to remember that the time in history that defined modern economic thinking was a time dominated by men. We have economic models still in use that hark back to then, and that fail to recognise the value of unpaid work to the economy as a whole. The things that women were doing weren’t considered important, and we’re still dealing with the consequences of that.

Value powerful women. Let’s overthrow the old fashioned idea that women are less able to wield power than men. Let’s have room for everyone in the domestic sphere, and room for everyone in the workplace, and political representation for everyone.


Stand out from the crowd

Standing out from the crowd is on Molly Scott Cato’s list of things to do to resist fascism. I think this is a particularly interesting one for Pagans. For a person who feels afraid, blending in and not drawing attention is a very natural approach to take. To make yourself visible can feel, in hostile environments, like making yourself into a target. However, if we all try to protect ourselves by conforming, what we get is an even narrower range of safe ways of being, ever more pressure to conform and ever more vulnerability for the people who can’t.

Fascism doesn’t like diversity. It doesn’t like there being many different faiths and philosophies, and ways of living and being. Diversity makes people harder to control. It’s worth noting that tyranny generally doesn’t like diversity – you only have to think of the clothing restrictions in Maoist China. Tyranny loves uniforms.

By undertaking to stand out, a person upholds visible diversity. It is an expression of freedom and choice, and if you have enough privilege to be reasonably safe doing that, it is a way of helping everyone else. Visible expressions of diversity, and visible expressions of creativity and alternate ways of thinking help empower other people to live on their own terms and not try to blend safely into the background.

The pressure to conform isn’t something we necessarily experience in a conscious way. We can absorb a feeling that we need to fit in from our surroundings, media, and environment, without ever having deliberately decided to go that way. This is why the decision to be visible and different is an important one. Everyone who manifests their own creativity, individuality, and different ways of being in the world helps reduce that pressure on the people around them to conform. Everyone who offers an alternative helps stop the people around them from feeling there is only one right way of being.

Fascism is a cheerless sort of project. There’s no joy in it, no colour or delight. Tyranny of all forms pushes people towards being drab, conformist, unimaginative, and inexpressive. To be colourful, flamboyant, original, and inspired is to be working against tyranny.


Cherish Diversity

One of the ways Molly Scott Cato identifies to resist fascism, is by cherishing diversity. Within the Pagan community, how we do and don’t do this is rather interesting. We like diversity in so far as it applies to us – as a minority community, our safety depends on an inclusive majority that embraces difference. Many of us are old enough to remember what it was like before EU laws gave us some legal protection.

On the whole we’re pretty good at diversity within Paganism as well. We’re good at accepting the idea of polytheists and animists, we’re doing better with our atheists too. We cope just fine with people following pantheons other than our own, or following paths other than our own. Put a God and Goddess honouring traditional Witch in a room with an animist Druid and a polytheist Heathen, and an ancestor honouring Shaman, and the odds are all will be well.

We are at our least good with diversity when the differences are at their smallest. It’s people who identify as being on the same path or honouring the same deity who are most likely to get into arguments about the right way of doing things and who is really real. It is at this point precisely that we find diversity threatening. This kind of diversity suggests that our personal gnosis about a deity might not be absolute truth, or the only truth. Our vision may not be for everyone. We are validated when other people back this stuff up, but if someone else has been chosen by the same God and told something different, we struggle to embrace that. It inclines us to try and invalidate each other, or prove that our way is better.

Key to cherishing diversity, is to understand why we, and other people find diversity threatening. The problems come when you need the validation of everyone else to feel ok with your thing. With straight people who need to make everyone straight it’s easy to wonder if fear of personal queer feelings may be the root issue here. With monotheists who want to make everyone follow their religion, it is clear that their religion has no room for the idea of other Gods. We are no different. We argue most with those closest to our beliefs because we also need validation and reassurance.

It’s not irrational. When you are the only person who believes something, or experiences something in a particular way, you may feel mad. Everyone else may decide you are mad. Solitary belief can be dangerous. Belief shared with others feels safer. We all want to feel safe and none of us want to feel mad. Owning that fear, it becomes easier to look at personal discomfort with diversity. We are afraid of being isolated and socially shunned. We can deal with that by trying to make everyone more like us, or we can deal with it by undertaking to accept each other regardless of difference. The first option is impossible and can only create tension, resentment and conflict. The second option is perfectly doable if we can square up to our own fears.


Drought, grass and diversity

We’ve had very little rain for weeks now. Places where there was just grass, and no shade, are dead-looking, dry and brown. However, a lot of plants are not dead and this reveals some interesting things. Grass that hasn’t been cut has held out for longer. Grass in any kind of shade is doing better. Grass protected by tree cover is doing best of all. Where there’s a mix of plants, those other plants are often surviving better than the grass. Grass in the company of non-grass seems to be doing better. Combinations of the above are also doing better.

Grass is pretty resilient and can make a comeback once there’s rain. In the meantime, it is easy to set on fire, and unable to support anything else much.

I honestly don’t get the British obsession with the lawn. The playing field at least has some obvious use to it. The neatly trimmed road verge where visibility is not an issue, the short grass of public spaces so rapidly worn away by passing feet… grass monocultures are in many ways useless, and yet we seem to love them. Possibly because we think short grass looks tidiest, and we love to tidy up nature. Right now, the ‘tidiest’ bits look dead and really unattractive.

Where there’s diversity on the ground, there’s a better chance of some plants being able to survive the conditions, whatever the conditions turn out to be. Plants have varying tolerances for sun and frost, drought and flood. By having a range of plants, we stand a better chance of not looking at dead ones. Plants are necessary for the existence of insects, and bees are in peril so we really need diverse planting that won’t be killed off so easily.

The moral of this summer for me, has been that in face of really challenging weather, trees are wonderful. I can sit out under trees – where the plants are still thriving. I can walk under trees, where the undergrowth is hanging on pretty well. Trees are amazing things.


Including the awkward hands

I’ve never been able to hold a pen properly. Pretty much all of my joints bend the wrong way under pressure, and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve known there was a word for this – hypermobility – and that it is something to guard against. Bending a joint the wrong way hurts it and does it no good at all, but I’ve spent much of my life encouraged to think of body pain as something I shouldn’t make a fuss about.

Going through school, my handwriting was always an issue and there were repeated rounds to correct my pen hold – the pen hold that makes it possible and not too uncomfortable to hold a pen. The backward bending fingers were strangely invisible to the people who wanted to correct me. I had problems with music as well – I could never hold my hands in the correct way for piano playing, could not hold a violin or a violin bow in the approved way either. I expect I lost marks for that on every exam I took.

Our lives are full of assumptions about what is normal, what everyone should be able to do, and what is proper. The right ways to hold knives and folks and teacups. The right kinds of things to do with your body in a gym. For much of my childhood, I had no idea that what happens with my joints isn’t normal, and that the discomfort, through to pain I experienced was a real issue. I was just expected to act like everyone else. Hold the violin properly. I’ve always been clumsy and I only recently found out that goes with the hypermobility and is not some kind of personal failing.

I write this not as an exercise in self pity, but as a small example of how miserable it is when people fail to recognise and accommodate difference. All too often, we ask people to bend themselves into the normal shape, not how we can adapt what’s going on to allow them to participate on their own terms.

There is so much diversity in how people experience the world. How we think and feel, how we move and what we can do with our bodies. The ‘normal’ person probably doesn’t even exist. The degree to which we can pass ourselves off as being the normal person, does.

I don’t know if music exams have changed in the last twenty years – they might have done. Perhaps they are more accepting of innate differences in bodies and students who cannot play while making the standard shapes with their bodies. I was never a great musician, but I was ok. Music was, and remains, important to me. A person who wants to play shouldn’t, surely, be put off and marked down for having a body that does not allow them to hold an instrument in the classically acceptable way.

Folk music of course doesn’t have formal holds, or exams, and it does not reject any needs (or for that matter eccentricities) that a person brings to their playing. It is possible to have good quality music that includes. It is possible to have good quality anything that includes, if there is a will to accommodate rather than asking people to conform to sometimes impossible standards.


Everyone is lovely

For a long time I’ve struggled with the idea that I ought to be able to feel that everyone is lovely, as good as they can be right now, doing the best they can and worthy of respect. I want to believe it, but people have this unfortunate habit of making that really difficult for me. I’ve started to realise there is a curious and uncomfortable political dimension to all of this, which I’m still grappling with, but want to offer up in the tentative form I’ve got.

Everyone is lovely. Actually this seems to be a very partial sort of statement and people who apply it have often drawn a circle around ‘the people’ that does not include everyone. The Working Classes, the Christians, the Pagans, the Welsh… it doesn’t really matter where you draw the circle, but it matters a lot that you draw it. You believe in the people inside the circle, in their innate worth and beauty, in their future. You support their rights. History is full of stories of this shape.

The trouble, as I have said with people, is this nasty habit of not living up to expectation. No body of people is universally and dependably anything much. Humans are frail, fallible, not always alert to their best interests and not reliably onboard with ‘visionary’ ideas about what they should be wanting. Most of the time, this is not much of a problem, and those few zealots for their chosen people just sit around wondering why no one wants to put them in charge.

The problems start when you do get the would-be glorious leaders in charge. The working class still isn’t radical enough. The Christians still aren’t fundamentalist enough. The Welsh just aren’t aggressively Welsh enough… most people are not in fact hungry for Cultural Revolution. They just want a quiet life. The next apparently logical step is that you have to make them do it. For their own good. Because it’s best for them. You have to make them only speak the pure language, and only learn the right history. You have to make them march, and fight and abandon their children for the good of the cause. You have to frighten them into betraying their neighbours as not being proper fanatics, and on it goes, and the bodies start mounting up.

Some of the world’s worst atrocities have been born out of Utopian thinking. The leaders who have created Hell on Earth have, without exception, been promising Paradise. An imaginary paradise for the chosen few in which all wrongs will be driven off by getting rid of those who are not chosen, and making the chosen manifest their destiny. The destiny a small minority have seen fit to envisage. There’s a destructive anger that comes from the massive difference between the fantasy of ‘the chosen people’ (whoever they are this time) and the reality of a bunch of actual people who are no better or worse than anyone else.

Trying to believe that everyone is lovely, actually seems like a first step in a very wrong direction, to me. All people should be entitled to the same basic human rights, but that’s the extent of the commonality. Some people are cruel, and some do not care. Some revel in their wilful ignorance and some are smug in their superiority. People can be really quite shitty. I do not love everyone. I am not going to try and love everyone because I would be unavoidable partial if I did try. When we start making assessments of collective qualities and worth, we are on a very slippery slope. Better, I think, to be able to recognise the difference and diversity. ‘The People’ do not exist, no matter how you try to draw a circle around a few of them/us. We are all individuals and the more able we are to carry on quietly being individuals, the less likely I think we are to end up killing each other.