I wrote for the Independent about the Northfield Bully

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I wrote this a while ago (sorry!) for the Independent, because I was just so outraged and unsettled by the way people were behaving online. The video of the whole debacle kept popping up in my Facebook newsfeed and the bile that poured out adult’s mouths, and from national newspapers, towards a teenage girl was shocking. No one was saying anything and I really wanted to, well, tell them off in some way! We can’t beat bullying, with bullying: Edited version here

When it comes to bullying, we’re told to lead by example. Yet this week a vile and bile-filled witch-hunt against a 16-year old girl has proved that we’re not setting a very good one.

The girl – who can’t be named due to her age – was accused of bullying two 14-year old schoolgirls in a video that went viral. It shows a clash between two groups of teenagers in Northfield, near Birmingham, last Saturday. The accused is seen telling the two girls to “get on your knees and say sorry” for giving her a “dirty look”, before punching them and emptying their bags onto the floor.

The humiliating ordeal makes for uncomfortable viewing, although the video was seen more than 7 million times on Facebook before the police requested that users remove it. What was more uncomfortable, however, was the vitriolic hounding of the alleged ‘bully’ following its release.

Forget uncomfortable, what I mean is disgusting, gross, inexcusable. A cyber lynch mob smelled blood and they went after it with gusto. A stream of commenters, mostly adults, flooded social media. They wanted justice, closure for the alleged victims, but most of all they just wanted to hate.

The girl’s identity was uncovered through social media and released online along with her phone number. Nasty Facebook groups were set-up calling for ‘karma’ to be served. Insults were hurled at the girl’s behaviour, at her appearance and there were physical threats. Some even asked for her to ‘kill herself’.

The tirade got so bad that she had to be taken into police custody for safety and her phone was destroyed due to the number of death threats she was receiving. Later, she was forced to flee her home with her mother when an angry gang of vandals descended.

“A bunch of adults turned up and started spraying graffiti,” one eyewitness told The Sun after the words ‘scum’ and ’bully’ were left on her door. We’re talking about grown humans, intimidating a girl barely more than a child. Forget eye-for-an–eye, this kangaroo court were after a whole head.

I was bullied as a teenager and it can ruin people’s lives. According to charity Ditch the Label, as many as 43% of young people in the UK are thought to have suffered bullying of some kind and it has recently been linked to depression in adulthood. So why on earth did this army of supposed morality enforcers decide the answer to bullying was more bullying?

Internet vigilantism and high-profile online hate campaigns have become so commonplace that the equivalent of three people a day were convicted of trolling in the UK last year. This was just the latest in a long line of recent hate campaigns that started online. We’ve seen Reddit’s interim chief executive, Ellen Pao, hounded from her job by trolls. Beauty blogger Em Ford was branded “disgusting” for daring to show her naked, blemished skin online. Don’t even get me started on both corners of the Katie Hopkins debate. It’s normal now, sort of acceptable in some circles, even, to bay for blood at anything we don’t like online. We re legion, and our anger is magnified many, many times.

Yet what a confusing message we’re sending out to youngsters. The teen in the Northfield video broke the law, and she was dealt with accordingly. She pleaded guilty to assault and robbery at Birmingham Youth Court, but is yet to be sentenced. Although she claims no memory of the event due to drink, she was said to be “disgusted” by her actions when shown the video. Bullying is wrong, wrong, wrong. Unabashed group hatred from a distance, however? Why not.

Teens bully – it’s not right, but it happens and we work towards putting it right. Adults, however, we’re supposed to know better. Let she who is without sin write the first tweet, as some feller once almost said. Especially when we’re talking about teenagers.

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I wrote a piece for The Independent about Idris Elba and James Bond

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Idris Elba for Bond! I wrote a little thing on the matter for The Independent (and you can read it here), or take a gander at my unedited version below. The self-denied racism that has accompanied this affair is something I’ve found quite shocking (‘it’s not about him being black, it’s about James Bond being white’ – that sort of thing) and I may write a follow up blog about it soon. Hope you enjoy… x

It’s not often that colossal noggined rapper Kanye West has something interesting to say, but as the debate over whether actor Idris Elba could take over the reigns as fictional character James Bond rages, he’s finally hit the jackpot. Speaking to The Sun this week he said: “Artists should be visionaries. A black James Bond would be visionary no doubt. Something that 30 years ago would have seemed crazy should now be something that is a real possibility.”

Elba has all the credentials of a perfect Bond – he’s suave, intelligent and he looks damn fine in a suit. Yet the idea that a black man could play the martini-swilling spy has gotten some stirred, and a few more shaken. “Isn’t 007 supposed to [be] handsome?” Elba tweeted a few days ago alongside a selfie showing his beautiful – oh so beautiful ­– face, contorted into a half-squint. A reaction that showed true Bondesque grace and humour in the face of the unabashed racism that followed the Sony Hacks leak suggesting he could be in the running for the role.

The most prominent of these racists is perhaps controversial American talk show host Rush Limbaugh. “But now [they are] suggesting that the next James Bond should be Idris Elba, a black Briton, rather than a white from Scotland” Rushbo fussed on his show last Tuesday. “Fifty years of white Bond because Bond is white. Always Scottish. Always drank vodka.”

This is an argument riddled with inaccuracies. There has only been one Scottish Bond, Sean Connery. The others were English, Welsh, Irish and even Australian. In fact, Ian Fleming only invented the character’s half-Scots, half-Swiss heritage after the cinema release of Doctor No in order to honour Connery. He hasn’t always drunk vodka-based cocktails either – as a functioning alcoholic he’ll drink anything from Dom Pérignon champagne to a Campari-based Americano.

A man with such a penchant for booze, you might think, would die young, but if his Authorised Biography is anything to go by, he would be 94 by now. Yet the actors who have played him have ranged enormously in age – George Lazonby was 29 in Her Majesty’s Secret Service while Roger Moore was 57 in A View to a Kill. Craig was hardly an archetypal Bond either with his blue eyes and blonde hair. The spy franchise has always adapted, always stayed fresh in order survive. Because that’s the beauty of fiction – you can do what you want with it. It exists to be visionary.

Elba – who is 42 – has said that he doesn’t want to be known as the ‘black Bond’, others in the role were never defined by what made them different. And nor should he be. However, the movie industry’s track record of substituting white actors for characters of other ethnicities is not great. The recent film Exodus caused a Twitter riot due to its “whitewashed” portrayal of Egyptians and Israelites. Laurence Olivier once blacked up to play Othello in the 1965 film of the same name. Isn’t it about time Hollywood evened things out?

 

I wrote a piece for the Independent about vegan and veggie stereotypes

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I wrote a piece for Independent Voices – although I didn’t choose the old Secret Cinema selfie – about the tired stereotypes surrounding vegans and vegetarians. I’ve been a veggie for most of my life for non-moral reasons (I hate it), but as I get older I start to see more and more sense in abstaining from meat. It turned out to be a popular topic, it got a lot of shares on social media. A few people got in touch via Twitter and I even got an email from PETA offering me some statistics in case I want to write about it again. Which was a bit of a surprise, considering.You can read the sleek and fancy one here, or my orig below. 

Like 3% percent of the UK population, I’m a smelly, tie-dye wearing lentil-muncher; an underweight, pallid weakling; a patchouli-scented carnivore-hater. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t eat meat. It’s no secret that, with the world’s population expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, we all need to reduce our meat intake, yet ridicule of vegetarians and vegans is still par for the course.

Much like the old breast or thigh quandary, abstaining from meat, and perhaps dairy consumption too, is an entirely personal preference. It doesn’t directly affect the health of those around you in the way that, for example, smoking can, yet it’s sometimes treated with a similar level of hostility. Last week, the co-owner of an Australian burger bar, Mark Clews, came under fire for mocking a vegan diner who was “wearing a tie-dye t-shirt”, labelling her “single minded” and “Nazi like” on the restaurant’s Facebook page. In an exercise in customer relations that Ryanair would have been proud of, his comment went on to say that veganism “was inspired by some tragic childhood event, or a divorce, or a car accident or some crap” before securing his seat as Vegan Basher General by adding: “They lack physical strength because of zero red meat in their diet!”

These stereotypes are all too familiar. They would take pride of place in a round of defensive omnivore bingo alongside ‘but don’t you miss bacon?’ and ‘I don’t trust anyone who lives off rabbit food’. But the supposedly archetypal militant, sickly, non-meat-eater is just a caricature. Like most stereotyping, it’s part of a defence mechanism that protects a person’s – or in this case, meat-eater’s – belief system from being challenged and attempts to project a superior place in society. But recent decades have seen the meat consumption of rich countries increase, sending grain prices and obesity levels spiralling, causing widespread deforestation and adding unnecessary pressure to already strained resources. We have reached the point where beliefs need to be challenged.

Organisations such as PETA are no help in the matter. Their recent London ‘die in’ – which saw naked protesters lie on the floor of Trafalgar Square in a blood-smeared jumble in order to promote veganism – did little to highlight the important health and environmental issues connected to meat consumption, and everything to confirm suspicions that meat-free also means sanity-free. So although I’m not full-vegan, I’d like to address a few of these myths. I have voluntarily forgone the consumption of dead flesh for the best part of my life and eat little dairy.

For starters, while I was probably still supping from tippy-cups the last time I allowed a chunk of red meat to pass my lips, my physical strength is enough that I ran the London marathon this year (although it’s perhaps best if we don’t discuss run-times). I don’t hate carnivores, in fact, my boyfriend is a one and is free to practice that as he chooses – my home is not the scene of a fascist dictatorship. Not with regards to meat, anyway. I rarely eat lentils, have never, ever worn tie-dye and often cook Sunday roasts for my carne-loving friends. Perhaps, most shockingly, I can’t stand Morrissey. You see, veggies really are just normal people.

Until now, I’ve not preached to anyone about eating meat either. My choice not to eat it was born not from a tragic childhood event, but a genuine dislike of the stuff (yes, even bacon). But this month is World Vegan Month and what better way to celebrate than by trying to go without consuming animal products for just one day? You won’t turn into a hippy, I promise.