Monday, 27 April 2009

Critically examine the use of a ‘makeover paradigm’ in a media text of your choice.

Critically examine the use of a ‘makeover paradigm’ in a media text of your choice.

‘Makeover’ in the sense of an alteration of appearance of girls and women along lines of ‘fashion’ and ‘taste’ has recently become a popular television genre in its own right, promoted from its television birthplace in partial slots during daytime programming to ‘primetime’ higher audience entire programmes in the mid-evening (Moseley, 2000). Critical examination of these texts reveals a number of interesting discourses at play, in particular that of self-production along gendered lines. I have chosen to examine the media text What Not To Wear (BBCTV, 2001- ) as it is a recent example of ‘makeover television’ which has achieved great popularity among UK audiences by progressing from the short makeover slot of daytime television, to a programme dedicated to teaching (mainly) women in the UK ‘what not to wear’, or rather, what to wear by analysing their lives through popular psychology, borrowing from behavioural therapy and the discourse of self-help.

In order to critically examine the use of a ‘makeover paradigm’ in What Not To Wear I focus on a particular episode entitled ‘Young Mums’ (BBC1, 27th September 2004 ). Although the analysis is based on this particular episode, the show follows a tight format therefore much of the analysis could be applied to other episodes of the same programme. To ground the analysis in the historical context of makeover, I will first examine the makeover genre itself. The analysis will provide a brief outline of the What Not To Wear format, then critically examine a number of the discourses inherent to the ‘paradigm’ of makeover as presented in ‘Young Mums’.

First, the discourse of the production of the self through transformation (Rose 1989), particularly the production of a ‘feminine body-subject’ (Bartky, 2003:33) will be examined. Second, the use of governance, regulation and surveillance will be analysed with reference to Foucault. Third, the way in which the language and symbolism of popular psychology is borrowed by the hosts to create a semblance of therapy as part of the re-production of self. Fourth, the role of the hosts as ‘expert’ and the form of language and touch used to convey the hierarchy of knowledge and class will be considered. Finally, the sites of resistance visible within the episode will be explored.

As Moseley (2000:303) argues, makeover ‘has been a continuing staple of the woman’s film . . . feminine beauty culture . . .[and] women’s magazines’. The central theme to this genre has been the individualistic ideology of self-improvement (Rimke, 2000:62, Weber, 2005: 4) with a narrative of progress whereby any woman, if she tries hard enough, and consumes the right products, can become her ‘true’ self (Weber, 2005). Underlying this ‘possibility’ is the concept of responsibility to produce and maintain the ‘best’ self possible – a responsibility to oneself and those around not to ‘let oneself go’ (Weber, 2005:4). The makeover paradigm as displayed on television follows this formula, with the revelation of the self in a climactic finale (Moseley, 2000:304).

What Not To Wear is the British daughter of the daytime television makeover paradigm. Presented by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, self-defined style ‘experts’, the programme has so far aired 4 series. Though each series has differed slightly in format the basic formula is the same, featuring two women’s makeover transformation:
Conversation with one of the presenters in a set that is symbolically designed to look like a psychotherapist’s office.
Friends and family are interviewed on the subject of the women’s ‘style’, Trinny and Susannah examine their wardrobes, often discarding or destroying items.
Watch their videos and discover ‘what people really think’ of them.
Scrutinise themselves and scrutinised by the presenters in a 360 mirror, often in a favourite piece of clothing.
Given a set of style ‘rules’ to follow when shopping and given £2,000 to spend.
The shopping task is divided into two days – on the first, they shop on their ‘own’ while being filmed, on the second, Trinny and Susannah evaluate the clothing that has been bought, then shop with the women to direct them.
Their hair and make-up is styled by stylists.
The revelation – the ‘new’ woman is revealed to herself in a mirror.
The ‘new’ woman is revealed to (usually) delighted friends and family.

The particular episode analysed here features two women, identified as ‘badly dressed mums’ (BBC1, 2004), Michalina, aged 35 and Sara, aged 26.

The formula for the show illustrates the discourse of the production of the self (Rose, 1989). This production occurs through a narrative of transformation (Moseley, 2000:304) in which a woman who is seen as someone who does not ‘fit in’ to an image of current styles of femininity is transformed during the episode. As illustrated below, this self is by no means finally produced, but requires constant re-production under an internalized and external gaze (Weber, 2005).

Rose (1989:103) argues that this self-production is a modern construct, where consumption is the way in which we ‘shape our lives’ by creating, managing and marketing ourselves from a range of consumable options. In line with this argument, What Not To Wear presents a discourse of self-fulfilment through consumption.

The ‘self’ that is produced for each woman on What Not To Wear is presented as the ‘true’ self that had been hidden from the world. This fairly essentialist concept that ‘inside’ each of these women is a ‘true’ self, waiting to be unveiled is demonstrated in the language used by the presenters throughout the ‘Young Mums’ episode. Particular to this episode is the discourse surrounding ‘being a mother’ and the effect of this on a woman’s subjectivity. At the end of the episode, Trinny comments of Michalina’s husband: “he got back a woman he thought he’d lost, and I think that’s a big thing for a man when a woman has kids, that they sort of – sometimes stop being a wife” (BBC1, 2004). The way in which both women are portrayed throughout the episode is as a collection of identities; mother, employee, wife . The premise of the episode is that their ‘mother’ identities have taken over.

Importantly for the discourse of self-production, these identities are presented and analysed as always relational to another. Sara searches at the end of the programme for recognition of her transformation from Carl, her husband. The need for his gaze is commented on throughout the shopping task in a way in which suggests, as Weber (2005:14) puts it “being looked at in an appreciative or sexualized way affirms a woman and, in turn, allows her to be more confident”. Susannah attempts to convince Sara to buy a dress she does not like because it will have Carl “standing to attention within seconds of you walking in the door”.Similarly, Michalina feels that her ‘improved’ self will be able to “be herself” and “not have to worry about people sniggering behind my back” (BBC1, 2004).

The self that is produced to ‘fit in’ in this way is presented as what Bartky (2003:33) terms ‘the ideal body of femininity’. Although the presenters do not attempt to alter the women’s bodies in the same way as the plastic surgery of Extreme Makeover (Weber, 2005), the ‘rules’ given to the women are in line with what Trinny refers to as what the women ‘should’ be. In the case of young women, that is “sexy, trendy and fun” (BBC1, 2004). Women should look feminine, and that means showing, or creating a traditional ‘hourglass’ figure (often by wearing heels which force women to walk in a way that pushes them forward and draws attention to the compartmentalised body parts of breasts, bottom and legs considered to be feminine and likely to illicit the ‘gaze’) (Bartky, 2003), wearing makeup and styling their hair. Weber (2005) refers to this homogenisation of production as ‘the economy of sameness’; an idealisation of image that has been criticised by feminists not just for lack of creativity, but also for the way in which it is tied up with the gendered nature of social power, whereby women are represented and traded as passive objects and suffer at the hands of social and physical abuse (Bartky, 2003:35).

The ‘feminine body-subject’(Bartky, 2003:33) that is revealed at the end of What Not To Wear is not the finalised ‘self’. Throughout the episode the women are instructed in the ‘disciplinary practices’ (Bartky, 2003: 33) required to continually re-produce and govern themselves. In analysing this mode of self-surveillance, it is useful to refer to Foucault’s (1977) framework for analysing relationships of power so pervasive that they are exercised upon the individual themselves through self-surveillance.

One of the key ways in which Foucault (1977:200) conceptualises the omnipresent nature of surveillance is through the Panopticon; illustrated as the architectural design with a central, supervisory tower at the centre with cells to be supervised around the periphery. The role of the 360 mirror in What Not To Wear, is structurally similar to the Panopticon and serves to act as the focal point for ‘self surveillance’ of the women. Asked to scrutinise her body from every angle, the woman inhabits the central, supervisory space and looks into each cell onto the divided aspects of her body that must be disciplined.

In the ‘Young Mums’ episode, both women enter the 360 mirror in a piece of clothing they like. Trinny and Susannah use a combination of mockery, criticism and praise to first show the women they are not how (or who) they should be, then inform them how they should be.

Sara is informed by Trinny, as the presenter pulls her dress tight to her body; “You have a figure to show off, so you need to get that waist back – you know, we’d like to see more” Susannah, reinforcing the message, pulls her dress up, stating “you’ve got great legs, you’ve got such good ankles you should show them off” (BBC1, 2004). Michalina is laughed at by the women in a display of class elitism, when her assertion that the clothes she is wearing look “quite classy” is met with schoolgirl-style ‘cruelty and viciousness’ (McRobbie, 2004:106). Susannah, in a voice laden with sarcasm, praises Michalina for talking “about the outfit with such conviction” and Trinny is unable to contain her disgust, screaming “I think that is SO HIDEOUS!”. Both comments are met with confusion from Michalina, who clearly does not consider herself to look hideous. Interesting, considering Trinny’s tendency for raising her voice, and reminiscent of Rowe’s (1997:79) analysis of the reaction to ‘unruly women’ who take up ‘too much space’ is her assertion that Michalina comes “running and charging at us” with her bright clothes, and that this frightens people. By the end of the episode, Michalina affirms the comments that the presenters made at this first site of surveillance, signalising its internalization and necessity for constant regulation to prevent relapse. Looking at her new produced self, Michalina agrees with the presenters, stating; “I was a blob…a clown and a blob” (BBC1, 2004).

Rose (1989:227) places the rise of self-regulation in the nineteenth century, in the context of a shift from individuals controlled by an interventionist state, to individuals controlled much more closely by themselves and those around them. Intrinsic to this regulation and ‘production of selfhood’ (Ibid:231), he argues, are the ‘techniques of psychotherapeutics’. Importantly, this link is clear in What Not To Wear. At the beginning of the episode, the presenters conduct conversations with the women to “probe their minds” (BBC1, 2004) in an environment culturally recognisable as that of a psychotherapist, with the women ‘probed’ on a chaise longue. During these conversations, the presenters refer to ‘feelings’ and the language of popular psychology, contributing to the assertion common to the genre of ‘self-help’ that it is the individual inside, not structural constraints of society, that lead to problems (Rimke, 2000:64) and that by altering her appearance, the woman will alter her life. In a style similar to that of the daytime television talk show, the short conversations do no not offer ‘sufficient space or time for personal emotions to be fully developed’ (Macdonald, 2003:83) and are very much directed by the presenters.

During Sara’s conversation, she starts to talk about the fact that her identity seems to be consumed by looking after her triplets (earlier in the programme, Trinny illustrated the hard work involved in looking after three children). Rather than explore the many structural constraints that are involved in this exhausting (and seemingly unrewarded) work, Trinny responds to the statement with the question “how does your husband feel about how you dress?” (BBC1, 2004). At the end of the programme, Trinny refers back to this feeling of identity loss, indicating that the ‘new’ Sara can be the centre of attention. Revealingly, Trinny comments that people will no longer constantly ask her about her children, but will now focus on her clothes instead, indicating that she feels Sara’s identity is her clothes.

The presenters also borrow from behavioural psychology, invented to ‘render human conduct amenable to reshaping’ (Rose, 1989:239). Trinny and Susannah use both reward and punishment in order to ‘reshape’ the women. At a key moment in Michalina’s shopping task, Trinny begs her to buy a dress, giving up on the ‘rewarding’ of compliments and screams in Michalina’s face; “JUST BUY THE OUTFIT OK!” (BBC1, 2004). This illustrates that What Not To Wear lies firmly in the discursive tradition of self-regulation through psychotherapeutics (Rose, 1989:227).

Within the genre of self-help, particularly makeover, the role of the ‘expert’ is key (Giles, 2002:606). Trinny and Susannah present themselves as therapist and teacher. They adopt a position of authority that can be conceptualised in the way that Foucault (1984:61) has analysed the therapist and priest who gains power through confession. They intervene ‘in order to judge, punish, forgive, console and reconcile’ (Foucault, 1984: 61-2). The hierarchy evident in this authority manifests itself both in the language used by the presenters when addressing the women and the ‘economy of touching’ (Bartky, 2003:30) whereby the presenters touch the women often aggressively and intrusively.

The language used by the presenters often takes on a patronising tone; the difference between Trinny admonishing Sara’s children for not eating with their spoons, and the order to Michalina to get “back in your box, try the other thing on” (BBC1, 2004) is barely noticeable in tone. The way in which the presenters grab, pull and on one occasion rip the knickers, from the women is intrusive and humiliating at times for the women . Trinny and Susannah also touch the women in a way that would usually be associated with animals; they are ‘herded’ around and continually have their thighs patted and slapped. Although this form of touch is presented as jest, it echoes the power hierarchy within a society where women are often subject to un-requested touch and bodily intrusion, including high incidence of rape . The message given out that it is acceptable to herd and intrude on women ‘for their own good’ is a dangerous one.

This clear hierarchy is one of both knowledge (of ‘what to wear’) and class. The presenters are from upper-middle class backgrounds and display their opinion of the way in which the other women dress with ‘extreme bodily displeasure’ (McRobbie, 2004:105). Their class difference is illustrated by and reinforces their role as ‘experts’ and is tied to their knowledge of ‘style’. Trinny displays this by telling Sara; “we might know a bit better than you” (BBC1, 2004).

Although the power relations within the makeover paradigm of What Not To Wear are pervasive and permeate into the minds of the women being made over, as Foucault argues, this form of power depends on ‘a multiplicity of points of resistance’ (1984:95). Certainly, there are multiple points of resistance throughout the episode. Often this resistance is played up to the camera, to the audience as fellow participant; Michalina, picking up a pair of brightly coloured trousers, says “they are lovely, aren’t they [pauses, puts them back on the shelf] … no, I’m gonna be good [picks them up again] no, I’m not gonna be good.” (BBC1, 2004).Similarly, as a site of class resistance, Sara argues with the presenters on the necessity of spending over £100 on a pair of jeans. Although both women thank the presenters for their ‘new’ selves, and seem genuinely happy at the end of the episode, this does not reduce the importance of their resistance throughout their encounters with Trinny and Susannah.

The ‘Young mums’ episode of What Not To Wear is critically examined above in relation to discourses of self-production, surveillance, popular psychology and the authority of expert and class. The makeover paradigm within What Not To Wear is part of the discursive production within society of ‘feminine body-subjects’ (Bartky, 2003:33) through self-production (Rose, 1989) and surveillance. There is a great deal more that could be critically evaluated within the media text What Not To Wear. The role of surveillance could be examined in far more detail, particularly in the earlier series where hidden cameras were used to survey the women. Although not used in the episode analysed here, some episodes of What Not To Wear have featured video diaries, which could be viewed through a Foucauldian analysis of the role of confession (Foucault, 1984: 63). In terms of this particular episode, the women were actually revisited by Trinny and Susannah for the 2005 series of What Not To Wear, which could be analysed in terms of resistance, surveillance, governance and the portrayals of class. Although analysing such texts often meets with a resistance of its own, it is important considering the cultural weight and sites of power within the makeover paradigm as demonstrated above.


Bartky, S, (2003), ‘Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power’ In Weitz, R (Ed) The politics of women’s bodies : sexuality, appearance, & behavior . New York : Oxford University Press

Foucault, M, (1975) ‘Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison’. Harmondsworth : Penguin

Foucault, M, (1981), ‘The History of Sexuality’. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Giles, D ‘Keeping the public in their place: audience participation in lifestyle television programming’ Discourse Society, Sep 2002; 13: 603 - 628.

Hume, E ,(2005) ‘Talk Show Culture’ (Online). Available:

Macdonald, M (2003) ‘Exploring Media Discourse’. London : Arnold

McRobbie, A (2004) ‘Notes on ‘What Not To Wear’ and post-feminist symbolic violence’ in Adkins,L (ed) (2005) Feminism After Bourdieu , Blackwell Publishing Ltd: Oxford pp 99-109

Moseley (2000), ‘Makeover takeover on British television’. Screen 41(3)pp299-314

Rimke, H, (2000), ‘Governing Citizens Through Self-Help Literature’ Cultural Studies, 14(1) pp62-78

Rose, N (1989), ‘Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self’. London : Free Association Books.

Rowe, K, (1997), ‘Roseanne: Unruly Woman as Domestic Godess’ in Brunsdon et al (Eds), (1997), Feminist Television Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Truth About Rape Campaign, (2005) (Online). Available:

Weber, B (2005) ‘Beauty, Desire and Anxiety the Economy of Sameness in ABC’s Extreme Makeover’ Genders: 41.

What Not To Wear, ‘Young Mums’, BBC1, 27th September 2004, 7pm

What Not To Wear, BBCTV, (2001- )

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Racism and Islamaphobia at Staffs University

27 March 2009 at 03:02
I have just stood in the Staffordshire University Students’ Union election for the post of President, but rather than campaigning on policy I have ended up spending the week fighting a vicious sleaze campaign.

Through the entire election campaign this week I have been a victim of systematic abuse including racist and Islamaphobic lies and comments aimed directly at me.

Though I did not stand on an Islamic platform, and did not mention my religious beliefs at all in my campaign material and manifesto, my religion has consistently been used by the opposition slate throughout the course of this week. Evidence of this is as follows:

1. Comments made by the opposition to students that I wished to introduce Sharia/Islamic law into the college (due to a racist view of my religious beliefs).
2. Comments made by the opposition to students that I would close the bar (due to a racist view of my religious beliefs).
3. Comments made by the opposition to students that I would close sports societies.
4. Comments made by the opposition to students that I would segregate the union along gender lines (due to a racist view of my religious beliefs).
5. Comments made on Facebook by the opposition campaigners on public profiles included posts calling me a “7/7 bomber” and “Osama Bin Baig” – clear references to my ethnicity and religious beliefs.
6. A racist and derogatory video was produced by a former member of the Steerings committee and union council member in Stafford directed against my slate.

Under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006, under section 29B, point 1, it is against British law to use a person’s religious views to stir up religious hatred:

“A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.”

It is my clear opinion that religious and racial hatred has been used as an electoral ploy to smear my campaign. By using a narrow, racist interpretation of my religion they have created a hysteria campaign of lies against myself and my campaign. Why was my religion an issue to them when I have not once mentioned it in any material, or campaigning on campus?

The severity of this complaint demands urgent attention. Racism in all its forms cannot be tolerated, especially in such a diverse community as that at Staffs University.

Our campus is situated in Stoke, a city with nine councilors from the British National Party, a party that threatens the safety (and life) of people such as myself on the basis of my religious beliefs and ethnicity. The fact that such racist behaviour has occurred during a student union election on campus makes me, and other Muslim and ethnic minority students, feel extremely unsafe on campus and if the union does not take action it will be indirectly legitimising such racist behaviour.

These actions have set back all the anti-racist and anti-fascist work I have done over the past three years at Staffordshire University. The Students Union is obliged to provide a safe space for all students but it has clearly not done this during this election campaign. The Student union elections were supposed to be about students and policies but instead I was forced to defend myself from a vicious sleaze campaign, explaining to students that I am not an extremist; that I do not want to ban alcohol, close down the student venue and how I will not implement Islamic law at the university.

Due to the severity of this sleaze campaign I will also be forwarding a copy of this complaint to the Trade Union Congress, National Union of Journalists, NUS Black Students’ campaign, NUS International Students Campaign, NUS NEC, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism and other progressive unions, organisations and activists across the country. A general press release to local, national and student media will also be sent out in due course.

Assed Baig
Written about a month ago · Comment · Unlike · Report Note
You, Malaika R, James Hilsdon, Samaira Anjum and 27 others like this.

Adam Marks at 11:29 on 30 March
"Students are one of the most open minded bunches in the country..."

Students are generally awful people, inflated, drunken little pups who think the world is their personal gravel tray. All of the above could have been summed up very simply: "shut up". This is the bigot's trump card. "Shut up, you're..." select from (1) playing the race card (2) ... Read more

Laura Norcop at 11:34 on 30 March
I'm very sorry you feel this way. My personal experience has been very different. I advise you to expand your friendship group if this is the impression you've been left as I can assure you that there are fantastic people out there. I don't believe that Assed, for one, thinks that the world is his own personal gravel tray. I think he's trying, as ... Read more

Syed Bokhari at 11:39 on 30 March
Laura, I wish it were true that everybody on campus and in broader society was as 'open-minded' as you seem to think they are. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. Students are subject to the same forces and ideas which prevail in society outside our universities. I think there are a number of problems with the implications of what you are ... Read more

Syed Bokhari at 11:41 on 30 March
by tapping into the most acceptable form of racism in society today, Islamophobia.
It is quite unfair that you are asking someone who has just suffered a vile form of racist abuse to consider what going public with this has done to some of their opposition. I know little of Staffs uni, but from reading this I had no illusions that EVERY candidate ... Read more

Syed Bokhari at 11:43 on 30 March
This would suggest that SOME of the ‘opposition... Read more

Syed Bokhari at 11:44 on 30 March
The final point you make sums up your evident lack of sympathy for what Assed as been through, and what Muslim people face in this country everyday. I don’t know who the current president is at Staffs, but she should be supporting Assed right now. You should be more concerned for what Assed has been through than how making this public might damage your president’s career. If she handles it properly it should have the opposite effect.

Laura Norcop at 11:51 on 30 March
Without writing a dissertation I couldn't even begin to forumlate an appropriate response so I'll just reiterate, I do agree with Assed's ideals, I'd love as much as I believe many would, to see a world devoid of both directions.

My concern was that Assed groups together the opposition and describes them in a defamatory manner despite... Read more

Laura Norcop at 11:58 on 30 March
And I will continue to campaign against injustice regardless of the race or colour of skin of those I feel have been abused. I won't stand for racism or racist remarks in either direction and I don't believe you have the right to suggest that the colour of my skin means you can safely assume I've experienced no racism myself. I appreciate that I ... Read more

Syed Bokhari at 12:51 on 30 March
Laura, I'm not saying that white people can't be anti-racists. What I'm saying is that you're not in the position to be able to dictate to Assed or anyone else that there isn't much racism in universities because, as you say yourself, you have not experienced any. The point I was making is perhaps you may have personally experienced little or no ... Read more

Syed Bokhari at 12:54 on 30 March
When I mentioned people "only fronting as anti-racist" I was referring in general terms to any of the opposition who were actually involved in the racist comments and smears whose anti-racist credentials you are defending. I was not specifically talking about “her... Read more

Laura Norcop at 13:01 on 30 March
I said I hadnt experienced any at this university not that I hadn't in my university years. I'm from Stoke and have been unfortunate to be subjected to walking through Hanley Park and other areas and I can sadly inform you that I've experienced intimidation, humiliation and abuse because of the colour of my skin.

Regardless, the point seems to ... Read more

Hannah Caitlin Smith at 17:08 on 30 March
I don't attend Staffs Uni, i'm actually at Lancaster, but my mum works at Staffs and reading this has horrified me - i've spent most of my life in Stoke and of course am aware of the racist nature of a lot of its inhabitants, but would never have expected this to extend to the university campus. I hope the people to blame here are made an example of, to show that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in Stoke anymore.

Carmen Appleby at 17:27 on 30 March
i'm sorry to read what you've been through, Assad, and as a Staffs Uni student myself it makes me feel so sad that this kind of thing is going on so close to home, as it were. well done for fighting back against it. Racism against anyone is unacceptable.

Gary McNally at 07:54 on 31 March
When I was campaigning with Assed and his slate in Stafford I over heard someone say "I heard they're only interested in the muslim vote." Pretty incorrect statement to be making...pretty shitty and inflamatory statement really!

This really needs to be taken very seriously. I'm up for having racists kicked out of the union myself.

Wing Yee Li at 22:07 on 31 March
Thanks Laura for engaging in a dialogue, as it shows you are trying to understand what is really going on here; some of your fellow students could benefit from taking a leaf out your book. Unfortunately, it's not just racism that's the issue; it is prejudice and discrimination in all its ugly forms at Stoke and across the country alike in our ... Read more

Wing Yee Li at 22:08 on 31 March
misguided actions. Assed has pointed out; it is against the law.

It is proven that women disproportionately experience violence from men, at home, at work, everywhere. Would you silence women from crying out injustice and seeking justice because we don... Read more

Wing Yee Li at 22:08 on 31 March
If the current Staffordshire Union Officers are open and honest with themselves, then they should admit responsibility for inciting hatred because that is the truth, whether it is the candidates themselves or their campaigners who are the perpetrators, and take the relevant steps to right their wrongs. I am sure the Another union is Possible slate ... Read more

Wing Yee Li at 22:39 on 31 March
PS. Almost 5 and a half days after the close of elections and the whole union is still hanging in limbo regarding it's officers for 09-10... if i was at Staffs my faith in my anti-racist president would be 6 feet under...

Laura Norcop at 12:47 on 01 April
Both potential presidents are extremely anti-racist! And my faith in Fee has never waivered...yes, it sounds like some very stupid and ignorant campaigner has said something entirely inappropriate...but this should be taken up with the individual and not used to undermine and smear Fee who actively works for love music hate racism and is ever ... Read more

Laura Norcop at 12:50 on 01 April
ANY stretch of the mind. But that it should have been brought up with the union and potentialy the police. Assed should realise how the media scews argument and the potential damage he was causing. I could never vote for someone who put their own personal agenda before the benefit and good of the students they ultimately wanted to represent. I'm ... Read more

Wing Yee Li at 14:23 on 01 April
Laura, I totally agree with you. I would never vote for anyone who put their own personal agenda before the greater good of their electorate; however, the Vote Staffs slate were the ones inciting hatred; the Vote Staffs slate are the abusers in this ugly picture. The candidates and the individual campaigners, including the one I already mentioned, ... Read more

Laura Norcop at 14:30 on 01 April
But you're still not listening? Fee isn't, ever will be, nor has ever been racist. Why do we have to elect in a group of people just because they have campaigned as a group?? That's the worst thing about all this, I voted for each person on their individual merits, and it's not fair that Fee is being, perhaps inadvertantly, smeared by this article... Read more

Wing Yee Li at 14:30 on 01 April
by the individuals and groups investigating the case. They were being racist without even realising it.

I... Read more

Wing Yee Li at 14:37 on 01 April
is acceptable when her Presidency is at stake????.... something doesn... Read more

Wing Yee Li at 14:54 on 01 April
say the media skews the truth: again, I completely agree with you on that too. But we don... Read more

Laura Norcop at 15:00 on 01 April
I'm not even going to rise to your final comment. Though I would like to stress that I have not actually capaigned on behalf of Fiona. I am simply a student that agrees with her work and what she has done for this univeristy as president.

My thoughts are not representational of anyone but my own opinions. I will say, however, that I believe Fee ... Read more

Laura Norcop at 15:01 on 01 April
everyone should be supporting a conclusion of the vote count and a welcoming of the new or returning president rather than undermining either candidate with speculation and negative association.

Ashley Littler at 18:58 on 01 April

Laura Norcop at 11:43 on 02 April A prior election campaign of Assed's in which it seems accusations flew. Just thought I should bring some history to the current presidential debate.

Ashley Littler at 17:23 on 02 April
To be fair, both candidates have dragged the name of Stoke On Trent through the gutter yet again, they seem to have no decent agenda or real change and improvement. And no connection with what causes the real problems in stoke on trent. Worried about 9 old BNP members? Behave a minority party jeez

And as far as Fiona Wood goes, someone who thinks that the problems in stoke stem from the BNP, couldnt be further wrong. They need to get speaking to people to find there is a deeper rooted problem.

And turn there attention to the waste of time in the civic centre down the road. And for these reasons ill be voting for neither candidate as it seems they are both totally clueless and far more interested in a popularity contest than anything else... Read more

Sarah Nicholson at 19:21 on 06 April
excuse me i have come across this article, i am student at staffs university, i read the article an am sorry you feel there is a race attack going on, but coming from a female, white opinion you are not the only one getting the rough deal. when you walk round hanley park, getting followed and are told to get the fuck out because you are white... ... Read more

Russell Griffin at 14:52 on 08 April
are you ACTUALLY forgetting that the current team working in the union have been part of love music hate racisim? i think that the smear you are all forgetting the focus of these elections - THE STUDENTS! you are far too focussed on your petty victory and because you felt like you were loosing, you started this smear campaign by spreading completely untrue lies. and lets not forget, racism works both ways - is that not true?

Assed Baig at 15:18 on 08 April
The complaint was submitted after the close of elections, and i did not feel like i was losing. And just because people have worked with Love Music Hate Racism does it mean that they are now exempt from racism. And as for racism working both ways, well if you feel you have been hard done, or you have been accussed of things based on your ... Read more

Assed Baig at 15:23 on 08 April
poor you and your friends, they have been subjected to soooo much. They were called pakis during the campaign, and people thought they were going to ban alcohol based on a nasty rumour spread by me, based on their religion. poor you!

You have no idea of racism or what it means to live with peoples ignorance of you, your people and what you believe. So excuse me for not shedding a tear when you cannot walk through a park, when some of my epople cannot walk through streets, airports, and train stations, and are not seen as equal citizens in this country. I really do feel for some of you, i really do, it must be so hard being white in this country.

Do working class white people suffer, Yes they do, but working class Black and Asian people have to deal with racism on top of everything else. Some of our struggles are the same, but fortunatly you do not have to deal with racism... Read more

Assed Baig at 15:27 on 08 April
please educate yourselves on the politics of racis. The election here is notthe issue, it is the widre ranging problem with racism as a whole.

Just because some of you fail to see it, or have not experienced it does not mean that it is not there. When some of my campaigners are told that "you are the one that is standing with those fucking asians, you look stupid" or when people tell some of the people standing that they are "fucking Pakis" i think i should speak out against racism.

this does not mean that the opposition was involved in these individual incidents, hence i did not mention them in my statement. But i do belive there was a sleeze campaing run against us. And when i submitted the cpomplaint i said i would campaign on anti-racism issues win lose or draw. I have been campaigning on anti-racism issues long before any election came about. ... Read more

Sarah Nicholson at 16:11 on 08 April
I will apologise for that comment but i will not dismiss it, as racism works both ways and unfortunately it is part of the problems the uni is facing and within the elections. I am pleased you are working for the good of racism but you have to look from both sides of an arguement.
im am sorry i have offeneded, i did not mean to but everyone is ... Read more

Matt Henty at 17:13 on 08 April
Why is all i read here, racism this racism that?

Isn't everyone bored of hearing the same record.

I know i am.... Read more

Assed Baig at 17:19 on 08 April
then stop reading. Racism is an issue for many of us. Those of us that have got a grip still consider it an issue. And i am doing something useful :)

Matt Henty at 17:22 on 08 April
What, by saying everyone is racist?

Yeah, useful.

Assed Baig at 17:23 on 08 April
never said everyone is racist. I suggest you read again, i think you should be doing something useful

Matt Henty at 17:26 on 08 April
I am doing something useful, i'm sat at home, reading about the mumps :) (as i think i have it)

after doing a days hard work.

Not trying to cause offence, just so far, in these comments, all i'v read is about racism.

Mariam I. at 17:32 on 08 April
i think all you've read about is racism because the issue is racism. I won't repeat what Assed said but it seems like people are failing to understand the importance of highlighting these issues in society. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away, no matter how badly you might want that to happen.

Laura Norcop at 17:39 on 08 April
"So excuse me for not shedding a tear when you cannot walk through a park"...when any member of society is forced to live in fear in any aspects of their lives, I am sorry Assed, but it is worth a tear REGARDLESS of their colour.

And it wasn't something I was going to bring to this debate as it disgusted me beyond measure but if you bring into it... Read more

Laura Norcop at 17:44 on 08 April
but because you feel the need to inform us of what a few ignorant white people have said as though this reflects on anyone other than themselves! I won't name the individuals that were attacked, or the young lady that came in and reported it to me as I wouldn't like to bring this upon anyone. But as I was sat inside a friend of mine came in and ... Read more

Laura Norcop at 17:51 on 08 April
though you open on a pretence of understanding our struggles, you go on to openly mock "it must be so hard being white in this country"). You don't even pretend to be trying to represent the white majority so why are you trying to gain a position that would require you to do just that? This is supposed to be about us, the students, and all you do ... Read more

Matt Henty at 18:13 on 08 April
Nail on the Head Laura.


Assed Baig at 18:21 on 08 April
let's be staright here Laura, you are one of those 'ignorant' people. Let me break it down for you. I have never said i represent people on the basis of colour in this election so how you can talk ablout the 'white majority' is beyond me. I stood on a set of politics, and people voted for me according to that. As for personal agenda, what is my... Read more

Assed Baig at 18:26 on 08 April
people is more recognisable than their white counter parts. ANd like i have said before working class people of all backgrounds suffer, but black and asian peoplesuffer from Racism on top of everything else.

And as for the incident outside the Ember Lounge, i find it abhorent, but do i have to apolagise on behalf of every wrong act an Asian ... Read more

Assed Baig at 18:32 on 08 April
of the internet, ranting and raving about the white majority and making baseless assumptions about me and my campaign, posting links up of political disagreements i have had with people in the past and trying to discredit me, personal agenda? I think so

I apolagise for the way i voice my opinions, since you think it is 'wrong' . I must remember to play the good asian Muslim boy, nod my head and speak nicely and smile when faced with racist abuse and ignoramouses trying to defend their mates. :)

Would my opinions be easier for you to swallow if i was white? or is the fact that an Asian man stands up for something it pisses everyone off. ... Read more

Russell Griffin at 18:37 on 08 April
assed your proving the point without even realising it - i dont want a president who refers to the people he is supposed to be representing as "ignorant". it shows no decorum and certainly shows a lack of professionalism. i cant say i understand the implications of racism, but i certainly understand the implications of homophobic abuse - and on ... Read more

Assed Baig at 18:43 on 08 April
lol, you missed the point Russell by a mile. When did i play the victim? the fact that i am standing up and speaking out means i refuse to play the victim. And wher edid i say that all white people have racism built into them??? where did i say that? have you got some preconcieved ideas in your head??? And when did i ever say that those that do... Read more

James Haywood at 19:24 on 08 April
Hi, I am white and a good friend of Assad, and he doesn't consider me ignorant or racist. So Laura and Russel, stop trying to accuse him of blanketting all white people. You are either incredibly ignorant or (more likely) trying to just smear him.
Racism is not sticks and stones, it is descrimination by police, in education, in work and in the ... Read more

James Haywood at 19:27 on 08 April
By the way Russell the role of President is not to represent "every student" otherwise why an election? He has stood on an incredibly noble stand against racism, course cuts and climate change, so once elected he will be persuing those aims the majority elected him to do.
Thats basic democracy.
By the way, shame on those who have criticised Assad ... Read more

Dean Emery at 23:28 on 08 April
In relation to what Sarah said about Hanley Park - that is so true as I have experienced it myself a good number of years back and its wrong and I haven't been back there since. I think everybody here needs to find a common ground otherwise this issue of racism at Staffs will never improve. The task is tough enough as it is seeing as Stoke is a BNP... Read more

Gary McNally at 02:53 on 09 April
I honestly can not believe that this argument is even taking place. The racism directed towards the Another Union is Possible slate was real. I was shocked to witness it myself, on a university campus that I had hoped would be the breeding ground of a new dynamic anti-fascist movement in Stoke.

I heard one student walking away from leafletters in ... Read more

Gary McNally at 03:07 on 09 April
So are you saying that, given the "White majority" that only white students should stand for Student Union president? What a dangerous thing to say!

Assed represents students of all colours, races and religions. Laura, could you do the same? Given your comments earlier I don't think that you could.

I back Assed 100% in this argument. Assed and I disagree on some issues, but racism is not one of them! There is no place for racism on this campus, not least given the rise of the Nazi BNP in the city.... Read more

Damir Faruk Saračević at 03:26 on 09 April
stay strong man!

Charley Hasted at 03:26 on 09 April
You know what I have officially had enough! I am not racist and am sick of having it constantly implied that by supporting the current officer team I must be! I got stuck on bloody redwatch for my anti-facist activities in London. I campaigned with the votestaffs slate and at no point in my hearing did any of the candidates utter anything like the ... Read more

Gary McNally at 04:04 on 09 April
The investigation isn't as far as I'm aware specifically targeted against the current officer team. There was however racism in the election. This racism must be investigated. I know it is frustrating! But trying to find out where this racism started from is more important than anything else right now!

I certainly wasn't implying that you are racist, but some of the arguments of people online have been, undoubtedly racist and devisive.

What is clear is that there was racism in this election. Asian candidates were intimmidated at the Stoke hustings, steerings picked out and threw away questions regarding this at the Stafford hustings the next day, posters for Asian candidates were ripped down within an hour and a half of them being put up.... Read more

Gary McNally at 04:05 on 09 April
Why you didn't campaign with Another Union is Possible I don't know, but seriously, you need to look at which side of the argument you're on.

Charley Hasted at 05:55 on 09 April
I know which side of the argument I am on... it's kind of an intrisic part of actually having an argument.

I didn't campaign with Another union is possible because to be brutally honest I simply didn't think their manifesto was detailed enough or in many ways actually practicable and where it was this was more than amply covered by votestaffs. ... Read more

Assed Baig at 11:43 on 09 April
??? The shiesha lounge is not illegal. And who called the toilets an abomination? i voted for them at council. You really need to get yourself sorted out Charley. Get your argument straight. Enjoy your time witht the racists

Charley Hasted at 12:36 on 09 April
the shisha lounge is infact illegal as it qualifies as smoking and you can't smoke indoors under UK law.

I would tell you but having some concept of what reputation management actually entails and not wanting to drag somebodies name through the mud in a public forum I'm not going to post it on a comment section on facebook

Assed Baig at 19:47 on 09 April
who said we were going to have it inside? did you bother to ask?

Wing Yee Li at 20:11 on 09 April
The “Get Educated” Easter Reading List

{ For The Socio-politically Uneducated: also recommended for the rest of you }

Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1899)... Read more

Wing Yee Li at 20:14 on 09 April
addressed. Or you could... Read more

Wing Yee Li at 20:14 on 09 April
in question here, but we need to be specific and practical in challenging it.

Wing Yee Li at 20:34 on 09 April

Assed Baig at 21:20 on 11 April
you obviously have not read much. I did not stop the count. And if people did not vote for me they have not been accussed of racism. The entire complaint is about racism being used as a tool by the opposition. Again, i submitted the complaint after the close of voting. And as for all failing, we will have to wait until the vote is counted

Assed Baig at 22:16 on 11 April
the evidence has been handed to the university. There is no need for me to put my evidence up with a statement. I did not fear i have lost the election and i have made it perfectly clear to the returning officer that a re-run of the elections is not an option. so your theory in me wanting the sympothy vote is wrong.

And congratulations on ... Read more

Assed Baig at 23:27 on 11 April
i cannot recall meeting or talking to you. And as for questioning me, i'm always up for people questioning me, discussion and debate. The offer still stands, but as before the election, your mind is already made up, as you are supporting your friends. I stand on political principals. And i do not avoid anything and definatly do not need anyone ... Read more

Charley Hasted at 18:12 on 14 April
lounge does rather imply inside and how precisely do you propose to have a lounge outside in stoke or stafford in any case?

Assed Baig at 00:28 on 15 April
take a quick trip to Manchester Wilmslow road, and Edgware road in London and you will find out

Charley Hasted at 00:44 on 15 April
yay a shisha lounge outside... in stoke... it'd be unusable 99% of the time due to rain/wind

Assed Baig at 00:45 on 15 April
does not need to be outside, like i said take a look at Wilmslow and Edgware road

Charley Hasted at 20:31 on 18 April
well it's very simple assed. There is inside and outside legally you cannot have it inside and thusly by definition it has to be outside and has to be less than 50% enclosed not including a roof.

So please outline your great plan as to how you're going to make it something that students actually want to use in all weathers considering that data ... Read more

Assed Baig at 21:59 on 18 April
thank you for the weather forcast Charley. Like i have said you can have a shisha lounge inside, but can modify the building so it fits the law requirements. Have you never been to Wilmslow road?? maybe you should take a trip, take your friends, i can be a field trip for all of you, you know go and see the minorities, it may even be educational for the likes of you

Charley Hasted at 00:48 on 19 April
The likes of me Assed? I grew up in Brixton and spent a hell of a lot of time round Whitechapel, Soho and Chinatown mate so don't even try to go there.

You cannot have a shisha lounge inside in any way shape or form you CAN have a covered area outside but given the infor in my last comment how precisely do you intend to make it useable without us... Read more

Assed Baig at 00:56 on 19 April
well done for growing up in Brixton, really seems to have educated you on racism

look, i have plans. i researched it and the best way i v=can explain it is to show you. but it is ok, you don't have tp sit outside nd surely you should have asked these questions before the elections, but then again you ahve already made up your mind

Charley Hasted at 01:13 on 19 April
You know what Assed grow up. You can't argue that visiting somewhere to 'see the minorities' would be educational and then dismiss my living and socailising for 20 years in areas with considerable black/chinese/south asian populations would not have educated me.

The best way for you to tell me what you have planned would be to actually tell me ... Read more

Assed Baig at 01:19 on 19 April
Charley, you sided with the opposition over this issue, what are your intentions??

You can have a shiesha lounge inside, but modify two of the walls, so it is considered outdoor. On edgware road they provide nice blankets to keep you warm.

I have had enough of you Charley, you are reactionary and your politics around racism are shit. so get lost :)

Charley Hasted at 01:40 on 19 April
so far as I'm aware the opposition offered no opinion about the validity of a shisha lounge.

You really need to get over this childish idea that simply because people don't treat every word that comes from your mouth like solid gold that this means they are bigoted/reactionary/racist (delete as applicable depending on what you think you can get ... Read more

Assed Baig at 01:42 on 19 April
whatever you say Charley, whatever makes you feel important. you going to write a note know about how officially pissed off you are

Charley Hasted at 02:02 on 19 April
think you'll find I already did that :) I really don't give a shit about feeling important, unfortunatley for all of us you don't seem to share this feeling.

I care about the fact that you seem to want to introduce something that will cost what may amount to a large chunk of money yet seem incredibly unwilling to offer any justification or ... Read more

Assed Baig at 02:12 on 19 April
Another union is possible, free from racists. Another union is possible where officers stand by their manifesto pledges, stnd by what they were elected for.

Where was your questioning about the failure of the winter ball??? Did you carry outr a consultation for the transgender toilets (which i vorted for btw)???

double standards. go chill with your racist mates, and you can all talk about how racism does not exist and how you are all openminded and know all about racism... Read more

Charley Hasted at 02:55 on 19 April
Just because my questioning takes the form of speaking to people personally rather than ranting to facebook doesn't make it any less valid.

Yes I did consult on the gender neutral toilets and unless you're stalking me (which I sincerely hope you're not) how can you have any idea how many students I've spoken to or consulted with or campaigned with... Read more

Assed Baig at 10:47 on 19 April
who called you a racist? and don't threaten me please? i don't take well to threats.

and if you say your friends are not racist, then with your vast knowledge of racism, you must be

James Meadway at 11:03 on 19 April
I don't think Assed has called you a racist, Charley. He's simply said your politics around racism are "shit", which on the basis of the discussion above is a blunt but justifiable comment. (The utter failure of imagination regarding the shisha lounge is just quite amusing by comparison.)

Good luck with it all, Assed. There's a certain smug ... Read more

Alex Donald at 15:40 on 19 April
Wow..this is some pretty ideological polarised shit that doesn't look like it'll go away any time soon. Personally I think you all need to get off your soapboxes and start listening and compromising for once.

I'm sure most students at Staffs are fed up with this hatred and name-calling and just want to get on with their lives.

Also I'd hurry up resolving this before it hits national tabloids - that won't do ANYONE any good.

Charley Hasted at 17:32 on 19 April
Alright I'll play. Go through my friends list and tell me which ones of my friends are racist so I can inform them I no longer wish to associate with them as you say to know so much more than me about it.

As for the shisha lounge I don't require faith, faith is reserved for religion and other such things for which there can be no proof. I have ... Read more

Assed Baig at 17:50 on 19 April
you see the thing with Charley is that Charley likes to feel important. Charley wants to stand for President, so opposition to me, now, will give Charley, maybe, some support for next year.

Well Charley you are very important, if you cannot understand what i'm saying about the Shisha lounge fine. If you are worried about the weather, i'm sure you'll find a way to keep warm. If elected, students have put their trust in me to carry out my Manifesto pledges, let me worry about that, i know what i am doing. I never mentioned having faith in me, i don't want your faith.

I am an activist that campaigns, a Shisha lounge is not a massive campaign, it is something simple, that the Union employs staff to deal with. I have the idea, i have the plans of the buildings, as to possible locations. Students approached me with the idea, i listened. It will happen, regardless of the weather, it will comply with the law.... Read more

Charley Hasted at 19:11 on 19 April
persecution complex much? I haven't actually decided whether or not I want to stand for any sabbatical posistion next year let alone president so how you've managed to work that out I don't know. I could give a shit about opposing you I just wanted to know how you were planning on giving students a shisha lounge that was enjoyable to use all year ... Read more

Dominic Kouros Kavakeb at 19:44 on 19 April
Rah this all reminds me of when I won Presidency at Essex. It's so interesting watching people always go on bout how anti racist they are and yet as soon as their grip on power appears to loosen they are quite happy to use racism to eliminate the threat. Such a response can only mean that Assed poses a threat to the comfortable and meaningless status quo. So well done Assed you must be doing something right for these people to be so scared of you!

Charley Hasted at 20:21 on 19 April
Hi Dominic, nice to see you around haven't seen you in ages, hope life's treating you well.

Dominic Kouros Kavakeb at 20:23 on 19 April
Oh yeeeaaaaah SSAW days.....didn't realise you're the same person! You should stop fighting with Assed, he is an incredible guy who has done so much for the student movement!

Charley Hasted at 20:54 on 19 April
Like I said I have a lot of time for Assed as an activist and a campaigner but he sucks as a politician lol it's an entirley different skill set that with the best will in the world Assed doesn't have.

I would be happy to see a shisha lounge on campus, I enjoy shisha I just don't see how he plans on doing it and really don't like being talked down... Read more

John Cox at 01:30 on 20 April
Like it or not, these are the hall marks of many a student union campaign for election. Some promise 24 hour library access, without thinking of the cost implication or just how hard it will be to obtain it. Others, as in a campus not to far from me in 2003, promise to mow down the vice chancellor with a robin reliant. A lot vow just to maintain... Read more

Assed Baig at 19:40 on 20 April
I have never targetted all students with same brush. I said win lose or draw i will campaign against racism, i did it before the election and i will continue afterwards. Racism was used in the election campaign against me. I will not drop it. The issue of racism is more important, and we need to tackle it head on

Jennifer Jones at 19:50 on 20 April
don't allow people to stop you campaigning against racism assed. its disgusting what i witnessed first hand at Staffs but I really hope you will change the atmosphere to be more inclusive to all. people who are racist will attempt to stop you challenging racism but we in the student movement simply can't afford to let them win. enjoy your success president-elect! clearly the majority of students at Staffs want anti-racist president who's ready to stand up for students rights

Assed Baig at 19:51 on 20 April
good, then we can work together than, look forward to it :)

Why racism is very much White on Black.

15 April 2009 at 17:51
I feel compelled to clarify the definition of racism, its meaning and its context. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while because of situations which have arisen over the past couple of years while I’ve been involved in student politics.

Whenever the issue of racism arises in student unions and especially if it is in the context of elections the same themes, the same complaints, the same questions arise, time and time again.

Essentially they can be all answered if one understands the meaning of racism and its history. Once that is done, the answers to questions such as ‘Why don’t we have a White student’s officer?’ will become clear as well as an understanding of why, generally speaking, when we refer to racism in the West it is the discrimination of Black people as opposed to White people.

Firstly, a definition of race:

“subspecies: (biology) a taxonomic group that is a division of a species; usually arises as a consequence of geographical isolation within a species”

Of course, this is the scientific definition but it is also the definition which is the root to understanding the development of racism as it occurs in the contemporary world.

Taking the scientific definition we realise that the concept of ‘race’ has no validity in Homo sapiens. When the human species is viewed as a whole, underlying genetic variation and expressed physical traits exhibit gradients of differentiation, not discrete units. Therefore, humans do not fracture into races (subspecies).

So how then do we have ‘racism’ within the Human race?
This is where history serves its purpose. Racial classification is a modern phenomenon dating back to the 15th century during the slave trade when the Colonialists encountered sub-saharan Africans and referred to them as Negro (meaning Black in Spanish).

Maintaining that Black people were "subhuman" was the only loophole in the then accepted law that "men are created equal" that would allow for the Triangular Slave trade to flourish. The same logic was applied in order to further the aim of Colonialism beyond Europe. This notion seeped in to the recesses of the Western establishment as it was this fundamental reasoning which allowed them to build their vast Empires. The result has been a systematic oppression and discrimination of Black people since then.

So when a Black person suffers from racism – understanding it in its historical context, it is just that. Being thought of as a being from a different race, rather than that of the human race.

When a White person suffers ‘racist’ abuse, behind that abuse, the degrading idea of the person being sub-human is not entertained by the perpetrator which is why, technically speaking, White people don’t suffer racism. They could suffer from abuse but not racism.

The other issue which I suspect will increasingly become a common perception is that racism no longer exists or is no longer such a problem in society. The logic being that America has a Black President or some other equally naïve reason.

Racism still exists in big and small ways. In small ways …we still have ‘flesh coloured’ plasters in that one perfect shade of pinkish beige, the colour of human flesh (sic). ‘Default’ printer settings are clearly programmed with only White people in mind – try printing off your picture in black and white. In big ways…we are currently occupied in wars which are steeped in racist ideology. Black history is still not incorporated in to mainstream education.

The point is that racism is still very much a reality today and therefore the need for challenging and eliminating racism is still relevant. The responsibility to eliminate this particular form of discrimination falls more greatly on students who will be the movers and shakers of tomorrow’s world.

My suggestions for activists against racism would be to equip themselves with a thorough understanding of the history of racism and all its current formations. This will allow an informed campaign to materialise which will undoubtedly lead to a more effective campaign.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Hossein Derakhshan and Virtual Iran-Free the Blogfather

The Iranian blogging phenomenon was triggered after the contribution of Hossein Derakhshan on how-to to write blogs in Farsi and one of the most recurrent themes analysed by academics interested in Iran's youth culture.

Hossein Derakhshan now imprisoned since last November 2008 contributed in establishing bridges of communication between a country with a limited public sphere like Iran and the rest of the world. The phenomenon he contributed to represents the need for alternative platforms of expression and is a vehicle for social development and assertion of Iranian Identity both within and outside the boundaries of the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, the usage of new media technology sets Iran the challenge of global free-flow of information.Hossein’s arrest is the prove of the danger that new media set to the I.R.I. This leads one to question: is Iran ready to use those media to develop its own “Neither East nor West” particular political, social and economical non-western-like model in setting the country back into the race of worlds most influential country? Or is it going to use them to increase its isolation from the international panorama by threatening the safety of Iranian online journalists and bloggers hence contributing to it’s own demonization?

Hossein Derakhshan is an Iranian-Canadian blogger and journalist and a fellow student at SOAS, University of London, who spent the last eight years between Canada and the U.K before his return to Tehran in the past month of October 2008. Hossein, aka Hoder, is hailed as the "blogfather" of Iranian Blogging because in 2001 he published guidelines of how to blog in Farsi on the site contributing to the boom in blogging that has led to Iran being today amongst the ten biggest blogging nations of the world according to Technorati statistics on the State of the Blogosphere.

According to Derakhshan (Khosravi 2008:157), the popularity of blogs among young people in Iran symbolises the great changes that Iranian society has undergone during the past two decades. The Iranian blogosphere is a reflection of the increasing tolerance in Iran’s society, he says. (1) His blog Editor:Myself or Rooznegar blog by Sina Motallebi his fellow blogger and journalist, were held by the Online Journalism Review as powerful tools for free-speech that linked Iran with the West.

Since the time of Hossein's statement to the current day, blogging has been widely embraced by Iranians throughout the whole spectrum of Iranian society, inside the country and within diaspora communities. Clark Boyd, technology correspondent for the BBC World Service, wrote in his 2005 article about Persian blogging around the globe that Internet has become the main medium for information, news, analysis and information exchange for Iranians inside and outside the Iran.

The fact that blogging is embraced by religious and political figures such as the President Ahmadinejad, could symbolize that the IRI is moving towards a more tolerant model of society that looks into the new media as a tool to overcome the isolation that certain policies have drawn the country into. The almost equivalent presence of topics concerning conservative politics, religion, secular and reformist ideas on the Iranian blogosphere is surprising, states Mark Jones in his Blogging Iran article to Reuters in April 2008. However, blogging is still a risky activity for Iranians, particularly for those who publish under their own name, as we can see by the recent death in prison of Omidreza MirSayafi.

The arrest of Hossein Derakhshan in Tehran last November has come to destabilise the world of free-speech activism, in which the "blogfather" was a major figure. Accused of “espionage for the Israeli government” at first and later of “insulting religion“, Derakhshan travelled to Israel in 2006 and 2007 and blogged about this experience as well as the intentions behind it. Treating these as a mission for peace activism, he attempted to present the human face of Israel to Iranians and to reassure Israelis that the average Iranian does not want to cause any harm to their country. Since then, he has continued to write prolifically, putting forward controversial opinions in defence of the IRI, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the right of Iran to develop nuclear energy. Activists and members of the Iranian diaspora started tagging Derakhshan as an "Agent of the Regime" and many heated discussions can be followed on his weblog until the day of his arrest last November 2008.

To all those willing to take a closer look at the contribution of Hossein Derakhshan to his country's development of public sphere and free-speech, it is well worth looking at the Iranian blogosphere which he helped generate. Numerous blogs, used by an extremely wide range of people, reflect a vast range of debate topics. Nevertheless, we can claim that Hossein is one of the pioneers of technological and cultural development for the IRI, that he so clearly stands out to defend from diverse threats. His weapon is no other than his words defending his belief in the Iranian republic.

The IRI could be growing towards a more tolerant model if we take the increasing presence of Iran in the blogosphere. However, the filters, the successive arrest of bloggers and Internet journalists like Hossein Derakhshan , Sina Motallebi - among many others- and the death of bloggers such as Omidreza MirSayafi show us something different. Still, Iranian’s mark a daily presence on the web. In parallel to the reality of the country itself, a Virtual Iran is developing despite the attempts on restrainin the free-flowing information. The attempt of control of Virtual Iran’s free speech can affect the development of the “real” Iran as well as the image passed on Internationally.

Independently of the content of the speech itself, the Internet is a tool for freedom of speech. Blogging represents the possibility of discussion, debate and freedom of expression for the individual, and is arguably conducive to individual and social progress. The development of Iranian blogosphere is a symbol of the development of Iranian society and the changes of the IRI. The fierce critique to some of it’s content, especially to those defending a pro-regime position, might only symbolize the lack of experience of free-speech by some particular individuals. However, the importance is that the blogosphere is there and must strive to maintain it’s diversity and contribute to Iran’s development.

Iran could be developing slowly into a new state model where new technologies serve s its own inner development, and simultaniously allowing Iran to be back in the race as world leading country. However, the control and use of new technology to threatening its own people might only increase its unpopularity and isolation from the rest of the world. The answer lies not only in the daily choices of Iran’s Govern, but also on how much it allows negative international pressure to interfere in inner politics that degenarate on an increasingly self-threatening paranoid state.

Let us hope that Hossein Derakhshan's passionate quest for a progressive and tolerant Iran does not fade with his arrest and – for now – uncertain future.

If you want to contribute to the Request of the immediate release of Hossein Derakhshan visit the website and sign the petition.

By Maria Rijo Lopes da Cunha.