My partner (Siobhan) and I (Patricia) are frequently the target of sexist and homophobic abuse. By speaking out about this, as we have done (so far via our website, on social media, in an online petition, and though a local newspaper outlet) our aim is to raise awareness of the issue and promote change.
The overwhelming support we have received from Haringey residents stopping us on the street to share their own experiences of harassment, people opening up about the issue on Twitter, and words of support via the Haringey Online forum, have filled us with admiration, gratitude, hope and relief. It means a lot to us that other folks care about the area and want to do something about this too. We already feel a touch safer and more supported.
A debate has taken off on Haringey Online and Twitter regarding certain perceptions – and indeed misconceptions – of the Turkish community in the Green Lanes area. Siobhan and I would like to clarify our opinions on the issue and to make a few important points about the interrelatedness of racism, sexism, and homophobia, as well as other forms of discrimination.
As Joseph Harker has written: “While on their own facts cannot be racist, the way they are chosen certainly can be”. When we say something about a particular group, we must be aware that our comments don’t exist in a vacuum. Even when we just see our comments as neutral ‘facts’, if made without sensitivity to existing issues surrounding race and diversity, they can contribute to harmful generalisations and appalling 'ethnic profiling', which is itself the source of much violence and injustice in the UK.
“Terrible behaviour by a few rotten eggs,” we might hear people lament, about white male harassers – but at no point would we blame 'white culture' or white populations as a whole. Discussions about 'the Turkish community' however, already an ethnic minority in the UK, often fuel racism and stereotyping amongst the wider public, who may not have the information to put these conversations into context.
Blaming a particular 'culture' or group for harassment would not only be incorrect in our opinion, but it would also be propping up a system of structural racism that we should be working to dismantle, not propagate.
The community in Haringey is one that I admire and appreciate. It is also extremely powerful - on an individual level (I personally feel very ‘empowered’ from the support this community has shown me and my girlfriend over the last few days) and on a broader political level too. As Seema Chandwani pointed out to me earlier this week, Haringey was the only borough to defy the law and reject Section 28 back in the day, and made great gains in the fight against homophobia during the 80s. I am now, more than ever, convinced of the awesomeness that is this community we live in.
I would love nothing more than to foster that sense of solidarity and work together to tackle harassment in the area, in a way that does not generalise, stereotype or in any way demonise particular groups who live within it – including my own. Yes, we need to be able to talk openly about our experiences of harassment, but we need to do so without alienating or stigmatising people, if we really want to move forward in everyone's best interest.