Written by Jacqueline Courtenay, 8 January 2023
A digest of things seen, read or heard between 1 January – 8 January 2023
Monday: In 2009, at a local library, I stumbled upon the book that first turned me into a climate activist, The Case Against the Global Economy: And for a Turn Towards Localization by Jerry Mander, published in 1997, the contents of this book still remain relevant today. From fostering ideas of how societies across the world can relinquish themselves from dependency on globalised goods and services, to encouraging the rebinding of communities, the book is a toolkit for overcoming the climate crisis. Over a decade on, it doesn’t feel as though we are any closer to reaching those ideals, at least not while the creative accounting escapades of companies mostly multinationals is rife. As told by Bloomberg UK, RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates) and GOs (Guarantees of Origin) are the environmental accounting instruments used to embellish corporate climate progress. Corporate giants are cleverly using said instruments to throw scent off their rather measly climate achievements, just as when everyday person is endlessly being told to decarbonise within an inch of their lives.
Case in point: on the same day that I read this Bloomberg article, BBC Radio 4’s Rethink, steered by, Amol Rajan, had a discussion centred on the personal lifestyle habits we are prepared to give up to stop global warming and questioned why we continue to live the way we do, despite knowing the planet is heating up. Important as this discourse is, with the lens solely on individuals, there is an imbalance if we aren’t talking about the consequences of companies and the state. As an individual, I strive to do my bit for the environment; I haven’t taken a flight in over 7 years, instead of a car, I own an electric cargo bike and am mindful about my households energy and water consumption. Of course, it is right to be reminded about what more we can do but it feels as though the only feet adequately being held to any fire at all are only those of the individual. Comparatively speaking, it seems companies can go on reporting false climate progress with little to show for it and little recourse, which raises the question: will the efforts of the induvial end up in vain? I fear that no government or climate regulatory body is really ready to deal with the climate reporting corruption and for this reason, an Enron-like environmental reporting scandal is likely to be on the horizon.
Tuesday: In “The Dangers of Courage Culture and Why Brene Brown Isn’t For Black Folk” Dr Carey Yazeed, dissects a twitter thread with Dr Jenn M Jackson, a columnist at Teen Vogue, who shared her thoughts on how Brene Brown effectively “encourages white supremacy by telling white women to be courageous and vulnerable”. Yazeed writes that Jackson stated “having courage to finish that swim meet or ask for that big raise isn’t like having the courage to be Black in a country that wants us dead.” Yazeed’s article went on to touch on certain truths and insights about Brene Brown’s writings that I hadn’t contended with until I read it. One the one hand, it confirmed things I know well to be true, such as the claim that “Black women are not supported in the literary space the way white women are. Hence why authors like Brown can become a NYT bestseller over and over again”. As is the idea that white tears is a defensive mechanism that “has worked for centuries, having killed a lot of Black people who were trying to be vulnerable and courageous as they spoke out against the injustices taking place within their lives and communities” But at first, the piece made me baulk with surprise. Surprise at the accusation of white supremacy in relation to Brene Brown’s writings, and so, I was keen to find out if Yazeed and by extension, Jackson had a point. As I read on, particularly where Jackson underscores the high cost of being black in America (which, when gun laws are put aside, isn’t too dissimilar from the experience of being black in Britain), much of what both of the women assessed about Brown’s writings began to ring quite true, on a personal level anyway.
When we are talking about showing courage, I have had to be courageous in ways my non-Black counterparts will probably never be asked to be. I have spoken up about something as sinister, dangerous and frightening as racism at work on numerous occasions and at the highest levels and as a problem that disproportionately affects me, and as a black woman in corporate Britain, it is no surprise then that I have had to pluck up the courage to speak about it disproportionately to others.
The article, an interesting and thought-provoking read though it is, in the end raised questions that I don’t yet have an answer for, such as whether it is fair to characterise Brown’s writings as encouraging white supremacy? And so what if middle class white women like Brene Brown write books and give lectures that don’t speak to our pain, after all, black women are women, and some of it applies to us? As black women, do we have to confine ourselves to reading about our pain all the time? And is it wrong if we compartmentalise our identities at least some of the time? Also, couldn’t we say everything (in the Western world, anyway) is routed in white supremacy? Take The Guardian’s list of 52 acts of kindness: how to spread joy in every week of 2023; from giving blood to walking the dog, none of the acts in the list are safer to do in a black body than in a white one. I can almost guarantee it, but that doesn’t mean the list isn’t for us or should not be consumed by us. The same, I think, goes for the writings of Brene Brown and alike. I mean, unless she comes out and says, “hey my stuff is just for white women, you black women can exit stage left” then there is no reason why we cannot continue to compartmentally consume it. I now believe we must consume works of such authors through a critical black lens so as to manage our expectations and we must, at the same time, do much more to support “the work of lesser known Black authors by purchasing their books and giving them the space to talk about Black vulnerability and courage, while covering and protecting them” just as Dr Yazeed orders.
Wednesday: Yoga and cultural appropriation: “I teach yoga – its appropriation by the white wellness industry is a form of colonialism, but we can move on” written by Nadia Gilani in The Guardian was an enlightening piece that reminded me of an a mostly white mother and baby yoga class I attended with my daughter to back in 2016 when she was just six months old. Sticking out like two sore thumbs and being glared at by (most of) the fellow mums, one of whom moved herself, her baby and her mat as far away from us, ensured that I never set foot in there again. Ironically, Gilani writes about this very cultural appropriation in yoga, that I have partaken in more than just that one time with my baby and much like my white counterparts, I probably haven’t given the historical weight and significance of yoga much thought when doing so.
As with every conversation about cultural appropriation though, at first sight, I thought, well isn’t this just white people enjoying something, should they be demonised for taking it too far? Couldn’t some of it be quite innocent, as I feel it has been when I’ve done yoga? Perhaps my cultural appropriation radar isn’t the strongest, or maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but if non-white people label everything white people decide to enjoy, that isn’t theirs, as some form of neo-colonialism, then aren’t we running the risk of being accused the same for all manner of behaviours? For example, non-white women dye their hair blonde or wear blue contacts all the time, is that a cultural appropriation of white beauty? And is being dressed in tartan kilts culturally appropriating Scottish culture? Or are we absolved of cultural appropriation because we aren’t white? For this reason, because I wanted to understand more, I kept reading on, hoping the piece would clarify why the cultural appropriation of yoga, propelled by “western economic forces”, is a bad thing. What is it, really, when it comes to cultural appropriation do we have a problem with?
To answer that question, I can say, that what I inherently understand is that much of the conversation is about self-awareness and optics or alack thereof. One could say that, white people who take it a bit far when partaking in activities that originate outside of Europe such as yoga, are somewhat uncaring about whether they might come across as bastardising an ancient practice by wearing a “namaste-as-fuck” T-shirt whilst doing it. This is also a conversation about ownership right? Right. So we ought to be clear and get to the point. Essentially, when we see cultural appropriation in action, we should defend what is ours a bit more and not let it be so cheaply and easily co-opted. In that vein, shouldn’t British-Indians ought to set up their own yoga centres and chartered institutions of yoga? As a British Ghanaian, I probably ought to set up a fully-stocked traditional wedding concierge service catering for all trad wedding needs before any non-British Ghanaian does! Gilani’s article has better informed me about how much the conversation does need to move on. We have identified that thing white people in the West do, we clocked this years ago, so what are we going to do about it? Eventually, I hope we get to a point where we can establish what the phenomenon really says about who is truly creative, who are the originators of cool are and who is responsible for taste making. Until then, here’s hoping.
Thursday: Looking through African Affairs, a top-ranked journal in African Studies published on behalf of the Royal African Society, I found a free 2012 journal article about whiteness in South Africa, which after reading I experienced a raft of emotions, from which I am still reeling days on. An interesting yet uncomfortable read: Whiteness, racism, and Afrikaner identity in post-apartheid South Africa.
Friday: Earlier in the week I was very surprised to learn, from one of the many podcasts I listen to that, global poverty, rather than decreasing, is on the rise! On Friday I was reminded of some of the reasons why when taking a module on the prevention and detection of tax evasion, which opened with a clear and concise statement about the perils of the practice: “tax evasion creates poverty and robs public services of much-needed funding. It also places an unfair burden on honest taxpayers.” But how big is the problem the module went on to ask?
Well, if you must know, the country with the highest level of tax evasion is the US as “it is estimated that the tax lost is over $337 billion dollars every year. The countries with the largest absolute levels of evasion are (in order of tax lost): US, Brazil, Italy, Russia, Germany, France, Japan, China, UK and Spain” (Tax Justice Network, 2019). Unsatisfied, I went on to do some further reading after taking the module, I found that “the UK with its corporate tax haven network is by far the world’s greatest enabler of corporate tax avoidance and has single-handedly done the most to break down the global corporate tax system, accounting for over a third of the world’s corporate tax avoidance risks as measured by the Corporate Tax Haven Index”. Surprising, isn’t it? Considering the UK ranks 13th on the index! Thanks to “its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies dominate the top of index. The British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Jersey ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th respectively. Bahamas, a British Commonwealth territory, ranks in 9th”. With such hefty contributions to corporate tax evasion, this is just another way in which the West is at fault for so much of the global poverty we see today.
As Alex Cobham, chief executive at the Tax Justice Network says, “line their own pockets at the expense of a crucial funding stream for sustainable human progress. The ability of governments across the world to tax multinational corporations in order to pay teachers’ wages, build hospitals and ensure a level playing field for local businesses has been deliberately and ruthlessly undermined.”
Thank you for reading. Leave a comment below, if you want.
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