News: Bolton students escape cladding fire, and Tory councillors’ Islamophobic posts resurface
18 Nov 2019
How many more buildings need to go up in flames for the Tory government to care about the fatal cladding that still swaddles around 300 tower blocks in the UK? On November 14, two and a half years after 72 lives were lost in the Grenfell Tower fire, a Bolton University student halls building quickly burned down due to its combustible cladding, leaving two students injured. In June 2013, Boris Johnson was warned that his plan to close 12 fire stations, cut 18 fire engines, and 520 firefighters would cost lives. “Get stuffed” was his response, and he had the cheek to bumble over to Bolton and pretend to care.
Here’s what else went down this week.
Inclusive Harvard council election campaign goes viral
“When you think of the president of Harvard’s student body, you probably think of a stuffy white boy in a button-down shirt and tie; you don’t necessarily think of a black girl with twists down to her hips or a Brown boy who knows how to hit the woah, but here we are,” Ifeoma White-Thorpe, Harvard’s new Vice President tells gal-dem. Harvard’s undergraduate council elections were injected with some life and colour this year. American-Indian James Mathew and Nigerian-Jamaican Ifeoma White-Thorpe did the rounds on Twitter after their campaign video-cum-hip-hop beat, complete with a saxophone solo, went viral this week.
James and Ify won as President and Vice President, respectively, and can’t wait to take action on: inclusion and belonging; support for first-generation low-income students; sexual assault prevention and response; and health, safety and wellness – to name a few. James, who majors in Sociology, co-founded the music collective 21 Colourful Crimson (21CC) “to showcase diversity” and bring creatives from all backgrounds together. 21CC formed the foundation of the campaign video, and James told us he hopes it showcases the new Harvard: “Harvard in 2019 is colourful, it’s diverse, and multidimensional. We’re not just doing stuff in school, we’re artists.”
James and Ify were the only candidates putting support for first-gen-low-income (FGLI) students as a priority. “I’m just one generation away from a low-income experience. I recognise, with the privilege that my parents worked hard for, you can’t ever forget where you come from. That really informs my commitment to FGLI support,” James tells me.
Ify feels blessed with her Vice President role because “now some young black girl will be able to look at Harvard and vividly see themselves in a position of power.” For a year and a half, she was the only black woman on the university council, “that should’ve never been the case”, she says.
It’s a breath of fresh air at the university, which has a long legacy of racism and historical ties to slavery. In 2017, for the first time in its 380-year history, ethnic minorities made up 50.8% of its admitted students, though a new study exemplified the role that white privilege and wealth still play in the university’s admission procedures.
Will the Tories ever tackle Islamophobia?
In case we needed more concrete proof of Tory Islamophobia, a dossier has been obtained by LBC exposing 10 Conservative councillors’ disgusting anti-Muslim social media comments. It included Steve Iles, former Mayor of Medway, Jeff Collins, a councillor in Camborne in Cornwall, and Maria Alexandrou, a councillor in Enfield. A number of them have resigned, but some are still serving.
I doubt Boris Johnson will reconsider his refusal to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia in his party. The metro wrote a feature outlining how a number of British Muslim women said the scrapping of the promised inquiry made them “fear for their safety”. The media need to do more to pressure the party to face up to their failings.
Plaid Cymru, on the other hand, are showcasing their diversity, including Welsh Muslim activist Sahar Al-Faifi, who wore a niqab as she said “activists, it’s us” in the party’s Election Broadcast. She was the only person of colour in the video, so there was a distinct element of tokenism in there, but Sahar said on Twitter that taking part “made me shiver in a good way”. Unsurprisingly Sahar was the victim of bigotry and racism, but she said: “it’s a call to work collectively for a more welcoming and inclusive Wales”.
There has been an ongoing issue with racism and intolerance within the party, as highlighted by this thread of old Tory election posters by gal-dem’s own First Person and Opinions editor Micha Frazer-Caroll.
•Suicide rates among those in same-sex relationships have fallen significantly in Denmark and Sweden since gay marriage laws were passed.
•120 LGBTQ+ people have been arrested in Uganda after Kampala Met Police stormed a queer-friendly bar. This comes after 16 LGBTQ+ activists were subjected to forced anal examinations after arrest in the central African country.
•Gossip Girl’s reboot will have non-white leads and “a lot of queer content”, so it’s set to be almost unrecognisable from the OG.
• Following the damning Spac Nation reports by HuffPost last week, ex-member of the church, TKayMadMax, held a march in Croydon encouraging young people to leave the London-based pentecostal church and was met with its pastors trying to stop him.
•9,000 children, some as young as seven, were stopped and searched in Wales in the past four years. This comes while the number of children convicted of crimes from BAME backgrounds has nearly doubled in eight years.
• Little Mix’s PrettyLittleThing collection includes an ‘oriental’ range that has been criticised for fetishising Asian women.
•MI5 is looking to recruit BAME and working-class ‘spies’ with its new Summer Diversity Intelligence Internship.
• We know our favourite Disney classics are laced with Walt’s infamous racism, but now the company has added a disclaimer to its films, warning of its outdated cultural depictions.
• Oscar-winning actor Mo’Nique is suing Netflix for gender and racial discrimination after their offer to her for a comedy special “perpetuated the pay gap suffered by black women”.
• Priti Patel continues her ruthless rampage, and has blocked the rescue of British orphans and unaccompanied minors home from Syria. No doubt, with a smirk on her face.
• New York’s famous Guggenheim Museum has appointed its first black curator, Ashley James.
• China’s inhumane detention of Uighur Muslims has been further exposed after hundreds of leaked government documents revealed directives to “show absolutely no mercy” in the “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism”. Read more about what’s been going on in Xinjiang here.
• Texan prisoner Rodney Reed has had his execution suspended after a petition to spare his life garnered almost 3 million signatures.
• Jaz Lee Jones’ play, Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner, won the Alfred Fagon Award 2019 for the Best New Play.
Moment of the week
Chanel Miller recited her powerful poem I Don’t Give A Damn on stage at the Glamour Women of the Year awards. Read our brilliant interview with her here.
This article is a part of gal-dem’s Race Review column, a weekly news roundup centring the issues faced by people of colour.