Tag: not about books

A Personal Note

Posted January 28, 2019 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

I don’t often post exclusively about personal things, though I think readers here know a fair bit about me; I think it’s even more rare for me to post about politics, although I suspect you also have a fair idea of my political stance. This post is a one-off, and unlikely to be repeated, but it’s something that I felt I needed to write, and and an occasion on which I felt it necessary to use my limited platform to say the things that only I can say.

We’re often told that personal stories are what sway people, more than statistics or politicians’ speeches. I’m not sure I believe anymore that there is anyone from the other side of things listening: it’s become so polarised, so fractious, with both sides so very convinced they’re right. And of course, I’m still convinced I was in the right in voting to Remain, and I would do so again — though at the same time I recognise that there’s a reason the country is going this way, and the outright bare-faced lies of the Leave faction have appealed to a real need in people to be heard and to see certain things happen. The division in this country needs to be healed, somehow.

The problem is, the disinformation is still happening. People around me — Leave and Remain voters alike — have this strange idée fixe that Brexit isn’t going to affect them or anyone they know. Even when they know darn well that my wife is Belgian, they cling to the idea that it won’t affect me because we’re married (and thus obviously safe) or it won’t affect me because it doesn’t actually mean people like my wife (who has a job here and speaks perfect English and doesn’t look or sound different).

It does mean her as well. The fact that we’re married actually has no effect on whether she’s allowed to stay or not. Having a job, no effect. Perfect English, no effect. The fact that she didn’t get here until September 2018 is a definite black mark against her (regardless of the fact that it was due to our decision to delay the move until we were financially ready for it, so that we haven’t required any benefits, etc). People with far better claims to remain in the UK — years of paying taxes, families all born here — are being rejected for “settled status”, and despite all the government’s assurances, I remain painfully aware that we have hoops to jump through: pre-settled status, settled status, citizenship… all with associated fees and inconvenience and outright invasion of privacy.

And that’s just what we’re currently being told. Who knows what is actually going to happen. We did all the right things: I had my degree(s!) finished, I had a job, she had a job, we had savings, we didn’t do anything on a whim. And this situation punishes us for it.

I’m not saying that anyone should change their minds based on our story alone, but it’s worth remembering that I planned my life based on European free movement, a right I’m now losing, and I’m far from alone. It’s worth remembering that these same uncertainties and barriers apply to NHS nurses and doctors who were born in other EU countries, and every other kind of skilled European worker. It’s worth remembering that it doesn’t just apply to stopping the free movement of unskilled workers who don’t speak English — it stops everyone’s free movement. It’s worth remembering that the UK gains very little political power by removing itself from the EU, and loses a lot — the power of veto we used to hold, the voice we had in European issues. It’s worth remembering that if we want to trade with the EU, which we will need to do, we’re going to need to abide by their trading standards anyway, so you can put away that old canard about becoming free of the EU regulating things right down to the curvature of bananas. It’s worth remembering that with the best will in the world on both sides, they’re big, and we’re small, and we’ve forfeited our right to direct their policies.

It’s worth noticing where the big companies and the millionaires are going, even the ones who said Brexit was good for Britain.

Leavers complain about the EU taking their rights away, but Brexit itself takes away rights central to my life, and gives me nothing worth the loss. I hope understanding that will help Leavers I know understand what the problem is for me, both personally and in a wider sense. At the very least, please don’t pretend to me that I’ll be better off. You know I will not, and you’re lying to yourself and to me when you pretend that things are going to work out fine for everybody.

Nonetheless, in the words of Jo Cox — murdered not far from where I grew up for her pro-EU stance: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Let’s try and justify her faith in us.

Note: I’ve turned comments off on this post because I don’t really want to debate it any further right now — I’m stressed out enough about the whole situation as it is: I don’t trust myself to be the kind of level-headed voice of reason I want to be — and because this is still a blog about books primarily, not a place for political debate.



Find me elsewhere

Posted July 27, 2018 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

Interrupting your normal scheduled posts here to point out to anyone new that you can find me elsewhere online! I have two other blogs, and one of them is brand new.

First we have, of course, my popular science blog. I suspect it’ll always be biology-heavy, because I’m a biologist, but it’s partly based on what I get questions about. So feel free to make me put my research skills to work and ask me awkward questions…

Notable posts have included an introduction to my dissertation, experimental proof that reading is good for me, a warning about the upcoming post-antibiotic world, and an explanation of why science is WEIRD.

Then we’ve got my fiction blog, which is brand new and which you can find here. It’s a bit of an experiment for now, but let’s see what happens.

And because it’s so new, there’s only one post: a 300-word piece of fiction called How the Story Goes.

So hey, if those interest you, now you know they’re out there and can follow them or drop in occasionally. Don’t forget to wave!

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“Guess my privilege must be on the fritz”

Posted November 23, 2015 by Nicky in General / 3 Comments

Are you familiar with the idea of privilege? If not, there are tons of 101 resources out there to explain it fully, and I’m not going to reiterate what other people have said at any length, especially since no doubt other people have said it better. The gist is: privilege is an advantage you’re born with, which you haven’t earned, due to the weight of history, culture, etc. It can derive from nationality or gender or sexuality or your educational opportunities as a kid. It can be different depending on where you live in the world, who you’re interacting with, etc.

What it is not: a guarantee that your life is going to be easier. That barriers will be removed and doors will be open. It is, as John Scalzi put it, a difficulty setting, which in games never guarantees you won’t have trouble with a particular boss or area or whatever.

So when something bad happens to you, that is not your privilege going “on the fritz”. Nothing about privilege promises that you’re going to be okay. It just says that you’re going to have an easier time if you’re born to a rich family than a poor one, if you have good nutrition growing up rather than starving, if you live in a war-free country rather than one in which a civil war is raging. You know, the obvious.

And just because you’re — for the sake of argument — straight, white and male, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other modifiers that can make things easier or harder. If you have a mental illness, then you might have trouble getting support and your illness can hold you back. If you’re from a poor background, being straight, white and male isn’t going to magically overcome all those hurdles.

You’ll just most likely have an easier time than a straight white trans* person with mental health issues, or a straight brown male from a poor background, because you’re not discriminated against for those additional reasons. And there might be other factors that cause problems for you: privilege is a subtle thing and the categories we’re using are broad. You might also have other advantages. Nobody is disputing that on an individual level, everyone will have some bad luck, denied opportunities, unfortunate interactions, etc.

If you’re honestly using your own misfortunes as some kind of symbol that privilege isn’t real, you’re just putting up a straw man argument against the concept of privilege. Nobody said you personally would have everything handed to you on a silver platter because of an accident of birth. It’s all about likelihood, intersectionality, location location location.

Your privilege isn’t “on the fritz”. When we’re talking about privilege, we’re talking about on average and in general. It’s a background advantage, as shown in studies that display a bias against groups. Having a “black name”, for example, means your CV is discarded more often than that of a white person (in the US). And the thing is, you can say that you’ve “never noticed” any bias toward you, and I’ll believe you — but that’s because you (and the society you grew up in) treat it as normal. It is normal, to you. That doesn’t make it right if, on average, other people are losing out because you retain that privilege.

And even if you don’t know what to do to change this, you can listen. You can be aware. And when someday you find yourself in the position of, say, choosing who to employ, you can be aware of your kneejerk biases.

Note: I wrote about this here because my first experiences of being told I had privilege came from members of the book blogging community, eight years ago now. It’s something being addressed by #WeNeedDiverseBooks and such movements in the bookish community — and I don’t think I’m the only one who first came into this discussion thinking, “But I just love books. Why do we gotta have all these labels? Why should I pay attention to the ethnicity of the authors I read?” And there are people coming into this discussion for the first time all the time.

Ultimately, you have to figure out the answers for yourself; it doesn’t work to just be told, you have to understand, and that can take longer. But here’s my answer: because I love books, I want everyone to be able to find themselves in books, to feel like they are welcome and have a place and that their dreams line the walls of libraries the same as anyone else’s. The labels are there because a lot of people think that way, because it’s a convenient way to get an overview of the industry, because people with shared experiences stick together and that identity becomes a way to more easily communicate. The problem arises because some labels get marked as “special interest only”, while others are considered to be of universal interest because, historically, that group is used to being the default.

It’s a sucky problem. We can get access to a lot more awesome books by making sure we go beyond the default, and showing the market that demand is there. So instead of asking why we should do that — why not?

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