The Ethics of Immigration

Why the UK should exercise limited discretionary control over Immigration post-Brexit

Italian personnel rescue migrants from a boat carrying more than 700 people – Financial Times

Four years ago, on the 23rd of June, the British public voted to leave the European Union. Since then, there has been a tedious cycle of deal proposals and rejections. The constant chain of uncertainty and hit to the British economy has left both Brexiters and Remainers feeling fed up.

Many Brexiters were fuelled by the notion of protecting our economy and hopes to watch it boom. However, the reality is quite the opposite. As Business Insider reported earlier in February, “Brexit is set to have cost the UK more than £200 billion in lost economic growth by the end of this year — a figure that almost eclipses the total amount the UK has paid toward the European Union budget over the past 47 years”.

My relationship with Brexit now resembles the feelings of an unsatisfied wife who regrettably decides to sleep with her husband once in a blue moon. I don’t want it to happen but if we’re going to do it, let’s just hurry up and get it done.

This June, the government announced that free movement will be ending on the 1st January 2021 and a new points system will be implemented. This means that from this date onwards EU citizens will be treated the same as those from non-EU countries.

As GOV UK outlines: ‘Under a points-based immigration system, points are assigned for specific skills, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations. Visas are then awarded to those who gain enough points’. There is a list of basic requirements, which the worker has to meet. Besides having the ability to speak English, the individual must hold a job offer from a Home Office approved sponsor. Most importantly, the job offer can only be at the required skill level of RQF 3 or above (A-Level and equivalent).

Although I concur that there should be discretionary control over immigration into the UK, I also believe there are important considerations that should be made in the process. Particularly with this new points-based system, I can identify fundamental ethical issues, which I believe the government have failed to consider and address adequately.

Therefore, in this post, I will briefly outline the Libertarian, Utilitarian and Egalitarian cases for open borders. In doing so, I will highlight the ethical issues the government faces when they begin to be selective of who is deemed ‘worthy’ of emigrating to the UK.

After laying these cases out, I will also elaborate on a poignant ethical concern, that will be an inescapable consequence of introducing such a system: Brain Drain. Through these cases and point of consideration, I will illustrate why the UK should instead exercise limited discretionary control of its borders post-Brexit.

By ‘limited discretionary control’, I am advocating that there should be porous borders for all unless the state can provide pro tanto reasons for rejection of immigration. These pro tanto reasons include 1. The inability of the state to provide a living income either through work or benefits, schooling and/or housing for an immigrant – which would result in them becoming a vulnerable member within society. Or, 2. If the immigrant is deemed as a genuine threat to national security.

BBC News – A projection on to No 10 Downing Street marks the moment the UK left the European Union

Despite Maurice Cranston establishing that freedom of movement is ‘the first and most fundamental of man’s liberties’, in our modern world there is still no guaranteed right of the freedom of movement. In 2014, it was reported that there were an estimated two-hundred and fourteen million international migrants in the world, yet a large percentage of that migration took place against a backdrop of unofficial controls (Blitz 2014: 1).

Despite international law affirming this right to freedom of movement, in the name of sovereignty, states are entitled to refuse immigration. These controls are justified under the protection of states’ resources and ideological foundation. In this sense, the immigration debate epitomises the conflict between the importance of the rights of the state versus the rights of non-citizens. 

The libertarian case for open borders

The view that Joseph Carens has been the fundamental motivator for the libertarian case for open borders is upheld by many and accordingly, his thinking about immigration has been a milestone in political philosophy. Carens encourages that liberal democracies should permit open borders so that whoever wishes to build a life there can do freely. States do not need to abolish, however, individuals should have the right to choose where to enjoy membership (Risse 2016: 443).

His position is based upon libertarian values which remind us that restrictive immigration policies affect both insiders and outsiders (Wellman 2011: 79). Within his piece ‘Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders’, he outlines the Rawlsian political theory known as the ‘Original Position’ (1987: 251), which I find extremely compelling and will use to support my argument that from an idealist perspective states should exercise limited discretionary control.

Immigration and the Original Position

Rawls’ political theory of the ‘Original Position’ is used to determine the morality of political issues and places individuals within a hypothetical perspective, to see how to achieve social and political justice without self-interests blocking their reasoning.

Rawls enacts this by asking what principles people would choose to govern society if they had to choose behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ (Carens 1987: 255). In explaining this original position, Rawls maintains that people would govern based on two key principles:

  1. The principle which would guarantee equality of liberty to all.
  2. The principle that social and economic inequalities may exist, but only if they were to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and if there were fair conditions which allowed equal opportunity for all.

After laying out these two key principles, Rawls establishes that people in the ‘original position’ would give priority to the first principle, essentially placing humans’ basic liberties ahead of economic benefits (Carens 1987: 255).

Applying this to the case of immigration, we can infer that the immigration policy of liberal democracies should be determined from behind this ‘veil of ignorance’. If individuals were to decide on whether their right to freedom of movement could be exercised freely or not, we would assume that without knowledge of their birth-place, all individuals would choose to be able to liberally exercise this right.

In this sense, the ‘veil of ignorance’ provides us with a strong moral compass which ensures an altruistic answer to the immigration question and thus, justifies the state’s positive responsibility for social welfare. This theory is most convincing when applied to the issue of refugees within the immigration debate.

As Gillian Brock agrees with Carens, an emphasis must be placed on the ‘neediness’ of refugees and so, when we are considering immigration policy we must ask ourselves would our position on open borders change if we were Jewish and fleeing Nazi Germany? (2016: 439). It is highly likely that if an individual was placed in such a predicament then they would choose to allocate open borders.

At the heart of making the choice whether to allow refugees to immigrate freely into our countries, is compassion, which Martha Nussbaum describes as the ‘painful emotion directed at the serious suffering of another creature or creatures’ (2013: 142).

Nussbaum’s illustration of the basic structure of compassion allows us to deeper understand why the Original Position theory creates such a strong case in advocating porous borders for all. When we make moral political and social decisions from behind the ‘veil of ignorance’, we are forced to consider whether the reality which we would choose for others, is the reality we would want ourselves. For example, Nussbaum depicts the notion that our compassion for others is based on three parts: seriousness, non-fault and similar possibilities (2013: 143).

If we then think of ourselves behind the ‘veil of ignorance’ deciding on immigration policy, we are much more likely to have compassion for those in need for three main reasons:

1. The ‘seriousness’ of the problem intensifies with the probability that it could happen to us.

2. We can begin to comprehend that it would not be our faults if once the ‘veil of ignorance’ was uplifted that we were suddenly refugees and immigration policy was restrictive.

3. We would be able to consider the issue from a similarity possibility, that this could also happen to us.

Therefore, the ‘veil of ignorance’ enforces us to consider that with no prior knowledge of our birthplace, gender, race, class and/or religion, decisions should be made which ensure equality of liberty for all. On this basis, I would concur with Carens that this is a compelling argument that states should advocate open borders.

Applying this concept to the post-Brexit immigration points system, we can instantly identify issues. The education status of humans across the globe is inherently determined by their birthplace, gender, race and/or class. Therefore, to insist that one can only immigrate to the UK if they hold A-Levels as a minimum requirement is excluding a large proportion of potential migrants from non-first world countries. Those who did not have the choice to determine their race/class/birthplace, which has an overwhelming influence on their access to education.

The government are essentially sending out a message to say that if you do not have A-Levels as a minimum you are useless to our economy and society. My parents, who are British citizens do not hold A-Levels, what does that signal about the government’s perception of them? They have worked all their lives, paid their taxes, are they not as valuable to our society and economy as someone with A-Levels? Or does this standard not apply for white British citizens?

This instantly places the value of certain humans above others based on their education/academic status, which is ethically and socially problematic. It also raises serious questions regarding geopolitics. Most importantly, through an ethical lens, we must ask, what gives the current government the right to prohibit one’s freedom of movement based on their race, class, gender, education status and/or birthplace?

The egalitarian case for open borders

Grounded in the egalitarian principle that all humans are entitled to equal moral consideration, both John Carens and Michael Blake put forward strong cases for open borders. Although both cases are set up on liberalist grounds, they both surmise a very egalitarian view of the world, which I also presume.

The egalitarian case for open borders insists that regardless of nationality, every human is equally deserving of moral consideration and one’s birthplace should not dramatically affect one’s life-prospects (Wellman 2011: 59). For example, Blake enthuses that ‘to refuse entry to an impoverished foreign citizen is, in many cases, to choose to sacrifice a human life for the sake of wealth and luxury’ (Wellman 2011: 58).

In limiting or prohibiting immigration, from an egalitarian perspective, one would argue that an unjust context is established if one’s country of birth is a distinguishing factor in determining one’s prospects of living a rewarding life (Wellman 2011: 59).

Considering that an individual does not have a choice in where they are born, how can we justify their life prospects based on this? As Carens illustrates, ‘citizenship in Western liberal democracies is the modern equivalent to feudal privilege…Like feudal birthrights privileges, restrictive citizenship is hard to justify when one thinks about it closely’ (Wellman 2011: 58).

In this sense, if we are not able to guarantee that an individual is born into a prosperous country, then we need to ensure that equality of opportunity is practised. From an ideal-theory perspective, if states exercised wide discretionary control over immigration, then immigrants would be provided with the chance to access the same opportunities as those citizens.

If the British government requires the basic minimum of A-Levels or equivalent qualifications, English as a foreign language and a job offer from a Home-Office approved sponsor, then from an Egalitarian standpoint, we would expect that every foreigner has equal access to achieving these. However, we know this is not the case.

Therefore, if the British government are not investing in global initiatives to ensure that everyone has equal access to the opportunity of achieving these basic requirements, then we can conclude that the requirements are inherently discriminatory and exclusive.

Utilitarian case for open borders

The Utilitarian case for open borders contends that allowing each state to establish closed borders results in serious negative consequences (Wellman 2011: 105). There are three main consequences which Wellman illustrates are utilitarian concerns for closed borders, which I will now outline:

1. The main economic concern with enabling each state to limit its immigration control, is that this will lead to major inefficiencies. These inefficiencies would come in the form of people being prevented from reaching and capitalising on their full potential (Wellman 2011: 105).

In the same way that we have established that it is an inefficient practice to separate men and women into distinct areas of employment, to forcibly exclude foreign workers from domestic labour markets would be just as inefficient.

2. Another utilitarian worry regarding closed borders is that it expectedly leads to an inefficient distribution of wealth in the world. At the current moment, there is an apparent gap between those in the world experiencing absolute poverty and those living in absolute wealth, through keeping borders closed this problem has little chance to become resolved.

3. Inequalities exist within our world beyond economics. As the world is currently geopolitically organised, there is a great deal of political tyranny, which many have argued Western powers have done little to help with (Wellman 2011: 108). Thus, to not urge for open borders, one is essentially turning their back on these individuals.

Overall, what we can infer from the Utilitarian case for open borders, is that to limit or to close immigration borders has clear serious consequences. Moreover, from a Utilitarian stance, not only would these consequences be avoided if open borders were implemented, but the issues at stake would be dramatically altered.

From both an economic and social perspective, it seems much more efficient to see the wealthy become poorer and the poor become wealthier in the face of immigration. As this transfer of wealth would harm the rich a great amount less than it would harm the poor. This weighing out of benefits and consequences which the Utilitarian stance allows helps us to think of the bigger picture rather than just a subjective position of privilege.

Further, as Wellman highlights, the benefits of keeping open borders does not just boil down to an economic benefit whereby the world’s poor countries can enter the labour markets of rich economies (2011: 106). A large influx of new immigrants would also undoubtedly provoke self-interested reasons for richer countries to support and help improve the conditions in poor countries both economically and politically to prevent further influx (Wellman 2011: 107).

Applying the Utilitarian case for open borders to the government’s proposed points-system highlights how problematic it is in terms of negative consequences. To a certain degree, one could argue that restricted ‘selective’ borders are more dangerous than completely closed borders. Hypothetically speaking, if all countries closed their borders then there would be a genuine chance for these countries to thrive on their own, with their people contributing towards the economy.

However, when a rich nation opens its borders but limits it to only the skilled and high earning candidates, it leads to even greater disparities. The UK will benefit even more than they would with completely closed borders, but the poor countries do not benefit at all.

Brexit brain drain to the EU – The Daily News

Consideration: ‘Brain Drain’

One of the key issues of encouraging foreign workers to engage in the domestic labour markets through immigration is the ‘brain drain’. This phenomenon refers to the net movement of talented or educated individuals away from their impoverished home lands to wealthier ones (Brock and Blake 2014: 2).

This brain drain is found mainly in the medical industry, which has resulted in an increased shortage of medical personnel in sub-Saharan Africa. Developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have created immigration systems, which are comparatively easier for individuals with desirable medical skills to pass through (Brock and Blake 2014: 2).

Consequently, there has been an imbalance between the amount of medical personnel these countries train and the amount they maintain. For example, in 2000 Ghana trained two-hundred and fifty new nurses, yet they lost five hundred nurses to emigration (Brock and Blake 2014: 2).

Similarly, in 2001 although there were forty new pharmacy graduates, sixty pharmacists decided to emigrate (Brock and Black 2014: 2). From these figures, it becomes clear that however much these developing countries choose to invest in medical education, as long countries such as the United States and United Kingdom continue to offer opportunities for these students, the developing countries are highly unlikely to obtain an adequate amount of medical personnel.

At the heart of the immigration debate is the relationship between inequalities and global distribution of human capital. Taking the example of the medical practice, we can see how the transfer of nurses from developing to developed societies encapsulates the transfer of net transfer from the destitute to the already wealthy.

The skills which these nurses possess, are evidently much more needed in developing countries where more lives are in serious need. In the sub-Saharan African countries discussed above, individuals are burdened with this risk of dying from serious diseases, yet we in the West feel entitled to receiving the best medical care even if this means inhibiting these individuals right to health.

As that flow would increase, the brain drain would expand into areas beyond medicine, such as teaching and lecturing.  Gillian Brock highlights in her response to Carens, that just as much as children of irregular migrants are entitled the right to free public education, so are the children who remain in the less privileged countries (Brock 2016: 438).

In this sense, if a state admits teachers from developing or less privileged countries, the state is in effect condemning those children who remain to have their fundamental right to education thwarted (Brock 2016: 438). This is an important reflection to take on the proposed points-skill immigration system, as it expands beyond the medical sector.

Brexit brain drain on British universities – Statista

Overall, I am of the position that the brain drain is certainly overlooked within the immigration debate and from a moral stance, the brain drain is troubling on two main counts:

1. The countries which are typically having their human resources drained, are the same countries which were historically most brutalised by Western powers. For those who are concerned with global justice, the brain drain thus, seems to have evolved through a history of colonialism and violence. The continuation to use the resources of these countries is essentially just perpetuating these inequalities (Brock and Blake 2014: 3).

2. By allowing the more ‘educated’ or ‘talented’ individuals to immigrate with ease in comparison to other immigrants, in effect Western countries are placing individuals’ value of lives above the other. Despite states having the right to self-determination, as Carens expresses, we are to assume all people are free and equal moral persons (1987: 256) and on these grounds, we are unable to exclude certain individuals (1987: 270).

In response to the first of the two problems, I concur with Seglow that citizens and leaders of rich states have a powerful duty to help build a global order in which all persons have the chance to lead decent lives (2005: 329). Hence, if implementing restricted borders results in Western powers continuing this historical pattern of using other countries’ most valuable resources, then they must have a genuine solution to equalise these inequalities.

As Seglow maintains, it is our responsibility in the Western world to aim to spread wealth and create opportunities worldwide before implementing open borders, otherwise the same issues will just perpetuate (2005: 329).  In answer to the second issue outlined, I would advocate an egalitarian position which upholds that all humans are entitled to equal moral consideration.

Concluding comments

As José Mendoza highlights, for a state to be considered as ‘legitimate’ in his eyes, it must maintain its ‘legitimacy’ by refraining from adopting discriminatory immigration policies (2015: 80). Therefore, this would lead us to question the legitimacy of the United Kingdom. Can the UK continue to be classed as a ‘political democracy’, if it entitles certain citizens more ease at immigrating than others?

Through the three cases and one consideration, we can how the new immigration policy sets out a troubling standard for how we value and treat humans. Removing one’s freedom of movement on the basis of their education and salary not being good enough is hardly ‘democratic’.

If the government fail to identify with their new system these issues and address them adequately, the UK puts itself at risk of falling into malignant ways of thinking. How different is that from Nazi ideology? Or other supremacist groups?

Overall, unless the government are going to apply limited discretionary control over immigration, then they need to be investing in initiatives to minimise or dilute the negative consequences that restrictive immigration policy is going to have on the rest of the world.

“All my life I have had to see colour”.

Bahamas by Frank Horvat 1976

21 black people share their thoughts on the BLM protests, personal experiences with law enforcement, and how white people can help dismantle racism.

“I can’t breathe” were the infamous last words of unarmed George Floyd whilst police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, suffocating him for almost 9 minutes.

The racially motivated killing of Floyd tipped the world over the edge. On the 26th May, the day after Floyd was murdered, the first of many protests broke out in Minneapolis, USA. Despite the pandemic, masses fled to the streets with anger and urgency to make a final stand against racism and police brutality. Myself included.

Demonstrations took place in all 50 US states and 60 countries worldwide, making it the largest civil rights event in history. Almost 18 million signatures have been collected via, urging for the officers involved to be charged and for wider police reforms to be made. Even those who typically abstain from politics were seen sharing petition links on social media, imploring the public and governmental bodies to take action.

Reflecting on the impact of recent initiatives and collective action, the Justice for Floyd movement was undoubtedly successful. Not only have the officers involved in Floyd’s death been charged, but wider police reforms have also been implemented throughout America. However, this particular case has been symptomatic of much more than long-overdue American police reforms.

Ultimately, the tragic loss of Floyd has forced the world to address the elephant in the room: the ceaseless cycle of institutional and structural racism. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been pivotal in orchestrating collective action against these problems and spreading awareness of what you can do to help dismantle them.

Different dimensions of oppression

For those unfamiliar with BLM, it is a social movement that was founded in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. The shooting of unarmed 17-year-old black American Trayvon Martin by police officer George Zimmerman acted as the catalyst for the movement’s creation.

The activists involved in the campaign confront cases and spread awareness of violence and systematic racism inflicted on members of the black community. Although BLM’s roots are in America, since its inception BLM’s work and support network has expanded globally.

Despite the extensive work carried out by BLM activists, year after year innocent black people are subject to violence and systematic racism in America. Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philandro Castile, Botham Jean and Breanna Taylor, are just some of the names of black Americans who were killed by the police.

These individuals were murdered by the very people who are supposed to prevent murder and keep communities safe. As Critical Race Theory upholds, society failed them because of the colour of their skin. Unless adequate policy reforms are made and their killers do not face murder sentences, society will continue to fail them.

George Floyd protest graffiti in Neukölln, Berlin – Photo by Lucy Rowan

For those who have not come into contact with Critical Race Theory (CRT), it upholds that within American society, the law and societal institutions are inherently racist. Instead of being grounded in biology, race itself is a societal construction created to propel the white population economically and politically. What this often results in is a consistent failing of black Americans and other ethnic minorities. This failure is evident in the death of George Floyd.

As an advocate of CRT, I believe that the majority of Western media outlets favour the opinion of the white man. This means that even when people of colour are welcomed to express themselves via the media; which is very rare, their voices are drowned out.

As we have seen with the British media, there is an overwhelming focus on the ‘thugs’ and violence at the BLM protests, rather than the thousands of peaceful black protestors. The portrayal of people of colour in such a way only perpetuates the issue of systematic racism and prejudices.

Whilst the BLM protests were in full swing in the UK, Madeleine McCann suddenly reappeared all over British tabloid papers. This epitomises what CRT theory states about societal institutions benefitting white people. Despite the world being in the midst of a human rights crisis, in the eyes of the British media, one white girl’s life seemingly took precedence.

Again we can see how these choices made by the media are reinforcing internalised ideas the public may already have of white supremacy. Although such choices of media outlets are not ‘overtly racist’, we must not underestimate how dangerous they can be.

George Floyd graffiti on shop shutters in Neukölln, Berlin – Photo by Lucy Rowan

The BlackoutTuesday trend that spread across Instagram on the 2nd of June also evoked great concern. Even though I appreciate the sentiment of showing solidarity and support for BLM, being silent is counterproductive. Black people have been silenced for centuries.

Instead, people should be spreading awareness, educating themselves, and discussing the issues. This is why I wanted to use my platform to hear from my black friends and acquaintances about their thoughts regarding the recent events. I wanted to create a platform to ensure their lived experiences of racism are not overlooked or fade into the background of another social media trend.

Respectively, I have transcribed 4 questions and collected answers from 21 black people from the UK, US and Canada. I hope this article can give insight into how the current events are affecting members of the black community and how we as white people can help them through it.

Rally in Boston, USA – Photo by John Tlumacki from Boston Globe

What do the current protests in the US mean to you?

It doesn’t feel like a ‘US’ issue, it feels like an issue that we are all united on. Although it manifests itself differently in the US, institutional racism is happening here and within every other country in the world. The development of social media and the internet has brought everyone together on this so that an issue in the US is an issue everywhere.

The amount of news can be overwhelming though. That is not to say that it shouldn’t be reported on, it absolutely should! But it is important to recognise the effect it has on your mental health when you are constantly digesting things that are so upsetting and infuriating. This, however, is a small price to pay compared to generations before us.”

Vanessa, 23, UK.

Currently, I feel as if I am experiencing the loss of a loved one that was close to me. Despite the fact I have never met George Floyd he is a human being amongst all things who died in cold blood. A human being who died for no other reason than hate. I feel as if no matter where in the world you are, you can sympathise with this man and his family. Therefore, this is my business.

As much as some will say looting doesn’t help anyone if someone in my own family died because of their race I would tear the whole country down too”.

Anonymous, 23, UK.

The current protests mean a lot to me but I’m also very wary of them. I am extremely happy that people are finally starting to see the injustices that happen to people like me every day. I’m grateful that people are willing to risk their lives in the middle of a pandemic to fight for what is right. People are tired. People are angry. They want change!

I’m excited this is all happening honestly. However, I hope that the people that are going out there are going for the right reasons, and not just because they want to get out of the house or they see it as a “trend”. To some people, this might be temporary, but this has been a lifelong fight for Black people for hundreds of years”.

Kristina, 25, US.

It saddens me that it has taken so long and for many black people to die in order to get to this point. However, I’m thankful that as black people we are now waking up and making a change that will benefit black people in the future. Also seeing many allies of different races there in support of these protests brings me joy in knowing that we are not alone and they have a heart”.

Flavia, 23, UK.

The current protests are valuable and necessary. However, I am not convinced that will amount to any substantial change. Unfortunately, my view is that they will inevitably result in little change and that the sentiment/support will fade within a matter of months. In brief, the current protests mean very little in the grand scheme of things and will soon be marginalised for the next popular story”.

Hamza, 22, UK.
Justice for Breonna Taylor Protests in Louisville, USA – BBC News

Can you tell me about an experience you have had with law enforcement that illuminated racial prejudice?

The experiences I have had with law enforcement has always had to do with stops and searches. I don’t see why when I am with a group of multicultural friends, I, as a black person will get stopped and searched.

“It’s always the same story about how I fit a description of someone who committed a crime in the area so they must run a check on me, but every time you ask the police to tell you the description of who they’re supposed to be looking for, you get no answer. You are then asked for ID by force, and if you refuse because you know you have done nothing wrong, it’s an instant arrest.

How is that fair?! A change must come. Profiling is the worst and it should be illegal because it’s racist. Simply racist”.

Kenya, 32, UK

A few years ago in Ibiza, a good friend and I, were the only two people of colour in a group of 10 people. We were all sat by the beach at night listening to music. Something that other groups were also doing in the same vicinity.

All of a sudden 2 police cars appeared out of nowhere and started flashing their lights on us. This led to mine and my friend’s speakers being confiscated. We were told we were not allowed to sit by the beach after a certain time at night. The other groups were not approached like us, just simply told to move on from a distance.

They asked to see my ID which I didn’t have on me. They then proceeded to search me and once they had finished, they moved on to intimidate my friend. Following on from him being searched, he was then escorted IN HANDCUFFS by this gang of police back to where he lived, so they could check his passport against their records. They didn’t find anything on his system.

Again, no one else we were with; all white, was asked to present their IDs. Nor were they were searched or forced to explain being at the beach at that time. This was so baffling to me!

Nuria, 24, UK.

My friend and I were in her brother’s car, and we got pulled over by the police. There was nothing wrong with his license, no criminal history associated with himself or the car, but we all got pulled out for a stop and search anyway.

My friend and her brother spoke in their own language to each other just saying to keep calm, but the police shouted at them to speak in English. We were kept there for a whole hour, even though nothing resulted from the stop and search.

We 100% felt that if we were white and “spoke English” we would have been treated very differently. This also highlights how important it is to know your rights when it comes to law enforcement”.

Anonymous, 23, UK

When I was 14 years old, my group of friends and I spent the day in London attending a movie premiere. Before going out my mother had packed me a full lunch, and a knife and fork to eat with.

Whilst we were waiting, I wanted to cut off a piece of merchandise so I could take it home as a souvenir. So, I used my cutlery knife to do this. Technically, this was ‘vandalism’ and a member of security decided to punish me for it. They radioed for the police stating only that they had a “black female with a knife.

If I had been white maybe they would have also told the police that it was a cutlery knife and that I did not pose any physical threat. Perhaps if that happened, I would have one less childhood trauma to deal with now”.

Savarnah, 23, UK.

When I was 15 I was walking to go home with two friends. One was white, one was mixed race and I am black. A police car drove by and I smiled at them and they pulled over, stopped us and asked for my ID. They also asked for the ID of my mixed-race friend, however quickly handed it back to him and didn’t even speak or look at my white friend.

They then pulled me aside as if I was under some investigation as if I resembled someone who was wanted or something. After standing with them for a while they realised it wasn’t me and let us go. I was late home that day, my parents were very angry and I told them what happened.

To me, I thought it was kind of funny at the time and I didn’t even realise the racism that had happened. Looking back on it now, I see what happened and I can’t believe it!

Lauren, 22, UK.

I recall an incident when I was around 13. My father and I were pulled over by two police officers on a Sunday morning around 10 am. The officer asked my father to step out of the car on the accusation that my father; then in his early 40, looked ‘too young’ to be driving. Despite me being sat next to him in my football kit, clearly his son.

I was so confused that I asked my father why we had been pulled over. He responded saying: “This is what they do to black males in this country son, don’t ever forget it”.  

This was when my father was driving a BMW. Only a few weeks later, we were then pulled over in the same car, as my father was dropping me off at my secondary school. I mention this because when he sold the BMW and downgraded to a Ford, such occurrences seemed to stop almost instantly. He now has an Audi TT; may the Lord have mercy on us!

Hamza, 22, UK.

‘Random’ stop and searches. This happens several times, to too many black men. Getting stopped because you ‘fit a description’, and drawing blanks when you ask what the description is.

It’s even worse when they see you driving in what they think is a ‘flashy car’. They will stop you, try to ascertain how you can afford such a nice car before they search the car in hope that you have something illegal on you.

There was a time a friend got stopped because his brake light was not working, his vehicle got searched thoroughly and when they found nothing, they let him go. He got home and checked his brake lights; they were working just fine”.

Zacharia, 27, US.

I started getting searched more when I got to around the age of 20. I was a late bloomer. I was small and relatively unassuming until my early twenties. The difference from how I was viewed by society as a cute innocent kid and an older more athletic; or as some would say ‘intimidating’, black man, was almost night and day.

Walking into an elevator and purposely taking the bass out of your voice when speaking to the older lady just so she can ease up quickly gets tiring”. 

Calvin, 23, UK
BLM Protests in Newcastle, UK – BBC News

What do you want to see your own government do to address the issue of racism adequately?

Change the juridical system. They send more black people; more specifically black men, into jail for ridiculous charges such as a $9 robbery. Whereas a white male can rape an unconscious female and only serve 3 MONTHS?! Where is the justice? I want to see the system put away the people who severely broke the law, not put them away because of their skin colour.

Police officers need to be trained PROPERLY like how they train doctors and nurses to save lives. Police are supposed to protect the human race! Change the training program for them so they understand the law, and how to approach situations/altercations. It should not only take 800 hours to become an official police officer”. 

Judy, 26, Canada.

Decrease police presence in black communities. 

Defund the military and police and redistribute the money into educational and social programs that work to combat poverty, hunger, and addiction. 

Officially label Nazis and the KKK as terrorist organizations and ban any members or affiliates from obtaining jobs that give them power or authority over marginalized groups that they target. 

Abolish private and for-profit prisons and amend the 13th amendment, which keeps slavery and involuntary servitude as a legal criminal punishment. 

Overhaul the entire criminal justice system and actively enforce initiatives that prevent profiling, discrimination, and abuse of power from occurring unchecked without consequences”.

Tane’a, 22, US.

Lots more could be done about the school curriculum and how black history is portrayed. The positive history of black people being part of the British Empire. Fighting for this country but still being treated as secondhand citizens is not taught.

Also an understanding of how our mental health has been affected by our history and current circumstances that trigger those feelings again and again”.

Lorna, 54, UK.

I believe consent must be acquired by police for stop and searches. Also, black prisoners must stop being held in custody if there is no evidence pointing to their involvement in the crime. I understand there are a lot of factors that can lead officers to perform stop and searches; i.e. knife crime, but it is important that everyone is to be treated with respect regardless of their race.

I also believe front line jobs should be conducting psychological evaluations on the workers regularly to check their mental health and how it can be affected by their job. We must not hire people who, on a social level, show disregard or passive-aggressiveness towards people of colour”.

Anonymous, 24, UK.

As a teacher, I want to see the government addressing the need for a black curriculum. One that celebrates and educates students about black culture”.

Anonymous, 22, UK.

“Although there are many things the government should be doing, ultimately no real change will come about until there are people in government who aren’t racist”. 

Vanessa, 23, UK.

I would like to see a complete overhaul of systemic and institutionalised racism. The UK is fundamentally built on capitalism, in which the capital was black bodies. I would like to see the government offer reparations, to cease colonising and occupying foreign countries illegally. To return the cultural artefacts within British museums, and disband the commonwealth.

Racism in the UK is insidious because it prizes exceptionalism and makes it seem normal that the lowest in society live on crumbs whilst the upper classes exploit the poor for all of their worth. Social services such as local recreational spots, schools, transport links need to be improved, stop and search should be banned, the prison system abolished in favour of actual rehabilitation and community-based initiatives to prevent crime”.

Anonymous, 21, UK.
60 BLM Protestors gathered in Accra, Ghana – BBC News

What do you want white people to do to help dismantle racism?

Many of my white friends have expressed the fact they find speaking about race uncomfortable. I think it’s important to understand that just because you are not a card-carrying member of the National Front, EDL or KKK, does not mean that the buck stops there. Passivity will always be a key enemy of progress.

There needs to be an acknowledgement that a system exists that is unfairly weighted towards a certain group. White Privilege is not necessarily an overt show of aggressive racism. Acknowledgement of the fact that this Privilege exists is the first step towards challenging the system. The very admittance and understanding of its intrinsic link to institutional racism will act as the conduit through which positive action can be taken.

Do your homework and do not expect comfortable conversations over a coffee, expect to challenge presumptions and views. This is a constant process of reflection and there is no endpoint. Place expectation upon yourself that now you understand the problem, you are an active player in the solution”.

Tolu, 26, UK.

“I want white people to be more sensitive and carefully choose their words before speaking. Racism in the UK is a lot more covert and I feel some microaggressions can be perceived as racist remarks particularly in the workplace that people are unaware of.

I also want people to know that black lives matter is not a trend. It is not a tickbox activity for people to post a black square on Instagram and think that they’ve done their part. I want them to realise it is a way of life and we must continue fighting for equal rights regardless of race, gender, sex etc”.

Oyin, 23, UK

I believe white people need to stop pretending like their history is pristine when it comes to black people. They must admit that this is a problem that was pioneered by their ancestors, who have never truly accepted people of colour as equals.

Making jokes that hurt people of colour and then blaming them when they get offended needs to be avoided. If someone tells you they are offended on a personal level by something you said to them, it is only right to apologise as you would anyone else.

Stop saying you are not racist because your kids are black. Stop saying the N-word and blaming it on black rappers, their lyrics are not meant for you”.

Anonymous, 24, UK.

Challenge your friends and family, if you want to truly change you cannot allow racist views to be expressed by your loved ones unchallenged. It means uncomfortable and awkward conversations will be had, but black people have experienced awkward conversations from a young age. I was 6 when my mum told me there are people that will not like me just because I am black, imagine how I felt hearing that as a 6-year-old child”.

Zacharia, 27, US.

Many of my white peers associate racism with large, pointed white hats and segregated schooling. Comments that were sadly often meant as signs of acceptance or compliments would shed light on the fact that the way to address and accept my race, was to mould it into theirs or simply pretend that it didn’t exist.

“Yeah but I mean you are basically white anyway”. I am not basically white. I am half black. I am half white. I am coloured and will never be considered ‘their’ white. All statements I am accepting and proud of, and so they should be too.

I ask of my white friends, my white family members, and my white fellow humans to stop and think. Do not generalise, do not divert or desensitise from the simple, harrowing and yet the very real fact that black people are being killed because of the colour of their skin. You do not need to be black to acknowledge this wrongdoing. You do not need to be a scholar on the topic of the Civil Rights Movement, or endlessly apologise for the actions of your ancestors. Acknowledge this wrongdoing, stand with us, support us, speak out and spark change”.

Rosie, 22, UK.

The most important thing for white people to do in terms of helping the cause right now would be to entirely accept their privilege, not get defensive over it. All this leads to is an excessive dragging out of the issue and no progress. Educate yourselves, accept your role and be willing to call out all forms of injustices. It’s no longer enough not to be racist, you must be willing to call it out. If that’s making you uncomfortable, chances are you are a significant part of the problem”.

Anonymous, 23, UK.

Self-reflect, self-educate, weaponize white privilege for the betterment of black people and help dismantle white supremacy. This is the time for white people to take a good hard look at how much of their preconceived notions of black people come from a place of stereotyping and disrespect. It is time for those people to challenge microaggressions alongside institutionalised racism.

The onus shouldn’t be on black people as we haven’t created this issue, especially as fetishisation and cultural appropriation has meant that Black American culture, Jamaican culture and Nigerian culture, to name a few, are now intertwined and conflated as mainstream ‘urban’ culture. Ignorance isn’t an excuse anymore and it is the designer suit of disrespect.

Therefore, if there is energy left to research baby hairs, gold grills, and box-braids, I think there is ample enough time to research how not to be offensive and racist, meet us halfway”.

Anonymous, 21, UK.

Microaggressions for white people to take note of and stop doing:

White people assuming that you smoke or sell weed/cocaine, just because you are black. Do not ask me how you can get cocaine at the Christmas party. 

Not bothering to learn my name.

Being asked where you are ‘originally’ from because God forbid you were born in the UK and not a hut in Africa where the closest well was 3 kilometres away.

“Can I touch it”? they ask as they dig their fingers into my hair, not giving me a chance to respond to the silly request. 

Telling the only black woman and man in the workplace that they would look good together as a couple.

Getting told I speak good English, or that I am articulate because Lord knows no one can be as intelligent as the white man. 

Being told you look like Stormzy/Eddie Murphy/any other prominent black celebrity. 

“I do not see colour” this statement is the worst, because not only are you denying my racial characteristic, you are also gaslighting me for thinking that you did. All my life I have had to see colour because I am treated as a result of my colour”. 

Zacharia, 27, US.
Patrick Hutchinson BLM supporter aiding right-wing protestors in London – Guardian News

I would like to thank everyone who was involved in this project. Thank you for taking the time to write to me and share your personal stories, even when they may have been difficult to tell.

When checking in with my black friends, they have expressed that the past few weeks have been very taxing mentally. Memories of being discriminated against have been forcibly upheaved and naturally, it has left members of the black community feeling overwhelmed.

Despite going through a very upsetting period, everyone who contributed to this article made sure they stood up and used their voice. Your collective strength through your pain is admirable and that courage is what will make real change happen. I am so proud to say I know you all.

It is also important to note, through this project alone I have learnt so much. Education was my main purpose when writing this. I could read all the books on race in the world and learn political theories. However, I believe personal anecdotes are the most important to hear. They reflect what is going on the ground level and how policy reform affects black people in their day-to-day lives.

People must remember the important roles that listening and reflection play when helping to dismantle racism. There are so many elements as a white person that I take for granted daily. I hope other white people will read this article, acknowledge their privilege, and feel inspired to join the fight against systematic racism.

Incase you are wondering what you can do next, I would encourage you to find out more about the BLM movement and how you can help change black people’s lives for the better. It is not their duty to fight for something they never asked for in the first place.

I would recommend starting with the BLM website:

For supporting your local black community, here is a website that lists the UK’s black-owned businesses that you can support directly:

TIME Magazine’s books to read on how to become anti-racist:

TIME Magazine’s films to watch:

Keep reading, keep talking, and most importantly, keep fighting.

Why some repertoires of contention are more effective than others

A critical analysis of different forms of protest and their effectiveness

Anti-COVID protests USA – BBC News

This past week, we have witnessed angry Americans flocking to the streets to protest against COVID-19 lockdown measures. In a country that deeply treasures individual freedom, it came as no surprise that some citizens would feel attacked by state restrictions.

However, what did take the world by surprise was the President’s reaction to these protests. Those involved carried banners and chanted for liberation, claiming their freedoms had been unlawfully blocked.

In his typical manner, Trump took to Twitter to express his support for their claims by stating “They seem very responsible to me”. The President openly affirmed that Americans had the right to express their views and encouraged protestors with his “LIBERATE!” tweets.

As more anti-COVID protests began to break out across the globe, on the 20th April Facebook started blocking anti-quarantine messages and events. Such a bold intersection from a social media platform forced me to reflect on my study of social movements and collective protest.

After extensive reading and analysis, I wanted to shed light on why some social movements have been successful. This article will focus predominantly on the repertoires of contention used by these social movements, and why some repertoires are more effective than others.

Anti-COVID protests USA – BBC News

So, what are repertoires of contention?

Charles Tilly was the first amongst scholars to introduce the concept of ‘repertoires’, to analyse important historical variations of protest.

Since then, scholars have used the term ‘repertoires of contention’, to describe “the distinctive constellations of tactics and strategies developed over time and used by protest groups to act collectively to make claims on individuals and groups” (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 264). In this sense, we can think of social movements as the carpenters of social and political change, and ‘repertoires of contention’ as their toolkits.

Although these repertoires evolve over time, Tilly proposes that repetition is far more likely than adoption, and that adoption is far more likely than invention (Biggs 2013: 407). Typically, social movements will reflect on the history of successful social movements and replicate these repertoires. It it very rare that they invent their own.

This is why we often see similarities and patterns developing between social movements regardless of how different their aims may be. However, when it comes down to assessing how ‘effective’ these repertoires are, this is a much more difficult task.

In this article, I will outline four key characteristics of repertoires which researchers have identified to be linked with effectiveness: size, militancy, cultural resonance and variety. These five characteristics have been argued to promote the likelihood of certain repertoires being more effective than others.

To support this claim, I will refer to a range of different examples throughout, applying them to each category accordingly. However, before outlining these characteristics and testing them, it is important to define what is meant by the term ‘effective’.

Warsaw Pride March 2019 – New York Times

For the sake of this article, I will be using Michael Biggs’ definition of ‘effectiveness’. Biggs’ definition states that effectiveness is measured by “the probability that it will be successful, which depends on a myriad of factors – including the tactic’s legitimacy in the eyes of others” (2013: 408).

Biggs maintains that effectiveness can be measured “only by putting the tactic into practice” (2013: 408). This is why all of my repertoire examples will be sampled from real social movements and historical events.

Never-the-less, it is important to establish that the measurement of success or effectiveness is always relative. When discussing the success of social movements, there are sometimes layers to success. A social movement may have many other smaller goals aside from its fundamental goal. Therefore, what will become clearer, is that although not every repertoire may have been ‘successful’, does not mean that it has not been effective.

As Alberto Melucci establishes, ‘success’ for some social movements may consist of creating a collective identity and media coverage, rather than achieving policy success (Tarrow 2011: 217). It is essential to keep in mind, that often social and political change are slow processes which do not occur overnight.

We would not typically expect for social movements to achieve their ultimate goals over night. Thus, some of the examples which I will count as ‘effective’, may not depict the social movement achieving their fundamental goals. However, they will depict successful steps towards it.

MeToo Movement South Korea – BBC News

Characteristic 1: Size  

The first characteristic which has been argued to be an important factor in determining one repertoire to be more effective than the other is size. A key way for a social movement to exert influence is to demonstrate the sheer number of participants who support their message. Therefore, repertoires that visually depict such large-scale support, such as marches are more likely to be ‘effective’. This is because they are often televised or gain media coverage.

Even without gaining media attention, a large-scale march would visually attract the attention of those not involved. Whether you are walking your dog, diverted on your bus journey or sat in your office looking out the window, widespread mobilisation causes disruption and demands your attention. Living in our digital generation, it is highly likely that you would choose to take a photo/video, message a friend about it, or even refer to google to inform you about what is going on. Whatever you choose to do, you are indirectly engaging with the social movement. This means that the outreach of that social movement’s message has instantly expanded, by disrupting daily lives.

Amongst those who contend that size is a defining characteristic in a repertoires’ effectiveness is Jenny Morris. She maintains that the key ingredient to the success of the Civil Right’s Movement in Birmingham, Alabama was that it was mobilised with so many participants. As a result, it was televised (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 281). Through being televised, its scope of influence spread wider than those who were directly affected by the marches.

Also, it is noted that large-scale protests can evoke a sense of exhilaration and empowerment to those involved, which in turn mobilises individual commitment to the cause. Overall, this strengthens the organisation within the movement and confirms internal support (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 281).

Naturally, the size of a repertoire is strongly correlated to the amount of electoral or public support it has. Exemplary of how size has played a fundamental role in a repertoire being effective is the Egyptian 25th January Revolution. Neil Ketchley argues that a key factor in the success of this revolution was the use of the repertoire of ‘Fraternisation’. This can be described as “any method of winning sympathy, from direct argument and persuasion to the generation by one means or another of that subtle emotional sense of an underlying community of sentiment and interests between troops and people” (2014: 157).

Originating in Europe, ‘Fraternization’ entailed attempting to build alliances with those who had the power to oppress their movement, which was typically army officers (Ketchley 2014: 157). During the protests, the ‘Fraternization’ of the people with the army, and the black-uniformed CSF troops, epitomises how size is a key characteristic in allowing repertoires to be more effective. The creation of a polyvalent repertoire which symbolised the protestor-soldier solidarity (Ketchley 2014: 158), created an even bigger threat to the Mubarak government. The solidarity illustrated through Fraternization demonstrated not only symbolic support for this social movement but also the large-scale ‘actual’ support.

Accordingly, we can see how size has a strong influence in determining how effective a repertoire can be. Numerical strength boosts social movement’s disruptive potential by overburdening law enforcement’s capacity to repress the protest (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 281). Without being suppressed by law enforcement, the repertoire has a much greater opportunity to be successful. Hence, the social movement has a greater chance to get closer to its fundamental goal.

Egyptian Revolution 2011 – New Statesman

Characteristic 2: Militancy  

There is a large overlap between the characteristics of militancy and size. For a repertoire to exhibit ‘militancy’, it must create some form of organised confrontation. As Tilly concluded, these two characteristics are likely to create certain repertoires more successful than others, because they establish disruption and uncertainty (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 280).

Undoubtedly, the combination of the two increases the chances of the repertoire being even more disruptive and therefore, effective. This is because disruptive repertoires allow social movements to gain the attention of political and economic elites, who they often lack institutionalised relations with (Aminzade 1995: 40).

As Melucci highlights, what differentiates political parties from social movements is that although they seek to establish the attention and contact with those who can advocate social change. They do so through unconventional, sometimes illegal, or revolutionary methods of collective action (Aminzade 1995: 40). Hence, the repertoires which question the legitimacy of power, break the rules, or put forward non-negotiable objectives, are more likely to draw the attention of the government or regime to their cause (Aminzade 1995: 40).

It is important to remember, that the attention of political and economic elites is necessary for pushing forward with social and political change. The disruptive nature of certain repertoires is what leads us to discover and acknowledge social movements in society, usually via the media.

More specifically, research has shown that militant repertoires are most effective in cities (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 280). Blockades, sit-ins, unauthorised encampments and housing takeovers, can draw more participants in cities. The more participants, the more likely that it will be disruptive to city life. Moreover, in a city, the militant repertoire is more likely to reach the internet, as there are more people present to witness and thus, record the scene.

Birmingham Campaign 1963: Civil Rights Movement in Alabama – Getty Images

Characteristic 3: Non-Violence

Respectively, studies were conducted which have systematically explored the strategic effectiveness of violent and non-violent repertoires. The findings illuminated that major non-violent repertoires have been successful 53% of the time, compared to only 26% for violent repertoires (Chenoweth and Stephan 2008: 8). Based on this finding, we can then question if the characteristic of militancy is truly a key ingredient for making a repertoire more effective than another?

Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan advocate that non-violent repertoires are more effective for two main reasons. Firstly, they argue that a social movement’s commitment to non-violent repertoires, enhance both their domestic and international legitimacy (2008: 9). In this sense, Tilly argues that they are often taken more seriously by governments in modern capitalist societies, as through non-violent repertoires they are demonstrating their commitment to democratic values (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 264).

Further, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who sympathise with the cause, are more likely to financially support these social movements, which will often aid in advancing their cause in the long-term (Chenoweth and Stephan 2008: 12). When a social movement actively commits to use only non-violent repertoires, the NGOs or private sponsors can trust that they have a much lower chance of being embarrassed or held accountable for wrongdoings. There is much lower risk.

Secondly, Chenoweth and Stephan uphold that non-violent repertoires are more effective than violent ones, as it is far more difficult for governments to justify counterattacks against peaceful repertoires (Chenoweth and Stephan 2008: 9). In the case that the regime was to violently suppress the non-violent repertoire, it has been argued that there is potential that the social movement would gain public sympathy (Chenoweth and Stephan 2008: 9). The gaining of this public sympathy could be conceived as effective, as it could allow for more people to want to join and support the movement.

Exemplary of a disruptive, yet non-violent repertoire which proved to be effective was the civil rights movement’s ‘sit-ins’ in the 1960s (Tilly and Tarrow 2015: 52). Doug McAdams maintains that innovative repertoires of the civil rights movement, such as sit-ins, were so effective as they caught the authorities off-guard (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 279). Most of the discussion concerning how effective disruptive repertoires such as sit-ins were, is revolved around the debate whether non-violent campaigns are more effective than violent ones.

Non-violent Civil Rights March – 1960s USA – Getty Images

Characteristic 4: Cultural Resonance  

In the same way that repertoires which embody democratic values are argued to be more effective in modern capitalist societies, David Snow contends that repertoires which resonate popular beliefs and values have a greater chance in being successful (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 282).

In this sense, we can see how a movement within the United States, which chooses to participate in repertoires which depict a commitment to democratic practices and politics of persuasion is much more likely to be met with favourable government action (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 282). This is because the repertoire echoes the values of the government.

Sidney Tarrow draws attention to the repertoire of strikes and strike threats in democratic states. For example, employers within the United States in the mid-twentieth century and the 1990s in Poland both participated in democratic strikes. Tarrow asserts that these repertoires “were effective in gaining concessions from the government or employers” (Tarrow 2011: 217). Strikes and strike threats include clear demands quantified within a democratic framework, which resonates with democratic governments.

Moreover, the characteristic of cultural resonance can also be demonstrated by repertoires which are driven by political opportunities. Tarrow refers to political opportunities as, “consistent – but not necessarily formal, permanent, or national – signals to social or political actors which either encourage or discourage them to use their internal resources to form social movements” (Buffonge 2001: 8). With this in mind, we can infer that those social movements who ensure they stay informed of any political opportunities or threats are more likely to produce more effective repertoires.

As Herbert Kitschelt articulates, “political opportunity structures influence the choice of protest strategies and the impact of social movements on their environment” (Kriesi 2008: 69). If the public is of great disappointment or frustration with the political climate, we could expect to see effective repertoires playing upon these feelings. The most successful social movements will remain receptive to their environment, consider different repertoires and aptly choose which one suits that political climate best.

Additionally, it is noted that because the instability of political alignments creates an opportunity for successful mobilisation to take place, repertoires which undermine established leaders are more likely to achieve mobilisation (Kriesi 2008: 75). However, it is essential to note that this can also result in negative consequences, dependent on the political context of the government or regime, whether it is tyrannical or not. Within a tyrannical leadership context, the risk of imprisonment is almost always on the cards.

One of the most poignant examples of a successful movement whose repertoires evoked cultural resonance was the Rastafarian movement. Gordon Buffonge points out that the pivotal characteristic within the effective repertoires of the Rastafarian movement was the cultural resonance it created through the emphasis on national identity (Buffonge 2001: 7).

The environment in which the 1930s Rastafarian movement blossomed, entailed a closed political system whereby Afro-Jamaican poor individuals had no avenue for representation (Buffonge 2001: 8). Appropriately, the movement began to support and alter mainstream discourse about the poverty of rural and urban Jamaicans, through implementing aspects of Jamaican myth, story, religion and music in an innovative manner (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 282).

Another effective set of repertoires which also demonstrated a movement’s ability to tune into political and social opportunities was the civil rights movement. McAdam insists that the success of the civil rights movement was also grounded in “mediating between opportunity and action” (Kriesi 2008: 75).

As a result, the movement set up effective mobilising structures, which tailor-made different repertoires to different environments and political climates” (Kriesi 2008: 75). Hence, from these two examples, we can confer that most repertoires which are more effective than others are the ones which tune into the political threats and opportunities and adapt to them accordingly.

Context is a large determining factor in the success of different repertoires, in one city a march may be effective and in another, it may not be. Therefore, we can learn that it is vital for social movements to gain a sense of the political atmosphere, in deciphering which repertoire will be more effective in a specific mobilisation.

The Polish ‘Solidarity’ Workers Strikes in the 1990s – Getty Images

Characteristic 5: Variety  

The final and most important characteristic which has proven to be a running theme in the most effective repertoires is variety. Amongst the many academics who advocate this position, Aldon Morris claims that the crux of yielding the best results in terms of policy change is through using a mix of different repertoires (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 280).

One of the most notable successful social movements, which has embraced using a variety of repertoires is the women’s movement. Through exhibiting a range of repertoires, it has been argued that the women’s movement has even produced its own culture (Taylor and Whittier 1995: 164).

As Mary Katzenstein depicts, this cultural resistance can be highlighted through a combination of two main repertoires. Firstly, the interest group strategies which are designed to influence political elites and ensure social change through legislation and policy (Taylor and Whittier 1995: 182).

Secondly, discursive repertoires which are expressed primarily through speech and print, to “reinterpret, reformulate, rethink, and rewrite the androcentric masculine norms and practices of society and the state” (Taylor and Whittier 1995: 182). Subsequently, further repertoires have evolved within this culture of resistance, including the emergence of feminist media, art and literature (Taylor and Whittier 1995: 183).

As we can see this clear accumulation and evolvement of multiple repertoires has had an important impact in creating even more effective repertoires as the movement has progressed. Ergo, this variety has had a positive impact on the success of the women’s movement overall.

It is through this emergence of variety that repertoires of social movements have become more effective, as they gather wider support from a variety of people. For example, Tarrow confirms that through having repertoires characterised by variety, there is an option for everyone to become involved within a movement (2011: 29) and as it was established earlier in the category of size, the more people that can be reached or involved in that repertoire the more likely it is to be effective.

For the people who would like to be involved in a social movement. Yet, would rather stay at home or who have no interest in militant or disruptive repertoires, by offering multiple types the social movement is allowing everyone to get involved. Also, it has been noted that the variety of repertoires used is much more likely to attract media coverage (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 279).

Women’s Equality Strike – August 26th 1970 USA – Getty Images

As a sub-section within the category of variety, researchers have determined that when social movements use a range of repertoires together, the most effective ones are characterised by their novelty (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 279). Tarrow claims that although it is more common for social movements to select repertoires which they are familiar with, empirical studies have demonstrated that innovative repertoires are more effective in achieving policy changes (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 279).

Creating a culture is a difficult task for a social movement, yet with repertoires which embrace novelty ideas, such as using music, theatre, art, poetry and street performances, the task becomes more attainable. As Leila Rupp and Verta Taylor have illuminated, the LGBTQ movement has been advocates of using novelty repertoires such as drag performances, intending to transform heterosexual audience members’ beliefs about gender and sexuality (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 279).

It is the fusion of entertainment and politics which has proven to reach those of a variety of identities and ideologies (Taylor and Van Dyke 2008: 279). In this sense, we see how like variety, a repertoire which is characterised by novelty is more likely to be remembered and understandable for those who may not be so politically minded.

Withal, the most notable about novelty repertoires, is that they increase the chances of the repertoire to be publicised, discussed or spread across the internet. As discussed earlier in this essay, in turn, this exposure of the repertoire can be considered as a key factor in determining effectiveness or success for the movement, in that it promotes wider cognizance of the movement and its objectives.

One of the most evident examples of a novelty repertoire which has been effective in bringing visibility to a cause was Quang Duc’s self-immolation. As Biggs notes, after Quang Duc’s suicide protest in 1963, many people joined the monks and nuns who were protesting on the streets of Saigon to support the Buddhist resistance against the government of President Diem (2013: 415).

Although this choice of repertoire may not have achieved the ‘ultimate goals’ of the movement and some Buddhists disapproved of it, the novelty element played a strong role in attracting media and public attention (Biggs 2013: 417). The symbolisation of the struggle evoked a committed response from the public who were not already involved, therefore exemplifying how the novelty led to this repertoire being more effective than the ones used before.

The Immolation of Quang Duc 1963 – Getty Images

After critically analysing several social movements and their use of different repertoires, we can see how the five characteristics outlined in this article all play a pivotal role in defining how effective a repertoire will be. The five characteristics being: size, militancy, non-violence, cultural resonance and variety.

Due to the context of social movements, political and social change has a narrative of being very slow. Accordingly, a social movement which adopts a variety of repertoires will have a much higher likeliness of achieving success. In particular, the use of a variety of ‘non-violent’ repertoires. As mentioned, the non-violent social movements are more likely to be respected and listened to by governmental figures. They are also more likely to gain sponsorship from NGOs. The wealthier the social movement is, the more opportunities it will have to use a variety of repertoires. In turn, increasing its probability of achieving its ultimate long-term goals.

By opting for a variety of ‘non-violent’ repertoires, the social movement can attract a variety of people from different backgrounds to engage. More people are willing to commit to non-violent methods of protest as it minimises the risk for themselves. By offering both physical and digital repertoires, those who would typically not want to join a march can still feel involved in the movement from the comfort of their home. The more actual support of the repertoire, the more effective it will be. There is power in numbers they say.

Tarrow discusses the idea that there has been an increasing emphasis on “collective goods” outcomes of repertoires rather than just achieving the fundamental objective (Tarrow 2011: 218). I concur with this statement and believe it is epitomised in social movement’s commitment to adopting the characteristic of variety within their repertoires. There needs to be active engagement in a variety of repertoires, but most important ones which are sensitive to political and social context. This is why cultural resonance also plays a significant role in how effective a repertoire of contention will be. The social movements which aptly tune into the current socio-political climate are typically more successful.

Finally, the role which the media and the internet have played in spreading awareness of certain movements and their goals is something which must be acknowledged. This role has had a clear impact on the engagement with the five characteristics discussed, as all five seem to be magnets for such industries.

None-the-less, what makes one repertoire effective is not necessarily the repertoire itself, but how it is applied and in what context. Just because a social movement opts for one of these characteristics in their repertoires does not instantly mean it will be effective. However, from a historical perspective, the five characteristics provide us with a basic skeleton for understanding why certain repertoires have been more effective than others.


Aminzade, Ronald. 1995. ‘Between Movement and Party: The Transformation of Mid-Nineteenth-Century French Republicanism’, in Politics of Social Protest: Comparative Perspectives on States and Social Movements, pp. 39-62.  

Biggs, Michael. 2013. ‘HOW REPERTOIRES EVOLVE: THE DIFFUSION OF SUICIDE PROTEST IN THE TWENTHIETH CENTURY’, in Mobilization: An International Quarterly, Vol. 18 (4), pp. 407-428. 

Buffonage, Gordon A. 2001. ‘Culture and Political Opportunity: Rastafarian Links to the Jamaican Poor’, in Political opportunities, social movements, and democratization, ed. By Patrick G Coy, pp. 3-36.  

Chenoweth, Erica; Stephan, Maria J. 2008. ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict’, in International Security, Vol. 33 (1), pp. 7-44. 

Ketchley, Neil. 2014. ‘“The army and the people one hand!” Fraternization and the 25th January Egyptian Revolution’, in Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 56 (1), pp. 155-186.  

Kriesi, Hanspeter. 2008. ‘Political Context and Opportunity’, in Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, pp. 67-90.  

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Tarrow, Sidney. 2011. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics, Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, Verta; Whittier, Nancy. 1995. ‘Analytical Approaches to Social Movement Culture: The Culture of the Women’s Movement’, in Social Movements and Culture, pp. 163-187.  

Taylor, Verta; Van Dyke, Nella. 2008. ‘“Get up, Stand up”: Tactical Repertoires of Social Movements’, in Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, pp. 262-293. 

Tilly, Charles; Tarrow, Sidney. 2015. Contentious Politics, New York: Oxford University Press.  

Introducing: HoMie Au

The brand proving that the fashion industry has a heart

“The murderous, meaningless caprices of fashion“. Over the years, these infamous words and philosophy of Karl Marx (1976) have led many to argue that capitalism and fashion will always be inescapably entwined. Mainstream fashion revolves around a consumerist model, whereby designers are constantly churning out new designs in an attempt to be the ‘trendiest’. In correlation with being the most popular, these major fashion houses are some of the richest organisations in the world.

Accordingly, when we think about the fashion industry, the act of charitable giving is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. If I were to tell you that you could transform young people’s lives by purchasing new clothes, you would most likely scoff and call me superficial. However, Australian streetwear label and social enterprise HoMie are defying stereotypes.

HoMie’s journey dates back to 2015 when three friends decided to set up a Facebook page to raise awareness about homelessness in Melbourne. The following year, ‘Homelessness Of Melbourne Incorporated Enterprise’ aka HoMie was founded by Marcus Crook and Nick Pearce.

Currently, HoMie has two collections available to buy both online and in-store: ‘Signature’ and ‘REBORN’. Their latest line REBORN; which launched last month, is made up of one-off pieces using up-cycled fabrics. The eco-responsible collection symbolises the idea that with the right care, people can be brought back to life, even better than they were before.

Besides REBORN being so well-received, in a few weeks, they will be launching yet another collection. This will be a monumental moment for HoMie as it is a collaboration with the iconic sportswear brand Champion. Such a deal highlights the scope of popular support that the clothing label is gaining.

However successful the collections have been, it is important to stress that HoMie is not just a clothing label. It is an organisation that supports young people affected by homelessness or hardship. HoMie aims to equip them with skills, confidence and experiences to be more work-ready and better prepared for their future. The team does so by running two social impact programs.

‘The HoMie Pathway Alliance’ programme employs interns to provide them with accredited retail training and education. The interns are people aged between 16-25, who are experiencing hardship or homelessness in Melbourne. By allowing them to work in their flagship store, they can gain hands-on retail experience and also receive a salary. Both of which are actually beneficial in helping these young people get back on their feet, ready to pave a new life.

The second social impact programme that HoMie runs is the monthly ‘VIP Shopping Days’. On these days, young people experiencing homelessness or hardship are welcomed into the store to shop complimentary brand-new HoMie garments, beauty services, plus lunch with the HoMie team. It is important to note that these two programmes are funded from the clothing sales and public donations.

These initiatives are so commendable that in 2019, HoMie was even awarded Australian GQ’s ‘Social Force of the Year’. This success has helped elevate the social enterprise and provide the team with well-deserved public recognition. After meeting with Co-Founder Marcus Crook in Berlin, I was both impressed and intrigued to find out more about HoMie and their upcoming plans.

As a Liberal, the issue of homelessness is something that is of strong concern for me in my political life. Having volunteered with the Labour Party since 17, I know all too well the severity of the issue of homelessness in London. The lack of social housing, cuts and ever-rising housing prices, are deeply affecting people’s lives. My own grandfather was homeless for five years before receiving social housing. From personal experience, I can assure you that it is never as simple as it seems. Homelessness can happen so quickly to anyone, it is important that as a community we support those in need where we can.

After working alongside young people experiencing homelessness for the past 5 years, I was especially interested to hear about Marcus’ opinions and ideas on the topic. Amidst his very busy schedule, Marcus kindly made some time to chat with me about the homeless crisis in Melbourne and how HoMie is using fashion to help alleviate the strain it is having on young people.

Lucy: “The evolution of HoMie is a pretty unique one. How exactly did HoMie materialise from a Facebook page into a clothing brand? What was the most influential factor in the development process?

Marcus: “On our page, we had a lot of people wanting to get involved, donate clothing, blankets or food. So, we set up Australia’s first-ever Street Store which was an initiative which started in South Africa”.

“At Federation Square of Melbourne’s city, we set up a pop shop where we had people come and donate items of clothing they wanted to pass on to someone in need. We then invited homelessness services to come along with clients and shop for free. We also had barbers on-site cutting hair and food vans offering free food. This day was so special and we found it beneficial for the entire community to come together. So, we wanted to do it more permanently. Hence the idea of HoMie was born”.

Lucy: “When transitioning from Facebook page to clothing label, why did you opt for Streetwear?”

Marcus: “Following on from that day, we found that clothing was an easy way to connect and educate people on the issue. We never anticipated having our brand or store initially. After the street store we ran a crowdfunding campaign to have a pop-up shop in Melbourne Central. This was an opportunity to emulate that day in Fed Square in a more closed off, private location”.

“The store was fitted out with donations from major brands like Stüssy, Cotton On, Target and some other local brands. We printed some tee shirts with the logos from our page and we had a lot of people gravitating towards them as they wanted to support us”.

“Naturally, we decided to expand, offering more in-house designs. The pop up was for 4 weeks. At the end of the month, we had all the Big Issue vendors come and shop for free”.

“This pop up kept getting extended and we ran those VIP days once a month for a year in Melbourne Central, before moving out to Brunswick Street. We fitted out the entire store with just our own brand, which was a bit of a milestone looking back. It’s crazy to think it’s now been 4 years”.

Lucy: “The money generated from the clothing line goes towards funding the two social impact programmes that HoMie runs. Can you elaborate on these two programmes in more detail and how successful they have been?”

Marcus: “For the ‘HoMie Pathway Alliance’, so far HoMie has had 19 graduates. In total, they received 6420 hours of on-the-job training and 480 hours of professional development”. 

“There has been an 83% graduation success rate. 91% remain meaningfully employed or in further education at 12 months after graduation. 67% have transitioned to full-time/senior roles by 12 months after graduation. 90% of the young people who were living in government-funded assisted living before the HoMie Pathway Alliance, now have successfully transitioned into private accommodation”. 

“There have been 52 VIP days, with 1056 VIP shoppers. HoMie has given away 4802 brand new items of clothing. 264 beauty services have also been provided”. 

Lucy: “One of the initial goals of these programmes was to break down the stigmas associated with homelessness. In the 4 years you have been involved in these projects, do you believe you have been successful in achieving this goal?”

Marcus: “I hope so! It’s so nice to hear friends, family and people using the correct language like a ‘person experiencing homelessness’ not a ‘homeless person’ which we are really passionate about. If we have created a more inclusive and understanding community, that’s what this project was initially started for so I’d be really happy if that was the case”.

Lucy: “From those statistics, it is clear to see that the interns are benefitting from these programmes and learning transferrable skills. Since running these programmes, can you share the most important things that the HoMie team have learnt?”

Marcus: “We are a small, nimble team and we’ve grown and learnt things along the way as our social impact programs have evolved. Mostly we are guided by the young people in our program, that has shaped the last few years of our impact”.

Lucy: “Do you have any special success stories that you wouldn’t mind sharing?”

Marcus: “Everyone who has been through the program has really grown and developed in their own ways, it’s super inspiring for us to see the development of the interns. Some are now managing major retail stores in Melbourne, some have gone on to further study and set themselves up. It’s incredible. We keep in contact through alumni catch-ups every couple of months which is really special”.

Lucy: “Moving onto the topic of homelessness more generally and how these programmes have informed the HoMie team about it. What do you believe are the greatest contributing factors of homelessness in Australia?”

Marcus: “Lack of affordable housing, unemployment or lack of opportunities. Especially now these are really scary. Family violence and mental illness are also major contributors to the problem here in Australia”.

Lucy: “Reflecting on your experience in Melbourne, what do you feel needs to change within communities to improve the current situation?”

Marcus: “Education is key for all social issues, the more we can understand the problem the better equipped we’ll be to tackle it. I’d love to see more opportunities for people experiencing disadvantage, to break the cycle of poverty”.

Lucy: “How accountable do you believe the government are in the homelessness crisis and what should they do to help resolve it?” 

Marcus: “More could be done. I’ve just put together a video around the homelessness crisis and the COVID 19 pandemic. Unfortunately, our most vulnerable citizens are being left behind in all policies that have been announced so far which is really disappointing”.

Lucy: “Looking forward at what the future holds for HoMie, undoubtedly 2020 seems to be a very exciting year. After winning GQ’s ‘Social Force of the Year 2019’, how has this affected HoMie and its vision for 2020?”

Marcus: “It was incredible to be recognised by such a huge publication like GQ. They have been really supportive of us for a while now. This exposure really helps small business like us reach more people. As a social enterprise, without profit, there’s no purpose. So, we need to be focused on the performance of the business so we can have the greatest impact possible”.

Lucy: “Regarding your upcoming collection with Champion, what do you feel differentiates it from previous HoMie clothing?”

Marcus: “I guess our impact is what differentiates us from almost every other streetwear brand, but it’s super important to be relevant, on-trend and have a good product to keep people engaged”.

“Our upcoming range is inspired by the Olympics. Too bad the games have been cancelled… I guess now it’s a homage collection. The core values of the Olympics are EXCELLENCE – meaning doing the best we can. RESPECT and FRIENDSHIP which really resonates with me and our core values as a business. Plus who doesn’t love vintage style sportswear and graphics!?”

Lucy: “Unfortunately, the issue of homelessness stretches beyond Australia. For those people reading this article in other parts of the globe, what advice would you give to them for how they can make a difference in their local communities?”

Marcus: “Just acknowledge that people experiencing homelessness exists, a smile or a chat can go a long way. Get involved with a local charity, or if your time-poor, support those charities or social enterprises that are supporting people experiencing disadvantage”.

If you are just as impressed with HoMie as I am, you can visit their website to find out more about the team or to shop their collections. On the 4th of May, HoMie x Champion will be launching, so keep an eye out for this too. For those based in Melbourne, pop down to there store once the pandemic is over.

HoMie, 2/296 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC 3065, Australia

On a concluding note, what struck me the most about meeting Marcus was how humble he was. For me, this epitomised the wholesome essence of this brand and why they deserve public recognition. The HoMie team have selflessly dedicated themselves to a social cause they believe in and I would presume this is why the interns have been so successful. Although I have not met the rest of the HoMie team, if they are anything like Marcus, I can assure you that they are an amazing group of people. Thank you for your hard work and best of luck to all of the interns involved in the programme.

All of the photography in this article is by Marcus Crook.

Models: @Zzzzbone and @the.dr1fter


COVID-19: Implications for Animal Rights in China

With a recorded 793 deaths in Italy this past Saturday, it would be an understatement to say that the spread of COVID-19 has taken the world by surprise. In terms of its origins, although we do not know the exact source of the virus, what we do know is that it is highly likely that it came from a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan.

For the past 40 years, the trade of wildlife has played a prominent role in shaping China’s economic growth. Just as you would find a Boulangerie in Paris, there are over 100 wet markets estimated to exist in the Beijing province alone. At wet markets, one can find different cuts of meats, fresh fish, and even exotic animals. This ranges from frogs to crocodiles. They are a means for fresh food products. For others, they are a source of income. In this sense, wet markets have become a staple of daily life for many Chinese.

In the media, there has been a lot of inconsistent information following the COVID-19 outbreak, often confusing wet and wildlife markets. Different to wet markets, at wildlife markets one will find even more exotic and endangered animals such as peacocks, koalas, and monkeys. Wildlife markets are typically ‘dry’ with caged animals.

However, this does not mean that there will not be wet Amphibians there too. The issue is that, at some wet markets, you can also find animals you would typically find at a wildlife market. This was the case with the wet market in Wuhan where COVID-19 spread from. Naturally, this has created a lot of confusion in the media. Regardless of the differences, both types of markets pose great threats to endangered species and the public.

As more evidence began to surface, tying the spread of the disease with these markets, the Chinese government ultimately froze the sale and consumption of wild animals. In December, around 20,000 wildlife farms were shut down. Within the first two weeks of February, 700 arrests were made as individuals defied the new regulations. In response, on the 24th of February, the government implemented a permanent ban. These measures revealed the truth behind how big China’s wildlife industry truly is. For conservationists, it highlighted that their workload was even greater than they may have expected.

Within the animal rights community, the ban evoked a tremendous amount of concern that this would just drive the wildlife market underground. The emergence of black markets implies increased illegal activity. The nature of illegal trade means that the treatment and handling of the animals are even more ruthless, due to the urgency to move them along. Illegal poaching and capturing of animals is also a big red flag for wildlife conservationists as it threatens endangered populations.

Fortunately, most Chinese are still very cautious of consuming such wildlife owing to their fears of contracting COVID-19. This has meant that black markets essentially have had near to no use. Yet, as China moves towards lifting lockdowns, there is an unsettling undercurrent that things will slowly return to usual.

In this past week alone, there have already been a few wet markets springing back up across China. This demonstrates the absolute disregard for the severity of COVID-19 and its consequences. The mass deaths and crash of the global economy should be enough evidence that things need to change. Hence, we have a global responsibility to hold the Chinese government to account to adequately address the issues at hand.

Animal Rights Legislation in China

Currently, there is no nationwide legislation, which prohibits cruelty towards animals. Consequently, animals are left open to domestic and systematic abuse, with no repercussions for the perpetrators. For those individuals inclined to abuse animals, the lack of judicial punishment acts as an incentive for them. On a basic psychological level, if you could get away with doing something without punishment, you are much more inclined to do so. It sends out a nationwide message that animals have no individual worth, they are only defined by what humans want them to be.

That being said, it would be hypocritical for Western states to point the finger at China concerning their farming methods. When it was the West that created and spread the barbaric Factory Farming model. It is important to distinguish, that by no means do I contend that Western Farming models are any better. As someone who does not eat meat, I believe worldwide reform is needed.

However, the animal rights protections in place in the Western States do provide a slight safety net, which works to minimise the brutality of farming for meat. On a structural level, the lack of animal cruelty prevention policy in China allows for systematic abuse to go unmonitored and unpunished. For example, in the UK the Animal Welfare Act (2006) prohibits the unnecessary suffering of any animal. This means that within meat farming the workers have the duty of care entrusted into them to ensure that suffering is kept to the minimum. Something that does not exist in China.

Although the ultimate aim is to globally faze out mass meat farming. Until we reach that point, the regulation of it is imperative. A regulatory body could monitor the conditions the animals are kept in before slaughter. For example, making sure that animals have access to water and are not rotting in their own faecal matter. They can also set methods to ensure that the slaughter itself is done in the most painless way possible. Having something similar to the Animal Welfare Act in place in China would help reduce the unnecessary suffering and improve hygiene. Overall, this would limit potential risks for both animals and consumers.

The animal rights movement in China has been gaining more and more support over the past few years. The internet has been pivotal in exposing the extent of animal cruelty cases in China. When people upload videos or stories of animal cruelty online, the most alarming side is that without animal rights legislation, nothing can be done. The feeling of absolute helplessness has certainly fuelled animal activists inside and outside of China. There are a phenomenal number of people risking their lives daily to make a stand against animal cruelty.

In response to the COVID-19 tragedies, the State Council have agreed to a meeting in 2020 to ruminate Chinese wildlife policies and modify where necessary. As the State Council is the highest administrative body, this is a huge window of opportunity for animal rights activists and conservationists to finally see change. With such knowledge, in this period leading up to State Council meetings, we need to get behind these pressure groups and demonstrate our support. If there were a time for animal rights legislation to be enacted in China, it would be now.

According to the BBC, the Chinese region of Shenzhen has officially extended the wildlife ban to include dogs and cats. On May 1st the new law will be enforced. Such a change in legislation gives hope that official bodies are taking our concerns seriously. As China policy specialist for Humane Society International Dr Peter Li asserts: “This really could be a watershed moment in efforts to end this brutal trade that kills an estimated 10 million dogs and 4 million cats in China every year.” Hypothetically speaking, if every region in China were to do the same this would be a revolutionary moment in Chinese animal rights history.

The intention behind these changes may be based on protecting humans rather than animals. But beggars can’t be choosers. Any amendment that limits animal cruelty is better than nothing. It is a starting point at least. As the Humane Society International expresses, education is a key component in altering the treatment of animals in Asia. Such education can be made secondary to ensure that such bans are not lifted in the next few years.

In this post, I will outline the key areas for legal revision and how we can help make these changes happen from afar. I will be focusing primarily on Traditional Chinese Medicine and its offspring of problems.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Although China has been engaging in science-based medicinal practices for many years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has held its position amongst citizens as a popular method. So much so that it is even used in clinics and hospitals in conjunction with science-based methods. The UN predicts that on average $19 billion per annum is generated from the TCM market. Undoubtedly, the economic factor explains the fundamental reason why Xi Jinping has been so diligent in promoting TCM both inside and outside of China. Tai Chi, Herbal Products and Acupuncture are all examples of TCM you may have encountered in your local community. All seem pretty harmless, right?

In your local community perhaps, but in China, TCM is one of the biggest driving forces behind the need for wildlife and wet markets. The exotic animals or their body parts that are sold at these markets are believed to have healing qualities. For example, Seahorses are also commonly found at these markets, with the promise of male sexual virility. The National Geographic predicts that around 20 million seahorses are purchased a year for benefits promised by TCM.

Within the tradition, the more ‘wild’ the produce is, the more ‘powerful’ the attributes. This is one of the reasons why some Chinese will prefer to buy animals live from the markets. Once purchased, they can choose between taking them home to kill themselves or have them killed in front of them.

Undercover footage of these markets has exposed the dark reality for so many animals. Wet and wildlife markets make battery farming look like a walk in the park. There is no such thing as ‘free-range’ and hygiene is hardly a priority. Market sellers will openly butcher animals on the floor, leaving puddles of blood and faecal matter stagnant all day. This form of environment is psychologically taxing on the live animals present. As sentient beings, the animals can witness, sense and comprehend others being brutally killed around them. This undoubtedly causes immense fear.

Wet and wildlife markets are also rife for disease, as we have observed with COVID-19. Typically, the more ‘rare’ an animal is, the more likely it is to be disease-ridden. It is also more likely that the journey the exotic animal took to the market was disruptive and stressful. Due to the illegal nature of obtaining endangered species from the wild, the handling and transport of the animals are far from sensitive. The urgency to move these creatures on only amplifies the barbarism.

In terms of proposals of how to address these issues directly, wet and wildlife markets need to be made illicit for the protection of animals and humans. The Wildlife Protection Law is the core piece of legislation, which needs to be reviewed and amended. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) establish a similar position: “In the interests of biodiversity, public health and governance worldwide, China’s lawmakers must use this opportunity and the revision to the Wildlife Protection Law to permanently prohibit trade in the parts and products of threatened species for any purpose, including for the production of medicines and decorative items.”

Enacted in 1989, China’s Wildlife Protection Law justifies the use of wild animals for the benefit of humans. Subsequently, endangered animals legally became a commodity for human beings in China. Britannica stated in 2007 that there were a recorded 36 species of animals being used for TCM. An amendment was made in 2016, which extended this use of endangered animals for TCM. Such an amendment intensified the problem further, as National Geographic now report that the figure rose to 54 species.

The use of endangered animals has been the main impetus for of criticism TCM, not only from the animal rights community but conservationists too. In this sense, TCM acts as a direct threat to endangered species. Also, it is openly criticised by the medical community. Healthcare professionals across the globe argue that TCM’s efficiency is sorely lacking.

 Farming of endangered Species for TCM 

Besides wet and wildlife markets, TCM has also acted as the leading motivation behind the farming of endangered species in China. The State Council continually lifts bans that are in place to protect endangered wildlife. The Chinese government also supports the farming of endangered species through their promotion of TCM treatments. The fundamental problem with such farming is that it threatens endangered wildlife populations for a futile cause: The ennoblement of TCM.

Bear Farming

A recent example is the Chinese government’s promotion of ‘Tan Re Qing’ injections. Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating that there is no cure for COVID-19, the Chinese government have begun officially promoting the use of ‘Tan Re Qing’ injections. This particular injection contains bear bile. There is currently no evidence that bear bile is effective in curing COVID-19. Never-the-less, the National Health Commission of China published it as a recommended treatment for COVID-19.

Under the ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’, Asian Black Bears are protected from cross-border trade. Legally, only bile from farmed bears can be used for TCM, and subsequently, these recommended ‘Tan Re Qing’ injections. It is important to note, that Asian Black Bears are classified as an endangered species.

Although there are Asiatic Black Bear farms within China, the majority of them reside in North Korea, Laos and Vietnam. Accordingly, conservationists have flagged their concerns that such an announcement will drive the illegal bear bile trade. Following an investigation by National Geographic, they have been proven right. On the internet gangs are offering the sale of wild bear bile from North Korea, Laos and Vietnam with the promise of it being ‘purer’ and in its ‘wild form’. Hence, conservationists expect Bear poaching in these countries to surge. Therefore, this puts the wild Asian Black Bear population at high risk.

For animal rights activists the promotion of ‘Tan Re Qing’ injections is also a focal point of concern. Cruelty is imminent, whether the bears are farmed domestically or involved in illegal international trade. The bile is removed from the gallbladder using a syringe, pipe or catheter. The routine extraction process itself is extremely uncomfortable and even after the process, the bears often endure painful infections.

The living conditions of the majority of these captive bears are so abysmal, that without including the extraction process they are subject to cruelty. Many of the bears develop calluses and sores from ill-sized cages, which only perpetuate issues with infections.

The injection has been formally categorised under both TCM and Western medical recommendations, which is false information. Therefore, there will be inescapable suffering of bears with no official medical evidence to provide adequate reasoning. This epitomises the inefficacy of TCM and how animals are devaluated instantly through such practices. The messages that such practices illuminate, especially concerning endangered species are deeply worrying.

From a medical stance, recommending injections that contain bear bile without efficient evidence is also highly dangerous. As Animals Asia affirm, “pathology reports have shown that bile from sick bears is often contaminated with blood, pus, faeces, urine, bacteria and cancer cells.” Based on protecting humans and their wellbeing, the National Health Commission need to remove these injections as a recommendation. The ban on wildlife consumption is essentially contradictory if wildlife is still encouraged to be farmed for TCM.

Resultantly, the WHO has experienced an influx of complaints from activists, who are pressuring them to pull up the Chinese government and condemn their recent actions. Although alone you may feel that your voice will not be heard by the National Health Commission, as a collective it can be. We must exercise our political right to protest and place pressure international bodies such as the WHO to hold the National Health Commission to account.

Tiger Farming

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the government have allowed TCM to surpass their responsibility to protect endangered wildlife. The farming of Tigers for TCM has been a hot topic for the past two decades. International charities and NGO’s such as WWF, Born Free and EIA are key players in this constant battle against the Chinese government.

Enforced from 1975, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was created to protect endangered plants and animals. Regarding the protection of Tigers, Declaration 14.69 of the Treaty asserts: “Parties with intensive operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale shall implement measures to restrict the captive population to a level supportive only to conserving wild tigerstigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives.”

Although China is not the only country that farms Tigers, they are the only country consistently pressing for this section to be removed. China’s eagerness is based upon the use of Tigers in TCM. The first trace of the use of tiger bone medicine in China dates back to 500 A.D.

Within TCM, the Tiger is considered one of the most valuable animals in terms of its healing powers. For example, tiger bones are commonly ground down into powder form. This is then mixed into glue or wine, as a means to treat rheumatism. Their whiskers are even worn as ‘protective charms’ and their penis’ are used to make love potions. Despite it being criticised, the farming of tigers for TCM has become such a phenomenon, that there are currently more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild.

WWF has recorded that with around 3,900 left in the world, the Tiger is an endangered species. Besides their habitats being destroyed, poachers and climate change, captive and ‘Tiger Farms’ is recorded by WWF as their biggest threat. “Current estimates indicate that between 7,000 and 8,000 tigers are being held in more than 200 centres in East and Southeast Asia, with roughly three-quarters of these tigers located in China.”

The first Chinese tiger farm was a government-funded projection that started in 1986. The operation was a way of generating a profit by selling tiger bones for the TCM market. Since then, besides there is a growing number of tiger farms in China.

The current government-sanctioned farms set up by business people in China and neighbouring countries supposedly have the purpose of capping poaching in the wild. However, this has proven an extremely unsuccessful solution. Evidence denotes that the majority of these tigers are captured from the wild, treated cruelly and ultimately, their body parts are sold to the black market.

The tiger farming model has crossed borders and similar farms can now be found in countries such as Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Like any market, there are not just classic commercial farms. Some Chinese citizens have created their small zoos and there is an increasing amount of illegitimate ‘backyard’ set-ups. Regardless of whether these farms are commercially regulated or not, poor living conditions ultimately cause the animals psychological and physical pain.

Adhering to the international uproar, in 1993 China prohibited the domestic trade of rhino horns and tiger bones. Although such changes did not guarantee the complete protection of endangered species. They did symbolise that Chinese authorities were listening to, and respecting wildlife conservation concerns.

Despite this previous breakthrough, in 2018 it was replaced with an order that admitted the use of tiger bones and rhino horns for clinical treatment and medical research. The loophole created by the State Council is that such horns and bones can be used, as long as the animals are ‘farmed’ in China. Following wide scale backlash, Government Officials expressed that implementation of this new order would be delayed. However, it has still not been reversed. In fact, it is still listed as valid policy on the State Council’s website.

Since they lifted the ban, the number of Tiger Farms in China and neighbouring countries rocketed. Ironically, when legal tiger farming is booming, the illegal market also surges. The WWF states that: “The current scale of commercial captive breeding efforts within these farms is a significant obstacle to the recovery and protection of wild tiger populations because they perpetuate the demand for tiger products, serve as a cover for illegal trade and undermine enforcement efforts.”

Thus, the WWF is actively trying to engage with international governments with tiger farms to phase out this trade. Ultimately they hope to stop breeding for non-conservationist purposes. In terms of legislation review for the State Council, this 1993 ban evidently needs to be re-introduced to curb this cruel and exorbitant trade.

How you can help stop farming for TCM

In terms of how you can help eradicate tiger farms, there are three main options:

1. Support NGOs and Charities

You can donate to NGO’s and charities such as WWF, Born Free and EIA to help fund their projects. They use a mix of methods including research, investigatory missions and direct negotiations with East and South-East Asian governments.

If you cannot afford financially to donate, you can always assist them with voluntary work or setting up a fundraiser in your local area. Social Media is also a strong tool for spreading awareness. Any form of re-posting expands the content outreach and likeliness to generate financial and political support to these projects.

2. Exercise your political powers

The WWF and other animal advocate pages suggest that you should exercise your political freedoms and write a formal complaint. This could be writing to your local MP, Congressman and/or Prime Minister to place pressure on international governments to ensure that China complies with CITES. It is also important to mention in the letter that a ban on farming for TCM is crucial. It must be introduced in conjunction with the current wildlife market ban. In the letter, it is vital to stress the importance of protecting both wildlife and humans.

Many of these wildlife charity websites have templates of letters or petitions ready to sign. Alternatively, you could use social media to directly contact and pressure governmental bodies and figures.

3. Avoid animal attractions

It is important to note that when travelling in East and South-East Asia, ensure that you do not visit ‘Tiger Temples’ or engage with the handling of cubs. From research, The Dodo has discovered that most of these places are covers for tiger farming. The money generated from tourism assists in the maintenance cost of the tigers who will later be killed for TCM or the trade of trophy heads, and skins. They are also rife for illegal trade of wildlife, which goes hand in hand with animal abuse. Stay away from these tourist attractions and inform others to do so too.

African Animal Imports

In light of COVID-19, there has been a lot of attention to the variety of animals being sold at Chinese wildlife markets. A variety of animals, whose natural habitats’ stretch far beyond the continent of Asia. As the population sizes of endangered species rapidly decrease from poaching in Asia. Instead of acknowledging the threat for these endangered species. We witness China turning a blind eye to the issue by expanding its sphere of imports to Africa and South America. However, out of the two, it is Africa that has taken the brunt of this draining of wildlife.

An example can be the sale of Pangolins at wildlife markets in China. Despite them being critically endangered, they are still the most trafficked mammal in the world. Of the eight species of Pangolin, four can be found in Asia and four in Africa. Their scales are used in TCM and their meat is considered a delicacy. The Asian population of Pangolin is almost extinct. So China has become one of the biggest importers of African Pangolins in the world.

Here we can see how the Wildlife Protection Law teamed with the government’s promotion of TCM has intensified the demand for legal and illegal wildlife imports from Africa. What is vital to note, is that not everyone in China consumes or wants to consume such exotic wildlife. It is not a daily staple or necessity. It is purely a superfluous part of some peoples’ diets. Considering this factor, it makes no sense why China continues to act irresponsibly and ignore wildlife concerns from conservationists. For the simple sake of consuming exotic wildlife.

As discussed above, the reversal of the 1993 ban on using tiger bones and rhino horn had an overwhelming impact on Tiger Farming. Nevertheless, that did not mean that the demand for Rhinos did not also fluctuate when the ban was lifted. Comparatively, there is a greater focus on Tiger Farming in China because we find more Tiger Farms than we do Rhino Farms. Both geographically and financially, Tigers are much easier to access for Chinese farming.

The Asian Rhino population is on the brink of extinction. In particular, the Sumatran and Javan populations are at the greatest risk from poaching. According to WWF, there are fewer than 100 Sumatran Rhinos in the world. In 2015, they were declared extinct in Malaysia. There are even fewer Javan Rhinos than Sumatran left in the world. This means that unless farms are willing to pay extortionate prices for these almost extinct Rhinos, they must have them imported from Africa. Another option that is not cost-effective.

Despite Rhino Farming being more difficult to sustain than Tiger Farming in China, unfortunately, it still exists. As long as there is a wealthy population in China, willing to pay top dollar for rhino horn, a market will continue to exist. The lift of the ban only encouraged it more.

The rhino horn has been used in TCM for centuries, with the belief that it treats a series of illnesses from hallucinations to possession by spirits. As ‘Save the Rhino’ emphasise: “Legitimising the use of rhino horn in TCM will likely increase the number of people wishing to use rhino horn.” Since 2018, the rhino horn has become such a commodity for the Chinese elite, that it is even being used in powdered form as a party drug.

Unfortunately, it is not only the elite desiring to reap the ‘benefits’ of rhino horn. The average person also wants to benefit from TCM’s promises of using rhino horn powder. Due to this rise in demand, the illegal trafficking of Rhinos and their horns have also flown up. The financial element is the leading incentive for wildlife traffickers, as a rhino horn can fetch up to $60,000 per KG.

Research conducted by the charity ‘Save the Rhino’ showed that there were a lot of grey areas in terms of China’s honesty regarding Southern White Rhino imports. For example, the figures recorded by China, of how many live Southern white rhinos were exported from South Africa to China between the years 2000-2016, are completely different from the figures recorded by South Africa. Under the destination category: ‘Breeding in captivity or artificial propagation’, China had recorded 35 White Rhinos. Whereas, South Africa had recorded 111.

The table shows how many Southern White Rhino imports between 2000-2016, were documented by China and South Africa.

Such gaps in the data are worrying as it makes it almost impossible to track the location of these animals. The lack of traceability leaves animal activists fearful that they could be subject to extreme abuse. Falsified documents could also imply that the illegal animal trafficking market is booming in China. Something which many conservationists have suspected.

The drive behind the illegal trafficking of animals from Africa into China, predominantly come from the demands from animal entertainment, TCM, and Trophy markets. All of which equates to a life of misery and suffering for these animals. Once the animals are inside China, it quickly becomes difficult to keep on top of their whereabouts and hold people to account, when there is no legal framework against animal cruelty.

Elephants are one of the most trafficked animals in China based on animal entertainment. Preferably taken as babies, they are removed from their mothers in the wild and imported to China, where they will undergo ‘spirit breaking’. Such brutal training allows them to be used in circuses, zoos and attractions, such as elephant rides. The extent of animal cruelty taken to tame an elephant is agonising to watch.

The Independent reported in 2018: “In the past two years, China is believed to have imported more than 80 live Asian elephants from Laos and almost 100 juvenile African elephants from Zimbabwe. Imports from Zimbabwe are legal, as the animals do not have the same protected status.”

However, as we can see from the White Rhino importation case, how can we be sure there were not more elephants imported? Secondly, was the true destination of all of these elephants the animal entertainment industry or were some sold for Ivory? The sad reality is that we do not know. What we can be certain about, is that mass importation of elephants is directly affecting the wild population figures negatively, which goes against international Treaties such as CITES.


Concerning solutions, there are three key options:

1. State Sanctions

International states should be condemned for their irresponsible interactions with China. By putting pressure onto international bodies to sanction states that continue to sell endangered animals to China, we may be able to slow down the negative effects on wildlife populations. Considering that one of the greatest sources of poaching threats for endangered species comes from China. Hypothetically speaking, if no states decide to trade wildlife with China, then this will take a monumental strain off of the wild populations. Undoubtedly, there are still other sources of threat. But narrowing the scope of threats will be beneficial. 

As mentioned earlier in this post, this can be done through writing or contacting governmental officials by hand or via social media. Protesting and sharing content online are also strong ways of spreading awareness and gaining the attention of states.

2. Legal Revisions for State Council of China

As TCM is one of the biggest motivations behind importing endangered animals, it makes the most sense to push for the Wildlife Protection Law to be amended. If TCM is removed as a justification for farming animals. Then there should be no need to have more imported. It is also important to focus on permanently enacting the wildlife ban for consumption. So that when the Corona craze eventually blows over, China cannot revert this ban and use consumption of wildlife as a justification for importing endangered species. To do so would be trivial.

The implementation of a legal framework to protect animals against cruelty is vital for China. Conjecturally speaking, if every country cut China off in terms of wildlife trade. Unfortunately, there would still be a large number of animals within captivity that could be bred or have been bred. Accordingly, by introducing a basic Animal Rights Act and an official body to monitor this, we can aim to minimise the extent of abuse that these animals are exposed to in China. We cannot remove the endangered animals from China, but we can push to see them receive better protections.

3. Boycott Animal Entertainment

Just as it was mentioned above for Tiger Farming, when you are travelling in East and South-East Asia, you mustn’t interact with zoos, circuses or elephant rides. The more people stop engaging with such cruelty traps, the fewer animals will be needed to be imported for animal entertainment purposes. Share videos on social media, which expose the cruelty that goes on behind the flashing lights. Spread awareness where possible and encourage others not to associate with such markets. Education is key.

Berlin Exhibition Review: ‘Love’ by Ren Hang

For the first time, the works of late Chinese photographer and poet Ren Hang are currently exhibited at C/O Berlin until the 29th of February 2020. Myself like many others of Hang’s fans only became familiar with his work after his passing in 2017. 

The artist took his own life on the 23rd of February by jumping from a building. However, the tragic event did not come completely unexpected. Hang had been frequently posting on his blog named ‘My Depression’. There he documented his long-term struggle with mental health issues and would use poetry as a form of expression.

At the time of his death, his works were displayed at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam. ‘Naked/Nude’ was Hang’s first solo museum show and was extremely well received. As the sad news arrived before the show had finished, the last few weeks of the show transformed Foam into a shrine. Hang’s featured photos mimicked death notes and the exhibition quickly became a place where people could pay their respects to Hang. 

The current exhibition at C/O Berlin serves a similar purpose. Not only does ‘Love’ present Hang’s latest collection of photos and poetry, but it also pays homage to his meaningful and inspiring life with a short documentary. It tackles issues from queer identity to censorship in China. In this sense, the exhibition is not only thoroughly entertaining because of the high calibre of artistic pieces, but more importantly what they represent and the stories behind them.


Working with only his 35mm point and shoot camera, Ren Hang took a very spontaneous and organic approach to his photography. So much so that his photography career developed unexpectedly out of boredom. He was discontent with studying Marketing and decided to start photography as a past time. In the short documentary Hang explained that he never plans a photoshoot. Instead whenever he has an idea he just simply shoots.

Hang enjoyed using animals and nature to make reference to and/or recreate classic Western artworks. This is what he is most notorious for, bringing traditional artworks back to life with a modern twist. Ophelia is one of the famous paintings, which Hang replicated with one of his models floating in a lily-pond. Hang’s ability to merge both old and new is what helped him to become one of the most sought after photographers of our time.

All the models featured in his photos are close friends, with whom he believes he understands and can connect with. Often he was contacted by fans who wanted to be photographed by him. As he tells us in the documentary, he would require a meeting first to meet with them and see if the vibe was right before working together.

This connection is imperative he clarified because he would ask a lot of the models. Often they are requested to contort their naked bodies into abstract shapes. His style was extremely experimental; the models were regularly asked to work within nature or with animals. Hence, the relationship between photographer and model needs to be strong for the photos to come out authentically adroit.


In China, Porn is completely forbidden. Due to the provocative nature of Hang’s photography, he constantly battled against the Chinese authorities. They regarded his photography as abhorrent. Public exposure is also a serious crime, so Hang was often chased by the police whilst shooting the models nude in public spaces.

On the morning of some shows, he would be informed that he was not allowed to display certain photos due to their offensive nature. In the short film, Hang tells the camera how it was common for most of his shows to be shut down by the third day. Sometimes his photographs would come back from shows having been spat on. Considering how well received he was and continues to be in the Western art sphere, it is an absolute shame that he is no longer here to see that his struggle was worth while.

Despite Hang’s negative experience with the Chinese authorities, his commitment to not backing down to them is inspirational. All it takes is one person to stand up to such an oppressive regime for a movement to begin. He is an exemplary figurehead for many other aspiring Chinese artists. His legacy will ensure many others dream fearlessly.

A proud freedom fighter, Hang strongly stated his position during the short film: “People ask why I take on China’s taboo? Why doesn’t China’s taboo take me on?” Hang never let the regime stop him fulfilling his passion even if it left him wide open to risk.

Despite Hang being ‘out’ things are way more complicated than that. From ‘Love’, I also learnt a lot about what it is like to be a queer individual living in China. Moreover, I had a lot of time to reflect on the sacrifices that creatives have to make in China and how fortunate we are in the West in comparison.

Hang’s occupation had to be kept very low-key not only because of his sexuality, but also because his family had no idea about his work. He said he was unsure whether it would be received well or not by them. This is not uncommon practice for Chinese creatives and often we see them living double lives in fear of being rejected by their families.

The truths about what it is for young people growing up in China; especially those of the queer community, was pretty depressing to learn about. However, it is a good chance to reflect on our own freedoms and remind ourselves that not everyone is as free as we are. By supporting artists from oppressive or restricted states, we give them a chance to come to West and express themselves freely. It also provides them with support for when they return to their country and continue their battles.

On the basis of the high calibre of photography and the insightful education I took away about what is it like for young creatives in China there is no way that I could not recommend this exhibition. You can find out more information here on the C/O website:


Once a woman, always a woman.

A critique of the social and political importance of Playboy’s latest Equality Issue.


Last month, Playboy Magazine released its Equality Issue: ‘Once a Playmate, always a Playmate’. The Issue was photographed by the artistic genius Nadia Lee Cohen. Over the years almost 800 women have been awarded the title of ‘Playmate’. Only five were selected to be featured.

This included: Victoria Valentino (77 years old), Candace Collins (65 years old), Renee Tenison (51 years), Brande Roderick (45 years) and Rachel Pomplun (32 years old). 

Initially, I was interested in the piece, as I am a big fan of Cohen’s photography. As a publication, I am not an advocate for Playboy magazine. I find it outdated and misogynistic. However, as I began to read more about the ethos behind the issue, I found myself considering the social and political implications of it.

As Jamilah Lemieux reports, the issue aims to promote the message that “all bodies are worthy of public reverence”. Such a view aligns with my own and so I took it on myself to look further into Playboy’s new project.

In this post, I will be engaging with academic Feminist Theory, which is outlined in Toni Calasanti’s Ageism and Feminism: From “Et Cetera” to Center (2006). I will use some of the core theories that it covers to illustrate the importance of the Equality Issue. I will also use this text to highlight the potential problems with such an issue from an academic Feminist perspective.


Ageism as a social problem

Since Marilyn Monroe’s first Playboy appearance as ‘Sweetheart of the Month’ in 1953, how the world thinks about female nudity has drastically evolved. Lemieux points towards the social construction of ‘sex positivity’, whereby many young women are leaning towards thinking of bodily autonomy to mean “having the right to enjoy and participate in what was once written off as objectification”. However, such a form of female empowerment often excludes older women.

Instead, within society there exists an inevitable view that old women’s bodies are unattractive. Naturally, there are exceptions. However, it is common to find that those older women who are considered ‘attractive’, have managed to maintain a ‘youthful’ look or look younger than they are.

Laws (1995) highlights that ‘cultural imperialism’ allows for old people to be subject to neglect and mistreatment both economically and socially. This can be exemplified by the “emphasis on youth and vitality that undermines the positive contributions of older people”.

Often age is perceived as a social contagion (Slevin 2006), which older people avoid by investing money and time into themselves to look younger. Alternatively, they may choose to continue to socialise with a younger crowd or date younger people to escape the reality that they are ageing.

As Ruddick (1999) explains, “successful ageing assumes a “feminine” aspect in the ideal that the good, elderly woman be healthy, slim, discreetly sexy, and independent”. Those who choose not to engage in methods of youth preservation are often thought of as lazy or ‘letting themselves go’. There is a heavy emphasis on personal failure when one fails to do so. Society makes women feel both fearful and guilty for allowing the failure to occur. Such rhetorics are aimed predominantly towards women after having children.

The beauty industry is a prime example of where older people are subject to such cultural imperialism. For women especially, the beauty market’s emphasis on maintaining youth with expensive wrinkle creams, serums, etc. demonstrates how older women or ageing women are subject to economic manipulation. So much money can be made through the insecurities of ageing or older women. These insecurities are manifested through cultural imperialism.

All in all, it is sufficient to say that there is little positivity within our social constructions concerning old age.


Ageism as an academic problem

Too often the focus on the theme of ‘Ageing Bodies’ applies only to young women and those transitioning into their middle-aged years. Cheryl Laz (2003) affirms that despite the extensive work feminist scholars have paid to ageing bodies, the discussion of old bodies is ‘sorely lacking’. This is because women of the ‘Fourth Age’; post-middle-aged, are commonly disregarded completely. Such exclusion in the discussion leads to these women’s political and social empowerment being stumped.

In Barbara Brook’s ‘Feminist Perspectives on the Body’ (1999), she draws attention to what she deems as ‘neglect’ of women’s bodies once they have reached menopause. She upholds that once women have started this biological change they are often paid no attention in the feminist discussion of women’s ‘Ageing Bodies’. This is problematic as women do not cease to be women once they begin menopause.

Toni Calasanti, Kathleen F. Slevin and Neal King (2006) contend with Brook that one of the biggest issues with many feminists is that they often treat age-based oppression as “a given – an et cetera as if to indicate that we already know what it is”. Instead, the majority of feminists lend most of their attention to the ‘ageing’ rather than the old. Such common practice within feminist studies is far too reductionist and has big consequences socially and academically.

According to the NHS, in the UK the average age of menopause onset is 51. For the sake of this post, we will think of middle-aged women to be between 45 and 65 years old. Therefore, this implies that on average, the majority of middle-aged women are also neglected from feminist discourse.

Accordingly, this means that there are two fundamental groups of women, who are commonly overlooked in feminist studies. Those belonging to both the Middle Age and the Fourth Age. In response, Calasanti, Slevin, and King (2006) reinforce the message that “age categories have real consequences, and bodies – old bodies – matter”.

Exclusion of older women in academia inhibits old age to be regarded and used effectively as a political location. In turn, this manifests as a loss of authority or autonomy for many older women. Politicians lend their attention to younger women through the pressure created via feminist studies, often forgetting about older women altogether. The scholarship of Feminism tends to suffer too.

How the Equality Issue tackles these problems

Applying this social and academic neglect to the Playboy Equality Issue, it can be argued that the Issue is actively engaging in standing up to both problems.

In terms of the social problem, the Issue unapologetically takes a stand against the social construction that older women’s bodies are unattractive. Displaying older women’s naked bodies is undeniably a form of protest.

Along with protest, it is also an attempt to transform this social mentality. The words of 65-year-old ex-playmate Candace Collins Jordan seem to echo those of Calasanti, Slevin, and King. Her motivations to be involved in such an issue are mainly “to show women that beauty and sexuality have no limits.” On the basis of this, the Issue is much more conceptual than just nude photography

Exposure is one way in which fears or dislikes can be reduced. This publication is a start at normalising older women’s naked bodies. Over time such a publication may help to change the mass opinion, especially if other similar magazines take this Playboy Issue as an inspiration.

Secondly, most featured Playmates are usually between 20-30 years old. Hence, allowing older women to take centre stage creates a platform within the media where other older women feel represented and respected. The loss of power, which many older women experience through ageing is regained in this Issue by putting them in an esteemed position.

Whether the majority of the public dislikes the publication or not, for Playboy to choose to celebrate these older women is a big enough statement. Playboy is standing up for older women and asserting their position on the issue.


Taking a closer look at the women involved in the Issue and the communities they represent, Victoria Valentino (77 years old) and Candace Collins (65 years old) both fall under the Fourth Age group. As for Renee Tenison (51 years old), there is be a strong possibility that she has or is experiencing menopause. Therefore, we could assume that she falls under the category of neglected women which Brook discusses in her book ‘Feminist Perspectives on the Body’ (1999).

Based on this, more than half of the women included in the Issue are figureheads of two groups commonly overlooked in academic Feminist studies.

In terms of tackling the academic exclusion of older women, although the Issue does not directly engage with such Feminist scholars, it does bring the attention of them to older women and their bodies.

A change from a publication as internationally notorious as Playboy has and will continue to draw a lot of attention to the issue of representation of older women. Such media attention opens the topic up to public debate. In turn, public debate will place pressure upon Feminist scholars to reconsider their focus.

Moreover, if we are to take the arguments of Brook and Laz into account, that Feminist attention to the bodies of women past menopause is sorely lacking. Although Playboy is far from a Feminist academic institution and has no direct influence over it. Using its public platform to broadcast the voices and images of women from two academically neglected categories, gives them a chance to be heard elsewhere.

In this way, old age is rebuilt as a political location, which counteracts the problem of ageism in the academic Feminist field.

Issues with the Equality Issue

Despite the Equality Issue having strong symbolic importance, naturally due to the nature of the publication there are inevitable issues.

Within Feminist Theory, the ‘Male Gaze’ denotes the depiction of women in the world through a masculine and heterosexual perspective. Often women are presented through this gaze as passive, sexual objects, which men are welcomed to look at.

Firstly, it is important to note that just because Playboy has released an Equality Issue, it does not mean that we should rush to glorifying the magazine. In terms of ethics, the damage which such a publication has created in terms of perpetuating the issue of the ‘Male Gaze’ is not reversed from one equality-based Issue. Whether these women are older or not, it still presents them through the lens of the ‘Male Gaze’, which remains sexist and outdated.

The fundamental problem is that those women who are representatives of the Middle and Fourth Age communities in the Equality Issue are also subject to what Julia Twigg (2004) describes as the ‘Gaze of Youth’. Akin to the Male Gaze, it restricts an older woman’s attractiveness to how youthful she appears. When we begin to judge the attractiveness of a woman based on such factors, Twigg argues that this is a form of inequality. Therefore, in some ways, this Issue is continuing the cycle of inequality.

Betty Frieden (1993) also points out that although “reporting on women who have aged “successfully” might help negate ageist stereotypes of old women as useless or unhappy”. It remains problematic in that it reinforces these middle-aged standards. Therefore, it is inherently ageist. Playboy’s Equality Issue is celebrating how youthful and feminine these women still look, despite their age. There is a very strong emphasis on the ‘despite’ part.

The consequences of such an Issue, which features women who have been involved in cosmetic procedures also acts as a promotion for engagement in these toxic beauty markets. As discussed earlier, these beauty markets profit from the insecurities of women, which are brought on by existing negative societal preconceptions about older women. Although this Issue strives to promote equality, instead it perpetuates the cycle of inequality.

Nonetheless, on the positive it is important to highlight that this Issue brings the question and problem of Ageism to the table. It has and will continue to create a platform for such political and social issues to be discussed further. Let’s see if this will be just another marketing stunt by Playboy or if they are truly committed to promoting equality.

‘Body Performance’ outperformed expectations.

A review of the Helmut Newton Foundation’s latest photography exhibition.

Since its opening in 2004, the Helmut Newton Foundation in Charlottenburg has been largely successful amongst those passionate about photography. At the end of November, I was invited as an employee of Œ Magazine to the opening of the newest exhibition ‘Body Performance’.

The name of the exhibition is self-explanatory. It hosts a collection of photographic works, which incorporate the themes of the human body and performance. The body aspect focuses particularly on the human form and how it interacts with the camera. This includes both choreographed and spontaneous situations.

In terms of the second theme, the Helmut Newton Foundation states, that performance is brought to life by the documentation of “performance art, dance, and other staged events.” As you can see below, Robert Longo’s photo ‘Men in the Cities‘ is an exemplary collection piece of the fusion of the two themes of ‘Body’ and ‘Performance’.

Robert Longo
Men in the Cities, New York, 1976/1982
© Robert Longo, courtesy Schirmer / Mosel Verlag

The exhibition boasts an impressive list of featured photographers, who have all taken unique approaches to successfully encapsulate both themes. However, there were two photographers who were particularly memorable. One of those being Viviane Sassen.

Not only did Sassen push boundaries in terms of choreographing her models to present themselves in the most experimental and extreme contortions. She also aptly introduced colourful ink into her images.

The immersion of colour ink into her photography, allows Sassen to amplify the theme of Performance. The inks natural flow recreates its own path on the body, sometimes contorting itself within and outside of the body framework. In this sense, there are multiple waves of movement within one image. There are multiple performances.

As a former model, Sassen believes her ability to understand both sides of photographic performance supports her in challenging spectators. She aims to challenge through removing conventional artistic limits, which she names ‘above’ and ‘below’. From what I observed, this removal of limits can be depicted through her use of colour ink. In fact, in some photos there is a complete obliteration of these boundaries altogether.

Viviane Sassen
Untitled from Roxane II, 040, 2017
© Viviane Sassen, courtesy Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town

Another personal favourite of the exhibition was the work of Barbara Probst. Her refreshing take on fashion photography is indefinitely ingenious. At first glance, Barbara’s collections of photos appear to be completely unrelated. However, as I began to look closer, I realised that in most photos there was an analogous object linking them together. For example, glimpses of the same blue suit jacket or white vinyl boot.

Probst has cleverly developed a technique, whereby several cameras arranged in various angles will photograph the exact same moment. The images are then usually displayed in diptychs or triptychs; as can be seen in the image below. Such a photographic style resonates with the feeling of deja-vu and ultimately expresses the message that reality is much more complex than it may seem.

Barbara’s fashion photography seems to encapsulate something, which I feel so many fashion editorials are missing: Reality. Within the fashion world, instead of focusing on creating the ‘perfect’ image, maybe it might be more effective to create the most realistic set of images. Bringing the model and clothes to life. I would be interested to see how this style of photography would manifest for leading fashion publications such as Œ, Indie or Wonderland.

Exposure #129, Munich Nederlingerstraße 68, 2017,
08.11.2017, 6:02 pm,
© Barbara Probst, VG Bild-Kunst, courtesy Galerie Kuckei + Kuckei

The popularity of Body Performance, akin to other exhibitions hosted at the Helmut Newton Foundation; comes at no surprise. Newton was and continues to be one of the most prominent photographers of all time. Whilst there, I was also able to access the permanent exhibition ‘Helmut Newton’s Private Property’, which is included in the ticket price.

Commonly referred to as a master of provocative photography, the Berlin-born photographer revolutionised the way in which nudity was perceived in the world of fashion. Whether Newton chose to clad women in latex or lingerie, his photography always exceeded trashiness.

Newton’s collection of black and white photos embody the glamour and poise of Bond girls. Yet, they never fail to ooze overt sexiness. Throughout his career, he photographed some of the most iconic women of film and fashion, including Elizabeth Taylor and Jerry Hall. As part of the exhibition, you are able to read through personal letters from the famous women he photographed, praising him for his commendable work ethic. In fact, there is even a letter from Margaret Thatcher’s office. If that does not epitomises the wide influence of Newton’s work, then I’m not sure what else does.

Helmut Newton Ballet de Monte Carlo, 1992
© Helmut Newton Estate

Being able to leisurely browse through Newton’s most public and most private photos before and after was the perfect Amuse-bouche and Digestif to the exhibition. Both during and afterward, I was able to deeply reflect on the evolution of nude photography. Even more importantly, I was able to gain insight into how much the exhibited photographers had taken inspiration from or been influenced by Newton’s work.

In this sense, I must congratulate the Helmut Newton Foundation for not only hosting a brilliantly innovative new exhibition. But for also intelligently setting up two exhibitions which complement each other and can be viewed interchangeably for artistic reflection.

If you are in town I would certainly recommend visiting. The exhibition will remain at the Helmut Newton Foundation until 10th May 2020. You can find out more information by visiting their website:

Couture over good character: The sad reality of voting behaviours.

Just over a week ago, Boris Johnson and the leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn came head to head in the Election Debate, which was aired on BBC1. During the debate, 6.7 million tuned in to see the two wrangle with one another about pivotal issues such as Brexit, the NHS and ‘Trust’.

Yet, what I am still struggling to comprehend with is how focused so many of the British Twitter public were on Corbyn’s ‘wonky glasses’, rather than what he had to say.

After studying Politics at school and university, I seem to be unable to recall learning about the importance of the brand of suit an MP chooses to wear or the axis that their glasses sit upon their nose. Undoubtedly, we examined the role of presentability and personality in terms of electoral popularity. But such minor details would have been considered irrelevant and indeed they should be.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Corbyn has been bashed for his material appearance. Since becoming the leader of the Labour Party in 2015, he has been slandered across British tabloids and even mocked by David Cameron at PMQs, being told to ‘put on a proper suit’.

As an avid Labour supporter, I will admit that I was relieved to see that Corbyn has been increasingly making more effort to appear more ‘presentable’ over the past four years. However, that is not because I believe that the academic and emotional capability of a person depends upon what they wear or how they look. Yet I do understand that as humans we judge firstly with our eyes. We want the leader of our nation to be respected and taken seriously in the sphere of Global Affairs. Accordingly, he should try his best to be as presentable as possible.

Therefore, I hoped that through conforming to these somewhat shallow expectations, donning his new crisp M&S suit, that Corbyn would finally have the chance to project his honest and astute visions for a better Britain. Much to my discontent, this has not been the case. The focus just turned from the suit to his tie, from the tie to his glasses.

Like bullies at school, there will always be something which the media can scratch away at. The ‘neutral’ and ‘informative’ BBC even edited a photo of Corbyn placing him in a Kremlin skyline. Now would they do that with Johnson and a nazi concentration camp, despite some of his hard core racist and homophobic comments? I highly doubt it…

I remember having a conversation with my dad about why he is so adamant about not voting for Labour, despite his working-class roots and foreign heritage. The argument he fixated on was that Corbyn ‘does not know how to wear a tie properly’. The best part of that conversation was that whilst he was passionately complaining about how scruffy Corbyn is, he was sat in his pick-up truck modelling muddy tracksuit bottoms and a Primark hoodie. Ironic some might say…

Naturally, I leapt to Corbyn’s defence illuminating that policy and ideas should be at the core of our voting choices, not how someone looks. I urged him to reflect on the idea that although in some sectors of work having piercings may be frowned upon, in reality, it does not affect someone’s capability to complete their job just as well as their colleagues.

Attempting to personalise my argument, I pointed at my father’s muddy tracksuits. “Does that mean that you are not an intelligent person able to complete your job properly, because of a splash of mud?”. To which he replied: “I am not a politician. I am not trying to be elected as the leader of the UK”.

In light of this comment, I think it vital to focus on the actual ‘job’ of a politician. Stripping it back to the basic principles, living within a Representative Democracy, a politician’s essential role is to represent the masses.

If anything, considering that the latest statistics reveal that the UK average annual income is £28,677, why should we expect our representatives to be parading top tier suits and designer glasses? I would have assumed that a politician such as Corbyn who refuses to claim taxes for material possessions would be popular amongst the masses. But he still isn’t…

The conversation with my father, the endless bully-like tabloid insults and the Twitter backlash all directed at Corbyn’s appearance left me pondering why exactly is it that Mr. Johnson is exempt from such scrutiny? Maybe it is because however much Johnson needs a better barnet, his suits cost more than my monthly income. Money talks they say.

Politics should be about representing the ideas and needs of the population. Standing up for those people, protecting their rights and fighting to get them the best outcomes they possibly can.

As Naga Munchetty aptly highlighted during her interview with Johnson, if he is unable to give just one reason why he is ‘relatable’ to the British public, then why would someone vote for him? If at the heart of everything his job is to represent the people and he is incapable of even pretending to be able to do so then what hope do we have.

With just under two weeks left until the General Election, I ask you to consider your real reasons for not voting for Labour. If it revolves around how Corbyn looks or you fear how he will be perceived abroad, then also question why this does not apply to Johnson?

It reminds me of when rich people wear the most extravagant outfits and no one says a word because it cost telephone numbers. Yet, when local Larry is parading the high street with a pigeon on his head and something similar to what we see on the catwalks, people will laugh and call him crazy. People seem to never challenge money.

As a Brit living in Berlin, I can sadly confirm that we have become a laughing stock in Europe and Johnson plays the protagonist in this Tragicomedy. Rightly so they laugh at the blonde mop of hair on his head and the eccentric uncle persona he projects.

This 12th December, make sure that ‘wonky glasses’ are not your reason for voting for a stand-up, relatable politician who really cares about the people. If politics was purely about appearance then Mr. Johnson should certainly not be in power…