by Claire L. Heuchan  

It’s that time of year again: #TheTrashies are back and better than ever – or worse, depending on your perspective. In the last twelve months, the mainstream media have produced a relentless cycle of Islamaphobia, racist rhetoric, Othering, colourism, and xenophobia. Some articles have been carefully composed to dehumanise people of colour. Others are simply the product of lazy writing, white people falling back on tired old racialised tropes without ever pausing to critically examine the white gaze before submitting their articles. Most puzzling are the articles on the realities of race and identity written by white people who understand the significance of these concepts no more than a shoelace understands string theory: they just don’t get it, and they never will. From overt bigotry to covert reminders that brown people don’t really belong in white society, the Trashies have got it all. Here are some of our nominees. Proceed with caution – extreme eye-rolling guaranteed.

Writing for the Telegraph, Julia Hartley-Brewer puts racism in scare quotes, as though to suggest it has no more bearing on our lives than the Bogeyman, before going on to differentiate between “ordinary Britons” (read: white) and the “huge influx” of migrants. As the Sun are kind enough to remind us on a regular basis, migrants have “stolen all our jobs” – so decent of their writers to produce that headline pro bono. Incidentally, Hartley-Brewer has received another nomination for her thinly-veiled misogynoir, using her piece on participating in a feminist panel to put down 17-year-old activist June Eric Udorie. Because using your platform with a national newspaper to go after a young Black woman is sisterhood in action…

TrashiesnominationThe Mirror’s Steve Robson utilises racially coded language to imply that Jermaine Baker deserved to be shot dead by the police. Humanising anecdotes and redemptive quotes from loved ones are, apparently, reserved for white criminals. Brendan O’Neill provides a masterclass in white obliviousness with his Spectator blog claiming that to critique colourism is to reproduce the “old politics of racism”. Paradoxically, he presents himself as championing the rights of lighter-skinned Black people whilst rubbishing the anti-racist politics that will bring us liberation.

It wouldn’t be the Trashies without Islamophobia. The Sun decided to misrepresent data in the name of journalistic integrity with the headline “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ Sympathy for Jihadis”. Unsurprisingly, Katie Hopkins is also a nominee for the Trashies. Hopkins claims that “Muslim men have NO respect for white women – or the cultures of the countries they are invading”, going with the classic trope of barbarian men coming to put their brown hands on pure, innocent white women.

It is not only the usual suspects – right-wing publications and tabloid newspapers – that are guilty. The Guardian, beloved of liberals and left-wingers alike, has accumulated quite a few Trashies nominations for its articles. Reluctance to commission writers of colour invariably results in warped representation for people of colour. Take, for example, the Guardian’s coverage of Beyoncé’s single Formation and her subsequent Superbowl performance.

I personally nominate every post-Superbowl think-piece on Beyoncé and Blackness written by a white journalist, and the Guardian is responsible for more than its fair share. Suzanne Moore, Barbara Ellen, and Jessica Elgot had nothing to say about Black identity that a Black woman could not have expressed better. None have written about Sarah Reed, a British Black woman who died under suspicious circumstances in police custody, but all three took the opportunity to write about Black culture. Their commentaries lacked any real insight into the lived realities of Black people. None of them touched upon how powerful it felt to be a Black person and see Bey delighting in our skin, our features, our natural hair – all of which are turned into sources of shame, inalienable proof of our Otherness, in a white supremacist society. How can the politics of Black self-love, of Black liberation, be explored through the white gaze? In contrast, Syreeta McFadden’s analysis of Formation nailed it. She articulated the collective Black joy Beyoncé catalysed with this song, the political significance of its video, with such detail that only an insider could provide. It is deeply telling that the Guardian paid three white women to write about Beyoncé’s Superbowl performance – by all accounts, a celebration of Blackness and Black activism – whilst commissioning a single Black woman to critically explore the music video.

And then Hadley Freeman waded in on the colourism behind casting Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. Though her article was devoid of Brendan O’Neill’s cavalier racism, it demonstrated an altogether more insidious form of white entitlement. Without a trace of irony, Freeman asserts that “The real problem isn’t who’s in front of the camera but who’s behind it”. The real problem isn’t the subject of the story but who’s writing it, Hadley. Just as Zoe Saldana should not have taken on the role of Nina Simone, Hadley Freeman should not have written that article.

The Guardian should be paying Black women to write about Black women’s stories. Freeman – like Moore, Ellen, and Elgot – should have turned the Guardian down and told them so. Having greatly admired Suzanne Moore and Hadley Freeman for their feminist writing, to me it is especially disappointing that neither of them followed through with the principles. Paying white journalists to write these stories sends the message that even on the subject of Blackness – of which they have no experience, and can only ever view through the distorted lens of the white gaze – the perspective of white writers is more worthwhile than that of their Black counterparts.

The crass racism of the Sun and the Mail, the pseudo-intellectual racism of the Spectator and the Telegraph, and even the subtle, pervasive racism of the Guardian must all be acknowledged, the racism of mainstream media critiqued. If we do not question it, challenge it, and fight to write our own stories, that institutional racism will continue – business as usual. This is where the Trashies come in handy. As Audre Lorde said, “your silence will not protect you.” So get nominating.

Click on the photo to the left to nominate trashies2016on twitter or go to Instagram. Use the hashtag #TheTrashies. Further instructions here. Voting begins on the 19th March. Winners announced on 1st April. Click here to watch #TheTrashies Award ceremony 2015.

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 Claire Heuchan is a Black radical feminist from Scotland. She graduated in Politics and Journalism from the University of Stirling, where she is presently working towards an MLitt in Gender Studies. Both professionally and personally, Claire is committed to mapping the intersection between race and sex. Claire is a volunteer with Glasgow Women’s Library and blogs as Sister Outrider. Tweet her @ClaireShrugged

UPDATE 20/03/2106 Voting #TheTrashies 2016 is now live!


9 thoughts on “#TheTrashies: Decolonising the White Gaze

  1. I have never liked Hadley Freeman since I stumbled upon an interview she did on (what used to be) one of my favourite podcasts. She essentially said that ‘black women should stop complaining, what’s there to complain about?’. She’s been dead to me since then.


  2. “None have written about Sarah Reed, a British Black woman who died under suspicious circumstances in police custody, but all three took the opportunity to write about Black culture.”

    I’m finding hard to negotiate this logic. Are you saying you can earn the right to write about Black culture if you write about other Black issues? Hadley Freeman can’t hand over her regular column to a Black writer – so should she not talk about it because Frances Acquaah had already written about it for the Guardian?


      1. It is improper to be only interested in writing about injustice to black women when you can illustrate it with Beyoncé’s thighs or Zoe Saldana’s cheekbones. The Guardian should be employing more black writers and this needs to be pointed out, and often, but I’d say in Freeman’s case, as she mostly writes a pop culture column, it seems like a big hammer for a small nut.


  3. Incidentally, Hartley-Brewer has received another nomination for her thinly-veiled misogynoir, using her piece on participating in a feminist panel to put down 17 year-old activist June Eric Udorie.

    What’s amazing is that first she want us to believe that patriarchy is over because she imagines her 9 year old would say so and then dismisses June Eric Udorie ’cause she’s 17. Apparently 9 year old white girls are so mature and well educated! Unlike those others. Especially when the whole interaction takes place in mummy’s head…

    Liked by 1 person

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