Josie-Anne Gray: ‘Dig Deeper & You’ll Find The Real Villains’

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It doesn’t take much effort to make a depressing trawl through the pages of the tabloid press to find shrill and shrieking reports about ‘benefit scroungers’ or ‘illegal immigrants’ and so accustomed to the relentless scapegoating of these particular groups have we become that I wonder just how accepting we now are of the stereotypes.

Only last week harrowing images of Syrian refugees have been spun to suggest white Europeans are having their hard-earned Greek holidays ruined by having to endure the sight of traumatised, poor, homeless asylum seekers on the streets of Kos.

Well excuse me if my heart does not bleed for the wealthy, comfortable westerners. This type of reporting and misappropriation of human suffering to direct outrage in the wrong place is an indicator that somewhere the moral compass has gone desperately awry.

What has happened to us as a society if we are allow ourselves to point the proverbial pitchforks in the direction of those who are powerless, poor and vulnerable? What does that mentality say about us as people? Just exactly where is the humanity?

There is no doubt that the tabloid media has an agenda in presenting the populace with easily identifiable hate figures. Parading benefits’ claimants as lazy, feckless scroungers is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s easy to get the mad up of the self righteous who much prefer to judge in a fast and furious style than to step back and take a considered view.

More disturbingly there is now an insidious creep from hating those who appear to have created an ‘easy’ life for themselves on benefits to a more inclusive hatred of everyone making any claim on the state including those who are profoundly sick and disabled. Hate crime against the disabled community has increased since 2010 at an exponential rate and it is everywhere.

Social media is full of venomous condemnation of the sick as malingerers, of the disabled as fakers and frauds. Only last week I reported a page for peddling misinformation and inciting hatred of the disabled. Nothing was done about it; it’s still there fulfilling some sick function for its creators.

Almost daily I see posts and tweets about how autism isn’t real, how the disabled should be forced onto workfare programmes. And twice a week I work in a school where the children have disabilities across a complex spectrum including autism and conditions whereby they have to be assisted to breathe via tubes and machines. Not one of them is faking; not one of them is malingering. Some of them will live short lives characterised by sickness.

By what twist of reason have we come to see our disabled and poor communities as viable targets of outrage and hate? How on earth have vast swathes of the population fallen for this mythology? I don’t have an answer to that but I do have a theory about why the true villains have not been hauled out into plain sight. It is a question of visibility. The disabled and the poor are visible.

The homeless are on our streets. The poor are living in our towns and cities. The limbless, the wheelchair and motability scooter drivers are amongst us. We see them and we recognise them. We know what they look like and if we are so inclined we therefore know where to aim our spit, our cruel words and our acts of violence.

The architects of our economic crisis and the super-millionaires and anonymous corporate shareholders intent on asset stripping with one hand and hoarding with the other are not so visible. They do not walk amongst the ordinary folk. They don’t eat in ordinary cafes. They don’t drink in ordinary pubs. They’re not in and out of the charity shops on the high streets they’ve helped to ruin. We don’t know who they are, with one or two exceptions.

They live gilded, protected lives away from the stinking mass of the plebs they’re so happy to despise. And they have power; power in obscene amounts as big as the fortunes they sit on. And of course they have many friends in high places and the influence that comes with that. They can guarantee that they will not be spat on in the street, turned out of their homes on a political whim, left to go hungry due to arbitrary sanctioning or demonised in the tabloid press as cockroaches, parasites or sub-human scum.

We have our gaze fixed in the wrong place as a society. Instead of staring at the poor as if they are putting on some morally degenerate freak show for our unedifying entertainment we should be searching out the invisible villains, calling them to account, placing blame where it’s due at their doors and demanding recompense. We would be justified in wielding pitchforks at those who have truly robbed us all blind and left a sizeable portion of us impoverished. If we can find a way as a society of adjusting our sights then we might find ourselves on the right road to fixing what is an unpleasant, unjust and unequal place where to be poor or sick is to be loathed.


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