Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Aftermath of a tragedy

Interesting letter in Massachusetts reveals how stereotypes play out:

Gloucester Daily Times,

February 04, 2008

To the editor:

This is an open letter to the superintendent and School Committee:

I would like to express my shock and disappointment at the Gloucester school system and O'Maley Middle School's handling of the recent loss of an eighth-grade student. My daughter was a friend of the young man and is close friends with many of the students most affected by the recent events. I was deeply saddened by the news, and I hope that this letter does not cause his family any more pain than they must already endure, but I also feel that someone needs to speak on behalf of the children who have been left behind by this tragedy.

O'Maley students reported for school on Thursday and went about their normal routine. Some of the students were scheduled for a field trip that day, and the staff felt it best that the tragic news was not announced until after those students returned. That afternoon, students were told the news that the young man had "died unexpectedly." Many of his closest friends went home early, grief-stricken and shocked. A generalized phone call was made to all parents to let them know about the situation at 1:30 p.m. that day, and the school had made arrangements to leave the library open for two hours as a meeting place for any students who felt the need for counseling. A letter was also sent home, again stating that the young man had "died unexpectedly."

By the time my daughter had arrived home that afternoon, I had learned the truth from several other parents and friends — that the young man had taken his own life. My daughter had heard rumors before she had even arrived home. The loss of her friend was hard enough to comprehend, but the shock that he had taken his own life brought many other emotions to the surface. All of her friends were left with a feeling of disbelief, and many started to question whether they had missed any hints that their friend may have been trying to give them. Even if he had left clues, no one could have known how serious his intentions were. All of these complicated feelings are too much for anyone to deal with, no matter a typical 13-, 14- or 15-year-old.

What was the Gloucester school system's response to this crisis? Two hours of "grief counseling," a nonspecific letter to parents, and send the children home for a four-day weekend.

Although the school did not, or perhaps could not, admit that the tragedy was a suicide, they should have treated the grief counseling as such. The school most certainly did not give parents enough information to help their own children, nor did they lead them to the proper resources to deal with their children's grief. Most parents learned the truth through the newspaper the following day and were left to try to guide their children through a complicated and unfamiliar grieving process, unprepared and without assistance.

O'Maley students returned to school the next week, many still too upset to try to go to class. Some relied on each other for support. Some teachers were helpful, others were not. It seemed as if the school staff were trying to "hush-up" the tragedy.

A small group of the young man's closest friends, all O'Maley students, decided to wear T-shirts in remembrance — light pink with small lettering bearing the young man's name, the date of his death, and "we will never forget you." These children were pulled out of their classes by the staff and told they were "forcing their opinions onto other students."

So these grieving children are not only expected to cope with this tragedy without any help, but are also expected accept other students' rude and disrespectful comments? I understand free speech and all, but whatever happened to common courtesy?

One of the issues appears to be that this boy was part of a group known to be "Goth" or "Emo" by other kids. These children often wear black clothing, grow their hair long and dye it various colors, and may listen to certain kinds of music. Both of my daughters listen to the music, and occasionally dress in dark clothing, but they are part of the group no matter what they choose to wear each day.

It seems to be a common belief that children in this group are continually harming themselves, or that they are all having suicidal ideologies. I think the school system needs to stop assuming that every child who dresses in dark clothing will injure themselves. They also need to remember not all children who inflict harm on themselves dress in dark clothing. These children are individuals, and they do not fit into a general category. Take a minute to get to know them before you judge them.

After talking with other parents, whose own middle and high school children are part of this crowd, I was shocked to discover that many of these children have recently admitted to being physically accosted by other students and verbally harassed with such comments as "Why don't you go kill yourself?"

Why is the school system doing nothing to ensure the safety and well-being of ALL of their students? And why are they more interested in protecting the freedoms of those who choose to make rude comments, not the freedoms of all students who choose to express themselves in a way that does not harm others?

I have raised my children to be individuals, to think and act for themselves, and to accept the consequences of their own actions. I believe that is what will teach them to become compassionate, responsible adults.

Perhaps the Gloucester school system should re-evaluate what it expects our children's future contributions to society will be — and whether an atmosphere of prejudice and harassment will lead them there.



Veterans Way, Gloucester

Letter: How can O'Maley students deal with grief? - GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Sunday, February 3, 2008

"I have em all off" - RiUvEn, Goth battering and Liverpool City of Culture?

The recent start to Liverpool's year of being City of Culture featured a massive concert on Jan 11th which had some controversy. One person involved was the rapper Riuven, seemingly a violent scally who smokes weed all day. The Independent recently named him as one of the next big things for 2008. The Times said of the event "But it was a brilliant young Scouse rapper called RiUvEn who epitomised the spirit of the night — cheeky, quick-witted, brimming with energy." He sang his popular song "This is how we do it in tha L.I.V." Riuven’s first song The L.I.V became a hit via his Myspace page and was quickly downloaded to thousands of mobile phones across the city. The lyrics celebrate skunk deals, the wonders of lacoste, stealing cars and "head butts and kicks, split ribs , jaws rattling". One might understand why this might generate complaints from those worried about Liverpool's image, but look at its final few lines:

dont go the krazy house yo its full of smelly goths
sometimes i wait outside and have em all off
..I have em all off....

You can see him performing in this video to some baffled teens:

The Krazy House a longstanding club catering to metal/goth and Indie is well known in Liverpool. As this quote from this website shows the lyrics reflect reality:
We usually go to our fave non chav club the Krazy House, rock club etc. However it is on a very heavily chav populated area and the chavs cant seem to accept that there are people who don't like going to a bar getting pissed on stella and vk ice and dancing like a twat to some thumping techno beat and also they can't grasp that anyone could possibly go out not wearing fake designer shit. Oh no! They wait outside the KH just to shout abuse at anyone who is dressed differently to them.

There was also a violent incident there recently which is interesting:

Clubber stabbed in toilet - Liverpool Echo.co.uk Dec 31 2007

The 19-year-old from Kirkdale was knifed during the early hours after a scuffle broke out in the Krazy House rock club on Wood Street. Another man was treated in hospital for less serious knife wounds after the fight involving clubbers on Friday, December 21. The teenage victim has been discharged from the Royal Liverpool hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

Clubbers told of their shock after the incident during the popular student night at the club, which has three floors and attracts fans of rock music.

One said: “The lad who got stabbed was looking at being in hospital over Christmas but it could have been much worse. He seemed to be in a very bad way at first. He was trying to split up a fight between some scallies and got stabbed for it.

“It’s frightening to think people actually go out for a night on the town with a knife.

“Everyone usually just has a good time and enjoys the music in the Krazy House, so for this to happen there is unusual.”

According to RiUvEn's website:
RiUvEn... exploded out of Toxteth Liverpool, in a blaze of goth battering and ganja smoke in early 2006. For Liverpool, a city not known for producing exciting rap acts, Riuven’s Unrelentingly harsh and unmistakably scouse approach was a revelation.
Now Riuven is in fact a caricature like Ali G, Riuven in real life is Robert Morris, who attended the notoriously posh King David's High and was a nice, quiet, studious boy there and was formerly a drummer in Indie bands. An interview with the Liverpool Post revealed more:

The track rapidly achieved cult status and led to growing curiosity about the musician behind the song, which boasts of stealing cars ‘round Seffie Park’ and fighting with ‘goths’ outside well-known city centre club The Krazy House. Now the budding hip hop star, who hit national headlines last year with a scathing rap about Lily Allen, is on the brink of releasing his debut album in March.

Riuven, real name Robert Morris, developed his chav-alter ego observing the bravado, attitude and antics of scallies from around Lodge Lane where he was raised. But he honed the larger-than-life persona when he was sent to Childwall’s prestigious King David School by his parents.

“I was probably the scally of our school in the sense that not many lads from Toxteth went there,” he says. “But I got into King David because I’m Jewish. I was lucky enough to get a great musical background and learn to play the drums to a high level. The scally persona is just something me and my mates have always found funny and joked about. We used to have parties, where we’d have a drink and listen to hip hop and there would always be a mic being passed around...

“I think most people realise that Riuven is a joke. He is a caricature of an unemployed scally who smokes weed all day and goes to town fighting the goths and causing trouble. The idea was to have a laugh and not glorify things like that. It has an element of social commentary on a city where many teenagers pass the time joyriding, taking drugs and generally misbehaving.”

Radio Merseyside DJ Billy Butler received complaints for playing a Riuven track and listeners called phone-in shows to argue Riuven showed Liverpool in a bad light. Sounding genuinely baffled, Morris says, “I was shocked that people didn’t see it was a joke, especially Scousers. People were reading far too much into it.

“If Riuven was serious, it’d be an outrage. But we’ve got to be able to laugh at people like that. [Jan 22nd]

Capital of Culture launch storm: Rapper Riuven hits back at his critics

"Riuven was based on loads of different lads I've met and seen sitting at the back of busses. I've got mates who have been beaten up by lads like Riuven.

His other songs include "Goths are not Boss", which you can hear on his website a rap about the gangs of teenagers who hang around outside the law courts in Liverpool. It features the line "The only good Goth is a Dead Goth" several times. It seems that Riuven's record deal and hopes to make it big in 2008 has had to led him to tone down his image. Another interview is interesting:
[On Riuven] What’s this got to do with comedy? Well, on a good day I’m 99% sure the Toxteth-based hip-hopper is supposed to be funny, in a Goldie Lookin' Chain sort of way. But sometimes I do like to imagine he knows not what he does...

“My record label have been telling me to try and tone my lyrics down a bit,” you can find him pondering on a Myspace forum. Needless to say, he can be appallingly rude. “Apparently the public arent as into stories about beating up goths and getting jiggy with milf as i thought theyd be.”[sic]
The resulting album, apparently titled I’m Only Messin or Am I, will be out in April, he says. Capital of Culture - so get told (Comedy Blog)
Considering Sophie Lancaster was killed last year a song which glorifies violence against goths seems to say the least in rather bad taste. Particularly one suspects that many listeners to The LIV do not understand it is a joke. Ali G managed to be funny without advocating anyone being beaten up. On the other hand one could argue I suppose he is reflecting the reality of the situation that people going to the Krazy House have to face a barrage of abuse and potential violence at times. But then if he was making those songs about Africans or homosexuals I think the response would be rather different.