2017Weaving Pages: 2017

Monday, 3 July 2017

"Children are just children where ever they come from." - Kate Milner on My Name is Not Refugee

What was your main motivation to create a book about the refugee crisis? 
        At the end of 2015 I was so incensed by the tabloid view that the refugees coming across Europe from Syria were an invading army of zombies out to destroy us and our way of life. I asked myself if there was anything I could do to challenge this.“My Name Is Not Refugee”, was my answer. 

How did you start as an illustrator?
        I was one of those kids who never got the message that they were supposed to stop drawing once they got to senior school. I just kept going. I have done print making, pub signs painting, graphic design and editorial illustration but after raising my own children I returned to study on the superb MA in children's book illustration at Anglia Ruskin. “My Name Is Not Refugee” was basically conceived in the last few weeks of the course. 

As the book says, you very deservingly won the V&A Student Illustration Award. What process did you go through in deciding which illustrations best portrayed the story you wanted to tell?
        There really was no process. I worked out the idea for the book while driving home from Cambridge one night at the very end of November 2015.  I begged my husband to stop me working on it, I’d been chopping and changing from one project to another for months and to start another book just 12 days before the end of the course was monumentally stupid. I simply didn’t have the time. My husband didn’t put up much of a fight. I drew the three images which are, for me, the centre of the book; a boy faced with food he doesn’t recognise, a boy surrounded by language he doesn’t understand and a boy sleeping on a train station then I sent them off to the V&A in passing while working frantically on a  project I had no hope of finishing by the deadline. Obviously I am very pleased I did but there was very little calculation involved.  

What kind of response have you had so far to your book?

        Wonderful. I remember showing it to one of my tutors, (after the deadline), and realising that she was moved by it. I had found the right words and pictures to get my message across. The book insists that the little boy at it’s centre is a just a child like any other child and what ever the mayhem going on around him he is not to blame.

What actions do you think readers can take to help those who find themselves having to flee their homes like in your book?

        Ask yourself what you would want from people around you if your life had been totally disrupted through no fault of your own and you had landed in a new country where everything was strange. Nothing difficult or expensive I imagine; a smile at the school gate perhaps, or an invitation for your kid to join the football game.

How do you want your readers to feel after reading your book? Is there a certain message you hope stays with them?
        Children are just children where ever they come from. It shouldn’t need saying but in this new age of right wing nationalism where we seem to want to lock ourselves up behind high walls and divide the population of the world into us and them, it is worth repeating. 

Kate Milner is the author of the new picture book My Name is Not Refugee. Published by Barrington Stoke, it is a wonderfully moving tale depicting the very real trials and obstacles faced by a young boy and his mother as they leave their home country. To find out more about Kate and her book, take a look at her website at katemilner.com.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017


Sophie scholl bust
Bust of Sophie Scholl, placed in Walhalla in 2003. Sculptor: Wolfgang Eckert” by RyanHulin is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The twelve long years that encompassed 1933 to 1945 mark one of the most oppressive and violative period of human rights, as the rise of National Socialism led to the deaths of approximately 11 million upon the twisted justification of manufacturing an elite race. Thus the story of Hitler’s attempted conception of an 1000 year reich is forever a chilling reminder of how we, as humans, can freely adopt a cycle of hate and obsession into our lives as Germany and the rest of the world failed to foresee the momentum such contempt would gain.
These were times which revealed the worst of humanity, where a pulsing stillness invaded the streets in solace with the suffocating fear of millions. Nonetheless, these were times when the best of humanity also flourished, bringing with it an inarguably potent strength that rooted itself in the fragile scraps of hope that were left; a promise that entire world was not yet poisoned.

That promise was found in Sophie Scholl, vital as it is to not only learn from the mistakes made in those twelve years, but also from the moving acts of courage that define what it means to be human more so than the wrongs committed. Born in 1921 to Magdalena Muller and Robert Scholl, a liberal politician and Nazi critic, Scholl grew up around libertarian views which meant that despite her initial enthusiasm, she soon saw past the illusion of new found abundance that had smothered Germany in the 1930s, particularly as society grew more restrictive and she found her freedoms to continually be controlled. By the time she reached university in 1942, Scholl was a firm opposer of the Nazi dictatorship and found the opportunity to express this through her older brother’s -Hans Scholl- newly founded White Rose Movement: an intimate, unofficial Anti-Nazi group who disagreed with the way the regime imposed upon the basic rights of the German people. Thus from 1942 to 1943, the group created six leaflets hoping to stir Germany into a much needed awakening of the need for revolution, their eloquent acts of defiance only ending when their spontaneous scattering of the 6th leaflet from the university’s atrium balcony led to a series of interrogations and trials that ended with the execution of Sophie, Hans and Christoph Probst on the 22nd February 1943.

Despite its painful ending, the story of The White Rose Movement and consequently, the story of Sophie Scholl, should not be seen as a tragedy, but rather a poignant portrayal of what it means to be young, to be curious, to question the world and not simply accept what you are told. Their acts are not a self righteous display of a defence of the weak, but an outcry against the infringement of basic human rights. They grow from a craving to speak the words they wish, to read what speaks to their souls, to write on a page whatever is in their mind, and predominantly from a strong empathy with every person’s desire to do so.

For someone so young, who had so much to live for, it would have been infuriatingly easy for Sophie to have succumbed to Nazi rule, yet with her actions, it is irrefutable that she has created a legacy for the young people who follow her. Undeterred by the fact she had barely made it past twenty, she took it upon herself to take a stand in the face of oppression, to fight for the freedoms of herself and others. Like her father had wished for her family, Scholl fought for everyone to be able to “live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be”, putting herself on the front lines of a war against the oppression of civil liberties; a war which threatens to wound us all but which many who are decades older than she ever got to be shy away from. Traudl Junge, Hitler’s last private secretary, admits exactly what Sophie Scholl symbolises:

I could see that she had been born the same year as I, and that she had been executed the same year I entered into Hitler’s service. And, at that moment, I really realised that it was no excuse that I had been so young.”

I believe that to be the essence of Scholl’s story; a tribute to our moral consciousness and basic humanity to be able to distinguish right from wrong, and a reminder that every one of us has the ability and the power to oppose the violation of our freedoms, with no excuse. To me, she demonstrates that no matter my age, my gender, my nationality or any other trait, I will always have the ability to find the strength to do what is right, and make a difference, because as Sophie’s last reported words declare:

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

It is these words that paint the clearest picture of the girl Sophie Scholl was: selfless, just and free. An ordinary girl- a student who liked art, working with children and reading the works of philosophers and writers alike. She was like any other girl in Munich, any other student in Germany or the rest of the world, but what set her apart was her choice to reject the defilement of her humanity. Hence she is symbolic of the fact that what defines me is not who I am born, but who I choose to be.

We live in a world where our nature means there is always a new oppressor, always someone willing to exploit others for their own means. More often than not, there are too many unwilling to confront them, to stop them from unleashing an onslaught of hate and prejudice onto a world that already witnesses too much. Still there are people like Sophie Scholl who are willing to uphold the unparalleled compassion of humanity, who remind us that we can use each day to fight the world’s injustices and we must overcome our fear of doing so. She poses such an agonizing question in her last words: if we don’t, who else will?

When you are young, you spend your entire life dreaming of what you will do one day or of what you will at achieve. There is an unquestioned sense of impossibility surrounding the thought of making a difference at this age, a seemingly impassable barrier that no matter how hard you try you can not overcome. Sophie Scholl is to me, a symbol that even in the world’s darkest times, there will always be good to be found, and whether I be sixteen or twenty one or sixty five; that good can be me.

Strikingly enough, I’m reluctant to allege that Sophie Scholl would have liked what I have written here; she did not set out to be a hero, an inspiration. That, was simply a by-product of the actions she knew in her heart she had to take.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

DEBATE: "This House Believes Feminism is Equality."

There must be two statements considered when asking whether feminism is equality. The first of these is what is feminism? Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the ‘advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes’, it must be understood that feminism is not about female supremacy or male oppression, but about a larger social movement, which seeks to recognise that as human beings, we all have the radical right to be treated equally. Yet even I will admit this definition is somewhat out-dated; feminism is no longer as easily confined into a box, because as it stands now feminists fight for so much more than ‘traditional women’s rights’.

Even more important in considering this statement is the definition of what equality is. Too common is the response “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in gender equality” or “I’m not a feminist but I’m an egalitarian or humanitarian.” Perpetuating such a statement is to ignore what equality in this context means. You want men and women to be equal? Go ahead. 

For equality to exist as society stands now, men would have to experience the same levels of oppression that women do currently. This would mean that a man would not have yet been the President of the United States (but he could have won the popular vote), and only 15.6% of men would be professors at Cambridge, or 1 in 5 men from the age of 16 would have experienced some form of sexual violence. This is not equality, at least not as a feminist would have it, because it does not involve the erasure of prejudices so as to ensure the equality of all the sexes. The so-called ‘gender equality’ many claim to support actually involves dragging men down to the unequal standards women live at now.

Therefore, feminists, in their attempts to make women equal to men, actually aim to elevate the social standing of women so as make it the same as that of men and in doing so benefit men too. What is crucial is that many of the oppressions men face actually stem from the preconceived gender roles that society has established for women. Men are less likely to get custody of the children in court, because women are stereotyped as the home-makers, the maternal ones. Boys from a young age are taught not to cry or show emotion, because weakness is for girls and if you run or throw like one that’s even worse. Perhaps what is most defining, however, is that the people who fight against these detrimental social constructs are the feminists in the first place. It was the Feminist Majority Foundation that organised the “Rape is Rape” campaign which caused the FBI to change the definition of rape to include men. It is the feminist organisation The Representation Project that demands that the media change its representation of men, producing documentaries like The Mask You Live In which examine the effects of toxic masculinity on young boys and why the dropout rates for males are so high. In advocating the rights of women, true feminism advocates for the rights of men also, because it is only by ending our interconnected social oppression that we can progress into a truly equal society.

All of the above is still a highly westernised view of feminism. Today, Feminism has moved beyond the typical definition provided into a movement which considers that women are not a homogenous group. Women are made up of all different races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, social classes and a multitude of other variables. Arguably, ‘true feminism’ embraces intersectionality and acknowledges that women will face different forms of oppression depending on their varying identities. 

Feminism as such is so much more than the fight against sexism, but instead comprehends that society is a complicated mess where sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia all intertwine. However, as is found in any other social movement, political ideology or group of people in society, there is not always consensus as to how exactly this can be achieved. Admittedly, it is a feature of any movement that there will be disagreement, and there will be individuals who misuse the label for their own gain. But it is misuses like these that must be renounced and admitted so that the real inclusive and diverse nature of feminism is predominant. 

As was acknowledged on the signs of many marchers at the Women’s March this month with a quote from Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are different from my own.”

This is the opening statement for a debate proposing the statement, "This House Believes Feminism is Equality."

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