Other Cultures

Ejo #127 – Dear Doug, Black Lives Matter

This ejo was going to be a discussion about our responsibilities as white people to help combat systemic racism (and I’ll be publishing that next month, right after this quick detour). One of the things I was going to mention was that we should all keep talking about the problem, even when the conversation becomes difficult. My former colleague, Doug, commented on my last ejo and I decided to publish my response in an open letter.

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Dear Doug, I miss you since you’ve retired. I miss our silly jokes in the tower, I miss your generosity and how you always made me a pot of coffee on the morning shifts. I even miss our lively political discussions on those quiet, weekend afternoons (despite them occasionally becoming quite heated). While we might have fundamentally similar principles, we mostly tend to arrive at those from different directions, and even though that means you sometimes infuriate me (as I’m sure, I do you) I actually think it’s healthy to have an opposing point of view in the room. And so I would like to thank you for your comments on my last ejo.

I must admit that when I first read them I was a little annoyed. Mostly because your comments didn’t actually relate to the contents of my ejo, in which I talked about the US civil rights movement, as well as the history of racism in America, and how it became institutionalised. Instead, your comments seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction to the subject of the Black Lives Matter movement. I was tempted to just ignore what you’d written (as I’d heard it from you all before anyway), and move on. But because those comments came from you, and because I know that you are a good person with a big heart and good intentions, I decided to delve deeper and address all of your points, some of which I agree with and others with which I don’t. Let us begin.

I have not spoken to one person or seen a single news outlet that has not condemned what happened to George Floyd. It was hard to watch the video and what that single one cop did was wrong and was murder. This is something everyone agrees on. And hopefully there will be some police training that things like this don’t happen again. But 99% of cops are good (we do not taint all Muslims bad because of the deed of one suicide bomber. The same goes for cops).
It is true that one cop murdered George Floyd, but three others watched him do it, and did absolutely nothing to intervene or to prevent it. We may all agree it was murder, but it remains to be seen whether justice will be served, or not. I’m wondering where you get your statistic that 99% of all cops are good? When Daniel Pantaleo murdered Eric Garner he was not convicted. When George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin he was not convicted. When Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown he was not convicted. When 12 year old Tamir Rice was murdered by Timothy Loehmann, the cop was not convicted. When Dominique Heaggan-Brown murdered Sylville K. Smith he was not convicted. When Betty Jo Shelby murdered Terence Crutcher she was not convicted. When Ray Tensing murdered Samuel DuBose he was not convicted. When Howie Lake II and Blane Salamoni murdered Alton Sterling, they were not convicted. When Caesar Goodson Jr., Garrett Miller, Edward Nero, William Porter, Brian Rice and Alicia White murdered Freddie Gray none of them were convicted. When Jeronimo Yanez brutally murdered Philando Castile on camera, he was not convicted. When Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet murdered Stephon Clark, they were not convicted. When Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove murdered Breonna Taylor as she slept in her bed, they weren’t even charged with anything.

I could go on. Not all cops are bad?? According to this independent study conducted by a Philadelphia lawyer, 20% of current police officers and 40% of retired police officers made public posts or comments on social media that reinforce negative police bias towards Black* people. These are comments that cops made publicly, unafraid of consequences. Knowing that the system would allow it, and protect them. “This blows up the myth of bad apples, by the sheer number of images and numbers of individuals who are implicated,” said Nikki Jones, an associate professor of African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

You say it’s just one bad cop, I say the system is bad. Do you remember when that police officer in Buffalo, New York shoved an elderly man to the ground causing him to crack his head? That police officer was labelled a bad apple. But what about the other 20 cops who simply walked around the injured man as he lay bleeding from his ears? What about the 57 cops who quit in protest when the offending officer was suspended? You know what they say about bad apples, Doug. One can spoil the whole bunch, and when it comes to police, the whole barrel is rotten. One cop’s insider account of how bad the system actually is explains why police “training” doesn’t work. And Alex S. Vitale, professor of sociology (and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project) at Brooklyn College punctuates that point in his book “The End Of Policing”. He says, “The problem is not police training, police diversity, or police methods. The problem is the dramatic and unprecedented expansion and intensity of policing in the last 40 years, a fundamental shift in the role of police in society. The problem is policing itself.

We can discuss why blacks commit more crime percentage wise than white Americans. That is a fact. That will help discover what the solution to this is. But inner cities where most black on black crime happens, is run by Democrats who will not address the problem. They won’t fix what they don’t acknowledge. Crap education and no school choice. Resulting in no jobs or poor paying jobs. Gang and crime proliferates.
We agree on this. Black Americans are disproportionately more likely to commit crime. You blame local Democrat governments, and by saying that you actually demonstrate an understanding of what institutionalised racism is. It’s a system that unfairly disadvantages people of colour. A system that forces them into “rough” neighbourhoods, where crime skyrockets as a direct result of that deep disadvantage. A system that has been in place since before the USA was founded. It continues today, and we need to fix it. Black Americans might have a crack at the equality promised to them in the 14th Amendment if we fixed the education system, if we improved the job situation, if we repaired healthcare, if we reformed policing and if the justice system was cleaned up. Until that happens, collectively, they don’t stand a chance. By design, Black people do not stand a chance. I’m more than willing to concede that a Democrat administration contributed hugely to this problem when Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994. From my perspective both parties are accountable. This issue is not a partisan one and pointing fingers at the Democrats or the Republicans actually achieves nothing.

You bring up “black on black” crime which, whilst being statistically accurate, feels to me like a deflective argument. Police brutality against Black people is real, and it’s something that I am seriously interested in effecting change in, which is why I’m writing these ejos and why I’ve set up a regular donation to the BLM org. It’s why I’m striving to educate myself and to listen to Black voices.  Urban crime in Black neighbourhoods is also very real, and if you are equally interested in the problem of “black on black” crime, please tell me what you are doing about it? Are you actually concerned about crime within Black communities, or is it just your go-to, straw-man rebuttal in discussions about police brutality against Black people?

Let’s go even deeper, Doug. A paper published by the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs and the Harvard Kennedy School titled “The Police And Public Discourse on “Black-on-Black” Violence” discusses why there are issues with using the term “black on black”. The paper states that the term is simplistic and emotionally fraught, allowing for media distortions which perpetrate unsubstantiated stereotypes of Black people as being inherently more violent. Black people are not more “prone to criminality” as Harry Houck, a former New York Police Department detective, once claimed on a CNN panel on the topic. They are systematically forced into socio-economic circumstances that lead to increased incidents of crime (the kind of crime you refer to as “black on black”). But the fact remains that people who live in poverty are statistically more likely to commit, and be victims of, crime – regardless of their skin colour. And sadly, Black people are more likely to live in poverty. Poverty and crime go hand in hand, colour and crime do not.

A huge majority of homicides are intra-racial, with 93% of Black victims killed by Black people and 84% of white victims killed by white people. It’s a problem across the skin colour spectrum. But you do not hear the terms “white on white crime” or “white on white violence”? Why do you think that is?

According to the Harvard paper, another problem with the phrase “black on black” crime is that it’s been shown to encourage cops to “pursue harsher and less thoughtful approaches, concentrating intensive enforcement efforts or zero-tolerance policies on Black people”. This results in the police using excessive levels of force against Black citizens in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. It also discourages people living in those neighbourhoods from calling the police, perpetuating the cycle.

But BLM do not care what happens in inner cities where they have been absolutely silent on black on black crime in cities such as Chicago and Baltimore with over 4000 shootings last year and nearly 800 dead. And in one single day this year 18 dead in Chicago. All black on black. Not a word from them.
Black Lives Matter is a non-partisan movement formed in 2014 (during the Obama administration) in the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s murders by white police officers. The Black Lives Matter movement and organisation were not created to deal with the kind of urban crime that you are referring to (which is a symptom of institutional racism). That is the responsibility of local government and police. BLM was formed in response to disproportionate police brutality against Black people. It was formed to battle the racial disparity that is woven into the very fibre of American society (i.e. the root cause of the problem, not the symptom).  As Glenn Loury, a Brown University scholar said in a discussion on the matter, “It’s unfair to ask a movement demanding justice from the police to be responsible for patterns of behavior that are deeply embedded in a system over which Black people don’t exercise any control.

You point the finger at Democrat city governments in Chicago and Baltimore, which have huge crime problems, and you cite the issue with education as one of the causes. And you are absolutely right, but that problem appears uniformly across the United States, and not just in blue cities. As I’ve mentioned before, this is not a partisan issue, Doug. Across the country, Black kids are statistically learning less than white kids. A study done at American University and Johns Hopkins University showed that white teachers have significantly lower educational expectations of their Black students. Another study found that all teachers tend to evaluate the behaviour of Black students differently, resulting in increased suspensions, expulsion etc. Black students across the board are offered fewer opportunities to take part in advanced learning classes, or to even finish high school at all.

And it’s a fact that all of these early disadvantages are likely to have far reaching implications. We do agree on that. In fact you hit the nail on the head. Poor education leads to lower paying jobs or unemployment, which leads to crime, which leads to gang involvement, which leads to prison exposure, which ultimately leads to increased homicide and a never-ending cycle of incarceration. Black Lives Matter is tackling each of these issues at an institutional level. Their efforts will eventually (hopefully) lead to less crime of the type that you describe as “black-on-black”. BLM take on the massive inequality within the criminal justice system in the hopes of loosening the figurative (and literal) chokehold on Black people. Their aim is to provide, not an advantage, but simply an equal footing for Black people in the eyes of law enforcement and law making.

The graph below demonstrates how Black people are targeted by police officers. They are pulled over more often, are significantly found to be carrying less contraband, and yet are still arrested at twice the rate of white drivers in Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson
A Department of Justice investigation following the Ferguson riots sparked by Michael Brown’s murder found that “nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system” disproportionately impacted the African American community. And, once more, that’s how systemic racism manifests – an underlying assumption of white innocence and Black guilt. A system in which a 12 year old kid with a toy gun is seen as a threat and killed, but militia wannabes armed to the teeth, storming government buildings in the name of “liberty” are seen as heroes executing their constitutional right. A system in which police violently assault NYC residents for breaching social distancing rules in Black neighbourhoods, while in the white neighbourhoods the cops hand out masks and smiles. A system in which white people are more offended by the looting of a Target store than the incident which sparked it – the cold-blooded killing of yet another Black man by yet another white police officer. A system in which property is deemed more valuable than life. Black life, anyway.

Do I think racism exists. Yes. White on black racism; black on white racism and so on. But almost all Americans are not racist. They voted in a black President twice. I think the last 20 videos I have watched has shown black on white assault and not the other way around. So both exist. Maybe more blacks racism against whites and not the other way around.
Sorry Doug, but this is where our opinions diverge. Let’s start off by talking about what racism is, and equally important, what it isn’t. When I say “racism” I’m not talking about the kind of one-on-one, racially inspired hatred and violence that you are talking about. I’m not talking about racial slurs. I’m not talking about “black on white” assault or even “white on black” assault. These are all symptoms of racism, and might better be labelled as racial prejudice. Of course white people can be the victims of racial hatred – and, as you pointed out, they often are. But that does not exist on a systemic, institutional, macro level. Historically, and presently, white people yield the power over Black people in America. The examples that you mention might hurt someone’s feelings, or might even hurt them physically – shit, it might even kill them. But racial prejudice doesn’t hurt an entire demographic. Systemic racism does.  Systemic racism is not hatred. It is power. We must be careful to not conflate the two.

Do I think most Americans are racist? No. But after Barack Obama was elected to office, violence against Black people, both by police officers and white civilians, increased. And that is why BLM formed during a Black presidency. One Black man’s success is not proof that racism doesn’t exist.

Is there institutional racism in the police forces in different States. I don’t think so. Is there institutional corruption in Democrat run inner cities resulting in this carnage of poor and no school choice; and the lack of response to arson, looting and destruction of property and assaulting. Yes. George Floyd’s name has now been forgotten. He was road kill or collateral damage to a bigger issue that is still playing out with the destruction of statues etc.; that has everything to do with the failure of inner city governments to look after its people – and nothing to do with systemic racism. And the MSM has been silent on all of the real issues.
Doug, you and I have had the statue discussion privately, and I don’t really have the space to go into it here. Suffice to say that I think statues commemorating bad people should be taken down. They are not art, they are not history. They are a celebration. And it’s an affront, not just to African Americans, but to all Americans, to celebrate the slave owners of the past.

George Floyd’s name will never be forgotten. I think it’s disrespectful to say that he was roadkill, or collateral damage. His murder was a pivotal moment in history.  And I think it’s appalling that you think the bigger issue is the destruction of statues. We don’t need a statue of George Floyd to remember his name (though I think it would be nice). We will never forget. He is a part of history now.

Doug, you lean towards a conservative political disposition, while I lean towards a liberal one. But while we fervently disagree on a number of political topics, I do believe that our core values are essentially the same. At the end of the day, I honestly think that if one of your friends told you they were experiencing racial discrimination and they needed your help to overcome it, you would do everything you could to help them. That is the reason that you and I are still friends, despite our differences. You are a good guy.

But I am seeing something that perhaps you are not.  I see that the problem of racism is widespread and needs action on a mass scale in order to address it, and I want to do whatever I can to become part of that solution. I’m hoping that after reading this letter, you’ll want to join me.
Chryss
xxx

 

* You might have noticed that in my ejos I have been capitalising the word Black, but not doing the same for the word white, when it relates to race. I have done a great deal of research on this topic because I want to make sure that I’m doing the right thing. A lot of sources suggested doing it this way, and this article from the Associated Press explains why.

Ejo #126 – 8’46”

Eight minutes and 46 seconds. That’s how long it took for George Floyd’s life to drain from his body as Derek Chauvin, a policeman sworn to serve and protect, pressed a knee bearing his full body weight onto George’s vulnerable neck. It is an uncomfortably short time, if you’d like to demonstrate life’s fragility. But it’s also an uncomfortably long time, if you are to imagine yourself pressing your very own knee to another person’s neck, until they die. I usually try to keep my ejos concise, because I want to hold your interest (I know I don’t always succeed, and I hope that’s OK). But I want you all to watch a video. No, not the video taken by 17 year old Darnella Frazier documenting Chauvin killing Floyd, though do I think that all white people need to watch it. The video below is of a black screen with a timer on it. The length of the video is 8’46”.

I would really appreciate each and every one of you finding a mere 8’46” of your day to sit with this video and, in the time it takes you to watch it, from beginning to end, to think about how long it took for George Floyd to die. To try to conjure exactly how horrific an ordeal that poor man endured, as he was murdered on the street, like an animal. For nothing. How terrifying his last moments must have been, as, his life slipping away, he called out for his dead mother. Try, maybe, to even imagine what was going through Chauvin’s mind. If you can. And if it’s not too much, try reading out George Floyd’s dying words, as you count down each second to his last breath.

Final Words

Heartbreaking

I don’t think it’s possible to address the problem of racism, in America or the rest of the world, without first acknowledging that it exists and then, even more importantly, very carefully examining its origins and structure. Knowing how we got here is imperative, if we are to move forward, even if that makes us uncomfortable. Especially if it makes us uncomfortable.

The protests that have recently erupted in the United States are against long standing, institutional racial injustice. George Floyd may have been the catalyst of the most influential wave of the Black Lives Matter movement to date, but he is not the reason it has exploded the way that it has. His death was just the latest in a long and bloody history of violence against Black Americans by their own government and people.

Why are white people in America so afraid of Black people? Why do they feel such aversion and superiority and hostility towards them? Why does the colour of someone’s skin matter so much? We are not born racist. We are not born bigoted against each other. We are taught to be that way. And even if you were raised in an environment that celebrated equality, you are still surrounded by an infrastructure that does not. Did you know that the invention, and scientific classification, of biological race was established by Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s. This guy just decided to classify human beings into races based on where they were from, and what he personally thought of them. And so Europeaus was classified as being “acute, inventive, gentle and governed by laws”. And Asiaticus was “yellow, melancholic, and ruled by opinion”. Very scientific, right? This asshole, influenced as he was by the opinions and prejudices of his time, categorised Africanus as “crafty, indolent, negligent, governed by caprice or the will of their masters”. This actually became a scientific definition, folks. With zero evidential justification, this man influenced the thinking of an entire scientific community, as well as the community at large. Motherfucker has a lot to answer for. His theory that race defines genetic diversity has been scientifically disproven over and over again. But still, the damage was done. And the concept of race continues to do damage today.

The United States was founded on racism and the enslavement of Black people. It’s absolutely sickening that white men gallavanted to the African continent and gave themselves the right to drag human beings from their homes, and make them their slaves. Their property. Their chattel. Their goods. Such a disregard for human life is incomprehensible to me, and it should be to everyone but for some reason there are some who still don’t see anything wrong with it, and perhaps there are some who just don’t want to think about it at all. Which to me, amounts to the same thing. According to some estimates, up to 65 million African lives were lost in the brutal trans-Atlantic slave trade which fomented the birth of capitalism at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Let the magnitude of that number sink in. Write it down, if you need to. Up to 65,000,000 human lives. For what? Status. Profit. Money. Power. These Black lives were considered a fair exchange for such things. These Black lives did not matter. And we’re just talking about the ones that died on the way. Let’s chat about the ones that were transported for slave labour to the Americas, as far back as 1619. That’s 401 years ago. These events are a blight, a stain, not just on American history, but on human history, a bloody spot that can never be washed off, no matter how hard some of us may scrub.

So, blackface minstrel shows were all the rage in the early 19th century, depicting Black people as unkempt, lazy, uneducated, superstitious, spineless and criminal. The segregation codes known as Jim Crow laws were actually named after a famous blackface minstrel character. These characters were always played by white actors, usually lowly, working class Irishmen who took the job to feel superior to Black people. Kind of like, if I can debase and degrade you, then you are beneath me. It’s not me on the bottom, it’s someone else. President LBJ said “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best coloured man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.

W. E. B. Du Bois, Black activist and scholar also pointed out that poor white people would rather join the KKK than identify with poor Black people, “because it associated them with the masters”. And the masters, the white supremacists lapped that shit up. They may have created the system, but the structure was bolstered by poor white Americans who didn’t realise then, as they appear to not realise now, that they are nothing but pawns in a game they have no fucking idea about. These are the people who attend Donald Trump’s MAGA rallies.

Race riots are not a new thing in America. Over 101 years ago, in 1919, there were more than 25 race riots across the United States during a period referred to as the Red Summer. About 380,000 battle-hardened African American veterans who had just returned from war were targeted and brutalised, in a systematic attack led by returned white servicemen. Instead of society being grateful for their service, the Black veterans were perceived as threats, and attacked by angry mobs. During a six month period there were 97 recorded lynchings across America. African Americans fought back. Hundreds of people died and over a thousand Black families were left homeless. Even though slavery had been abolished years earlier, life for a Black person down south was untenable, and at the end of 1919, after all the riots, Black people migrated north en masse to seek better economic and educational opportunities.

White kids

White children cheer outside an African-American residence that they set on fire in September, 1919. Look at those little fuckers’ faces. They are learning that Black people are inferior. This image hurts my heart

In 1954, school segregation was deemed unconstitutional in the landmark Supreme Course case Brown vs Board of Education. Three years later, school segregation continued to occur, enabled by state and local politicians. In an historic turning point, nine teenage students in Little Rock, Arkansas, who had been prevented from attending school because of the colour of their skin, were escorted onto school premises by the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Outside the school a mob of angry white assholes protested, chanting, “Two, four, six, eight. We ain’t gonna integrate”, their mouths contorted by hate into ugly gashes and recorded for posterity.

Elizabeth Eckford

Fifteen year old Elizabeth Eckford on her first day of school.

The 50s and 60s saw the birth of the momentous civil rights movement, with Black people finally saying ENOUGH, and standing up against the injustices. It inspired several consequential law changes which were “supposed to” bring an end to centuries of inequality.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act signed by LBJ was “supposed to” outlaw discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin. A year later, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was “supposed to” outlaw racial discrimination in voting (and, I’m sorry, but I don’t even have the energy to address how much of a problem voter suppression still is today). In 1968, the Fair Housing Act (actually an expansion of the Civil Rights Act) was signed, prohibiting the refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to anyone based on their race, colour, disability, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. The act, strongly supported by Martin Luther King Jr., but originally blocked by Congress, was signed during the riots in the week following his assassination. A year before he was murdered, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again”.

He was not wrong.

Race is, and always has been, a sociopolitical construct. We have never been divided by colour. Never.  We’ve been divided by greed and the pursuit of power and control. Colour was just a way in which white slave owners could justify their ownership of other human beings. Black people being regarded as biologically inferior made it OK to treat them as less than human. John C. Calhoun, the vice president of the United States from 1825 to 1832, went one step further in his rationalisations of slavery. He actually had the fucking nerve to say, “Never before has the Black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilised and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.” How’s that for fucked in the head. But you know what? Black and brown people are the same race as white people (and it shocks me to my core that I even need to write those words down). When we talk about systemic and institutionalised racism, what that means is that people of colour are categorised as less than, or inferior to, white people in order to prop up the system of codified oppression that is necessary for capitalism and industry to thrive. Andre Henry, writer, musician and self-proclaimed trouble maker, writes in an article, “Black death was chosen as the fuel for our economic engine, beginning with the Slave Trade”. If you want to get an education, do yourself a favour and check out his blog for more insightful commentary.

In my next ejo I’ll outline what I think our responsibilities are as white people, and also provide a few other sources for you to read up about what you can do to help the movement.  I hope you’re interested.  Hit me up, if you want to know more.

Ejo #120 – Drunk In….. Beirut (or How We Joined The Revolution)

I was in Tbilisi, Georgia, sleeping off a serious hangover when my Mum died. David and I had hit the city hard over three days; boots on the ground, party hats on, elbows bent – all in the name of researching my next Drunk In installment. But “Drunk In….. Tbilisi” is an ejo that will never see the light of day. It would be impossible for me to celebrate, let alone reconcile, the drunken revelry that David and I indulged in over those three days, with the fact that they were my Mum’s last days alive. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write another Drunk In post ever again. It’s not that I stopped drinking after Mum died, far from it. And it’s not that I haven’t experienced moments of joy or frivolity either. Those moments have co-existed with my grief, and they still do. I actually just thought I would never be able to write about anything ever again. I wasn’t even sure that I could continue with these monthly ejos. But, here we are.

There is something that happens to you when a loved one dies. When the shadowy concept of death becomes a forcible reality, something you have to look at in the eye and face every day, the value of life is actually somehow reasserted. Yes, I am still sometimes crippled with the pain of losing my Mum. But yes, I can also still genuinely experience happiness, I can still laugh and have fun. This is known as living. My Mum would have wanted it, and I want it. Anything less would be an affront to this beautiful gift each of us has been given. When you wake up one morning, and learn that someone you love is gone forever, it brings into very sharp relief how truly precious (and shockingly short) life actually is. Eleven years ago, I made a choice to live in Dubai, away from my Mum and my family and my friends and my home. I did that, not because I love Dubai so much. I did it because it was an opportunity to see the world. I sacrificed one thing, for another. And I ask myself sometimes if that choice was worth it – though it really doesn’t bear much thinking about. I’ll never be able to answer. The only thing I am able to do now is to honour the decision I made all those years ago. To make that sacrifice count. I have to travel, I have to see the world. I have to do it for myself, and I also have to do it for my Mum.

Our first vacation since Tbilisi was in November. Our friend Cath (whom you might remember from our drunken adventures in Hoi An a couple of years ago) was taking a well-deserved break from her award winning work as a newspaper photographer, and when she flipped through the atlas to decide her destination, her finger landed on Beirut, Lebanon. David and I were thrilled, as we’ve always wanted to go to Beirut. And being so close to Dubai, it was the perfect destination for us to join Cath for a three day Drunk In adventure.

Three weeks before our trip, startling reports began surfacing of demonstrations and rioting in the country. The three of us monitored the situation carefully, reading up about the protests and decided that, despite several travel warnings, including advice to “exercise a high degree of caution” from the Australian government and a suggestion from the US government to “reconsider Lebanon due to crime, terrorism, armed conflict and civil unrest”, we would stick to our plan and go. Of course this was exactly the kind of thing that would have made my Mum extremely anxious. But because she’s no longer here to worry about me, in my mind I no longer have any reason to be cautious. I can throw caution to the wind, because it no longer matters if something bad happens to me. Twisted logic, right? Who said grief isn’t fun?

ENAB

So we landed in Beirut after a night shift, and a four hour flight, ready to hit the town. We were staying in a vibrant and gritty part of town called Mar Mikhael because that’s just how we do. It’s a lively area known for its many restaurants and bars and that’s exactly what we’d come for. After reuniting with Cath over a bottle of duty free Champagne on our balcony, we ambled a leisurely six minute walk from our Airbnb over to Enab, a well known restaurant specialising in local cuisine and wine. We ordered a bunch of different plates to share and delighted in the fresh flavours of what arrived on the table: hummus (of course), flatbreads, beef kibbeh and roast potatoes. The pièces de résistance for me though were the most delicious and tender char-grilled lamb chops I’ve ever eaten. They were perfection!!! All of this was washed down with three bottles of Beqaa Valley rosé. To say it was easy drinking would be an understatement, and to say we were on a mission would be the same. It was the perfect start to our night.

INFO:
Armenia Street, Mar Mikhael
1200-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

CHAPLIN

Bellies full, we pranced out of Enab and down the street, looking for the next hotspot.  We found it less than a four minute walk away at Bar Chaplin, a (you guessed it) Charlie Chaplin themed bar.  The place was absolutely heaving on a Friday night and we were lucky that a group of people sitting at an outside table moved over and made room for the three of us to be seated.  This is something that completely characterises Lebanese people.  They are bloody lovely.  They are friendly, and warm, and they will smile at you for no reason at all, which makes it ludicrously easy to flirt with them.  I absolutely loved almost every interaction I had with the people of Beirut.  After ordering drinks from the lovely waiter, we got into a conversation with our neighbours and spent the next three drinks talking about the issues consuming Lebanon.  They were thrilled that we would visit Beirut, despite the trouble brewing in the city.  We were very drunk so I can’t remember what we drank but it was pretty damn good.  You can trust me.

INFO:
Alexander Fleming Street, Mar Mikhael
1600-0400
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THE LEBANESE BAKERY

So, after Chaplin we decided we’d had enough and went home.  Sounds like a good idea, right?  But that’s not where the shenanigans ended, oh no.  We sat on the balcony for a couple more hours and caught up over many “sips” of Cognac and arak, a Lebanese aniseed based spirit.  It felt like a good idea at the time.  OMG though, the hangover the next day was epic.  I can’t even.  I don’t remember flopping on the bed around 4am, fully clothed, but I do remember stumbling down the stairs at around 8am to join David on the couch in the air-conditioned living room.  Sometime around 1pm we pulled ourselves together enough to jump into an Uber and head straight to The Lebanese Bakery for espressos and a bite to eat.  Regular readers of this ejo will know that I have a huge soft spot for flatbreads of the world.  Turkish pide, Jordanian manaqish, Hungarian lángos.  I love my flatbreads!!!  And now I can add Lebanese manousheh to that list. Baked fresh to order, you can choose from a variety of toppings to satisfy any craving.  We decided to share, and settled on halloumi cheese, basil and pine nuts for Cath, minced meat, onions and bulgur for David and free range eggs with kashkawan cheese for me.  BEST HANGOVER FOOD EVER.

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The mince beef manousheh.

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The free range egg version.  Looking at this gives me food orgasms.  They are a thing and if you don’t have them I feel sorry for you.

INFO:
Salim Bustros Street, Tabaris, Ashrafiyeh
0730-1530
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After eating we took a really long walk around town and ended up at Martyr Square, where the biggest demonstrations had been held.  On this Saturday afternoon it was deserted, but we somehow found ourselves accosted by a news crew wanting to know what we thought about the protests.  I was more than happy to share that we were fully supportive of the Lebanese people and that we weren’t frightened to be there at all.  That we wanted to be there.  I was broadcast on some Lebanese TV station, no doubt.  Listen, when you’re Drunk In a city, you get right in there, you get involved.  You don’t skirt around the edges.

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Martyr’s monument.

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I love being interviewed when I’m hungover as fuck.

AL FALAMANKI RAOUCHE

The reporter told us that there would be a major demonstration the next day so we popped that into our itinerary before taking off in an Uber for some beers.  Cath had already visited Al Falamanki and reckoned we needed to get there in time for sunset.  And boy, was she right.  This restaurant/bar is perfectly situated on a cliff-face overlooking the Mediterranean and has incredible views of the setting sun and the famous Raouche Rocks.  Also, ice-cold beers and wonderful wait staff.

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We turned up in time for this view.

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After a really hard day of…. recovering, we needed these beers.  Don’t look at me like that.

INFO:
General De Gaulle Road, Kraytem
0900-0200
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ANISE

So we had dinner at one of the hottest restaurants in Beirut that night, but to be honest it was nothing to write home about, so I won’t.  What I will mention is that after dinner we were ready to kick on.  We walked to Anise, a bar featured in the World’s 50 Best Bars list.  Again, people went out of their way to make room for us, this time right at the bar.  Honestly, I’ve never felt so genuinely welcome and accommodated anywhere else in the world.  Lebanese hospitality is second to none.  We settled in and attempted to read the cocktail menu, somewhat thwarted by the dim lighting (oh, the vagaries of old age).  In the end a cocktail we watched being constructed in front of us proved too tempting and we just said, “We’ll have what she’s having”.  It turned out to be a sage margarita, and it turned out to be very fucking tasty.  While our drinks were being made, a guy next to me was served a yummy looking snack.  I was curious, so I asked him what it was and… seriously people, he offered me a bite.  And then he offered some to David and Cath too.  And we tried it.  And it was delicious.  And I can’t, for the life of me remember what it was, because… drunk.  But where else does that happen??   How wonderful.

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The lovely bartenders at Anise.  And the toaster oven (to the right) where the tasty snacks were being heated up.

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Sage margaritas.  Yum!

INFO:
Alexander Fleming Street, Mar Mikhael
1800-0130
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EM SHERIF 

Em Sherif restaurant is a Beirut institution.  Everyone from our Airbnb host, to our taxi driver, to Tripadvisor (#1 don’t lie) said it was a must do dining experience.  And so we did.  And it was…. everything.  And when I say everything, I mean that literally.  Thirty six dishes were laid out before us, one after the other in a constant (CONSTANT) procession.  And I will admit to making the rookie mistake of eating too much too soon, because I simply couldn’t finish everything that was served (which really sucks).  It’s kinda too much.  But at the same time, it’s kinda amazing.  So many feelings.  I think it’s definitely something everyone needs to experience at least once in their life.  If nothing else, to taste the silkiest, most incredible hummus ever created.

PS.  You need to make a reservation here.  Our table of three was the smallest table by far.  And we were the only non-Lebanese folks in the joint.  Just sayin’.

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We were amongst the first ones to arrive, but by the time we left the place was loaded with joyful Lebanese families celebrating life.

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But a small sample of the Lebanese delicacies that streamed out of the kitchen.

INFO:
Yesouiyeh Street, Ashrafieh
1200-0200
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THE REVOLUTION

Warnings

Avoid demonstrations, they said.  Ha!!!!

All day long we’d been joking about “dropping in on the revolution”.  Little did we know that’s exactly what we were going to do.  We made our way back to Martyr Square at sunset just as the demonstrations were kicking off.  Thousands of people had gathered in solidarity to protest their corrupt government and a mismanaged economy.  Despite paying high taxes, the city hasn’t had reliable electricity or running water since the 70s.  When the government recently announced that they would be introducing a tax on WhatsApp usage the people said, “OH NO YOU DIDN’T!!!”.  It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it brought Lebanon, a country made up of 18 different religions, together.  It was incredible to be swept up in this feeling of unity on this night.  It was intoxicating.  Everyone gathered, regardless of their spiritual beliefs or religious identities, and they sang the national anthem and they danced and they waved their flags and they announced that, together, they were the people of Lebanon and that they’d had enough.  And we were right there.  It’s not often you get to be part of an historic event.  Despite being scared for me, I think my Mum would have been pretty proud that I was there.

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Photo courtesy of Cath Grey (award winning photojournalist).

 

TORINO EXPRESS

Revolutions are pretty thirsty work, so when things looked like they were winding down we set off in search of some drinks.  We happened upon Torino Express, which during the day disguises itself as a café, but morphs into a very cool bar in the evenings, complete with someone’s grandad, decked out in his best tracksuit, spinning tunes on a record player in the corner.  And let me tell you, grandad has some pretty good taste in music.  We all decided to start with a classic margarita, and they were so good we just kept ordering more.  Paying the bill I got confused with the currencies (both Lebanese pounds and US dollars are universally accepted), but the guy behind the bar was kind enough to point out that I was leaving a ridiculous tip.  He could have just pocketed it and I wouldn’t have been any the wiser, so huge props for honesty.  Just another reason to love Beirut.

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Torino Express

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Simply.  Perfect.  Margaritas.

INFO:
Gouraud Street, Gemmayzeh
1100-0200
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DRAGONFLY

Right next door to Torino Express is Dragonfly.  I’d read about their incredible cocktails online, and we were not let down.  The guys behind the bar are like cute, happy scientists, carefully measuring and concocting delicious libations with a smile.  Seriously, everyone in Beirut seems so chilled out and happy, despite the massive problems they face.  I want to know their secret.  I guess I’ll just have to go back and do some more research.  Come here if you’re passionate about cocktails.

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Such a sweety.  We asked if we could take a photo and he happily obliged.

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Three different versions of yum!

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The bartender obviously enjoyed all the love we were throwing his way because he threw these shots of arak our way.

INFO:
Gouraud Street, Gemmayzeh
1600-0130
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GRAYSCALE BAR

Opposite the front door of our Airbnb was a very lowkey bar called Grayscale.  It was so lowkey, and so hidden from sight, that we weren’t even sure it was open, so of course we had to go and find out.  And yes it was!  Post-revolution, we used this bar as a rendezvous point because Cath and I wanted to hit the streets and check out the action, while David was feeling a more chilled out kind of vibe and hung out at the bar while we went exploring.  I was extremely fucking drunk by this point, wandering around the streets, making friends, bringing them back to Grayscale (much to David’s bemusement).  Cath and I got separated but I never once felt unsafe.  So much for travel warnings.  You know you’ve reached the upper echelon of Drunk In when they name a cocktail after you.  Life goals people.

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Grayscale Bar

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I present to you the cocktail known as…. 40 Shades of Grey.

INFO:
Opposite Galerie Tanit, Armenia Street
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POST REVOLUTION

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The people.    © Cath Grey

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The future.  © Cath Grey

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Peacefully protesting.  © Cath Grey.

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Standing together.  © Cath Grey.

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Resistance.

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These guys were amazing.  They were so peaceful, and above all, human.  They didn’t want me to take their photo but I drunkenly snuck this one in.  We chatted about what they were doing and what I gleaned is that they are simply young men forced into a position of authority.  They don’t want any drama.  They don’t want to be there.  While we were there, the protests were not only peaceful, but friendly.  Sadly, after we left a protestor was shot and killed by a young officer. Things have taken a darker turn since and that makes me really sad.