Why I resigned from the Campaign for Real Ale

 

Dear CAMRA,

 

I’m afraid I come bearing bad news. We’ve had, at best, a complicated relationship but I have tried to make it work. I joined you because I thought a voice from the inside would be more likely to drive change than criticism from the outside. I joined your committee. I defended you to people who argued you were a dinosaur, behind times, passive when it came to matters of equality. I knew we’d never agree on matters like craft beer, I still thought you had the power to do more good for the beer industry in the UK than harm, and I chose to believe in your cause and what you were trying to do.

 

And then I could no longer do that.

 

 

I have, as I am sure everyone has, been following the Derby Crossword incident for the past week and from the looks of it, it’s going from bad to worse. To think that language (using the word n*gro and describing an ‘effeminate man’ as a ‘dildo’) like this would escape the notice of every single person (including an experienced editor) who had a hand in compiling the publication, is simply unbelievable. But what is does suggest, is that a culture where offensive words of this nature are not seen as a big deal is at large in the branch in question.

 

But what’s done is done, and what really matters is how it was dealt with. I am aware that the NE have commented on this and that Colin Valentine has issued a statement – but I do not feel that this is any way a sufficient one. The initial response on Twitter, where CAMRA as an official entity tried to absolve themselves from any responsibility because “we are a volunteer organisation” and because “no offense was meant” and if we’re lucky, “action may be taken”, was nothing short from dismissive and insufficient and as such, incredibly disappointing. Colin Valentine’s statement didn’t go much further: there was an apology “for the offence caused” – not that this actually happened. He stated that we, as an organisation, “do not condone the use of such language” and that “it does not represent CAMRA, the views of our wider membership, or the values we stand for”, but then does not put any meat on the bones of this statement. Saying we have certain values means nothing if we do not action them, or if we are wishy-washy when we are in a situation where we need to do so.

 

Whether offense was meant or not is irrelevant: it’s still there, so unfortunately stating that “offense wasn’t meant” simply doesn’t cut it as an excuse. It just means that the person making the offensive comment doesn’t think it’s a big deal – which is even more unfortunate. It means that they aren’t even aware of their own attitudes towards minorities, which makes it nearly impossible to change their views.

 

We have to stop justifying all the variations of the n-word and its meanings. Almost every time the word is used to describe someone or something, there is a negative connotation behind the usage of the word. I’ve seen many members try and defend the using of this word because it’s an anthropologic word or because Martin Luther King used the word. Regardless if one uses the ‘er’ at the end of the word or not, the meaning, roots, and circumstances associated with the word remain the same. History can never be changed.

 

Language and the meaning of the words has changed significantly over the last 30 years. Dr King used the derogatory term for effect, but since then, Obama (the first black president, you remember him) has banned the word in the vocabulary of the US federal government. A bill to that effect was signed, replacing the discarded term with “African-American”.

 

I trust I don’t need to explain why describing an ‘effeminate man’ as a ‘dildo’ is bang out of order, as there is no proposed anthropology to hide behind.

 

I believe this would have been the perfect opportunity for CAMRA to assert their values, to stamp out homophobic and racist language (because this is what it was) and to show the world at large that we are an inclusive and transparent organisation with modern, liberal values who refuse to condone behaviour of this kind. What was done was to make a bunch of excuses, pass the blame to faceless entities that apparently our leadership has no control over, and a few references to values that we hold but have no desire to invoke into action when challenged about them.

 

The country -especially the younger generations who we so desperately need in our ranks- were watching and following the development of this case, and we did not persuade them we are the forward-looking, progressive organisation we try and convince them we are. We let them down, and we let ourselves down.

 

I was deeply offended by what happened, and I was deeply disappointed in the response. And I continue to be greatly disappointed in the tone of the discussion this matter is receiving on CAMRA Discourse Forum as much as on several social media platforms. It speaks volumes that this is not an isolated incident but a sign of the attitudes at large in our organisation.

 

And as it stands, I cannot in good faith be party to an organisation of that nature. I am fully aware that this would have never happened in the branch I belong to but my decision, which I have thought long and hard about, is not based on what a single branch does or doesn’t do. It’s about the organisation at large; if we do not action our proposed values even at the top leader level, what chances are there that these values are actioned at member level? Behaviour like this goes against everything I stand for and I have to be true to my values and take action to enforce them, as I expected the organisation I am a part of would do.

 

Which is why I must stand down from my committee position, as well as rescind my membership as a whole.

 

I wish my branch all the best for the future and I will continue to promote and support real ale as well as our local pubs and bars – I just unfortunately cannot do so as a member of CAMRA anymore.

 

Best regards,

Katja