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What’s stopping us from making real efforts to “fix”​ racism?

What’s stopping us from making real efforts to “fix”​ racism?

Black Lives Matter protestors June 2020. Bruce Emmerling - Pixabay

Photo by Bruce Emmerling (public domain – Pixabay – June 2020).

Some acts of racism are driven by the very worst prejudice, discrimination or antagonism, like killing a man by kneeling on his neck. But many acts and expressions of racism – whether denigration of a group of people of a particular skin color, or closing borders to migrants, or labeling certain people as ‘thugs’ or ‘terrorists’ – are often not caused directly by racism itself. Rather, they are indirect symptoms of something else: aporophobia, the fear or deep dislike of poverty and of poor people.

The causes of racism are complex. To tackle it, we need to understand it. We need to go beyond vilifying certain groups, like the police. We also need to avoid whitewashing groups by apologizing for individual behavior (“a few bad apples”, “unique circumstances”, yadda yadda yadda). Racism is not something specific to any group. To a greater or lesser degree, it is in every group, and most individuals, in society.

It is almost impossible to separate notions of skin color and wealth. Race and income. The relatively poorer the community, the more likely that it is composed of people of color and ethnic minorities. Anywhere in the world. So you cannot talk about racism without addressing aporophobia.

We all have some level of aporophobia; we just didn’t have a name for it until a few years ago.

Most people don’t want society to change

‘Fixing’ racism (if that could ever be possible) could only come through making massive societal changes, with consequent economic upheavals. And that terrifies people. Because changing society means that our own economic status could change. ‘Rich’ people fear and resist any major changes to society, not so much because they fear that major social upheaval will result in them losing their actual assets (when they are being rational, many people – not all, obviously – know they could happily live on less money, a smaller home, etc.). Not even because they fear that they will become ‘poor’. They fear that they will lose their identity of ‘not-poor’. This isn’t classism. It isn’t about the super-rich protecting their offshore bank accounts. This fear crosses class boundaries because within any class there are the ‘not-poor’ and the ‘poor’. (Lower middle class are poor compared to upper middle class…. you get the picture.)

Stress and insecurity breed fear

People are particularly stressed and distressed right now – even more aporophobic than usual – due to coronavirus. It’s both a health and financial stress. Health is linked to where people are on the poverty scale, and those at the lower end are at greater risk from coronavirus, both in terms of health and finances. Sickness from coronavirus has a financial cost and can result in loss of assets or even death. Loss of actual income (or fear thereof) and loss of life (or fear thereof) through coronavirus foment widespread fear.

George Floyd’s murder was one more atrocity that became the spark that ignited this fear into anger and protests. The tipping point. There is nothing original in that perspective, but I believe that finding the right words for things helps us to analyze statements like this and to think and talk about them more clearly. Naming things helps us.

Aporophobia: the fear that divides us

‘Aporophobia’ is the word that can help us talk about racism. Aporophobia is a deep-rooted part of the human condition and a driving force for our lives. It’s a core aspect of self-preservation, even the survival instinct. Much of what we think and do is driven by fear, including this fear of poverty and the poor. It can be a positive force that drives us to go to school, work hard and look after ourselves and our family. Its dark side is misanthropy and hatred of specific groups of people.

I believe that whether you are left-wing or right-wing, antifa or maga, depends not on some deeply-held and clearly-defined “values” but on how strong your aporophobia is. Often, what we label as racism is rooted in aporophobia.

If we could get better at talking about our aporophobia, bringing it out into the light to examine, challenge and try to overcome it, we would be much better able to be #UnitedNotDivided.

Originally posted on LinkedIn

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I couldn’t be arsed… and other less-common English mistakes

I couldn’t be arsed… and other less-common English mistakes

Like all editors, I’m always on the lookout for common English mistakes. And I love when someone brings to my attention a mistake I haven’t heard before. My friend Mary is a teacher in primary (grade) school. Recently she overheard a pupil tell a teacher “I don’t want to do [this assignment].” The teacher replied, “I see, you couldn’t be arsed to do it!”.

Mary later took the teacher aside and commented that this way of speaking with the children was a tad inappropriate. “What do you mean?”, the other teacher responded. “All I said was, ‘You couldn’t be asked to do it!’.”

When I had stopped laughing, we had a fun conversation about English mistakes that are less frequent than the usual ‘lose/loose’, ‘accept/except’, etc. Today I came across another one, when I read an article where someone wrote that “for all intensive purposes, I am fully cured”. I’m delighted about the author’s clean bill of health, but to all intents and purposes she could do with some remedial English classes.

I’ve already written a list of the most common English mistakes that I come across in my work. Today, let’s look at some that are less common.

My favorite less-common English mistakes

SHOULD OF –> Should have. Come on, you know that’s just being lazy, right?

IRREGARDLESS –> Regardless, as in ‘I’m staying up late tonight binge-watching Netflix, regardless of my 8 a.m. meeting tomorrow.’

TRY AND –> Try to, as in ‘I’ll try to get to that meeting on time, but I have an early breakfast meeting before.’ (Yeah, sure you do!)

ANOTHER THING COMING –> Think, as in ‘If you think I’m going to hike over to your place and pick up pizza on the way, when I could just as well sit at home binge-watching Netflix, you’ve got another think coming.’

PEAK/PEEK MY INTEREST –> Pique, meaning to rouse or provoke.

FINE TOOTHCOMB –> Fine-tooth comb. I think this one is self-explanatory, but I always enjoy hearing this mistake and getting that fleeting image of someone combing their teeth with a tiny little comb.

LESS –> Fewer, as in ‘There are fewer interesting TV shows on Netflix during the summer.’ ‘Less’ would mean something different here, as in ‘There are less-interesting TV shows on Netflix during the summer.’ In other contexts however, I think we should just accept the shift from fewer to less. It really doesn’t bother me to hear or read ‘There are less apples in this basket than in that one.’ It’s a fact that this change is happening. English is an evolving language, and that is part of its beauty. So sometimes we have to sit back, observe the evolution and enjoy the ride. Regardless.

I –> Me. As in ‘He invited my husband and me to come over for pizza.’ Hint: remove ‘my husband’ and you’re left with the correct sentence ‘He invited me to come over for pizza.’ I’m not sure how my husband would feel about this invitation (my husband and I usually prefer to go out together), but the sentence would be right.

EVERYDAY/EVERYONE/SOMETIME –> Every day/every one/some time. It’s not always right to turn words like these from two words into one. It changes the meaning. Every day I’d like to eat everyday things like bread (and pizza). But sometimes I don’t, when I reflect that I’ll need to diet for some time to make up for it.

WHICH/THAT – These are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be. It’s all about essential messages versus nice-to-have, add-on messages. ‘Which’ introduces a nice-to-have message that is not essential to the sentence. ‘That’ introduces a phrase that is essential to the meaning of the sentence. ‘My last cup of coffee, which I drank at a Parisian café, tasted delicious.’ This means that the last cup of coffee I drank tasted great. ‘The last cup of coffee that I drank at the bus station was disgusting.’ This means that, of the four cups of coffee I drank at the bus station, the last one tasted awful. I use this little mantra as a reminder: ‘That is essential, which is nice.’

SUPPOSABLY –> Supposedly. ‘Supposably’ is an actual word, but it doesn’t mean what people most likely want to say when they use it. It means ‘capable of being conceived of’ or ‘possible to suppose’. ‘Supposedly’ means ‘allegedly’.

So you could say, ‘Supposably, global warming could result in many coastal cities being wiped out. Supposedly, sea levels are rising even faster than predicted.’ In normal usage, that ‘supposably’ would most likely be replaced by ‘Conceivably’.

UNDOUBTABLY –> Undoubtedly. Similarly, people tend to get this wrong, although ‘undoubtably’ may be right in some cases. ‘Undoubtably’ means ‘not capable of being doubted’, or ‘it cannot be doubted’. ‘Undoubtedly’ ‘means ‘not questioned or doubted by anyone’. So, Paris is undoubtably the capital of France and undoubtedly a beautiful city.

I could finish with a complicated disclaimer about having no affiliation with Netflix (or Paris, for that matter), but right now I really couldn’t be asked!

See also: common English mistakes.

Posted by Fiona in blog posts, 1 comment
Brutalist web design: back to basics

Brutalist web design: back to basics

Source: David Bryant Copeland, November 6, 2018,

(Update 29 July 2019: The website referred to below is dead. Meanwhile, here’s another excellent example of [extreme] digital brutalism:

Is web design getting out of hand?

As web technology evolves, it’s easier and easier to introduce new web design elements to websites; all types of scrolling, animation, diagonals, fonts… And the more that can be done, the more websites become a cornucopia of visual effects.

Yeah, sure, some of them are pretty good. But sometimes I feel we’ve come full circle to the horrendous websites – packed with all-flashing, all-jumping gifs – of the mid 1990s.

And I look back with nostalgia to the pared-down, basic designs of the world’s first websites.

Apparently I’m not the only one. Several trend-spotters are predicting that 2019 will see the increasing popularity of so-called ‘brutalist web design‘. Derived from ‘brutalist architecture’, the term comes from the French ‘brut’ meaning ‘raw’, as in raw concrete; béton brut.

[content_box box_type=”normal”]The term brutalism in relation to architecture goes back to the 1940s, a descendant of the modernist architectural movement. By the 1980s, the original concrete buildings in the brutalist style were starting to decay and crumble, and interest in the style declined. The past few years have seen a renewed interest in the stark, graphic beauty and clean lines of brutalist architecture.[/content_box]

Brutalist web design is inspired by brutalist architecture, embracing the fundamentals of UX: usability, legibility, common sense. Its expression is stark, pared down and minimalist.

What’s not to love?

That said, although I love the idea, I don’t love all the expressions of it currently online. It’s early days for this trend, and it may be no more than a 9-day wonder. Meanwhile, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago has one of the best brutalist websites I’ve found. Simple, easy, clear.

Brutalist web design – How to do it

For UX principles for creating a brutalist website, look no further than here: UXbrutalism (itself a wonderful example: update – this website no longer exists) defines a framework for brutalist design.

It outlines (very simply) wireframes, user journeys, user personas, etc. I particularly like the brutalist user story:

… and brutalist user testing:

Should you redesign your website as a brutalist site?

Well, maybe it’s not for everyone. However, brutalism is a healthy, necessary reminder of WHY we make websites in the first place: so that users can visit them and see them. NOT to win design awards. So that users can find information, not be impressed by your fine esthetic sensibility.

Start with the communication basics and build from there.

So, how should I design my website?

First of all, NEVER, EVER, EVER, start with this question. Your website design should be decided on based on your communication strategy; it is not a starting point, but a result. It depends on your communication objectives, your target audiences, your brand positioning, your competitor positioning, your key messages, …To come back to what David Bryant Copeland said:

“apply styling only to solve a specific problem.”

I’ll be writing more about communication strategies – and how they apply to website design – soon. Watch this space!

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And …. it’s published!

Now available on Amazon

It’s finally finished, ready and published on your favorite Amazon website. I’m talking about MY NEW BOOK, Writing for Mobile – How to write gripping content for easy mobile reading.

I’ll be promoting it more in the coming weeks… but feel free to check it out straight away!

Posted by Fiona in blog posts, 0 comments