Esme Choonara

The fight for our health

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Social inequality is reflected most harshly in our chances to lead a healthy life, argues Esme Choonara. But the fight for better healthcare rests in the fundamental way our society is organised

The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the devastating health inequalities faced by working class people and in particular those from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds. It has also revealed how decades of underfunding, understaffing and privatisation have undermined our NHS. So although our health, or lack of it, may sometimes feel very personal, it is clearly shaped by social and economic factors including housing, income, working conditions, discrimination and pollution levels.

Midnight Family

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There are just 45 public ambulances in Mexico City, serving a population of around 9 million. The rest of emergency care is provided by an informal system of private ambulances, competing to make profits out of their patients.

This observational film follows the Ochoa family’s fortunes as they run a private ambulance in Mexico City, trying to make a living out of attending to some of the many casualties that public ambulances don’t get to.

Can implicit bias explain racism?

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Twenty years on from the Macpherson report focus has shifted from institutional racism to unconsious bias. How helpful is this concept in the fight against racism, asks Esme Choonara.

When the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, chaired by William Macpherson, announced in 1999 that the police were institutionally racist, it was a huge vindication of the struggles and arguments of black people and the wider anti-racist movement. Yet 20 years on, there is widespread denial of institutional racism. The London Met police commissioner Cressida Dick recently said she doesn’t see it “as a helpful or accurate description”.

Mistaken Identity

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How did identity politics go from being part of a wider radical movement for change to becoming a tool for establishment politicians to undermine the left? If identity politics doesn’t move us towards genuine liberation, what sort of politics do we need? These are the central questions that Asad Haider asks in this thoughtful and thought-provoking book about race, class and the limitations of identity-based politics.

Song of Gulzarina

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This is a powerful, sweeping novel that follows the life of Saleem Khan, a high school teacher from rural Pakistan who migrates to Bradford in the 1960s. Saleem faces vicious racism in the Yorkshire mills, becomes a witness to the violence of imperialism when he returns to Pakistan and ends his tale contemplating suicide bombing in modern day Manchester.

'From the slow river into a rapid'

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In February 1917 Russian workers toppled the hated emperor, beginning a process of mass revolt that would lead just eight months later to the overthrow of the entire state machinery. Esme Choonara explains how discontent turned into revolution.

Thousands of workers in the streets, soldiers in mutiny, police stations burned, the prisons opened. These were the incredible events of February 1917 that sparked the Russian Revolution.

The author and journalist Arthur Ransome wrote of these events, “Revolution turns the slow river of political development into a rapid in which the slightest action has an immediate effect.”

The Unknown Girl

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“A good doctor controls their emotions in order to make a correct diagnosis.” This is the advice that young medic Jenny Davin tries to impress upon her intern Julien in the opening scenes of The Unknown Girl. Yet it is her barely suppressed emotions that drive Jenny into the obsessive mission at the heart of this captivating film.

Sherpa

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Sherpa is the fascinating story of an inspiring labour dispute, set against the breathtaking scenery of the world’s highest mountain.

Film-maker Jennifer Peedom and her team were on Everest in 2014 to document the climbing season from the point of view of the Sherpas — a term used interchangeably for a Nepalese ethnic group and for all those employed to assist Western climbers.

Submission

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Submission is an irredeemably joyless novel steeped in misogyny and lazy stereotypes of Islam. Reviews on the cover promise that it will be “extraordinary” (Le Monde), “electrifying” (Spectator) and like “a tropical storm” (Observer). It is not.

The novel follows the melancholic musings of 40-something French academic Francois, a disenchanted intellectual whose main interests are having sex with his students and the work of 19th century novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans.

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