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Twenty Twenty Won: New Year, New MBE

Photo by Kristina G. on Unsplash

Part 2 of a Two-Part Post


When I have had discussions with students and even academics about empire or the violence of the English state, it always interests me to hear the excuses as to why white people may have less of a reason to turn down a British Empire medal when it comes to the Queen’s Honours. There’s this idea that the violence of the British Empire only impacted those who were visibly not white. Whilst you cannot necessarily alot a skin colour to Ireland, it is a stereotypical white place, and hasn’t had Black populations for a long time (Dabiri, 2019). Ireland was also a testing ground for British colonialism. There is a very good reason why so many of my Irish colleagues are anti-imperialist. It’s almost as if, in discourses about not only the British Empire but the history of the English monarchy in relation to its neighbours (Scotland and Wales too), there is a historical amnesia, including the history in the title of the ‘ Prince of Wales’ dating back to the twelfth century.

In 2017 actor Michael Sheen quietly gave up his OBE so he could openly criticise the Royal Family without being labelled a hypocrite. Before the twelfth century, the title ‘Prince of Wales’ was held by native Welsh princes. Edward I, an English king, gave his son, Edward, the title, the first English prince of Wales in 1301. Sheen elected to give up his OBE after doing research for his 2017 Raymond Williams lecture. Learning about his native Welsh history, he saw he could not both do this lecture and hold on to his medal. In conversation with Owen Jones, Sheen talks about how in 2018 there was push to rename the second Severn Crossing the ‘Prince of Wales Bridge’, later recieving a petition against it garnering over 30,000 signatures. History holds power and the reason why Edward made his son Prince of Wales was to help quash the Welsh ‘rebellion.’

Photo by Richard Haywood on Unsplash

The reasons why some reject Honours are in many cases much ado with the British Empire but the violence committed by the Royal Family to its neighbours far predates our contemporary views of what defined the colonial project. Robert van Krieken (2011) states that looking at Irish history “makes it possible to see the extent to which the English conception of ‘the savage’ and indeed of the whole colonial project was anchored in the perception of the Irish and ‘Irishness’.” This dates back to the twelfth century and English encounters with the Irish, Welsh and Scots “constituted an important watershed in the development of what both civilization and barbarianism were…” So concepts that were donned on Black and Brown people during colonialism through racist science, actually originated with the othering of those also racialised as white.

In November 2020, activist Gina Martin declined an OBE concerned about its ties to oppression and the British Empire. She was being honoured for her activist work, namely the anti-upskirting campaign that lead to the construction of the Voyerusim (Offences) Act 2019. Over the years, many have declined honours, from Ken Loach and Nigella Lawson to Benjamin Zephaniah and Howard Gayle. Today, when ethnic minorities more generally accept or decline these awards, it is deeply politicised. In accepting one, you will be judged as ‘selling out’ to the establishment and in declining one, there is a possible interpretation of you being ‘too angry’ or ‘political’, and the worst of all ‘ungrateful’ to the country you live in. And the connotations of gratefulness in the context of Black people, Brown people and immigrants is a story also worth telling.

A good portion of the people I would call role models (to varying degrees) have them, from some of my favourite actors to empire historians, filmmakers and activists. In the New Year, Lewis Hamilton is set to add a knighthood to his MBE. Both my grandfather and Lewis Hamitlon’s grandfather grew up on the same hill in Grenada. As children, they would race carts down the hill together. Seeing Lewis Hamilton come out for the Black lives matter movement as he did during the summer was a positive. He already had an MBE at that point. However, now in seemingly accepting a knighthood as well for contributions to sport, I am asking more quesitons. Perhaps he’s virtue signalling off the back of this new pro-Black consciousness. In his knighthood, I am reminded of the stories of how Leapers’ Hill in Grenada gained its name… how the First People jumped from the hills to their deaths to avoid capture and/or enslavement. Or that’s the European version… seemingly if we knew the real details, this would be a gross understatement of what actually happened!

Gina Martin

The Honours list raises more concerns for me about the face of Black activism in Britain, very much one that is establishment. Despite the success of Small Axe, Steve McQueen like Lewis, has two honours, a knighthood and a CBE. During the summer, we saw David Olusoga OBE deliver a brilliant MacTaggart lecture on race and representation in the media, and a video on white privilege by John Amaechi OBE went viral. I have also seen people awarded honours for contributions to equality, diversity and inclusion… oxymoron much? In Marcus Rashford, I see someone that was a victim of his MBE, with possible pressure from his family to accept at such a young age. Would he have had to campaign for free school meal vouchers for children, had it not been for the Government’s 19th century policies and ideologies? The answers I get to my dislike of the Honours system is that it allows change from within. But I wonder, how can you put a fire out from inside the house?

In the face of Black activism and those speaking out on television, there is a large whiff of Black exceptionalism and unsaid thoughts of them being “some of the good ones”… the voices of the Black working-class are lost, and a few Guardian articles isn’t enough.

The fact ‘British Empire’ is also in the title is another problem, linked to the idea that the Royal Family hand out these medals based on recommendations from Government. The most ironic one of late being Marcus Rashford, it almost feels like the powers that be had the last laugh. In discussions about the Honours system and change from within, I would ask you to think about Audre Lorde’s ideas about power as “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The tools of colonisers were not designed to liberate the colonised; Whiteness cannot be used to dismantle White supremacy; “this fact is only threatening to [those] who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.” (Lorde, continued). There is an African proverb that states “the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”

Those three letters after your name are one problem, historical amnesia is another; however, the biggest one of all is how activists and community campaigners still take emblems to empire undermining the integrity of all activist movements. Not every activist/campaigner with Honours feels disowned by their community, but we need to be careful in what local leaders accept from the local/national ivory towers, so those working to tackle inequalities in our communities do not end up looking like hypocrites.

A Christmas blog

What is Christmas?  A date in the calendar in winter towards the end of the year to celebrate one of the main religious festivals of the Christian calendar.  The Romans replaced a pagan festival with the birth of the head of the, then new, religion.  Since then as time progresses, more customs and traditions are added, to make this festival more packed with meaning and importance.  The gift of the 20th century’s big corporations was the addition to the date, the red Santa Claus who travels the planet on his sledge from the North Pole in a single day, offering gifts to all the well-behaved kids.  The birth of Christ is miles away from the Poles but somehow the story’s embellishment continues. 

In schools, kids across the world will re-enact the nativity scene, a romantic version of the birth of Jesus, minus their flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the infants.  The nativity, is for many, their first attempt at theatre and most educators’ worst nightmare, as they will have to include all children regardless of talent or interest to this production.  The play consists mostly of male characters (usually baby Jesus is someone’s doll) except for one.  That of the mother of Jesus.  The virgin Mary is located centre stage, sitting quietly, the envy of all other parent’s that their kid was not cast in such a reverent role.  In recent years, charlatans tried to add more female roles by feminising the Angels and even giving the Inn keeper a daughter or even a wife.  In most cases it was the need of introducing more characters in the play.  Most productions now include barn animals (cats and dogs included), reindeers, trees, villagers, stars and even a moon.  All castable parts not necessarily with a talking part. 

The show usually feels that it lasts longer than it does.  The actors become nervous, some forget their lines, others remember different lines, the music is off key and the parents jostle to get to prime position in order to record this show, that very few will ever watch.  The costumes will be coming apart almost right after the show and the props are just about holding on with a lot of tape and superglue.  The play will signal the end of the school season carrying the joyful message from the carpark to the people’s homes.  This tradition carries on regardless of religious sentiments and affiliations.  People to commemorate the birth of a man that billions of people consider the head of their faith. 

Nativity is symbolic but its meaning changes with the times, leaving me wondering what our nativity will be in the 21st century.  Imagine a baby Jesus floating face down on torrential Aegean waters, a virgin Mary hoping that this will be the last client for the day on the makeshift brothel maybe today is the day she gets her passport back; Joseph a broken man, laying by the side of the street on a cardboard; the angel a wingless woman living alone in emergency accommodation, living in fear, the villagers stunned in fear and everyone carrying on .  Not as festive as the school production but after all, people living for year in austerity, and a lockdown and post-referendum decisions make it difficult to be festive.  Regardless of the darkness that we live in, the nativity has a more fundamental message: life happens irrespective of circumstances and nothing can stop the birth of a new-born.   

Merry Christmas to all from the Criminology Team

#CriminologyBookClub: The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star

As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all bloggers contributing! Our seventh book was chosen by all of us (unanimously) after we fell in love with the first and second instalment. While we struggled with fitting in the discussions of book club, due to the rigours of an academic term, we all found space for reading about the adventures of Inspector Chopra (retired) et al.:

I find the predictable happy endings of Vaseem’s novels to be quite comforting, especially during such an unprecedented time. What I enjoy mostly about these novels is that each has a moral message. In this novel it is characters like the blind homeless teacher, the prison inmates and the eunuchs that remind me that we should all try to be better people, as this will help to build a better society. The Chopra series continues to be a top lockdown read.

@haleysread

The 3rd mystery for Inspector Chopra brings him to the glittering world of Bollywood. An unusual place for the inspector and his pet elephant who seems to enjoy the attention conjuring images of other elephants working in the entertainment industry. This instalment of the crime mystery novels seemed to have matured the characters, giving their relationships more depth. Even the acerbic mother-in-law grows in ways to give us a greater understanding of their lives. The combination of the everyday with the obscure is done seamlessly and makes the surrealism even more profound. Even the pachyderm, gains more of a character reaching the intellectual age of a rebellious teenager. In the end, the mystery is solved, revealing some more social injustices behind the façade of the sparkling movie industry. As always we are left, wanting more.

@manosdaskalou

The third Chopra book was a welcome return to familiar and colourful characters. This was my favourite book in the series so far for its strong themes of kindness and reflections on what it means to be a good person. The subplot was just as gripping as the main story and lovely Ganesha kept me smiling throughout.

@saffrongarside

You could be forgiven for ignoring the plaudits on the first page of most novels, consigning them to the usual blurb written by reviewers that feel the need to say something nice to aid publicity and sales. In this case you would be foolish to ignore the plaudits, if anything they are somewhat understated. Having read the first two books in the series I picked this up with anticipation and excitement. I wasn’t disappointed. Transported to a world of vivid colour, pungent and aromatic smells and the hubbub of a bustling metropolis, the description of Mumbai and its citizens fuels the imagination and leaves the reader eagerly turning pages. The bifurcation of the storyline means there is never a dull moment, Insp. Chopra (retired) has his hands full and as a consequence ‘The Baby Ganesh Agency’ has to make use of its ever-increasing, albeit quirky staff and associates. And so Rangwalla, Chopra’s sidekick finds himself in a rather trying and unusual circumstance. Of course, what is now becoming the indomitable Ganesh gets his usual share of adventure and inevitably saves the day at some point aided by Poppy, Chopra’s wife and rock. The book is a triumph as it provides wonderful descriptions of both the lighter and darker side of the city and its residents. As usual good triumphs over evil but in the case of Chopra’s nemesis, ACP Rao, the door has been left firmly open for more mischief to come.
Rarely do I get the opportunity to read a book that I struggle to put down. A book that put a smile on my face and gave me a warm feeling at its conclusion.

@5teveh

The third instalment of Chopra and gang is just as delightful and entertaining as the previous novels. For me, the third story in the series has crossed over to the fantasy genre, whereas the previous two were toeing the line. I want to make it abundantly clear: this is not a criticism of the book. I still loved every page, as I have with the others. But for me, when reading I felt as if I was in a fantasy world with villains and heroines, magical elephants and mystical tales. The realism was somewhat lost on me this time around.

What I absolutely adored about ‘The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star’ was how Vaseem Khan beautifully tackles the topic area of prejudices. Rangwalla’s journey in this book was possibly my favourite aspect of the Inspector Chopra series so far. Rangwalla attempts to face his prejudices; and in a way that mirrors reality. Vaseem has reminded us through Rangwalla’s experienced that our prejudices need to be constantly put in check, and this requires a conscious effort from us all. Roll on book number 4!

@jesjames50

If ever a year called for some escapism, 2020 certainly did. Fortunately, @vaseemk2’s tales of Inspector Chopra et al. have provided that, in bucket loads. The books transport me to a place I’ve never been, the heat, the colour and the vibrancy recreate India in front of my very eyes. The third volume in the series, is probably my favourite to date. The sparkling glamour of Bollywood, juxtaposed against dark issues of discrimination, prejudice and social injustice, creates a story which will stay with me. In particular, the bringing to life of the eunuch community and the recognition that prejudice is within us all and can be combatted, gave me a great deal of pause for thought. With it’s overarching themes of kindness and striving to do the right thing against all odds, this book captures the (hopefully) enduring lessons of lockdown, that we all need each other.

@paulaabowles

Covid -19: An opportunity too good to miss

“Wild Turkey strut” by stevevoght is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

And so, vast swathes of the country have gone into a new lock down (tier 4). We all must have known in hearts that this was coming and those of us that are not in tier 4 will be wondering just when the new lock down will hit us. We can all moan about our ruined Christmas and feel bitterly disappointed about not seeing relatives and friends.  We can blame Boris for this monumental cock up, but we have to face facts, Covid -19 is here and something has to be done to stop the spread of the disease.

I, like so many, am upset that I will not be able to see my family in person this Christmas but over the last few days I began to wonder just how much of a hardship that is.  There was a man on the news the other day that was moaning about the Christmas restrictions, he and his wife had a 15 lb turkey that was now going to waste.  My first thought was, so you’d rather catch Covid you *^&$£” **.  But this morning I thought, aren’t you lucky to have a 15lb turkey and, as my wife and I discussed whether we will be having a roast on Christmas day and the Sunday after, I thought aren’t I lucky too. There are two things that strike me, I’m able to have what food I want on Christmas day and I’m saving a bloody fortune not having to have all the family round or take them out for Christmas dinner and drinks.  The pandemic has some upsides.

But, this is the crux of the matter, how can I sit down to my Christmas lunch knowing that I have money I would have spent sitting in the bank when there are people out there who will be wondering right now, not about the massive turkey, or the family not coming round, or whether to have chicken on Christmas day and Sunday but, whether they can feed themselves and their family tomorrow, let alone Christmas day.  We could of course blame Boris and his government (a very rational decision) but judging by Reece Mogg’s comments the other day, they have little interest.  We could just ignore it, don’t think about it, pretend all is well and on Christmas day raise a glass to our nearest and dearest and those that we are missing.  But as we must face facts that Covid – 19 is here, so must we face facts that people, real people, are starving in this country.  It shouldn’t be like that, but it is.

So my wife and I have decided that we will work out how much extra we would have spent this Christmas, by going out, by going to parties, by catering for family and we will spend that money on food and give it to a food bank. It won’t be very much in the greater scheme of things, but it will be something.  I’m not writing this blog to say how marvellous we are, far from it, but rather to challenge all of you to do the same.  Even a little extra in your shopping before Christmas is going to make a huge difference.  Let’s turn this Christmas into one we can remember for the right reasons and turn the Covid- 19 pandemic into an opportunity that we seized for the good.

Please see below for a list of local and national organisations helping families this Christmas and throughout the year:

AmplifiedNN Community Group
AmplifiedNN Festive Family Fundraiser

End Child Poverty

Fareshare

Northamptonshire Food Poverty Network

Restore: Northampton

The Trussell Trust

Reality and the fairy tale world of policy and procedures

https://pixabay.com/photos/once-upon-a-time-writer-author-719174/

In the concept of managerialism, we see that both policy and procedures form part of the techniques employed to enhance productivity and cultural changes. These changes use a ‘calculative and rationalistic knowledge base’ which appears both ‘universalistic’, and [at first sight] ‘seems entirely good sense’ (Gilling, 2014:82).

However, this knowledge base is far from universalistic and to the ‘street level bureaucrat’ (Lipsky, 1980) often falls little short of complete naivety.  Lipsky (2010) provides a valuable insight into how individuals in public service adapt unworkable policies and procedures as the idealistic meets the reality of overstretched resources and ever demanding and needy consumers of services.

Whilst both working in and studying the police as an organisation subjected to and adopting managerialist policies, I witnessed the nonsensical notions of measuring activities and the subjugation of professionalism to management ideals (Hallam, 2009).  Perhaps, there could be no better example than the measurement of the length of time a call handler spent dealing with a call. This derived from the need to answer calls within a target time period. It all made sense until you begin to take into account reality – the lack of resources and the nature of calls which demanded that on some occasions operators ought to spend far longer on the phone to deal with more protracted matters, such as someone in crises who really needed help and a comforting voice whilst someone was on their way.  The result of the measurements was often counterproductive, officers being sent to incidents that amounted to little more than a waste of time, ‘My Jimmy is missing and I haven’t seen him for three days’ – when the officers turn up, Jimmy turns out to be a cat or, officers being sent to locations where information regarding the incident is scant because little time has been spent on the phone to get sufficient details.  In the clinical world of the policy maker, there are ideal call takers, those that have knowledge about every eventuality, and ideal call makers, those that are precise, unemotional and to the point.  Nothing of course could be further from reality.

Disappointingly, I find little solace in academia.  Policy and procedures abound. Teaching styles are based, not on the nuances of student types but on the ideal student.  The student that has the requisite skills to read and write and think critically. The student that is always engaged and always turns up and above all else, teaching is based on idealistic (see Morse and Lewis for tutorial sizes) small student classes.  Policies that are well meaning such as catering for additional needs, become unworkable in an environment where class sizes and teaching demands outstrip available resources.  Like the call handler, for the lecturer, it becomes impossible to cater for those that need more attention and time. And like the call handler, lecturers are subjected to managerialist idealistic measurements of success and failure.  I once heard of a manager that referred to academics as ‘slackademics’, I think is probably just an indication of how far removed from reality managers are. There are two worlds in organisations that provide a service to the public, one is based on reality the other, a fairy tale world of policies and procedures based on the ideal.

References

Gilling, D. (2014) Reforming police governance in England and Wales: managerialisation and the politics of organisational regime Change, Policing and Society, 24 (1): 81-101.

Lipsky, M. (2010) Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Don’t resign Steve McQueen’s ‘Education’ to history, the sector is still failing Black students

(Small Axe, BBC)

Watching last night’s finale to Steve McQueen’s Small Axe took me back to when I was at school. Unknown to many, I was a student that was considered Special Educational Needs [SEN]. Today, as a Black Caribbean SEN boy I would be 168 times more likely than my white counterpart to be excluded (Crenna-Jennings, 2017). I had extra classes and was in the minds of the white education system “educationally subnormal” [ESN]. How my experience of school differs to a good many Black students in this country though, in that I was at private school. Being the only Black student in the school to then need extra classes to keep up has a specific set of connotations. Looking back on this part of my personal history now, shows me that did I really need extra classes, or does education still not know how to treat students as individals? Moreover, is the system not designed for such an endeavour? The added invisible disability of dyspraxia also brought its own challenges. So, last night, I know if I was a boy in the 1970s, I would have been put in an ESN. No doubt about it.

McQueen’s picture has also cast my mind back to earlier on in the summer, when the cancelling of A-Level and GCSE examinations saw a resurgence of discussion about the embedded racism in the education system… when Race Equality specialist Sofia Akel wrote “predicted grades are a lottery of privilege where Black students almost always lose.” Unlike me, many Black students in this country, just like Kingsley go / went through the state system, just like my parents did during the 1980s. And I know my grandparents, also from Grenada, would remember the publication of Grenadian politician Bernard Coard’s seminal pamphlet How the West Indian Child is made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System (1971).

Those schools no longer exist as those schools, they’re simply called “Pupil Referral Units”, or the same students that would be put into an ESN are today now excluded, Black Caribbeans disproportionately (Department of Education), along with Irish Traveller and Roma students, respectively… however, stats do not give you context.

Roma and Irish Traveller communities in Wales, for example, do not typically engage in the mainstream school system to the same levels as other ethnic groups (Fensham-Smith, 2014) and in the UK at large, we are some way from removing those barriers to this community (Hamilton, 2017). So, to see the data to also include this community despite so few of them in mainstream education, is a damning indictment as a whole. However, exclusion/isolation data for Black Caribbeans is also shocking and it has precedent going back 50 years.

When we look at the things happening to Black Caribbean children today, has much changed? (Small Axe, BBC)

Growing up, my mother and godmother started the Garvey Saturday School (2010) to combat the barriers facing Black Caribbean students in Northamptonshire. Amongst Caribbean communities, especially women in my experience, education is thought of as vital part of life, much alike breathing. Especially being around my mother’s friends, my aunties, grandmothers, women cousins… the passion about education was at the centre of Caribbean matriarchs and I hold fond memories of them telling me to study. But above that, learn, and to find something I was passionate about. Akel goes on to discuss the long-held idea that Black people must “work twice as hard to get half as far, an adage that has very real implications in 21st century UK schooling.”

At the higher end of the educational chain at universities; as a sabbatical officer it was evident to see the number of Black students being pulled through disciplinary panels in both housing misdemeanors but also assessment offenses (academic misconduct). What were then called ESNs in the school system are now Pupil Referral Units that set up Black students for jail, whilst simultaneously those university disciplinary panels feeling a lot like what I believe a police custody interrogation to feel like. Schools set students up for prison, especially Black students, and higher education is simply another violent institution should that student avoid the jail cell schools set them up for. And the hegemonic processes at schools (and universities) “are based in assumption about what embodied discipline looks like” (Graham, 2019: 132).

By showing the trajectory that Black students go, from the moment they enter the education system, private included (it just has differences), we are able to see the nature of the beast of racism in the education sector to the point that my colleague Liz Pemberton AKA The Black Nursery Manager runs an establishment in Birmingham that prides itself around issues of race and culture, very much catering for Afro-Caribbean children. You would think there isn’t racism in Early Years, right? Wrong. Liz has been doing some sterling work and I recommend you all follow her on Instagram and LinkedIn, and it truly shows to critique racism in education we also need to look at Early Years.

Presented by David Harewood, in 2017, the BBC aired the documentary Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister? (above). It explored the chances of a Black British child progressing through life via the education system, from the biased marking of in-school test scores to university chances and independently-marked GCSEs (where markers don’t know the student’s ethnicity). This was backed by research from Professor Simon Burgess that shows teachers that know their students, have a clear bias (not that unconscious). The finale to Steve McQueen’s Small Axe makes me think to education and COVID and looking at the impact that predicted grades have on Black students in a system that is already rigged against them, even outside of the grades part.

Even after Black students slog through school fighting off all numbers of barriers, they then come to the ivory towers of academia and UCAS, very much following the tradition of structural racism entrenched in the education system, as Black students are also twenty-two times more likely to face investigation by UCAS’ verification services compared to their white counterparts (Busby, 2018). Despite slogging through Britain’s education system as I have, my struggle was less so without the added layer of class. Even in my experience, at that time, I drew the golden ticket of privilege of private education where my only challenge was racism. Classism was there, not in the barriers to access but more the prejudice because I came from that background.

Bernard Coard’s seminal pamphlet is as relevant now as it was in 1971; the ESNs have changed their face but Black students continue to be failed by the education system at every level, from Early Years and Primary, to Secondary, Further Education [FE] and universities, don’t even get me started on the experiences of Black educators in schools and higher education… that’s for another blog for another Monday. Indeed!


Referencing

Frensham-Smith, Amber (2014) Gypsy and Traveller Education: Engaging Families – A Research Report. Cardiff: Welsh Government. Available: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/21443/1/141125-gypsy-traveller-education-engaging-families-en.pdf

Graham, Karen (2019) The British School-to-Prison Pipeline. In: Andrews, K and Palmer, Lisa Amanda. Blackness in Britain. London: Routledge. pp.130-142.

Hamilton, Paula (2017) Engaging Gypsy and Traveller pupils in secondary education in Wales: tensions and dilemmas of addressing difference. International Studies in Sociology of Education. 27(1). pp. 4-22. Available: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09620214.2017.1377100?needAccess=true

Misfortune and the Blame Game

Photo by Danita Delimont available at https://dissolve.com/stock-photo/Thousands-king-penguins-are-packed-together-second-royalty-free-image/101-D256-26-913

It seems to be a peculiar past-time in this country to moan and find fault with everything and blame anyone but ourselves for our mishaps and misfortune. 

I was watching a television programme last night about Britain’s bizarre weather conditions in 2020 and what struck me, actually you could have slapped me round the face with a wet kipper, was the behaviour of people in the heatwave of April 2020.  An extraordinary heatwave saw people flocking to parks and to the beach.  Some scenes looked more akin to those pictures we see of seals or penguins on a remote island where there isn’t an inch to move without stumbling over the next incumbent, all staking their claim to a little parcel of land on which they can sunbathe or nest.  ‘Weren’t we supposed to be social distancing and in lockdown’? Of course, we blame the government for lockdown 2 and the tier system.  How unfair it is that we can’t see our loved ones, oh the mental anguish when we miss school, or have to learn online or get made redundant or our business goes belly up.  But flock to the seaside we must, go to the park and mingle is a necessity, rush to the pub and drink and make merry, have parties and raves and forget about social distancing and that awful thing that the government keeps wittering on about.  Let’s blame the police for dishing out fines, its so unfair and let’s even blame the hospitals, that’s where my loved one caught Corona virus.  Yes, the government were to blame for suggesting that we should ‘eat out to help out’, but did we really think it was suddenly fine to plunder food from every outlet that provided a cut-price meal? Like lemmings, people rushed to pack out restaurants and pubs in search of a culinary bargain and many got more than they bargained for. ‘Two for the price of one’ had a new meaning.

None of this of course is a new phenomenon; the virus might be, the behaviour is not.  We speed along the road and when caught by the police ask them if they haven’t got anything better to do than stop us.  We complain about the NHS but carry on drinking lots, eating rubbish and failing to exercise.  Our illness in the morning is due to the bad kebab, not the large amount of alcohol we consumed.  We moan about our rubbish grades, somehow expecting that the parties, the staying in bed all day, the failure to attend, the work commitments and all the other hubris will get us an A grade or at least a B.  It’s the way the lecturers teach, not our lack of commitment, that’s the problem here, ‘oh and I’m paying for this rubbish’.  In football, we blame the referee for not giving a foul or for giving a foul when we are convinced it wasn’t one and yet watch players carry on diving all over the place rolling around as if they’ve been scythed down by the grim reaper and then chewed up by Jaws before being magically revived by the miraculous sponge.  More at home with an Equity Card, players constantly seek to bamboozle the referee, it’s no wonder they sometimes get it wrong.  We moan about the stampede at the start of the shop sales, not that that’s been a problem this year, well not yet anyway, but we are part of the stampede, shoving and trampling over others to get to the much reduced bargain.  We lament the demise of the high street, watching the tumbleweed blow past as we scuttle away to our laptops, pads and phones to do a bit more online shopping only rushing out in droves (social distancing ignored) to take advantage of the demise of yet another retail outlet.

Whilst ministers are trying to hammer out a Brexit deal, posturing and moaning about the intransigence of the other side, they probably secretly hope that there will be no deal.  That way we can blame the Europeans and the Europeans can blame us. But are we not to blame for this monstrosity; we voted for it?  We live in a democracy and are rightly proud of it and yet Trump like we are quick to point out that we personally didn’t vote for that bit that we don’t like, and the vote was probably rigged anyway.  Having realised our error, we still voted in the government that said it would get it done and we didn’t care about the price.  Let’s hope that a return to the troubles in Ireland doesn’t become a reality, but if it does, it’ll no doubt be the fault of the Irish. Our sense of history only stretches back to when we saved the world from the Nazis.

We need to look to ourselves and our own action and behaviour before we start blaming everyone and everything around us.  Yes, misfortune does fall on some of us and sometimes it isn’t our fault but like it or not, many of the problems are caused by us and we compound the problems by blaming others.  If we fail to grip the notion that we have responsibility, then history will judge us as a nation that moaned about everything and did nothing but cause calamitous problems for ourselves and the rest of the world.

Black people have every right to question western science

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

As vaccines are now being rolled out across the UK, Black people are questioning not only whether they should take it, but also the intergity of the vaccine. Does it have their welfare at heart? Whilst vaccines historically have done a lot of good for communities in battling against disease, it cannot be forgotten that science and medical trials under the umbrella of “colonial medicine” do not have a flattering past in the context of Black Atlantic diasporic peoples. However, we also know that for the vaccine to have maximum impact Black and Brown communities need to take part as well. We are the global majority and the vaccine will essentially fail without us. Coronavirus disproportionately impacts Black Africans and Caribbeans but also South Asians. Without everyone’s participation, there could come a day when people are laying blame for the continuation of Coronavirus in the UK on ethnic minority groups that don’t trust it.

Despite being tagged to a YouTube video (urgh), an ill-thoughtout tweet that went viral by Small Axe star Letitia Wright asked questions about the integrity of a vaccine, only for her to later delete the tweet/her account when the torrents of abuse came.

The disproportionate outcomes with the Coronavirus show Black people in the UK and the United States as part of the groups most likely to die from the disease. In Britain, a Channel 4 documentary entitled Is COVID Racist? shows that it’s not the disease as a singular entity that is killing us off at a disproportionate rate, but entrenched inequality, including poverty and structural racism. The first ten NHS staff to die from COVID-related afflictions were from a Black, Brown or ethnic minority background. A 100% death rate is unheard of and now two thirds of NHS deaths from the virus are from a Black, Brown or ethnic minority background.

By itself, Coronavirus is not racist but the environmental factors that plague Black and Brown people are, which then adds to the biological weathering: from nearly 3 in 5 ethnic minority UK households in poverty, to being stopped and searched on the way to work, these are the sorts of things that consistently add to the biological weathering.

When we look at the history of science in the West in the context of the Black Atlantic diaspora, it is not pleasant reading. Surveys done in both the United States and England show a mistrust in this vaccine with Black and Brown groups, whilst white people seem more likely to get the vaccine at large. With specifically Black communities, why they are less likely to get the vaccine could be a whole number of factors: from the history of experimentation on Black people throughout the colonial era to how Black people have been treated during the pandemic and lockdowns by society as a whole. Really, to think (all) institutions have your best interest at heart comes with degrees of privilege. In this case, one could conclude, a white privilege.

Growing up as I have, around Caribbeans who have a very real experience of white supremacy on those islands, but also when they came to this country as immigrants, it’s not really surprising to see scepticism. Caribbean interraction with white public bodies has rarely been positive. But vaccines have been one of the most effective things to help communities in the last century. However, there have been mistakes; and for Black communities, there have been outright acts of violence committed against us in the name of science. Despite a good safety record, there is a history of untold untaught horrors committed against Black people in the name of science and public good. It would do us well to not lump their scepticism of vaccinations with the anti-vaxxers that get their info from YouTube hacks. Black people asking questions about vaccines can be viewed as a Black lives matter issue, since there is a legacy of poor medical treatment and dubious practices.

To understand the roots of why there are activist movements to make Black lives matter, we need to understand the racial pseudoscience that underpinned colonial racial thinking. Even prior to colonialism as we know it, contempt for Black dignity is beyond reasonable doubt. Bristol University professor Olivette Otele writes about how European fourteenth century medical scholars drew on Aristotle’s ideas about blood and heat, arriving at the conclusion “that the milk of black women had more nutrients… the body heat of dark and dusky women rendered their milk more digestible and therefore better quality for the child” (2020: 28).

However, the thinker that has done untold damage to how Africans are seen was Edward Long, a slaveowner and the son of a slaveowner, with his ideas about Black people and Africa widely accepted as scientific fact in his day, even though he was not even a scientist. His book The History of Jamaica donned the African continent as “the parent of everything that is monstrous in nature” (Long, 1744: 383) with many sections denouncing Blackness and Africanness as inferior and less than human. The fact he spent twelve years in the Caribbean gave the audiences of the 18th century some “certainty” he was credible. Echoes of his work can be seen in novels that came after him by writers, including Joseph Conrad, H.G Wells and Bram Stoker. Poisonous racist science was also perpetuated by medical professionals. In the late 1700s, an English physician by the name of Charles White (1799) provided empirical science for the hierachies of race, claiming Black people had a seperate origin to white people, namely Black people came from primates and white people did not.

In Black and British, Professor David Olusoga says that the first user of Victorian “new racism” (2017: 349) was an essayist and critic called Thomas Carlyle. In 1849, he pens an essay called ‘The Negro Problem’.

See this extract:

“…till the European white man first saw them, some three short centuries ago, those islands had produced mere jungle, savagery, poison reptiles and swamp malaria till the white European first saw them, they were, as if not yet created; their noble elements of cinnamon — sugar, coffee, pepper, black and gray, lying all asleep, waiting the white Enchanter, who should say to them, awake!” (Carlyle, 1849)

Another thinker in this field was French novelist Arthur de Gobineau (1853), writing “… the Polynesian negroes, the Samoyedes and others in the far north, and the majority of the African races, have never been able to shake themselves free from their impotence.”

According to Emma Dabiri (2019), he was famous for his views on Aryanism and the concept that Black people were privileged for being allowed to exist on the lowest rungs of the racial order. Additionally, he was an aristocrat most famous for helping to legitamise racism through the use of scientific theory and “racial demography”, moreover, developing the theory of the Aryan master race.

Painting of Anarcha Westcott laying on a gynecological examination board and surrounded by depictions of white doctors, including J. Marion Sims. Sourced from http://www.AL.com

The ideas perpetuated by these academics, medical experts and so forth underpinned colonialism and enslavement. It put Black life at the bottom of the pile. We are still living with this legacy today… from overpolicing Black communities, to low expectations of Black students (Busby, 2018). This is what allowed J. Marion Simms to experiment on enslaved Black women in pursuit of what today is called gynaecology, with his unethical torturous practices. Yet, since there were intellectual justifications made by academics prior, these acts could be carried out without a thought. In the eyes of the law and in public consciousness, Black people were subhuman in colony and metropole. And when the US Public Health Service gave a number Black Americans syphilis (1932-1970) in the Tuskegee Study, the pseudoscience that permeated through enslavement ran rampant, pertinently in the thick of Jim Crow Laws that weren’t abolished until 1965.

The case of Henrietta Lacks and her family in the United States is another example of contempt for Black life; where her cells were taken from her before she died. They were used to study diseases without her permission and shared around the world. Moreover, in the years of French colonialism in Africa, what about the horrific experimentations carried out on Black African people? There is a precedent behind current mistrust.

Black Atlantic diasporic vaccine scepticism may be inspired by the trend set by history but it also may have something to do with the present, where Black people continue to be treated with contempt by healthcare and medical services. Disproportionate deaths from Coronavirus is just one example. In the UK, Black people are four times more likely to be detained under The Mental Health Act (DoH, 2019/20) and Black women are five times more likely to die from childbirth or related complications (MBRRACE UK, 2019). Additionally, on the African continent itself, there has been discussion around concerns about a number of clinical trials such as the malaria trial by World Health Organization [WHO]. Furthermore, a legal battle between Pfizer, and Kano in Nigeria over the tests being done on Trovan, a drug to combat meningitis.

There is a Black history to clinical trials and science that isn’t being taught or widely known. This is the irony that the people disproportionately impacted by Coronavirus (significantly helped along by systemic inequality) are also the same people that need to take it. However, these same communities don’t trust the system because of history and a contemporary where the system has not worked for them. If the UK government wants Black people to take a vaccine (not necessarily this current one), they need to change the messaging around COVID, like government aides and advisors saying institutional racism doesn’t exist. Whilst the history articulated so far is damaging on racial grounds, there are also scientific histories written in violence in the context of gender, class, sexuality and disability as well – from electrock therapy to eugenics.

The story of Black communities’ historic interactions with western science/scientists is damning; the present contemporary narrative of healthcare’s interactions with Black UK and Black American communities is also damning and both are well evidenced, there’s lots of improvements to made on both sides of the pond and we can do better.


Referencing

Carlyle, T (1849) “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question” Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country (London, Vol. XL., February 1849). Available from:
https://www.hetwebsite.net/het/texts/carlyle/carlyle1849negroquestion.htm

Dabiri, Emma (2019) Don’t Touch My Hair. London: Allen Lane.

De Gobineau, J, A (1853) The Inequality of Human Races. London: William Heinemann. Available: https://ia800501.us.archive.org/27/items/inequalityofhuma00gobi/inequalityofhuma00gobi.pdf

Long, E (1774/2002). The History of Jamaica, Volume 2: Reflections on its Situation, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws, and Government. London: Ian Randle.

Olusoga, D (2017) Black and British: A Forgotten History. London: Pan Macmillan.

Otelle, Olivette (2020) African European. London: Hurst and Company, London.

White, C (1799) An account of the regular gradation in man, and in different animals and vegetables. Edinburgh: C, Dilly. Available: https://archive.org/details/b24924507/page/n3/mode/2up

Yorkshire Ripper: Not an Obituary

Photo by Dhivakaran S on Pexels.com

Wilma McCann, 28

Emily Jackson, 42

Irene Richardson, 28

Patricia Atkinson, 32

Jayne MacDonald, 16

Jean Jordan, 21

Yvonne Pearson, 22

Helen Rytka, 18

Vera Millward, 40

Josephine Whitaker, 19

Barbara Leach, 20

Marguerite Walls, 47

Jacqueline Hill, 20

As the team northerner I took it upon myself to write about Peter Sutcliffe after hearing of his death. Sutcliffe was a serial killer who operated in West Yorkshire and the North West of England. He was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to kill 7 more in the 1970s, and was serving 20 life sentences for his crimes.

Ironically, the ripper was killed by covid-19, the deadliest killer of 2020 (incidentally I asked students to imagine covid-19 being a serial killer in a lecture yesterday). Reports suggest that he was in ill health prior to contracting the coronavirus, was obese and had diabetes. He died 2 days after his diagnosis after refusing treatment.

When I started writing about the Yorkshire Ripper, I couldn’t help but think about his victims. Those he killed (named above – remember them), those he harmed and who survived, the relatives of both and the women in the areas in which he would prey on his victims, who feared leaving their homes every day for half a decade. These are the people I am thinking about, those who are in my thoughts. How do they feel about the news of his death? How have they felt every time they have heard his name for the last few decades? How, 40+ years later, are the living victims coping?

I didn’t know a lot about Peter Sutcliffe. It was before my time so when I read about the secondary victimisation as a result of police and the prosecution blaming the victims it made me angry. Peter Sutcliffe would prey on women, often prostitutes. The police at the time differentiated between the victims who were sex workers and the victims who weren’t and referred to those that weren’t as ‘innocent victims’, insinuating that the sex workers were not entirely blameless and may have precipitated their fate. Thankfully, West Yorkshire Police have issued a statement to apologise for the language and tone used at the time but the damage has already done.

I’d like to say society has learned from its mistakes, but sadly I don’t think we have. There is still evidence of victim blaming, particularly in cases of femicide and rape. Think of the Grace Millane murder and the protests in Ireland after a barrister suggest the jury consider the victim’s underwear, questioning consent. I hope one day we, as a society, learn. I hope the victims of Peter Sutcliffe get some sort of relief from both his passing and the apology from West Yorkshire Police.

A Lockdown Moan

As the second lockdown has come to an end, I find myself reflecting on my own lockdown experiences quite a lot. My overall sense is that of gratitude, in that I have been fortunate enough to maintain and be offered new employment during this difficult time.   

During the first lockdown I was a key worker and travelled to and from work on public transport whilst everyone else was ordered to ‘stay safe, and stay at home’. At times this was frustrating, and although I generally had faith in humanity my views on this were tested. During, lockdown 1.0 I witnessed people being much more aggressive to key workers. I worked in a place where I did not expect people to be nice to me, but even on my route to and from work I found that I was subjected to the odd remark.  

One morning at 6am whilst in the city center I was even called ‘a rapist’ because I did not have any change to give to a homeless person, he then sort of offered to fight me. Of course, I wouldn’t ever fight anyone, and he would have been completely unaware that I had just finished a night shift so I would not prove to be a worthy opponent in any sense. I also remember sitting on the bus one night whilst a man, who appeared mentally unwell, persisted to cough all over me (mask free) before exiting at his stop. 

I didn’t take any of these experiences personally, and thankfully I didn’t get Covid. It was clear that these people had many of their own problems – many of which may have been exacerbated due to Covid. The lack of understanding of Covid for some people also highlights a key issue i.e., that mainstream concerns are not being communicated to wider population within our society.  

I did find myself frustrated by the general population who in my experience, did not appear as positive and kind as the media seemed to suggest. I experienced many incidents of people being selfish, such as people snapping and venting their frustrations at others who are simply just trying to do their jobs (with shocking pay and poor contracts might I add). On top of this was the notion of visiting a supermarket after a 12 hour night shift whilst people scramble for the last scraps of essentials whilst you are walking around like a zombie. With bare shelves, rude people and long queues….what more could key workers ask for? For Christ sake, someone even tried to steal a tin of beans out of my shopping trolley on one occasion!  

During lockdown 2.0 I have been very privileged indeed, as I am able to work from home. Staying in this bubble of mine has also made me feel much less frustrated. But I do still wonder, why is it that we feel that those who provide a ‘service’ to us are not people themselves? People with their own problems, thoughts and feelings. Do we think that people are robots? Is this why some people think that it is ok to vent their frustrations at others? I am sure that other people have had more positive experiences than this, but I can’t understand why people aren’t being more kind and understanding of each other. There is a difference between being a service provider and being a servant…people seem to forget this sometimes.  

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