Home » 2023
Yearly Archives: 2023
Maybe HE Needs Damaging: The EDI-fication of Institutional Violence
The business case for diversity initiatives, unconscious bias training, cultural sensitivity workshops, and more are some of the things that come under institutional focuses on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, known more commonly as EDI. These are then applied to numbers of protected characteristics named in the Equality Act 2010. In addition to EDI being difficult to measure, insurgents have spoken out against it, as it seems to have taken many for fools as a phantom limb of the Anti-Racism Industrial Complex. As white people co-opt and profit from concepts and traditions of thought that Black and Brown people created and developed. For example, “identity politics” was coined in the 1970s by the Combahee River Collective to talk about their experiences of classism, lesbophobia and misogynoir. Meanwhile, the term has been co-opted by the political right in their war against equality.
As a freelancer invited into organisations to “raise awareness” on issues pertaining to racial inequality and more, I am asked to do one-time events … but never long-term interventions that shifts the scales of power and privilege. On a basic level, institutions like schools and universities can say look how much we are doing while actually not doing anything at all. Those who lose are the students and employees from historically excluded backgrounds including Black, Asian, LGBTQ+, disabled and other violently exploited groups. So, EDI then claims to want to end inequality while actually upholding it.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, I read a poetry collection called Postcolonial Banter by Bradford-based spoken word poet and educator Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan. Her poem “Decentring Diversity” illustrates the issues with more Black/Brown faces in high places as somewhat being interchangable with anti-racism: “Just because they give you a seat at the table doesn’t mean they want you to speak at the table” (p81). As expected, this reaffirmed my own suspicions about the EDI agenda: simply having more Black and Brown people as managers will not solve our problems. Encouraging more Black and Brown people to inhabit these institutions to be part of the labour force, while well-intentioned, will not solve our problems when there is little want to change working conditions (i.e racism at universities).
As universities continue to exploit international students (i.e through extortionate tuition fees and precarious visas … in partnership with the Home Office), these same institutions employ EDI “initiatives” to protect these power structures. Meanwhile, Black and Brown asylum seekers drown at sea.
Having more Black and Brown faces in high places continues be a harmful tactic in EDI discourse, as we saw with their deployment in The Sewell Report. Here the UK Government – a white instituton – curated a panel of Black and Brown “experts” in their fields (but not in racism) to conduct an inquiry that told us institutional racism doesn’t exist. As the same government continues with its “anti-woke” nonchalance in its attacks on Critical Race Theory. I want to see more people that look like me in spaces I inhabit. But at what cost? As political commentator Ash Sarkar states, “I mean, this idea that all you need is brown faces in high places is just absolutely for the birds. […] That just because somebody shares some of your identity attributes, it doesn’t mean that they are going to be organising in your interests” (DDN, 2021).
Increasingly, organisations illustrate their “commitment” to Equality & Diversity by creating a diversity role within senior leadership for a Black or Brown person, only to leave this person unsupported. These staff members become tokenised and end up speaking through whiteness (as per #FloellaGate during The Coronation, and The Sewell Report). This is what happens when you project Black and Brown people into jobs within organisations, unsupported, in places that were not designed for us in the first place. Black and Brown people should certainly consider these roles if offered (and if in an emotionally healthy position to do so), but organisations need to support them. Otherwise, we are being set up to fail.
When “diversity” is called for in organisations, it is useful to remember “diversity” is often just euphemistic language for marked difference, often Blackness and Brownness. In saying “diversity”, organisations are also telling us who institutions are designed by and who they work for. As scholar-activist Muna Abdi stated, “Diversity work is about manging the racial optics of a space. It is about bringing together people who are marked as ‘different’ into spaces that remain designed for those with power.”
In doing so, thus, some “differences” are then seen as neutral differences (i.e white; man; cisgender; ; heterosexual; neurotypical), and some are seen as Other (i.e Black; Asian; Muslim; woman; gay; neurodivergent; transgender). In giving specific groups power in a world that thrives on hierarchy and social order, historically excluded groups always lose … including racialised wo/men and people that reject all gender binaries. These groups are also some of the worse impacted by state-manufactured violence i.e how police departments treat some humans like objects to moved out of the way.
Under the “protected characteristics” named in the Equality Act 2010, in concept being victim of racism should be threaded through all of them. i.e Black women who are more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. This is a very specific experience situated under “misogynoir” (Bailey, 2010), where anti-Blackness and misogyny join hands – exclusive to Black women in their position as Black women. Since 2010, the Equality Duty has largely been understood by organisations as somewhat positive:
Within higher education, gender equality frameworks like Athena Swann continue to privilege gender over race (Bhopal and Henderson, 2021). One must ask why? In short, some academics would say that with white experiences as the default setting (even in women’s experiences of misogyny), there is no priority for Black and Brown women to be included. So, for Black and Brown people, “progress” only tends to happen within a white supremacist system when those interests are conjoined with the goals of whiteness. In Critical Race Theory, we call this “interest convergence” (Bell, 1980). With the logic of diversity as a euphemism for Black / Brown (Bhanot, 2015), these initiatives also continue to omit the role of colour-conscious racism. This recentres white people as the “common sense” or universal worldview.
Often, I recieve emails from schools and others asking for EDI training; I don’t do EDI work, I do disruption work – with much of it challenging dominant power structures! EDI work in my experience has been about reform, not reparations: it has been about firefighting within institutions and managing acceptable levels of violence (i.e through resilience / “cultural sensitivity” workshops, and unconscious bias training … ugh).
In her thread about ‘unconscious bias training’, Muna Abdi also reminds us that this not something to ignore as a “tick-box exercise, it is a deliberate organisational decision and originally implemented to limit corporate risk. Furthermore, Muna tells us how it diverts attention from a needed focus on institutional and structural violence into a focus on individual violence between people.
The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion agenda has been one of the biggest traps to hit education in decades. In March, I got into a discussion with a teacher on Twitter about this. Her tweet suggested that anybody against the EDI agenda’s concepts were probematic, when in truth there is a lot wrong with EDI because it doesn’t do what it says. And in fact, in being designed around giving institutions plausible deniability and limiting corporate risk it keeps the violence going.
In late 2022, I made a complaint about a university conference. The event was situated around anti-racism in education (or so it claimed), but the event reproduced racism and whiteness in different ways. I was horrified. What struck me is how “good white people” (Sullivan, 2014) had psyologically distanced themselves from “bad supremacists.” In my complaint, it reasserted how power works and that white “anti-racists” can be some of the most racist people to challenge. As Sara Ahmed writes, “To compain at the university is to be treated as ungrateful for the benefits you have recieved from the university: the freedom to make your own interpretation, the freedom to be critical, academic freedom” (p135).
For me, EDI has been about boxticking and efficiency, using the “racial optics” of Black and Brown people for university brochures, working groups, “race equality centres” and so forth, while campus police and security continue to harrass Black students. Universities draw on the language of EDI to encourage students and staff to study/work there: “non-performativity” (Ahmed, 2018: 333). But language does not translate to transforming hostile spaces into safe ones (better yet, less hostile … in academia, safe spaces do not exist for Black and Brown staff unless we make them ourselves). Thus the brochures, and other forms of marketing are used to create the appearance without action (Ahmed and Swann, 2006).
Or as Nirmal Puwar (2004) writes,
Too much and often, I see organisations framing their equality ‘commitments’ as diversity strategies sidestepping the violence of patriarchy, white supremacy, ableism, and cis-heteronormativity culture. In their bums on seats approach (also centring capitalism), they fail to recognise the violence of Equality and Diversity on the people they “intend” to help. We then see term like “decolonisation” used interchangably with EDI, when in fact they are more likely opposites; EDI keeps the violence going, decolonisation roots it out – literally attacks it at the stem! Intersectionality has also been used to give EDI more credibility or kudos, of course co-opted by white institutions trying to remain relevant.
As useful as EDI may be to some, its ethos in large, conflicts with both anti-racist work and decolonisation as a practice. Frequently, EDI work within institutions avoids looking at racialisation, thus centring whiteness as sameness and avoiding systemic oppression altogether. It does the work of the corporate agenda, hence “nonperformativity” (Ahmed, 2006). In this lack of intentional work (also supported by universities), racial literacy is sidelined. The late Lani Guinier (2004) defines racial literarcy as “the capacity to decipher the durable racial grammar that structures racialized hierarchies” (p100).
The power of white supremacy illustrates that those not racialised as white are not able to bring their full authentic selves into a space. For example, in my experience at work – I am either Black or disabled – but simultaneously policed from being both. This is how whiteness maintains its power in diversity work because EDI only allows us to look at one identity position at a time. Whiteness, thus reproduces itself in spaces where it is also being interrogated (Ahmed, 2021: 158). When you question the questioning, and the thinking behind the questions, you are then placed under surveillance:
Whiteness by care is still whiteness. Neoliberals would say relationships between humans are now transactional and purely economic in hope of monetary exchange. Violence by EDI is still violence. EDI keeps the violence going and is the neoliberal’s equality. It’s an empty gesture that gives institutions (like universities) plausible deniability and limits corporate risk. It is not the job of HR departments to look after employee welfare, but to limit corporate risk (i.e complaints about racism, sexual harrasssment etc etc). It just so happens the former informs the latter, and HR exists to protect reputational damage.
Indeed, EDI is full of empty promises that lumps the experiences of people whose daily lives are encompassed with being on the recieving end of extreme violence … with the same people who talk about this “journey of learning” we are all on … from a vantage point of privilege. The institutional equality agenda make me feel unsafe at work. Institutions enjoy talking up policy, but not the culture of terror that exists in the workplace. Not because of the dangerous potential of bad policymaking (though that also exists), but the dangerous potential of employees who fail upwards into unaccountable power.
“Things might appear fluid if you are going the way things are flowing. When you are not going that way, you experience the flow … [a]s a wall” – Sara Ahmed
Here to serve but not your slave
My wife and I were fortunate enough to go on holiday this year to a beautiful island in the Caribbean. Palm Island, a stone’s throw, well 10-minute boat ride (I’m not prone to exaggeration you understand) from Union Island, and some 45 minutes by plane to Barbados is a unique paradise described as the Maldives in the Caribbean.
The circumstances of the people that work on Palm Island (and history) are perhaps not too dissimilar to those that work in Cape Verde, a subject of a previous blog. Wages are poor, the staff are not exactly affluent, and work is hard to come by. Many have gravitated to Palm Island from nearby islands to find work and have subsequently stayed on Union Island, commuting every day after a long shift. Others stay on Palm Island in staff accommodation, returning home to their families every few months in St. Vincent and elsewhere. Whilst guests enjoy luxurious accommodation, great food and plentiful drinks, the workers receiving low wages, relying on a percentage of the service charge and tips, do not even have the luxury of a constant water supply on Union Island. Palm Island has its own water processing plant, Union Island does not. Hence the gardener telling me he had to pay $250 dollars to have water delivered to his home; £100 for the water and $150 for the delivery. The dry season is hard going and financially precarious.
The Island shut down during Covid and many of the workers returned home with no wages for the duration. Poverty is not an alien concept to them. Their lives and that of the visitors couldn’t be further apart and yet are intertwined by capitalism in the form of tourism. They need the tourists to sustain the jobs, the more tourists, the more in service charges and tips. Of course, the owners of the island want more tourists because it brings in more revenue. A moral dilemma for some perhaps, well for me anyway. I won’t be pretentious and state that I go to the island to support the local economy, vis-a-vie the poor people, I go there for a really good holiday. But here is the crux of the matter, and hence the title, I try my utmost to treat the staff with respect. I recognise that they are paid to serve me and other guests, and they do a brilliant job, but they are not my servants or slaves (the historical significance should be obvious). And yet I have witnessed people demanding drinks without a please or thank you, “give me a vodka”, “she wants a rum and coke”. I have seen people coming off yachts with day passes for the island, they came, they saw, they made a complete mess and they left…. You can clear up our mess! Glasses left all over the beach, beach towels left wherever, they last used them. “What did your last servant die of”, I ask, as they slope off into the rum filled sunset? “It certainly wasn’t old age” I shout after them. But it just seems lost on them.
I ask myself would they have treated me like that had I been the one behind the bar? I think not, perhaps the lighter colour of my skin may have persuaded them that I am worthy of some courtesy. But then who knows, it seems that some people that have money have a certain arrogance and disregard for anyone else.
Not all of the customers were like that, most were polite and some very friendly with the staff. But we shouldn’t forget the power dynamics, and above all else the privilege that some of us enjoy. Above all else it is a useful reminder that when people are there to serve, they are not your servant nor your slave and they and the job they do deserves respect.
For years I’ve participated in my own oppression
I’d shout out against hate in public, but in private spaces I sat silent as homophobic slights and slurs came at me from people who said they cared for me.
I grinned and accepted the kindness of colleagues when they have said that their faith does not condone my “lifestyle,” telling myself kindness was a lifestyle as much as hypocrisy.
I tolerated students who sat in my office accepting my extra time and unpaid assistance,
Even when they’ve said, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” to my face.
I’ve been patient and listened deeply to my own students – beyond the call of duty –
Even when the very same folks used anti-gay slurs in my presence because their faith said so.
I remained silent even when I’ve seen those folks sin like nobody’s business.
I’ve waltzed quietly past openly anti-gay church groups passing out fliers of their flock, when I know plenty-o-gay folks who’ve barely survived growing up inside those hate cults.
I’ve walked by entire groups of people who look like me, holding my head high and pretending not to hear their snide comments about my lack of gender conformity.
I’ve been the only openly queer person in crowds of Black people, and
One of few Black people in entire crowds of queer folks, and
Accepted mere tolerance in place of respect, and
Refused to speak up against stereotypes about people like me in all these spaces, and
Acted like it didn’t matter.
It mattered each and every time, but
I covered my wounds, and
I learned to heal quickly, and
I kept moving so quickly that
Folks couldn’t see my feet shifting, and
I kept telling myself “It’ll be ok,” just because it gets better.
Life has gotten better, and
Allyship is real, and
Folks have stood by me in dark and in light, and
Friends have held my hand in my times of despair, so
Still I rise.
But even then, I’ve starred in my very own version of imitation of life.
I pretended that words didn’t hurt because I’m an adult, and
A role model to the youth I serve.
I’ve acted like I didn’t hear youth laugh and snicker as soon as I entered the room.
I’ve acted like I didn’t see their parents side-eye me as I walked by.
I acted like I didn’t care as some kid called me a sissy as I walked into the mall.
When a 12-year-old kid called me a homophobic slur in class,
I facilitated an age-appropriate discussion about bullying, and
Pushed the shame he caused to the back of my mind.
I didn’t want to embarrass my colleagues by bringing it up.
Words from 12-year-old kids aren’t supposed to penetrate adults’ souls.
When the latest daily news repeatedly targets people like me for exclusion,
I’ve pretended like our lives didn’t matter.
Words aren’t supposed to hurt, and
Stares aren’t supposed to mean much, and
I’m supposed to have it all together.
Let hate “roll off of you like water off a duck’s back” would roll off my tongue as easily as I could bump-n-grind to Cardi B.
But there comes a point when silence suffocates.
One reaches a point when staying quiet is untenable.
My inaudible screams of terror only turned inwards and tore my own heart out.
Silence equals death.
For years, I’ve participated in my own oppression.
If I had a time machine…which coronation would I see?
If I had a time machine…which coronation would I see?
If I had a time machine, I would most certainly travel back in time…to witness some great moments in history.
The birth of Jazz in Congo Square in New Orleans, or
Martin Luther King deliver that great speech in Memphis the eve of his assassination, or
The moment the first white man set shore upon the Niger Delta.
Would I go back and see
The crowing of King George, or
Queen Victoria’s coronation, or
Would I be wicked enough to sneak into the palace of the tiny Spanish queen Anne who gave permission and cash to ‘explorers’ who’d cast caste onto the dark skins of every ‘native’ they encountered.
Caste. And race.
Without imperialism, there’d be no black stain upon my skin against which my ancestors resisted.
Without the profit of human trafficking, there’d be no need for labels like Black or white, nor
Racism, nor patriarchy for that matter, a concept squarely meant to trace intergenerational wealth Black folks have been robbed in these United States and upon these British Isles.
See, my mother tongue is English –
The language my Black mother spoke to me came through colonialism.
We were enslaved and inherited names and customs that are easily recognizable to Brits today.
This language limits how I discuss these events, and
Unless I try really hard, and make concerted efforts,
This language limits how I think about these concepts.
You heard that? The English language limits places I take myself in my own mind!
These facts are maddening.
If I describe the Spanish explorers as conquerors, and
Tell you that virtually every pope was a sinner not a saint, and
If I could go back in time, I’d slit the throat of that young Spanish queen, and
If I admit that I have nothing but disdain for every English man, woman and child who’s held that orb Charlie held this past Saturday, then
Even by my own standards, I question if I’d be the hero of my own history.
If I were to go back in time and arm Nat Turner with weapons, or
Help Harriet Tubman guide folks along the underground railroad north to freedom, or
Go further back and try, try, try to stop the entire triangular slave trade altogether, then
I must accept that I’d be erasing myself.
I’d risk robbing Congo Square of its famed place in history, and
I might not be able to hear the pop, Rock, Hip-Hop and House music blasting out of this tawdry bar’s speakers right now.
I’d risk not even being me.
This does not make me grateful for the crown, nor
Does it reduce me to resentment and rage.
I’m proud of the New World cultures Africa and her Diaspora have made from our mangled past.
As layered and, again, as complicated as all the fates of all the peoples of the Commonwealth to whom I am now tied due to, dare I say, the golden and bejeweled crown
Carefully placed upon your king’s head.
Long may he reign.
We all want our histories repaired.
And an end to monarchy.
Dancing in Congo Square, AKA The Queens and Kings of Jazz
Brought to You by Tampax
Whilst social media platform Twitter is routinely criticised for being a toxic cesspit of trolls, racism and discrimination, there is an opposing story: commentators like Kelechi have used their platforms to mock power. To the untrained eye, her tweet appears random but it is actually referencing #TamponGate – a scandal that was picked up by the British press in 1993 when Charles confessed to Camilla he wanted to “live inside” her trousers, joking that he might be reincarnated in the life after death as tampon.
Discourses to tampons aside, potential of solidarity and coalition in our shared trauma under the British Crown will be manifestly apparant this bank holiday weekend – just as it was during the scenes on social media during the Commonwealth Games, Jubilee and Queen’s Funeral. Black Twitter, Irish Twitter, and Indian Twitter alongside Scouser Twitter and Celtic Fans Twitter will probably be linking up. Edutainment and memes aplenty. With the long bank holiday weekend, I know other political commentators will take to Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Tumblr to vent their frustrations.
Potential for coalition and solidarity presents itself in the deep space of the interweb. Under the thinking of the social media posts, there sits an exhaustion from groups that have long been exploited by the monarchy. Audre Lorde (1984) once termed racism and sexism as “grown up words” (p152) revisiting how victims often acquire the language to articulate their experience after the experience. In her blog post ‘Feminism and Fragility’, sociologist Sara Ahmed (2016) further states “Once we have the words, you are putting a sponge to the past: mopping things up, all that spillage.” So, this experience revisits the bit bitting at institutional violence and how actions become institutionalised by repeated behaviours.
As Bob Marley said
Meanwhile, I must ask ‘did Tesco actually call [redacted] a [redacted]?
Whilst the pomp of the coronation is absorbed into the brains of millions of people around the world, this is happening during a Cost of Capitalism crisis, paid for at the taxpayers’ expense. Sounds of abolish the monarchy can be heard around the world. I do wonder what Britain would like without this mafia institution. When you do start looking at these systems more closely, you begin to see how entangled the monarchy is with other institutions – police, prisons, and many more – including entities like Honours committees, the privy council and House of Lords too. To abolish the monarchy is also linked with other abolitionist narratives.
Like every other criminology blog entry, now let’s discuss Guy DeBord’s theory of ‘the spectacle’. ‘The spectacle’, said French Marxist Guy DeBord, is a system of domination that claims your attention and then your attention faciliates your subjugation. So, the irony is that even with my dislike of the monarchy – I’m doomed if I do, and doomed if I don’t talk about it – because within the advertised life of the spectacle, there’s nothing I can say that doesn’t make the spectacle stronger.
Meanwhile, the appeal of Harry & Meghan in this case act as a violent juxtaposition to a British public who in many ways still see “good” and “bad” royalty, not The Crown as a wholly imperialistic violent construct. To me things like coronations, jubilees keep us distracted. Even when trying to avoid such nonsense, our world has become so saturated by media. As Guy DeBord writes “There is no place left where people can discuss the realities which concern them, because they can never lastingly free themselves from the crushing presence of media discourse and the various forces organised to relay it” (DeBord, 1998: 19).
Anyhow, now as all of us are immersed in the spectacle, we may as well stay implicated. In the 1960s, it was possible to think critically. Now, being a philisopher just means you have watched Inception!
Sometimes it is very hard to find the words
This week our learning community lost one of our members; Kwabena Osei-Poku (known to his nearest and dearest as Alfred) who was killed on Sunday 23 April 2023. At such times, it is very difficult to find the right words, but to say nothing, would do a grave disservice.
The Thoughts from the Criminology Team would like to express our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and communities for whom Kwabena Osei-Poku (Alfred) was such an important person. We wish you time, space and peace to come together to mourn your terrible loss.