This post in-part takes its name from a book by the late Whiteness Studies academic Ruth Frankenberg (1993) and is the final of three that will discuss Whiteness, women, and racism.
Chapter III: Your Problem but not Your Problem
Despite women’s investment in football, at least socially, in terms of Women’s Football (much better than the men’s game in my opinion), it was interesting to observe the reactions of White men that positioned themselves as progressives when I challenged the national response to racism in the game. When we realise that ‘football hooligans’ all have jobs across sector, I would bring people to consider this is not just a working-class issue, as football is a game that transcends socioeconomic lines. This post isn’t necessarily about the violence White women have commited against me but is certainly their problem, and they could have a deciding voice of how White men act at football matches. When we consider racial hiearchies, I am reminded of the gendered components of colonialism where White men are at the top of that hierachy followed by the White woman. In spite of White women’s complicity in those histories of racism (Ware, 1992), logic dictates that White women’s privilege will have some sway when White men act in hostility to people of colour. That said, still today I find White women all too happy to take on misogyny / patriarchy but not racism / White supremacy. In this blog, I will start with a Twitter encounter where I dared to say there isn’t a “racism-in-football-problem” but a more societal issue of White supremacy. Until we start thinking about White supremacy as a political system, just as women have done patriarchy (DeBeavoir, 1949; Friedan, 1963; Davis, 1981; hooks, 1991; Adichie, 2014) and others have done class (Marx and Engles, 1848; Chomsky, 1999; Tom Nicholas, 2020), we will never solve this racism issue.
When I challenged the concept of “racism in football” in July 2021, a local BBC journalist claimed I could make it both about ‘racism in football’ and in society. The problem with this is, dominant media discourses have already stitched it all up by relegating racism to specific spaces somewhat divorced from a global system of violence. At this time as well, I saw the term ‘football hooliganism’ being used as double talk for ‘working-class thuggery’. However, to understand how football got to where it is today, we need to know how football was not originally made by the working-class.
Much alike my favourite sport cricket (Tre Ventour Ed, 2021), football started as a sport for characteristically ‘English gentlemen’. It was made for the rich by the rich to really celebrate themselves. Their game by their rules. When the working-class started to advocate for players playing for money, in its day (so the late nineteenth century), it was thought controversial. Yet, the rich controlled the boards and they could afford to play for free, taking days off for matches. The proleterians could not. Here, then you see that it came down to money, where a game made by the wealthy for them and their friends was then changed forever by working people, no less than mill and factoryworkers.
Actions that society most associates with the working-class majority today – including public fights, vandalism, brawls, and riotting in Britain are not new phenomena but has a long history going back to even before 1900 uncoincidentally coinciding with the construction of London Metropolitan Police Service in 1829 (Storch, 1975). Following the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, for example, so-called ‘race riots’ took place in no fewer than nine port communities between January and August 1919 (Jenkinson, 1996: 92). However, media footage and pictures of British riots before the Second World War have rarely been seen by the public but “…individual memories of civil disorder [in those days were] surprisingly widespread” and when riotting did happen, “governments often denied they had, and censored the newsreel pictures” (Forbidden Britain). Historically speaking, these uprisings grew out of a response to state-sanctioned violence frequently mass unemployment and poverty. Under the threat of poverty, homelessness, or even death, groups will attack shops and other structures to acquire food where “the turbulence of the colliers is, of course, to be accounted for by something more elementary than politics: it was the instinctive reaction of virility to hunger” (Ashton and Sykes, 1967: 131). Yet, the male violence that occured at the England v Italy Euro finale football match in London July 2021 has a precedent going back to the days of Walter Tull where his biographer historian Phil Vasili writes:
“In 1919, working-class Britain was in a rebellious state. Whether the war created the mood of revolt among workers – sometimes taking a horribly distorted and misguided form as we saw with the race riots – or merely speeded up the process that had been years in fermentation, is not for debate here. The fact is it happened. Families, individuals, veterans were changed by the war, including Tull, his eagerness to enlist souring to a hatred for carnage.”Vasili, 2010: 229
On the morning of the final, I saw evidence of local Northamptonians heading to the pubs to get their fill as early as 8AM before the game that evening at 8PM (@cllrjameshill). In London, however, White (let’s be honest of course dominantly heterosexual cisgendered) patriarchal violence, was in full swing on Leicester Square, described as a “fanzone for thousands of England fans” before even two o’clock. Furthermore, according to Hutchinson (1975), “riots, unruly behaviour, violence, assault and vandalism, appear to have been a well-established, but not necessarily
dominant pattern of crowd behaviour at football matches, at least from the 1870s” (p11). Whilst football today has united people across racial and class lines, many Black men of my dad’s generation (born 1971) would not find themselves anywhere near a match when they were my age or even as teenagers purely for the fact that these crowds were frequently racist and the risk of violence was significant. Today, while racism in football is largely in response to the actions of White people against Black players, there is a further history of White racism against Black fans too.
As I do not doubt that there is racism in women’s football (there is racism at every level of society), I wonder why women’s sports (especially football) is not associated with violence. Heck, other men’s sports do not have these connotations attached. We do not see it in cricket, nor do we see it in rugby to these extremes or tennis. Looking at the conversations in what happened following the game, it seemed to me that people were trying so hard to divorce this male violence from the rest of society, as if it is only specific to football. I would argue this is Britain’s soul, an unfiltered and grandiose example of the gendered racial privilege that comes with being a White man in the UK. It is very easy to stigmatise the working-class in this instance and call them “thugs”, but when we know football unites across class divides, it would do us well to consider how lots of the perpetrators were also probably middle-class as well, with jobs that permeate every level of British society: from accounting to education to sports, unions and more. That while it is incredibly easy to scapegoat them as there are histories of working-class responding with riots against state violence (no less than sports riots), we must think about how for some reason, football in particular, turns lots of men feral.
I was talking to one family member who claimed this is where men get to claim their base instincts, that violence seems to come naturally. I would need to think more on this, but it must be said that many social settings condition violence out of us, from school to the workplace. Even so, that in schools violence is punished, many students (especially boys) being placed pupil referral units. Whilst society brutalises in many ways, the pugilistic scenes we are witness to at football matches is one that is considered unsavoury by most. Men gathering together at the football … does this flick a switch? In the late nineteenth century, polymath Gustave LeBon writes about what he called “the collective mind” (1896: 2) whilst another scholar later states “the natural crowd is the open crowd; there are no limits … it does not recognise houses, doors, or locks and those that shut themselves in are suspect” (Canetti, 1962: 16). Football matches may be an apt site to discuss what the psychology profession now calls ‘crowd theory’ which was further developed on by psychologist Neil Smelser analysing the American ‘race riots’ in the first half of the last century (1962: 253, 260-61).
In my last post, I talked about ‘Karen’ in relation to racist middle-aged White women that harrass Black people minding their business. Yet, one does not see White women congregating like this together in mass as instigators of violence, where if at all in my experience violence from White women has been more individualistic or covert. Though, if women friends/colleagues disagree and know more, I’m happy to be put right from their personal experience (and do more reading). Rioting, however, is frequently often hypermasculine (Gary Younge in: DDN, 2020) and so is the violence around football. The role of White women in racism can be more insidious but my encounter on Twitter with this White man comes after my many encounters with White men that think they know more than Black people about racism.
Both White men and women are complicit in White supremacy as aggressors and bystanders. To keep this on topic, every time a White woman watches a White man’s racism but stays silent, they are as bad as they are really showing how White supremacy is the symptom and racism is the problem.
Now, you have three entries. Have a think on them.
Adichie, C.N. (2014) We Should All Be Feminists. London: 4th Estate.
Ashton, T. S., and Sykes, J. (1967). The Coal Industry of the Eighteenth Century. 2nd ed. New York: A. M. Kelley.
Canetti, E. (1962) Crowds and Power. London: Gollancz.
Chomsky, N (1999) Profit over People. New York: Seven Story Press.
Davis, A. (1981) Women, Race, and Class. London: Penguin.
DeBeauvoir, S. (1949) The Second Sex. London: Vintage.
[DDN] Double Down News (2020) Black Lives Matter & The Question of Violence | Gary Younge. YouTube [online].
Forbidden Britain (1994) Riots Episode 3 [via YouTube]. London: BBC 2.
Frankenberg, R. (1993) White Women, Race Matters. MI: University Press.
Friedan, B (1963) The Feminine Mystique. London: Penguin.
hooks, b (1991) All About Love: New Vision. London: HarperCollins.
Hutchinson, J. (1975) Some aspects of football crowds before 1914. In. The Working Class. University of Sussex Conference Report.
Jenkinson, J (1996) The 1919 Riots. In: Panayi, P (ed) Racial Violence in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Leicester: University Press, pp. 92-111.
Le Bon, G (1896) The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. London: T. Fisher Unwin.
Marx, K and Engels, F. (1848/1967) The Communist Manifesto. London: Penguin.
Smelser, N. (1962/2011) Theories of Collective Behaviour. New Orleans, LA: Quid Pro.
Storch, R.D. (1975) The Plague of the Blue Locusts: Police Reform and Popular Resistance in Northern England, 1840–57. International Review of Social History, 20 (1), pp.61-90
Tom Nicholas (2020) Whiteness: WTF? White Privilege and the Invisible Race. YouTube.
Tre Ventour Ed. (2021) 22 Yards of Whiteness: ‘You Don’t Have to be Posh to be Privileged’. YouTube.
Vasili, P. (2010) Walter Tull, (1888-1918), Officer, Footballer: All the Guns in France Couldn’t Wake Me. London: Raw.
Ware, V. (1992/2015) Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History. London: Verso.
Chapter II: Moving Mad in these Streets
This post in-part takes its name from a book by the late Whiteness Studies academic Ruth Frankenberg (1993) and is the second of three that will discuss Whiteness, women, and racism.
If you grew up racialised outside of Whiteness in Britain or really any Anglo-European country, the chances are you will be asked “where are you from?” on a regular basis. After reading some poems on this very issue at a Northamptonshire arts and heritage festival, I was walking home only to be stopped in my tracks by a White woman probably in her late 40s / early 50s saying “people like you aren’t really British.” Whilst I have been asking myself similar questions, for a White person to do this so confidently is unsettling … they’re moving mad in these streets. In this blog post, I will discuss this racial micro-aggression, underpinned by racist epistemologies with us Black people viewed in this country as immigrant; interloper; Other, whilst simultaneously Whiteness being synonymous with “localness” (Brown, 2006). In this encounter just outside of Northampton, I was further reminded that to be Black and British in this country is to live in a perpetual state of “double consciousness” (DuBois, 1903: 1).
Rather than identify with “Black Britishness”, (a pigeon-hole in my opinion), the term ‘afropean’ (Philips, 1987; Pitts, 2020) feels much more appropriate and fluid. However, the term Karen is one I don’t particular enjoy, but the woman in question could be described as such. In using this label, I am trying to create a frame of reference for you (the audience), not allow the person in question to escape scrutiny. This woman was a Jane Bloggs, I had never seen her before and she felt entitled enough to stop me in the street and continually criticise my right to belong. For those of you local to Northampton, I was walking between that stretch of path on Wellingborough Road, between Weston Favell Centre and Aldi. This encounter reminded me of my place in Britain, where ‘British-Asianness’ (Shukla, 2016; Riz Ahmed, 2019; Shukla, 2021) and ‘Black Britishness’ have frequently been difficult to define (Rich 1986, Gilroy, 1987; Yeboah, 1988; Young, 1995; Christian, 2008; Olusoga, 2016; Hirsch, 2017, Ventour, 2020). Even amongst White subjects themselves, what it means to be British has often been a question of challenge (Fox, 2014), and when I articulated that both my parents were born in the UK (Lichfield City and Northampton), she was visiblely upset and put-out.
The term ‘Karen’ comes from a name that was frequent among middle-aged women who were born between 1957 and 1966 with its peak in 1965 (Social Security Data). The name is also the Danish rendition of Katherine associated with the Greek for pure. Yet, the meaning of the word has undergone pejoration. In sociolinguistics, ‘pejoration’ is when a positive word becomes negative over time. ‘Karen’ as it has come to be known today has uses as early as September 2016 and as we know now, Karen has become synonymous with racist middle-aged White women, often associated with their harrassment of Black people just minding their business. On my way home, this harrassment found me walking while Black. For others, it has occured shopping while Black; birdwatching while Black; jogging while Black; listening to music in their house while Black, and more. The encounters we know about are generally examples that make news headlines but there are far more examples that do not make the national press, because they are pervasive.
Writing my MA dissertation on the 1919 Race Riots, I saw even in Edwardian Britain the nationality and citizenship rights of Black people in this country were contested (Belchem, 2014: 56), both those born British subjects in parts of the British Empire and those that were in fact born and raised here (May and Cohen, 1974), in spite of their legal status under the 1914 British Nationality and Aliens Act. Today, we are asked “where you from?” underpinned by historical racist epistemologies that defined Englishness as White (Dabiri, 2021). However, even in the image of so-called multiculturalism in the UK, the Britishness of Black and Brown people still has qualifiers attached. Watching ‘Homecoming’, the finale of David Olusoga’s popular series Black and British, the historian claims “… there is one barrier that confronted the Windrush Generation that we have largely overcome, and that’s because there are few people these days who question the idea that it is possible to be both Black and British” (54:46-55:00).
My experiences as a child and as an adult still tell me that Black Britishness is an increasingly contentious question, but even more testing … to be Black and English. In August 2021, MP David Lammy defended his right to call himself Black English from a caller into his LBC show. Whilst he was later met with lots of support online, what is interesting was the numbers of Black people on Twitter that challenged him on his right to be Black and English. If English is a nationality, better yet, a “civic identity”, nobody should be argueing someone’s right to choose where they belong. Furthermore, David Olusoga’s comments in ‘Homecoming’ seem blinkered and out of touch with people on the ground that still experience this epistemic racism on a daily basis. Especially my generation navigating the superhighways of identity where as one scholar writes, “The BBC had a whole series dedicated to ‘Black Britishness’ [Olusoga’s], which essentially amounted to propaganda for the idea that we are now accepted as part of the nation …” (Andrews, 2019: xiii).
My encounter with the woman on the street is one more example of racial privilege knowing full well that her Whiteness protected her from repercussions. Furthermore, whilst the ‘Karen’ meme started as a commentary on racial privilege (Williams, 2020) and White women in histories of racism (Ware, 1992), it’s a shame that is has been co-opted by people as a catch-all term for any woman that happens to annoy them. I think my encounter is certainly definable under the remits of the original Karen mythology, but there are those out there who would also argue my thoughts as misogynistic, namely because of what the mythology has become. In the UK, this mythology is “more proof the internet speaks American” (Lewis, 2020). And how Black Lives Matter is still spoken about is a reminder of the divides between anti-Blackness in the US and anti-Blackness in Britain. Yet, discourses on “Karen spotting” online also speak an American voice even though equivalents exist in Britain – especially in schools, colleges / universities and healthcare.
Those interested in the cultures of Black and Brown people; it would be more useful to ask about heritage over the racist “where are you from?”, as for me at least the latter is underpinned by racist binaries that say POCs cannot relate to ‘Anglo-Europeanness’, whilst the former speaks to the fluidity of an individual’s relationship with Home.
Andrews, K (2019) Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century. London: ZED Books.
Belchem, J (2014) Before the Windrush: Race Relations in 20th Century Liverpool. Liverpool: University Press.
Black and British (2016) Episode 4: Homecoming [BBC iPlayer]. London: BBC 2.
Brown, J.N. (2006) Dropping Anchor Setting Sail: Geographies of Race in Black Liverpool. NJ: Princeton University Press.
Christian, M. (2008) The Fletcher Report 1930: A Historical Case Study of Contested Black Mixed Heritage Britishness. Journal of HIstorical Sociology, 21(2-3), pp. 213-241.
Dabiri, E. (2021) What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition. London: Penguin.
DuBois, W.E.B. (1903) The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Dover Thrift.
Fox, K. (2014) Watching the English: the hidden rules of English behaviour. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Frankenberg, R. (1993) White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. MI: UoM Press.
Gilroy, P. (1987) There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack. London: Routledge.
Hirsch, A. (2017) Brit(ish). London: Jonathan Cape.
Lewis, H. (2020) The Mythology of Karen. The Atlantic.
May, R and Cohen, R. (1974) The Interaction Between Race and Colonialism: A Case Study of the Liverpool Race Riots of 1919. Race and Class. 16(2), pp. 111-126.
Olusoga, D. (2017) Black and British: A Forgotten History. London: Pan.
Philips, C. (1987) The European Tribe. London: Faber & Faber.
Pitts, J. (2020) Afropean: Notes from Black Europe. London: Penguin.
Rich, P.B. (1986) Race and Empire in British Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University.
Riz Ahmed (2019) Where You From? YouTube.
Shukla, N. (2016) The Good Immigrant. London: Unbound
— (2021). Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family, and Home. London: Pan.
Social Security. Top 5 Names in Each of the Last 100 Years.
Ventour, T. (2020) Where Are You From? (For ‘Effing Swings & Roundabouts’ by Lauren D’Alessandro-Heath). Medium.
Ware, V. (1992) Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History. London: Verso.
Williams, A. (2020) Black Memes Matter: #LivingWhileBlack With Becky and Karen. Social Media + Society. 6(4), pp. 1-14.
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Young, R.J.C. (1995) Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race, London: Routledge.
Chapter I: No More White Saviours
This post in-part takes its name from a book by the late Whiteness Studies academic Ruth Frankenberg (1993) while the subtitle is taken from a journal article by Brittany Aronson (2017), the first of three blogs that will discuss Whiteness, women, and racism.
In the middle of August 2021, I saw a Facebook post by an institution platforming one of their staff who happened to say that she helped build a playground in an African country. I shared this post with a gentle critique of Whiteness attached. In the comments some of my friends and colleagues gave their two cents, with comments such as ‘white privilege’ and ‘gap-year activism’. It would be useful to say this staff member was White. A week to ten days later I recieved of a hostile message from one of their friends claiming I had upset the person in question with the comments. In the conversation I had with the third party (over messenger), I was witness to the hostility that Black and Brown people often experience from White women via tone-policing and their emotions as weapons (Hamad, 2018; Phipps, 2021). Her friend thus began to lecture me on the work of East African Playgrounds and use the so-called ethnically diverse makeup of the group that built the playground as a cover for the friend’s participation. In short, “I have Black / Asian / POC friends so it’s all good” – not, let me check my White privilege.
After being called a “bully” I did apologise, as maybe some of the comments did make it about the individual in question. However, in hindsight I do not think I should have (I was manipulated). I do not think the comments were bullyish, but this was simply a response consistent with ‘White defense’ (Lewis, 2000; Gunaratnam, 2003; DiAngelo, 2019), and I was not as savvy because it happened online rather in person. I was bullied as a youth so I have done my utmost since to not be one of those people. However, in this first act of ‘White defense’ it brought me to think about charity as one of the sectors where Whiteness is most pervasive. As an undergrad, I remember attending a presentation evening at Park Campus aiming to convince students to do aid work in East Africa, presented as “good for the CV”. How HE works with charities to send students to these places is problematic revisiting violent histories of colonial paternalism and the place of Blackness and Browness in the White imagination. Or as one postcolonial theorist writes:
“The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience.”Said, 1978: 2
The “helping hand of the West” in countries that are seemingly presented as unable to help themselves (or so is the concept / idea that White Western Aid presents) is rooted in White supremacy. When White people go to these countries under the guise of “good intent”, it brings the histories of White supremacy in these nations back to the floor. For Black/Brown people, who do this work, irrespective of our ancestries in global southern countries, I have to ask myself if I’m wanted there. Although I’m racialised outside of Whiteness, I was still reared in Europe. It is also a reminder of the differences between race and culture, as a Black person that was raised in Britain compared to my grandfather, for example, who spent nearly all of his childhood in Grenada. “Aid” reminds me of Othering through how previously colonised nations “still apparently” need “the help” of the West, countries that were never able to realise their potentials because of colonial exploitation wrought by Europe (re: the plot to Black Panther) colonialisms they still continue to do through different means. i.e the Israeli state’s illegal occupation of Palestine. Colonialism never ended.
It reminds me of the so-called “inferiority” of countries in the Global South (what many sectors call developing nations) when westerners continue to go there in the name of aid, whilst at the same time not helping these countries to be self-sufficient. Simply we just send people there hoping that is enough. And we do this yearly without thinking about the broader problems. The roles of individuals in doing that, is really complicit into Whiteness through aid AKA White savourism. Short term, it feels good; long-term, this does more for the West than it does for those we want to help.
Aid aside, a comparison could be how following the Murder of George Floyd, lots of White people felt the euphoria of the protests and solidarity, but when it came to making good on pledging to dismantle systems of violence they benefit from, I could hear a pin drop. Seldom do we seek to empower these nations. What we frequently do is send westerners, often (but not always) for that feeling of goodness in building schools and their CVs, but at the end of it all, these tourists get to come back to the West. And when global sourthern nations have organised themselves historically, western governments have assasinated their leaders (i.e Belgium and Congo’s Patrice Lumumba).
What has become known as ‘poverty tourism’ is purported by not just White people from the Global North but also people like me who have ancestry in the Global South but were born and raised in the West. For those of us that do aid work, it would be worth thinking about how Whiteness can appear in the faces of Black and Brown people through the social, economic, and political investments institutions continue to have in these nations via the actions of individuals on the ground. That aside, it is seen as much more acceptable for a White person to do this work than it is for people of colour. When White people do “aid work” in previously colonised nations, it is viewed as “adventure” (i.e look at lit canon works of White westerners going to these nations). However, when Black and Brown people do this, in Northampton we just call it community work. To see an institution platform this ‘white saviourism’, it was insulting to many of my friends and colleagues, and their heritage, as descendants of indentured and enslaved labour.
Whilst I know there are many people ignorant to this history, I also know there are many people that know this and still continue to do it anyway. They may well go to countries in the African and Asian continents with good intentions, but those intentions are not divorced from histories of colonial exploitation these countries still haven’t recovered from. In seeing numbers of White people celebrating these “achievements” supported by White institutions, White privilege is evidently in-play in charity and in education, when the institutional thought plays into ‘institutional Whiteness’ because:
“the everyday work of establishing whiteness as a racialised enactment; of doing whiteness; of getting into it, is also institutional work. Whiteness is not just a personal investment practice it frames our chances for life or death, whether we are imprisoned or walk free, we are rich or poor, which university or not we attend, what marks we attain when we get there, if we do. The notion of institutional whiteness is a way of recognising the links between whiteness and institutional reproduction.”White Spaces
In charity and by association third sector, this is an environment dominated by White middle-class women and White women are not divorced from histories of racism, in fact they are an important part of it (Ware, 1992). Rather than send students into these countries, I ask what global northern universities are doing with their global sourthern partner institutions to help on the ground. It is all very well sending students to build schools, but decolonisation is more than a curriculum-focussed endeavour. We must understand as Prof. Tao Leigh Goffe writes, “colonialism is ongoing … profound, sad, and beautiful because … decolonization is a prophecy and urgent call to action” Decolonisation requires colonisers to give the colonised their lands back and she goes on to say that “…decolonize is a a verb not a metaphor as Tuck and Yang teach us they wonder why Afro-Asian solidarity and Afro-Native coalition does not always exist in the world where it should or could.” I question if it is appropriate for higher education to send, often people who are westerners, to these countries, without any prior exploration of Whiteness nor the overarching system of White supremacy as a social and political system (Mills, 2003; 2004). My encounter with this White woman also saw her position bodies like mine in effort to cover Whiteness, but when we have a history/present of Black/Brown bodies being used as a flimsy cover for White supremacy (Ash Sakar in DDN, 2021), it makes sense that she would do this.
As a precedent, discourses around David Lammy and Stacey Dooley are worth looking at. Brittany Aronson (2017) argues that in the system of White supremacy, “we are falsely taught that being white is better so it makes sense why we would instill our white values upon students of color.” The hostility of this encounter in my direct messages reflects the ongoing systematic racism that people of colour face, via tone-policing because so often White people do not like how we experess ourselves, be it through speech or even in body language. For me, this has come more from White women than it has from White men. Today, I am still more conscious of them in anti-racism spaces than men. With the added intersection of womanhood, women of colour frequently experience this, with one of the most vivid examples of policing women of colour being when Matt Hancock tone-policed Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP in May 2020.
When White people go into these countries to build schools, it makes many of us Black/Brown people uncomfortable when we as POCs have done this historically, only for these buildings to have been destroyed by White supremacists, or when we do like-for-like community work in the Global North … it is scorned. And whilst the woman in my messenger praised the diversity of this project, this revisits how Whiteness as an action can also be done by people that are not racialised as White (i.e The Sewell Report). So, although POCs took part, they are enacting the dominant thought of the institution which is the White institution. Seeing that western institutions are shaped by Euroecentricism AKA White thought / epistemologies, we can see regardless of how institutions can sometimes position POCs on these trips, they are in some ways doing the bidding of the institution really showing how Whiteness can appear with Black and Brown faces. The comments from the staff member’s friend in my messenger claimed the comments of my friends were “hateful” and “bullying”, this is a covert example of tone-policing when White people are held accountable.
After to-ing and fro-ing, this conversation ended with an obligation for the commenters and I to educate her and her friend. I’m not against aid work per sé, simply the lack of analysis or critique of aid work through a Whiteness lens by the institutions initiating those projects is troubling. Furthermore, I do not see White people that want to think about their own complicity in White supremacy in this work. If I saw more of an anti-racist commitment from aid institutions and so proclaimed White anti-racists, I would be less cynical about it. Yet, until that day comes, it will always be an uncomfortable topic especially when these countries only need aid namely because of colonialism and the postcolonial aftershocks countries like Britain left behind. It’s one thing saying these countries are “unstable” politically and socially as I am often told (but when you start asking why, it leads in one direction). It’s really an open secret that lots of White people, do emotionally benefit from this work (verily women), and that is Whiteness. This happens at the same time as White subjects really benefiting from Black/Brown trauma. If all of the above is acknowledged and explored in doing the work, then I might relax a bit more but it looks to me that the West is still profitting from the issues they create(d).
We said our goodbyes. Actually, I said goodbye, and that was that.
One thing is certain, this encounter for me, assured the everlasting relevance of Critical Race and Whiteness Studies further showing how Whiteness happens on social media. The microaggressions felt like bell hooks’ “white terror” (1992: 167) … it’s violence upon the body via stress. I’m tired now.
Aronson, B (2017) The White Savior Industrial Complex … Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, 6(3), pp. 36-54.
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Lewis, G (2000) Race, Gender, Social Welfare: Encounters in a Postcolonial Society. Oxford: Polity Press.
Mills, C. (2003) White Supremacy as a Sociopolitical System: A Philosophical Perspective. In: Doane, A and Bonilla-Silva, E (eds) White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism. London: Routledge, pp. 35-48.
Mills, C. W (2004) Racial Exploitation and the Wages of Whiteness. In: Yancy, G (ed.) What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question. London: Routledge. pp. 25-54.
Phipps, A (2021) White tears, white rage: Victimhood and (as) violence in mainstream feminism. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 24(1), pp. 81-93.
Said, E (1978) Orientalism. London: Penguin.
Ware, V. (1992/2015) Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History. London: Verso.
White Spaces. Institutional Witnesses. White Spaces.
One of the most horrifying thing about Coronavirus, aside from the deaths (in excess of 100,000 people that needlessly died), is the underpinning mental health crisis we were actually in the vice of before March 2020. UK universities, for example, saw 95 students commit suicide in the 2016/17 academic year with ten deaths also in the space of eighteen months being at Bristol (Kwakye and Ogunbiyi, 2019: 109). For those of us that have any experience of institutional life, very much so in education, I know most will have experience with mental illness. We are told that we need to get used to it and we are made into the problems rather than putting the onus on institutions to change how they operate, and as Sara Ahmed (2018) writes “how feminist complaint becomes a form of institutional disloyalty. You are not being affected in the right way. Not be happy and positive is to become difficult; to become a problem” (p337). Still today, I am told mental health is “all in your head.” Whilst in the literal meaning, that may be true, the crux of it is how society has normalised things like inequalities that in-part create these issues. Those making those assumptions, do they ever ask why so many people have mental health problems? We are made to feel that we are broken for simply having a mental illness. Honestly, if I could be so bold, I would ask why all people don’t feel mental ill-health. I think there is something wrong when a person has normalised the goings-on of an evidently sick world. When you think about the nature of our environment in a matter-of-fact manner, you begin to realise that your pain makes sense.
“If you’re depressed and anxious, you’re not a machine with broken parts. You’re a human being with unmet needs. You need food, … water, [and] clean air. You need warmth. If I took those things away from you, you would go haywire really quickly.” – Johann Hari
Many months ago I watched the above video constructed by Double Down News (please subscribe) presented by Johann Hari. It really changed my outlook on my own mental health. He articulates something I have thought for over a decade but really struggled to articulate. As someone that is neurodivergent, I am not sure I know anyone with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or other neurodiverse conditions that also do not suffer from mental health problems, maybe because we also don’t necessarily see the world in the ways neurotypical people do. Simply, rather than see the world (which we do), I’m more inclined to say that we feel the world. Many of us are also Highly Sensitive People [HSPs] which is that we feel emotions much more deeply than our non-HSP and / or in some cases neurotypical friends and colleagues. We feel things everyone does, simply those feelings are amplified tenfold than non-HSPs.
As humans we are encouraged to live in destructive ways, simply that are incompatible for us to function and that is violence, since many of us are also dying early because of it (i.e the Windrush Scandal). I have been told countless times that mental health issues, (especially depression) are about a chemical imbalances (debunked) in the brain and the people telling me this turn it into an isolated academic matter, often completely detached from what that “science” does to people. Poor mental health is a response to psychological needs not being met by our lived environment. The Coronavirus pandemic is awful for all of us. However, the pre-COVID world was not great nor should it have been normal. Hari states that “our ancestors were really good at one thing … banding together and cooperating. Often they were not bigger or stronger than the kind of beasts they took down and ate. What they were was incredibly good at was cooperating compared to other species.” Today, this culture of neoliberalism promotes individualistic thinking over community organising and family-centric cohesion. There is a reason why in Northamptonshire, community groups have a better trackrecord than local authorities and big institutions when engaging communities, because these community-focused groups are about banding together and cooperating. Other institutions are not.
During the pandemic, many of us have had to rely on the kindness of our neighbours who in some cases were also strangers. I was quite fortunate that my neighbourhood is quite pleasant and we have a good relationship with our neighbours. Not everyone is so lucky. Charities like Happy Hood have been doing this sort of work for a while (check out their Instagram @thehappyhood), along with Creating Equalz, NorFAMtoN, Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council, Eve and others. Speaking with friends and colleagues, I think there are many out there now that would sooner call local charities and their friends to solve problems, rather than engage with local authorities or even the judgement of local police departments. Since the invention of capitalism in the days of colonial expansions, and the eventual versions of this since, “we are the first human beings to ever try to disband our tribes and live alone where the high priestess of neoliberalism Margaret Thatcher told us, ‘there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families'” (Johann Hari). Should the British public (not the Government) have followed Thatcher’s ethos in response to Coronavirus, we would be staring into a greater abyss, and many more hundreds of thousands of corpses than we already are. At the start, communities came out for each other helping each other in accordance to human need. But you know “your pain is just some unexplainable chemical imbalance in the brain, right?”
I’m no medical doctor, however, my academic experience / writing does delve into the social sciences. Whilst myths of debunked chemical imbalances float around, if you are not asking questions about what is happening in peoples’ lives, are you really asking the right questions? For many of us, we have been victims of institutions and structures: economic violence, racial capitalism, hate crimes, poverty, domestic abuse and others. Plus, through COVID under a government that used a pandemic for profit and practicing forms of neocolonial eugenics in its herd immunity tactics to throw swathes of the British public under the bus. A lot of the things causing mental health problems were in full force before Coronavirus arrived. Hari states “a lot of the factors that are causing depression and anxiety had already been rising before the internet came along, we were becoming much lonelier.” My parents tell me stories about when they were growing up, that although neoliberalism was a thing, they still knew who their neighbours were and it was still possible to make real human physical connections with people in your vicinity.
My parents were teenagers in the 1980s where despite that decade’s woes, this was a world before Facebook and TikTok, and before the internet. My father now works in IT and knows his way round computers – from coding to website-building and lots in between. He taught it to himself when computers were in their infancy, yet in knowing that, he also sees their flaws and how they’re not a replacement for humans. I did not get a Facebook account until I was 16 and schoolchildren bullied me for it. However, now I know what he was protecting me from … the need to fill an emotional hole. The want for human contact … and in the pandemic now, people are now feeling the blight of this hole in the image of constant calls on Zoom, Microsoft Teams and social media, where people just want to see their friends again; a hug from grandma and granddad; a conversation with their cousins they have not seen in over 18 months. Bosnian writer Alexander Haman said that “home is where people notice when you’re not there.” For those of us with mental health problems, many just want to feel that we belong somewhere and what is happening with this mental health crisis, is a wider symptom of a society that has normalised suffering, everything including and in between the overworked educators in schools and HE to settler colonialism in the illegal occupation of Palestine by the Israeli state.
Looking back on my life now, it never occured to me that I was depressed as a thirteen year-old from not only the systematic racist and ableist bullying I experienced from other children, but that causes of my depression were not that something was wrong with me. I was a troubled child rejecting the social conditions of the society he lived in. Many of us have looked for and found solutions in medications, and there is nothing wrong with this. They have helped countless people I know. However, I don’t believe it can be the only solution to a problem that has its roots in violent social conditions. What made us ill in the first place? What caused those so-debunked imbalances in the brain? Whilst they are useful, there are other antidepressants that are also useful. Lots of my neurodivergent friends are creative and they have used different artforms including poetry, filmmaking, photography and fine art to find their tribe and somewhat give their lives meaning. Those of us that work in institutions, how many hours of the day do we have a boss looking over our shoulder, physically or virtually? It doesn’t always feel very nice, especially when you are being micro-managed. The biological weathering that happens in institutional workspaces impacts mental health too, very much so in the lives of POCs. That’s why I like to work with community-focused charities, in that language of collectivism.
When you talk to people in your community, you realise there are more like you than not. And struggling with mental health is not something to be ashamed of. This is what I take from the work I do in education, that people who don’t struggle with their mental health (or don’t think they do / never have struggled) are who I would like to ask questions to, since I feel it is a sign of ill mental health “to be well adjusted to a sick society.” When we follow the neoliberalist playbook verbatim, this is where the powers that be want us. Isolated. Confused. Disorientated. Medications may take the edge off (good). However, solving systemic issues really shakes those in power to the core. What’s more, when communities stick and stay together, making demands for the better, the powerful don’t actually look that powerful.
Ahmed, Sara (2018). ‘Rocking the Boat: Women of Colour as Diversity Workers’. Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Race, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy, eds. Jason Arday and Heidi Safia Mirza. London: Palgrave.
Kwakye, Chelsea and Ogunbiyi, Ore (2019). Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change. London: Merky
For as long as I have been a contributor on this blog, lots of my entries have sought to discuss issues of race, both when I was a student union officer and then afterwards following the Murder of George Floyd. And in writing those entires since the second half of 2019, I have also written about Honours. I do not intend to stop now. During the Black Lives Matter resurgence last year after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Black Britain also responded with protests and even in some cases, revisited anti-racism within our insitutions, as well as opening up discussions about racism (and Whiteness somewhat) in the UK. And whilst many designated as spokespeople for Black communities bent the knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter – in the twelve months since those protests, members of the Black establishment sprinted to Buckingham Palace when they were called for the gong … more like a gong over the head. With all that bending, I do wonder if their backs have now grown crooked.
Last summer, at that point Lewis Hamilton (MBE) was one of the most vocal celebrities when it came to challenging racism only to then upgrade his already accepted MBE (from 2009) for a knighthood (KBE) that December. In January 2019, the famed historian David Olusoga who has been one of the most piercing critics of empire since at least 2010 with his book The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism (co-written with historian Casper Erichsen), took an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to history. Despite that book being about Germany’s colonialism in East Africa, the public history professor has gone on to write books and documentaries featuring the atrocities of the British Empire as well. This is someone whose career has sought to give voice to Black British colonial and postcolonial experiences, including Black soldiers of empire (The World’s War) and the Windrush Generation (The Unwanted: The Forgotten Windrush Files) further to his critiques on enslavement (Britain’s Forgotten Slaveowners) … only then to collect an Order of the British Empire when the state came calling. His contributions to Civilisations are excellent, as are his House Through Time documentaries (really a historian of many talents).
In July 2020, he delivered his MacTaggart Lecture about racism and representation in the media, which makes me think as TweetsbyBilal writes “I truly don’t understand the cognitive dissonance it takes to accept an OBE & simultaneously talk about anti-oppression.” If there was anyone that I would expect to decline Honours, it would be someone that presented themselves as an anti-imperialist and anti-racist historian (while this year presenting Statue Wars: One Summer in Bristol with Marvin Rees critiquing colonial statues). In 2019, finding out he had accepted an OBE, I think I was more gentle with my critiques then than I am now. Having been given time to think, his acceptance in particular sticks in my throat in addition to that of Lewis Hamilton in December 2020. Moving on, Marcus Rashford became MBE for services to vulnerable children last summer responding to the Victorian policies of PM Boris Johnson and his Tories, verily a page straight out of Dickens’ Oliver Twist … Sykes, Dodger, Fagin, Warts and all. This was 2020 but felt incredibly Dickensian and the State saw fit to make the footballer a Member of the British Empire [MBE] for his efforts.
Last year, I saw Marcus Rashford’s accolade as an insult and I still see it as insult now, followed this year with Raheem Sterling being made an MBE for services to race equality. To accept Honours is to condone the horrors of colonialism and the British Empire. I do wonder how much pressure the players recieved from their families for Rashford and Sterling to accept. Rashford is 23 years old, I am 25 and Sterling is 26 (but worlds apart). However, I also know that parts of Caribbean communities both in Britain and on those small islands hold on to things like this. Famed cricketer Vivian Richards has an OBE (1994) and a knighhood (1999) with Andy Roberts AKA The Hitman, recieveing the equivalent of a knighthood from his native Antiguan government in 2014, an award no less in the image of Britain’s own Honours system reaking of imperial delusions in the service of White supremacy.
As Black and Brown people, we should not have to be burdened with the responsibility to change things for people of the same race, but when people have spent their lives criticising the state including empire, and then take medals in its namesake, I then have a problem. In my own life as a creative, many of the creatives whose writing and work I respect, hold empire medals – from Malorie Blackman (OBE) and David Oyelowo (OBE) to David Harewood (MBE), filmmaker Amma Asante (MBE), [Akala’s sister] singer Ms Dynamite (MBE), Beverley Knight (MBE), and MIA (MBE) whose music in large always had an anti-imperialist slant. “When those who have made their names from challenging the lingering evils of the empire jump at the chance of being superficially validated by it, the hypocrisy is extremely grating” writes Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin for Gal-Dem. By all means accept your medals, but don’t call yourself activists and / or even pro-equality. It’s not a hard choice, if you do not want to be part of the establishment with the privileges that entails, and as as Chardine Taylor Stone continues in discussing activist Amika George … “and knowing that’s it’s hypocritical given your takes on colonialism and Empire” (though could just as well apply to most of the mentioned too).
Meanwhile, many big names in D&I are Honours recipients. Marcus Ryder was made an MBE for service to diversity in the media last October. Additionally, from a quick Google I found an Asif Sadiq MBE and Cherron Inko-Tariah MBE at D&I Leaders (there others). Why are so many names in D&I recipients? TweetsbyBilal states that “Well if the end goal is being included and not the dismantling of systems that cause harm, it makes sense”, and he goes on to talk about “To be “included” shouldn’t be the goal. It shouldn’t be about allowing those who have historically been minoritised to also acquire positional power to enact harm through broken systems – the point should be a complete transformation of these systems.” And to transfom these system would not seek to diversify Honours and the establishment, but to abolish Honours completely. If we want to seriously decolonise, we must entertain the fact that things like Honours would need to be abolished, not reformed, not reinvented under new names (i.e British Empire = Commonwealth).
Last summer, many of us were impressed with Sky Sports’ response to Black Lives Matter. As an avid cricketer myself, both as a player and spectator, I was also a victim of the lesser discussed racism that happens in cricket. Say what you want about football, but cricket was constructed to replace the cultural institution of enslavement in the Caribbean and thus rolled out across the British Empire in the first half of the 19th century. It was designed to reproduce the White supremacy of enslavement only across all of Britain’s colonial dominions. Football has its issues with racism, I know this, but cricket still continues to be in service to Whiteness (as much as I do enjoy the game), very much in the UK where there are so few Black and Brown players playing at the national level for England. Coincidence, I think not. In light of her appearance with Michael Holding last year, Ebony Rainford-Brent took her gong for an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours (June 2021) after talking about racism in women’s cricket last summer (cognitive dissonance ahem).
Cricket is one of the most potent examples of privilege, as it is so expensive to get into. When you realise 3 in 5 ethnic minority households in Britain live in poverty, cricket will more likely attract those from more working-middle-class / upper-middle class households. Football famously is a sport seen to help working-class players out of poverty as well (i.e your Marcus Rashfords), while cricket is the sport of private schools (which is how I got into the game, growing up incredibly privileged compared to many people in my community that look just like me). Ebony Rainford-Brent taking an MBE follows the Whiteness of the sport, a game in itself born out of British colonialism in the West indies on those small islands. Nonetheless, I have only listed some of the recent awardees of medals and really until there is a mass boycott of Honours, Black lives will never matter in Britain and our pushes for anti-racism are futile.
This comes in the same breath when seven out the ten of the commissioners of the infamous and horrific Sewell Report have honours, whilst claiming there was no evidence of institutional racism in the UK. Meanwhile, Raheem Sterling was honoured for contributions to race equality or as Aditya Iyer writes, “Poor Sewell and Toby. Must sting to see lesser toadies being rewarded for their service to Whiteness by merely licking the boot whilst those they were deepthroating it.” Although those that take Honours may continue to fight for justice in our institutions, for me that comes at the cost of their credibility (to varying degrees). To tell people how they ought to be doing anti-racism and anti-oppression work, while you are happy to bend the knee to empires of sugar, tobacco, and cotton, is just insulting. So, we must also consider that the history of the British Empire was not a deal-breaker for them to further their ambitions, and in some cases, nor was the murders, executions and rapes, of their ancestors.
As “activists” like Amika George accepted an MBE, it seems “activism” is a symbolic term where she claims that reframing the MBE was “a way of representing my community, showing the next generation of young British Asians that they hold just as much political power as their white friends, and they are just “British” as anyone else …” but as Audre Lorde wrote, back in the 1980s “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.” George claimed that she did not have the privilege to decline Honours, flying in the face of the countless Black and Brown Brits that did, including Benjamin Zephaniah, Howard Gayle, and this year author Nikesh Shukla. It would be much easier if these Black and Brown Britons that want the Gong just admit they want to be part of the establishment class experiencing the type of success that treats success as proximity to Whiteness and acknowledgement from the State.
In finding out 1 in 7 nominees at the last round were from an ethnic minority group, it reminds us that State’s tactics will continue to use our bodies as instruments in upholding racist structures. The allure of state recognition plays on the ‘gratefulness’ complex that persists through families that came to the Global North from from Britain’s former-colonies and as Musa Okwonga wrote “… growing up in Britain; it was always a case of making sure I was grateful … after all, my parents were brought to the UK as refugees, fleeing the hyper-violent regime of Ida Amin, and so there was no question that they had been given a second chance at life.” Okwonga’s statement is similar to many of us second and third-generation Africans, Caribbeans, and Asians that have immigrant parents and grandparents that were born British subjects in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. To decline, can in some cases, be seen as being ungrateful.
I hope as our knowledge grows about empire, people of my generation (late millennials) feel that they do not need to accept (to feel validated) and ultimately become agents of Whiteness and as Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin writes, to become “tools for the empire’s PR machine.” After a year where protesters pulled down the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol with educator-activists hosting meetings about teaching empire on school curicula, to then have Black so-called activists and the like buying into the imperialist machine undermines all pushes for social justice – for anti-racism to mean anything and if we want education on empire to mean anything in schools, we must boycott the Honours system. Black people. Brown people. White people too, who think they are above this (whilst histories of colonialism in Ireland continue to have an impact today, as well as the pre-colonial history of oppression in the context of the royals).
As Black people, Brown people and people of colour, we must boycott these “(dis)Honours” from the State as they are examples of Whiteness as a violent material practice. In Northamptonshire, there were recipients who recieved them for acts against COVID, very much a juxtaposition where the manufacturers of inequalities rewarded people for fighting a contagion that did not have to be this way. White people that think of themselves as pro-equality / anti-racists have no business accepting Honours. If you are serious and have any ounce of respect for your Black and Brown neighbours, give the Honours back. The continued acceptance of Honours greenlights the colonial violence and postcolonial struggle, and as Ash Sakar puts it, “the problem with liberal identity politics is that it puts recognition from the state above self-organisation, … collective struggle and above solidarity. So, if we want those ingredients to mean anything we’ve got to divest ourselves of the desire to be recognised by those at the top and start recongising each other.”
The liberal politics of “diversifying the Honours list” insinuates more Black faces in high spaces is what we need to end racism (absolute nonsense) I question why we need an establishment in the first place … unless “inclusion” is just double talk for a privileged minority within an oppressed one? Whiteness appears in Blackface, nothing but a circus with medals and all.
Last December I watched the final entry of Small Axe entitled ‘Education‘, the best entry in my opinion and thus I delivered a blog on the film too. The finale articulated the history behind the schools for the ‘Educationally Subnormal’ [ESN] or ‘special schools’, and it took me back to when I was a nine year-old boy being treated as if I was intellectually inferior or incapable, by my White teachers in comparison to the White children. It turns out I was dyspraxic. The story of Maisie Barrett, however, in the recent documentary Subnormal: A British Scandal resonated. My schooling experience differs from most Black children in Britain today (since I was at private, not state) but the story of Maisie Barrett resonates because she was dyslexic (word blindness in the 1960s/1970s) and simply, like my teachers with my dyspraxia, they did not know how to teach her or me. She was placed in one of those ‘special schools’ really because she happened to be Black and her dyslexia translated as “difficult” to the teachers of the time.
In the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds of Black children in Britain were caught in an education scandal where many were sent to schools designed for the ‘educationally subnormal’. Some children were labelled as “subnormal” by the state, as they were seen to have low intelligence and not fit for the mainstream school system. A decision by the state that would see many (if not all) of these children to grow into adults traumatised by their experience with that childhood trauma impacting their adult lives. What happened in the 1960s and 1970s disproportionately to Black British children of Caribbean descent has an enduring legacy today, where battles are still being fought in the name of race and racism, from Early Years all the way up to higher education [HE] in universities. In the 1944 Education Act, the term “educationally subnormal” entered British lexicon to describe children that the state deemed intellectually deficient.
The people that we now know in the colloquial sense as the Windrush Generation (Caribbeans that came here between 1948-1970), came here to work. This scandal impacted their children and is really an aftershock of the hostility to Caribbean arrival in 1948. My own great-grandparents themselves came to this country from the Caribbean in the late 1950s, early 1960s with some of their children (including my grandmother) coming on her parents’ passports. And I know my maternal great-grandparents were factory workers when they first came. I’m told they went to work at Long and Hambly, a Northamptonshire-based plastics manufacturer. However, these ESN schools should not be relegated to history as the education sector continues to fail Black and Brown students at every level. Whilst back then the state called them ‘special schools’, now we have Pupil Referral Units [PRU] where Black students in schools continue to be placed when they become “too difficult” for the mainstream system of education.
Watching Subnormal, it struck me that whilst it claims this scandal started in the 1960s with the arrival of the Windrush Generation and whilst I earlier claimed it as an aftershock of 1948, I would take this back further. Why were / are Black students being treated as if they were / are less intelligent? In the documentary, Prof. Gus John states “there were many academics who were equating race with lack of intellectual ability [with] the reason for Black underachievement as those children were Black” … academics like Professor Hans Eysenck, a key figure in discourses around race and intelligence in the 1970s. He believed genetics played a role in influenceing intelligence and that “entire racial groups might be genetically condemned to lower intelligence” (Subnormal). These ideas lead to beliefs that Black children were not as capable of academic success as White children. With people like Prof. Eysenck leading on this, it made ESNs not really a national scandal but justifiable … essentially justifying racism with “science.”
Yet, going back to the 18th and 19th centuries we also know that similar ‘race science’ was used to used to justify colonialisms and also enslavement as well as the subjugation of Black people in the Caribbean and the African continent. In her book Superior, Angela Saini traces the origins of race really showing the racial hierachies that existed in that era with White European people at the top and Black people of African descent at the bottom and “what Europeans saw as cultural shortcomings in other populations in the early nineteenth century soon become conflated with how they looked” (p11). So-called ‘race scientists’ drew on physical differences to emphasise us and them and I believe the ideas perpetuated by the Government in constructing the ESNs do not sound too far from the pseudoscientific racial theories that underpinned colonial racial thinking of the 18th and 19th century. Very much followed by the Nazis themselves, inspired by UK-US eugenics creating policies also discriminating based on disabilities, that would have included neurodivergent conditions like dyslexia (or as they called it in the 1970s … word blindness).
Black people being seen as intellectually inferior is a stereotype that goes back to the days of White masters and Black enslaved people. The justifications made for the ESNs were simply an afterthought of the “academic reasonings” made to subjugate Black people on slave plantations. Simply, the UK government were standing on the shoulders of old stereotypes created in the slave polity. When you link this with the hostility to Caribbean arrival, we can then see that the conditions of anti-Blackness have been in Britain since the 16th century. In watching the film, what we saw is ‘race science’ playing out in a contemporary context, as well as eugenics, which was also pioneered by men like Winston Churchill, who the British public saw fit to vote as the Best Briton in 2002, and then have on the £5-note in 2016.
In British schools and universities, we continue to see these same stereotypes playing out (the return of race science, to put it bluntly) but more importantly, this is White supremacy in action. Whilst I enjoyed (if that’s the term), the documentary as it had lots to take away, I felt it was not critical enough. Much alike lots of the documentaries we have received from especially the BBC since the George Floyd killing, they go as far as to say ‘racism is bad and we need to talk about it’ but fall short in naming White supremacy as a social and political system (Mills, 2004). Further to the fact of how institutional Whiteness (White Spaces) allows our structures to continue to centre and frame the emotions of White people in dealing with racist incidents. The scandal that culminated in Bernard Coard’s book How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System, was well articulated by the BBC as well as showing the role of Black parents, community leaders and activists, but falls short at showing the overarching system leading us to believe this as an isolated tragedy and not part of complex system that was orchestrated from dot.
We had lots of testimony from the victims as well as parents, community leaders, activists and the like but much akin to so much of the trauma narratives of late, the people that helped facilitate these crimes are nowhere to be seen … we have a victim-focussed narrative with no analysis on the mechanics of the oppression itself. 50 years on, more awareness for sure … but no accountability. The BBC is the establishment broadcaster and it shows. Babylon, for true!
Coard, B. (1971) How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System. In: Richardson, B. Tell it like it is: How our schools fail Black children. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.
Mills, C (2004) Racial Exploitation and the Wages of Whiteness. In: Yancy, G (ed). What White Looks Like: African American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question. Abingdon: Routledge.
Saini, Angela (2019) Superior: The Return of Race Science. London: 4th Estate.
Ventour, T (2021) The Alternative History Behind the Windrush Scandal. Medium [online]
White Spaces. Institutional Witnesses. White Spaces [online].
At times like this I often hate to be the person to take what little hope people may have had away from them, however, I do not believe the Chauvin verdict is the victory many people think it is. I say people, but I really mean White people, who since the Murder of George Floyd are quite new to this. Seeing the outcry on social media from many of my White colleagues that want to be useful and be supportive, sometimes the best thing to do in times like these is to give us time to process. Black communities across the world are still collectively mourning. Now is the time, I would tell these institutions and people to give Black educators, employees and practitioners their time, in our collective grief and mourning. After the Murder of George Floyd last year, many of us Black educators and practitioners took that oppurtunity to start conversations about (anti)racism and even Whiteness. However, for those of us that do not want to be involved because of the trauma, Black people recieving messages from their White friends on this, even well-meaning messages, dredges up that trauma. That though Derek Chauvin recieved a guilty verdict, this is not about individuals and he is still to recieve his sentence, albeit being the first White police officer in the city of Minneapolis to be convicted of killing a Black person.
Under the rallying cry “I can’t breathe” following the 2020 Murder of George Floyd, many of us went to march in unison with our American colleagues. Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council [NREC] organised a successful protest last summer where nearly a thousand people turned up. And similar demonstrations took place across the world, going on to be the largest anti-racist demonstration in history. However, nearly a year later, institutional commitments to anti-racism have withered in the wind, showing us how performative institutions are when it comes to pledges to social justice issues, very much so in the context race. I worry that the outcome of the Chauvin verdict might become a “contradiction-closing case”, reiterating a Facebook post by my NREC colleague Paul Crofts.
For me, a sentence that results in anything less than life behind bars is a failure of the United States’ criminal justice system. This might be the biggest American trial since OJ and “while landmark cases may appear to advance the cause of justice, opponents re-double their efforts and overall little or nothing changes; except … that the landmark case becomes a rhetorical weapon to be used against further claims in the future” (Gillborn, 2008). Here, critical race theorist David Gillborn is discussing “the idea of the contradiction-closing case” originally iterated by American critical race theorist Derrick Bell. When we see success enacted in landmark cases or even movements, it allows the state to show an image of a system that is fair and just, one that allows ‘business as usual’ to continue. Less than thirty minutes before the verdict, a sixteen-year-old Black girl called Makiyah Bryant was shot dead by police in Columbus, Ohio. She primarily called the police for help as she was reportedly being abused. In her murder, it pushes me to constantly revisit the violence against Black women and girls at the hands of police, as Kimberlé Crenshaw states:
“They have been killed in their living rooms, in their bedrooms, in their cars, they’ve been killed on the street, they’ve been killed in front of their parents and they’ve been killed in front of their children. They have been shot to death. They have been stomped to death. They have been suffocated to death. They have been manhandled to death. They have been tasered to death. They have been killed when they have called for help. They have been killed while they have been alone and they have been killed while they have been with others. They have been killed shopping while Black, driving while Black, having a mental disability while Black, having a domestic disturbance while Black. They have even been killed whilst being homeless while Black. They have been killed talking on the cellphone, laughing with friends, and making a U-Turn in front of the White House with an infant in the back seat of the car.”Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw (TED, 2018)
Whilst Chauvin was found guilty, a vulnerable Black girl was murdered by the very people she called for help in a nearby state. Richard Delgado (1998) argues “contradiction-closing cases … allow business as usual to go on even more smoothly than before, because now we can point to the exceptional case and say, ‘See, our system is really fair and just. See what we just did for minorities or the poor’.” The Civil Rights Movement in its quest for Black liberation sits juxtaposed to what followed with the War on Drugs from the 1970s onwards. And whilst the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was seemingly one of the high points of British race relations followed with the 2001 Race Relations Act, it is a constant fallback position in a Britain where racial inequalities have exasperated since. That despite Macpherson’s landmark report, nothing really has changed in British policing, where up until recently London Metropolitan Police Service had a chief that said it wasn’t helpful to label police as institutionally racist.
Scrolling the interweb after the ruling, it was telling to see the difference of opinion between my White friends and colleagues in comparison to my Black friends and colleagues. White people wrote and tweeted with more optimism, claiming to hope that this may be the beginning of something upward and forward-thinking. Black people on the other hand were more critical and did not believe for a second that this guilty verdict meant justice. Simply, this ruling meant accountability. Since the Murder of George Floyd, there have been numbers of conversations and discourses opened up on racism, but less so on White supremacy as a sociopolitical system (Mills, 2004). My White colleagues still thinking about individuals rather than systems/institutions simply shows where many of us still are, where this trial became about a “bad apple”, without any forethought to look at the system that continues enable others like him.
Even if Derek Chauvin gets life, I am struggling to be positive since it took the biggest anti-racist demonstration in the history of the human story to get a dead Black man the opportunity at police accountability. Call me cynical but forgive me for my inability to see the light in this story, where Derek Chauvin is the sacrificial lamb for White supremacy to continue unabted. Just as many claimed America was post-racial in 2008 with the inaugaration of Barack Obama into the highest office in the United States, the looming incarceration (I hope) of Derek Chauvin does not mean policing suddenly has become equal. Seeing the strew of posts on Facebook from White colleagues and friends on the trial, continues to show how White people are still centering their own emotions and really is indicative of the institutional Whitenesses in our institutions (White Spaces), where the centreing of White emotions in workspaces is still violence.
Derek Chauvin is one person amongst many that used their power to mercilessly execute a Black a person. In our critiques of institutional racism, we must go further and build our knowledge on institutional Whiteness, looking at White supremacy in all our structures as a sociopolitical system – from policing and prisons, to education and the third sector. If Derek Chauvin is “one bad apple”, why are we not looking at the poisoned tree that bore him?
Delgado, Richard. (1998). Rodrigo’s Committee assignment: A sceptical look at judicial independence. Southern California Law Review, 72, 425-454.
Gillborn, David. (2008). Racism and education: Coincidence or conspiracy? London: Routledge.
Mills, Charles (2004) Racial Exploitation and the Wages of Whiteness. In: Yancy, George (ed). What White Looks Like: African American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question. London: Routledge.
TED (2018). The urgency of intersectionality | Kimberlé Crenshaw. YouTube [online]. Available.
White Spaces. Institutional Witnesses. White Spaces. Available.
What has now been donned as the ‘mitten meme’ shows a different kind of politics is possible. The inaugarations and campaigns of the past portray a culture of Hollywood and slick photo-finishes. The rise of meme culture in the last decade shows that the things that go viral aren’t perfect, but genuine, catching moments and people at both their most vulnerable but also most relaxed. Moments in history of pure beauty. The recent Bernie Sanders ‘mittens meme’ that went viral is an indicator that the US’ Hollywood-esque nature of politics is fast ending, in the epilogue of Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, and even the duke John Wayne when he used his stardom to support presidential candidates in the Golden Age of Hollywood up to the 1950s. Where once, nice photos and poetry would have been enough, they are now being dwarfed by meme culture.
Amanda Gorman’s poem will go down in history and the Obama-Harris fist bump was a nice touch, but memes have a wide-ranging universal appeal that the Dems need to use if they are to remain relevant and not get left behind, and perhaps lose re-election 2025
The American political left(ish) with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Rep. Cori Bush and The Squad, show the side of the Democratic Party that is forward-thinking and embracing of ideas that some would call radical, or simply ‘socialist’ putting people first. I mean, AOC is on Tik Tok, and engages with her base over videogames. With the exit of Donald Trump, the United States has been restored to its default settings. The more establishment side of the Democratic Party with Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama and their like need to embrace the changes that are fast coming whether they like it or not. This could start with welcoming those more progressive members of the Democrats in a Party that is violently split.
In the UK, Labour also have that split, with Starmer and company on one side and those that supported Corbyn on the other. If Labour is to be relevant, they need to embrace the progressives (like Zara Sultana for example), and be some sort of opposition to the Tories (one would hope). Labour may well be elected at the next election due to the draconian leadership of the Tories this past year, but will Labour keep power if they continue with their omerta? In 2020, Sultana brought her student finance statement into House of Commons, an allegory for a generation that have no problems in being critical of power in a very direct manner. Especially in a time where women, even in politics, are tone-policed for speaking their minds. Imagine being part of an institution, where you have to police outrage as people die by the day from this deadly contagion.
Speaking on things how you see it without repercussion has often always been a privilege exclusive to cishet White men. Progressives, pertinently those that are women of colour, continue to be policed by the Whiteness around them, and I would say Whiteness in this context has as much to do with skin colour as patriarchy has to do with men. In essence, the Whiteness presented by the Black and Brown Tories exhibits the spirit of empire and patriarchy can be reproduced by women as well. Simone de Beavoir (1947) wrote that “the oppressor would not be so strong if he did not have accomplices among the oppressed themselves.” When we talk about privilege, Senator Bernie Sanders scored the jackpot of white, straight man but he also marched with Dr. Martin Luther King on Washington in 1963. Sanders is nearly 80 years old and age is so often scapegoated as a block for doing equality, someone that’s dedicated their life to anti-discriminatory causes.
The Memeification of Bernie Sanders didn’t start with those mittens but earlier. The Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash is not just an honourific but a real Facebook group. I think one of the most forward-thinking things the Biden-Harris Administration could do is embrace the more progressive members of the Democratic Party. If they want to combat things like racism, this also means interrogating capitalism. But these interrogations of capitalism are also what ultimately ended Jimmy Carter’s career in his ‘crisis of confidence.’ If the Biden-Harris administration are serious about about making Black lives matter, perhaps they should take ‘Defund the Police’ more seriously (but Harris is the US’ top cop). Something Cori Bush ran a campaign rallied around. Obama criticised it as a “snappy slogan” but this is a demand to keep Black people alive.
There are many that want reform to policing and prisons, but isn’t reform what got us here? All it does is maintain the status quo. Angela Davis (2020) argues that “movements against racist police violence and against entrenched racial injustices in [America’s] jails and prisons can claim a history that is almost as old as the institutions themselves.” Davis one of the longest-standing advocates of prison abolition, is essentially saying that these movements are as long-standing as the histories of violence within these structures. She continues “…because opposition and protests calling for reform have played such a central role in shaping structures of policing and punishment, the notion of reform has superseded other paths toward change.”
Biden-Harris aren’t radical; yet, post-COVID, more left-leaning politics is going to be the difference between life and death, at least for the working-class and ethnic minorities. Moreover, the power of memes as a campaigning and propaganda tool is still being treated as a millenial/iGen fad, and the Dems/Labour are missing a trick here to assure their legacy for a generation or more, whilst also remaining grounded with the youth.
As someone that lives in the privilege of not actually had to experience Coronavirus (to my knowledge), I have spent a good portion of last year on the sidelines. Losing my auntie during my undergrad in January 2017, and then my cousin Steve at the start of 2020 (some of you may know him as the owner of Kettering Road’s Driver), I think many would agree with me when I say ‘grief makes you humble.’ In typical Caribbean fashion, Steve’s wake made me remember the importance of community and togetherness. He ran Drivers Menswear in Northampton and if you blinked you wouldn’t know it was there, a shop that had been there since the 1980s. With its closure in 2020, that marked the end of an era, and I will now have to find somewhere else to buy jeans!
Growing up here, many of the people I know in the community and work with have actually known me for years. And in some cases, have known me for all my life (basically), very much including staples of the West Indian community like at Inspiration FM
Some time after Steve’s funeral, we were thrust into Lockdown 1.0 by the Government and it was in those months between March and June that I saw that power of community again. Albeit a symbolic gesture, clapping for the National Health Service on Thursdays in some cases was the one thing keeping some people going. It was a recurrence that kept their mind at bay in the chaos of the pandemic. I ran events online too, and people were grateful. In that same breath, it is evident to see the number of people grassing up their neighbours for flouting the rules, or attacking people for criticising the police’s £10,000 fines for those that break the rules. Last year, I also watched a number of films, including a rewatch of Goodfellas. Even in a health crisis where people have broken the rules, Robert DeNiro’s voice as Jimmy Conway is in my head telling me “to never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.” When in doubt, listen to Scorsese!
These people may be rule-breakers but I know if it comes to the wire, these are also the same people (not government) that would put people ahead of profit. Fellow blogger @drkukustr8talk wrote a Facebook post saying “If anything, Corona taught us____” and I commented “There is more of a community than I thought there was”, to which he replied “NOW, dear Tre, THAT is a LOT coming from you.” Yes, I’m sure @paulaabowles and @manosdaskalou will attest to that too, seeing from our number of conversations since meeting them in September 2019. Cynicism and realism are two sides of the same coin and I grew up in The Commmunity. However, not like I have seen this past year. My work as an educator engaging with people inside and outside Northamptonshire’s borders tied, with the Murder of George Floyd/the protests and the pandemic, it’s left me thinking that when I gave humanity chance, locally, humanity actually delivered.
November came and I was awarded ‘Northampton’s Male Role Model of the Year.’ That was humbling. It wasn’t the award that really got to me. It’s the love and respect of your neighbours, and that’s not something one can articulate in words. I thought about this feeling again when I found myself watching the 1970 adaptation of The Railway Children. Albert Perks has always been my favourite character, very much a man of his generation. Not taking charity but also respects his community. You do right to others, they do right to you. That sort of mentality. This is a character I came across at twelve years old and I have not been the same since. The award is second to the number of people that voted for me, and I will take that to my grave.
December came, and I bought Christmas presents. I am as surprised as you. For years, I have famously been a humbug inside and outside of my family. Forever anti-Christmas on the basis it was “a super-spreader of consumerism” (Ventour, 2010). My mother makes jokes about it, recalling to when I was kid walking around Abington Street in a hat with bah humbug on the side. The pandemic tied with BLM and meeting all the wonderful people at Amplified NN allowed me to break my “life rules.” Grief makes you humble. With the addition of Coronavirus, you could say it has made me soft (not that I was an awful person before). If the COVID pandemic and lockdowns have taught us anything, it’s that so many of us were living life on incompatible frequencies and were trying to make the parts fit. We also saw how kindness was a shock to the system, since in the words Tennessee Williams so few have ever “depended on the kindness of strangers.”
I bought presents for the first time in ten years; I have the love and respect of my neighbours and I started a Masters in September. I don’t spend my days waving at ‘kind old gentlemen’ on the trains going by, but I think in fifty years that there may be three children that may think of me as that old gentleman (but not that old of course), or by the time I’m forty-one… I’m not too different to Albert Perks and there is power in that.
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.’
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!
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.