This might be the privilege of not living in a city or even being an essential worker but I have been (mostly) strangely calm through the Coronavirus pandemic. However, talking this through with a friend of mine, she noted that for Black people, many of our existences have revolved around survival since the Slave Trade and colonialism. The fact that I am so collected is that I derive from this history, but more so because I come from immigrants who are also working class who come from countries once colonised. Peoples that did whatever they had to do to survive. Here, is where race can also intersect with class, as the working-class can think in this state of “do or die” too.
As I wait out this self-isolation with the rest of the world, I am able live with the privilege of having a garden. I can go into the garden and watch the cats immediately scarper. I can sit out and have the sun rain on my face. Yet, Coronavirus shows how little regard many people have for the welfare of their neighbours. Whilst individually, you may not be showing symptoms, Joe Bloggs next door may be seventy-five years old in remission. Moreover, it has shown Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate. We are all human and we are all at risk, regardless of class, creed, faith, gender or social standing.
My maternal grandparents are both Windrush Generation from Grenada
Growing up under parents who themselves grew up under Caribbean parents, we share this survival mentality. That we expect to struggle. Not to remain complacent, even when we have gained something. Even as a pre-adolescent living on St. George’s Avenue in one of those houses, we still had this struggle mentality. All creatures are wired to survive, whatever it takes, but there is something special within Black Britons who are ourselves products of European colonial ambition, passed down the chain like genes.
Yet, trans-generational trauma runs rampant, families living in the aftermath of colonialism still with a you-have-to-struggle-otherwise-you-are-not-living-properly mentality
Coronavirus reminds me of how Black people, and other ethnicities who have past histories of colonial rule, specifically those living in the colonisers’ country were always ready for a pandemic because we live in a constant state of survival. Growing up British-Caribbean under members of the Windrush Generation, it’s hard not to notice that Caribbeans survived on things like rice dishes and soups, things that last. Moreover, buying items with long shelf lives, including canned goods, and marinading meats.
Is this a trait in all immigrant households? Is it a trait in working-class households? Is it a trait in households who come from stories of colonialism? I grew up with tough love, as my parents and my grandparents did before me, as did their forbears all the way back to the Slavery – where we toiled and died on sugar plantations under the lynch and the lash of masters’ wrath. To stock up on essential items is fundamentally Caribbean, and speaking to my African colleagues about this too, it’s like-for-like.
My mother tells me about when she grew up, that Wednesdays were “feast or famine day” (corned beef and rice) and Thursdays were fried bakes and eggs. Bacon and sausage (if you were lucky). When I see my grandmother wanting corn beef now, I had no idea this was considered “struggle food.” I grew up eating cornmeal porridge, always when I’d go to my Jamaican grandparents house in the West Midlands, and my Jamaican aunties’. Cornmeal is struggle food. When I read about the African-American experience, I read about how dishes like Grits came from American Slavery.
When I talk to my Black friends and family members around the world, they are united in the idea that they were always prepared for a pandemic, because they grew up the same way I did. In many African households, they use hard chicken for stews, yet I didn’t realise this came from thinking rooted in poverty. This is low quality chicken we were left with, historically.
Not that I didn’t know already but watching an episode of Black-ish on this brought it all home, that irrespective of class, many of the foods so ingrained in the cultures of Africa and the Caribbean are also go-to “struggle foods.”
My grandparents have always been stocked up on tinned goods for the 24 years I’ve known them. They’ve always been stocked on cleaning products. Heck, as child at my grandparents’, I would bathe in Dettol. You can fry dumplings and fish cakes (saltfish fritters) if there’s a bread shortage. But growing up, some of the looks I would recieve at the foods I would eat would now be labelled as micro-aggressive behaviour. That these foods are an overhang of Slavery… ground provisions made from animal scraps etc.
Curry goat with all the bones, Saturday soup, fried bakes, cow foot, pig tail, salted cod, fried plantain, cornmeal, oats porridge, rice and beans, and the list goes on. Mind you, I do not enjoy all these foods but colonialism laid the ground work. This is what makes decolonisation and postcolonialism interesting spaces. You have to ask yourself, where is the cut off point on whether it matters that “survival mentality” has been inherited from these systems of oppression and power? Moreover, is it wrong that they have been absorbed into cultures, assimilated as valid qualifiers in said cultures?
My experience of blackness is one as child of immigration, born and raise in Britain. As part of the Black diaspora in the UK. How do Africans born, raised and living in Africa see this? Or Caribbeans living on those small islands, where you can really see the heavy imprints left by colonial rule? In decolonisation, there are elements of cultures that are products of colonisation and therefore could be picked apart and critiqued, right?
Where is the line drawn between culture and colonialism? You begin to see how ingrained food is in culture, and it’s not so easy to trim through the fat of race, nor do people want to deconstruct the things they love and enjoy. I grew up in households where we told each other to “stay safe.” And the fact of the matter is the language of Coronavirus is the norm for many Black British people. “Stay Safe” – “Text me when home” – “Don’t walk that way.”
I have nobody to thank for my calmness during a pandemic more than my grandparents (and ancestors) as our histories are written as pandemics, it’s only now it’s effecting the lives of the super-rich that it’s now an institutional global crisis.
In the documentation of #clapforourcarers, the British media does what Britain often does best, neglect its diversity whilst simultaneously boasting about diversity. You cannot tell the history of the NHS without talking about the diversity of ethnic backgrounds that make up the workforce. This history is also a story about race and society, incorporating the lives of people from around the world.
After the War, the UK government put out a call to its empire for workers, not thinking that all these Black and brown people from the Caribbean, and Asian and African continents would come, not the White people from English speaking countries such as New Zealand. The NHS would have been stillborn had it not been for Black nurses in the beginning that saved it from collapse. Yet, today, with Coronavirus, the whitewashing of the NHS continues in the media’s representation of the workforce. You cannot go to a hospital without running into the people of colour that keep it afloat.
The late Jamaican philosopher Stuart Hall said “We are here because you were there” and it is in part because of Britain’s colonial project that we have migrants from places all over the world. For international viewers looking in, watching British press on Coronavirus, they are being lead down this path of dominant whiteness. From the people being interviewed to how the NHS is being represented in the media. As Britons, we know the NHS workforce is culturally diverse. Yet, any viewers without knowledge of the NHS will believe that it is as White as it is being portrayed to be.
Africans, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese and many people of colour make up a good percentage of carers in Britain today. The same can be said for students on health-related courses at our universities including nursing, social work and social care. Like Gina Yashere says, it looks like Britain is erasing this diversity from its history. When we look back on this in 20 years time, history will show it to be whitewashed, as many significant events in British history were before it; from the world wars to Renaissance Britain to the days of Roman rule. But wasn’t it a legion of African Romans (or Moors) that stood watch on Hadrian’s Wall for nearly 350 years?
As I sit at home now in lockdown, we must talk about the nuances of Coronavirus under inequality. Will people of colour be stopped at a disproportionate rate to White people under new police powers? Will they be detained at such a rate? This is a global disease but those receiving tests seem to come from a certain class. We have a government that advocated for the genocide (herd immunity) of its ageing population. We also have a government that put the whims of billionaires over all. Its contempt for the working class has not gone unnoticed. When this is all over, the public and parliament needs to hold the prime minister’s government to account.
Gina Yashere mocks the people saying it shouldn’t be about race, and she’s absolutely right to do that. Race is a social construct but it’s a social construct of which the global majority have been othered. However, you cannot talk about British healthcare without talking about race. From institutional racism within healthcare to the diversity of the workforce. It comes from the comfort of privilege to live your life not having talk about race in any meaningful way. And life isn’t binary. One size doesn’t fit all.
We are better than this, we need to #stopthewhitewash; and if race doesn’t matter (as they say), why is the British media representing the National Health Service in its own image?
My favourite TV show - my favourite television series at the moment (since 2016) is The Hollow Crown, the BBC's adaptation of Shakespeare's history plays. It's an unparalleled television experience that makes Game of Thrones look like a garden party. My favourite place to go - I spend most Saturdays at the cinema, enjoying the art of storytelling. Film to me is what life is about. The person that doesn't engage in stories only lives one life. The person that reads, watches, writes, lives many. My favourite city - I don't feel that I'm at all that well-travelled and compared to my academic friends, I feel like I've lived in a bubble. From the few places I have been, I don't think I can choose just one. Mississauga, Canada (2018) was marvellous. I also grew up visiting my paternal family in Birmingham. I love Birmingham, it's like London without all the faffing about. My favourite thing to do in my free time - I live for films. I love watching old films, specifically films released pre-1970 where many were filmed in monochrome. I spend a lot of time at the cinema, even going to special event screenings of old films. My favourite athlete/sports personality - again, I'm an old soul. I don't think I can choose just one, so I would have to go for the iconic West Indies cricket team of 1980/81 that left Botham's England in the dirt. WI 5 - ENG 0. My favourite actor - Despite him doing some absolute oddballs these last few years, Robert DeNiro is still my favourite actor, being in some of the best films ever made, incl. The Godfather Part II, Once Upon a Time in America, Heat, Goodfellas and more. My favourite author - until recently my favourite author was Kathryn Stockett (The Help). However, I've come to reflect on the problematicness of this book. I think I would have to choose the late Andrea Levy who was voice to a whole generation of Black British Caribbeans through books like Small Island and Every Light in the House Burnin'. Truly a marvel who gave a voice to the Black British working-class and an inspiration to me as well. My favourite drink - It's been called an old man's drink but I'm an absolute sucker for a pint of IPA. If we were to go to the supermarket, I would go for Goose or Greene King. I guess it shows I have been spending too much time with my grandfather! My favourite food - curry goat, rice and peas with mac n cheese. Nothing else comes remotely close. It's the dish I grew up with. My favourite place to eat - Grandma's House. See above^^^ I like people who - who don't accept things at face value. Challenge themselves and their establishment. Ask the difficult questions and don't roll over. Many of my friends are activists and it shows, either through their writing as artists or taking it to the streets at anti-Brexit protests (for example). I don’t like it when people - claim to be authorities on things they know nothing about. Stop stroking your ego and step back. It's okay to say "I don't know enough about this to comment." I would actually think more of people if they did this. My favourite book - one of my favourite reads in the last few years is Carrie Pilby by Canadian novelist Caren Lissner. A charming young adult fiction story about a young woman trying to find her way in a world that doesn't relate to her. My favourite book character - I don't read enough fiction to answer this question genuinely. Recently, I'm inclined to go with Jaime Lannister from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire the series of books that went on to "loosely inspire" the American HBO television series Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019). My favourite film - Midnight in Paris, about an American writer stuck in what's called "Golden Age Thinking", the idea that a different time period is better than one you are living - and I don't think there's a person living that hasn't had this thought. However, when I do look to history, I think this is the best time to be people of colour; a woman; lesbian, gay, bi or trans; less able-bodied; the further back in history you look, the worse it looks for people who are not able-bodied White, straight men. My favourite poem - In recent years, I found Button Poetry where I was introduced to Canadian poet Sabrina Benaim. Her poem 'Explaining Depression to My Mother: A Conversation' struck a chord and continues to strike a chord to this day. My favourite artist/band - Bob Marley. If he had lived he would have been Prime Minister of Jamaica. Writer, artist, poet political activist, revolutionary. Legend. If he lived today, he would be standing alongside Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in solidarity. And as we fight COVID-19, I'm sure he'd have something to say! Every song is mega, and Natty Dread (1974) is one of the best albums ever made. My favourite song - London Bridge (1980) by The Mighty Sparrow is certainly one of my favourite. Written in time of of unrest in England, this is a commentary on English history and society. What's more, this is calypso music from my maternal grandparents' country, Grenada. Caribbean music is battlefield music and The Mighty Sparrow is one of our countrymen sticking it to our former-colonial masters in a way that's jovial and lively. My favourite art - I'm partial to Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers. Its stillness reminds me the world isn't all fast-paced and sometimes we have to take a moment to reflect. My favourite person from history - one of my favourite historical figures is Black mixed-race footballer-turned-soldier Walter Tull. It is safe to say I would not be where I am had it not been for Walter Tull. He is a testament to what can be achieved, irrespective of hostile environments. Moreover, not only is he a testament to all men but is a role model to Black men in 2020. Not only was he one of the first Black footballers in England, he was the first Black officer in the British Army at a time when it was illegal for "men of non-European descent" to lead White men. Walter is part of Black history, Northampton history, but above of all, my history and I am extremely proud of that.
When my grandparents and great-grandparents came to this country between 1958 and 1961, they came here under the Nationality Act (1948) as British citizens. It’s by some miracle that my grandparents were not sucked into the Windrush Scandal, members of a generation that saved Britain by filling in its labour shortages after the War. However, we cannot measure immigration simply in gross domestic product [GDP]. There is a human case to be made for immigration, including the Windrush Generation, who have contributed more to this country than just labour, including to the social history too. That the Windrush Scandal is as much a slight on the Windrush (1948 – 1973) as it is to their descendants, including Black British people that see themselves as much British as they are West Indian.
These descendants of slaves were now being sent back to the places their ancestors toiled, whom the British kidnapped from the African continent against their will. That my ancestors came to be in the Caribbean at the end of a sword.
In 2018, MP David Lammy addressed the House on what became known as the Windrush Scandal; on why and how Black British citizens, members of this Windrush Generation were being detained and deported, denied their pensions, healthcare and losing their jobs – many of whom had been in this country since they were young children. Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned depicts issues that go way beyond the Scandal.
In the Home Office, Lessons Learned shows a department not fit for purpose after institutional failures within government as well as a lack of understanding of Britain’s colonial history. Like in higher education, it showed an ignorance towards race issues that run parallel to the definition of institutional racism in The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (1999).
After reading the report (somewhat), it feels that this is another tickbox exercise. Whilst the report does talk about the victims of institutional violence at the hands of government, it leads me to believe that the recommendations will remain as such, recommendations. That whilst students are challenging higher education to decolonise, the same must be done for government. The sincerity of Priti Patel’s apology is flimsy at best and most of the Windrush victims have still yet to be compensated properly.
People have died at the hands of the Conservative government’s hostile environment and this document comes at a time where Britain is in the thick of the worst health pandemic in a generation. To release this now when everyone is preoccupied is a testament to how the government feels about the victims. The fact that this document cannot be debated in parliament properly and scrutinised because of COVID-19. The Home Office have ticked their boxes and the victims will be no better off in the end.
Whilst the government implementing future policies to prevent things like this happening in the future would be a good thing, policies can be just policies in the same vain that recommendations can simply sit as recommendations.
If nobody is there to enforce policies; if we have politicians advocating for social cleansing; if we have eugenicist MPs making decisions; if we use terms like “herd immunity” but in reality that is a genocidal ideology… what hope is there for the Windrush Generation, whom also make up part of the population the government is willing to throw under the bus to fight coronavirus? Have lessons really being learned when Boris and company are willing to play colonialism again with its current population?
This Conservative government, particularly its promotion of eugenicist views, and Priti Patel’s tenure as Home Secretary have shown that they can no longer be a leader on human rights. The review shows a government that does not care about you unless you are a White British, with English as your first language, in other words depicting an image of quintessential “Englishness.” Splitting children from the families is not just the work of Uncle Sam, nor does deportation simply hurt the deportees.
This crisis should make us challenge what Britishness looks like and that we need to be careful who we call immigrants because the Black Man (and Woman) have been on these shores longer than the White Man (and Woman) – the Angle, the Saxon, the Jute, the Norman… longer than what denotes Englishness in the national conscience. Yet, indigenousness has been stamped on whiteness, but foreigner – interloper – immigrant – follows blackness / brownness, which in my opinion is much ado with the lapses of historical knowledge of British history in wider society.
However, wasn’t it Africans, or as they were, “The Moors”, who stood watch on Hadrian’s Wall for nearly 350 years?
Wendy Williams wants to press reset on the Home Office, changing a toxic working culture into a positive less defensive department with a new mission statement, a department that doesn’t treat criticism as a crime. She pushes for a department that gives whistleblowers protection. Diversity should be celebrated, not revered and a workforce to undergo training on Britain’s colonial history, migration and how Black Britons came to be here. In short, Williams wants to Decolonise the Home Office. Good.
The report stops short of calling the Home Office institutionally racist. Yet, the treatment of the Windrush Generation cannot be argued to be anything but. An inquiry needs to be led into why the Home Office have repeatedly discriminated against British communities from Black, Asian and other marginalised ethnic backgrounds. The report tells us that the Windrush Scandal was no accident. It’s just another example of how institutions get away with murder (literally), in the tint of Grenfell and Hillsborough, victims still long for justice and these structures continue to give lip service.
Priti Patel’s apology is offensive. I take it with a grain of salt. For someone who is actively a racism denier, I cannot take anything she says seriously. The apology is to make people feel at ease, not a declaration of empathy from a feeling of guilt. Skin folk ain’t kin folk; she is a collaborator, one of the many people of colour recruited to hold up White Power. She is a bigot and no better than Mogg, Cummings, and the prime minister himself.
Deeds not words; if they wants to show they care, dismantle those hostile environment policies and initiate a root-and-branch independent investigation into racism in the Home Office – until that day arrives , words are just words.
Why are you the go-to of all the women writers in history?
It’s so hard to cut through the whiteness of your novels. The ongoing enduring whiteness pontificating, reflected in almost all English literary canon. Not impressed.
Your books have no heroes or villains that look like me, despite you living in a time where you shared these British streets and roads with the Black Georgians.
Thank God for Andrew Davies’ re-imagining of your unfinished Sanditon. I loved Miss Lambe! #BlackExcellence
George Wickham is a wasteman.
Seeing Black people portrayed as actual human beings in a period drama [Sanditon] put butterflies in my stomach. Any time I saw them, I was smiling for a week. With their natural hair as well… truths universally acknowledged and all that #fightme #BlackistheNewWhite
When you see these characters, you remember every detail. You recall it as memory, as a a vivid as a ballroom dance – corsets, violins and the flesh Mother Africa.
Why couldn’t you have characters like Rhoda Schwartz or Sam from Vanity Fair by Thackeray? #ohshityoudeadthen
If you were around today, you’d be unstoppable on Twitter with your idealised femininity and blinding whiteness. You’d be what they call an influencer #wokeAF #edgelord
Badly Done, Jane.
“While it is of utmost importance that universities reflect the demographic diversity of the societies they are supposed to serve, the question of demographic diversity falls short of addressing the question of decolonisation.”(Icaza and Vázquez, 2018: 115).
When equality, diversity, inclusion work is left to a few good eggs in our universities, there is a problem. Hiring EDI leads will not make your institution less racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic or transphobic. Equity must be part of how a company hires and makes decisions, and that goes to to the very top of any establishment. From healthcare to policing and education, public and private bodies claim equality, diversity and inclusion is a priority. However, there is a gap between what institutions say, and do.
Diversity officers, equality leads, and roles with “BME” and “BAME” in their titles are blue plasters for what is essentially a tumour. Whilst I recognise these roles need to exist, EDI and race equity should be in the main objectives and KPIs of all universities. Decolonisation needs to run hand-in-hand with diversity work, and whilst universities give lip service to EDI while simultaneously not engaging in decolonial projects, what you’re telling the victims of colonisation is you don’t belong here.
Colonisation, and then its flip, decolonisation, is systemic and far-reaching. To hire an individual (singular) in these roles, often on a part-time basis to tackle systemic problems is both short-sighted and cruel. There is no quick-fix to say, institutional racism, and it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Having attended conferences ostensibly focused on racism, it is evident another profound challenge to higher education is a reluctance from institutions to talk about race – and to implement race equity as a separate division to generic EDI practice. Under race, we have: whiteness, White Privilege and (race-specific) unconscious bias, as well as identity politics impacting the life experiences of people of colour. What the African-American cultural theorist W. E. B DuBois (1903: 2) called “double consciousness,” and more recently with Afua Hirsch (2018) in Brit(ish).
Universities need to support student campaigns for race equity and diversity, including student union initiatives around decolonisation (and blacktivism) in response to national (and global) narratives, as political activism is one of the movements pushing for a more equal and fair society.
Consistently, Britain’s national response to race issues has swayed from varying degrees of reluctance to negligence and this is no more evident than in the education sector. Britain’s response to discussing its colonial past is what Shashi Tharoor called “historical amnesia” (Independent) and “today’s student movements are confronting universities with their colonial histories […] of segregation […] and the recognition of the universities’ own participation in the modern/colonial order” (Icaza and Vásquez, 2018: 122).
HEIs need to support campaigns, including those around decolonising education (and blacktivism) regardless of their source. Icaza and Vásquez discuss decoloniality as a conduit to seeing “the dynamics of power differences, social exclusion and discrimination” in relation to inequality under the umbrella of race, gender, and socioeconomic deprivation (2018: 113). Whilst their research centres on Amsterdam, contemporary Britain, is also built in the ruins of empire.When White, able-bodied heterosexual male is the default in a heteronormative society, it is safe to presume the same occurs in HE. After all, universities as with all British institutions, are part of society and thus cannot escape the same colonising imperatives.
Elite universities, such as Oxford, have been scrutinised for their part in British colonial history. The Academy was built to exclude people who were not White, rich, male, able-bodied and straight, ensuring that minorities often find themselves scaling the walls into The University.
Student equality, or lack of, can be seen reflected in those teaching them on a day-to-day basis. To feel equal in the classroom, one focal point of conversation is the lack of role models – the deficit of professors in HE to be like, from varied diasporic African and Asian backgrounds.
In the Equality in higher education: statistical report 2018, Advance HE stated only 85 Black professors work at British universities (in relation to over 10,000 White). This statistic is an indictment on the lack of visibility at the very top of academia, and representation needs to extend further than race to also include disability, sexuality and religion. It is about seeing your story in those that have gone through it before, to show the next generation of potential leaders and academics it is possible.
Whilst efforts to make universities more inclusive have been implemented through initiatives like decolonising the curriculum this is a drop in the ocean in terms of diversifying the workforce, including senior management teams (Icaza and Vásquez, 2018: 115). To reach the fullest potential of diversity in HE it is essential to have as many nonnormative voices as possible in the decision-making processes. In including them, we can then more openly critique what knowledge is being produced, how it is being produced and what’s being created. How it is implemented directly impacts student equality and how they feel included in their university community:
“The implications of this whiteness and Eurocentrism go beyond history. This state of affairs mediates our whole education experiences considerably, so much so that attempting to study anything outside of the white and Eurocentric requires going the extra mile.”Ore, 2019: 56
For race equity, especially in a student body as culturally diverse as at Northampton, it is important to consider whether the continuing use of homogeneous groups for minorities, such as BAME [Black Asian Minority Ethnic] inculcates equality or creates further division. Certainly such homogenisation inherently excludes discourses of intersectionality so necessary in ensuring equity. When universities enrol these students, it is imperative to consider if there are ample, appropriate support systems in place – from race equity to working class, sexuality and disability.
Across the sector, the dropout rate of specifically Black students is high, and one would think there would be support prevention systems to reduce the number of drop outs. At UK universities, Black students are 50% more likely to drop out than their Asian colleagues and one in ten Black students drop out, in comparison to 6.9% of all students – according to the University Partnership Programme, Social Market Foundations (Adegoke, 2019: 32-33).
Goldsmith’s Dr Nicola Rollock, for instance, believes not enough is done to investigate the cause and believes there’s a fear of talking about race in the sector:
“My concern is that these issues aren’t look at in any fundamental way: when they are, all black ethnic groups are amalgamated into one mass, and they shouldn’t be. The data doesn’t speak to distinct differences. And there’s also a fear of talking about race. If they’re talking about black and minority ethnic students, race needs to be a fundamental part of the conversation, but I would argue that as a society, and […] within education policy, race is a taboo subject” (Rollock, 2019, quoted in Adegoke, 2019: 34).
For a university as culturally diverse as Northampton (as far as students are concerned), is it right to put people into homogeneous groups, like BAME? Is there equity in grouping this way? Why are students not born into White Privilege amalgamated into one mass? Why is there a fear of talking about race in classroom but also in wider society? What if they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, as well as from the African or Asian continents?
Do HEIs have ample support systems in place – from race, gender to sexuality and disability? Moreover, universities often think it is enough to have more Black people in the building. Emotional labour is not something higher education institutions think about (Adegoke, 2019: 33).
What providers can do is engage with national reports, including the Race Equality Charter (REC) – but also 2017’s Lammy Review, and the 1999 Macpherson Report (both focused on the criminal justice system but no less relevant to universities) – and research into LGBTQ+ experiences in higher education, as shown in Education Beyond the Straight and Narrow by the National Union for Students [NUS].
Where universities see equality, diversity and inclusion work as a legal requirement under the Equality Act (2010), important and vital discussions around ethics and moral duty need to happen as well. Where HEIs often think about the money, there is a human case to be made for students!
When EDI is seen as an add-on to general practice, it can often be viewed as a “tick-box exercise.” It can frequently have an image of transitioning or adaptation, often describing “their missions by drawing on the languages of diversity as well as equality” (Ahmed, 2018: 333). Diversity should be the default setting but hiring people with BME, BAME, diversity, equality or inclusion in their title is simply a blue plaster for what is a far-reaching nasty tumour. To do diversity work, you must do decolonial work.
So, really, higher education institutions need to be thinking about how the emotional labour of equality and diversity work impacts their employees, especially women of colour.
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Ahmed, S. (2018). Rocking the Boat: Women of Colour as Diversity Workers. In: Arday, J., Mirza, S. (eds). Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 331 –348.
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Bulman, May (2017) Black students 50% more likely to drop out of university, new figures reveal. Independent [online]. Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/black-students-drop-outuniversity-figures-a7847731.html [Last Accessed: 31st December]
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Kwakye, C and Ogunbiyi, O. (2019). Taking Up Space. London: Merky Books.
Lawton, Georgina (2018). Why do black students quit university more often than their white peers? The Guardian [online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2018/jan/17/why-do-blackstudents-quit-university-more-often-than-white-peers [Last accessed: December 31 2019]
Lodge-Eddo, R. (2017). Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury.
Ministry of Justice (2017). The Lammy Review. (Chairperson: David Lammy MP). London: TSO.
Social Market Foundation (2017) SMF and the UPP Foundation to investigate continuation rates in higher education in London. smf.co.uk [online]. Available from: http://www.smf.co.uk/smf-upp-foundationinvestigate-continuation-rates-higher-education-london/ [Last Accessed: 31 December 2019]
Social Market Foundation with University Partnership Programme (2017). ‘On course for success? Student retention at university,’ smf.co.uk [online]. Available from: http://www.smf.co.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2017/07/UPP-final-report.pdf [Last accessed: 31 December 2019]
One thing I’ve noticed in my term at the Student Union but working with university departments and staff, and going to other universities, is how many different terms there is to describe people who do not happen to be born into the comfort of White Privilege. At the University of Northampton, this demographic of students are the majority, so why refer to them as ethnic minorities? We are also the global majority. However, the term “ethnic minority” is only in reference to when take into account the colonial borders that divide us. And in my role at the Union, I had no say in the naming of this role, since it was before my time.
Yet, it is a trend at universities that we have White senior leaderships speaking for what I will refer into this post as the global majority. This very European paternalism in the tint of Out of Africa, Passage to India, and Boris Johnson reciting the lines to Kipling’s Mandalay in Burma! In the public and private sector, we have many acronyms and initialisms and seldom are they properly thought out. i.e BAME / BME. Not only are these terms not widely understood by those they are about (i.e students), they also homogenise identities that don’t happen to be White Anglo-European.
“BAME” [Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic] and “BME” [Black and Minority Ethnic] are commonly used by public bodies, including the education sector, policing and the health service when referring to the global majority. These are not household terms and you don’t know unless you know.
People of Irish heritage in the Traveller communities are also supposedly included within the acronym too; not including them in the overall term is astounding, as they are some of the most marginalised groups in the country.
With the term “BME” in my job title, I admit it is extremely ironic that I disagree with it. I do not see myself ethnically as BAME or BME, and don’t particularly like it when staff describe students in this way, or even members of staff. What ever happened to individuality? I am a very proud British man of Grenadian and Jamaican descent. In this homogenisation, higher education institutions are disregarding individuals’ cultural heritage. It’s really unacceptable, and at universities, it has often been used as term interchangeably for Black students. And even Black, is not a homogenous. Race is nuanced, and identity politics, nuanced, further still.
Furthermore, “non-White” is problematic, still showing that we only exist as an extension of whiteness. Moreover, the term “people of colour”, it’s not a homogeneous group; skin folk ain’t kin folk and diversity doesn’t equal representation
Do we say non-Black when referring to White people? No, as “to be white is to be human; to be white is universal; I know this because I am not” (Eddo-Lodge, 2017). The term BAME / BME disregards geography and cultural heritage, the loaded histories of colonialism and the fact that my country, the country I was born and raised, colonised and enslaved my grandparents’ country. It ignores customs, traditions and language and that “anyone who isn’t white, all us brown-skinned immigrants from Far Far Away, we get lumped together and put in a drawer” (Boakye, 2019)
Whilst higher education institutions often give lip service to decolonial work, they continue to preach diversity and inclusion with terms like BAME, as “the words and terms we use to describe ourselves remain central to the ways we relate to our bodies. Certainly, if we want to set about work of decolonization we need to consider language” (Dabiri, 2019). Dabiri goes onto discuss the disparity between “cornrowing” (US English) and “canerowing” (Caribbean and British English) hair as a sad overhang of slavery. It could be argued that acronyms like BAME are a new brand of colonisation, keeping these Black and brown people in their place.
Universities know that they need to challenge the histories from which they were built. Just, are they a bit reluctant to do so? Yes. Is British traditionalism often standing in the way? Yes. We are living in the ruins of empire, and institutional racism is an overhang of that. And if academics and non-academics are using terminology that’s offensive and that people don’t understand, is it fit for purpose? Knowing what is appropriate language in discussions on race is the first step in this conversation.
If universities are serious about decolonisation, they need to look at more than just adding diverse authors to curricula!
Boakye, J. (2019). Black, Listed. London: Dialogue Books.
Dabiri, E. (2019). Don’t Touch My Hair. London: Allen Lane.
Eddo-Lodge, R. (2017). Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury.
Any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mom says “You have to work twice as hard for half of as much.” She means the odds are stacked against you if you aren’t a White, straight man. Even White women have to play the game. It’s episodes of Marvel’s Luke Cage like ‘Soliloquy of Chaos’ and ‘If it Ain’t Rough’, ‘It Ain’t Right. ‘It was Moment of Truth’ and ‘Manifest’. Or episodes of Jessica Jones like ‘AKA Sole Survivor’, ‘AKA I Want Your Cray Cray’, ‘AKA 1000 Cuts’. Oh, and ‘AKA Pray for My Patsy’. I could take some punches back then. Man, Jessica did too.
Mom and Dad talked about their grandparents but they also talked of slavery — Sam Sharp, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Nanny and the Maroons. They talked about Rosa Parks, Martin, Malcolm and Medger. They talked about people that lived life always on the offence. Back then I didn’t know enough about these people. Not slavery, America’s Civil Rights or the Windrush Generation. Stories that have been told and retold time and time again.
And in these stories there were Black martyrs but also Black villains. There were victims and guardians, like in Jordan Peele’s Get Out and the black in Black Panther. Yet, by the time I heard these stories, the narrative of Black insurrection against White power was set in stone. We speak of it always, as if it’s all we are — just people that don’t know how to smile.
But what of the Black middle-class against the Black working-class? It’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta staring into the faces of Top Boy, School Daze, Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk. And even there, division runs riot. The dark ones, the light ones — is it Naomi Campbell, Reni Eddo-Lodge and Akala or is it Viola Davis, David Harewood and Idris Elba? Or Lupita sticking it to Grazia on Twitter?
It doesn’t matter. I relate to all of them. I wander through our British cities. I relate to them in their own apartheid, the retelling of stories about race and racism in Britain, as most Black people I know have tales of punishment and pain.
Sometimes it’s about the subtleties in the workplace and at others, it’s racial violence, in an epilogue of Brixton ablaze and Enoch Powell. And the retelling of stories between people of colour is meditation. It’s inner peace that protects us, our souls at least. I was raised to talk. To tell stories.
As a Black person, I follow a set of unwritten codes (when talking to White people). Don’t walk too fast, don’t raise your voice… passion can be mistaken for anger. To be anti-White supremacy can be judged as anti-White or anti-Britain. To want to talk about colonialism can be seen as Black people just being bitter. And this is the dilemma of coming from immigrants from colonised countries, living in nations that did the colonising to begin with.
My cultural identity is in-part British, but it also swims in curry goat, calypso and reggae anthems. It’s in the stories of parties in my grandparents’ front room and grown folks liming to Candy at every. It’s cricket whites, Saturday rugby and match tea. And it’s my grandfather go-karting down the hills of St. George’s. These are the stories my parents carried, growing up in the late 80s early-90s but also in-part the memories my grandparents carried, ferried from the Grenada and Jamaica.
My cultural identity is macaroni cheese as a side dish, not a main course (blasphemy!). It’s curry chicken, rice and pigeon (or gungo peas) and veg in the Flora butter container. It’s plastic on the furniture and cups, glasses and plates that are just for show. But it is also church on Sunday’s, Catholic, something left behind in Grenada by the British. Something that became part of my grandparents, as they were taught to be British too — in all ways.
I grew up in the noughties, Northampton, educated at private schools around the shire. Prior to 2010, I was the only Black person at said schools and lived a boyhood that only acknowledged my existence in order to fetishize it — from comments about my skin colour to wandering white hands in vicinity of my afro hair. I had more of it back then.
I grew up quicker than what was natural. I saw thirteen-year-old White girls smuggle vodka cocktails into school in sports bottles. Imagine that! They called their parents unrepeatable names. I was around spoilt restless rich kids that had everything and didn’t appreciate its value. I was around people whose diction and vocabulary sounded like episodes of The Crown — Wolverton Splash, Scientia Potentia Est, and Paterfamilias, living it up like Prince Philip (Matt Smith) and Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby).
I recall thinking if I treated any of my family like that, I’d have been knocked so hard I’d be staring at my ancestors.
I was apprehensive about inviting friends home, people who had it all, with their many acres of land… judging our terraced house in town or my grandparents’ on a housing estate outside of Northampton. That anxiety stayed with me for most of a decade. It had the ability to expose the class divide between us… differences that didn’t go beyond the surface in class — the musical accents of my mother’s parents in the landscape of fried plantain, dumplings, and fish cakes laced in Scotch Bonnet pepper.
Explaining the nuances of growing up in a non-White British household is exhausting. It’s something that holds people of colour together but it also creates a double consciousness, sometimes triple, in terms of identity. “People of colour” aren’t a homogeneous group but some things we share.
And I’m British though. Mate. Innit. Can’t you tell?
There was a plurality in my existence, that one friend remarked on. She said “You’re lucky to be different and English is boring.” I had calypso in my walk but the Queen’s sceptre in my voice and sugarcane in my bones. And this identity crises, even at ten, made me feel three times my age (at least).
Like Lin Manuel Miranda says:
“I’m only nineteen but my mind is older”
My bitterness towards British private school culture now, looking back on my life, is just how traditional it was. I recall a recent conversation with a friend about cricket matches (a game that I love) but only now analysing how it was a tool of colonising. It got me thinking about my teachers and how they waltzed around corridors in capes, caps and gowns.
The houses, the brotherhoods, the fellowships and the sports matches and tournaments — it was all a bit Victorian. One school I went to, on its plaque, states Since 1595. Where were my family in 1595? Likely in the hulls of slave ships or on the lands of West Africa, oblivious to what was coming.
The schools I went to, many families reeked of old money, whose ancestors may have had interests in slave plantations or distant ancestor cousins that were officers in India or Burma. They could see I didn’t look like them but when someone said “But you’re not properly Black,” what they meant was, I wasn’t living on a council estate near Grenfell Tower. To be Black was to be poor… on drugs… suffering… a victim. Thief, slave, comedian… a caricature. Is this a truth universally acknowledged?
Safe to say, I was somewhat offended; and this revealed the crazy super-rich White fear towards poor Black people. Is this also another colonial trait, passed down through the centuries? This came from the mouths of people that swore by Rudyard Kipling and could probably recite the lines to Mandalay word perfect. I knew this wasn’t representative of White Culture but these were the people that we have to keep an eye on, the super-rich White racists. Men like Nigel Farage, who Russell Brand called “a poundshop Enoch Powell.” That made me chuckle but “we gotta watch him,” — as Brand puts.
What’s unique is that I see people like Farage and Mogg as products of the education system that made me.
But I came from estates and small houses where shoes were left at the door and where there was plastic on the furniture and monochrome photographs of my grandparents not long after they arrived in the UK. Times where, and still do, aunties and uncles and friends pass in and out of our houses. My grandparents’ front room / dining room is the shrine. It’s the Holy Grail and once upon a time, you could come without calling ahead.
Grandma tells me about how her mother, (my great-grandmother) would prepare soup every Saturday. Aunties, uncles, cousins, my uncle’s friends — everyone would turn up for a bowl. Black people, White people — and this was in the time of Britain’s No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs – there was still community in those small rooms of Bostock Avenue and she cooked extra.
In 2004, I we wore this ugly shamrock green blazer. They were Old England like Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton novels. It was coastal wrecks, horse-riding, and Summer Rig (an open-neck shirt in the summer). Why it was called Summer Rig is beyond me. Summer Rig was the most normal thing about schooling. It was the thing that placed that school in the land of the living, the land of society and civilisation, the land of real people of flesh and bone. Summer Rig was a cashpoint machine and a Mars bar. It was Pizza Hut, late brunch, Brits in Benidorm and Hyde Park Corner.
As a teenager, my relationship with myself centred around Britishness. My teenage years is when I was politicised. Thanks Auntie Luisa! I began to see myself as British first, and Black second and now I see myself as equally both. But my pet peeve is “You don’t look British” — since Britishness has been whitewashed. Britishness is not a pigment. I would argue it’s an ideology, a state of mind, more to do with identity than anything else. I’ve had “nice for a Black boy” — I’ve had “nigger” and “Go back to the trees you came from” — and “Has your dad been to prison?”
That last one was straight up cold! But it is in-part thanks to our racist media, or what Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, in her TED Talk calls “The Danger of the Single Story.”
Belonging, to me, is a psychological process. It can be about race and class. But my own narrative was more about finding people who share like-interests. And I have spent many years trying to find those people, doing my best trying not to comply with the needs of the rest of society. I have even relegated myself to tick boxes. Will you accept me if I don’t talk about arts or politics? And instead, talk about gossip media and things I don’t care about? That if I perched on the end of the bench and remained invisible, that if I became like Harry, the boy under the stairs, will you accept me?
And aspiring to the culture of the super-rich of my youth, I had neglected the other parts of myself. It required me to sever the links to calypso, steel drums and supporting the West Indies cricket team even though they’re shit! Haha!
Look at the child I could have been if I didn’t scour the Earth for validation. It was being told Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered the Americas and the West Indies looking for India, by a White teacher despite the Arawak, Carib and Amerindian peoples living there before he arrived.
It’s that nothing exists until the European discovers it. And that my heritage is forever being whitesplained to me by White people that claim to know it better than I do…
Through having my existence contested, I learned how to smile, at the titles of those episodes like footnotes to the past. I smile at them like how my school had coined a term for an open-necked shirt. “Summer Rig” , capitalised, hilarious. That my experience was valid because it’s mine, sticking it to The Man. It meant growing up in a multiverse of childhoods.
My first coming-of-age was listening to the stories of my ancestors; the second coming-of-age was writing my own.
Until just before starting university I held anger for a certain member of my family. Throughout my life, this person and I had always been at odds and when I was around fifteen years old, I decided to cut this person loose. I did not speak to them again for nearly three years, much to the pain of my relatives.
In the April of 2015, the maiden season of Daredevil premiered on Netflix. Based on the Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, it follows Matthew Murdoch (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer by day and a costumed vigilante by night. With the theme of forgiveness running through season one, he is also a Catholic, whilst he beats bad people to within an inch of their lives!
Watching Matt in pits of Hell’s Kitchen showed me the darkness I held in my heart. You can forgive but never ever forget. The weight we hold as human beings is ear-splitting. In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, the characters are burdened with abstract things, including grief and guilt. We are only as human as we allow ourselves to be. In the film Just Mercy, in its final moments, Michael B. Jordan’s Bryan Stevenson states “we all need grace, we all need mercy.” The film also states 1 in 9 death row inmates are wrongfully convicted, and 165 have been exonerated since 1973.
What if Bryan Stevenson hadn’t shown mercy or grace to those committed to death row? Despite being imprisoned, they are still human beings, as Fyodor Dostoyevsky puts it:
“A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals. The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be his punishment-as well as the prison.”
How human beings hold on to things can be a mental block to stepping forward or progression. In Disney’s Lion King, Rafiki says “Oh yes, the past can hurt. But you can either run from it, or learn from it.” And that stone in our stomachs hurts more when we hold on to stuff – for example me avoiding a single person for three years, and your world can shrink exponentially. Living a life looking over your shoulder is mentally draining.
But once you forgive, new roads can open; and in that moment, there is no past or future, just you in the present moment and an open road to the rest of your life.
The only business we have with the past is how we can learn from it. And watching Daredevil all those years ago is in-part responsible for the mild-mannered human being I am now. Murdoch seeing it as his Catholic duty to protect Hell’s Kitchen from those who would see it harm, tied with his mentor Father Lantom (Peter McRobbie) make for an excellent partnership.
Episode one starts with Matt in a confession booth with Father Lantom, and their conversations appear every so often throughout this show’s three-season run. “Nothing shines up a halo faster than death Matthew. But funerals are for the living… and revising history… only dilutes the lessons we should learn from it” says Lantom, and this will always ring true, so long as we humans continues to disregard history and make the same mistakes.
At eighteen, when you think you know everything and you really know nothing, I found Daredevil. Its exploration of forgiveness, mercy and grace in the tint of political violence, corruption, immorality and populist media. Its maiden season showed me how to forgive because its protagonist had every reason not to. This theme of mercy followed with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron First, as well The Punisher. All these characters loved and lost, and were betrayed, lives written in violence like mine had been.
And yet, these characters and this world saw looking with your eyes makes you blind, as there are other ways to see.
Once upon a time, if you spoke to British-born and raised White people they would have told you that everybody in this country was equal. Yet, Britain’s wealth and to a degree, identity, comes from slavery, empire and stolen land. Why Britain calls itself great comes from the toil and torture of enslaved Africans’ labour on plantations in America and the West Indies.
“Social justice warrior bullshit” is a term I have come across when speaking to White Anglo-Europeans online, foolishly engaging in online debates on race and racism. The fact that many of these trolls can’t seem to understand the barriers that face marginalised communities, and the more communities you fit into, the worst it can be. And the fact that Boris Johnson’s cabinet is the most diverse a cabinet has ever been is not progress. Diversity does not equal representation; and the Priti Patels of this world, who inhabit whiteness and use it to pull the ladder up from other localised disparities in terms of race. i.e increased powers in Section 60.
Reading White Fragility by sociologist Dr. Robin DiAngelo for the FBL Book Club (but open to all) – all the instances of White people not being able to talk about race mentioned in the text, I have seen at one point in my life or another. The classic is “I was raised to treat everyone equally” or “I don’t see colour”, and “I don’t care if you’re pink, purple, polka-dotted” and so forth.
One of the worst and most potent forms of White fragility is White people that think they understand racism because they have mixed-race children or relatives. The instinctive defensiveness is at every level of society; from the White working class that don’t feel “privileged” because they use food banks, universal credit or the benefits system to the I-have-a-Black-friend-community-so-I-can’t-be-complicit-in-White-supremacist structures sorts.
In her book, DiAngelo breaks whiteness down into layman’s terms. She deconstructs whiteness, White fragility and Privilege. How society is constructed is for the benefit of Whites. They are the default, so it’s White and the Rest; from the history we learn in schools to “flesh-coloured” plasters which fit the hue of Caucasians. Due to societal design, this also means they have a deficit of “racial stamina” to engage in this discourse without implementing their racial triggers. People of colour are the global majority but colonial borders still dissect us down into “ethnic minorities.”
Whilst this book is about North America, we need to stop thinking about racism as something only “bad people” do, as DiAngelo says in her book. Racism isn’t only the tool of the far right. It’s also the tool of seemingly good institutions; from policing to higher education and The Academy. We need to be looking at the Enoch Powells of this world, and not just the little man.
Robin DiAngelo’s words will pick at the skin of White people’s fragility and their lack of racial stamina to have these conversations. The White people that manage to get through this book to the end will undergo some humility (I hope), analysing all the times they’ve been treated better than their non-White colleagues in exact same situations. She is intentionally provoking discomfort to be critical of the sensitivity White people show when you tell them they are part of society’s institutional racism. And that well-meaning White folks aren’t as liberal and democratic as they often think they are.
In light of Brexit and the ongoing Windrush Crisis #Jamaica50, I am not sure we can say racism in this country is nuanced (anymore). The Tory government’s obsession with stop and search as a way to combat County Lines and knife crime… you cannot arrest your way out of this, nor can you continue to stop Black people at a disproportionate rate to White people, and expect a community with shaky faith in the police to support you.
Rich White people are the biggest smokers of marijuana I know; I can say that because I went to private school, but on what planet has whiteness ever been linked to criminality?
“This book is centred in the white western colonial context, and in that context white people hold institutional power.” In this quote, we need to understand that racism is more than individuals calling each other names, it’s a system of power. In the UK, it privileges whiteness, economically and socially. All people have racial bias, but only with White people in Europe and North America is that bias backed by institutional power.
It is not the job of people of colour to explain racism to White people. When a White woman cries (they’re also complicit in white supremacy), Black men get hurt. Racism is the problem of White people. They created it and the responsibility to dismantle those systems lies with the White masses.
People that look like me are there to support, but racism is trauma. Is it really ethical to expect people of colour to take on this burden? What White people need to ask themselves, and in the words of the late James Baldwin, “why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.”
And perhaps in the reading and knowledge-gathering at FBL’s Book Club, in how whiteness operates (insidious and pervasive), united we can attempt to push back against the racial inequalities at work in the University on a day-to-day.