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.
Watching last night’s finale to Steve McQueen’s Small Axe took me back to when I was at school. Unknown to many, I was a student that was considered Special Educational Needs [SEN]. Today, as a Black Caribbean SEN boy I would be 168 times more likely than my white counterpart to be excluded (Crenna-Jennings, 2017). I had extra classes and was in the minds of the white education system “educationally subnormal” [ESN]. How my experience of school differs to a good many Black students in this country though, in that I was at private school. Being the only Black student in the school to then need extra classes to keep up has a specific set of connotations. Looking back on this part of my personal history now, shows me that did I really need extra classes, or does education still not know how to treat students as individals? Moreover, is the system not designed for such an endeavour? The added invisible disability of dyspraxia also brought its own challenges. So, last night, I know if I was a boy in the 1970s, I would have been put in an ESN. No doubt about it.
McQueen’s picture has also cast my mind back to earlier on in the summer, when the cancelling of A-Level and GCSE examinations saw a resurgence of discussion about the embedded racism in the education system… when Race Equality specialist Sofia Akel wrote “predicted grades are a lottery of privilege where Black students almost always lose.” Unlike me, many Black students in this country, just like Kingsley go / went through the state system, just like my parents did during the 1980s. And I know my grandparents, also from Grenada, would remember the publication of Grenadian politician Bernard Coard’s seminal pamphlet How the West Indian Child is made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System (1971).
Those schools no longer exist as those schools, they’re simply called “Pupil Referral Units”, or the same students that would be put into an ESN are today now excluded, Black Caribbeans disproportionately (Department of Education), along with Irish Traveller and Roma students, respectively… however, stats do not give you context.
Roma and Irish Traveller communities in Wales, for example, do not typically engage in the mainstream school system to the same levels as other ethnic groups (Fensham-Smith, 2014) and in the UK at large, we are some way from removing those barriers to this community (Hamilton, 2017). So, to see the data to also include this community despite so few of them in mainstream education, is a damning indictment as a whole. However, exclusion/isolation data for Black Caribbeans is also shocking and it has precedent going back 50 years.
Growing up, my mother and godmother started the Garvey Saturday School (2010) to combat the barriers facing Black Caribbean students in Northamptonshire. Amongst Caribbean communities, especially women in my experience, education is thought of as vital part of life, much alike breathing. Especially being around my mother’s friends, my aunties, grandmothers, women cousins… the passion about education was at the centre of Caribbean matriarchs and I hold fond memories of them telling me to study. But above that, learn, and to find something I was passionate about. Akel goes on to discuss the long-held idea that Black people must “work twice as hard to get half as far, an adage that has very real implications in 21st century UK schooling.”
At the higher end of the educational chain at universities; as a sabbatical officer it was evident to see the number of Black students being pulled through disciplinary panels in both housing misdemeanors but also assessment offenses (academic misconduct). What were then called ESNs in the school system are now Pupil Referral Units that set up Black students for jail, whilst simultaneously those university disciplinary panels feeling a lot like what I believe a police custody interrogation to feel like. Schools set students up for prison, especially Black students, and higher education is simply another violent institution should that student avoid the jail cell schools set them up for. And the hegemonic processes at schools (and universities) “are based in assumption about what embodied discipline looks like” (Graham, 2019: 132).
By showing the trajectory that Black students go, from the moment they enter the education system, private included (it just has differences), we are able to see the nature of the beast of racism in the education sector to the point that my colleague Liz Pemberton AKA The Black Nursery Manager runs an establishment in Birmingham that prides itself around issues of race and culture, very much catering for Afro-Caribbean children. You would think there isn’t racism in Early Years, right? Wrong. Liz has been doing some sterling work and I recommend you all follow her on Instagram and LinkedIn, and it truly shows to critique racism in education we also need to look at Early Years.
Presented by David Harewood, in 2017, the BBC aired the documentary Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister? (above). It explored the chances of a Black British child progressing through life via the education system, from the biased marking of in-school test scores to university chances and independently-marked GCSEs (where markers don’t know the student’s ethnicity). This was backed by research from Professor Simon Burgess that shows teachers that know their students, have a clear bias (not that unconscious). The finale to Steve McQueen’s Small Axe makes me think to education and COVID and looking at the impact that predicted grades have on Black students in a system that is already rigged against them, even outside of the grades part.
Even after Black students slog through school fighting off all numbers of barriers, they then come to the ivory towers of academia and UCAS, very much following the tradition of structural racism entrenched in the education system, as Black students are also twenty-two times more likely to face investigation by UCAS’ verification services compared to their white counterparts (Busby, 2018). Despite slogging through Britain’s education system as I have, my struggle was less so without the added layer of class. Even in my experience, at that time, I drew the golden ticket of privilege of private education where my only challenge was racism. Classism was there, not in the barriers to access but more the prejudice because I came from that background.
Bernard Coard’s seminal pamphlet is as relevant now as it was in 1971; the ESNs have changed their face but Black students continue to be failed by the education system at every level, from Early Years and Primary, to Secondary, Further Education [FE] and universities, don’t even get me started on the experiences of Black educators in schools and higher education… that’s for another blog for another Monday. Indeed!
Frensham-Smith, Amber (2014) Gypsy and Traveller Education: Engaging Families – A Research Report. Cardiff: Welsh Government. Available: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/21443/1/141125-gypsy-traveller-education-engaging-families-en.pdf
Graham, Karen (2019) The British School-to-Prison Pipeline. In: Andrews, K and Palmer, Lisa Amanda. Blackness in Britain. London: Routledge. pp.130-142.
Hamilton, Paula (2017) Engaging Gypsy and Traveller pupils in secondary education in Wales: tensions and dilemmas of addressing difference. International Studies in Sociology of Education. 27(1). pp. 4-22. Available: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09620214.2017.1377100?needAccess=true
As vaccines are now being rolled out across the UK, Black people are questioning not only whether they should take it, but also the intergity of the vaccine. Does it have their welfare at heart? Whilst vaccines historically have done a lot of good for communities in battling against disease, it cannot be forgotten that science and medical trials under the umbrella of “colonial medicine” do not have a flattering past in the context of Black Atlantic diasporic peoples. However, we also know that for the vaccine to have maximum impact Black and Brown communities need to take part as well. We are the global majority and the vaccine will essentially fail without us. Coronavirus disproportionately impacts Black Africans and Caribbeans but also South Asians. Without everyone’s participation, there could come a day when people are laying blame for the continuation of Coronavirus in the UK on ethnic minority groups that don’t trust it.
Despite being tagged to a YouTube video (urgh), an ill-thoughtout tweet that went viral by Small Axe star Letitia Wright asked questions about the integrity of a vaccine, only for her to later delete the tweet/her account when the torrents of abuse came.
The disproportionate outcomes with the Coronavirus show Black people in the UK and the United States as part of the groups most likely to die from the disease. In Britain, a Channel 4 documentary entitled Is COVID Racist? shows that it’s not the disease as a singular entity that is killing us off at a disproportionate rate, but entrenched inequality, including poverty and structural racism. The first ten NHS staff to die from COVID-related afflictions were from a Black, Brown or ethnic minority background. A 100% death rate is unheard of and now two thirds of NHS deaths from the virus are from a Black, Brown or ethnic minority background.
By itself, Coronavirus is not racist but the environmental factors that plague Black and Brown people are, which then adds to the biological weathering: from nearly 3 in 5 ethnic minority UK households in poverty, to being stopped and searched on the way to work, these are the sorts of things that consistently add to the biological weathering.
When we look at the history of science in the West in the context of the Black Atlantic diaspora, it is not pleasant reading. Surveys done in both the United States and England show a mistrust in this vaccine with Black and Brown groups, whilst white people seem more likely to get the vaccine at large. With specifically Black communities, why they are less likely to get the vaccine could be a whole number of factors: from the history of experimentation on Black people throughout the colonial era to how Black people have been treated during the pandemic and lockdowns by society as a whole. Really, to think (all) institutions have your best interest at heart comes with degrees of privilege. In this case, one could conclude, a white privilege.
Growing up as I have, around Caribbeans who have a very real experience of white supremacy on those islands, but also when they came to this country as immigrants, it’s not really surprising to see scepticism. Caribbean interraction with white public bodies has rarely been positive. But vaccines have been one of the most effective things to help communities in the last century. However, there have been mistakes; and for Black communities, there have been outright acts of violence committed against us in the name of science. Despite a good safety record, there is a history of untold untaught horrors committed against Black people in the name of science and public good. It would do us well to not lump their scepticism of vaccinations with the anti-vaxxers that get their info from YouTube hacks. Black people asking questions about vaccines can be viewed as a Black lives matter issue, since there is a legacy of poor medical treatment and dubious practices.
To understand the roots of why there are activist movements to make Black lives matter, we need to understand the racial pseudoscience that underpinned colonial racial thinking. Even prior to colonialism as we know it, contempt for Black dignity is beyond reasonable doubt. Bristol University professor Olivette Otele writes about how European fourteenth century medical scholars drew on Aristotle’s ideas about blood and heat, arriving at the conclusion “that the milk of black women had more nutrients… the body heat of dark and dusky women rendered their milk more digestible and therefore better quality for the child” (2020: 28).
However, the thinker that has done untold damage to how Africans are seen was Edward Long, a slaveowner and the son of a slaveowner, with his ideas about Black people and Africa widely accepted as scientific fact in his day, even though he was not even a scientist. His book The History of Jamaica donned the African continent as “the parent of everything that is monstrous in nature” (Long, 1744: 383) with many sections denouncing Blackness and Africanness as inferior and less than human. The fact he spent twelve years in the Caribbean gave the audiences of the 18th century some “certainty” he was credible. Echoes of his work can be seen in novels that came after him by writers, including Joseph Conrad, H.G Wells and Bram Stoker. Poisonous racist science was also perpetuated by medical professionals. In the late 1700s, an English physician by the name of Charles White (1799) provided empirical science for the hierachies of race, claiming Black people had a seperate origin to white people, namely Black people came from primates and white people did not.
In Black and British, Professor David Olusoga says that the first user of Victorian “new racism” (2017: 349) was an essayist and critic called Thomas Carlyle. In 1849, he pens an essay called ‘The Negro Problem’.
See this extract:
“…till the European white man first saw them, some three short centuries ago, those islands had produced mere jungle, savagery, poison reptiles and swamp malaria till the white European first saw them, they were, as if not yet created; their noble elements of cinnamon — sugar, coffee, pepper, black and gray, lying all asleep, waiting the white Enchanter, who should say to them, awake!” (Carlyle, 1849)
Another thinker in this field was French novelist Arthur de Gobineau (1853), writing “… the Polynesian negroes, the Samoyedes and others in the far north, and the majority of the African races, have never been able to shake themselves free from their impotence.”
According to Emma Dabiri (2019), he was famous for his views on Aryanism and the concept that Black people were privileged for being allowed to exist on the lowest rungs of the racial order. Additionally, he was an aristocrat most famous for helping to legitamise racism through the use of scientific theory and “racial demography”, moreover, developing the theory of the Aryan master race.
The ideas perpetuated by these academics, medical experts and so forth underpinned colonialism and enslavement. It put Black life at the bottom of the pile. We are still living with this legacy today… from overpolicing Black communities, to low expectations of Black students (Busby, 2018). This is what allowed J. Marion Simms to experiment on enslaved Black women in pursuit of what today is called gynaecology, with his unethical torturous practices. Yet, since there were intellectual justifications made by academics prior, these acts could be carried out without a thought. In the eyes of the law and in public consciousness, Black people were subhuman in colony and metropole. And when the US Public Health Service gave a number Black Americans syphilis (1932-1970) in the Tuskegee Study, the pseudoscience that permeated through enslavement ran rampant, pertinently in the thick of Jim Crow Laws that weren’t abolished until 1965.
The case of Henrietta Lacks and her family in the United States is another example of contempt for Black life; where her cells were taken from her before she died. They were used to study diseases without her permission and shared around the world. Moreover, in the years of French colonialism in Africa, what about the horrific experimentations carried out on Black African people? There is a precedent behind current mistrust.
Black Atlantic diasporic vaccine scepticism may be inspired by the trend set by history but it also may have something to do with the present, where Black people continue to be treated with contempt by healthcare and medical services. Disproportionate deaths from Coronavirus is just one example. In the UK, Black people are four times more likely to be detained under The Mental Health Act (DoH, 2019/20) and Black women are five times more likely to die from childbirth or related complications (MBRRACE UK, 2019). Additionally, on the African continent itself, there has been discussion around concerns about a number of clinical trials such as the malaria trial by World Health Organization [WHO]. Furthermore, a legal battle between Pfizer, and Kano in Nigeria over the tests being done on Trovan, a drug to combat meningitis.
There is a Black history to clinical trials and science that isn’t being taught or widely known. This is the irony that the people disproportionately impacted by Coronavirus (significantly helped along by systemic inequality) are also the same people that need to take it. However, these same communities don’t trust the system because of history and a contemporary where the system has not worked for them. If the UK government wants Black people to take a vaccine (not necessarily this current one), they need to change the messaging around COVID, like government aides and advisors saying institutional racism doesn’t exist. Whilst the history articulated so far is damaging on racial grounds, there are also scientific histories written in violence in the context of gender, class, sexuality and disability as well – from electrock therapy to eugenics.
The story of Black communities’ historic interactions with western science/scientists is damning; the present contemporary narrative of healthcare’s interactions with Black UK and Black American communities is also damning and both are well evidenced, there’s lots of improvements to made on both sides of the pond and we can do better.
Carlyle, T (1849) “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question” Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country (London, Vol. XL., February 1849). Available from:
Dabiri, Emma (2019) Don’t Touch My Hair. London: Allen Lane.
De Gobineau, J, A (1853) The Inequality of Human Races. London: William Heinemann. Available: https://ia800501.us.archive.org/27/items/inequalityofhuma00gobi/inequalityofhuma00gobi.pdf
Long, E (1774/2002). The History of Jamaica, Volume 2: Reflections on its Situation, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws, and Government. London: Ian Randle.
Olusoga, D (2017) Black and British: A Forgotten History. London: Pan Macmillan.
Otelle, Olivette (2020) African European. London: Hurst and Company, London.
White, C (1799) An account of the regular gradation in man, and in different animals and vegetables. Edinburgh: C, Dilly. Available: https://archive.org/details/b24924507/page/n3/mode/2up
I think I speak for most people when I say, nobody expected 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic tied with the murder of George Floyd by American police officers and the subsequent anti-racism protests across the UK, the US and the rest of the world has created what one would call a perfect storm. 2020 has allowed Northampton and the county as a whole to show us who it is, who the people are in their hearts and real the definition of community. I started this year thinking about the Windrush Scandal, as that injustice has continued through the pandemic with the prolonging of the government’s hostile environment policies.
Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned report published in March (just as we went into the first lockdown) struck a note for me, as members of that Windrush Generation would also have been caught up in the Coronavirus pandemic, a contagion that has disproportionate outcomes against Black, Brown and ethnic minority communities. Being nominated for this award really took me by surprise, as it was totally unexpected. I have come to realise that what people and in some cases me myself have defined as activism, is simply doing what I think to be right. The moral thing.
Pushes for equal rights like Black lives matter shouldn’t be political but they are by their nature. Whether we’re talking about Votes for Women in the early 20th century to workers’ rights with the Miners Strikes in the Thatcher era as well as the Poll Tax Riots… or even the narrative around race with Stephen Lawrence. All movements for equality have inspired me and continue to do today, including the Black Lives Matter movement and the pushes for gay rights and trans rights both now in the 21st century but also the movements from which it started dating back to Stonewall in 1969.
International Men’s Day encompasses men from all parts of society, an intersectionality of experiences: Black men, white men; gay men, straight men; trans, autistic, working-class, middle-class, immigrants, refugees… an intersectionality of experiences all worth exploring and celebrating. In the process of my activism if you want to call it that, and pushing for equality; especially in the buzzword of 2020 ‘anti-racism’, many have come to see me as a role model. First and foremost, I would like to thank my parents for showing me what activism looks like.
My parents that survived the 1980s for me to be here (not everyone was so lucky. That decade is the closest this country has to a Civil Rights-era level event. My mother growing up in Northamptonshire which back then was its own battleground in terms of racism, and also my father from Lichfield, Staffordshire having numerous experiences of racism in Birmingham and Handsworth.
They lived and survived, so I could live and survive, and my grandparents for making that trip from the West Indies… members of that Windrush Generation that give so much and take so little. People like me are my ancestors’ wildest dreams but we also have much farther to go.
So, thanks to them. I want to thank Hannah Litt, Emma Shane, Josh West and the members of Amplified NN who have come out for their community, also as activists in their own right. I want to thank Paula Bowles and Manos Daskalou, the senior lecturers of University of Northampton’s criminology department, for standing by me and supporting my work during my time at Waterside and still continueing to do so now, as colleagues and my friends.
I also want to than Anjona Roy and the team at Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council for supporting things I have done, both as a director at NREC but also when I was at the university, and prior. I would also like to thank Rebecca Clark, Karen Adams and team at Black Lives Matter Buckingham for welcoming me into their ranks and really for allowing me to push for change in that community as well. If this pandemic has shown us anything, I think it’s that we need to stand by our words and principles.
We all need to be leaders in our communities. Too many leaders and authority figures are the embodiment of “do as I say, not say as I do.” In this award, I have tried to encompass the opposite. Stand with your community where possible and I will end with a quote from the famous slave abolitionist and human rights campaigner Frederick Douglass…
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” And as Douglass said again, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” I graciously accept this award but we need to keep it pushing.
Thanks very much.
As President-elect Joe Biden has seen off Donald Trump, the one people are talking about is Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. In her appointment, and even throughout this whole campaign, it is evident that race and America are like two peas in a pod; yin and yang; ice and fire… and Biden choosing her as his Vice President provokes America’s underbelly to show its teeth. Born to a Jamaican father and Indian mother, in Britain Kamala is someone that we would call Multiracial or Mixed-Race. However, in America, they still practice the one-drop rule where one Black ancestor makes a person Black.
And you only have to look at the media headlines as well as the rhetoric on Twitter to see how she, like many Black women in past and present is a victim of misogynoir
Being celebrated in numerous places as the first Black, first Asian, first Indian, first woman Vice President; of course there were flare ups on social media and it really makes me think about identity, pertinently for people that do not fit into monracial boxes. Mixed-Race is the fastest growing racial group but it’s also the one where important conversations are not being had. Like Kamala Harris, former-President Barack Obama is Mixed-Race, raised by his white mother but he is racialised as Black. Harris’ Jamaican and Indian heritage means she is also from a Multiracial background.
Moreover, Jamaica: a place that has been home to Africans, Jews, Lebanese, white European, Indians, Chinese, white creoles and more. What happened in Jamaica is also indicative of what happened on other islands, including Trinidad, Grenada and St. Kitts & Nevis. The Caribbean by its history of migration is Mixed-Race. Blackness has a Mixed-Race history. As far as race is concerned, the Black Lives Matter movement has shown me that Black is more of a political stance and identity, than a race. Race is a construct but if we take that construct at face value, there’s millions of people like me that “look Black” (darker skin / tighter hair) who are actually Multiracial.
The Black Lives Matter movement also is making me think about how much we don’t know about Blackness, Black identity, heritage and history; furthermore, how in Black communities, this is still an uncomfortable conversation
Barack Obama was celebrated as the first Black president of the United States but his mother was white. Both Harris’ Black and Indian identities are being celebrated, as well as being the first woman Vice President. In this reflection, it can be noted what identities are being used in political football and which ones aren’t. Using Obama and Harris as a conduit, it is a reminder of the monoracial boxes that Black history is being seen through. What we also have to realise is that Black has changed meaning over time and Black is not a monolith, and neither is Mixed-Race. Blackness is fluid.
Whether we agree with her politics is another conversation entirely, and whether Harris claimed her Black ancestry prior is another discussion; we don’t know what her relationship is like with her Blackness, as the road to being one with your own racial identity is a long one… I am not sure anyone’s in a place to judge – Black, white or otherwise.