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Here to serve but not your slave
My wife and I were fortunate enough to go on holiday this year to a beautiful island in the Caribbean. Palm Island, a stone’s throw, well 10-minute boat ride (I’m not prone to exaggeration you understand) from Union Island, and some 45 minutes by plane to Barbados is a unique paradise described as the Maldives in the Caribbean.
The circumstances of the people that work on Palm Island (and history) are perhaps not too dissimilar to those that work in Cape Verde, a subject of a previous blog. Wages are poor, the staff are not exactly affluent, and work is hard to come by. Many have gravitated to Palm Island from nearby islands to find work and have subsequently stayed on Union Island, commuting every day after a long shift. Others stay on Palm Island in staff accommodation, returning home to their families every few months in St. Vincent and elsewhere. Whilst guests enjoy luxurious accommodation, great food and plentiful drinks, the workers receiving low wages, relying on a percentage of the service charge and tips, do not even have the luxury of a constant water supply on Union Island. Palm Island has its own water processing plant, Union Island does not. Hence the gardener telling me he had to pay $250 dollars to have water delivered to his home; £100 for the water and $150 for the delivery. The dry season is hard going and financially precarious.
The Island shut down during Covid and many of the workers returned home with no wages for the duration. Poverty is not an alien concept to them. Their lives and that of the visitors couldn’t be further apart and yet are intertwined by capitalism in the form of tourism. They need the tourists to sustain the jobs, the more tourists, the more in service charges and tips. Of course, the owners of the island want more tourists because it brings in more revenue. A moral dilemma for some perhaps, well for me anyway. I won’t be pretentious and state that I go to the island to support the local economy, vis-a-vie the poor people, I go there for a really good holiday. But here is the crux of the matter, and hence the title, I try my utmost to treat the staff with respect. I recognise that they are paid to serve me and other guests, and they do a brilliant job, but they are not my servants or slaves (the historical significance should be obvious). And yet I have witnessed people demanding drinks without a please or thank you, “give me a vodka”, “she wants a rum and coke”. I have seen people coming off yachts with day passes for the island, they came, they saw, they made a complete mess and they left…. You can clear up our mess! Glasses left all over the beach, beach towels left wherever, they last used them. “What did your last servant die of”, I ask, as they slope off into the rum filled sunset? “It certainly wasn’t old age” I shout after them. But it just seems lost on them.
I ask myself would they have treated me like that had I been the one behind the bar? I think not, perhaps the lighter colour of my skin may have persuaded them that I am worthy of some courtesy. But then who knows, it seems that some people that have money have a certain arrogance and disregard for anyone else.
Not all of the customers were like that, most were polite and some very friendly with the staff. But we shouldn’t forget the power dynamics, and above all else the privilege that some of us enjoy. Above all else it is a useful reminder that when people are there to serve, they are not your servant nor your slave and they and the job they do deserves respect.
“My Favourite Things”: Paul
My favourite TV show - I prefer a movie any day.. episodes are draining
My favourite place to go - Home
My favourite city - London, Zanzibar, and Lagos... Ain’t no party like a Lagos party!
My favourite thing to do in my free time - Bonding with my toddler
My favourite athlete/sports personality - – BOXING: The Special One! Kell Brook
My favourite actor - Joe Pesci
My favourite author - Sidney Sheldon
My favourite drink - Depends.. Red wine after work or Whiskey for the Weekends
My favourite food - Medium Rare Steak, Lasagne (only from Rodizio Rico, O2 arena), or Egusi & Pounded Yam (Authentic)
My favourite place to eat - As long as the wine is delightful and the food is delicious, I don’t mind
I like people who - are generous & helpful
I don’t like it when people - don’t mind their business
My favourite book - The Doomsday Conspiracy
My favourite book character - Who has time to read fiction?
My favourite film - The Goodfellas, of course!
My favourite poem - 'The Second Coming' by William B Yeats
My favourite artist/band - FELA!
My favourite song - 1. Coffin for Head of State by Fela
2. The soundtrack of the Sound of Music – that’s one album I can listen to without skipping a track (My wife thinks I’m weird)
My favourite art - Jean Basquiat: GOD, LAW – an exceptional piece full of symbolism. I need to write a blog on this painting at some point!
My favourite person from history - My favourite person from history – Too many to name just one – but for the sake of this blog, I’ll go with Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo
“My Favourite Things”: Dan
My favourite TV show - A combination of F.R.I.E.N.D.S (accepting that it’s okay to be in my 30s and still have no idea what I’m doing…) and Family Guy (pushing the boundaries of “socially acceptable” conversations to expose everyday stressful situations as simply funny historical ‘moments’ in a comparably very short existence on our planet). My favourite place to go - Aside from my Armenian hometown, Yerevan, I’m torn between munching on Ntakos on the sandy beaches of Western Crete with an iced latte, and taking a slow walk through New York’s Central Park in a February snowstorm. My favourite city - See above 🙂 My favourite thing to do in my free time - Procrastinating: whether through gaming, playing the piano, cooking, or any other unearned leisure activity in the dark playground. My favourite athlete/sports personality - None, their egos get under my skin. My favourite actor - *actress: Melissa McCarthy, actor: Steve Carrell. In combination, they are both geniuses of comedy. My favourite author - Erica Spindler. She is a hidden gem, but singlehandedly the best contemporary crime and mystery novelist. My favourite drink - Bubbletea: White peach with tapioca & lychee jelly. My favourite food - Anything authentically Italian will satisfy 25% of my genes. My favourite place to eat - Pickle & Rye in Richmond: a family-run restaurant with the best American-style buffalo chicken burgers you will find in the UK! I like people who - are upfront and honest (sometimes skipping the small talk is best). I don’t like it when people - treat service staff like second-class humans. It costs nothing to be polite. Let’s exercise some empathy for people who are paid pennies for the amount of work they do for us (and that can go for all sectors). My favourite book - Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World by James Ball. It's been eye-opening throughout my PhD. My favourite book character - Difficult one. Fictional characters don’t resonate with me as much as real people…though Horace Slughorn from the Harry Potter series did leave a positive lasting impression! My favourite film - This is very tough as I have many favourites. May have to settle with the Back to the Future trilogy…for now… My favourite poem - Not so much a “poem”, but Martin Niemöller’s First They Came… is infinitely adaptable to all situations of social injustice, and serves as my moral compass to empathise and speak out at times when others might not be willing or able to do so. My favourite artist/band - Impossible to answer as my taste is eclectic. It can be as wide a range as between Ella Fitzgerald, The Human League and Muse. My favourite song - Another impossible one to answer! My favourite art - Leonid Afremov’s work has a special place in my heart. My favourite person from history - Komitas: a remarkable Armenian composer with a tragic life. He spent the last years of his life in various psychiatric facilities trying to cope with having witnessed the worst imaginable human atrocities during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in (at the time) Ottoman Turkey.
There’s no I in teamwork but maybe there’s space for me and you?
Teamwork is often promoted as a valuable transferable skill both by universities and employers. However, for many the sheer mention of this type of group activity is enough to fill them with dread. This is a shame, and I want to use this blog to explain why.
I’m definitely not one for sports, but even I cannot avoid the discourse around women’s football and Euro 2022. Much has been written about the talents and skill of England’s Lionesses, of which I know very little. Equally there has been disquiet around the overwhelming whiteness of the team, an inequality I am very familiar with throughout my studies of crime, criminality and criminal justice. Nevertheless this blog isn’t about inclusion and exclusion, but about teamwork. Football, like many activities is not a solo enterprise but a group activity. All members need to be able to rely upon their team mates for support, encouragement and ultimately success. If a player doesn’t turn up for training, doesn’t engage in sharing space, passing the ball and so on, the team will fail in their endeavours. Essentially, the team must be on the same page and be willing to sacrifice individuality (at times) for the good of the team. But football isn’t the only activity where teamwork is crucial.
One only has to imagine the police, another overwhelmingly white institution, but with a very different mandate and different measures of success. Here a lack of support from team mates could be a matter of life and death. Even if not so severe, the inability to work closely with other officers in a team can make professional and person life extraordinarily difficult to maintain. It has repercussions for individual offices, the police force itself and indeed, society.
Whilst I’ve the made the case for teamwork, it is not clear what makes a good team, or how it could be maintained. Do all teams work? Personal experience tells me that when members have very different agendas and lose sight of the main objective, team work can be very challenging, if not impossible. There has to be a buy in from all members, not just some. There has to be space for individuals to develop themselves as well as the wider team. However, when the individual aims continue to take priority over the collective, cracks emerge. The same experiences suggest that teamwork cannot be accomplished instantly regardless of intent. Teams take a long time to build rapport, to bond, to gain trust across members and this cannot be hurried. Furthermore, this process requires continuing individual and collective reflection and development. So where can we find an example of such excellence (outside of the wonderful Criminology Team, of course)?
I recently watched the BBC 4-part documentary My Life as a Rolling Stone. Produced to mark 60 years of the band, the documentary explores the lives of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and the late, Charlie Watts. There were lots of interesting aspects to each part, but the most striking to me was the sense of belonging. That the Rolling Stones are a cohesive team, with each member playing very different parts, but all essential to not only the success of the band, but also to the well-being of the four men. Alongside discussions around creativity, musicality and individual skills, they describe drug taking, alcohol abuse, romantic relationships, fights, falling out and making up. There were periods of silence, of discord and distrust and periods of celebration and sheer personal and collective joy. Working together they provide each other with exactly what they need to thrive individually and collectively.
These men have made more money than most of us can dream of. They have been to parts of the world and seen things that most of us will never see. All of them are heading toward 80 but keep writing and performing. More importantly for this blog, they seem to illustrate what teamwork looks like, one where communication is key, where disputes must be resolved one way or another, regardless of who was right and who was wrong and where the sheer sense of needing one another, belonging remains paramount. I could use a dictionary definition of teamwork, but it seems to me the Rolling Stones say it better than I ever could:
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime
You get what you need”(Jagger and Richards, 1969).
Higher education, students, the strikes and me*
It was somewhat disappointing to read some of the comments purportedly from a university student in our local newspaper the other week. Critical of the current UCU industrial action and its impact on students, the student suggested that lecturers knew what they were signing up for and should just get on with it. I found it interesting and somewhat incongruent with what the national student union stance is (actually, I was livid). I know there has been a response to the article from the local union representative and other comments perhaps suggesting that my previous blog should be read (I wouldn’t think anyone in their right mind would have signed up for what I described). But just to be clear, I signed (or my union did on my behalf) a contract that states I am required to work 37 hours a week with the occasional evening or weekend work and that the normal working week is Monday to Friday. I take the meaning of ‘occasional’ as the definition found in the English dictionary (take your pick as to which one you’d like to use), which is not ‘permanently’ or ‘all of the time’ or ‘ad infinitum’. I can only speak for myself and not for my colleagues, but I don’t mind working a little longer at times and working the weekend to do marking or open days, but I didn’t sign up to be working all of the time. So, for me the industrial action is not just about my working conditions but about a contract, a legal obligation, which I am fulfilling but my employer seems to suggest that I am not because I am not working far in excess of my contracted hours. That to me, is illogical.
I remember a discussion where a senior manager stated that bullying included giving someone excessive workloads. I wonder whether that means that most lecturers are being bullied by management, isn’t there a policy against that? And then I seem to recall that there is some legislation against inequality, would that not include paying lower wages to women, disabled staff and people from minority ethnic groups? Systemic bullying and discrimination, not a pretty picture in higher education.
But perhaps the most important point is that as lecturers we don’t want to impact our student’s education, and this shouldn’t be about us versus the students. It’s what management would like because it detracts from so many issues that plague our higher education system. Students should quite rightly be unhappy with their lot. A system that plunges students into a lifetime of debt that they will rarely if ever be able to repay and at the same time lines the pockets of private companies seems to me to be immoral. A system that requires students to pay extortionate fees for accommodation is completely bonkers especially when it means the less affluent students have to work to afford to live. A system that requires students to study for approximately 46 hours per week in semester time (If we accept that they are entitled to holiday time) seems overly punitive. Couple this with the need to work to afford to live and it becomes unsustainable. Add to that any caring responsibilities or anything else that complicates their lives, and it starts to look impossible. I and my colleagues are not really surprised that so many fail to properly engage, if at all, and that there are so many stressed students and students with mental health issues. Of course, if we add to that individual capabilities, think unconditional offers and low school grades and let’s be honest widening participation becomes simply a euphemism for widening deBt, misery and, more importantly establishment profit.
The students were on strike for one day the other week, someone asked me why, well I rest my case. Whilst I understand student anger about the strikes, that anger is directed at the wrong people. We all signed up for something different and it’s simply not being delivered.
*The first part of this entry can be found here.