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One of the most intriguing aspects of being black today is sanity.
How can an individual living in such desperate times exist alongside insane denial of said existence?
How does one remain sane in an insane world?
One that denies we matter?
At the start of my new school in the second grade, my new teacher gave me a nickname.
No one can say your name, she explained, so she’d call me by my initials, DK.
And that’s how things remained for years.
I grew to love that teacher and my classmates, many of whom studied with me until graduation 11 years later.
Needless to say, our small class got to know one another really well.
It’s that knowing of others that I draw upon now to stay sane.
See, I know white people.
I’ve grown up in a diverse world, one where all our differences were brought to light and respected.
I learned that my teacher – then a middle-aged, middle-class white woman- had marched alongside Dr. King in all his major marches for his struggle for Civil Rights.
I knew Jewish kids who I learned were seen as outsiders like me.
I learned that Catholics were marginalized in our city, despite being the largest health care providers.
I learned that the poor white kids where, too, regarded as others.
I saw that not all the black kids could escape.
I learned that despite the school’s efforts at integration, life would segregate us then and now.
As soon as the last bell rang, race and class separated us once again.
We all went to our respective neighbourhoods,
And have largely remained in our respective places as adults.
Now, I as an adult, I am ‘diversity’.
I accepted that you can never judge a book by its cover.
See, in my state, the rural areas are generally considered backwards- and this is taught to us city kids as a fact.
We even had a biology teacher in high school who told us that she’d taught in the hills of Kentucky and the people were in fact born stupid…damaged by oxygen deprivation.
I listened to what was said about ‘them’
But what I heard was the same shit that had been said about us.
No, it didn’t destroy my ability to trust white people,
But it did give me pause for thought:
How is it that ‘they’ could arrive at respect for my people, but then turn around and diss others who are struggling?
This was all just one more piece of the puzzle I was putting together to help me understand society’s cruelty towards me as a kid.
Why did I grow up in total fear of how strangers would react to me?
It’s like a sixth sense that I honed and developed throughout my life- this is one of the many benefits of being a minority.
But tis sixth sense suggests that we live in a world that is largely unsafe for people like me.
That’s the burden I’d like to ease for those who come after me.
I want to develop the implicit assumption that Black Lives Matter.
Unquestionably, unapologetically and unconditionally.
Blackness is no excuse, nor whiteness.
Racism erodes empathy.
As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all seven bloggers contributing! Our fourth book was chosen by all of us (unanimously) after we fell in love with the first instalment. Without more ado, let’s see why we all adore Inspector Chopra (retired) et al.:
Another great edition to the Baby Ganesh agency series. After thoroughly enjoying the first book, I was slightly sceptical that book 2 would bring me the same level of excitement as the former. I was pleasantly surprised! The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, will take you on a picturesque journey across Mumbai. The story definitely pumps up the pace giving the reader more mystery and excitement. We now get more of an insight into characters such as inspector Chopra (retired) and his devoted wife Poppy. We also get to meet some new characters such as the loveable young boy Irfan, and of course the star of the show Ganesh, Chopra’s mysterious elephant. This novel has mystery within mystery, humour, suspense and some history, which is a great combination for anyone who wants to have an enjoyable read.@svr2727
In the second instalment of detective Chopra’s detective (retired) adventures he is investigating the disappearance of the infamous Koh-i-noor diamond. The mythical gem disappears from a well-guarded place putting a strain on Anglo-Indian relations. In the midst of an international incident, the retired inspector is trying to make sense of the case with his usual crew and some new additions. In this instalment of the genre, the cultural clash becomes more obvious, with the main character trying to make sense of the colonial past and his feelings about the imprint it left behind. The sidekick elephant remains youthful, impulsive and at times petulant advancing him from a human child to a moody teenager. The case comes with some twists and turns, but the most interesting part is the way the main characters develop, especially in the face of some interesting sub-plots@manosdaskalou
I am usually, very critical, of everything I read, even more so of books I love. However, with Inspector Chopra et al., I am completely missing my critical faculties. This book, like the first, is warm, colourful and welcoming. It has moments of delightful humour (unicycles and giant birthday cake), pathos (burns and a comforting trunk) to high drama (a missing child and pachyderm). Throughout, I didn’t want to read too much at any sitting, but that was only because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Vaseem Khan’s wonderful characters, even if only for a short while…@paulaabowles
It was a pleasure to read the second book of the Inspector Chopra series. Yes, sometimes the characters go through some difficult times, the extreme inequalities between the rich and poor are made clear and Britain’s infamous colonial past (and present) plays a significant part of the plot, yet the book remains a heart-warming and up-beat read. The current character developments and introduction of new character Irfan is wonderfully done. Cannot wait to read the next book in the series!@haleysread
One of the reasons for critiquing a book is to provide a balanced view for would be readers. An almost impossible task in the case of Vaseem Khan’s second Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation. Lost in a colourful world, and swept along with the intrigue of the plot and multiple sub plots involving both delightful and dark characters, the will to find a crumb of negativity is quickly broken. You know this is not real and, yet it could be, you know that some of the things that are portrayed are awful, but they just add to the narrative and you know and really hope that when the baby elephant Ganesha is in trouble, it will all work out fine, as it should. Knowing these things, rather than detracting from the need to quickly get to the end, just add to the need to turn page after page. Willpower is needed to avoid finishing the book in one hit. Rarely can I say that once again I finished a book and sat back with a feeling of inner warmth and a smile on my face. If there is anything negative to say about the book, well it was all over far too quickly.@5teveh
The second Inspector Chopra book is even more thrilling than the first! As I read it I felt as though I genuinely knew the characters and I found myself worrying about them and hoping things would resolve for them. The book deals with some serious themes alongside some laugh out loud funny moments and I couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait to read the third instalment!@saffrongarside
I have always found that the rule for sequels in film is: they are never a good as the original/first. Now, there are exceptions to the rule, however these for me are few and far between. However, when it comes to literature I have found that the sequels are as good if not better than the original- this is the rule. And my favourite writers are ones who have created a literature series (or multiple): with each book getting better and better. The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown (Chopra 2.0) by Vaseem Khan has maintained my rule for literature and sequels! Hurray! After the explosive first instalment where we are introduced to Inspector Chopra, Poppy and Baby Ganesha, the pressure was well and truly on for the second book to deliver. And By Joe! Deliver it did! Fast paced, with multiple side-stories (which in all fairness are more important that the theft of the crown), reinforce all the emotion you felt for the characters in the first book and makes you open your heart to little Irfan! Excellent read, beautiful characters, humorous plots! Roll on book number 3!@jesjames50
Something outgoing NUS Black Students Officer Fope Olaleye tweeted about the police sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine stayed with me (see above). It made me think about the ACAB (All Cops are Bastards) acronym and whether I can talk about police in broad strokes. I was pushed on to Brooklyn Nine-Nine by a friend, after avoiding it for years. One reason because it just looked ridiculous, but the more important reason is that I did not feel comfortable that a comedy should be made of an inherently violent institution. I like the show, but in hindsight of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the other victims of the recent spate of murders by police, I am re-evaluating these shows and television like it.
No matter how pretty the writers try to dress up the Nine-Nine; no matter how diverse the cast is (great), police will always be police and this show is a prime time copaganda.
My degree is in creative writing and I do spend a lot of time watching film and television series. I do believe artists and storytellers, especially screenwriters and TV writers have a responsibility to accurately portray the institutions they are depicting. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is in a fairy tale version of the world we live in and is nowhere close to a true likeness of the NYPD (New York Police Department), the same department that prosecuted five Black and Latino boys for a rape and attempted murder they didn’t commit, of a white woman. Linda Fairstein, the prosecutor of the exonerated Central Park 5 then went on to have a career as a crime novelist, also advising on the early seasons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (more copaganda).
When I think about television depictions of police and law enforcement more generally, most of it is copaganda. Then I think about how the rap group N. W. A were on the FBI’s most-wanted for speaking their truth about personal experiences with the Police and how they began to empower Black people all over the world. In the late 1980s, Black Britons resonated with the conscious lyrics N. W. A wrote, which speaks volumes. Public Enemy’s Chuck D in ‘Louder than a Bomb‘ said “your CIA, see I ain’t kiddin’ / both King and X, they got ridda both” but the depictions of law enforcement in film and television are always positive. They’re the good guys. Supposedly.
There’s a privilege in believing law and order have your best interests at heart, even if you’re not the guilty party; often this comes with a whiff of class and / or white privilege.
Then we come to shows like Cops that do not even try to hide their anti-Black sentiment. In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore argues that white America has an innate fear of Black people. Black people are entertainment for white people. They always have been: from blackface minstrelsy that came after slavery to public lynchings in the Jim Crow era. Yet, Blacks, historically have been stereotyped as the violent ones. In Ava DuVernay’s 13th the activist-academic Angela Davis says how the FBI branded her “armed and dangerous”, and that ties into to how historically criminality is just code for Black, which leads into Reagan’s War on Drugs.
Network television has portrayed Black people as a race that carry weapons and if you try to talk to them they will kill you. Whenever someone is stabbed in the UK, I know in some circles I will be expected to have an opinion because more often than not the mugshots I see of the victims and perpetrators are young Black boys. Anti-blackness is global and Black police also fall into the trap of racial profiling, even their own people. Police officer first, Black second; that tribalism, that supremacy is pervasive and we cannot pretend that police violence is just about racist police officers.
I first listened to ‘Fuck tha Police’ at 13 years old; I recall Ice Cube saying “Cause they’ll slam ya down to the street top / Black police showin’ out for the white cop / Ice Cube will swarm / On any motherfucker in a blue uniform…
If you’re Black in this country or the United States, you’re branded a criminal. The prison / stop and search data speak for themselves. Shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Cops, are, to say the least, problematic, especially as a Black viewer, someone that does not fit into the pretty little box of white privilege. I try to watch shows like Nine-Nine in the same mind I watch a Disney film, within the realms of escapism. Pure fiction. Yet, in light of the recent international civil rights movement against racial inequality, including institutional racism, I am struggling to even accomplish that.
I bet it’s ironic that one of my top ten shows of all time is a police crime drama. The Wire, a show that does not glamorise policing and truly shows how ineffective it can be due to the flawed internal structural mechanics and other hidden agendas, that lean on the political. It paints a grim picture of US crime, where 1 in 4 of the world’s inmates are in US prisons (13th). David Simon’s show also supports #ACAB where Brooklyn Nine-Nine does not. That despite doing their jobs, the show says “all cops are bastards” because they carry out the horrific acts, at the behest of the institution.
There needs to be more shows like The Wire and fewer like Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Post-George Floyd, I don’t think there’s a place for shows like Nine-Nine, glorifying bumbling cops and glamorising office violence as innocent. Maybe it’s time to let it die with the same dignity police allow their Black victims.
The last few months have been challenging for all of us, in one form or another, regardless of personal circumstances. Many of us have faced loneliness, illness, bereavement, as well as a range of other challenges. Prisoners have particularly been hit hard, with the cessation of family visits as well as, an extremely restrictive regime. As a response to the Covid-19 lockdown, the Criminology team have created a range of different activities which can be undertaken in cell and which have hopefully helped to pass the long hours. Similarly, colleagues within Geography have created a number of different quizzes which have tested both staff and prisoners. As part of this initiative, Professor Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor of UoN kindly offered to run a writing competition focused on science. The winning entry can be read below
There is a near 100% certainty that humans will indeed meet space aliens – and if not within our generation, then most likely within the lives of our children or grandchildren.
However, whilst generations built up on visions of Star Wars and Star Trek might envisage us clasping hands with humanesque visitors from outer space, Babel fish in their ears, the first and perhaps only encounter ever likely to happen is that of a scientist peering at the screen of an electron microscope, to study the truly spectacular and epoch-making vision of an alien self-replicating molecule, or single-celled proto organism, retrieved from a volcanic rent on volcanic vent on Io [moon of Jupiter], Mars or another near neighbour.
The mathematician von Neumann’s concept of the ‘von Neumann probe’, or self-replicating space vehicle capable of travelling interstellar distances, to replicate itself on other planets, from where it would then head off to further star systems, populating the entire Milky Way in less than a million years, does neatly encapsulate the question: If there is intelligent alien life out there, why haven’t we seen it? The only answer to which must be, to the extent it does exist, it must be a long, long way away, in remote galaxies, perhaps too distant to ever be reached by man, as the universe expands more rapidly than we could ever travel.
Initial results from the studies of now thousands of exo-planets have also failed to give chemical indications of oxygen, or other synthesised chemicals likely to indicate life in detectable quantities on our near neighbouring planets.
However, on the smaller scale, if scientists such as Langland are correct in their view that the evolutionary adaptation of self-replicating molecules, leading to early life forms, can be explained by the laws of thermodynamics, prior to any Darwinian pressures on replication, mutation and inheritance traits, life in its most basic forms is likely to be a common phenomenon. Rather than needing a primeval chemical soup struck by lightening to foster the creation of RNA-like molecules, any simple source of energy such as volcanic spark could, over time give rise to simple life forms. Indeed, this is seen here on earth, where a bewildering variety of non-oxygen based simple life forms exist in the plumes of deepwater volcanic rents.
Such life forms may be simple, and their environmental conditions not far extensive enough or long-lived enough for complex life to form, or spread from the immediate vicinity. Even here on earth, life may have existed for two billion years or more before that fateful day when two became one, and complex cellular life came into being.
Sometimes in the near future, life will no doubt be discovered elsewhere than just on earth – with all the implications that will doubtless bring to the monotheistic religions placing God and Man at the centre of creation. But one thing is certain, our first encounter with alien life will be through a microscope, not a spaceship.
In reading @5teveh‘s blog, what immediately struck me is the personalness to it. When someone seemingly attacks a thing you have an attachment to, you will immediately to get defensive. So, Dr. Steve Hallam, now a Criminology lecturer after thirty-year career in policing now hearing different forms of “police are racist” will naturally feel something. Thinking “I was police” and still am. He may have retired but you can’t take thirty years of policing out of someone just like that. Is it fair to call The Police racist? I wouldn’t call it fair but what is true is not always what is fair. The Police use violent practices backed by policies that disproportionately impact Black and brown people.
I think there’s a lot of people right now saying “I don’t consider myself racist” and there’s more backlash to being called racist than the act itself. I’m not sure it is possible to be in the Police and not be part of what Macpherson called “canteen culture” (1999: 46), what I would call “club policing”– where if you’re in, you’re in. But if you’re out, you know you’re out. And police officers that remotely critique police practice in anyway are not part of the club. Compliance is your entry pass, which leads to how someone like George Zimmerman was acquitted after murdering Trayvon Martin. That despite being guilty, he was acquitted because he was club and American laws back “canteen culture” policing (Stand-Your-Ground Law).
Steve asks, “why the label?” of police being racist. I respond with: as much as his experience of policing has been one where he doesn’t consider himself racist (nor do I consider him to be), The Police rather than police officers is racist. I think in making it about him, there is a fragility there. Not a “white fragility” where “white people have been “socialised into a deeply internalised sense of superiority” (DiAngelo, 2019: 2) but a natural reaction to challenged authority (past or present), as police. Since this concept breaks the boundaries of race, as Black police officers defend the badge before their blackness (as put by NWA in Fuck tha Police, 1988). I may not consider Steve a racist but I do believe that because we all came through the same systems in this country, racial prejudice does lie within him as it does within all people. It’s whether people act on it which turns it into racial discrimination (the act). When there are Black police that racially profile, what stops it being racism is their lack of institutional power in British society. As a white man who worked in a white institution, Steve’s whiteness would be the determining factor because his whiteness is backed by “the power of legal authority and institutional control” (DiAngelo: 2019: 20) separating Steve’s intent from the default power he has in society built in his own image.
From an outsider’s point of view, (though I may be naive), The Police seem to allow no room for juniors to scrutinise the bosses. Yet, senior officers can criticise the juniors. If a junior officer sees their boss acting with racial prejudice, the flawed mechanics in the structure would mean that officer could not in fact challenge their superiors without putting their job at risk, worse if they’re a woman. Policing: where egos can do as much damage as bad policies and where bosses are outside the remit of grassroots critique.
Policing is more than “bad apples”, it’s also a lack of accountability and room to enforce accountability, even to each other. That’s before we think about violent policies; and ill-thought out strategies like arming every Northamptonshire Police officer with tasers, whilst simultaneously trying to improve relations with Black and Asian communities and up diversity in policing. That’s before we think about the institutional racism and overt racism that makes the lives of Black and Asian officers that much harder.
I think in order to develop as well, Steve must think about specifically on how white people don’t live in a society where they have to think of themselves in racialised terms; in society Steve is simply a man, not a white man
He must come to terms that all human beings are varying degrees of prejudiced. Except when police are concerned, that prejudice is often transformed into racism (and violence), which is shown through numbers like 184 Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic [BAME] deaths in police custody (Inquest); or Black people are stopped at nine times the rate of white people (UK) in Northamptonshire (Stopwatch, 2018/2019) – or how over 40% of inmates in youth offenders’ prisons come from Black and Minority Ethnic [BME] backgrounds (Lammy, 2017) – or how Black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act (Gilroy, 2019).
Despite Steve saying that policing in the US is much different, we must remember our history. That race relations in the US is the brainchild of Britain. Colonialism left that behind, just as we left the same police structures in India after partition in 1947. You cannot talk about the history of America and not mention race or British colonialism. That includes how law enforcement treats its Black communities. I agree the British population taking on the US narrative is problematic. We need to write our own story and look at commonalities when they present themselves.
I further agree that over the years “institutional racism”, as popularised by Macpherson (1999) has become synonymous with saying all police are raicst. Especially, with my generation, where Stephen Lawrence is not in our popular memory. Mark Duggan is more our Stephen Lawrence moment and yet, I admit our race literacy needs a lot of work. Steve talks about his experience of students finding out he was once police. When I found out, I was in shock, that I liked him! I also have the same distrust of police his students have, because my family’s history with police is not a positive one.
However, with a name like Stephen ‘Steve’ Hallam, I’m quite surprised I did not clock it sooner, as it sounds like it came straight out of The Bill! With Steve, I don’t see the ego or the attituide I see in other officers. Nor the inability to talk about race in policing. I just see a man who was once an officer and is astute enough to admit that the service is flawed, and in that I think he might be an anomaly. That’s a first for me, and that includes my introductions to Black British and British-Asian officers who refuse to acknowledge that you cannot talk about policing without stories of race. I understand Steve feels attacked by what’s going on. Yet, I would say this is nothing new. Black people as victims of police officers goes back to 1919 and the events surrounding the Liverpool Race Riots, where a Black man was lynched by a white mob at Albert Docks. It also speaks to riots in Notting Hill (1958) Detroit (1967) Brixton (1981) and Toxeth (1981).
I would answer Steve’s comment on police distrust and Black communities with stories about racism, as this is a tale blessed by history, in both this country and the United States of America. Whether we call them police, or slave catchers for the criminal justice system is another question. I think many of the answers lie in the history books and for people to truly investigate the relationship between criminality and race as a construct.
Watching A House in Time, David Olusoga shows me that history is more accessible than we think it is. It is fact-finding and contextualising; it is soul-searching and joining dots. It’s making links and telling stories. It looks a lot like journalism. Steve asks “how can community relations be fixed?” My response is, I’m not sure they can. Because they are not broken. The system was designed that way, a system that privileges certain people as “[…] white privilege is an absence of the negative consequences of racism… an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost” (Eddo-Lodge, 2017: 86) and this is no more evident than how The Police police communities of colour, regardless if that’s by Black or white officers.
Steve says ” […] most policing seems to take place in areas of deprivation where the disadvantaged are committing crimes against the disadvantaged” and it so happens you are more likely to be in poverty in Britain if you are not white [Institute of Race Relations, 2020]. Class issues exasperated by a racial prejudice endemic in British culture. A societal racism that I do not believe will be improved by legislation. Black skepticism to police, is under a wider umbrella of skepticism to authority bodies, since we have no reason to trust them. This is a skepticism evidenced by history: from colonialism to Grenfell to deaths in police custody to stolen DNA to Black and brown
people as labrats being experimented on by scientists; so, is it surprising why Black and brown communities are more skeptical of authorities, even now as COVID vaccines are being targeted at those very same communities?
Some of the answers to Steve’s questions about racist police may lie in stereotyping. However, the story of racism is deep-rooted in how race was made. Race is constructed, so in theory it can be unmade. Police are an easy target for racism because it is so public. And when there is a scandal, it really goes big. Every institution is racist, yet policing is so easy to scrutinise because it is wide open, rather than curricula in the education sector which quite evidently panders to a white supremacist model of knowledge.
Steve goes on to talk about his dissertation student that held bias against police due to bad experiences of racism. Steve says “policing is dominated by white males and despite recruitment drives to address the ethnicity gap, this really hasn’t been that successful. If it was meant to help solve a problem, it hasn’t.” Do police want to address these problems or simply want to be seen to address them? Virtue signalling 101, especially in light of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement when it is now popular to be seen to be advocating for diversity, inclusion and anti-racist causes.
It is beyond reasonable doubt The Police are guilty of racism, but that is not exclusive to the boys in blue. It’s a symptom of a society that fosters a culture of race hate, and that goes back centuries. In Staying Power, historian Peter Fryer talks about the links between transatlantic slavery and the demonology of race, through influential racist writers and “Africans were not merely devilish, monstrous, ape-like, lustful, treachourous and given to cannibalism. They were also inherrently lazy: ‘generally idle and ignorant'” (Charles II’s hydrographer qtd in Fryer, 1984: 143). Scary stuff.
Society made race, racism is a symptom; and the rich, wealthy political elite have benefited from it ever since.
Steve writes about policing from a vantage of privilege, but that does not make his experiences any less valid. We are in a time of reactive policing rather than policing by consent. People of colour, espeically Black communities draw the short straw. The term ‘police racism’ is problematic because it speaks to “The Police and The Rest”. There is racism and that impacts everyone. There is specific anti-Blackness, which is global and practiced by all ethnicities. ‘Police racism’ and ‘police brutality’ are scabs that hide the more important nasty tumour of embedded white supremacy.
In this time, it would do well for us all to remember that this convenient term ‘police brutality’ is not exclusive to white racists. Black and other minority police are just as problematic. It’s not just white supremacy problem, it’s a supremacy problem that comes with the police as an institution. And how the badge comes before blackness. Black police officers historically shell out for white power. Stephen shells out for Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Django Unchained. Boris leans on the model minority in recruiting British-Asian MPs to his cabinet but they are just as problematic as white MPs that get branded with the label of racist.
Steve’s experiences are valid even if they are through the lens of white male privilege. I agree in fixing society you will fix policing. Policing is part of the rotten tree I call societal racism, and so is education and corporate. It is very easy to throw policing under the bus; but British society is racist, it’s the society we live in and this label fits like a white glove.
DiAngelo, R. (2019). White Fragility. London: Allen Lane.
Eddo-Lodge, R. (2017). Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury.
Fryer, P. (1984). Staying Power. London: Pluto Press.
Gilroy, R (2019). Mental health detention rate over four times higher for black people. Nursing Times [online]. Available from: https://www.nursingtimes.net/news/mental-health/mental-health-detention-rate-over-four-times-higher-for-black-people-30-10-2019/
Home Office. (1999). The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. (Chair: William Macpherson). London: TSO.
Inquest (2017). BAME deaths in police custody’, inquest.org.uk, [online]. Available from: https://www.inquest.org.uk/bame-deaths-in-police-custody
Institute of Race Relations (2020). ‘INEQUALITY, HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT STATISTICS’, irr.org.uk, [online]. Available from: http://www.irr.org.uk/research/statistics/poverty/
Ministry of Justice (2017). The Lammy Review. (Chairperson: David Lammy MP). London: TSO.
Dear All. I hope you are well. Since I’m now at the end of my tenure with the Students’ Union, I thought I ought to address the future. And to those of you that have had meetings with me over the past year, I am grateful for your help and allyship. I hope this is not the end, but the beginning. Many of us have told ourselves that we are all equal but we know how false that is. This is not the time for idealism and I am sure you know that I do not stint when it comes to social justice, particularly with race. In the tint of an international civil rights movement against racism and racial inequality, the latest victims of white supremacy in the United States have made myself, students and other like-minded individuals think about issues closer to home.
That in this county, Black people are nearly nine times more likely to be stopped by the police than white people (Stopwatch); that in Britain, 184 Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic [BAME] people have died in police custody since 1990 (Inquest) – that in youth offenders’ prisons, over 40% are from BAME backgrounds [Lammy Review, 2017]. All this is before I begin to talk about the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on people of colour, in terms of deaths and infection. These are our students and their families.
Out of this, I am deeply concerned over the future of race equality at the University. The statement that was released on June 4 was vague. It didn’t go into detail on really anything and it felt performative. Honestly, I’m quite perturbed by the their reaction to Black Lives Matter and the protests; this is not the time to be apolitical when massive portions of the University community are experiencing racial trauma (including the genetic trauma that comes with being descendants of the Transatlantic Slave Trade), and the Black members of staff having to maintain professionalism!
And the fact it so long to release a statement (11 days after George Floyd’s murder), makes me uncomfortable. Notwithstanding, it took a tweet from me to get things moving. Racism is not a comfortable subject, nor should it be; it is nasty and the University needs to understand that.
From Wednesday, I will no longer be your Vice President BME at the SU and there is no intention to replace me. Already, the next sabbaticals have arrived. Are they as interested in equalities as the last team? Well, we won’t know until they acculturate to their roles. Whether that is on decolonising the curriculum or the state of race in higher education, I really couldn’t say. However, I have plenty of thoughts and even recommendations that the University can implement. Yet, I am worried the institution is not willing to have this conversation, nor hear the unpleasantness that comes with discourse and discussions on the state of race relations in this country.
I have lots of ideas about curriculum and disciplinaries, also policing and security (yes anti-racist work is more than posts on social media, and yes I agree social media is useful).
From an outsider’s perspective, the University response to Black Lives Matter looks nothing more than virtue signalling. At the moment, I do not think it takes these issues seriously at all. Now leaving altogether, I am still going to be in the area. And, I am still willing have this conversation in my role as an incredibly concerned member of the local community, a place that has been my home for nearly 20 years of my short but active nearly 25 years fighting and experiencing racism in this country and county.
Nothing about Black Lives Matter is comfortable, and issues with policing in the US are also happening here. Students that currently study with the University can relate to the plight of George Floyd’s family, and the other victims of police violence. And the University needs to understand that Black Lives Matter goes beyond policing. Black Lives Matter goes to awarding gaps, accommodation, curriculum, disciplinaries and more. Black Lives Matter is every institution’s problem, particularly in higher education.
I am willing to start this conversation now, as a preemptive strategy to help the University long-term. This institution sees an awful lot of bad press from local media and also from the community, but it really doesn’t have to be that way. I so want to see this place succeed, as I know it can (if it takes these issues seriously, and takes the help of concerned community members, including myself, and others who I know who are also concerned about the University’s approach towards issues of race). In the sense, its approach to these subjects is nonspecific. “BAME” doesn’t help anyone.
What HEIs more generally should be doing is looking at the subtleties of race and identity, since BAME doesn’t take look at nuance or cultural heritage, locking culture, history and identity into a draw never to be seen again.
What the University is currently doing is not good enough. Advertising the diversity of students whilst simulataneously not investigating issues that hurt students, including racism. Diversity is a con, as it:
“often creates a happy impression; it is how an organisation appears(Ahmed, 2018: 334).
welcoming to those who appear different by drawing on those who appear different. Diversity can appear as an invitation, an open door, translated into a minorities welcome! Come in, come in”
There is a scab over a tumour throughout the sector. That tumour is institutional racism. Sir William Macpherson spoke about this in the Macpherson Report, investigating the flawed police investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Wendy Williams doesn’t mention it by name, but she doesn’t need to, in Windrush Lessons Learned. Neither did Baroness McGregor-Smith in her review into race at work. Whilst these are not HE-specific, they all have correlations with universities. Institutional violence is pervasive in all institutions. Look at the relevant recommendations.
Now more than ever, in this historical moment, with Black Lives Matter and Coronavirus; as an institution, it should be studying institutional racism and structural inequalities, but more importantly and specifically, institutional violence. Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 are linked. Health and race have a history that go back to the days of the Windrush Generation when the women of that generation were called to fill labour shortages that still exist today. Especially, in healthcare, pertinent when we are currently in the worst public health crisis since the Spanish Flu in 1918.
To understand race, we must study racism, how it came to be and why. Which would mean interrogating higher education’s ties to histories of slavery, empire and colonialism. Race doesn’t exist, it’s a construct. It was created. We must stumble around in the dark and come face-to-face with the architects of colonial racial thinking. The people that allowed British colonialism to be so successful. That’s one way we help students.
We know who constructed Nazism and that ideology because how Britain defeated Hitler is embedded into the national consciousness. So, why should we treat Britain’s colonial history any different? We need to find the Joseph Goebells characters of the British Empire and study them.
Penultimately, I will end in asking why the University made the FBL BAME Project Lead redundant in July 2019?* A person whose job it was to do research into the ethnicity award gap. Someone who wrote reports and made recommendations. In the axing of this role, I’m inclined to believe the University did not like their recommendations, and thus did not act upon them. The signals it sends that they discontinued this role while the award gap is seemingly important to all universities baffles me.
In addition, does the University intend to replace the Diversity and Inclusion Lead in HR, whose contract ended.* The D&I Lead did some sterling work this last academic year, both in setting up staff networks as well as her work for LGBT History Month and Women’s History Month, all while on fixed-term part-time contract (at two days a week). If the University is going to take equality seriously, it needs to put resources behind it and recruit people that are specialists in that area.
Passionate people that will do the work and two days a week part-time fixed-term is not good enough. Only one staff member with little support? It very much looks like the University is cutting back on equalities. You can do better.
I will end in saying, when we do not look at the roots of a problem, they fester and that hurts everyone. Case in point: racism and policing. And the recommendations in The Macpherson Report have simply remained recommendations. When we want to solve problems, we don’t look to the leaves, we look to the roots so we can stop them happening again. From Wednesday, I will no longer be at the Students’ Union but I will still be a worried, concerned local resident. How the University has responded to Black Lives matter is simply not good enough and if they continue on this path, it risks damaging its reputation beyond belief. You. Can. Do. Better.
However, this needn’t be goodbye, but hello and the start of something. There is a community on your doorstep that want to help. Let us.
Tré Ventour (Vice President BME) – 2019/2020
PS: To anyone, including students that want to discuss issues of race further in this time of uncertainty (as we should all be discussing them always) or simply want to keep in contact, you can message me via the blog or you can get me via social media (Twitter / FB / IG), which is simply my name
*Note from the editors – the Criminology Team has been contacted by a representative of the University’s Human Resources department to clarify that the Equality and Diversity Lead left at the end of the fixed term contract period. In addition there was no redundancy in relation to a post in the Faculty of Business and Law (FBL).
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.
Other Sources of Interest
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategry (2017). Race in the Workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review. (Chairperson: Ruby McGregor-Smith). London: TSO
Home Office. (1999). The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. (Chair: William Macpherson). London: TSO.
Home Office (2017). Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody. (Chairperson: Elish Angiolini). London: TSO.
Home Office (2020). Windrush Lessons Learned Review. (Chairperson: Wendy Williams). London: TSO.
Ministry of Justice (2017). The Lammy Review. (Chairperson: David Lammy MP). London: TSO.
Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council. (2020). ‘Our Nine-Point Plan to Advance Racial Equality in Northamptonshire: June 2020,’ https://northantsrec.org, [online]. Available from: https://northantsrec2013.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/9-point-plan-to-advance-racial-equality-in-northamptonshire-final.pdf
Public Health England. (2020). Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19, (Chairperson: Public Health England). London: TSO.