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The Color Purple, The Musical: What in the Misogynoir?!
TW: mentions of rape, child rape, racism, and misogynoir.
Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple is a story loved around the world. So, when I saw that it was adapted to stage and touring the UK, my interest was peaked just enough to consider a visit to my local theatre the Royal & Derngate in Northampton. A Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome co-production, it came to Northampton in the first week of October. Largely, audiences that frequent my local theatre are overwhelmingly white – thus, watching The Color Purple it was a joy to my heart to hear Black people in my community engaging with the arts, because the last time I heard so many Black people attended, was for Our Lady of Kibeho as part of the R&D’s Made in Northampton season. This dates back to 2019, a production I reviewed for The Nenequirer showing that Northampton(shire) arts has work to do.
Social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram showed me the pretty unanimous positive praise for the Leicester-Birmingham co-production, while local critics also enjoyed it – including reviews from The Chronicle & Echo and The Nenequirer as well as further reviews by The Real Chris Sparkle and Northampton Town Centre BID. However, there were elements of the show that caused me great distress, no less than the perpetuation of misogynoir and racist stereotypes against Black men. It was deeply triggering, showing how historical trauma and vicarious trauma are ever present, including when white organisations have not done the work of protecting Black mental health when producing “Black-centred media.”
At the head of this cast, Me’sha Bryan gives a knockout performance as Celie (previous played by Whoopi Goldberg in the film) accompanied by Aaliya Zhané as Nettie, with Bree Smith as Shug Avery, and brilliant musical numbers grounded in the traditions of blues music that finds its origins in the trauma of enslaved Africans in the American South. They sang when “they got the blues” … and as far as performance and the commitment from the cast, I couldn’t ask for better.
However, whilst I have praised the musical numbers above, I did not believe it fitted with the tones of The Color Purple curating a rift between what the actors were saying and doing on stage, and the intonations of the music – as well as the lighting design. And despite the directorial position deciding the rape of a child wasn’t musical material (rightly so), the choice to have it as a passing detail with no further discussion, I found particularly off-key. This is one of the moments that highlights that The Color Purple may not have been musical material and better considered as a serious drama. I did not walk away feeling that bleak, much ado with contradictory lighting choices to character moods. The characters were feeling one away and lights did something else. By the by, rather than skip over the rape to maintain “the musicalness”, it may have been more effective to have done this story as a stage drama (with musical elements, if at all). The horrors depicted at the beginning of the novel are pretty nonexistent in musical.
So, this recent adaptation was a disappointment. Not from an acting point of view but behind-the-scenes pre-production elements like direction. The start of story includes a fourteen year-old who births two children after being raped by her father. So, the amount of trauma that exists around child sexual abuse and rape appear unconsidered when they glossed over these parts of the story. Furthermore, I do question if they consulted with any survivors when doing research for this adaptation. A ‘sensitivity consultant’ would not have gone amiss either, further to considerations of intersectionality and how cultural nuances in global, but still different Black communities, will be interpreted by white people, especially in provincial Little England.
Blown away by the musical abilities of the cast, stage productions (like much art) are often labelled as “escapist” so is not afforded the same criticality as for example – policing, education, sport and so on – we are all guilty of this and we can do better. This may be art; there were no redeeming Black characters, and Black men calling Black women “ugly” (written into the script) in full face of a white audience is cultural violence. In Northampton, the large white audience laughed at this example of ableist misogynoir, and in many ways this production felt to be played up for white audiences. Lots of white people are not used to seeing Black people as full human beings, and I do feel the play draws out our humanity. And by proxy centres white comfort with a Black aesthetic reinforced by white supremacy in media.
Disability justice activist Talia Lewis has released definitions of ableism every year since 2019. In January 2022, she discussed ableism as a violent social discourse that values people’s bodies and minds according to societally constructed ideas of “normalcy, productivity, desirability, intelligence, excellence and fitness …” Lewis (2022) states that these ideas are embedded in other violent discourses such as eugenics, capitalism, misogyny and white supremacy. The adaptation of these characters is only part of this debate, where another part may want to consider how this play has informed everpresent white superemacism pervasive across Northamptonnshire. It may impact how local white audiences may view Black people when they perceive that in this cultural text – ‘this is how Black people talk and act around each other.’
“This systemic oppression leads to people and society determining people’s value based on their culture, age, language, appearance, religion, birth or living place, “health/wellness”, and/or their ability to satisfactory re/produce, “excel” and “behave.” You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.”Talia Lewis (2022)
In Homegrown (hooks and Mesa-Bains, 2017), bell hooks tell us “We have to constantly critique imperialist white supremacist patriarchal culture because it is so normalized by mass media and rendered unproblematic. The products of mass media offer the tools of the new pedagogy.” Theatre is no different to films, literature or television programmes. Watching the musical, it struck me how the numbers of people who haven’t done the work of unlearning their own white supremacy would be impacted by such an adaptation (yes, as we know all humans can reproduce these isms but in a global western context, however, white supremacy has put white people on the top of that racial hierarchy).
One instance of misogynoir and ableism was underpinned by the three Black women singers (their character names escape me) who were written as Sassy Black Women inherently “comedifying” Black womanhood. Brilliant singers, but were written lazily reinforcing a damaging cultural media narrative that diminishes the three-dimensional personhoods of Black women. This was offered with no alternative. The Hypersexual Jezebel (named after the “sinful” Biblical character) appears in numbers of characters while Sofia was written as the Strong Black Woman. Black men were then written as violent, comedic relief, illiterate, and other harmful stereotypes, and domestic abuser Mr Albert is redeemed to the sound of musical harmonies and joyful lighting.
At a Northampton level, the critics from local media revisited a culture of uncritically discussing art. Stories aren’t just stories but a product of the society that created them, and we are a society that finds it easier to challenge the criminal justice system than it does liberal arts institutions, in spite of both having a say in how Black people are viewed and treated. Despite “Black theatre” not being genre, we need more shows at the Derngate that centre Blackness in Britain. And whilst commissioning and hosting shows about ‘Black issues’ is not evidence of an anti-racist commitment, it would be nice to see more shows locally about Black people in the UK by Black people.
When we do get “Black stories”, they so often centre the US, most recently The Color Purple (Oct, 2022) and Two Trains Running (Sept, 2019) – denying local audiences a context for Blackness within the United Kingdom, while recentring American Blacknesses is gaslighting through art. In November, Dreamgirls centring American Blackness is coming to the Derngate. A co-production between The Curve and the Birmingham Hippodrome, this adaptation of The Color Purple was deeply problematic on many levels that local white critics may not have picked up on because of their whiteness – drawn in by a spectacle of a “Black show”, viewed through a white gaze that is unused to talking about white supremacy as a political structure.
The white audience for these misogynoir tropes specifically – largely one of laughter – reminded me of the white gaze, with white laughter as eased white supremacy. Whiteness continues to pervade through ‘acceptable racism’ where serious digs made at Black people in-text laughed at by white people may show how white people may think about Black people in designated white spaces. A Black man seriously calling a Black woman ugly and a white audience laughing at that is incredibly revealing – a comfortableness in spaces coded as white … and how white people may act when thinking and talking about Black people in private (i.e in spaces coded as culturally white and desgined to their comfort).
“I grew up in a culture of bantering and, ngl, I love a caustic riposte. And while in certain ways I resent the current policing of language, there is a distinction. I hate to break it to you, but a “joke” in which the gag is that the person is black isn’t a joke, it’s just racism disguised as humor. A joke told to a white audience where the punch line is a racist stereotype isn’t a joke, again it’s just racism; if there is only one black person present, it’s also cowardly and it’s bullying. Jokes of this nature probably aren’t funny for black people.”Emma Dabiri (2021: 98)
Art imitating life is one thing, but when life imitates art is another. White laughter at Black people in cultural media texts goes back to the days when blackface was on the BBC (until 1978). To see this platformed by a local arts institution then profiting from it, is revealing of how whiteness is performed and profited from, when white people think they’re not being watched. Creatives have a responsibility and so do those institutions that platform them.
Myself and fellow blogger @haleysread discuss this further in our prior entries about the scandal surrounding Jimmy Carr and Netflix. On that October evening, being one of the few Black people in the audience, it was incredibly uncomfortable. To consider art uncritically is to be entertained from a vantage point of privilege (or ignorance). Attending with my friend, to see unanimous positive feedback from the public made us feel a way, no less than from many Black people. We must always be critical; being critical is not the same as criticising, and those who are critical only take the time to be so because we care.
It is not about individual actors but about the lack of critique of institutional platforming in producing “art” that goes on to cause harm. Another fellow blogger Stephanie @svr2727 talked about misogynoir and the media in her recent webinar with the Criminology Team and Black Criminology Network. Violent mistakes in arts productions show a need not for more historical consultants, but sensitivity readers and empathy viewers. One cannot teach empathy, you either have it or you do not. Extending this gaze to screen media texts as well like Bridgerton and others, it is a further reminder that social scientists are needed at the very top of media … especially those of us that research about race, racism, and other forms of violence.
These cultural texts are rehearsed, edited, and considered by multiple hands before any public audience sees them. So, why are we still having to challenge? Simple: misogynoir, ableism, and whiteness are institutionalised and normalised socially and culturally into our day-to-day practice. No less than in “liberal” arts institutions.
“Nothing but a circus, with clowns and all.” – Malcolm X
RACIST BRITAIN: Abolishing London Met is the Only Reasonable Move
NB: While the term ‘abolition’ has often been used in reference to African Chattel Enslavement, it is also used in the context of police and prisons. i.e the work of Angela Davis has long advocated for prison abolition, while police abolition and #DefundthePolice were debated at the pique of the Black Lives Matter movement. Especially when US Congressperson Cori Bush used the slogan on her winning ticket.
In a UK context, police abolition specifically may be considered even more so, following the Murder of Sarah Everard and the two incidents of police terrorism from London Met on Black and Brown children: most infamously on Child Q and even more recently in the ordeal of an autistic Mixed-Race fourteen year-old, who like Child Q was strip-searched while menstruating on their period. A third strip-search victim has now been reported, but their race has not been stated (as of June 2022).
With consistent cuts since the arrival of the Conservatives in 2010, it could be argued British policing has been defunded for some time (Fleetwood and Lea, 2022) where in response to “Defund the Police” Kier Starmer called it “just nonsense”. Following the second anniversary of the Murder of George Floyd, I am not sure what has changed, and in some cases, we are worse off than we were in June 2020 (i.e Nationality Bill, Policing Bill, Sewell Report). However, Sarah Everard and Child Q are simply two examples in a trajectory of incidents by London Met that show the problems within policing are not only symptomatic of society, but that only defunding will not go far enough in combatting something that is also sociocultural and ideological. Simply, joining the police does not make a person racist, misogynist (etc etc), but culture and ideology via power can exasperate the biases people have within them.
Whilst in my time writing for the blog, I have scarcely touched policing, it is not a topic I am unfamilar with as I was stopped and searched for the first and only time when I was fourteen years old in an encounter which I now know could be described as “adultification” (Dancy III, 2014; Epstein and Colleages, 2017). As a Black person, this is not a topic one can just escape as many of us will have had friends and / or family members who have been negatively impacted by experiences with the Police. Teaching on Violence (CRI3003) this academic year, it radicalised me further against The Police institution pertinently with the class on the Shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Not just the shooting itself, but how London Metropolitan Police dealt with the aftershocks in their shoddy police work and incredibly violent mistakes.
Yet, as a Black person I am more familiar with the killings of Edson Da Costa, Rashan Charles, Joy Gardner, Sarah Reed, and even the events that lead to the Brixton Uprisings (1981). Moreover, the police terrorism at Mangrove (1970), and events surrounding uprisings in Nottingham and Notting Hill in 1958. So, this culture of overpolicing to the extent that few Black people I know have anything good to say about them, let alone London Met, has something to be said for it. Black people have long felt underprotected and you cannot train white supremacy out of an organisation who are fundamentally colonial soldiers.
The way London Metropolitan Police deal with students, protesters, women, and other marginalised groups is deplorable. Often the police skirt around their violent decision-mistaking, by describing it as “failure” but I do not believe this goes far enough. The term failure implies there were prior attempts to engage. Yet, so often they haven’t tried to engage with others, including marginalised communities (not that this is exclusive to policing). However, what appears more obvious is the lack of effort to look at themselves, as we saw when the Met claimed they didn’t see Wayne Couzens (the murderer of Sarah Everard) as one of their own even despite using his status as a police officer to kidnap and kill a woman (he was the sacrifice for patriarchy). The Met then stormed the vigil held in her memory.
Britain needs police but I am not sure we need The Police. What policing looks like needs to change, and it must be a policing that puts the most vulnerable first and asks questions why these people are vulnerable. The inquiry into the Prime Minister’s wine and cheese parties is allegedly being led by Deputy Commissioner Bas Javid (the brother of Health Secretary Sajid Javid). Defunding London Met would only go so far as to redivert resources, but the more critical questions around culture and ideology would standfast. No less than in considering the nature of gilded circles. Reform often does not change anything other than show us the problems are thousands times worse than once thought.
Last year, the 1987 murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan was revisited, and even in the 1980s London Met were considered corrupt. Abolishing the Metropolitan Police and starting anew is the only reasonable measure whether we are talking about racism, miosgyny or even out and out corruption and cronyism. However, it is not just the Met but The Police wholescale. Just as an example, South Yorkshire police have not faced repercussions from Hillsborough while West Yorkshire have not been held accountable over Jimmy Savile. The police’s problems are not in bad apples, and food scientists will tell you how one “bad apple” is enough to spoil the bunch. When we were children, how many of us had friends our parents didn’t like, and then these friends “spoilt” the dynamics of the group? After Joy Gardner, Blair Peach, Daniel Morgan, Stephen Lawrence, and others, it’s clear The Met (and Policing) is rotten to the core and that includes how it traps good and bad officers too. Systems > Individuals.
Though, we all know that when we are presented a reckoning of sorts, it will be led by establishment patsies and not the people who understand what it means to be on the recieving end of persistent institutional violence. The phrase “Abolish the Police” strikes fear into a good many people and that’s the problem. The culture of our politics has paralysed our thinking of a different world. As a population, we are so psychologically colonised by what we can see, to imagine a a different world is truly terrifying.
RACIST BRITAIN – “Skin is a Passport”: When You Are the white Shade of Asylum Seeker …
NB: In this blog the term ‘white’ will be used to describe those racialised as white within the UK as a white nation (Hage, 1998; Hunter, 2010), and those that benefit the most from white privilege. Though many Ukranian asylym seekers may in cases be racialised as white, their culture sits juxtaposed to the dominant thus ‘not white enough’, so may not always be seen as white by white British people (see what Kalwant Bhopal writes on this in the context of Gypsy Roma Travellers (2018: 29-47). Noel Ignatiev’s book How the Irish Became White may show another context in relation to Irish migration into the United States.
“Extending the gaze to whiteness enables us to observe the many shades of difference that lie within this category – that some people are ‘whiter’ than others, some are not white enough and many are inescapably cast beneath the shadow of whiteness” (Nayak, 2007).
People tell me I spend too much time thinking and need to actually write the thing I spend so much time thinking about! However, with this blog about Ukraine, I did not want to jump on the journalistic bandwagon of being “the first” or “right”, but being thoughtful. I wanted to offer something different to mainstream consensus of “big evil Putin”, and talk about some of the discourses to race that I have been thinking about in relation to the images I have seen over the last months (much inspired by tweets, threads, and conversations lead by many Black and Brown scholars on Twitter).
Following the University’s response to the crisis, it brought me to consider how there has been more “action” than in prior crises, including Black Lives Matter and Free Palestine. For those of us descended from Black and Brown migrants who came to Britain between the 1948 Nationality Act and 1971 Immigration Act, I do not have to explain the pernicious ways British foreign policy has often tried to keep Black and Brown people out and white people in. For example, the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill that seeks to criminalise asylum seekers, and introduce powers to revoke the citizenship of those with dual nationality (likely to impact up to six million people). When we critique the racist double standards in their response to Ukraine, white people are surprised while Black and Brown people are not.
The ease to which Britain adjusted to the cause of white Ukranians but did not and have not adjusted – to not only overseas crises in Somalia, the Yemen, and Palestine – but also at home in Europe to Black Lives Matter … is deplorable. Meanwhile numbers of Black and Brown asylum seekers are left to drown in the Channel. Seemingly, when white lives are on the line, things move! As Olena Lyubchenko writes, “Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-determination are increasingly understood by local elites to be bound up with incorporation into ‘fortress Europe’ and the making of the ‘Ukrainian nation’ as ‘white’ and ‘European.’”
The way organisations rallied around the Ukraine crisis shows when it is politically relevant to white structures and institutions, and it comes to white lives, there is a will and a way to go above and beyond what is reasonable. Meanwhile organisations that made Black Lives Matter statements in 2020 are giving lip service to anti-racism in their celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (ahem) and gaining influence from it. Yet, equality commitments extended to Ukranian asylum seekers are not extended to Black and Brown people, both those domiciled in white nations and those migrating from areas of the Global South – where a white nation can be described as a country “… whose self-understanding, collective symbolic and affective practices, as well as material relations, are enacted through the naturalisation of whiteness via processes of external … and internal … colonisation of Black subjects” (Hunter, 2015).
If there is to be an example of ‘white solidarity’, the British response to the war in Ukraine is certainly among them. For people not racialised as white, though what’s happening in Ukraine is awful, when similar things happen to Black and Brown people, white institutions do not rush to our defense. Whether it is Somalia, the Yemen, Palestine or other Black / Brown countries, white supremacy is very much in play in whose lives are seen of worth. The treatment of Black and Brown students fleeing Ukraine at the border is also of note in the face of white supremacy and Neo-Nazism itself.
In dominant media discourse, Black and Brown people continue to be dehumanised. A pattern of constructing white Europeanness as civilised in juxtaposition to “senseless” conflicts in the Global South continue. A way of thinking that Edward Said long pointed out in his discussion of the East / West binary in Orientalism stating it as “… the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it” (Said, 1979: 3). This behaviour finds itself in ‘whiteness as ownershhip” (Harris, 1993), and through the white institution of the media making claims about the Global South “Describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (Said, 1979: 3).
The above quote from Charlie D’Agata as well, also revisits colonial formations of that term “white” as civilised yet at the same time othering “Black” and “Brown” as something uncivilised.
Maya Goodfellow writes:
“As they plundered, exploited and brutally controlled colonies and the people in them, all to enrich Britain as part of the growth of the capitalist project, colonialists swore by the racial hierarchy. Whiteness was not simply a descriptor; it was used to give anchor to the idea that Europe was the place of modernity and civilisation. White Europeans – in particular white upper-class men – were thought inherently modern and sophisticated; their black and brown counterparts, the opposite. The former, human; the latter, not. These ideas live on, subtly drawing a line between the developed and the developing, the advanced and the backward” (Goodfellow, 2019: 51)
The University of Northampton’s response did not really do anything, much in the same trajectory as their 2020 Black Lives Matter statement. Words lost behind inaction with no reference to Russian and Ukranian students studying at the university, nor the continuous racial trauma Black and Brown students are forced to experience. Only this time to see Black and Brown people victim yet again to ‘white terrorism’ (hooks, 1992; Yancy, 2017). For people racialised outside of whiteness, countries like Britain can be a wasteland with no escape. And this is when we are forced to create “safe spaces” seperate from the dominant.
I am not an immigrant to this country, though racialised outside of whiteness often places me as a “space invader” (Puwar, 2004) and means I can be treated like I am from somewhere else both “internally” and “externally” colonised (Hunter, 2015) in this white nation fantasy (Hage, 1998). As Black and Brown migrant bodies continue to be drowned in the seas, the 2020 Netflix film His House positions the experiences of Black asylum seekers fleeing South Sudan as pure horror. To think, the only reason people flee their countries like that and chance the seas, is if what you’re fleeing is scarier than the unknown of your destination. “Be one of the good ones” says the social worker (Matt Smith) with a wry smile.
The war in Ukraine reminds us that whiteness constitutes itself differently for those read as white, where in Britain the treatment of Gypsy Roma Traveller [GRT] people follows this pattern. Further to the treatment of Eastern Europeans such as Polish and Romanian immigrants. The legal rights of GRT people will be eroded further should the government’s Crime, Policing and Sentencing Bill reach fruition. Whiteness is as exclusively about being white as patriarchy is exclusively about being a man. It’s much more complex, but we do not get to the crux in our media culture of sound bites and simplistic answers to complex questions. Discussions about racism needs to change to extend the gaze to many shades of whiteness.
Emma Dabiri writes:
“The myth of a unified white ‘race’ makes white people, from what are in truth distinct groups, better able to identify common ground with each other and to imagine kinship and solidarity with others racialized as ‘white’, while at the same time withholding the humanity of racialized others. The ability of whiteness to create fictive kinships where differences might outweigh similarities, or where one ‘white’ group thrives and prospers through the exploitation of another ‘white’ group, all united under the rubric of whiteness constructs at the same time a zone of exclusion for racialized ‘others’, where in fact less expected affinities and even cultural resonances might reside.
In truth, this is the work of whiteness, whose invention was to serve that function. Saying that all “white” people are the same irrespective of say, culture, nationality, location, and class literally does the work of whiteness for it. But despite the continuities of whiteness – the sense of superiority that is embedded in its existence – we cannot disregard the differences that exist. This demands a truthful reckoning with the fact that the particulars of whiteness, as well as the nature of the relationship between black and white, will show up differently in different countries and require the crafting of different responses.”From: What White People Can Do Next (2021: 45-46)
Emma Dabiri’s What White People Can Do Next (2021) follows David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness (1991), Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White (1995), Matthew Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color (1998) and Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People (2010), all of which in some way show how different white groups have modifiers attached when talking about “white people.” This must be discussed interlocking with other factors including culture, place/geography, and class. Through Roediger, Ignatiev, Jacobson, Painter, Dabiri, and other scholars, we can see how whiteness splits and mutates to serve its purpose of divide and rule, and really how white supremacy may also negatively impact against those read as white and ‘not white enough’ in different ways.
Social discourses to Palestine and Black Lives Matter are two examples of Black and Brown lives being beyond the interest of white institutions, while Ukraine reminds us in spite of their reality, white lives matter more. In 1985, co-founder of Critical Race Theory Derrick Bell coined a term called ‘interest convergence’ to describe the way US civil rights only became a priority when it met the “interests” of white people. Ukraine in much the same way is a declaration of white solidarity, where under white supremacy whiteness will always protect itself over the interests of those racialised outside of it.
For as long as the invention of race has ‘existed’, the protection of white interests (ownership – see Cheryl Harris) has always trumped the protection of Black and Brown lives. Ukraine aside, to think the police are there to protect you is a mark of privilege when it is the job of the police to uphold the status quo which implicates upholding white supremacy. Black and Brown students at the border were just “objects” to be moved out of the way, no different to how Black and Brown students are seen and treated on the streets in the Global North including at school and university campuses.
Nirmal Puwar writes
“There is an undeclared white masculine body underlying the universal construction of the enlightenment ‘individual’. Critics of the universal ideal human type in Western thought elaborate on the exclusionary somebody in the nobody of political theory that proclaims to include everybody. In the face of a determined effort to disavow the (male) body, critics have insisted that the ‘individual’ is embodied, and that it is the white male figure, of a changing habitus, who is actually taken as the central point of reference. The successive unveiling of the disembodied human ‘individual’ by class theorists, feminists and race theorists has collectively revealed the corporeal specificity of the absolute human type. It is against this template, one that is defined in opposition to women and non-whites – after all, these are the relational terms in which masculinity and whiteness are constituted – that women and ‘black’ people who enter these spaces are measured” (Puwar, 2004: 141).
The constructing of ‘white’ as neutral is central to white supremacy and this is also what makes Diversity and Inclusion such a problem (Bhanot, 2015). However, the Ukraine crisis further shows how whiteness can come with qualifiers and that white supremacy will use those seen as ‘less white’ to discriminate against those (overtly … schema-wise) marked outside of that ‘white’ category. Tao Leigh Goffe tweeted “Skin is a passport. Epidermal citizenship”, in my opinion to act as a double meaning. Firstly, that skin is a literal passport and can grant citizenship through various levels of “white-skin privilege” (Allen and Ignatiev, 1967; McIntosh, 1988; Kyla Lacey, 2017; Eddo-Lodge, 2017; Bhopal and Henderson, 2021).
However, there could be a further meaning to mean a passport through spaces coded as white, and citizenship in certain spaces that Black and Brown people would not be granted entry to. So, our discussions around whiteness must extend to how it appears through various social markers including class, gender, culture, political affiliation and more. If the Ukraine crisis is to be our conduit, it shows our conversations and knowledge-building around whiteness must extend from what one scholar names as “the more fasionable white privilege” into a more critical conversation about white supremacy (Mills, 2004: 31) where whiteness can work like a virus – mutating, splitting, growing, reproducing, adapting, multiplying (Seshadri-Crooks, 2000; Chow, 2002; Wiegman, 2012).
We have work to do!
RACIST BRITAIN – ‘Uncommon Wealth’: Colonialism in the Present Tense
The main title for this piece comes from a book of the same namesake by Kojo Koram.
Plantations and pub gardens; afternoon tea, cakes, caps, graduation gowns and colonial statues; white supremacist symbols upon symbols. An (in)visible web of arcane history blurring the lines between chants for anti-racism in schools and schools of white thought celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the ‘Best of British’. No politician, no lawyer, no academic could keep up with such walking contradictions, even the Tories and their wine and cheese soirées or a university vice chancellor mired in scandal! These entanglements even make the Prime Minister look modest.
Who wants consistency in anti-racist commitments when you can have fantasy? Who wants to talk of motifs to enslavers when you can munch on crumpets? Who wants punishment collars when there’s a national holiday and a pint in the sunshine? Pull away the veil and what are we left with? A country that boasts about multiculturalism and anti-racism in one breath, and the seemingly unconnected Platinum Jubilee in the next. Tell a story with the bite of Ozymindias, and even the most staunch anti-racists will be sitting down for a nice sherry come the Jubilee. What these narratives do, is “spectacularise” individuals and that is the power of storytelling. It turns human beings into gods and this is mass media marketing to the very extreme. Her name is Elizabeth Queen of Queens, look upon this mighty charade and despair.
Following anti-colonial resistance in the Caribbean to royal visits, current Jubilee celebrations on the British side of the Atlantic appear insensitive (these visits are simply a catalyst, not an exclusive … they were always problematic). However, as I wonder the Northampton streets I grew up on, admiration for The Crown does not seem to waiver amid local and chain businesses, seemingly having learned nothing from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. The same institutions who posted solidarity statements that summer … colonisations of the mind remains ever-present (wa Thiong’o, 1986) in Northampton’s pubs, shops, theatres, and other institutions. While the Queen’s neck grows crooked under stolen loot, hypocrites swarm to the announcement of a national holiday. What short memories human beings have.
During a pandemic that has had a devastating impact on business (especially independent businesses), one cannot blame them taking every chance they get to recuperate losses. Yet, to do so with empire and colonialism still kicking is just not cricket. Neoliberalism, better known as neoliberal capitalism trumps all with a back-handed flag-waving jingoistic holiday while more activists will run to Buckingham Palace this summer when they get called for their gong. Arising … superficially validated by the same empire project that sustains “equal access to unjust systems” (Manzoor-Khan, 2019: 81). They need a gong over the head! I can feel this to be another long summer, full of actions that undermine pushes for lasting change. Admittedly, I am not beyond critique, but claiming to be anti-racist while peddling support for the Queen’s Jubilee is the baseline for what not to do.
With civil unrest in the Caribbean and anti-racism debates on this side of the Atlantic still growing strong, the level of cognitive dissonance must be astronomical to peddle anti-racism while celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee. It appears many people and their dogs have jumped on the imperial carriage to celebrate someone whose very existence undermines the best of Britain. In the same year the Colston Four were acquitted by a public jury for dispatching the Bristolian enslaver into the river, we celebrate someone in much the same symbol of pillage and plunder. Deplorable does not begin to describe it.
While I see people saying that the Queen did not benefit from colonialism in her lifetime, I remind you colonialism isn’t over. Moreover, historic events like the Mau Mau Uprisings (1952-1960) and the Suez Crisis (1956) are well within her reign, further to violent fights for independence within Caribbean Black Power movements. The British Monarchy is a constitutional monarchy, so the Queen has little power as an individual, yet the institution is no less violent than policing, prisons, the Church and others. For all Britain’s flag-waving, we know very little British history. While I do not claim to know all, I remain curious. Though, curiosity to see what lurks in the closet many would rather not know. As I frequent my favourite local venues, my spirit weeps at the sight of union jacks and St George’s flags (a symbol of violence I associate with racism and white supremacy).
The red and white … amid this nationalist fever in the regalia of Brexit, it is a reminder I am unwelcome in the country I have always called home. The acceptance of racist symbols is common in our mainstream, but worse when you see it condoned by your friends. While popularised by Lord Macpherson in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, the term institutional racism in practice goes back centuries. Queen Elizabeth I introduced the Royal Proclomation in 1603 which could be cited as the second act of institutionalised racism on British soil, demanding “Blackamores” be expelled from her kingdom (Fryer, 1984: 12). This was precedented by the 1193 expulsion of the Jews, where Simon DeMontfort (from whom the DeMontfort University gets its name) expelled the Jews from Leicester City (DeMontfort Students’ Union, 2021).
Every monarch from Elizabeth I to George III subsequently gave their blessing to the human trafficking of Black Africans (Hirsch, 2017: 51), thus before British independent traders broke into enslavement the original beneficiaries were the monarchy. As the ‘royal’ in Royal African Company for example, is more than an honorific, but a namesake. The late Tudors and early Stuarts were up to their necks in the blood of Black people (Olusoga, 2017: 22), as were the Georgians and Victorians. Furthermore, the wealth of the monarchy we see now was largely necessitated by colonial ambition. Heck, Victoria was donned Empress of India and Elizabeth I granted the royal charter to the East India Company (Sanghera, 2021: 12).
In his 1916 book Why Men Fight, Bertrand Russell writes how “All our institutions have their historic basis in Authority.” The Crown sits among them, like bloodsucking parasites who gained most of their wealth from stealing from others including the Global South. Yet, Scotland and Wales and Ireland also have their own reasons to dislike the Crown, including the history of the Prince of Wales title which I talked about in an earlier blog (and were still up in the Caribbean doing their colonial nonsense). You have to hand it to the British state, they have perfected the art of brainwashing … convincing large swathes of the oppressed to support the monarchy while also getting the working-class to vote Conservative.
However, with the Platinum Jubilee looming I am disgusted to see numbers of organisations who were posturing Black Lives Matter statements and black squares in the long summer of 2020 now bootlicking the empire itself. It is a reminder to me that within the British Isles that there is still very little public knowledge on the history of The Crown, both as the original colonisers but also as wielders of violence against working-class communities. Those who perfected social murder. Performance and vanity.
For example, after the Murder of George Floyd in June 2020 the University of Northampton posted a BLM statement (nonetheless weak). This statement came from pressure via Twitter (after eleven days of silence, the University posted a statement). This also came with a blog entry, as it was my last as a sabbatical officer. Now, they are holding events in the image of whiteness, colonialism, and racism for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. This sits adjacent to UON’s “efforts” to decolonise the university (recolonise may be a more fitting term). Concurrently, the University held a week-long thread of events about the climate emergency in November 2021 which was a study in whitewashing fitting under the wider banner of whitewashing COP26. And in April 2022, they were voted among the top 25 universities for tackling inequalities in spite of repeated strike action from staff since 2021 over fair pay, pensions, and race / gender pay gaps as part of UCU industrial action nationwide. Make this make sense!!
As someone that was very active that summer and has been since, I have been tested lately thinking about the many people that claim to be anti-oppression while also supporting the Queen and thus, the institution of the monarchy. Discrimination against Harry and Meghan is also of note amid the Royal Family itself, as well as from British media. If you’re a monarchist by all means stand by your beliefs, but don’t try to be so while claiming to be anti-oppression. Worse, as Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin wrote about UK Honours: “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.”
So, if you consider yourself remotely pro-human rights, I would consider thinking about your stance on the monarchy … some of the biggest hoarders of wealth and the epitome of whiteness as ownership (Harris, 1993). The pulling down of Edward Colston; the National Trust audit into stately homes and their links to enslavement and colonialism; anti-colonial uprisings in the Caribbean; the Windrush Scandal and decolonising education are all entangled in this web amid the Jubilee’s nationalist (colonialist white supremacist) fever. Whilst it may be considered British to support the Queen, it is just as British to dissent.
The fight against capitalism certainly includes ‘wealth-hoarders’ pertinently inherited wealth (and those who got it through dubious means). To be anti-racist, we must also be anti-capitalist which fundamentally underpins many intersectional movements. For example, anti-capitalism is vital to disability justice, the class struggle, and LGBT+ rights. And while everyday folks have hopped on to this jubilee band-carriage, I would really question if we should. Abolishing the monarchy is just the starting the point.