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The Innocence of white women

Following the current situation involving Amy Cooper, it felt appropriate to repost this article published here two years ago… Anaïs Duong-Pedica reflects on white fragility, white women’s tears, and the innocence of white women.

Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham, Rose McGowan, Mary Beard… What do these women have in common apart from their popularity, especially within western feminist circles? They are white women who take advantage of their whiteness and who centre it in their feminism. Taylor Swift’s career capitalises on “playing the victim”, a status she can only claim because she is a white woman.  Lena Dunham has been in the middle of several controversies with regards to her questionable racial and feminist politics. Most recently, actor Zinzi Clemmons branded her a “hipster-racist”. Rose McGowan’s activism around sexual violence has been challenged by women of colour, especially Black women, who have demonstrated the ways in which McGowan’s feminism only supports white women.

Similarly, Mary Beard’s recent tweets have prompted many to pay attention to the continuing existence of racist and colonial ideologies among British leftist intellectuals. Her tweets sparked responses for two reasons: First, the wilful ignorance behind her tweets on the cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Oxfam staff in Haiti and second, Mary Beard’s reactions to being challenged online. She first tweeted that she was crying, and then shared a selfie showing her crying and visibly upset. While this seems to have appeared childish to some, this type of reaction will not be unfamiliar to people of colour. In fact, while we have seen a few takes on white feminism emerge out of this, many people, especially women of colour, have written about this in the past.  

Crying, being visibly upset or stating that one is upset is a strategy used by white women when they feel at threat of being perceived as racist or accused of racism. These strategies can be called “moves to innocence”. They are emotional responses which are in part related to white fragility or the fact that white people’s ability to endure racial tensions is very low. Not having to think about race or to think of themselves as racialized render white people “fragile” to these conversations, as opposed to people of colour who grow up and live seeing themselves through the eyes of white people. 

These demonstrations of emotions are also due to the fact that some white people know or, at least, have an idea that they benefit from white supremacy and racism while at the same time understanding that it is unfair. White people, including white women, are invested in avoiding being seen as racist because of these conscious or unconscious understandings of racism as being unfair.

However, because white people are socialised and live in white supremacist societies, they are more invested in upholding white supremacy (which will ensure that their privileges are safe) than they are challenging it. This is why rather than prioritizing continued engagement, constructive exchange, reflection, and learning from their mistakes when they are challenged on their complicity in racism, too many white people prioritise deflection and avoidance.

 White women’s tears act as a shield against accusation of white privilege.   The white woman’s tears work both for the white woman and against the person who is making her uncomfortable (usually a person of colour). In this way, their function is twofold. First, they re-centre the white woman through her emotions and create feelings of empathy and compassion for the white woman. Consequently, race and racism are no longer the focuses, the white woman’s emotions are. After Mary Beard made her emotions visible, many replies showed support to her and called for those who engaged with her to be more compassionate.

Similar responses were triggered at Rose McGowan’s reading at Barnes & Nobles after having been challenged by Andi Dier, a white trans woman and activist, on her antagonism with regards to trans women. Rose McGowan became angry, stood up, raised her voice, then cried while Dier was removed by security. The audience tried to soothe McGowan by telling her she was “amazing” despite her clear abuse of power. In a similar fashion, many white women were quick to remind everyone of the importance of Mary Beard’s work, achievements and of her right to be human and imperfect despite her show of racism, therefore prioritizing her protection over a constructive dialogue around racism.  

The second function of the white woman’s tears is to shift the roles. If the white woman feels accused of racism, her tears turn the aggression towards the accuser. The one who is seen to have caused the white woman’s tears is now an “abuser”, a “troll”, a “bully”, a “harasser”. David Olusoga, a historian and friend of Beard’s, used the term “lynch mob” with regards to those who addressed Mary Beard’s racism. In these instances, the white woman and her feelings are centered and any attempt to remove her from the centre will be met with resistance by her and those invested in maintaining her (white) power. Moreover, because white women’s display of emotions is a strategy that deflects one’s attention from the issue at hand and re-centres the white woman as a victim, the creation of the victim, through tears, also creates, by association, a perpetrator/offender. If the individual who makes the white woman uncomfortable happens to be a woman of colour, and especially a Black woman, the binary victim/abuser will be reinforced. The white woman’s tears act as a way to differentiate her from the Black woman. The tears exacerbate the social differences between them. The white woman is innocent and upset, the Black woman is aggressive and angry. Even if the Black woman who challenges the white woman cries, her tears will not be valued as much as the white woman’s. Individuals are not equally assumed to be or seen as innocent.

Likewise, the display of emotions in order to appear innocent isn’t accessible to all equally. Maybe we can speak of a racial hierarchy of emotions that determines who can display emotions within particular social interactions and how productive or counterproductive these emotions will be. In this context, we need to question whose emotions matter and whose emotions are so valuable that they can be weaponized. In this sense, white women’s moves to innocence and fragility, more generally, are ways in which the status-quo is upheld. They are deployed to silence those who speak against racism (usually people who are not racialized as white) and to safeguard the privileges and comfort of white people, including white women. Many white people believe that western societies are post-racial in that all individuals seem to have the same rights and access to the same opportunities.

To believe that racism only manifests through extremely violent policies such as racial segregation, normalization of physical harm against racialized bodies or racist name-calling is naïve. Racism and whiteness are continuously changing. They adapt to their socio-political environments. If a racist practice becomes unacceptable (Racial segregation for example), acceptable racist practices will continue to exist and new racist practices will appear. In fact, in postcolonial western and predominantly-white societies, racism and white supremacy become less and less visible because anti-racist social movements have made many people conscious of the fact that they were unacceptable. Therefore, not seeing racism and white supremacy does not mean that they are not there. They may have taken more subtle forms, like white innocence and fragility.   At this point, it should be said that I am not problematizing the fact that white women have feelings. Being upset, sad, frustrated, angry are normal and expected in these situations. Social change is an emotional business. Rather, what I am problematizing is what is done with these emotions. If one has been socialised as white and as a woman, these strategies will come naturally. White women just do it, without necessarily thinking about it (although some do think about it).

Therefore, two important take away messages would be that white women realise and honestly acknowledge these behaviours and their consequences for those who are on the receiving end of white women’s innocence. White women have to internally resist what pulls them toward innocence, what tells them to interpellate particular racial narratives about themselves and the individuals who are making them uncomfortable. If the white woman makes herself a victim by the use of emotions, then she is responsible for also making someone an abuser. White women urgently need to engage, reflect on and be accountable for their actions without centering themselves. While many think that emotions are only “natural” and personal, they are also very much social and political and can be dangerous. As Aisha Mirza writes, white women are dangerous “because they’re allowed to be soft – innocent until proven innocent”.

Crying, being visibly upset or stating that one is upset is a strategy used by white women when they feel at threat of being perceived as racist or accused of racism. These strategies can be called “moves to innocence”.

Follow Anaïs on twitter here –  @anaisdpedica  

Corbyn Is Right – British History Lessons Need An Overhaul

People from the Caribbean arriving at Tilbury, Essex, to start new lives in Britain, 1948. Immigration policies involving the Windrush generation are included in the proposed black curriculum. Photograph: Contraband Collection/Alamy Stock

LABOUR LEADER Jeremy Corbyn has argued that British history lessons need to be rewritten to recognise the devastating impact the Empire has had on its former colonies and across the world. This call places him in direct opposition to the Conservative position that has shaped the current curriculum over the past few years.

Under education secretary Michael Gove, the curriculum – already unable to meet the needs of Britain’s diverse population – grew increasingly white-centred, narrow, and nationalistic. These changes were heavily criticised by activists, historians and teachers themselves. Although not the first to acknowledge bias in the curriculum, a 1985 report by Lord Swann highlighted the need to move away from an ethno-centric curriculum in order to provide students with an education relevant to a multicultural society. Unfortunately, right-wing politicians have remained committed to an education that distorts reality. With racial minorities accounting for an ever-increasing proportion of state school populations, the regressive changes imposed by Gove move further away from the recommendations of Swann and do little to meet the government’s aim of providing a ‘first class education for all’. In interviews I carried out with black mixed race males, I found high levels of dissatisfaction with the current curriculum and, like Corbyn, students feel there is a great need for change. Students feel the current curriculum is heavily biased, and this was evident in the conversations I had with interviewees. One, called Max, said: “Everything is white contribution. Even to the point where in RE, even Jesus is white. I didn’t like it how everything was white contribution, nothing of other countries. Not even just black people, nothing of what other countries have done.” His experiences are not uncommon and the awareness that the school was providing him with a whitewashed curriculum led Max, like others, to become disillusioned. The curriculum taught in schools clearly does not match with the knowledge that students gain from outside of school. This was conveyed by another student I spoke to, who argued: “Black people did have civilizations, great civilizations, they still do today but the way that we are told in school, and the way that things are put in school, is that they were all like running around in their jungle.” This dissatisfaction leads many to seek education outside of school through conversations with families, attending supplementary schools, and finding their own reading materials. Unfortunately, this often set students at odds with the school. Teachers and academic researchers have found that students work better when the subject is something that they can relate to.

The current curriculum fails to do this and the absence of racial minorities in the curriculum raises concerns about the absence of role models for future black and mixed race students. Whilst many spoke about the need to introduce more black history into the curriculum, others recognised a specific need to highlight the presence of mixed race figures. People like Malcolm X, Bob Marley, Barack Obama, and Mary Seacole all provide opportunities to discuss the presence of mixed race figures and to consider the close links between black and mixed race experiences. As one interviewee described: “It’s like you’re teaching us about stuff that a lot of us don’t care about; about the Tudors, and royalty, and all of these famous bloodlines…Henry and his wives; I don’t give a damn.” The curricular emphasis on remembering names and dates leaves little room for exploring the social and political context of historical events and misses a useful opportunity for students to discuss how race, class, gender, sexuality and disability impact upon lived experiences. The absence of frank and open discussions of how race and racism impacts life was a key criticism raised by those I spoke to. As one individual put it, schools need to create a space for “real talk” about race. To ignore the topic, can leave individuals ill-equipped to deal with the realities of daily life in a world where race remains important.

According to the Department for Education, preparing students for experiences in later life is a key aim of schooling. In contemporary society, this must include racism in its various forms, from the individual to the institutional. Those individuals who were made aware of racism at an early age felt that they were better able to understand, and therefore overcome, challenges they faced in school and in wider society. A more diverse curriculum would not just benefit racial minority students, but would also benefit white students and lead to greater integration. However, at present, the curriculum promotes a message of white superiority that devalues the important contributions of racial minorities, while breeding racial ignorance and intolerance.

My research suggests there is a very real desire to understand the way that contemporary society is shaped by events of the past. In a world where the economic inequalities of today are still largely shaped by the legacies of slavery and colonialism, this is not possible until the school curriculum begins to reflect the realities of race and racism. For decades, schools have failed their diverse populations. Until the curriculum is overhauled, a more diverse and culturally competent teaching force is employed, and schools introduce clear and robust anti-racist policies, it seems unlikely schools will meet the needs of their students. Remi Joseph-Salisbury is a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds with broad interests in race and racism, particularly in the UK and US ___ This piece originally appeared on the Voice, and was written by RJN’s trustee Remi Joseph Salisbury

Labour leader has called for the national curriculum to reflect the true impact of colonialism

Reducing ‘Drop-Out’ Rates for Black Students Means Institutional Transformation, Not Individual Support

Image: George Edwards, via Warwick Globalist

Earlier this year the government urged universities to reduce the ‘drop-out’ rates of Black students. With Black students 50% more likely to drop out than their peers, the universities minister Jo Johnson argued that “there needs to be much greater support” for ‘BME’ students. Yet this seems little more than rhetoric, and reflects only a superficial interest in racial equality.

The idea of ‘support’ presupposes that drop-out rates are a consequence of the failures of individual Black students. This is a misunderstanding. Rather than ‘supporting’ individual Black students, the government should turn its attention to the institutional transformation of universities. Low retention is not the problem in and of itself. Rather, low retention rates are indicative of systemic problems. Universities are predicated on the transmission and perpetuation of white supremacy. Therefore the struggle is imagining an education that is liberatory, emancipatory, and able to bring about social progress that benefits us all.

In recent years, as more students of colour have reached university, there has been an increase in student-led campaigns, from the I too am… initiative to Why is my curriculum white?, Why isn’t my professor Black?, Rhodes Must Fall, movements to decolonise the university, the emergence of a Black Studies Association, and the introduction of a Black Studies degree at Birmingham City University. Bolstered by international movements, there is a palpable wave of dissatisfaction across the UK. Rather than relying on the abstract and uninformed musings of privileged white politicians, these movements show a real desire to bring about change that extends far beyond the empty rhetoric of Jo Johnson and the Conservative government.

What these movements have in common is a commitment to radical change in the university. The students and academics involved in these movements are not calling for ‘more support’ to survive in white supremacist institutions. They are calling for a transformation of those institutions.

Earlier this year a Warwick student returned to her halls of residence to find racist insults scrawled on her bananas. The university’s response was seen as slow and inadequate. Whilst there was some condemnation in the mainstream media, this focused largely on the individual perpetrator. Although the Warwick incident was particularly shocking, students face racial microaggressions on universities campuses on a daily basis – something the I too am… campaign sought to bring attention to. What is needed is a greater understanding of how the white supremacist underpinnings of the university creates a climate in which racism can manifest at this micro level.

As the Why is my curriculum white? initiative has demonstrated, with a Eurocentric curriculum that erases the experiences, contributions and achievements of people of colour, it is unsurprising that students of colour experience racial microaggressions, and drop-out at such high rates. In a society stratified along racial lines, race must be central to curriculums. This is not just about the tokenistic inclusion of Black scholars on reading lists, but about a movement to decolonise the curriculum. Why isn’t my professor Black? highlighted the shocking underrepresentation of Black academics in universities, but since the launch of the campaign in 2014 the percentage of UK-national Black staff on academic contracts has stayed the same. The transformation of higher education would certainly include a radical change to the disproportionately white body of lecturers and professors. Despite Johnson’s rhetoric, however, it seems little has been done to listen to this important movement.

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign highlighted how the very architecture of universities can act to oppress and marginalise students of colour. Had Oxford university listened to campaigners they could have demonstrated a real commitment to racial equality in higher education. As events played out, however, it became clear that the will of rich white donors was far more important than the experiences of Black students. How are Black students expected to feel welcome on university campuses when those campuses memorialise white supremacy, colonialism and slave labour? Of course the Rhodes statue is just one prominent example of a problem that manifests in many institutions. At UCL for instance, students take classes in a lecture theatre named after the eugenicist Francis Galton.

If the government and universities are truly committed to improving the education of ‘BME’ students, they don’t have to look too far for a starting point. Students and academics of colour have pointed the way. All that is needed is an ability to listen and a real desire to bring about change. This piece originally appeared on Novara Media, and was written by RJN’s trustee Remi Joseph Salisbury

COVID-19 penalty functions added to police mobiles

Cross-posted with the Stop The Scan campaign on 9th June

An image on an overhead projector of the police mobile app, with sections for eNotebook, Niche Tasking, Command and Control and Searches. The latter contains the fingerprint scanning app, which they call Person Search.

In yet another alarming development the police use of Motorola’s PRONTO software (Police Reporting and Notebook Organiser, PRONTO) which includes the biometric fingerprint scanning app has been updated with COVID-19 penalty functions. This is the result of the emergency police powers granted by the new Coronavirus Bill on March 26th, 2020. This new development will compound the unequal impact of the pandemic with the discrimination and lack of accountability embedded in policing technologies

At the beginning of lockdown, Stop the Scandal wrote an open letter to the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner concerned with the unequal and unjust impact of emergency police powers on Black, Brown and migrant communities. These fears have materialised, as figures show that Black and Brown people are twice more likely to be fined, are over-represented in the number of arrests made for alleged breaches of lockdown arrest and suffer from the excessive use of force. In West Yorkshire we know that 599 fines have been given:

  • 283 in Leeds
  • 133 in Bradford
  • 72 in Wakefield
  • 34 in Calderdale
  • 67 in Kirklees

Out of these fines, 38.2% of people fined were white, 22.1% Asian. They did not say what percentage is Black but we might deduce the rest of the fines were given to Black people. These statistics are resonated by a Big Brother Watch research that examined fines given in England under the Coronavirus Bill and found that Asian people received at least 13% of penalty fines even though they represent 7.8% of the national population and Black people were issued 5% of fines despite being 3.5% of England’s population. Furthermore, rural areas were more likely to issue fines than urban areas. In the same research they found the South Yorkshire Police had announced a taskforce to enforce lockdown regulations.      

But these concerns are not new, and not born out of thin air. Before the pandemic the Stop the Scandal campaign highlighted the potential damage wrought by the biometric fingerprint scanner and the extension of the police role into that of a border force first used by West Yorkshire Police and now nationally. The rollout of handheld fingerprint scanners feeds into the hostile environment where communities are afraid to engage with the police when they need help, protection from abuse, violence  or hate crime. It provides justification for racial profiling and invasive procedures. It shrouds that justification in sanitised ‘tech talk’. It results in inhumane mass deportation and detention. It subjects communities already traumatised by police brutality to further, and more frequent, encounters with institutionalised racism.

In updating the PRONTO suite with COVID-19 penalty functions, the police have steamrolled over the above legitimate criticisms and concerns. Instead of recognising the lasting damage of the devices, or responding to questions over lack of transparency and accountability, the police have sought to normalise the use of the mobile devices and avoid scrutiny. They have treated both dialogue with activists and the pandemic as an opportunity to improve the functioning of a policing technology that will serve to further entrench, normalise and digitalise the racial profiling and discrimination inherent in practices related to stop and search.

The impact of COVID-19 has already been devastating on Black, Brown and migrant communities. The COVID-19 report released by Public Health England last week demonstrates that BME (term used in the report) are more likely to die from the virus. Black people specifically are 4 times more likely to do so. This percentage is increased for people born outside of England. The report found that people from Central and West Africa are 4.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 while in this country. The numbers are equally alarming for people from “the Caribbean (3.5), South East Asia, which includes Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam (3.4), the Middle East (3.2) and South and Eastern Africa, which includes South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya (3.1)” in comparison to their European counterparts which was “the only group of countries not significantly higher than the average for England”(p.56). A joint report by migrant organisations and campaigns found the hostile environment is having a devastating impact on migrants’ access to healthcare during the COVID-19 crisis. The report concluded 57% of respondents were actively avoiding seeking medical advice because of fear of being charged, their data shared with the Home Office and other immigration enforcement issues. These fears will only increase under  the Schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act where immigration officers are now given the power to detain anyone suspicious of having the virus for up to 3 hours and constables up to 24 hours, these can be renewed for 9 hours and a further 24 hours respectively. 

Hostile Environment and everyday border agents such as the police will only increase the harassment of Black, Brown and migrant communities, putting their lives at risk. We should refuse to let this burden be doubled by allowing COVID-19 to be used as an excuse to violate human rights and decency and to sweep scrutiny under the carpet. We demand:

  1. Police and government recognise that fining people under the Coronavirus Bill is an overzealous use of police powers which is disproportionately impacting Black, Brown and migrant communities. The digitalisation of COVID-19 fines as the latest addition to PRONTO will only increase this. 
  2. The COVID-19 function (which has not received community review) be removed immediately.
  3. Release data of anyone being detained under the Coronavirus Bill whose data has been shared with the Home Office.
  4. The roll out of handheld biometric fingerprint scanners be reversed before more damage is done.
  5. A firewall is installed between the police database and the Home Office. 

A CALL TO ACTION FOR WHITE PEOPLE: JOIN US IN UNLEARNING RACISM

 

Guest post by the Unlearning Racism Collective

This is a call to action for white people.

As a collective of white-identifying people living in West Yorkshire, we’re writing this in response to the state murder of George Floyd in the US, and in solidarity with the subsequent uprisings by Black activists around the world.

Showing solidarity through social media, and providing much needed donations to relief funds, is important work. It provides visibility to injustice and responds to the needs of the immediate situation. But as white people we cannot stop here. Reacting to injustice when it arises is no stand-in for making anti-racism a daily, life-long practice.

Our solidarity needs to be transformative, and we must do more.

Our invitation

Do you want to do more than simply post and share anti-racist content on social media? Are you unsure where to put your energy or resources? Do you struggle in crucial conversations about racism? Do you feel helpless, disengage, or remain silent when you encounter racism?

As the Unlearning Racism Collective – a white-identified group working with accountability to The Racial Justice Network (RJN), a lived-experience informed and led anti-racist organisation – we focus on unlearning our racism and supporting one another in taking anti-racist action. RJN recently published a host of suggested actions and we encourage you to read their post as an excellent starting point, but if the above questions resonate for you, then we’d like to invite you to join us in engaging in this critical process of unlearning racism.

From late June we will be running introductory two-hour online workshops entitled ‘Unlearning Racism: an introduction’. These interactive workshops will provide an opportunity for white people to work through our discomfort around concepts of everyday and structural racism, and will be facilitated by white trainers acting in accountability to the RJN team, who have directed the content.

What is ‘unlearning’, and why is this work important?

Racism doesn’t just manifest itself in overt acts of police violence – it is a system built on centuries of racial injustice and colonial violence. Generations of white people have benefited from this system, and continue to do so.

Because of this, we need to acknowledge our whiteness and the ways it privileges us and shapes how we see and relate to the world. We also need to move past responses of denial or defensiveness when we are told about our racism or are made to confront the histories of colonial violence.

To undertake anti-racist work, we must develop the ‘racial stamina’ for talking openly and honestly about these issues, and get over our ‘white fragility’ – that fear we have around being seen as racist or a ‘bad person’, or the compulsion we feel to deflect criticisms and deny culpability.

Sitting with and holding difficult emotions with understanding is a first step to equipping ourselves to take responsibility for how we may perpetuate racism, even if we don’t intend to. And by reckoning with our whiteness, we can use our privilege to redistribute and build power through considerate and accountable action.

How do I sign up?

We will be running several instances of our two-hour taster workshops from late June, with a suggested donation scale of £5-45 depending on your income. All donations will go to support RJN in the expansion of their work.

The workshops are interactive and will take place on the Zoom platform. They will require reliable internet, webcam and audio functionality. Use of headphones or headsets is encouraged for improved audio quality.

Registration will open shortly, with initial places being prioritised for residents of Yorkshire, since our aim is to equip trainees for supporting local grassroots anti-racism action. Once local demand has been met, however, we will accept applicants from other parts of the UK.

These workshops are also intended as a step towards attending the full 8-session Unlearning Racism Course, which will be run in an online format in late summer.

 Register now to hear about our taster workshop

After registration we’ll send information on next steps, but if you have any other questions in the meantime, you can contact us at unlearning@racialjusticenetwork.co.uk.

UPDATE: This call attracted hundreds of interested people, overwhelming our capacity as a small, unpaid organising group. We have filled the initial workshop spaces with the fastest-responding Yorkshire-based attendees and are looking into options for further meeting demand. Please continue to sign up via the link above for news on future training events.

We’d like to acknowledge the incredible support of The Racial Justice Network trustees and staff, and thank them for giving us this platform and opportunity.

We Still Can’t Breathe: Channeling Our Rage to Action

During the past two weeks, we have had hundreds of new followers on our social media accounts. As much as we would like to believe it is all related to the launch of our short documentary on our decolonial resistance efforts with comrades/siblings in Kenya, we are very aware it is also to do with what is currently occurring in the US following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. 

So we will begin by saying we are devastated by yet another murder of a Black man. In the murder of Black people, the US continues to produce the consequences of a white supremacist system. In February we lost Ahmaud Arbery. This month we’ve also lost Tony McDade, a Black Trans man murdered by Florida police officers and Breonna Taylor, shot in her own home by police in  Kentucky. Solidarity with our Afrikan American siblings. 

The oppression and destruction of Black and Brown bodies is global. The use of state forces against the most marginalised is global. The narrative of white liberals believing that we’re somehow better than the US is false and self deceiving. Just earlier this month we saw the shocking footage of police tasering Desmond Ziggy Mombeyarara  in front of his young son. Yesterday we learned the news that Belly Mujinga’s death will not receive any further action. Sean Rigg, Sheku Bayoh, Sarah Reed, Mzee Mohammed, Christopher Alder (and many many more) have all been murdered while in police custody in the UK. This is not only a problem of individual police officers, but an institutional problem. This is also exemplified by how the force can be unaccountable . 

The new powers given to the police in the wake of the pandemic has meant that Black people are 54% more times likely to be fined during lockdown and suffer from the excessive use of force. We always knew this would be the case which is why many anti racist organisations campaigned against them. 

We are four times more likely to die of COVID-19. 

We have seen people outraged and frustrated, and moving to claim solidarity but this needs to last longer than the newscycle – our lives depend on it. We are also aware there are some who are willing and want to do something but are unsure about where to start. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Follow, join, interact with anti-racist orgs. Check out that they’re lived experience led and not of the white saviour kind. These organisations can do more harm than good. Beware of orgs that are ‘personality led’. Those thirsty for the front can get in the way of real change. If there are no current active groups near you, organise and start one (and research, learn from, connect to & build upon the history of activism in your ends). Link your org and actions with others. Collective action is the only action. 

2. If you are Black/Brown, from a migrant-background, and feeling triggered and traumatised by the images/stories out there, It’s ok to step back and refuse the emotional labour of educating others. Seek spaces that can assist your repair. Collective repair is resistance. 

3. Hold systems to account. Hold cultures to account. Racism isn’t one person. It is historical and systematic. The lack of access to healthcare, housing, education, and employment have been embedded into the fabric of a racialised capitalist society for a long time. Change harmful systems to change society. 

4. Do not expend energy on trying to convince white supremacy that we’re humans. If they didn’t know that before it’s not your job to help them with that now. 

5. Solidarity can take many forms. Continuously reflect on your positionality, pledge on what you will do and can do and do not demand answers from an already traumatised community. Hold yourself and your surroundings accountable, learn from it and do better.

RJN is a lived-experience informed & led anti-racist organisation whose work focuses predominantly on racially minoritised communities who feel the full brunt of racism and the legacies of colonialism. Can you offer dedicated time to learn, share and organise with others? Support our work with:

  1. Stop the Scan campaign: help us demand the end of police use of biometric fingerprint machines connected to the Home Office database and a firewall between the Home Office and police be installed. Join the Yorkshire Resists collective in resisting the UK governments Hostile Environment racist anti-migrant policies. 
  2. Finding resources to support our regional and international efforts including opportunities on public platforms.
  3. Join our public forums and let us know how you will use your anger to fuel your antiracist efforts, how you will channel your anger over the ongoing murder of Black people in the US and around the world.
  4. Donate to support the protesters in Minnesota and elsewhere, but also donate to support our work, and the work of other anti-racist organisations in the UK.

“When you’ve been silenced and hurting so long, all that you’re left with is a scream.”

Brazilian sister at Women in Movement Dialogue Conference in Rio De Janeiro, 2019. 

Rest In Power George Floyd

RESIST REMEMBER REPAIR! RJN DECOLONISING EDUCATION KENYA 2020

Update and summary from decolonial work earlier this year..

January 2020 saw a collaboration between The Racial Justice Network, Kenyan activists and artivists, the University of Nairobi, African Digital Media Institute and the University of Manchester. Together they curated a programme of events focusing on the decolonisation of education and activisms.
This programme seeks to bring a range of partners together in order to build international solidarity between activists, artists and scholars in Kenya, and their UK counterparts.

Whilst calls to ‘decolonize’ are now commonplace on UK university campuses and activists spaces, the term is at risk of being reduced to a mere buzzword, bereft of historical and socio-political context, and emptied of its radical impetus.

Through the programme of events, we hoped to recapture the radical potential of decolonial thought and action. Given the colonial relationship between Kenya and Britain, and given the decolonisation that Kenyans fought for, this international collaboration enables us to engage in meaningful and generative ways as we seek to explore what contemporary decolonize movements should look like.

The four day series of events were designed as an intervention against the systems of colonial power that structure our places of learning, our existence and ways of living. We are asking: what do colonial legacies look like? What do we learn? How do we build and reinforce decolonial resistances and solidarities across borders.

All of the sessions fed into the DECOLONIAL FRAMEWORK that was made available after the event, for attendees to implement in their educational spaces, workplaces, and in the prospective international network.

See linked TRAILER and the FULL VIDEO here

Principles for decolonial practice

To resist the ways in which colonial education separates the body from the mind

To disavow the illusion of ‘objectivity’ and ‘rationality’ that dominates colonial forms of education. Instead, we endeavour to embrace and reengage with our emotions, and to support others to engage with their emotions too.    

To change the whole curriculum of our formal education systems, to cultivate an over-standing of colonial legacies, and to teach us what we need to be taught. Simultaneously, to support and nurture resistant forms of community education, and to retrain teachers. 

To resist and reject the competition, hierarchy and individualism embedded in colonial education, and our colonised cultures. Instead, we seek to embrace the spirit and philosophy of Ubuntu. 

To recognise the emotional toll involved in resisting, and to take self-care and collective-care seriously. 

To work towards the recovery of traditional practices and morals that were taken away through colonialism. To take the good, and reject the bad, in order to progress. 

To challenge representation, imagery, and language that perpetuate white supremacy and colonial relations. Examples include the image of white Jesus and prayer in alien tongues. 

To reject the valorisation of whiteness, white people and white desirability standards (that leads to toxic practices like skin bleaching), and recognise these ideologies as legacies of colonialism and enslavement. 

To recognise that language is propaganda, and the role language plays in transmitting a message that ‘the West’ is superior. To nurture and appreciate native languages and dialects, and reject the prioritisation and celebration of English. 

To be deliberate in the way we reconnect with nature, including the land, food, agriculture, soil, and water. 

To celebrate women, and remember the fundamental role played by women in understanding soil and water points for agriculture, and survival. 

Remember, remember; remember not to forget… our histories. To recover these histories through dialogue, through oral histories, and through engagement with – and dissemination of – alternative histories. To simultaneously reject Eurocentric distortions of our histories, and see this recovery process as a means through which we might challenge Afriphobia. 

To overstand that ‘tribalism’ is a consequence of colonialism, and to reject the ways in which those stereotypes shape our lives/ To recognise tribalism as a colonial vestige, and reject its divisive impact accordingly.  

To recognise our own locations in relation to power, be that in relation to our race, our ethnic communities, our nationalities, or any other identities. Simultaneously, to recognise what we can offer. 

To be hard on ideas and soft on people. To recognise that we are all moving towards the same place, and remember love and kindness along the way. 

To identify and tackle the root of problems. Remembering that, as Angela Davis puts it, radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root’. 

To ask, ‘who will do the washing up in the revolution’, and recognise the unseen work that enables decolonial resistance. 

To imagine movements being reminiscent of the interdependence of a forest – people each taking on roles, big and small,and being interdependent.

To appreciate the role of art in our learning, and in our activism: to advocate for the importance of artivism

To embrace the spirit of Sankofa, and learn from the past to inform our futures. 

Your C-19 Donations: What Next?

Text overlayed over four pictures of bags of donations that reads:
Campaign to support vulnerable groups during COVID-19 lockdown

97 individuals received mobile top ups.
101 families (198+ kids) received toys, books, puzzles.
£3,008.41 donated.
397 articles from wishlist.
1,000 toys, books, puzzles donated.
Thank you!

While we are still grappling with the current global situation that has torn through the heart of our communities we are beyond overwhelmed with the kindness of our friends, family and strangers. It is because of you, our volunteers and community leaders that we have been able to support those most impacted by COVID-19 lockdown. In less than a month we have received:

  • £3,008.41 from 78 donors
  • 397 articles purchased from our Amazon wishlists
  • Countless toys, books, puzzles and board games dropped off at our collection points

It is because of these donations we have been able to support:

  • 97 individuals with mobile top ups
  • 22 top ups & devices for 22 ppl Leeds Unity Centre
  • 20 top ups for Sudanese Community in Bradford
  • 15 top ups for LQTBQ+ asylum seekers in Bradford
  • 20 top ups for BIASAN Bradford
  • 20 top ups for Abigail Housing Destitution Project 
  • 101 families including 198+ kids with toys, board games, books, puzzles
  • 6 families from Eritrean and Ethiopian Young Women Group (8 Kids)
  • 21 families from Sudanese Community in Bradford (45 kids)
  • 8 new arriving families supported by Bradford Refugee Action (20 kids)
  • 20 families from West Yorkshire Somali Association (30+ Kids)
  • 21 families from Swahili Cultural Community (30+ Kids)
  • 10 families from Leeds Unity Centre (22 kids)  
  • 2 families in Leeds (4 Kids) 
  • 13 families supported by BIASAN Bradford (39 kids) 

We would like to thank our community leaders who have worked tirelessly. Our volunteers who have made packages for families, reached out to organisations, coordinated delivery and drop offs, managed social media accounts and written letters to local governments. This is an act of community love, of resistance against systems of oppression which disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) and migrant communities. 

We will be making a momentary pause on material donations to focus on the second stage of this campaign. However, we are in dire need of smartphones and tablets so please contact us if you have these items to donate. We will now centre our attention in lobbying the government to improve the living conditions of BIPOC and migrant communities most impacted by COVID-19 and strengthening community connections/actions. We will continue to support individuals and communities so please reach out if you are in need or know someone that can benefit from this campaign. 

In solidarity,

Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resists 

Pandemic and Positivity Propaganda

So here we find ourselves smack-bang in the middle of a global pandemic. Some may describe this time as a bad dream, I personally feel like I’m trapped in a sci-fi thriller film, as it feels like whilst we were aware of past pandemics, this one has all the factors of a bad dream or a good sci-fi thriller. For the most part I have been successful with tuning out most of the media white noise surrounding the pandemic as it’s become too much of an information overload for me and I’ve found myself growing increasingly cynical about most things I see and hear. Whilst I knew I felt uneasy about several things I had seen and heard, I could not quite pinpoint why! Not wanting to be a negative Nancy as the world was descending further into this nightmare,  I’m careful who I share my cynicism with as it seemed most people had in fact bought the positivity propaganda and were regurgitating the same hashtags : “Stay Home”, “Stay Safe”, “ProtectTheNHS”, “Save Lives”. 

No doubt through these uncertain times positivity is needed to keep spirits high and allow society to function without going into complete despair. Nevertheless, we have to be mindful and cautious that in keeping positive we are not ignoring the realities and failing to recognise the deeply entrenched socio-political issues. I speak specifically around the positivity propaganda that has been utilised by the government to police society and encourage us to police one another. Social media has been rife with many people shaming people who do not follow government guidelines or people who express their negative feelings. For many the government guidelines and the policing of one another has a simple positive intention of protecting as many people as possible from the virus, including key workers and frontline NHS staff whose lives are at risk whilst working. Yet, the disregard of people’s negative feelings or failure to empathise with those who are struggling with self-isolation and following government guidelines raises the age-old question: whose lives matter in our society? 

It has been brought to national and international attention that those categorised at “BAME” or “BME” have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Robert Jenrick, Communities Secretary, during a coronavirus daily update confirms this disproportionate impact on BAME groups. The evening standard reports as of Friday 17th April 4,873 patients with Covid-19 in critical care, 1,681 were from the BAME community, making up 34.5 % of per cent of cases, despite only making up about 13% of the population according to the 2011 census. Following public pressure put on minister’s, the government is set to launch a review into the reasons for this. Most people of colour do not need a review to ascertain the reasons Black and Brown communities are victims to this virus. The health status of these groups has always been adversely impacted by the health inequalities prevalent within our entire health system for many years.  This is not NHS bashing, but the truth revealed by numerous evidence that suggests Black and Brown bodies and minds are often less valued and not worthy of saving. For instance, prior to the pandemic the mental health support available to BAME communities were inadequate, which saw many Black people come in contact with the mental health system through initial contact with the criminal justice system. The use of excessive force on Black and Brown bodies has resulted in more deaths in police custody. The death of Christopher Alder, 1998, the death of Olaseni Lewis in 2010, Sean Rigg in 2008, Thomas Orchard in 2012 and more recently Kevin Clarke in 2018 all came as a result of excessive police force whilst going through a mental health crisis. These cases form a pattern in which almost three quartersof those who died during or following contact with the police were reported to have mental health concerns

This pandemic has witnessed many come together to recognise the importance of our NHS, NHS staff, porters, kitchen staff, our ‘key workers’ such as carers, customer service agents, waste management workers, etc. – previously referred to as “low skilled” workers. It has been identified that often individuals from BAME communities account for many of these key workers, with 42.4% of junior doctors and 44.3% of NHS staff, from BAME backgrounds. Additionally, people from Black and Brown communities are largely over represented in four of the eight areas highlighted as essential during the pandemic – health and social care, education and childcare, food and other vital goods and transportation. The You Clap for Me Now poem performed by NHS workers highlights a pattern of racism and xenophobia experienced by non-white or non-British NHS workers. This pattern is often similar for Black and Brown key workers in our wider society. 

Migrant communities, especially undocumented people and those seeking refuge and asylum, are some of the most vulnerable groups during this pandemic. Physically, they are more prone to getting the virus due to the areas the built up and largely populated areas they work and live in. However, they are less likely to receive adequate support to sustain self-isolation and follow lockdown guidelines as they have no recourse to public funds and often rely on community support to survive. Although some MPs have written to the health secretary to highlight how undocumented migrants are dying from covid-19 and the various ways in which migrant communities are being disadvantaged by the hostile environment during this current pandemic, the home office have chosen take a hard line on maintaining this hostile environment during this time by reiterating low-skilled workers are not wanted beyond the pandemic. The juxtaposition between clapping for key workers, but sending some of them ‘back’ once they have done saving our lives is unsettling and presents the reality that Black and Brown bodies are disposable like bombs over Baghdad.

History has shown us during a national crisis, society often comes together, in this case metaphorically, to overcome the challenges faced. After WW2, Black and Brown communities, who had witnessed decades of racism and socioeconomic hostility, were employed to not only fight but to rebuild many western countries, including the UK, – infamous is the case of the Windrush generation. However, following this collective effort to rebuild societies, Black and Brown communities were again relegated to adverse socioeconomic positions, subject to racisms in education, policing, housing, health and many other areas of society. 

But what about once the peak of the pandemic panic is over? Will we return back to business as usual – maintaining and promoting the hostile environment with xenophobia towards migrant communities and racism towards Black and Brown people? Over the past two months we have undergone many changes in how our social lives function in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in an aim to curtail the pressure it puts on the NHS and the economy at large. The pandemic, and many of the changes brought in to respond to it, should cause us to employ a little cynicism to question: what is important on the government’s agenda during this time? What social issues were previously ignored that have led to this pandemic disproportionately impacting migrant and Black and Brown communities? How do we ensure we do not return to the way things were before? We ask that reflection on racism and xenophobia and solutions to address it remain a constant with this pandemic, like many national crisis conversations, have brought to the forefront the socio-political issues that existed previously. To clap along with the positivity propaganda without further dialogue on how we dismantle structures that undervalue the lives of these key workers, and Black and Brown people at large, would do a disservice to our history, again!

Article by Sharon Anyiam @Shaanyiam