This episode is also available as a blog post: https://racialjusticenetwork.co.uk/2020/12/21/13th-recommendation-grounding-and-provocation/
This episode is also available as a blog post: https://racialjusticenetwork.co.uk/2020/12/21/13th-recommendation-grounding-and-provocation/
This year we, at the Racial Justice Network, are celebrating our 5th anniversary as a charity! We thought this would be a great opportunity to recollect and reflect back on what the 5 years have been in 5 minutes.
The Racial Justice Network was registered as a charity in 2016 – a huge achievement in itself being one of the few anti-racist charities to exist in the North. Whilst this was a huge accomplishment, it was also daunting given the responsibility that came with it.
Having become frustrated about how superficial equality and the language of diversity had taken away the tools of understanding and challenging the injustice of race, racialism and racism, there was a drive to change that.
The first year saw us work from home as there were no funds. We embarked on finding radical trustees who could see the vision and support a growing organisation.
This was also the year we were involved in undertaking transformational training with Training For Change, taking on national and international platforms as a Black-run organisation based in the north of England.
Notable moments include speaking at Roundhouse in Camden, and at changehow in Islington, as well as putting together the 5 Ways to Disrupt Racism video that has since garnered over 35 million views, been translated into over 5 languages and continues to be used as a training tool to this day.
With a dynamic team of trustees and skills, 2017 became a year of digging in and defining who we were and what we wanted to achieve. We decided that our who, what, how and why would be inspired, shaped, and rooted in Black radical tradition and liberation. Seeking racial justice and addressing colonial legacies as our foundation.
Our values and mission focused on repair, learning and resistance. Focusing at least 80% of our efforts on Black and Brown communities, our core was (and continues to be) centring race and how it intersects with other oppressions and different identities.
We delivered a 6 month racial justice campaign course to Black and Brown communities based in the north of England. The course involved pastoral support that would assist individuals and communities achieve changes they were fighting for. From this course, the amazing Sisters United in Halifax was born. We also delivered national talks and began publishing articles, attracting audiences, influencing and informing on a local and national level.
Despite the many rejections for funding applications we received, 2018 was an opportunity to refine and lay our commitments and concepts that grew into projects. This was also the year we began to embark on international reach and strengthen solidarity with communities in the Global South.
We were extremely honoured to co-host former Black panthers Kathleen Cleaver with the Northern Police Monitoring Project (NPMP) in Manchester, and Bob Brown in Chapeltown Leeds. We formed Yorkshire Resists and shared our model with siblings in Glasgow. We were invited to speak about our organising at a global conference *women in movement* in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. As director of RJN, I received a year’s fellowship, giving more focus to RJN.
2019 saw us define our projects and align them well with our objectives, revisiting strategy and evaluating what was working well. There were reinforcements and serious time put towards the emergence of the collective conversations projects, Unlearning Racism Course, and the Stop the Scan campaign.
There was more focus also to work with committed volunteer activists and organisers who stepped forward. Training and pastoral support, as well as partnerships with organisations and individuals continue(d) to be offered throughout. Further cementing and tightening of relationships and siblings in Brazil occurred this year, as well as an invitation to speak at a conference in Nairobi. Nairobi reinforced and reignited our call and efforts on transnationalism.
2020 started on a high beginning with a trip to Kenya that followed on from the Nairobi university conference. It involved a week of action in the community, high school and university. In May of this year we released our short documentary Resist Remember Repair! Decolonising Education Kenya 2020. We facilitated the emergence of our new Race and Climate Justice working group and the launch of our #13recommendation . Last year also took a toll on our communities. With the global pandemic that further exposed and exacerbated the inequalities of global racist and capitalist structures, as well as the brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that served as *another* wake up call to the treatment of Black communities across the globe, last year took a toll on our communities. It was however, also a year that saw beautiful bonds of solidarity and creative means of resistance being formed which no doubt renewed our faith in our fight for justice.
We launched new campaigns, reports, papers, redesigned training, recruited a new team and trustees. We were able to offer donations to over 600 hundred individuals and families in West Yorkshire and offer antiracist training to over 600 people, gave over 100 talks, interviews and workshops. 2020 was the busiest we have ever been but also painful as there were many losses.
For the next five years we plan on:
Thank you for your continuous solidarity and support; for being part of the Racial Justice Network family.This wouldn’t have been possible without you!
Toast to the next 5! Tuko pamoja!
Over the past couple of weeks there have been an onslaught of worrying news with regards to freedom of speech and the role charities should play in the UK. As a Black led charity seeking to address racial injustice and colonial legacies, our very existence is political. Last year we saw a surge in donations towards anti-racist organisations in the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd by police officers in the United States. While these actions go on to resource and support grassroot organisations, we need acts of solidarity which extend beyond what some might call ‘performative allyship.’ We need a collective response to the attempts to silence hidden and distorted historical actions that explain the state we are in particularly in relation to those located at the margins by systems of oppression. We need a collective response against those who are comforted by wealth amassed through plunder and exploitation but are quick to call in the free speech brigade or encourage those still relieving generational traumas to move-on to ease their own discomfort. Collective action is resistance.
Kenyan scholar-activist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1986) argues the university and the education system more generally are key in the foundation and continuation of colonialism today. That is, the narratives and practices utilised by and within the education system are colonial legacies which uphold a white supremacist system. White supremacy is used as Azeezat Johnson describes it: “the context within which whiteness can remain a neutralised and privilege racial positioning” (2018: 18). It comes as no surprise the government is pushing back against increased public pressure to come to reckon with the UK’s colonial and racist history. It is not a question of *if* these histories are true but *how* they make white people feel. What are the histories they are trying to silence?
At RJN we want to express our grave concern about the encroaching powers the government is having on freedom of speech, education and charities with the aim to silence and bury history. Motivation behind this is to avoid discomfort and cover up how wealth was amassed during the British empire and at the expense of former colonies, who until today continue to bear the brunt of this history. Furthermore, these latest government moves perpetuate the false narrative of meritocracy, those who are poor are so because they are lazy and those doing well have been due to hard work. This is concerning because it not only silences marginalised voices but this will have a major influence on who and what receives funding within the charity sector.
As a Black led organisation being underfunded is not new. Since our inception, we have seen how funding bodies undervalue, overlook and under-resource radical anti-racist efforts. The fact there are very few of us in existence is an example and consequence of lack of resources. As mentioned above, last year we saw a surge in donations to Black led and anti-racist organisations. The government’s recent announcement that charities should remain neutral is a political act. A countermove to the (re)awakening of a racial and social justice movement across the globe, of acts of solidarity which are slowly but steadily demanding change.
This is not about “waging a war on political enemies” rather as anti racists we have an obligation to raise our voices against injustices. Who decides what is freedom of speech? Who determines what is and isn’t political? As we have stated before, as a Black led, lived experience informed anti racist charity addressing legacies of colonialism, our very existence is political. What are some concrete actions people can take in solidarity:
Article by Laura Loyola Hernandez and Penny Wangari-Jones
The Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resists have written a new report to draw attention to the impact of the Biometric Services Gateway (mobile fingerprinting) on both the communities targeted by police and the wider public. The report discusses issues that arose from an online survey (115 participants) conducted on the public’s perception of the mobile fingerprinting app, as well as new data obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
Mobile biometric devices are handheld fingerprint scanners that police officers can use to check, on the spot, a person’s identity by matching the image of the fingerprint taken against the IDENT1 criminal record database and the Home Office IABS database without taking the individual into custody. The scanners can be connected to any mobile phone or tablet that also runs the corresponding app which allows the biometric databases to be searched.
After listening to concerns coming from the communities we work with, the Racial Justice Network felt a report was needed to draw further attention to the mobile fingerprint scanners. Among the most pressing concerns was the damage to relations between racially minoritised communities and police who were seen as carrying out Immigration Enforcement checks, as well as the dissuasion of reporting crimes by those with precarious immigration status, seeking asylum and visa holders. We were also motivated by the general lack of awareness and meaningful public consultation on the new measures. As highlighted in this report, due diligence, ethical procedures and impact assessment were not adequately conducted by the police. It is worrying then that no consultation with communities was carried out before equipping thousands of officers who are insufficiently trained to properly handle immigration matters with the ability to run on-the-spot immigration checks.
Our analysis of data obtained via FOI on the use of mobile biometrics in West Yorkshire during the latter phase of the pilot from October 2018 and March 2019 revealed that:
Key findings from our report include, but are not limited to:
Key themes identified in our report relating to the Biometric Services Gateway and mobile fingerprint scanners were:
There have been numerous reports over the past decades that have highlighted the institutional racism and racialism that exists within the police force and the Home Office such as the Macpherson Report and the Williams Review. To hand over even more powers to a force whilst the dust has not settled on the current claims and calls for accountability is reckless and also an insult to the general public. An unchecked police force on matters of classism, racism and xenophobia should not be judge, jury and executioners of the same communities.
We are not only asking for proper ethical duty and processes to be undertaken, we are asking the police force to listen to these concerns. Our survey ultimately demonstrates the introduction of the Biometric Services Gateway runs fundamentally against public interest and that police becoming a border force means inflicting further harm on racially minoritised who they are required to protect under the Equality Act.
Questions of where public resources are best directed remain a pertinent issue and, in the ‘Recommendations’ section, our report points towards the importance of investing in community advocates, organisations and charities who continuously support individuals experiencing police discrimination or who are victims of hate crimes.
If you have any feedback please email via email@example.com.
Written by Mama D Ujaje
Who are we that we can determine what is and what is not relevant to any discussion which concerns the fate of the Earth? We are the Earth. We are, in each element of our being, a part of the substance, feeling and memory of this planetary being. In recollecting this, we re-member ourselves as response-able for retaining the ebb and flow of planetary dynamics. But we are not alone.
Let us move into becoming more present: Now is a time of acknowledgement. We are surrounded by beings with as much right to planetary balance as we each and collectively have, if not more, because many beings have been here, long before we materialised as humans. Consider our elders: the rocks, the mountains, the soil, the trees, the grass and many species of animal, fungi and unicellular and acellular life. Consider each of these as having even older forms in ancestral states of being, going back into the where and when of time making that makes no sense to us – as humans. Yet…Do we respect our elders?
Now, as you are seated, hearing my voice, feeling the air on your skin, the soles of your shoes beneath your feet, or the carpet or floor surface, aware of the weight you place on your seat. Feel also the cloth touching your birth-skin. Then, remember. All of this is from the Earth. It has been sacrificed in service to you. Without being consulted, in the context of aggressive policy making, in the absence of grounded knowledge of the long term consequences of its extraction, as a response to certain individuals’ quests for personal accumulation and greed – in which we are all complicit by following habits, fashion, mindlessness and various protocols of ‘irrespons-ability’.
That it has come to you as various forms of convenience is also due to the ingenuity, repeated practice, application of intelligence and a lot of unpaid or underpaid physical, mental and emotional labour of those who came before us. Those we call Ancestors. Many of whom remain unnamed, uncited, considered irrelevant or whose memories have been erased. Yet -When did you, when did we last give thanks?
Take this opportunity now to move your breath into a place of gratitude. With each breathe, acknowledge to yourself your relationship to the state of things in which we find ourselves and as you breathe in, be inspired to move towards transformational change. As you breathe out, commit to leaving inaction behind, breathe away the staleness of old habits that do not serve you or us collectively, being assured that what we will be bringing today will support every breath you take to be of profound and meaningful consequence. Ase!
In traditional stories we are often enabled a last chance to succeed. Where the hero or heroine can reach their goal, achieve success, escape death or punishment. In many of these cases, the extra chance is enabled by a 13th spirit, the fairy, angel, sprite, witch, or nature being, one that has the power of undoing the spell or enchantment that has been cast by those who have power over the order of things.This extra embodiment of energy has the capacity to dissipate evil, to undo the terrible spell, to revoke the enchantment that everyone is fixated by. Often it has to be invoked to act against a kind of spell which has everyone apparently in a mode of deep sleep.I think you know what is coming!
The Racial Justice Network makes no claims of being magic or even of possessing extra resources of power and energy to undo what has been already done. What we do have, however, is a conviction that ‘another way is possible.’ Or perhaps that ‘Another way is necessary’!
Arundhati Roy said: ‘Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’ The inevitability of a solution arriving for a problem or challenge that has been brought into being is something we have demonstrated to us in what we refer to as nature: The dock leaf growing where stinging nettles abound. The appearance of the cleansing herb, cleavers or goosegrass in spring just when we need to detox after gorging ourselves over the winter holiday. Our exposure to healthy soil rewards us with feel-good hormones when we cultivate it in the least harmful way.
So what this 13th Recommendation brings us is an invitation or a warning, you decide, to become aware of the toxicity of the current status quo and to remind us that many things have to change if we are to transform the system in a way that brings balance, stability and security for all being dependent upon our Earth system. And who isn’t? What it states is this: Colonial legacies and International perspectives on climate must be acknowledged and heard and factored in as a form of internationalism that brings Justice. Climate justice must be understood as being as relevant and critical as social justice. The Interconnectedness of oppressions and struggles must be realised across the diasporas and across the globe. Activist solidarity must play a central role in realising our aims.
What we can take this to mean is that in order for any human strategy to work we must recognise the connectedness of the past, present and future. Not as a linear and indefinite concept but as a cyclical feature of our existence. What this invokes is responsibility and accountability. What has happened in the past is brought into the present by simple (and complex) cause and effect. The person who feels this effect most is the best witness to the case: We must recognise that understanding colonialism to be a systemic injury to the Earth and all of her beings defines the beginning of transformation.
When we talk of the climate, we are also talking of the ways in which, during the current epoch, the so called Anthropocene, the entire environment in which we live exists in the form it does AS A RESULT OF HUMAN IMPACT at some time in the past. The claiming and shaping of Earth to suit the purposes of human greed creates what has been called territory. Territory is simply another word for Land. (Think: ‘Landed gentry’, ‘The aliens have landed’. To Land is to arrive and to claim territory!)
When people in the past colonised the Earth and ravaged her in the many different and terrible ways in which they did, what they were doing was territorialisation: creating territories over which they would have control. They referred to these territories as Land. Having control of territory meant creating a sense of having power. This was a power, however, that created trauma as it disconnected the Earth from the people and the people from the Earth.The Earth operates as a system, a delicately balanced system which responds to any and all changes to any and all parts of it.
The process of creating Land erases the integrity of the Earth which in turns creates Trauma: Trauma for the Earth and all her beings (being disfigured and misunderstood is a very terrible thing). It creates imbalances, now experienced as ‘climate crises’. Trauma for the humans involved in the process: those who were totally erased in acts of genocide and damaged through violent acts of separation from the elements of Mother Earth and Trauma for those who had historically experienced different scales of erasure, exploitation and extraction from their own. This resulted in multiple types of traumatised behaviours that have threatened and are threatening to shape our future responses to healing and resolution of the damage caused. Trauma for those who significantly perpetrated much of this violence and who are reluctant to cede control. They too are fixated by TRAUMA. REMEMBER: ‘SHE WHO FEELS IT KNOWS IT’.
People who have stayed committed to a part of the Earth for a long time, have had greater opportunity to witness what this commitment means, and so their knowledge ought to be respected and enabled to define the processes of seeking healing and resolution. We call these people indigenous (meaning belonging to the Earth they live with) because in our shame/guilt we have lost the sense of responsibility that would otherwise be in place within us if we recognised that we belong to the Earth and not the other way around. So, what the 13th Recommendation brings to us is a reminder, a possibility to re-member again that what is broken, separated, segregated and infiltrated needs definitive acts of HEALING: of being recognised as a system which is being experienced by multiple beings, over time and space. This system has been and is currently still being deformed by trauma inducing colonisation in its many forms. and what this coming together represents is an opportunity for us to ACT, to Act by Becoming decolonial, to Act by developing decolonial strategies, to ACT by embracing our common humanity through an acknowledgement of past harm so that we can all engage in present healing.
Find the reading of Mama D’s ’13th Recommendation, Grounding and Provocation’ below:
A REPORT: BY THE RACIAL JUSTICE NETWORK
At the Racial Justice Network we understand the gravity of speaking to injustices faced by Black, Brown and migrant communities within West Yorkshire.
Hate crime has become a growing public concern in recent times. Since the EU Referendum in 2016 we’ve seen a spike in recorded hate crime incidents. Brexit is just around the corner, and with that change happening conversations will begin to circulate through our everyday environments, environments which are inescapable for members of Black, Brown and migrant communities who are most at risk of experiencing hate crime. On top of this we need to look to the media and the discourse surrounding these conversations which are often spearheaded by agenda and profit.
Our findings evidence police and justice system failures to adequately support individuals from Black, Brown and migrant communities, and have been known to delay or fail to effectively address complaints and reports of hate crime.
Our report emerged as a result of individuals seeking out support through RJN as a last resort having experienced hate crime and police inaction themselves. We observed the similarities in their experiences of hate crime and thought it imperative to tell their stories.
This report is not only attempting to remind us about this intersection of oppressions but begins to question what actions are being taken by the government, police and wider society to address these vital and important concerns of the intersection of Brexit, Covid-19 pandemic and the hostile environment policy as we move forward.
Content warning: Please be aware, some may find the content of the report distressing as there are real life cases of hate crime documented by participants in the report.
Project Officer, Sharon Anyiam, explores the #ENDSARS movement in Nigeria. As a Nigerian Diaspora, Sharon delves into what international solidarity looks like to her, and reflects on how the current issues faced by many across Nigeria, could have easily been her reality.
It is important to address and strengthen our understanding of the global nature of the colonial legacies we seek to challenge, to offer solidarity and support when and where we can, and to share learning and resources within our immediate communities and beyond. We stand in strength and solidarity.
Find below our video to find our more about the ENDSARS movement:
“Just because I dey abroad, no be say injustice back home no dey concern me!”
Just because I am living abroad, does not mean injustice back home does not concern me
We can be thankful for the incredible mobilising potential of social media whilst simultaneously angered, saddened and left speechless at overwhelming bloodshed of African people. Various hashtags have flooded the internet regarding human rights violations in several African countries.
#EndSARS relating to police brutality in Nigeria has seen protesters take to the streets of Nigeria, and various cities in the UK, demanding the world notice and act on the ongoing violation of human rights in the country.
What is the ENDSARS movement?
SARS is Nigeria’s special anti-robbery squad. The unit was formed in 1984 under military rule and has been rife with corruption in forms of extortion, torture, sexual assault and murder.
The endsars movement, started by protesters in Nigeria and gaining prominence on social media platforms, calls for the end of police brutality, and importantly, better governance of the country. The protest have resulted in casualties with protesters in Nigeria being attacked by armed people and/or police firing tear gas into crowds of protesters.
Unsurprisingly, protestors have been blamed for the increasing violence, but it’s time for the Nigerian government to change this narrative and acknowledge its failure to protect Nigerian people from decades of corrupt governance and police violence. The continued bloodshed has to end! Protesters have a right to be heard without fear of death.
As a Nigerian diaspora, it’s difficult to not imagine how the current issues faced by many in the country, across Africa, could have easily been my reality. This movement, similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, has shown the possibilities of Black solidarity but it has specifically shone the spotlight on the role of the African diaspora in raising awareness of the sociopolitical issues on the African continent.
We cannot divorce our experiences of racism and oppression from colonialism, no more than can we divorce Africa’s longstanding sociopolitical issues from the remnants of being colonised. Thus, the goal for Black liberation is mutually entangled with the goal for African liberation. As many of us heard and responded to the calls for Black Lives Matter, it’s important we now hear and respond to the call of our African siblings in order for Black lives to matter everywhere.
#CongoIsBleeding relating to the silent holocaust in Congo where millions are losing their lives for Coltan
#ShutItAllDown – relating to protest against sexual and gender based violence in Namibia
#AmINext – relating to high rates and murder of women in South Africa
#AnglophoneCrisis – relating to the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon where anti-francophonisation activists and protesters are been jailed and beaten.
#RapeNationalEmergency – relating to the increase of rape by 50% during the pandemic against young women and children Liberia
#ChildTrafficking – relating to an increase in child labour and child trafficking from Burkina Faso and Mali to Ivory Coast and Ghana
#Arrestcovid19thieves- relating to embezzlement of COVID-19 support funds by elite and senior government officials in Kenya
As the protests continue, we must be mindful to not over share and overconsume some of the violence that we are seeing so we can protect and preserve our energy for the work that needs to be done.
For the diaspora of African heritage, and all who claim allyship, our role is to: educate ourselves on the various issues on the African continent; use our privileges and resources to amplify the voices and demands of these movements, whilst being mindful that we are not imposing our own solutions; and to engage with and support local and international BIPOC-led organisations doing the work to dismantle legacies of colonialism.
by Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resist
Police will now be able to access Track and Trace information on people instructed to self-isolate. Those who fail to self-isolate face fines between £1,000 to £10,000. This latest government action will have a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities and those from lower income backgrounds (in particular migrants) who have already been bearing the brunt of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 report released by Public Health England in June demonstrates that those in BAME groups (term used in the report) are more likely to die from the virus. Risk of dying is 4 times higher for Black people specifically, and 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 the UK. 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)”. 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.
Police access to Track and Trace information is just another way the carceral state has infiltrated the healthcare and immigration systems in this country. Instead of addressing the systemic inequalities fuelled by white supremacy, Black and Brown people, migrants and those from lower income backgrounds are seen as disposable. What of those who simply cannot self-isolate? Why are we criminalising those who feel the necessity of having to go out and work because of the very real fear of becoming destitute? This is worse for migrants who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) which means they cannot access any government help including universal credit. Nearly 1.4 million cannot access public funds due to their immigration status yet the demand to access government help has doubled since March. The police use of Motorola’s PRONTO software (Police Reporting and Notebook Organiser, PRONTO) which includes the biometric fingerprint app which connects police and immigration databases 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 compounds the unequal impact of the pandemic with the discrimination and lack of accountability embedded in policing technologies. Big Brother Watch research 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. How are we to trust the police, who are institutionally racist with our data?
This October we learned of the misplacement of 16,000 COVID test results which resulted in around 50,000 people not told to self-isolate as well as people receiving notifications that contradict official government guidelines. These technological “mishaps” combined with police access to our health information will deter people from downloading the app, entrench further mistrust in the NHS and government. But this is not new. Since the implementation of hostile environment policies several migrant organisations including the Racial Justice Network have demanded a firewall be put in place between the NHS and the Home Office immigration database as the sharing of this information deters people from seeking medical attention. Our #StopTheSCANdal campaign has urged for an immediate desist of police being able to access immigration database as it puts vulnerable and marginalised people at risk of being further criminalised such as the case of migrant women victims of domestic abuse.
In May of this year, we wrote a short intervention after receiving thousands of new followers in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests across the globe following the murder of George Floyd by police officers. We wanted to channel our rage into action making 5 suggestions on where to start. We want to recall two points:
“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.
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.”
This is the time of solidarity. This is time to turn hashtags into material action. Where is the demand that better working and pay conditions be applied to everyone so they are allowed to self-isolate without the worry of becoming destitute? Where are the screams to scrap NRPF? Where is the collective demand to abolish Hostile Environment policies which are putting migrant lives at risk? At what point are we willing to stop the increased turn of our health system into a criminalised one? Who does community care and solidarity extend to and who does it exclude?
By an anonymous Black PhD student
In my first year of the PhD, a Black British friend also pursuing her PhD warned me that for a Black person, life in the UK (and UK academic life in particular) is a ‘death by a thousand cuts.’ Over the past few years, these cuts have been painful lessons through which I’ve learned to see the UK academic space as a site that structurally absences Black people, Black scholarship, and Black critique as part of its reproduction of whiteness. While I’m not yet ready to share my name with my story, I still want to share this experience.
I’m a Black PhD student at a UK university. I earned a scholarship to study in a department that prides itself on being one of the best in its field in the UK. This is a department with more than fifty PhD students, yet I have more fingers on one hand than there are Black PhD students. Not only are we few, each one of us is an international student. I would look around: We, the only Black students being trained, here, in this moment, in this department, and we are all international students likely to return to our home countries upon completion. It was within my first month here that I began to wonder: Where were the Black and Brown “home” students, those who would most logically make up the next generation of educators in this discipline in the UK?
It was in my first year that I began working as a teaching assistant. Among the first, second, and third-year students I taught, I finally saw a marginally larger number of Black and Brown faces. After my first lecture, a few final-year students came up to me to tell me that I was the first lecturer they’d had who was not white. Their first. It made me angry, it also made me sad. When I brought this experience and my concerns to a departmental student-staff meeting, a white male lecturer spoke over me. I remember looking him in his eyes through his thick glasses. His face was pink. He said he himself had come from a working-class background, that he too was marginalised. I agreed he had his own experiences of marginalisation. But then he continued:
I was stunned at his inability to see our different positions. That it wasn’t about an “attainment gap.” It was about an educational institution that very deliberately structures these absences. Only a Brown lecturer (who would very soon leave the department) acknowledged my sentiments. I looked around that room; more than a dozen other faces around the table, all of them white, and all of those white faces were silent. They avoided eye contact with me. They seemed uncomfortable and eager to move to the next agenda item. This was my first painful lesson about whiteness in UK academia: apathy, denial, dismissal.
I’m tired of the whiteness of the academic curriculum. I’m tired of the academic curriculum and its production of whiteness. Sitting in these lectures, discussing which white man said this, which white woman said that. At best, a passing reference to Audre Lorde and the ‘master’s tools.’ The irony: They are the master, these are their tools! Do they really not realise that they are the master and these are their tools?
I have noticed the amazing ability of white academics to build their credentials and careers off of their Black and Brown PhD students, Black and Brown research assistants, Black and Brown geographies. Discussing their own ideas of you between themselves, comparing their interpretations of you has become their critical theory.
Amidst everything happening since I started my programme, decolonial thought became a space of criticism, a sanctuary, a way of understanding and thinking out of everything happening around me and happening to me. Incorporating it into my research meant articulating my justifications and plans to my supervisors, which I did through lengthy written pieces like literature review, conceptual framework, and methodology. My primary supervisor, a white woman, provided limited comments. I knew she was busy, overloaded with departmental work and teaching. I also assumed that moving away from her research interest might have informed her lighter engagement. Then she volunteered to organise a session on this topic within our critical theory group. I was surprised but hopeful; I asked to work with her, and I ended up doing the labour of providing the text for our group to read and think over, structuring the session, and facilitating the conversation.
Two months later, I learned from a classmate, another white woman, that my supervisor had selected this same theme as topic for the next issue of a departmental journal that she would be editing, and that this classmate would be the assistant copyeditor. All I could think about was that these two white women would be editing a journal issue on a topic that I’d devoted intellectual and emotional labour toward, challenging structures in my department (and facing opposition), and organising spaces in which to instigate critical discussions. The cut-cut-cut-cut-cut of white UK academia was wearing me out and wearing me down. When I approached my supervisor, I was emotional
Another painful cut: When they take your labour, your ideas, and transmute it into their own achievements. This special issue will further their names, their reputations, and their careers in UK academia (and likely even more widely). But of course this supervisor would like me to contribute. I’ve been such a valuable voice on this issue in our department. She’s learned so much from me. Without me, would this have even been possible? And let’s not forget that she actually needs Black (and Brown) people’s contributions to legitimise this issue as ‘decolonial.’
This is Black absencing at work. This institutionalised antiblackness is part of the long afterlife of slavery and colonialism in which we live. I now see the UK academic system as an intellectual industry that funds itself through Black and Brown international students’ fees while framing white research into our communities as ‘global challenges’; as a system in which white academics co-opt our labour and knowledge for their own aggrandisement while invisibilising our critiques, in order to perpetuate white scholarship and theorising. One obvious example is white scholars’ co-option of the framework of intersectionality without citing Black feminist scholars.
So, what next? One form of self-care I can do — that I am doing — is to withdraw myself from their spaces, to literally absent myself. From that department, from that journal issue, from the ‘critical’ spaces they create. To, at least for now, shift from fighting to recuperating and rebuilding. Which means now, more than ever before, relying on my relationships and kinship with Black scholars, especially Black women scholars, who have experienced and are experiencing the same cuts that I am experiencing, so that we build our own spaces, our home places, in order to heal together. I want to surround myself in the beautiful possibilities that emerge when we come together as Black scholars to not only reflect on and critique the UK academic system, but also find ways to think and exist beyond it. In the words bell hooks (1990: p. 384):
‘Despite the brutal reality of racial apartheid, of domination, one’s homeplace was the one site where one could freely confront the issue of humanization, where one could resist…where all black people could strive to be subjects, not objects, where we could be affirmed in our minds and hearts…where we could restore to ourselves the dignity denied us on the outside in the public world. This task of making homeplace…was about the construction of a safe place where black people could affirm one another and by so doing heal many of the wounds inflected by racist domination. We could not learn to love or respect ourselves in the culture of white supremacy, on the outside; it was there on the inside, in that ‘homeplace,’ most often created and kept by black women, that we had the opportunity to grow and develop, to nurture our spirits.’
Eddo-Lodge, Reni (2017). Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Hartman, Saidiya (2007). Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
hooks, bell (1990). ‘Homeplace (a site of resistance).’ In Yearning: Race, gender, and cultural politics. Boston, MA: South End Press.
Sharpe, Christina (2016). In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press
By an anonymous Black PhD student
I had the privilege of being in Glasgow during COP26. My intention is to provide insight and go deep on ´what happened´ and ´what was left to do´ so that we, the inspired, the caring, those who nurture, mobilize, and organize, can redirect our focus with intention moving forward.
So do we come even close to being in a place of humble acknowledgement of what Earth is to us and in relation to that, the fact of our belonging to the Earth makes it necessary also to be in full acknowledgement of each other, not only across the face of the Earth, but also over the deep time of this planet’s existence.
Our report highlights the resilience and resourcefulness of diaspora communities during the pandemic whilst between a rock and a hard place. It articulates the systemic underpinnings of the pandemic’s impact on migrant communities and captures lived experience, not simply as a vehicle for the expression of traumas, but as a form of agency for influencing structural change.
Back in July 2019 RJN were asked to become a part of the Leeds Climate Change Citizen’s Jury oversight panel. In our limited capacity, we were able to contribute some thinking to the recruitment process and methodology as well as providing testimony as commentators to the jury. At every stage of our engagement we were keen to emphasise the need for an international framing and to ensure that colonial legacies, climate debt, and the various struggles/ solutions already in existence from the Global South were considered.
RJN was allocated 15 minutes in one of the 9 sessions (30 hours in total) to deliver our testimony, and 15 minutes to field any questions (this shared presentation from RJN director Peninah Wangari-Jones and trustee Sai Murray, together with filmed interview questions posed outside the session, can be seen here).
Aware of the voluminous critiques on the whiteness of the UK climate movement and the sidelining of global majority voices we hoped our testimony would be afforded status as a vital underpinning to any recommended action for the city. However, on attending the November 2019 launch event to announce the 12 recommendations, no international framing was included.
Our existing work of engaging with global majority activists continued.
January 2020 saw RJN travel to Kenya to learn, skill-share, strategise and decolonise; and in March 2020 we held the next in our series of Collective Conversations on Race and Climate Justice: Our interconnected struggles. Out of these experiences and the enthusiasm shown by participants who would go on to form a dedicated Race & Climate Justice collective, the Thirteenth Framework was birthed.
We continue to do this work and to connect with individuals, communities and organisations locally and globally who have this consciousness embedded, and who demonstrate a desire to build in solidarity and work together for true planet repairs.
The 13th is conceived therefore as a Framework rather than an amendment or addenda. A foundation to underpin all other 12 recommendations and without which they are redundant.
THE THIRTEENTH FRAMEWORK
[working draft Sept 2020]
Act local, think global.
There can be no climate justice without addressing the international impact of actions on a local level.
Leeds is not an island – any and all recommendations on action moving forwards must take account of and engage with:
A note on the significance of the number 13.
Capitalism is not in sync with nature.
The present day Empire recognises and tries to contain the power of 13 (note the significance of symbology on the American dollar – 13 stars, 13 steps on the pyramid, 13 leaves & berries on the olive branch, 13 arrows…); the 13 original US colonies; the 13th amendment to the US constitution…
The partitioning of time under the Gregorian calendar into 12 hour days and 12 oddly numbered months is a patriarchal ordering at odds with the rhythms of mother nature.
There are 13 major joints in the body.
The moon orbits the earth 13 times a year.
The 13 month, 28-day calendar is, and has been, used by many ancient and indigenous cultures throughout history.
The 13 month moon cycle corresponds with the menstrual cycle.
The number thirteen holds power.
The Thirteenth Recommendation will be launched next month on the 13th October 2020.
Sign up to The 13th Recommendation: Climate Justice, Internationalism and Coloniality event, by clicking on the link below: