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.
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?
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.
In fact, deep down they believe those colonialists were right. Just perhaps just too violent...
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?
In fact, deep down they believe those colonialists were right. Just perhaps just too violent.
You see it in the absence of Black and Brown British peoplethey create in their academic spaces...
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:
If I could work hard enough to get to where I was, so too could Black students, he said.
Besides,certainly our department – one of the best in the UK – couldn’t lower its standards just to admit more Black and Brown students? he asked
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.
In fact, deep downthey believe those colonialists were right. Just perhaps just too violent. You see it in the absence of Black and Brown British people they create in their academic spaces.
You see it in their silences…
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.
In fact, deep downthey believe those colonialists were right.Just perhaps just too violent. You see it in the absence of Black and Brown British people they create in their academic spaces.
You see it in their silences.
You see it in their module reading lists and citation practices…
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
‘I’m very sorry,’ I had it at the back of my mind to mention it to you,’ ‘Of course I’d love for you to contribute something, you are such an important voice on this in our department,’ she’d said.
‘I’ve learned so much from you,’ she’d said.
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.’
In fact, deep downthey believe those colonialists were right.Just perhaps just too violent. You see it in the absence of Black and Brown British people they create in their academic spaces.
You see it in their silences.
You see it in their module reading lists and citation practices.
You see it in their academic politics…
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
About this event There is never enough time, is there, to really get into the language and concepts that are floated around in regard to Climate and Race Justice? The aim of these deepening sessions is to allow us time to do just that: to explore the language as it is used and by whomContinue reading “What is progress?”
We expanded our horizons to connect and collaborate with Leeds’ fashion community. At the start of this year, we collaborated with Leeds RAG- a student-led fundraising society (part of the Leeds University Union). The collaboration included talks from members of our team where we discussed the work we adhere to whilst exploring the interconnections RaceContinue reading “Race and Climate justice meets the fashion industry.”
n July 2019 RJN was 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 as well as provide testimony as commentators to the jury.
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:
Colonial legacies and the climate debt owed to the majority world from exploiting countries (such as the UK)
International perspectives on climate justice and the many solutions already being modelled by frontline activists and communities in the majority world.
Climate action as climate justice as social justice – the interconnectedness of oppressions and struggles, specifically: race, gender, class, migration, geography.
Solidarity to indigenous, Black, and brown communities whose livelihood, land and lives are disproportionately threatened by the destructive neocolonial practices of extractive industry and multinational corporations.
Solidarity to all those facing the brutality of fortress Europe, the Hostile Environment, and the institutionally racist security, prison and policing infrastructure.
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:
“We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.” – futurist Buckminster Fuller
The name Sankofa means; we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or been stripped of can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated. This is exactly the aim of the group. We know that the history presented in our schools has been systematically altered to conceal not only the atrocities committed by the empire but the power and beauty of the civilisations it attempted to suppress.
Reflecting on the continent’s history without the lens of imperialism. Create a counter narrative to the images of famine and wars that have persisted to aggrandize European charitable aid, glossing over the colonial legacies and neocolonial corruption. The history of the continent is that of ancient civilisations and dynasties, rebellion and fortitude. It is the story of all humans, life originated in Africa. This information encourages both individual and wider societal change.
Education has transformative power, breaking down the barriers built by misconceptions and stereotypes that separate people in our society across the world. For people of Afrikan descent this knowledge instils pride, deeper awareness and empowerment. For people of European, or non-African heritage, it broadens perspective and encourages an appreciation of the contributions and achievements of the Afrikan diaspora and Black people throughout history.
Sankofa Afrika is an educational community seeking to empower the Afrikan diaspora by redistributing knowledge of their African heritage. Classes are delivered by respected community educators Kwame Gad and Malcolm Phillip, who credit this learning as having given them clarity and a sense of self and purpose. Kwame and Malcolm have steadily been agents for healing, learning, repair and social change. Both Kwame and Malcolm were taught for over four years by internationally renowned historian, teacher and author Robin Walker and have since taught this history for over five years with his support and acknowledgement. They have extensive formal and informal teaching experiences along with first-hand experience living and travelling around the continent. Using these tools, skills and understandings Kwame and Malcolm seek to create broad empowering change.
MISSION STATEMENT: To empower the global community through knowledge of their African heritage and to make that information relevant and accessible to a 21st century audience.
Last year, sessions were held face to face in Leeds, to adapt to current guidelines these upcoming sessions will take place through virtual classrooms. In this way the intention is to make this information with its tools, concepts and ideas, accessible to all and make a positive change to our knowledge of Afrikan history. See Sankofa Afrikan history promotion video here
Tasters sessions will take place Tuesday 15th September at 6-7.30pm and Saturday 19th September at 10.30-12pm. Tickets are free, but we ask that if you are able you would make a donation click here, sign-up via Eventbrite HERE
Flashing images of protesters, police, far-right supporting the police, fire burning and mentions of Jacob Blake returned a short focus on Black Death and Black Pain all whilst the debate about the relevance of the words in rule Britannia are in contemporary times was going on. A couple of weeks ago, a few of us had started to wonder if the furore, outrage and pledges following the murder of George Floyd had been forgotten. Had we moved on? And now after yet another incident of a Black man at the hands of the police, the first think that came to mind was.. really? Where were the officers when the whole world erupted because of police racism and brutality?
Looking at racial injustice closer to home and I find myself swinging between outrage and apathy, between demanding change and being overwhelmed by the amount of injustice everywhere. Like the recent reported deaths of 5 people seeking sanctuary. I say ‘reported’ deaths as I imagine there are others who do not make the headlines or to the media. Others are dying as you read this article. Four were in the UK going through the asylum system and Abdulfatah Hamdallah drowned before he arrived. The horrific image of Mercy Baguma being found dead with a toddler beside her lingers and I wonder what this child would think or ask of this government when he grows up and learns his mother died because of a piece of paper.
This paper for most of individuals risking their lives crossing the English Channel, the meditarenean, climbing over fences, freezing at the back of lorries, surviving in camps, this piece of paper means life or death. And the majority of people who take on the treachaorous journeys are fleeing situations which are most likely instigated by colonialism meaning Britain had a hand in those conditions. Some are probably tired of hearing but it is iperative to keep foregrounding colonialism and coloniality because the past is really not the past and if anything there is a debt that is owed to the maangamizi and the like. They are running to the UK to survive and somehow dying to live.
So whilst we point to the US and the visible racist institutions like the police (yet again), as calls and echoes to defund the police grow louder, we need to be looking at ourselves and at the invisible institutionally racist policies that come in the form of a paper. Policies and laws that dictate that one life is worthy and another unworthy, that one is believed and another is not believed and therefore results to preventable and unnecessary loss of fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, sisters and mothers like Belly Mujinga, Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah Alhabib and others.
We should go further and question the rest of the institutions that stand by and do nothing to fight for those whose statuses are not legalised. Who have been criminalised because of socioeconomic factors, birthright lottery and ethnicity. There are a lot of questions like; Where are the children charities, feminists, mental health organisations, education institutions, local councils and authorities? ..some of whom have immersed themselves in ‘race and anti-racism trainings’. Where are those who stand or swear by the equality act but step back from those with no recourse to funding which equals to being bystanders and complacency. Does all humanity have to be monetised? Are we humans before we are citizens? Where is the collective pressure on lawmakers? Why are they not supporting or reinforcing work that is challenging Patel and posse policies? Why are individuals who have defied odds and arrived in this country dying to live?
Bob Marley asks, ‘how long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?’ Listening to Jacob Blake’s sister Letetra Widman poignant words ‘ I am not sad, I am angry, I do not want pity, I want change’ should be a rallying call to everyone out there. Because if you are not with us, you are for them. Time and time again we as Black activists, organisers involved in movements have said everyone should be actively doing something, racism is not a Black problem and pathologising whiteness would go along in overstanding that white supremacy has a lot to answer for. Those benefiting from the system should be doing more, much more because your silence is compliance, choose courage over comfort and this includes dismantling structures that continue to dehumanise and kill like the migration policies.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
The COVID-19 function (which has not received community review) be removed immediately.
Release data of anyone being detained under the Coronavirus Bill whose data has been shared with the Home Office.
The roll out of handheld biometric fingerprint scanners be reversed before more damage is done.
A firewall is installed between the police database and the Home Office.
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.
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.
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.