Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Tag: anti-racism (Page 1 of 2)

Women of Windrush

Windrush Day is marked annually in the UK on the 22nd June. Vanessa Bovell-Clarke (she/her) who works in Student Support & Wellbeing Services at King’s College London,  reflects on the women in her own family and the sacrifices they made so that those who followed them do not have to.


Vanessa sat looking out to sea at the Family House in Barbados

Vanessa at the Family House in Barbados.

For many people, the word ‘Windrush’ often brings to mind images of sharply dressed, young black men and women setting sail for new opportunities and a new chapter of life in the United Kingdom. More recently, the word has become more synonymous with this same generation as well and even their children being forcibly sent away from the UK, labelled as illegal immigrants by the very same government who first requested their help to rebuild a post-war Britain in the 1940’s.

With both my paternal and maternal grandmothers no longer living, I often wonder what they would make of the Windrush scandal having worked so hard themselves to build lives and plant roots in what I now call home.

Clotelle Eudene Roach (or Granny Clo as she was known to me) was born in Black Rock, St Michael on the island of Barbados in 1937, one of four children. Orphaned by the age of 15, Clotelle quickly took on a maternal role and played a huge part in providing for her siblings along with her older sister, Sylvie.

Granny Clotelle passport photo.

Granny Clotelle.

To make ends meet, she worked jobs in catering and as service staff, in the homes of the wealthy (and mostly white) in Barbados. The remnants of British colonisation were clear to see across the island, with limited opportunities for many black Bajans and much of the island’s wealth circling amongst direct decedents of plantation and slave-owning families.

In 1958, Clotelle set sail for the UK in search of a new destiny once her husband, Ricardo had travelled to London ahead of her (as was often the case for couples at that time) and found and prepared a place for them to live. Once settled in East London, Clotelle came into her own and took on a plethora of roles including seamstress and school lunch lady as well as offering her skills in baking and sewing to private clients and friends in the local community.

Further across to the west side of the Caribbean, Hermine Gertrude Morrison (aka Granny Babs) was born in Cave Valley, Jamaica in 1941, the second youngest of 11 children. In a similar fashion, Babs came to England after being ‘sent for’ by her husband, Lesley after he had settled in London in 1963. Just like Clotelle, Babs also threw herself into multiple jobs including work in a shoe factory, wig making, catering and hairdressing.

Granny Babs pictured on her wedding day.

Granny Babs pictured on her wedding day.

Growing up, my grandmothers were the physical embodiment of home, stability, family, strength and damn hard work. I witnessed them prepare gargantuan feasts of brown stew chicken, rice and peas, fried flying fish and cou cou (a cornmeal-based dish, also Barbados’ national dish) for crowds of family, friends and even neighbours on a regular basis. Both were regular attendees and very much involved in the church; some of my core memories include Sunday services and church fetes. They did this all whilst working multiple jobs and fulfilling the role of mother in an era that viewed parenting as very much a solitary and gender-conforming role.

It was only as I grew older, that I recognised the gravity of what they had accomplished. As part of the Windrush generation, being amongst the first in their families to move their whole lives to an unfamiliar country was a massive feat in itself. Facing daily racism in said country was an additional struggle; my Granny Clotelle told us of a time she was stopped by a white woman in the middle of a market, who tugged at the back of her skirt and said, “Let’s see your tail then?!”

This generation faced an untold number of difficulties and struggles most of which were steeped in racism, despite being such an integral part of rebuilding the UK economy, filling roles in nursing, catering, manual labour, hospitality, cleaning and much more.

I wonder about the mental health of my grandmother’s, the burdens they had to bear, the pain behind smiles and the silent struggles that were shared with no one but God. Throughout all of this, they were able to bring such life, culture and happiness to their families, which I will forever cherish. Their struggles and personal sacrifices serve as a reminder to me that I do not wish to and nor do I have to, continue to be ‘strong’ at the expense of my wellbeing. I am lucky to have multiple paths that lay ahead of me that do not necessarily include children and motherhood, but where I am encouraged to speak my truth about injustice and my pain.

November 2021 Barbados Independence Ceremony. Left to right: Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Dame Sandra Mason, Rhianna, Prince Charles.

November 2021 Barbados Independence Ceremony. Left to right: Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Dame Sandra Mason, Rhianna, Prince Charles.

In 2021, Barbados became a republic, officially denouncing the UK and it’s Queen as Head of State. Jamaica, alongside many other Caribbean countries are set to soon follow. This true independence feels like a poignant reflection of the next generation, as we prepare to live life to the fullest, honouring the Windrush legacy as we do so.


References/Relevant Articles:

Want to Learn more about Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s College London?

 

 

 

Experiences of racial discrimination on clinical placements: A narrative analysis of medical student perspectives.

KCL Intercalated Bachelor of Science (iBSC) Primary Care Student Luckshi Jegatheeswaran is currently researching medical student experiences of racial discrimination whilst on clinical placements. Luckshi is inviting KCL medical & intercalating students, between the years 2 – 5 to contribute to the project by sharing their experiences.


Why is this study important?

The purpose of the study is to understand how medical students can experience racial discrimination – whether directed at them, other students, or members of staff and to understand the immediate and lasting emotional impacts of these experiences.

The NHS boasts the UK’s most ethnically diverse public sector workforce. Increasing awareness of the experiences of people of ethnic minorities within the healthcare team (from medical students to senior staff) is crucial. This will facilitate greater understanding of the experiences of these groups. It will also allow the identification of areas where measures that will empower and create safe workspaces can be taken, benefiting the well-being of healthcare professionals from ethnic minorities.

What is the aim of the study?

  • To understand how medical students can experience racial discrimination- whether directed at them, other students, or members of staff.
  • To understand the immediate and lasting emotional impacts of these experiences.

Who can take part in the study?

  • Medical & intercalating students between years two and five.

What is involved?

  • You will complete an anonymous survey. The survey will ask you to state your course and year of study. You will be asked to describe your experiences of racial discrimination on medical placements.

How do I take part?

  1. Read this participant information.
  2. Submit your experiences using this online form

For further information please contact Luckshi via email: luckshi.jegatheeswaran@kcl.ac.uk

 

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

To mark the United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s College London shares how you can make a difference and tackle racial discrimination. 


The United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed worldwide on March 21 each year. The day aims to remind people of the harm caused by racial discrimination. It also encourages people to remember their obligation and determination to combat racial discrimination.

I only just this year learnt that the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was established six years after an event, known as the Sharpeville tragedy or Sharpeville massacre, which captured worldwide attention. This event involved police opening fire and killing 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid “pass laws” in Sharpeville, South Africa, March 21, 1960.

The UN General Assembly called on the international community to increase its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination when it proclaimed the day as a UN Day of observance in 1966. It also called on all world states and organizations to participate in a program of action to combat racism and racial discrimination in 1983. It held the World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001.

“Youth standing up against racism” is the theme of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2022. A theme that should be close to all university’s hearts especially those like us that have declared themselves determined to be anti-racist.

Young people have the option of posting their opinions regarding discussions on human rights and racial discrimination at Voices of Youth, which is UNICEF’s online bulletin board for young people.

As part of the King’s community, there’s various ways for you to play your part in standing up against racism. EDI will be hosting active bystander training for students on 28th & 30th March and 1st April which you can sign up to here.  We are also delivering microaggression training to staff & students, which will teach you to identify, call out and respond to racial microaggressions. If you have witnessed racial discrimination and wish to report it, you can find out how on our Dignity at King’s webpages.  This also includes the option of reporting anonymously, which helps us monitor patterns to inform our proactive work.

Our Race Equity Inclusive Education Fund (REIEF) has provided over £99,000 across 13 projects, two of which are particularly relevant to today (Gargie Ahmad is bringing anti-racism into education and training for mental health research and practice, and Sapphire Williams is exploring anti-racism globally). Gargie will be telling us more about their research in an upcoming blog.

The opposite of colonisation

Our latest blog in a series to mark Black History Month is brought to us by Chenée Psaros.

Chenée is a Learning Developer at King’s Academy and Co-chair of Proudly King’s, the LGBTQ+ staff network. She is South African, the daughter of immigrants, the decedent of settlers and an immigrant herself. Her forefathers were white colonisers who benefitted from colonial conquests in South Africa and then, when it became a republic, benefitted again from Apartheid. It is through the lens of a white South African she explores the discourse about decolonisation in higher education in the UK.


As questions of identity, race and inequality are becoming more prevalent and strategies to address social inequities are sought, British universities are endeavouring to ‘decolonise’ their institutions. From the University of Bristol’s Decolonising Education course to our own Voices of Decolonisation KED Talk, you would be hard pressed to find a university in the United Kingdom that has not prioritised decolonisation in the last few years. George Floyd’s death catapulted systemic racism to the forefront of our focus and universities were quick to commit to anti-racist rhetoric and support for marginalised groups. However, much of the discourse around decolonisation and systemic racism are used interchangeably, we should approach the use of these terms with care, because although they are inextricably linked, they are not synonyms.

The opposite of colonisation is not decolonisation, it is repatriation. If universities gained wealth from Britain’s colonial past, we should be asking how repatriation of what was lost should take place. Settler force erased entire indigenous cultures, languages and epistemologies; these are lost forever. The act of the former imperial power trying to ‘decolonise’ for the indigenous populations they oppressed is deeply uncomfortable. ‘Decolonisation is not a metaphor’, and in their seminal text of the same name, Tuck and Yang (2012) argue that decolonisation situated outside of the indigenous context is another form of settler appropriation, used to alleviate white guilt and in doing so undermines the indigenous voices that are key to the discussion.

Much of the debate of decolonisation has focused on statues. Recently, the University of Cambridge made the decision to return a Benin bronze statue to Nigeria (Khomami, 2021). Similar acts have occurred throughout Europe. However, the most concentrated focus on decolonisation and HE is the 2016 fight to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes which looms over Oriel College at the University of Oxford. The pinnacle of the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford movement coincided with the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 (Mohdin 2021). Students who led the movement called for the statue to be removed because they wanted to address ‘the toxic inheritance of the past’ (Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, 2018) and bring attention to the underrepresentation of students of colour. To date the statue has not been removed (Badshah 2021).

This was not the first statue of Rhodes students demanded be taken down. The Rhodes Must Fall Movement in Oxford gained momentum after a less well known, but more successful campaign at the University of Cape Town in South Africa (Chaudhuri 2016). In 2015, students protested about the lack of transformation more than twenty years after Apartheid fell – out of two hundred, there were only five black professors, and the university was not actively diversifying their staff (Peterson 2015). Students wanted change, they did not want the statue of the person who was responsible for the loss of their tribal lands and the rape of their ancestors to hold a place of honour. They protested, the fight was ugly, but the students won. A symbol of oppression was removed and the university reviewed their practices.

It hard to imagine in today’s times who is comparable to Cecil John Rhodes. His wealth and influence in Africa were vast, he had not one, but two countries named after him, a monopoly on Southern African diamond mines, the British Army and his own police force at his disposal. His power was great and far reaching; his forces sequestered native land, pillaged tribal property and raped indigenous women. He might well have been a man of the times but his single-mindedness to expand the British Empire was unparalleled. His legacy lives on. Beyond the statues that honour him, the wealth he gained in Africa allowed him to bequeath vast endowments to Oxford University and establish one of the most famous scholarships of all, the Rhodes Scholarship.

The Rhodes Scholarship was established in 1903 to promote unity between English-speaking nations and when it was set up only white men were eligible to apply. It was slow to diversify, women only qualified in 1977 and black people from South Africa only in 1992. It has since gone on to support people like Bill Clinton, Rachel Maddow and Naomi Wolf. It was in 2018 that the scholarship was opened globally. However, in that same year, of the ninety-five scholarships available fifty-five were awarded to students from the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, only ten were awarded to students who were from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana and Malawi (Rhodes Scholar Database 2021). The demographic data about the students who were selected was not available, but it is doubtful that many indigenous students won the scholarship.

The inequalities that have shaped South Africa from the colonial past (Gebrial, 2018) and apartheid were violently acted out this summer. Riots and looting caused the destruction of businesses in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng. The unrest was catapulted to the forefront as Covid lockdowns had so adversely affected people. South Africans, unlike people living and working in Britain, were not able to participate in furlough schemes or apply for social security payments to help them out in times of need. The access to vaccines that might have allowed people to return to work sooner was limited because the UK and other wealthy nations stockpiled it. When South Africa asked for Oxford Astrazenca patents to be made available to produce vaccines locally, they were denied (Nocera 2021, Stone 2021, Watney 2021). When the South African government purchased vaccine from Pfizer they were subsequently charged more than their European counterparts because they had not invested in the development (Thanbisetty, 2021). Universities were at the heart of developing vaccines, can those who claim they want to decolonise, work with companies who exploit countries with less global capital?

There is much rhetoric about how higher education can decolonise its institutions, its practices and its curricula. How we move forward to being more culturally competent is at the heart of the discussion. While universities have histories intertwined with wealth from slavery and occupation, we need to acknowledge, living in a former imperial power, that individually we do too. We are not blameless. Regardless of our nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, if we currently reside in the United Kingdom we benefit, to different degrees albeit, from the legacy of the power and positioning modern day Britain inherited from her colonial past. Decolonial work cannot happen in the palace of the colonisers, the Global South needs to have a stake in how decolonial work should take place. If we are committed to decolonisation, we should acknowledge that it cannot take place without indigenous perspectives and contributions of those territories that were once occupied. The Oxford example demonstrates how the appropriation of a movement did not bring about change and how the settler perspective overshadowed the colonial one because of global power constructs. Universities should move beyond decolonisation and explore what repatriation looks like in an HE context. If we really want to make the world a better place, we could do it through scholarships, how we share knowledge and resources, and how we fund research.


References:

Love and Rage – but right now, mostly rage

Lauren Blackwood, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer at KCL reflects on this years UK Black Pride theme of ‘love and rage’. 


Content Warnings: black death, trans death, ableism, racism, and queerphobia.  

It is somewhat bittersweet that I have a platform to write about my rage. It is not often that black people get to do this and be heard, comforted, or accepted by our audience (Ashley 2014; American Psychological Association 2020). Even whilst writing this, I must perform a level of palatability on this platform – juggling respectability politics, tone policing, colonial ideals of professionalism, providing citations for my literal lived experiences so that I’m seen as credible, and my own authenticity – it’s peak. It’s also peak that we – my community, my ancestors, and I – even have to feel this rage and to have carried it over generations for over 400 years. We do not need anyone to validate our outrage, and we don’t need anyone to justify it. I would much rather just exist in a world where we’re loved, and feel love, and I’d get to just write about love. But honestly, that remains an out of reach utopia, even in big-big 2021.  

This year and a half has been a perfect opportunity for non-black people to hear black people, see black life, suffering, and rage. In addition to this, we’ve seen the love that black people continue to extend to one another for the sake of love, survival, and community. To be clear, it is not that these opportunities were not available to non-black people before; it just became a lot harder to avoid engaging with these walks of life. To make it even more shit, what they have witnessed is only a tiny snippet of our lived experiences. Even this opportunity given to non-black people was at the expense of the ongoing detriment of black peoples, and a result of our global suffering and consequent rage.  

We’ve had to watch non-black, and non-queer, people find out for the first time that black people disproportionately account for 14% of UK missing persons – but makeup only 3% of the population (White 2021), “Black and migrant trans women of colour [being] more vulnerable and frequently targeted” (Trans Respect 2020) and “People of colour mak[ing] up 79% of the 28 trans people murdered in the USA” (Trans Respect 2020) in 2020, that the school to prison pipeline exists and has historically targeted black children and youth in Britain (Graham 2016), that there’s a lack of public health services tailored to meet black people’s needs (Mind 2019; La Roche et al 2015). None of this is new news to those that it effects, but it’s so incredibly enraging that change so heavily relies on white people, and cishet people, catching up with what we already know and have been protesting about for generations. And just as a note, we’re hardly even close to having proportionate data on black queer lives to be centrally collected and easily accessible in the UK.  

But in the face-off all of this historical and contemporary violence, failure, and exclusion from our institutions, queer black people still manage to love and support one another; Lady Phil has given queer black people, Black Pride – a space to exist authentically and unapologetically; Melz Owusu has founded a first of it’s kind University, the Free Black University, alongside completing their PhD giving black people the freedom to regain control and access to our own education and epistemologies; Azekel Axelle founded the Black Trans Foundation supporting black trans and gender non-conforming people access healthcare through fundraising and establishing a network of Queer, Trans, and Intersex, People of Colour (QTIPOC) healthcare experts; Eshe Kiama Zuri initiated the Mutual Aid Fund supporting marginalised people, at the intersections of oppression, across the UK. Even when thinking about all of this love and community response I’m perpetually enraged that it even needs to be done. Imagine if we didn’t have to pour ourselves and all of our energy into meeting our basic needs as queer black people – imagine if that kind of love existed beyond our community. Bruh, rage!!! 

Donate to queer black people and organisations this month and every month, whether that be time, requested resources, or money; continuously invest your energy into self-educating about queer black lives, experiences, and history – I promise that you will not run out of valuable things to be learnt; listen to queer black people and act on what you hear – I’m tired of repeating the same requests for meeting basic needs and liberation.  

Happy Black Pride, I guess. Pop up if you want my PayPal (for professional and legal reasons this is a joke).  


American Psychological Association. (2020, July 2). Prospective teachers misperceive Black children as angry [Press release]. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/07/racialized-anger-bias 

Ashley W. The angry black woman: the impact of pejorative stereotypes on psychotherapy with black women. Soc Work Public Health. 2014;29(1):27-34. doi: 10.1080/19371918.2011.619449. PMID: 24188294. 

Graham, K. (2016). The British School-to-Prison Pipeline. Blackness in Britain. 

Mind (2019) https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/legal-news/legal-newsletter-june-2019/discrimination-in-mental-health-services/ 

White (2021) Accessed at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/black-people-missing-b1827530.html 

La Roche, M. J., Fuentes, M. A., & Hinton, D. (2015). A cultural examination of the DSM-5: Research and clinical implications for cultural minorities. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46(3), 183–189. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039278 

Trans Respect (2020) Accessed at: https://transrespect.org/en/tmm-update-tdor-2020/ 

 

King’s reflections a year on from George Floyd’s murder – Part 2

In the second installment of our series of curated reflections a year on from George Floyd’s murder, we share the reflections of Ellen Clark-King, The Dean of King’s College London.


Reflection on Genesis 21:8-13

In March 2020 I was in Montgomery Alabama. I was there as part of an annual pilgrimage that addresses the legacy of slavery and enduring racial inequality in the US and beyond. It was a mixed group – racially, religiously, some very middle class, some unhoused. We visited museums, talked about our experiences, sang together and also wept together.

The place we visited that hammered at my heart most was Bryan Stevenson’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This is a memorial to every person killed by lynching in the United States – over 4000 people, children as well as adults. It is both a beautiful and a gut-wrenching place, lives remembered and honoured with a beauty that condemns the ugliness of their deaths. And what hit me hardest was reading some of the names – the ones whose surname was the same as mine at birth – Clark. Not because I could claim them as my kin but because these were people who had been owned by those who shared my name. My personal Clark ancestors were white working and servant class, not slave owners, but that does not absolve me from the guilt of being part of a system that said that White lives matter and that Black lives don’t.

Sarah said to Abraham: ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ Here we are confronted with the reality of slavery at the heart of our sacred scripture. Here Sarah, herself part of a people who were liberated from slavery, stands on the other side. Here she speaks for slave owners across the centuries who have failed to see that other mother’s children are as valuable as their own. Here Sarah is part of my story – part of the story of privilege that belongs to women as well as men because of their race and economic status.

But I don’t want to focus on Sarah. I want to focus on the other woman in the story – Hagar the Egyptian, the one who was cast out into the wilderness, the one who lifts up her voice and weeps in despair. Hagar was the slave woman purchased by Abraham and Sarah to bear children for Abraham when Sarah was believed to be barren. She was, in other words, trafficked and sold as a sex slave. Her very name shouts out her ‘otherness’ and lack of value – Hagar in Biblical Hebrew means ‘alien’ or ‘foreigner’. This is a name given to her by those who own her not by the mother who bore her. The wonderful Biblical scholar Wilda Gafney in her book Womanist Midrash tells us that this is not the only tradition of Hagar’s name. She figures prominently in the Islamic tradition and there her name is given as Hajar. This name has beautiful potential meanings from ‘Splendid’ to ‘Nourishing’. Here is a name that speaks of the worth that belongs to each human creature. Here is a name that says this woman is her own person, a beloved daughter of God, not a possession. This is what I will call her from now on.

I want to take us back a few chapters in Genesis to the place where we first encounter Hajar. At this point Sarah is angry with Hajar because she feels insulted by her attitude – she expects her slave to treat her with respect – and so she beats her viciously causing Hajar to flee to the wilderness. Here Hajar is again at the point of despair and here again God comes to her. God tells her that she and her son are in his care, that she will be the mother of a great nation – the first divine annunciation in the entire Bible. And even more extraordinarily than that – Hajar is the first human being allowed to name God. The first human being in the whole of our scripture who names God is a slave woman – the most powerless of human beings in every hierarchy of the time. And the name that Hajar gives to God is El Ro’i, God of seeing, interpreted by Gafney as meaning ‘Have I seen the one who sees me and lived to tell of it?’. God sees Hajar. God sees her as a human being of meaning and significance, as one who has the right to name the divine as it appears to her, as one strong enough to encounter the living God and to continue living. She is the one who is promised life not only for herself but for her children and her children’s children. And in the second encounter we heard today Hajar’s identity is affirmed as a beloved champion of God’s purposes: no one’s property, no one’s slave. The UK and the US ended slavery generations ago. They officially recognised that no human being should be another person’s property. But white society never took the next step. The step of seeing the children of freed slaves as equal to the children of those who owned them. The step of hearing hard truths and seeking reconciliation through justice. The step of making Black Lives Matter a reality rather than an essential rallying call. The step of racial justice.

And, especially relevant in theology and the academy more generally, the step of listening to the names that Black voices are giving to reality and to God. If all you read in theology or fiction or news articles are the writings of white men then you are not learning the full truth of our world or of God. If you are not hearing womanist voices naming God then you are not hearing a crucial part of how God names Godself. We need to know the God Hajar named – El Ro’i – the one who sees the reality of injustice and oppression; the one who reveals divine reality most clearly to those on the underside of power. We need to know Hajar’s God and we need to work with Hajar’s God to dismantle racial injustice and undo the long, painful legacy of slavery. And we need to do it now.

Reference: Wilda C. Gafney, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.

Anti-racism Reflections – what does our report card look like?

In this blog, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, reflects on the progress we’ve made in making King’s an actively anti-racist university, a year on from the murder of George Floyd. 


This last week I have been able to return to fitness classes at the gym (4 in one week to get my sluggish body moving again – go me!).  Most of my classes have been taught by Fiona – who has been motivating us by saying ‘success is finishing the class wanting to come back.’

This has really struck me as I reflect as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) practitioner on the anniversary of George Floyd’s tragic, very public and utterly preventable murder.

It is a cliché to say it has been two years like no other. A global pandemic that has seen us all in the UK, as far as possible, confined to our homes. A period where collective and social responsibility has meant that social contact has been fraught with danger. And then, if the pandemic was not already intense enough, we add to that the recognition by many that we have a similar level of dangerous toxicity in the form of racism.

2020 and 2021 has been a time when the world seemed to be collectively galvanised to address racism in a way that I have never seen before. I am still curious as to why the death of George Floyd, whilst horrific, was so catalytic.

What was distinctive about this event that motivated people so differently?

The systemic racism that enables everyday violence and exclusion of people of colour – particularly Black people – was not news to those of us that make up the Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority community or, in fact, the global majority!

It is something that those of us who experience racism have been highlighting forever and an issue that many professionals and activists have been seeking to address for a long time. Whatever it was – something about the confluence of events and experiences in 2020 and 2021 – it led many more people in the world to realise and accept that as a global community we were moving too slowly to combat the toxic, pervasive, all-consuming virus that is racism.

That eruption of world feeling was felt very strongly here at King’s. On June 9th 2020 , we held a powerful leadership summit where we made a commitment to being an anti-racist university. This, alongside the growing access to educational resources and increased attention, created a window of opportunity for a change in pace in achieving anti-racism outcomes. At least, that is how it has felt to me.

Now, in my 4th year at King’s as Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, I experience almost daily a mixture of conflicting feelings that fluctuate between pride and shame, pragmatism and ambition, fear and frustration. I am proud that we, collectively at King’s, are taking our equality, diversity and inclusion ambitions and particularly, our commitment to being anti-racist, seriously. Yet, I am frustrated with the pace of change. I am vexed that the good work we do often rests in siloes and isn’t something enough people are aware of or involved in.

I know that there is a widespread lack of trust, general suspicion and dissatisfaction amongst many, particularly those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. People tell me that they don’t believe there is a real commitment to King’s being anti-racist. They tell me that progress is too slow or non-existent. This is very understandable but also upsetting and demoralising.

I find myself questioning and second guessing myself? Have I sold out? Am I institutionalised? Am I too lenient on those around me in senior leadership? Am I out of touch? Do I even know what I am talking about? Am I letting people down, particularly people of colour? I know it’s not about me and that no one person can make the difference needed by themselves, but as the lead professional in this space, I feel the weight of responsibility and take our lack of progress and the resulting community feeling very strongly.

What I have witnessed here at King’s tells me that we are an organisation of enormous heart and ambition, but that our complexity and desire to be collaborative also makes us slow and ponderous. That can be perceived as resistance.

I have worked with many organisations to get leadership to pay attention and act, being forced frustratingly frequently to prove the point that race, and other inequality exists; laboriously and repetitively identifying the evidence of inequality and its impact. I know many individuals, practitioners and networks still face this daily, and maybe it is what many at King’s are experiencing.

As we continue this battle against racism, it is more important than ever that we all proactively support and prioritise our personal wellbeing, especially in this week that might be particularly traumatising for the Black community. You can find some links to wellbeing support here, these resources having been researched for Black people and for non-Black allies.

However, for me it is still – disturbingly – refreshing and frankly surprising when those in power at King’s don’t require repeated proof. Where instead they are willing to examine and tackle the roots of all inequality, and they take on the work themselves – something which in 2020/1 seems to have shifted us significantly forward. For example, every area of professional services has taken forward activity to tackle racism, and every faculty has an EDI committee and set of priorities. You can find out more about the breadth of our anti-racism work here.

So, as an experienced practitioner, I judge there to be something qualitatively different here at King’s to what I have experienced before. But, I also realise how intangible and ephemeral that is; that it may be invisible and to some extent makes no difference to those suffering on a daily basis. I also recognise that many people have become so frustrated and fed up that they refuse to make any more allowances for our slow progress.

This is where Fiona’s ‘success is finishing the class wanting to come back’ really strikes me. In each conversation we have and activity we run around race equality and developing anti- racism, I feel the need to strike a balance between identifying the issues and empowering those around me to take action, by building their confidence, capability and commitment. This is a fine judgement to make, though.  How hard do I push? How strong do I make my language? I want them to ‘want to come back’. I want them to grow and engage – I don’t want them to withdraw. When I first started here at King’s, one of our most senior leaders told me I had to judge all my actions carefully so that I wasn’t rejected by the ‘immune system’ of the organisation. I found this both useful and telling – was this advice given to white/male people starting too, I wondered? The reality though is this is the line I walk as a practitioner – as a bi woman of colour, each and every minute.

The anniversary of George Floyd’s death gives me and us a good point to reflect and consider: have we made all the progress it was possible to make this year in being anti-racist, in our ambition to be intersectional by default? I doubt it, but what has stopped us? What are we doing that is working and what we should magnify? What can we do better and faster in this coming year?

I am keen for all members of the King’s community to engage with those questions and send us in your reflections and ideas. So, please do take some time to reflect – perhaps the inordinately long time of 9 minutes and 29 second that Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck – and let us have your thoughts and views. You can share any thoughts and reflections you have with us via email, at diversity@kcl.ac.uk.

 

 

Anti-racism at King’s

King’s interfaith week has been an opportunity for us to work in partnership with the Office for Students to promote dialogue between different parts of our community. We see conflict around the world based on religious or racial inequality such as the recent increased violence in the Middle East or sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland, which are further reminders of religious intolerance and inequality that still prevails in society.

At King’s, we’re dedicated to ensuring that our community is actively anti-racist. In many ways, this journey is a difficult and uncomfortable one, as it forces us to confront harmful behaviors that are implicit and unconscious. Next week also sees the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in the United States, which together with murders of Breonna Taylor and Armaud Arbery, led to Black Lives Matter, one of the biggest anti-racist movements in the US and the world in modern times.

Over the past year, people across our community have stepped forward and made active changes to contribute to King’s anti-racism efforts. Some of the steps include:

However, there is still more to do to ensure our communities  at King’s and beyond are free from racism and discrimination. It is more important than ever that we’re accounting for the wellbeing of our Black community. Next week we have a special series of events organised by the Students and Education Directorate , which will serve as spaces of reflection for everyone across King’s. Here are a few other ways in which we can contribute, as Black people or non-Black allies:

All members of our community can get involved in the efforts we are sharing here to ensure that King’s is a safe and welcoming place for everyone.

The Demand for Difference

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of opening our Network summit in partnership with Radius, and earlier in the week, the privilege of attending the launch of our new Mutual Mentoring scheme. In doing so, I was able to reflect on how essential building empathy and understanding are, and the role which staff networks play in EDI success. Celebrating diversity and difference and building community is a critical component of our EDI strategy here at King’s. It is one of the reasons we have made a conscious and proactive effort to develop and support staff networks, partner with KCLSU, broaden our development approach to  More than Mentoring, and ensure that we continue to support network development and wellbeing via events like the Radius summit.

Celebrating difference is about recognising that each employee or student is unique and valuing that individual difference. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond tolerance, to fully embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions that a truly diverse community can bring. Celebrating cultural events across the year, whether it be Pride, Black History Month, Trans Awareness Week, or Disability History Month, which we are currently celebrating, helps to unite and educate, and allows us to better understand each other’s perspectives.

King’s College London’s Proudly King’s Network at London Pride

Through understanding a range of diverse backgrounds and experiences, we can all gain a sense of pride for the diversity of our culture. Celebrating and understanding varied backgrounds is crucial to personal and community growth.

There are so many benefits of celebrating differences and enabling people to be their true selves at work. For example, doing this helps us and our organisations overcome stereotypes.

‘A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. It is an expectation that people might have about every person of a particular group’

Stereotyping, whether it be conscious or unconscious, is too commonplace. It has a negative impact on the way people see and behave with others who they perceive (consciously or unconsciously) as different. Stereotyping encourages us to make assumptions about others, which can be incorrect and hurtful, as well as hindering collaboration and teamwork. When an organisation celebrates differences, it encourages the dissolution of preconceived notions, breaks down stereotypes and helps us to see people for who they are.

Celebrating difference and counteracting stereotypes discourages racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, to name but a few key things we must combat. These are often borne out of fear and ignorance. In the workplace, it could be a subtle joke or simply leaving someone out; either way it is not something we want to persist. With increased awareness and appreciation of different cultures and races comes increased respect for other people and their differences. Prejudice and stereotypes are removed through education and celebration and their removal is a necessity to discourage the ignorance that supports these ‘isms’.

People tend to surround themselves with people ‘like them’, as it is familiar and safe. Therefore, it is important to actively build cultural awareness of difference. Encouraging working with different cultures and backgrounds not only helps to educate others and build appreciation of other cultures and their histories, but it can also prevent ‘groupthink’.

Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives. Groupthink is based on a common desire not to upset the balance of a group of people.

It is proven that having a more diverse set of people in the room prevents groupthink, leading to innovation, which ultimately leads to better decision-making. Increasing openness to difference helps create new ways of working, improves current processes and gives people the ability to make changes in the way they work, for the better. Once again, I recommend my AKC lecture to consider this in more detail.

Groupthink can encourage harmful or detrimental ways of thinking

In seeking ‘unity’ we must, at the same time, remember and celebrate individual uniqueness.  Without this we will not be enabling people to be themselves. We will instead risk forcing them to assimilate to ‘a norm’. Embracing and celebrating difference brings a greater breadth of ideas and solutions and builds a culture where everyone feels valued and appreciated. Developing this inclusive culture requires more sophisticated and capable managers, as increased diversity increases the perspectives and ideas that need to be reconciled and rationalised. One of the ways we are helping build this is via Cultural Competency, a set of behaviours which takes this thinking and embeds it into the curriculum and professional development for all students and staff.

I developed my own confidence and capability by learning about myself and my differences, and consequently, was able to move from feeling othered to feeling empowered and confident. This is why I believe that this celebration of difference and building of community is one of the most crucial requirements of being successful, and why I have embedded it within King’s overall EDI  .

Jessie Krish on Black Lives Matter & Race within the Arts and HE

Jessie Krish, who recently joined Equality Diversity & Inclusion as a part-time Project Assistant, and works outside of King’s as an independent curator, shares her reflections on the Black Lives Matters protests of the summer and how they inform work in the Cultural Industries and Higher Education sector. She recently co-edited a ‘Reader’ for e-flux journal on Loot and Looting.


After Minneapolis Police officers killed George Floyd, protests grew, and cities around the United States saw their buildings boarded with sheets of plywood: a defense against the threat of looting. With workers who usually inhabit these buildings absent due to Covid-19 lockdowns, the boards were there to protect commodities. Donald Trump’s command “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” was a violent call to protect property, even at the expense of human life.

Whilst it is crucial to maintain the distinction between political protest and particular instances of looting that occurred in the recent wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, it was looting in particular that escalated the protests, polarised public and political opinion, and contributed to the explosive impact of the BLM movement. Some viewed these acts of theft and vandalism as symbolic rejections of structures perpetuating state violence, systemic racism, and capitalist exploitation. But mainstream coverage in the United States’ media tied looting to people of color, and failed to connect these actions with the histories of systematic dispossession that Black Lives Matters activists protested, or the racialised extraction that subtends economic activity almost everywhere.

In the midst of the protests, American Artist presented an intervention at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s online collection, in which all digital images of the museum’s artworks were temporarily replaced with a plywood texture. The title of this project, Looted, pointed directly to the imperial legacies and colonialist practices of many Western museums, as well as activist and artistic institutional critiques in which the uncomfortable figure of museum “loot”, stolen from indigenous peoples and foreign nations and yet to be repatriated, is often central.

A screenshot of Looted on the Whitney’s website

Presenting Looted as an act of ‘redaction and refusal,’ the Whitney sought solidarity with activists, and to reframe the narrative around the boarding up of the museum’s building during this period. American Artist’s Looted highlights the extreme contradictions that cultural institutions must hold (for example, guarding looted national property, whilst developing convincing and inclusive postcolonial narratives) when they engage with decolonial work. Work which requires structural, material and cultural change.

The boarded museum and its website populated with squares of rendered plywood, is a visual reminder of the close proximity of current state violence to the museum’s stolen imperial acquisitions. Whilst they can feel worlds apart, the street, museum, and university are at close quarters, and activities in each domain stand to impact cultures, structures, and material outcomes across the board.

I’m writing following the recent publication of Universities UK’s report Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education (November 2020). Following the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s publication of evidence of widespread racial harassment on university campuses just over a year ago, this report calls on university leaders to acknowledge that UK higher education perpetuates institutional racism. It cites ‘racial harassment, a lack of diversity among senior leaders, the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap and ethnicity pay gaps among staff as evidence’. Recognising that racial harassment is just one dimension of structural racism in the Higher Education sector, it acknowledges the depth of this problem and the breadth of work required, making detailed and evidence-based recommendations beyond the scope of the guidance, including the need to diversify predominantly Eurocentric and white university curricula.

Reflecting on a year in which the BLM movement has exploded and been met with the force of the state, racial discrimination has risen, and racial health inequalities have been exposed as a matter of life or death with grossly uneven outcomes for coronavirus patients of different ethnicities, I am heartened to see UK Universities addressing harassment so thoroughly. I share their positivity for the impact that the HE sector could have, with the potential to shape the minds and attitudes of 429,000 staff, and 2.3 million students, a generation whom, particularly in London, will be unprecedented in their diversity. Time to get to work!

« Older posts

© 2022 Diversity Digest

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑