Black Lives Matter

I want to express my unconditional solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters in the US, UK, and beyond.

Over the last week I have watched the unfolding events in the United States with growing horror. I have been dismayed by the murder of George Floyd by police, the brutal, violent, but all-too predictable response to protesters from US authorities, and subsequent murders of further Black men including Tony McDade, James Scurlock and David McAttee.

I have so much respect for those who have taken to the streets again and again to call for a change to the corrupt, racist systems that made this violence possible. In this post, I want to take advantage of my platform to share pre-existing information and resources.

As a white woman living in the UK, I am aware that such deep systemic racism is hardly limited to the US. We know that Black and Asian people are more likely to die of coronavirus. This is due to pre-existing social and economic inequalities that result from racism, which mean that many racial minorities are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions, and work in low-income jobs which put them at risk. We know that 1,741 people in the UK have died in police custody or following contact with the police since 1990, and no police officers have been convicted; we know that Black people and other people of colour are disproportionately represented among these deaths. We also know that Black people are even more likely to be imprisoned in the UK than the US, and this disproportionate prison population is a consequence of overt discrimination in both the criminal justice system and wider society.

These problems do not result from the actions of “bad apples”. They are systemic, the consequence of a system of white supremacy on which the wealth of the UK was built, and from which those of us who are white continue to benefit, regardless of what other challenges we face in our lives. To bring about change, we – those of us who are racialised as white in a system of white supremacy – need to think seriously about what we can do in our everyday lives to address our own complicitly, support our Black neighbours, and bring this system down.

I am writing this post because I know this blog has a readership; however, I hope to primarily direct your attention elsewhere. I am not the person whose work you should be reading to learn more about this, nor to think through the actions you might take. I recommend turning to the existing work of Black writers to understand what is going on, and to support Black activists in the US, UK, and beyond. The remainder of this post includes a (non-exhaustive!) series of links that might help fellow non-Black readers especially with this, especially if you are not currently able to take to the streets. But please also do your own research.

Educate yourself. A list of readings, videos, and podcasts on a range of topics including racism, protest, allyship, and prison abolition.

Donate to bail funds. In the US, suspects who can afford bail may be released from custody prior to a trial. In practice, this disproportionately impacts low-income communities, and hence disproportionately impacts Black people. Protesters and innocent bystanders alike have been subject to mass arrests in the last week alone.

Donate to other causes in the US. These include funds for victims, Black-owned businesses impacted by the protests, and related organisations and initiatives.

Donate to Black Lives Matter UK.

Support QTIPOC and BAME LGBTIQ+ groups in the UK. Follow, listen, learn, and donate.

Support people subject to harassment on the streets. Take action when you witness racist acts.

Challenge racist systems in your workplace. Think about how you might work through a union and/or work collectively with your colleagues to address racist hierarchies, taking into account factors such as management structures, hiring practices, insecure contracts, and the operation of class.

Challenge everyday racism among your friends and family. Make time and space for difficult conversations. Create space for others to question and challenge your pre-existing prejudices in turn.

Finally, I encourage fellow white people to think critically about where they are putting their support. Is your local UK “Black Lives Matter” protest actually being organised by white people and centring white voices? Is it associated with a group like the SWP front Stand Up To Racism, who have been criticised by Black feminists for their deep complicity in rape culture? Are you putting more energy into discussing what does and does not constitute “violence”, or condemning people for taking the streets during a pandemic, than you are into condemning and acting against the racist sickness that is the cause of the protests? Are you spending more time thinking about your own white guilt than how you might make productive changes in your life and in the lives of people around you?

Again, I urge you to educate yourself, and read what Black writers and activists have to say about these issues. I will be striving to do the same.

A Methodology for the Marginalised

This is a deeply strange time to have a new peer-reviewed article out. I’ve been on strike for weeks, and otherwise on annual leave, planning a move south (for my new job) which may well be indefinitely postponed. It’s hard to comprehend the enormity of the COVID-19 crisis, nor the fact that the most helpful thing I can do right now is stay put.

The article was originally drafted in 2018, and based on experiences I had during fieldwork and while disseminating my research between 2013 and 2017. With the pandemic upon us, this previous decade feels like deep, distant history. Here in the UK, the true, awful toll of the illness is yet to become apparent; yet cities are beginning to turn silent as we self-isolate, political axioms are turned on their head, and all conversation turns eventually to the virus.

In this context, it’s easy to wonder if any of the work we did a month or more prior could possibly still be relevant. And yet.

~

Cover image of the journal Sociology.My new piece is titled A Methodology for the Marginalised: Surviving Oppression and Traumatic Fieldwork in the Neoliberal Academy, and it is published in Sociology, the journal of the British Sociological Association. I use my experiences as a trans academic as a case study to talk about the huge inequalities endemic within universities, and how these disproportionately impact those who already experience forms of social marginalisation. My aim is not simply to chronicle the harms of marketisation, transphobia, sexism, and racism, but to also propose a way forward. We need to start thinking and acting more collectively; in addition to workplace organisation and union activity, this is relevant to how we design and implement our studies.

My proposed “methodology” involves bringing questions of solidarity and mutual support to the procedure of research design. Universities have long been bastions of privilege, with mechanisms of exclusion are unthinkingly built into every aspect of academic life. The only way we can possibly open up higher education is through creating systems of support which acknowledge and account for pre-existing inequalities, and these must be embedded within the process of knowledge creation itself.

My article uses the example of suicide within trans communities to illustrate this principle. Suicide ideation and suicide attempts are especially common among trans people. As such, it is highly likely that any given trans academic will either be suicidal, or will have friends who are. Consequently, if trans people are to stand a reasonable chance of surviving within the university, this is something that should be accounted for in research design and funding proposals as well as in wider institutional support structures.

~

It’s impossible right now to know when and if the world will return to “normal”. I have seen some contend that this cannot be possible given the devastating number of predicted deaths, the shock to our economic and political systems. Others observe that the prevailing social order has survived before, and argue that any emergency measures to support workers who have lost their livelihood and/or increase police powers will inevitably be reversed in the long term.

However, what we do know is that universities have historically been remarkably resiliant – as have the inequalities in our society. Whatever happens next, we must continue to fight for a better world, and that includes within academia.

We can already see this beginning to play out in the UK as universities scramble to shift their activities online. Managers are relying on staff to carry on teaching, conducting research, and undertaking assessment and monitoring activities such as the REF. Meanwhile, most of us struggle to balance working from home with looking after partners, housemates, and/or families, wrestling with IT systems that have been heavily undermined by cuts as shiny new buildings stand empty on our campuses. We cannot possibly expect to carry on as normal.

It is in this context that I invite you to read my new article, as and when you find the time and mental energy. It is one of the most difficult and vulnerable things I have ever written. I am really proud of it. It helped me think through some small ways in which I might change my work patterns and practice of solidarity, as part of a far larger push for change. I hope that in turn, it might help you also.

A Methodology for the Marginalised:
Surviving Oppression and Traumatic Fieldwork in the Neoliberal Academy

[click here to read in Sociology]

[click here to read a free open access version]