More Groundings

The final piece, and rejoinder, in The Disorder Of Things forum on The Black Pacific.


I have to say, I really didn’t know what to expect from my interlocutors. Perhaps that’s because I have little idea what kind of response to expect from the book and who its readership might be. In any case, these varied and passionate responses are a joy to engage with.

Heloise, you not only provide a lucid introduction to some of the key themes and provocations of my book; you also usefully connect its arguments to broader intellectual and political currents in the world of development, especially regarding indigenous struggles in and over the Americas. Olivia, you provide a striking engagement with the politics of intellectual investment, one that in many ways exceeds the strictures of my book to become a general mediation upon ethics and method. Ajay, you poetically and critically reflect on solidarity building across/besides territory and culture, and in so doing you begin to ask pertinent questions about “groundings” with reference to Turtle Island. Krishna, yours unfolds as a forceful defence of the urgency to focus intellectually upon the materiality of dispossession.

I’m going to engage with your response, Krishna, at some length. But firstly, I want to call attention to and amplify some of the questions that Olivia and Ajay ask.

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The Black Pacific: Thinking Besides the Subaltern

The first in a forum on Robbie’s recently released The Black Pacific: Anti-Colonial Struggles and Oceanic Connections (Bloomsbury, 2015). A number of commentaries will follow in the coming week.


May 1979. A Black theatre troupe from London called Keskidee, along with a RasTafari band called Ras Messengers, land at Auckland airport, Aotearoa New Zealand. They have been invited by activists to undertake a consciousness-raising arts tour of predominantly Māori and Pasifika communities. They are driven almost immediately to the very tip of the North Island. There, at a small hamlet called Te Hāpua, Keskidee and Ras Messengers are greeted by Ngati Kuri, the local people of the land. blk1An elder introduces his guests to the significance of the place where they now stand. Cape Reinga is nearby, where departing souls leap into the waters to find their way back to Hawaiki, the sublime homeland. The elder wants to explain to the visitors that, although they hold an auspicious provenance – the Queen of England lives amongst them in London – Ngāti Kuri live at ‘the spiritual departure place throughout the world’. The elder concludes with the traditional greeting of tātou tātou – ‘everyone being one people’. Rufus Collins, director of Keskidee, then responds on behalf of the visitors:

You talked of your ancestors, how they had taken part in our meeting, and I do agree with you because if it was not for them you would not be here. You talked of our ancestors, taking part and making a meeting some place and somewhere; the ancestors are meeting because we have met. I do agree with you.

But Collins also recalls the association made betweenblk2 the visitors and English royalty, and there he begs to differ: ‘we are here despite the Queen’. Then the Ras Messengers begin the chant that reroutes their provenance from the halls of Buckingham Palace to the highlands of Ethiopia: “Rastafari come from Mount Zion.”

This meeting is emblematic of the story that I tell of The Black Pacific wherein Maori and Pasifika struggles against land dispossession, settler colonialism and racism enfold within them the struggles of African peoples against slavery, (settler) colonialism and racism. Sociologically, historically and geographically speaking, these connections between colonized and postcolonized peoples appear to be extremely thin, almost ephemeral. But those who cultivate these connections know otherwise. How do they know?

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Black Academia 1.1 (update)

Last summer I uploaded a blog post called Black Academia, which outlined the state of staff and students of African heritage (which for the purposes of this blog I term as Black) in UK academia. This is what I concluded:

 Black students are over-represented in general, but especially – and perversely – in less prestigious institutions. They are significantly under-represented when it comes to high attainment and career progression.  Black academics are under-represented in general, and they are acutely under-represented at higher levels of management and leadership. … While academia has opened its doors, it has been unwilling or unable to dismantle the norms, networks, and practices that reproduce white, rich male privilege in the first place.

Just recently I looked at this year’s ECU Equality in higher education report (2014) with data from the 2012/13 academic year. For my previous post I used a lot of data from ECU’s 2013 report (from the 2011/12 academic year). I was curious as to what changes the statistics might reveal, over the course of a year. Obviously only so much can change within one year. But I was curious nonetheless. Here’s what I found.

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Reparations conference, 2014, at Queen Mary University of London, organized by Rastafari Movement UK

There are now slightly more Black people working in UK academia; and this, combined with a shrinkage in the total number of staff, has raised the percentage of Black workers from 2.10% (in the last ECU report) to 2.24%. However, in terms of UK-national staff, the percentage is almost exactly the same as last time: 1.75%. Out of the total population of Black staff, both UK-national and non-national and including “mixed” people who identify as such, 41.1% have a “Caribbean” background, and 51.0% have an “African” background, with the remainder categorised as “other” Black. These figures are also almost exactly the same as last time. (As was the case in the last blog I am only including data on the Black category and not including “mixed” where it is not broken down into more specifics).

At 3.3% of the UK population, Black people remain, then, under-represented in staff positions across the university system. In fact, the percentage of white staff has grown. Last time, I calculated that white staff were 84.27% of the working population of academia compared to 86% of the UK population as a whole. Now white staff are 88.6% of the working population in academia. Last time, I calculated that if Black staff were to be represented on the same equitable basis as white staff (who had a differential of .97 between general population and academic work force), then Black staff would have to make up 3.2% of the working population of academia instead of their actual 2.10%. This time round, the differential for white staff is 1.03. Hence, the equitable percentage of Black staff would need to be 3.39% instead of the current 2.24%. 

Black people now constitute 1.2% of UK-national academic professionals: that’s a rise from last time of 0.1%. Which I guess is better than a fall of 0.1%. Continue reading

More Notes for Discerning Travellers

A little while ago I wrote a blog, Notes on Europe and Europeans for the Discerning Traveller. It was a fictional travel guide, but with all points speaking to historical realities.

What is it about a certain “European” sensibility? Not all people who live in European countries have it, of course, but this sensibility seems to define in the main what it means to be essentially “European”). I want to ask: what is it about a sensibility that can never, ever, look at itself, for itself, and in relation to what it does to others?

We all know that the European enlightenment was supposed to be built upon the pillars of self-reflection and accountability in thought and politics. It is funny, then, that the “European” so rarely seemed to be able to hold him/herself to reflexive account especially over European colonial pasts.

It continues.

I swear, if I believed in such a cosmology called “Modernity” I’d be calling the “European” a backward, traditional native ensconced in his/her own culture, taking his/her particulars for mystical universals, and unable to look at him/herself in the mirror to start the process of socialization and “childhood development”.

But I don’t believe. So I’ll just have to call this sensibility by more mundane descriptions, such as un-reflexive, un-accountable, un-relational.

Example (twitter response to my Travel Notes blog): Continue reading

Notes on Europe and Europeans for the Discerning Traveller

Europe has the only classical tradition that is also considered modern.

Europe claimed Greece as its ancestor. But not anymore.

Europe once turned a Black god white.

Once upon a time Europe decided that it was a family of nations. This decision is commemorated as the beginning of international law.

Because indigenous peoples were not mentioned in a very old book, Europeans wondered if these peoples were human.

Some of the Europeans who cleared lands of their indigenous peoples liked to represent themselves as indigenous princesses.

Europeans once thought that if they left Europe they would degenerate. To this day they view their cousins over the seas with suspicion.

European scientists once found a way to break up human beings into a set of quantum parts.

Europe is proud of freeing itself from metaphorical chains.

Europe got rich out of African slavery. Then it freed the slaves.

Europe was so concerned with slavery that it colonized the African continent.

In Europe you can baptises yourself so as to be born again with a humanitarian soul.

Some of Europe’s top philosophers were bigots and racists, even for their own time.

Europeans were so fascinated with primitives that they created a space in the brain called the unconscious.

Europeans say that Unconscious bias is regrettable but that it doesn’t make a person bad.

Europe prefers to narrate its eras of global war as eras of “long peace”.

Europe once had a big war with itself when some Europeans started to practice in Europe what they had been practicing in their colonies.

Algeria was a part of Europe. But Algeria was not part of the pax-Europa.

Anyone can be European so long as you tell Europeans where you come from.

Europeans can only trust women who show their whole face. Exceptions apply.

Europe never said thank you to muslim scholars.

The Mediterranean is currently the deadliest sea crossing in the world

Europeans are experts on Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Europeans prefer to learn about Africa, Asia and Oceania from other Europeans.

Europe is the only cosmopolitan that is allowed to keep its own adjective.

Europe believes that if it wasn’t written down it didn’t happen.

Europeans like to write about themselves.

Only Europeans can know Europe.

Once Europe was narcissitic, but Europeans fixed that by turning the mirror into a window onto the world.

Black Academia in Britain

The last few years have witnessed a growing concern with the challenges that peoples of African heritage – who I will define in this blog as Black peoples – face working and studying in the UK higher education system. Issues of the relative absence of Black people in influential positions have taken centre stage, alongside the direct and indirect discrimination that both black students and staff might confront. These are long standing issues. Indeed, for a number of years now, some British Black academics have made careers in North America more easily than in their domicile country. 

These challenges have been met by various recent initiatives, for example, a concerted effort to formally institute a British Black Studies, and the creation of a network of Black British Academics. To repeat, concerns as to the presence and experience of Black people in British academia are by no means new. But these concerns have been re-engaged with in a new context marked by austerity, the growing internationalisation of universities, and the radical changes to the public university system in Britain implemented by the coalition government who  are turning “multiversities” into “monoversities” organized singularly along the lines of commercial logic and interest.

Having been involved in a small way in recent re-engagements with the place and standing of Black academics and staff in UK academia I thought I would take stock and look at a few recent statistical and qualitative studies that appraise the state of Black academia in Britain, from both an academic and student standpoint.

Before I start, though, I want to say a few words about the internal composition of Black peoples in the UK. According to the 2011 Census, Black people now compose 3.3% of the population. However, the pronounced immigration over the last twenty or so years of peoples from the African continent has significantly shifted the demographics and dynamics of the Black population itself. Whereas, in the 1950s to 80s, Black Britain referred primarily to the “historical” African Diaspora – mainly those from an African-Caribbean background – it now predominantly refers to a new Diaspora with a continental background.

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Activism, Academia and Black Community Struggles

A little while ago Adam Elliot Cooper from Ceasefire Magazine interviewed Stafford Scott, along with myself, on Black community struggles, activism and academia in Britain. Stafford Scott was a co-founder of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign in 1985, and is now a consultant on racial equality and community engagement as well as co-ordinator of Tottenham Rights. The interview revolved around a one day workshop run by Dr Joy de Gruy in Tottenham last October, funded by Tottenham Rights and the Centre for Public Engagement, Queen Mary University of London.


Adam: Black community struggle has been an integral part of the way in which we understand the politics of race, class and empire in Britain today. Black communities and activists have led this struggle. But academics have played a role too. Stafford, in October 2013 you brought Dr Joy de Gruy over from the US to Tottenham to run a one day workshop on Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Why Dr Joy, and why Tottenham?

ScreenHunter_18 Apr. 17 19.50Stafford: It’s relatively simple to be quite honest. Why Tottenham? Because in 2011 parts of Tottenham burned as a result of the shooting of a young black male called Mark Duggan. It hit the headlines. As a result of some of us going to the police station rioting broke out and then spread across the country. We saw the media and the government’s reactions to those riots and it really was to dismiss the youths as feral criminals looking to make money out of someone’s death. It was dismissed as an opportunity for people’s materialistic natures to come out. What I wanted to do was put a total different perspective to it – a historical perspective. So I wanted to look at why rioting broke out. I was there, and I don’t believe that it was simply about Mark Duggan’s killing and the way in which his family was treated. I believe that there was a history – a context – to it, that some people chose not to examine. Duggan’s killing was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We had different events in 2013. One was about the uprising that took place on Broadwater Farm and the killing of Cynthia Jarrett, the killing of Joy GardnerRoger Sylvester and Mark Duggan – four people who died in Tottenham, with involvement of the police. So this was to help the community come to terms with recent traumatic events. We brought Dr Joy over to look at historic events that have caused us great trauma.

ScreenHunter_17 Apr. 17 19.50Adam: Dr Joy, a professor of social work, is famous for developing an analytical framework called Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome and for developing practical programmes that address the challenges of Black communities in the United States. So Dr Joy’s work is not only based on scholarship in the traditional sense but also research that has come out of participating in the struggles that Black communities face in the United States. Robbie, do you see similar work happening in Britain?

Robbie: I think historically there certainly was, you could see that kind of thing happening. Today I think it’s far less the case and that’s to do with a number of significant transformations in British society and in academia. Continue reading