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Echoes Across Time

Black Hair in the Workplace

In UK workplaces, it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of their race, gender, sexuality or religion. However, in 2022, it is not yet illegal to discriminate against someone because of their hair. This means that while it wouldn’t be right, it is still possible for Black people to be penalised at work or at school for wearing their hair in a natural, afro hairstyle. 

In fact, Black people in workplaces and schools face regular and routine discrimination and unwanted attention because of their hair, which is often seen as “exotic”. This can be deeply upsetting, and contributes heavily to feelings of otherness and isolation at work or in school. People have been dismissed or even suspended from work or school, and not allowed to return until their hair was more compliant with policy. 

Often when people are penalised, they are told that Black hair is not “professional”, that it is messy, or even distracting. These prejudiced ideas that victimise Black people are rooted in the unfortunately pervasive and deep-seated societal ideal that white features are the standard, and are therefore held up as more desirable, professional and acceptable. 

In 2020, author and presenter Emma Dabiri called for discrimination against hair to be classed as racism under the UK Equality Act, and therefore made illegal. While changes to law have yet to materialise, there are initiatives such as the Halo Code, which implores workplaces and schools to commit to respecting and celebrating afro hairstyles. 

Whether it’s unwanted contact, comments, or even discriminatory rules that victimise Black hairstyles, schools and workplaces can be rife with potential difficulties. This can amount to pressure to straighten, hide or change one’s hair to be more accepted, less harassed and less at risk of prejudice.

 

Echoes Across Time

Colourism and Skin Bleaching

Colourism is a pervasive and damaging part of our society. While it is often explained as a prejudice against darker skin tones and a privileging of lighter ones, Dr. Aisha Phoenix defines it as ‘prejudice on the basis of skin shade.' Her inclusive definition draws attention to the fact that colourism has negative outcomes for people of colour across the spectrum of all skin shades. It’s worth mentioning that Dr Phoenix is one of just 160 Black lecturers in the UK, out of a grand total of 22,855. 

Colourism is rooted in the idea that proximity to whiteness is paramount - the lighter your skin is, the closer you are to whiteness and therefore the more accepted, less threatening and less “other” you are. This can be seen in the harsher treatment of people with darker skin within systems of authority, lower expectations of academic achievement or intelligence, less socioeconomic power and less privilege seen and felt by people of darker shades. 

Making matters worse is the support for this ideal shown in the technology, beauty and fashion industries. Many social media users have noted that filters often automatically lighten their skin, a factor that has damaging outcomes for how users, particularly Black young women, view themselves. Globally, there is also a huge market for skin-lightening products aimed mostly at Black women. The availability of these products implies that women with dark skin are not accepted or valued by society on a deep level, and that they should lighten their skin.

The popularity of skin lightening products however, indicates how embedded colourism is for Black women, particularly those with darker shades of skin. It is proof of the self-hatred and internalised racism and colourism that Black people experience within themselves.

 

Echoes Across Time

Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation

It’s not unusual for cultures to build from each other, in many ways it is how culture gets created. However, when something is used in a way that the originators find offensive, disrespectful or harmful, it becomes an issue of cultural appropriation. 

In simple terms, cultural appropriation is when someone from a dominant culture adopts or claims something from a culture that isn’t their own, for example a hairstyle, clothing or a way of speaking, and claims it or uses it as if it were their own. The term emerged in the 1990s, and was used by colonised and invaded cultures in the US and Canada as a way of describing the theft and disrespect their cultures saw at the hands of the colonisers. 

For example, a white influencer sporting cornrowed hair because it’s fashionable, is disrespectful to the history of Afro hair and fails to acknowledge the cultural importance of hair,  or credit the Black community. It is also often the case that when worn by Black people, these styles are vilified and even punished, making it even more offensive when white people are praised and celebrated as unique and cutting edge for wearing the same styles.

When people are respectfully involved in other cultures in a way that celebrates and benefits the cultures themselves, then it can be called cultural appreciation. But this hinges on respect, permission and actions that empower the originators. 

As culture shifts to make space for more diverse voices, artists and creators, the media we consume becomes more and more diverse with it. More diversity in consumers means more people to notice when something has the power to offend, and “cultural appropriation” becomes easier to spot. 

 

Echoes Across Time

David Oluwale Remembered Through Carnival

Caribbean Carnival is a bright, bold and brilliant celebration of culture, history and community. But although the costumes are vibrant and the music is upbeat, there’s more to Carnival than meets the eye, with some groups tackling themes of resistance and social justice. 

At the longest-running carnival in Europe, Leeds West Indian Carnival, one troupe paid tribute to a man who came to the UK in search of a brighter future.

For the fiftieth anniversary of the event, Mama Dread’s Masqueraders performed a piece called ‘All Ah We Are Migrants’ and - partnering with the David Oluwale Memorial Association - told David’s tragic story. 

David arrived in Hull, East Yorkshire in 1969 as a stowaway in a cargo ship from Lagos. Like all migrants, He travelled in hope of finding a better life, but from 1953 to 1969 he suffered with mental health issues, homelessness and was subject to racism and police persecution. 

One day in 1969, David was horrifically hounded to death by two police officers and drowned in the River Aire near Leeds Bridge. David’s death was one of the first recorded deaths of a Black man in police custody in the UK.

Mama Dread’s troupe took on the challenge of bringing Oluwale’s story to the road for Carnival. The troupe was led by ‘King David’, a large paper-mache sculpture of David’s head, and costumes were based on the hibiscus flower, a symbol of joy and immortality. Blue fabric was used to symbolise water, recognising the perilous journey across the seas that migrants like David continue to make. 

An important tribute and a reminder of the work that’s still to be done for migrating people around the world. 

 

Emily Zobel Marshall - Leeds Beckett University 

Emily Zobel Marshall - Leeds Beckett University 

Echoes Across Time

Economies of Service: Plantation to Tourism

The tourism industry in the Caribbean attracts over 32 million international visitors every year. For many people, the area signifies holidays, luxury, relaxation and sunshine. However, the tourism industry in the Caribbean can also be seen as a hierarchical and exploitative structure that mimics the European and American-owned plantations of the slavery era. 

The Caribbean was first colonised by Spain in the 15th century. In the years that followed, sugar plantations became commonplace. They were usually owned by wealthy, white Europeans, who forced enslaved people, Caribbean people, to farm sugarcane. As was the norm, all the money, power and profit was in the hands of white colonisers, while the local people worked, suffered and saw no rewards. 

This structure is mimicked in the colonialist nature of the hotel industry in the Caribbean. Hotels and resorts are largely financed, owned, managed and frequented by white people. The people working in the hotels, cooking, cleaning and serving are almost always Black. This upsetting imbalance that keeps Black people in positions of servitude is no different to the plantation dynamic. It is the rich, white investors, hotel owners, management and visitors who reap the luxurious and financial benefits, while the Black staff are underpaid, undervalued and see no profits from the hotels they work in. Colourism is also highly present in these spaces, with lighter skinned people being offered more client-facing or managerial positions, while darker skinned staff fulfill “lower-skilled” positions like cleaning, waiting and gardening. 

The resorts create an idea of luxury and imply a quality of life that is simply not accessible or attainable for the local community. In fact, resorts will often be surrounded by high walls that prevent the people within them from seeing the relative poverty that these developments are built amongst, and even create.

 

Echoes Across Time

Imported Homophobia in Africa

It is illegal to be gay in over half of the countries within the continent of Africa, and in four of those countries, homosexuality is punishable by death. It may be surprising, then, that much more relaxed attitudes towards sexuality and gender existed in African communities before they were colonised by European countries. 

The current climate in Africa is undoubtedly hostile towards the LGBTQ+ community. But many of the laws that are in place to criminalise homosexuality were instigated by British colonisers, rooted in Christian ideology and enforced in African countries in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Prior to this, same-sex relationships and gender fluidity were, in some African communities and tribes, completely normalised and accepted. Sexually fluid and gender fluid people were even often viewed as powerful manifestations of a higher power. This would suggest that homophobia, hatred and prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community is an imported concept, just one of the many damaging ramifications that Britain left in its wake.

Interestingly, African politicians and anti-LGBTQ+ campaigners often blame the West for bringing homosexuality to Africa in the first place, as if it didnt exist there before that point, labeling homosexuality itself as un-African. 

Despite Britain’s own anti-LGBTQ+ laws being significantly deconstructed in the last 50 years or so, homophobia is far from eradicated in the UK and it remains an issue at the forefront of society’s consciousness.

By comparison, the still-present criminalisation of homosexuality in Africa means that millions of gay people living there today are forced to live in secret, in fear of persecution, or even leave their home countries to live in places where it is less dangerous to be visibly LGBTQ+. 

 

Echoes Across Time

The Sexualisation of Black Men

Throughout history, Black men have been consistently portrayed as aggressive, animalistic and hyper-sexual. These prejudices stem from the dehumanising attitudes held towards Black men during slavery and outdated views that link Blackness to “savagery”. 

During the era of enslavement, Black men were considered livestock - their physical strength and breeding potential being their main value. The emphasis on physicality often made Black men sexually desirable to white women, who had the power to force them into sexual encounters. white men would then blame and punish Black men, and use the encounters as evidence of their savagery, uncontrollable sexuality, and threat to white women and society as whole.

A tragic example of this is the story of Emmett Till, who was just 14 when he was accused of “flirting” with a white woman in a local store. Later that day he was abducted, tortured and murdered by a group of white adult men who felt that he had committed a crime, was a danger to white women and should be aggressively punished to the furthest degree. This heightened reaction has numerous drives, one being the inherent fear white people held of a slave uprising, in which Black slaves would have the power to overthrow their captors, and therefore must be kept down at all costs.  

Today, this sexualisation is often referred to as fetishising - where Black people are specifically marketed or appreciated for their exoticism. This hangover from the past means that Black men are feared, over-policed and seen as dangerous, threatening and sexually uncontrollable, and are subject to poor treatment and socio-economic deprivation. 

Stereotypes like over-sexualisation dehumanise and can even endanger the lives of Black men. They can also affect how Black boys and men see themselves as they work to fight against assumptions around their aggression and masculinity. 

 

Echoes Across Time

Angola Prison: Solitary Confinement as Control

Originally an 8,000-acre plantation, Angola, the Louisiana State Prison, is now an 18,000-acre monolith, which detains a disproportionate number of Black people in an uncomfortable echo of the confines of enslavement.

The population of prisoners, most of which are imprisoned for life, have no chance of parole. As part of a rehabilitation programme, the prison puts these people to work doing numerous profit-making activities, including growing soybeans and picking cotton.

Despite over a century of evidence showing the numerous negative effects on the psyche, with no positive effects of control or reform, the prison is renowned for the practice of solitary confinement. Three members of the Black Panthers, who spent a combined period of more than 100 years in solitary confinement in the prison are known as the Angola 3.

Albert Woodfox, who founded the first and only chapter of the Black Panthers in a prison, spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement in Angola. Released from incarceration in 2016, Woodfox holds the unfortunate record of being the person who has spent the longest time in solitary confinement in America.

The practise of solitary confinement developed with the Quakers. The underlying belief was that if a person spent time along with a bible and no distractions, reform would surely follow.

The Quakers had been wrong. The psychological effects of solitary confinement are now well documented, including PTSD to suicide. Ignoring the detrimental effects for the perceived control it gives over prison populations the practice is still readily in use in Britain and the UK. 

 

Justice Postponed

Facial Recognition Software

The emergence of facial recognition is credited to Woodrow Bledsoe, Helen Chan Wolf and Charles Bisson. These three, from 1964, used computers to recognise human faces but without success.

It took Harmon, Goldstein and Lesk to make facial recognition systems more accurate in the 1970s. They developed a system of measurements to classify photos. In 1988, Sirovich and Kirby started using linear algebra to address issues the systems faced. Facial recognition maps, analyses and confirms the identity of a face in a video or photography.

The use of facial recognition systems has since spread widely - probably more widely than many people are aware. Introduced in 2014 on the Police National Database (PND) and other law enforcement bodies around the world, it includes an incredible 400 million faces. Your face might even be on the system. 

Built on proprietary algorithms, the software detects, analyses and recognises faces in photos. Many have commended the emergence of the software, saying it can be used to monitor criminals, help identify child victims of abuse, increase security at airports and border crossings, and monitor suspects at large events. 

The system is not flawless, however. Created by humans, the system has human errors built into it. 

In 2015, Google had to apologise after its image-recognition photo app initially labelled a photograph of a group of African American people as “gorillas”. Also, cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, Berkely, Boston, Vermont and Portland have banned government organisations from using digital recognition systems. The main issue is that the system has been identified as racially weighted.

Despite these current flaws, the future of facial recognition software has the potential to be exciting. The technology is expected by many to grow and create enormous revenue streams. Schools, hospitals, churches and surveillance industries will all be massively influenced by this technology.

 

Justice Postponed

Leroy Logan and Institutional Racism

In the UK, US and other parts of the world, major institutions operate in ways that is discriminatory against those of African descent, Asians and other minority ethnic groups. This is referred to as institutional racism. 

The term "institutional racism" was coined by Carmichael in his book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, a book he wrote with Charles Hamilton in 1967. Institutional racism in the UK was defined by Sir William MacPherson in the Macpherson Report following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, as the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their culture, colour or ethnic origin. It manifests as discrimination in areas such as employment, health care, housing, political representation and criminal justice.

The British institution that has most frequently been charged with institutional racism is the police. In 1981 a judge named Lord Scarman led an inquiry into the Brixton uprisings. Scarman admitted in the report that minority representation in the police force was poor and that Black people were stopped and searched far more frequently than others.

One man who risked everything to fight institutional racism in the police is Leroy Logan. Born in London to Jamaican immigrant parents in 1957, he became one of the UK's loudest advocates for more equitable policing. As a young man, he saw his father being brutally beaten by the police - a traumatic experience that made him decide to shake changes in the force which he joined in 1983. He became a superintendent and was a founding member of the Black Police Association and was its chairman for 30 years. He was rewarded an MBE in 2000 for his services.

 

Justice Postponed

Mortality In Custody

Co-founder of the UK Black Lives Matter movement, Natalie Jeffers, stated: ‘We have dozens of Black British families left fighting for justice over their loved ones suffering state violence.’ Dr. Kojo Koram, from Birkbeck College informs us that the last time a police officer was successfully prosecuted in the UK for the death of someone in custody was in 1969.

However, in recent developments, West Mercia Police officer, Benjamin Monk, was jailed for eight years after being involved in the death of former Aston Villa player, Dalian Atkinson. He is the first officer in England / Wales to be incarcerated for manslaughter (while in the line of duty) in more than 30 years. 

Juries are often reluctant to convict police officers. When the officer is white and the victim is Black, it is even less likely that a conviction will be passed down. 

Former Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, commissioned Labour front-bencher David Lammy to investigate the issue of race and the British criminal justice system. The 2017 ‘Lammy Review’ revealed that the colour of a person’s skin has a measurable impact on how they would be treated at every stage in the judicial system. 

When a white person and a minority ethnic male have allegedly committed the same crime, the minority ethnic man is more likely to be stopped, searched, charged, denied bail and given a custodial sentence.

It does not stop there. The charity, Inquest, which examines state related deaths, concludes that minority ethnic people ‘die disproportionately as a result of use of force or restraint by the police, raising serious questions of institutional racism as a contributory factor in their deaths.’   

 

Justice Postponed

The New Cross Fire

The New Cross fire was a fire which started at a house party on Sunday, 18 January 1981. It raged through 439 New Cross Road in south-east London, killing 13 young Black people and injuring more than 50 others, most of whom were also Black. The party was a joint birthday celebration of Yvonne Ruddock and Angela Jackson who were both teens.

At the time, there was a high degree of racial tension in the area, and it was well known that the far right group the National Front were active in the area. Police officers at the scene of the fire initially pinned this as a racist attack and this theory was corroborated by eyewitnesses who reported having seen a white man drive away from the house moments after the fire had started. However, when arrests didn’t happen, the Black community was shocked by the indifference of the white population, and accused the London Metropolitan Police of covering up the case. 

The general indifference from the UK population towards this tragedy motivated Black people from across the UK to form the Black People's Day of Action. Approximately 20,000 people marched for over 12 miles through central London—from New Cross Road to Hyde Park in memoriam of the 13 killed.

Four decades later, the cause of the fire has remained a source of serious dispute. The case is an example of the indifference and disdain with which the UK Government and the media have treated the loss of Black lives. 

 

Justice Postponed

The Tragic Story of Sarah Reed

Black people constitute 8% of deaths in custody. This is as a result of a system that unreasonably suspects, arrests, convicts, incarcerates and - too often - takes the lives of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

On 11 January 2016, the world woke up to the shocking news of the death of Sarah Reed. Sarah, who was 32, was found dead in her cell at Holloway Prison, North London. 

Officers, doctors and social workers knew she had struggled for some time with mental illnesses. Why, then, was Sarah Reed in prison when she needed treatment and medication more than anything else? This is one of the issues explored in the analysis of various police forces up and down the country; how they are unable to support a society that is failing to treat illness. Before her death, Sarah wrote a series of letters to her mother, Marylin Reed, insisting she should not be in jail, but rather getting medication. 

The prison told Marilyn Reed conflicting stories about the death, attributing it to hanging, and later to “sophisticated ligature”. Prior to her death, Sarah was at the centre of police brutality when Metropolitan police Constable James Kiddie was caught on CCTV beating Sarah, dragging her across the floor and pressing her neck several times. James Kiddie was only dismissed from his job and given 150 hours of community service, a rather light punishment.

It is clear Sarah was failed by all institutions who could have saved her. May her soul continually rest on.

 

Justice Postponed

Stop and Search

The tragic demise of George Floyd in May 2020 and the consequential protests in the UK and around the world, have accentuated the significant impact that police interaction can have on people, particularly Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

"Stop and search" is a legitimate power given to the UK Police to search any individual suspected of carrying drugs, a weapon, stolen property or any gadget that could be used to cause harm. These laws are entrenched by Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 and Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. In addition, Section 66 of the Metropolitan Police Act (1839) allowed Met police officers to stop and search in London. 

The 1970s saw a growing need for gross police accountability in the use of stop and search. Black men increasingly took exception to the manner and frequency with which they were stopped and searched. As such, complaints of mass stops and searches of black people preceded the Brixton riots of 1981. It was eventually established that the main rift between the police and protesters was the disproportionate use of stop and search against the African-Caribbean community. 

Pressure groups, such as the West Indian Standing Conference and the Scrap Sus Campaign, highlighted the uses and abuses of stop and search. They galvanised support for a revision of the law which culminated in the abolition of ‘sus’ in 1981. This led to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure which found out that the police were allowing too many trivial cases to go to court. 

However, the use of stop and search by the police has continuously evolved through case law, legislative amendments and changes to police guidance. 

Today, politicians want to be seen to be tough on crime, especially with the perceived or legitimate rise in terrorism.  The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 empowers police to stop and search members of the public in anticipation of violence, and the Terrorism Act 2000 enables police to stop and search people and vehicles in order to look for acts of terrorism. 

How are these laws being felt on the streets? Figures reveal that Black and Asian people are more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. In London Black people were more than seven times more likely to be searched.  

 

First, Do No Harm

Covid and People of Colour

Since the pandemic began in 2020, the Covid-19 death rate has been consistently the highest among minority ethnic communities in the UK. More specifically, by the end of what’s known as the "first wave" of the pandemic, Black Africans showed the highest death rate in the UK. By the ‘second wave’, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities had become the most affected. When we consider that only 14% of the UK population is made up of people of colour, the data becomes even more shockingly disproportionate. 

There are numerous factors that have affected this outcome, including geography and socioeconomic status. A 2019 government study based on census data found that the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Black and Arab communities were the most likely to live in the most deprived areas of the country. This shows a strong correlation between the levels of access to income, employment, healthcare and education, and the rate of Covid-19 deaths. Meaning that the more deprived you are the higher your risk of death from Covid. 

It’s also important to note that over 50% of frontline staff and key workers are people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Doctors, nurses, shop assistants, transport workers and other key staff who have been working to maintain infrastructure and provide people with essential services are more likely to be people of colour than white. This means that, throughout the pandemic, people of colour have been more likely to be exposed to the virus through contact with large amounts of people in their daily lives, and an inability to work from home or shield effectively. 

The facts and statistics around Covid deaths make the societal and institutional barriers that consistently and disproportionately affect people of colour in the UK undeniably clear.

 

First, Do No Harm

Henrietta Lacks: A Life Beyond Death

Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman born in Virginia, USA, whose cells are still used today in drug research for treating illnesses and diseases. Born on the 1 August, 1920, she died just 31 years later. To many, though, she is alive and well in the form of her cells. 

A steel mill worker and a mother to five children, it was her fifth and final pregnancy that alerted Henrietta to feeling seriously unwell. In 1950, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. While undergoing radiation treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. George Gey, a tissue culturist, collected cell samples from her tumor, as well as healthy tissue from her cervix. 

He found that Henrietta’s cells had an extraordinary ability to replicate, making them a perfect specimen for disease research. Henrietta sadly died on the 4 October, 1951, and her “immortal” cells, now known as HeLa cells, have since been used to develop drug treatments for leukemia, polio and Parkinson’s disease. 

Henrietta’s cells were, and still are, ubiquitous in the science community. But this massive legacy was, in essence, based on stolen cells. All of this happened without Henrietta’s knowledge or permission, and completely unbeknownst to her family. It wasn’t until the late 90s that her great-granddaughter discovered the family’s connection to the HeLa cells while studying them in a Biology class. The family went on to rightfully claim their entitlement to reparations, compensation and agency over how the cells were to be used going forward. 

On the one hand, Henrietta’s story is one of immensely positive scientific and societal importance, and on the other, is it a horrifying example of the lack of bodily autonomy that Black people have suffered in the name of science. This injustice also helped to change legislation regarding informed consent when it comes to giving your cells to science. 

 

First, Do No Harm

Maternal Mortality for Black Women

Current statistics state that Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. This frightening statistic comes from a 2020 report by MBRRACE-UK, an auditing body who investigate maternal healthcare in the UK. Their report noted that factors like race and socio-economic background have a distinct and measurable impact on patient care.

Overall, the UK rates of death in childbirth are thankfully low, at less than 1 in 10,000. However, the relatively high rate for Black Women implies that there are severe inequalities at play here. This includes the fact that Black women in the UK are more likely to live in poverty, live in deprived areas with lower access to healthcare, more likely to experience physical and mental health problems and have less access to healthy foods. All of these factors can contribute to maternal ill-health and sadly, in some cases, to maternal death. 

Medical racism is also a factor. This is when non-white people receive poorer treatment in medical settings, because of negative stereotypes and prejudices based on race. For example, it is a known phenomenon that medical professionals underestimate Black patients’ pain, or wrongly believe that Black people feel less pain than white patients. If Black mothers are less believed when they are in pain, then it follows that they are less likely to receive appropriate care. 

Before 2020, Black women were five times more likely to die in childbirth. The small decrease to being four times more likely is significant. However, key socio-economic factors and the presence of institutional and medical racism still carry heavy weight and influence, and can mean that Black patients receive a poorer level of care, or are medically at a higher risk of fatal complications.

 

First, Do No Harm

What is "Poverty Porn"?

“Poverty Porn” is a tool that exploits people who live in poverty by creating any type of media content based on their suffering - advertising, films etc., that is intended to make viewers feel sympathy or pity, and therefore encourage them to give money to a cause. While it can seem like the intention is a good one, poverty porn can actually be incredibly damaging to the very people it claims to be “helping”. 

In 1984, a group of mostly white, British musicians got together to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, a pop ballad recorded to raise awareness for the famine that was then ongoing in Ethiopia. Not only were the lyrics of the song hugely problematic, but the music video included dehumanising footage of starving, emaciated children and desperate, grief-stricken adults against a backdrop of wealthy white celebrities in an expensive looking recording studio. This is a contrast which remains very insensitive. The song elicited an outpouring of support and donations, and was re-recorded and re-released in 1989, 2004 and 2014 to similar results. However, it also exploited and dehumanised the people being filmed, enforced the idea that continental Africa is defined by suffering, poverty and deprivation - which is not the case, and implied that white British heroism and generosity were the answers to very complex problems. 

Poverty porn enforces and promotes numerous stereotypes, simplifies incredibly complex issues such as war, famine and poverty, and feeds into the idea of white saviourism. It implies that poverty is a problem that can be fixed with money alone, rather than exposing the injustices that contribute to it. Not only that, but it also creates an “us” and “them” mentality, which further alienates white people from the realities of inequality and activism, and incorrectly implies the underdevelopment and inferiority of African countries when compared to the idealised way we live in the West.

 

First, Do No Harm

The Colour of Plasters

Some things are so ingrained in our society that we don’t think to question them. For example when we cut ourselves and grab a plaster, we don’t always consider the fact that this plaster’s design has the power to invalidate a Black person's presence in society. 

Plasters are designed to be “nude” or “skin-coloured” to blend in with the wearer’s skin, and for most Black people, they do the opposite. This decision to default to whiteness shows us that Black people haven’t been considered by suppliers, and therefore don’t have equal importance in society’s consciousness. 

In her famous book, Noughts & Crosses (2001), former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman imagines a reversed world, in which Africa has colonised Britain, thus oppressing white people. In a meaningful and memorable moment, one of her white characters is injured and wears “a dark brown plaster on her forehead which stuck out on her pale white skin like a throbbing thumb.”

Seeing this come to life in BBC’s 2020 adaptation of Noughts and Crosses was an undeniable show of how odd this colour disparity is. It exemplified that racism lives in the unconscious decisions and details of British society. The effect of this can mean a personal sense of invalidation, in that Black people aren’t able to see themselves as represented, respected or important to wider society.

Thankfully, Blackman isn’t the only person trying to highlight this microaggression, and there has been an increase in the variety of shades of plasters on offer. People have even taken to social media to share the unexpectedly strong emotional responses they have had to wearing a plaster that matches their skin tone and therefore doesn’t stick out. These seemingly small changes can have a huge impact on Black people’s sense of self and pride in their identity. 

 

Lost Innocence & Potential

Vincent Reid

Aged only 13, Vincent Albert Reid, better known as Vince, was among the youngest passengers on the Empire Windrush.

Vince left school early, after facing ridicule from his teachers about his Jamaican accent. He worked in the Post Office for a year before joining the Royal Air Force at the age of 16 as a mechanic. He became a corporal at 19 before buying himself out.

He then worked at Heathrow Airport but left when his bosses refused to allow him time-off to continue his education. He found work as a market researcher in 1967 and met Elizabeth Evans, an English woman. Despite family opposition, they married in 1969 and went on to have two children.

Although Vince had no formal qualifications, he was accepted by Sussex University as a mature student to read history. Graduating in 1973, he went on to do a master's in African and Caribbean Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. In 1974, he joined Brixton College of Further Education in South London, where he taught Caribbean and African history, mentoring both Black staff and students.

As someone committed to fighting racial and social injustice, his pioneering work with the Inner London Education Authority helped it to develop a more multi-ethnic curriculum. He became a senior lecturer there before retiring in 1995.

In 1998, Vince played a prominent part in the events that marking the 50th anniversary of Windrush’s arrival. He told the BBC that despite the problems he’d confronted during his five decades in the country, he preferred to live in England: “My family is here, my wife, my grandchildren are here – I have no significant roots in Jamaica, [though] I have been back to Kingston several times. My circumstances were significantly different to everyone else's, but personally I like England.”

 

Windrush Foundation

Windrush Foundation

Lost Innocence & Potential

The Lack of Diversity in Teaching

Marian Wright Edelman once wrote: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.' This quote neatly encapsulates the importance of representation in society, and the significance of not seeing people who reflect your identity in diverse roles. 

Currently, almost half of UK schools have an all white teaching staff, meaning the lack of representation starts early. If Black students are taught by mostly white teachers and headteachers, they miss out on the benefits of having role models with shared identity and experience. As well as this, they learn that only white people occupy positions of knowledge, education and authority, further depriving them of an inner sense of self worth, potential and capability, further widening the gap of inequality. 

A 2019 study showed that 85.7% of UK teachers were white. This number increases to 92.7% when looking at the number of headteachers in the UK. There are initiatives to recruit more non-white teachers to UK schools, but studies show that Black and minority ethnic teachers have higher rates of leaving the profession due to insensitive working environments, poor scope for career progression and the overall lack of sensitivity or attention paid to racial diversity in schools. Teachers who match their students’ ethnicities and cultures are shown to be more positive in their assessments of non-white students than white teachers, who often undermark and over-punish students of colour because of inherent prejudices. 

Simply put, if Black children do not see themselves reflected in diverse positions within society, it is harder for them to aim for these positions, and inherent prejudices have the power to hold them back even in their early experiences at school.

 

Lost Innocence & Potential

Unjust Recruitment Barriers

A 2021 survey by Statista.com, found the greatest barrier to employment for young Black people was prejudice during recruitment. A majority of 54% of people identified this as an issue.

This problem leaves ambitious young Black people frustrated, with opportunities unavailable to them that are offered to others. The issue is particularly acute in certain sectors of employment, including finance, banking, law and accountancy. 

Another survey, conducted by Business in the Community, found that recruitment agencies resulted in much more disproportionate figures for candidate employment when compared to the employment rates when candidates were employed directly by employers. When BAME demographic candidates applied for a job via a recruitment agency, 29% were invited for an interview compared to 44% of White applicants. When Black and white candidates applied directly to an employer, both achieved a 29% success rate in being invited to an interview.

One of the reasons discovered for this discrepancy is name bias. This is when people with more "white" sounding names are given preference over those with more ethnic-sounding names. A study by the British Academy found that 24% of applicants with a White British origin received a positive response on application whereas only 15% of people with an ethnic name had a positive outcome. The cover letter and CVs in the study were identical.

 

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The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Lost Innocence & Potential

Black Children and Adultification Bias

Adultification bias is the phenomenon where children are perceived as older than they are by adults. The evidence shows this is an issue for Black children of either gender. Both young boys and girls as young as five, but generally from about ten years old, are affected by the way adults respond to their behaviour as if they were much older.

In the UK, this results in harsher punishments for pupils by teachers than would be received by their white counterparts. This perceived maturity means Black children are expected to "know better", rather than being offered the leniency afforded to other children of the same age. This leads to Black children being seen as deviant and aggressive, which results in higher punitive action, including exclusions, which have a detrimental effect on young people's lives.

In the United States, the evidence of adultification bias amongst police officers is well documented in the different treatment of suspects of different races. The consequences of this adultification bias can be catastrophic.

In 2014, Tamir Rice was apprehended by police after being alerted by a call to the department about someone with a gun. It transpired that the gun Tamir Rice had was a toy. When asked, the officer who shot Tamir in the chest said he thought the suspect was 20 years old. Tamir was twelve. He died the next day.

 

Lost Innocence & Potential

“The Talk”: A Guide to Being Black in America

"The Talk" is a phrase which refers to the conversation Black parents in the US feel they need to have with their children about the colour of their skin. The Talk is an introduction to the unwritten rules of North American society. These rules woven throughout the psyche of the population have real-world and potentially deadly consequences.

Ultimately, The Talk conveys the message that whatever a person may be, they will be judged unfairly by the colour of their skin. 

Some of the issues raised in The Talk reveal the mechanics of how North American society works. Parents often tell children that they will have to work twice or even 100 times as hard to achieve the same results as their white peers.

Young people are often also told to modify, or at the very least, to be aware of how their behaviour might be perceived. This includes how they dress, speak, greet friends and the places they might go.

The Talk can cover many social aspects from interaction with law enforcement to interracial relations and employment. That so many parents feel it necessary to have The Talk, is telling of just how prevalent and deep-rooted the invisible racial divides are in US society.

 

Lost Innocence & Potential

Knife Crime, Gang Violence and Misrepresented Black Youth

Since 2012, in reverse of global trends, the records of gang violence involving youths and incidents with knives have been on the rise. From 2017 to 2018, there was an increase from 215 to 285 weapon-related incidents. Since 2012, there has been a 55% increase in youth admissions to hospitals in England for attacks involving a sharp object.

A surge in media coverage contributed to a potentially problematic misunderstanding of the issues, which tended to combine knife crime and gang activity. Along with this, the idea that people from minority ethnic backgrounds, immigrants and asylum seekers, were more involved with these types of crimes was disseminated.

People from minority ethnic backgrounds are also overly targeted by authorities, leading to distrust and disrespect of these authorities, with negative consequences. Despite portrayals in the media, the evidence points to no relation to gender or ethnicity in these types of incidents. 

The research does show associations between poor mental health and abusive childhood relationships as risk factors, which may contribute to a young person becoming involved in gang activities or knife crime respectively.

The increase in numbers of young people carrying a knife or sharp object perpetuates itself as those between the ages of 10-24 feel the need to carry a knife or sharp object for their protection. But the false narratives and resulting assumptions also impact young Black people, who, although they may not be carrying a knife, still carry the burden of stigma through misrepresentation. 

 

Lost Innocence & Potential

The Inequality of Internships

Modern internships, where people are asked to work without pay in order to get experience in a job role, present a greater obstacle for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

In many countries, including the UK and the US, there is a disproportionate wealth gap between white people and those from other ethnic backgrounds. This means that internships, which 60% of US employers said made candidates more attractive, create an unfair barrier to job opportunities and beneficial work experience. 

Whilst the ethics of unpaid internships by companies which turn a profit is a contentious issue, it is clear people who can afford to partake are granted access to positive outcomes, denied to those who cannot. This culture contributes to the disproportionate representation of Black people in roles which span a host of sectors.

Some have recognised the need to address this imbalance. The #10,000 Black Interns scheme in the UK is aiming to offer 2000 internships to young Black people across 24 different sectors. The scheme has partnered with over 700+ companies, including Netflix, Google and American Express.

The aim is to provide invaluable experience and opportunities for a demographic of young people who are typically underrepresented in positions of stature and influence. 

 

Lost Innocence & Potential

Black Women and the “Concrete Ceiling”

In order to acknowledge the greater challenges faced by Black women than men of the same race or white women, the phrase "concrete ceiling" has developed as an extension of the "glass ceiling" phenomena.

The term "glass ceiling" was first coined in 1978 by Marylin Loden to describe the invisible social barriers, which hinder women's progression to managerial and executive positions in the workplace. Over time, the term evolved to include other demographics of people who were disadvantaged against the status quo of white men who traditionally held positions of stature and power within companies. 

However, whilst the "glass ceiling" represents a challenge which white women have been able to smash through, the "concrete ceiling" is a much more difficult obstacle to overcome. It has been found that the intersectionality of discrimination, which Black women face, takes more force, skill and tenacity to break through.

Ultimately they are disadvantaged in a multitude of ways including unconscious biases, less financial investment and fewer opportunities for mentorship and promotion. These present challenges that are not experienced, or experienced to a lesser degree, by their Black male or white female counterparts.

With more than 1.2 million Black and mixed-race Black heritage women making up England's workforce, the issue is a pressing one. Whilst there has been an increase of attention toward racial justice and feminist issues, it is important those at intersectional vectors are not left to slip through the cracks.

 

Lost Innocence & Potential

The Schools-to-Prison Pipeline

The school-to-prison pipeline is a term which developed to describe the disproportionate number of Black students who enter the criminal justice system from the education system. Emerging in the 1990s, the term initially referred to the US and is now being used in the UK to describe similar experiences.

The concept describes how Black and minority ethnic children are punished more often or more harshly than their white counterparts who display similar disruptive behaviour. The accumulation of negative experiences, such as being excluded from school as punishment for culturally specific hairstyles or greetings, eventually makes these young people more likely to be incarcerated.

Some places in Britain report that exclusion rates are up to five times higher for Black Caribbean students than white students. In the US, although schools eventually became integrated after the segregation of the Jim Crow laws, currents of segregation still ran through schools. This bias, whether conscious or unconscious, created an environment where Black youth were ultimately funnelled into the judicial system. 

Despite a decrease in crime, 2.2 million people remain incarcerated in the US. The rate of imprisonment is higher than in any other country. Given the financial incentives of North American prisons, where the incarcerated are free or cheap labour for companies, this makes economic sense. However, figures on the proportion of the population locked up are interesting. Although 13% of the American population are Black, the prison system reports that 37% of the incarcerated population comes from this demographic. 

Whilst awareness is growing, the disproportionate statistics of incarceration still tell a tale of involuntary servitude for Black people and a system which promotes the movement of Black youth from schools into prisons.

 

Lost Innocence & Potential

The Black Curriculum: A Richer History

From Roman times onwards, Black people have been shaping the face of Britain with their rich contributions to culture and society. However, this shared illustrious history is rarely taught in the current school curriculum.

The reasons for this are plentiful: from restricted budgets; to the history being optional to teach; and even the lack of knowledge teachers have about Black history themselves, which makes them more comfortable teaching other subjects. Arguably, these reasons may be driven by an underlying factor.

Some understandably believe the erasure of Black people from the school curriculum is an active choice rather than a passive oversight. That the narrative of a precolonial white Britain is a satisfying one for the white population and therefore is a myth which is perpetuated by the history taught in schools.

The effects of omitting the roles of Black people throughout Britain's history in schools leaves youths from minority ethnic backgrounds with a skewed perspective of the world around them and of their place in it. Often, the history of Black people in Britain begins and ends with the "enslaver and enslaved" narrative; one which could easily be internalised by young, impressionable minds with no alternatives offered.

Founded in 2019 by Lavinya Stennett, The Black Curriculum is a social enterprise which looks to be an engine for social change by creating a more inclusive curriculum. Their aims are to imbue a sense of belonging, identity and inclusion in young people who may have not seen themselves reflected in the stories presented by the current curriculum, to teach accessible Black British history with the view of raising attainment and to increase social cohesion between young people throughout the UK.

 

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The following story contains content which some readers may find disturbing and / or may not be suitable for younger readers. Themes may include racism, racist language, violence, sexual assault, death. Viewer discretion is advised.

Lost Innocence & Potential

Sexual Violence in South and Central America

Sexual violence against women is higher in the Caribbean and Latin American (CLA) countries than in many other places on the planet. Studies conducted throughout the Caribbean show that this violence against women is linked with sexual abuse as a child. This normalises the abuse in the lives of the people affected. 

The evidence shows that women are most at risk from sexual violence from intimate partners. The commonality of this abuse ranges from 5% to 46%. The next greatest risk to women comes from the people the women know. This includes but is not limited to friends, neighbours, colleagues and priests. As with other places around the globe, sexual violence is far less likely to come from a stranger than from someone known to the woman.

There are several contributing factors which contribute to this heightened violence against women. The lack of support for women within communities is a primary source associated with sexual violence. Namely, that their sexual rights are not validated in the community and that institutions throughout society, including schools, work, law enforcement and families offer no refuge for those who suffer sexual violence. 

Within romantic relationships where women suffer sexual abuse, there is strong evidence which cites an imbalance of power dynamics as being an issue. Problems which have been seen to lead to sexual violence are men's jealousy, the refusal by a woman to have sex with a man and a man losing his sense of control over the relationship.

 

Lost Innocence & Potential

Children in Care

Being a child in care, sometimes known as a “Looked After Child” means that someone has been the responsibility of their local authority, rather than a parent or guardian, for a period of more than 24 hours. This can be because of family illness, safety issues at home or they may have arrived in the country as an unaccompanied asylum seeker. Despite only making up 5% of the under 18 population in the UK, Black children make up 7% of children in care, meaning that overall, Black children are more likely to end up in care than white and Asian children. 

Of the over 80,000 children in care as of 2020, white children made up 74% of them, and 84% of children who were adopted. The rate of adoption for Black children is disproportionately low, making up just 2% of adopted children in 2020. In fact the rate of Black children being adopted has decreased in recent years. The reasoning behind this discrepancy is very complex - not only are there negative stereotypes attached to Black children, there are also fewer Black adopters, making it difficult to place Black children with families that understand and relate to their background. 

Statistics also tell us that 25% of the UK’s homeless and prison populations are care leavers or have spent time in care, meaning the outlook for Black care leavers is significantly more challenging. 

The stats aren’t all negative however, as Black children in care attain similar levels of academic achievement as white children in care. However, research into outcomes for Black children in care also suggests that not enough evidence has been collected to adequately assess these outcomes, again showing us the discrepancies in attention paid to the wider issue of Black children in care.