“Our society has been built on rotten foundations, and if these foundations are left ignored they will fester… As White people we must honour the knowledge and expertise of all communities by a change in our behaviour, through action to decolonise our systems…”Read More
Institutional racism still plagues policing, a chief constable has warned
This quote is from an article last month, two decades after the Macpherson Report (1999) found that police failures allowing the racist killers of black schoolboy Stephen Lawrence to escape justice, were in part due to "institutional racism”. I remember it well as at the time I was a Law student studying Race Relations.
Today, as we approach 2019, I have just completed a 16,000 mile journey with my family cooking with and learning from displaced peoples across Europe. Rarely, other than humanitarian volunteers and police authorities, did I see a white face in the makeshift camps and communities where we worked. I would argue that institutional racism goes far beyond the police force in the UK. Even more worryingly there is a surge in far-right activity. A talk given by the Institute of Race Relations’ Director Liz Fekete for a UK Parliament Roundtable on Racism and Hate Crime earlier this year can be read here.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-
and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I know from personal experience that if trauma is not acknowledged and healed, it will not go away, but instead will fester. Can the same be said about trauma resulting from systemic racism? As a global society, if we do not acknowledge these entrenched injustice issues and actively facilitate the healing of trauma caused to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, I do not believe we will ever be able to move forward together, as an inclusive, future-proof global society.
So as white people, what can we do about it? Starting from today. Now.
We must mindfully use our own privilege to the advantage of everyone in our communities. Dr Willie J. Parker, Ob/Gyn Physician and Reproductive Justice Advocate, describing a group of white women wearing hoodies in protest to a shopping mall, commented,
their practice of the same action without consequence, demonstrates how people with privilege can use it to dismantle the system
Yet this is not simply a case of striding forward again with our own solutions. We must listen to and learn from the solutions that have already been offered by Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, and there are already many. Furthermore, it is not enough to be non-racist but instead "actively anti-racist” as demonstrated through the work of Americans Angela Yvonne Davis, political activist, academic and author and Rachel Cargle and her groundbreaking fund Therapy for Black Women and Girls.
Three tangible actions I can recommend today:
Educate yourSELF - Me and White Supremacy Workbook This first recommendation is a life changing opportunity to support your own role in enabling the healing of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. A free, yet priceless, download for you, your organisations and your communities. Layla F. Saad has invested her heart and soul into the creation of this work, sharing wisdom from her personal and professional journey to become a better ancestor. The write-up of an incredible Instagram challenge which took place this summer, a universal resource for us all to acknowledge our past, present and how to work together towards building a better, inclusive future for everyone. If you can, please pledge to support her work here and do not attempt to teach this work yourself, paid or otherwise, without carefully reading and understanding the instructions in the workbook.
Educate your KIDS - Teach and Transform I have no hesitation in recommending the inspirational social justice work of this incredible teacher, Ms. Liz KleinRock. The resources do exactly what it says on the tin. Teach and Transform. Check it out.
Educated MEDIA - Building The North Star I first learned of Frederick Douglass, a former slave who launched The North Star, a prohibition newspaper in 1847, in my history lessons. I thought anti-slavery activism was confined to history, but tragically twenty years later I have been proved it is certainly still necessary. With the permission of the Douglass family, Shaun King activist and journalist, and Ben Dixon have revived the newspaper 171 years later. I am proud to be a founding member of this newspaper committed to taking a stand and fighting back against injustice, avoiding venture capitalist investment and co-created by the people, for the people. If you can contribute financially to support The North Star, you will be contributing to an aspiration for a better future. When you decide to join, do mention my name at the checkout.
Finally I want to share this story about Fannie Lou Hamer finding her voice. I hope it will inspire you to find yours on issues of racial injustice in your communities.
In August of 1962, eighteen local people from Sunflower County, Mississippi, including Mrs. Hamer, traveled by bus from Ruleville to the courthouse in Indianola. Despite armed white men milling about the courthouse, the group entered the registrar’s office, intending to fill out the voter registration form as best they could. Mrs. Hamer was the first to enter.
When the group began heading home, the bus–an old school bus now used to transport cotton pickers to the fields–was pulled over by the Indianola police at the edge of town. The driver was arrested for driving a bus of “the wrong color.” Fear rose among the passengers. But in the midst of the fear and uncertainty, Mrs. Hamer began to sing, raising her powerful voice first in church songs, then movement songs. This helped calm the other passengers. Mrs. Hamer’s voice continued to be a powerful tool that mobilized many in Mississippi and across the South during times of struggle in the Movement.
Slowly but surely, all the stories, recipes, hopes and dreams that we have gathered on our 16,000 mile journey around Europe are being woven into a book known as The Manuscript ;)
It is a formidable, yet joyous task, because each recipe is a story in itself, sometimes spanning generations, timezones and, of course, many borders.
At humanKINDER, food is the universal language we are using as the initial conversation starter, the shared experience, the common ground; a tangible activity that is the catalyst for forming a new relationship and friendship between strangers.
I first learned about Frederick Douglass abolitionist newspaper The North Star in US history lessons in the UK, many years ago when I was about 14. Douglass “envisioned America as an inclusive nation strengthened by diversity and free of discrimination” (more background here http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/exhibits/douglass_exhibit/douglass.html)
It was Shaun King’s reporting of the US mid-terms that really brought his incredible empathy, skill and professionalism to my attention. Benjamin P Dixon and Shaun King launched a campaign to rebuild The North Star on 1st November 2018. The bias in media coverage has been forever cited to me in my research work as the biggest challenge to progressive reform: this “liberation journalism” is exactly what is needed and we hope to support their work however we can.
Dawit and Emma first met at Dutch Design Week in 2017 cooking “recipes of HOPE” together in The Welcome Tent, a repurposed army catering tent from 1956. One year and 16k miles later, Emma was back in Eindhoven working alongside Dawit, having successfully pitched together to the Dutch Design Foundation in response to their 2018 Theme “If not us, then who?”.
They had first connected while sharing poetry and discussing Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel’s statement “no human being is illegal” in The Welcome Tent. Dawit’s parting gift to Emma’s family for their journey was a lamp, designed and made by him at RefuBikes from repurposed bicycle parts, a humanitarian design project offering educational opportunities, purpose and community for displaced people arriving in Eindhoven.
“Together we decide how the world will look” said DDW Director Martijn Paulen. At humanKINDER we wanted to prototype an evaluation approach so that “together” could include even voices that have been silent for so long.
Dawit and Emma proposed an evaluation methodology that they hoped would shine a light on some of the less heard perspectives, a mobile and spontaneous approach which was creative, agile and relevant, offering a street view from a RefuBike Perspective. This was about building relationships and trust.
“We would love to work with the DDW team, as we recognize the success and influence of this event as it already stands. We come to you with a full comprehension of the urgency of a humanitarian angle as a necessity in the evaluation of such renowned world-class events in the global calendar”. Further motivation was found in Dutch Design Ambassador Ravi Naidoo, Founder of Design Indaba in South Africa, internationally renowned for connecting creativity and activism with social issues.
Dawit, whose homeland is Ethiopia, was brought against his will to The Netherlands before he reached adulthood. For the last six years he has been waiting for his papers. He has been actively involved in community at Huiskamer and Refubikes and recently become a Dad, yet still faces uncertainty without legal stability in either Ethiopia or The Netherlands. He is an accomplished poet, film-maker and is now studying an application programming course at the Eindhoven University of Technology.
After leading the first Social Innovation Lab in UK government, Emma’s experiences as a volunteer in the Calais “jungle” compelled her to quit and go independent as Founder of humanitarian enterprise humanKINDER. Emma has previously attended DDW as an expert in social innovation, invited by John Thackera to present The Dementia Diaries and BrainCell Boogie at the World Design Forum; facilitated workshops to support Leon Cruickshank, Professor of Design and Creative Exchange Research at Lancaster University and co-hosted The Welcome Tent as part of the VREEMDLAND at Huiskamer DDW 2017.
Meeting Muka this year, the Founder of MukaCariza - an exclusive, handmade bag brand “where Europe meets Africa” - was an incredibly moving and special moment for both Dawit and Emma because it validated their approach.
Muka had been invited to share the story of her business at the Dutch Design Week Storytelling Sessions at Huiskamer, yet spontaneously she shared the story of her life for the first time in public. As a child, Muka and her sister were falsely adopted from their homeland in Rwanda by the Catholic Church - even though her Father was still alive - and taken to Belgium. Over the next few years they experienced horrendous abuse from which they eventually managed to escape and live on the streets, while continuing to go to school. As yet Muka has never been able to return to her homeland: for those that have made the return trip they have discovered that all evidence of this modern-day-slavery has been destroyed.
Emma believes we must take a more inclusive and agile approach to evaluation - which may have more impact reframed in the “media” sphere - if we are to challenge systemic injustice, enabling the participation and elevation of all voices. This is not merely advocating on behalf of people, but rather creating a platform where people can advocate for themselves, through their chosen form of creative expression. We can only improve our outdated systems if we elevate and listen to all voices, including those like Muka’s that have been silent/silenced for many years. For Dawit and other people at the Huiskamer - a welcoming community for displaced people arriving in Eindhoven - Muka’s story was hugely powerful because she was also telling their story, validating many of their own experiences.
Muka now has three children and a successful business. It was an honour for us to meet you and listen and learn from you. Thankyou.
Excerpts from Muka’s story and other people we spoke to at Dutch Design Week 2018 will feature our forthcoming film.
It seems a while ago now that I first sketched out this idea. I initially thought I was creating a logo, after many years working alongside some great service designers, but… as time has come to pass I’ve realised that actually what I wanted to share – and celebrate through imagery - was not a logo, but a vision. A vision is not designed, rather it emerges over time, in my case by listening to others and through personal experience and reflection.
So what is the story behind this vision?
In 2014, while still working in government, I attended a Mental Health Conference as a ‘Professional’. It was at this event there was a performance by an incredible young singer Natalie who had faced and was overcoming her own challenges by finding her voice - her own expression of self - in a way that was breathtaking.
There are a few things that clicked into place that day. Once you start meeting and understanding how people – myself included – have learned to live through traumatic conditions, accidents or illnesses which affect how their brain works day-to-day; how we think, see, feel and experience with heightened perception, a new world opens.
On that day I walked out the building and took a quick snapshot of a bird flying overhead. But when I looked at the photo it was not a single bird, it was the bird and its shadow. The camera had caught something that in our ‘reality’ arguably was not possible, yet in my mind, the image of this bird and its shadow stayed absolutely stuck in my head.
Over the coming weeks it brought to the fore all of the other images of birds that I’d been seeing in the art and stories of freedom, from incredible people who I’d met over the years who’d defiantly chosen to LIVE despite the challenges and struggles they faced daily.
People who have found freedom in their own minds, expressed through their art, by believing in their own and others’ imagination and potential. At that time, this resonated personally with my own need to rid myself of the invisible boulders I was carrying on my weary back, day in, day out from a yet-to-be-diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the birth of my son. It was this yearning for freedom – a freedom of spirit – that inspired the humanKINDER vision.
I knew this moment was important, but not yet certain how, or what form that it would take.
In the following months I talked to friends and played around with the image. My friend Joshi told me about a friend of hers who was also drawing birds. And this was how the early conceptual idea was shared with the hugely talented This Lakshmi who transformed the image into a beautiful, strong and timeless vision of freedom that inspires everyday.
Emma Barrett Palmer, Founder
After meeting a year ago in The Welcome Tent at Dutch Design Week, this year Dawit Wolde Aregai and Emma Barrett Palmer were back, this time hosted in the Evaluation team at Dutch Design Week to undertake a film evaluation of less heard voices in the design world.
After an incredible few days gathering great footage, discovering and elevating the voices of people from many different backgrounds and circumstances with over 14 nationalities, on route back to his girlfriend’s, Dawit was arrested.
Dawit had - and never has - done anything wrong: he has no criminal record. But, he was trafficked into Europe against his will when he was a child and six years later is still waiting for official papers. He said:
“I didn’t expect to be treated like that in a democratic country. These are things I only see in the movies, or in my own country.
People need to know and wake the hell up. Everyone should be aware of how this is affecting our world.
This is my first time arrested like this. Arrested on the train, thrown in jail, with no windows, no nothing.
To hold me, without any convictions, without any problems. To be thrown in jail just because “we don’t know who you are”.
At 3am they came in. We are taking your photo. We are taking you to another place at 5am. No sleep.
My lawyer got me out the next day. I may have got lucky as I can speak the language fluently. What about others who don’t understand, who cannot explain.
Now I am scared – everyday – to walk outside”.
This horrific experience for Dawit and his family and friends, demonstrates why we are doing what we are doing. This is why we are “Actively Anti-Racist” (via @rachel.cargle). Dawit was not arrested because he had done anything wrong, he was arrested because the authorities assumed he was guilty. As they told him, they did not believe he was telling the truth about who he was because he spoke fluent Dutch, because he was dressed well and perhaps, because he said he had been working at Dutch Design Week.
We are thankful to his lawyer for getting him out within 24 hours (albeit much longer than the legal maximum of six hours), but that does not alleviate the trauma to him and his family.
We are grateful that Dawit is OK and more committed than ever to share his wisdom and strength to work with us elevating and evaluating the voices and stories of people silenced by our current system. The DDW18 Evaluation film is still on route.
No human being is illegal. We are listening ✌🏽❤️✊🏽