The many meanings of Haile Selassie I

In my last blog I bemoaned the return of the theatre adaptation of  Ryszard Kapuściński’s famous book The Emperor.

I criticized the portrait of Haile Selassie I in the book and the play, a portrait of a feudal gothic overlord that even Kapuściński later refuted.

I worried about the consistent artistic reduction of all things African to pathology.

I suggested that “perhaps the complexity of Haile Selassie I is the complexity of Ethiopia, is the complexity of Africa, is the complexity of the Third World, is the complexity of humanity.”

Here, below, are some of the meanings of Haile Selassie I that I know of, from various sources – living, theological, intellectual, political, archival – and many others..



Almighty I

I and I God and King

Black Redeemer

Black Messiah

Christ returned

Christ in his kingly character


Tafari Makonnen

Ras Tafari

Haile Selassie I

Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Or, “the Lion of Judah has Prevailed”)

King of Kings

Elect of God

Emperor of Ethiopia

Ababa Janhoy (father majesty)

His Imperial Majesty

H.I.M. (called by both members of the Rastafari faith and British diplomats)

Prince of Peace

Prester John

The “Catholic” (called by some in the Orthodox Church during his early reign to signify a dangerous harbinger of foreign influence)

God-fearing member of Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church

Defender of the Faith (officially titled by the Eastern Orthodox churches)

The diminutive but charismatic Emperor

First ruling resister of fascist aggression



Amhara overlord

From the minor Southern line of Shoa nobility

Inscrutable Amhara

Suspiciously Oromo by bloodlines and birthplace (Ejersa Goro)

Governor of the multi-faith Eastern city of Harar


225th descendent of King David

The African Frederick the Great

The African Machiaveli

Usurper of Menelik II’s lineage (Lij Iyasu)

Of the English Public Schoolboy disposition

First Emperor to insist on crowning of Empress on the same day

The modernizer

Great reformer

The Traditionalist



Feudal lord

Best dressed figure of the 20th century

American stooge


The Elder World Statesman

Father of Africa, first Chair of the OAU

Accomplished diplomat

Wise Counsellor, with the “wisdom of Solomon”








There is more to Ethiopia and Africa than Dog Piss

I write this blog as a response to the new production of a play  due to run at the Young Vic, London, based on Ryszard Kapuściński’s famous book The Emperor, about the final days of the reign of Haile Selassie I, emperor of Ethiopia.

The book was turned into a play in the late 80s. Salman Rushdie personally recalled the reception of the play:

Some years later, a stage production of The Emperor, put on in London at the Royal Court Theatre (an English adaptation of one of those mentioned by Ren Weschler), led to one of the most surrealist political demonstrations I have ever seen. (And I say this as someone whose work has occasionally led to protest; I’m something of a connoisseur of the form.) Outside of the Royal Court Theatre, in Sloane Square, there was a protest that only Kapuscinski could have conjured up. Half of the demonstrators wore extremely expensive suits and carried rather well printed placards and were members of the old Ethiopian monarchist party, which objected to his portrayal of Haile Selassie, because, after all, he had been their emperor. The other half of the demonstration were people in knitted hats and dreadlocks who were Rastafarians and thought of Haile Selassie as God and objected to the blasphemy of Ryszard’s portrayal. So you had on the one hand ganja-smoking Rastas and on the other the cigar-smoking Ethiopians. And I thought, this book must be doing something right.

Good for Salman.

I wonder, though, what did he actually know of Haile Selassie I, or Ethiopia, or of Rastafari?

Or did that not matter?

Was the spectacle sufficient in that it was abstractly amusing for its gothic mix?

But knowledge of things African has never been needed to judge things African.

Kapuściński, the famous Polish war correspondent of the Cold War certainly had vast experience in and of the African continent. Yet his book on Haile Selassie I is largely a fiction. It is a work of art. And people treat it as an actual biography. Kapuściński was never entirely honest as to the nature and purpose of his book, although it is true that he wrote it more as a poem on courtiers than he did on the reign of the Emperor. Still, he never stopped the overwhelminging majority of readers from reading it as a factual biography of Haile Selassie I.  It must have surprised many readers to learn of his positive assessment of His Majesty in his later years.

That being said, take  the book’s infamous first “report” from an informant in the royal court: it is about the Emperor’s little dog, Lulu, who was allowed to piss on the feet of dignitaries.

The amount of times I have heard this story repeated as fact. It is FICTION.  The only truth in the story is the existence of a dog called Lulu. Any amateur reader of Ethiopian society and culture would know that this would NEVER have happened. Just as unlikely as Queen Elizabeth II allowing her corgis to piss on the feet of dignitaries.

Yet the complex, dynamic, and CENTRAL part that Haile Selassie I played in Ethiopian, African and World History in the 20th century is reduced in the popular mindset to dog piss.

Well, that can’t stand. I want to bring it back to basics. I’m not interested in hagiographies of His Majesty, nor in “converting” people to the Rastafari faith.

All  I want you to do is consider, for one moment, that investigating the life of a leader from 1916 (when Haile Selassie took on the title of Ras Tafari) to 1974 (his overthrow by the Derg) – almost 60 years of rule…

…the life of one who entered Ethiopia into the League of Nations in 1923, who addressed both the League and The United Nations,  sought to abolish slavery AND PROVIDE MEANINGFUL REHABILITATION to the previously enslaved (unlike the European slaving powers), gave the African Diaspora supporters of Ethiopia a place of return to the continent, provided – on his own initiative – the first constitutions, a modern military, a general education system – for boys and girls, funded and built more mosques than any other Christian King I am aware of, launched legal battles against South Africa and more…

…one who also had to most definitely navigate with realpolitik the impossible waters of intra-Ethiopian political intrigues, intra-African imperial politics, inter-national imperial politics, cold war politics, inter-African postcolonial politics, the frictions and fractures of old and new political, tribal, religious and ethnic faultlines, etc etc…

…well, I want you just to consider that this life might be instructive of many of the things that make us human in every aspect, that’s all.

Perhaps the complexity of Haile Selassie I is the complexity of Ethiopia, is the complexity of Africa, is the complexity of the Third World, is the complexity of humanity.

Or is Haile Selassie I a pathological despot, Africa pathological despotism, the Third World a lost cause, humanity only for certain humans and not others?

One example of a different Ethiopia.

In 1943, 6000 Greek refugees, fleeing Nazism, crossed to Turkey and there, having made arrangements with the British government, were taken via the Sinai to Djibouti and also to Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. After the liberation of Greece, most returned home, but some remained.

Today, that crisis is reversed, and people, as we know, flee the other way, to an impoverished and crumbling Greece.

In 1943, Ethiopia had barely recovered from the appalling and savage occupation of fascist Italy. It remained in the war. Yet still, Ethiopia welcomed the Greeks.


What of this smells of dog piss?

How many more stories of all types and interpretations litter 1916-1974?

I want to salute the late and great Ras Seymour McLean who tirelessly worked to present a different image of Ethiopia and Africans, one more befitting of equitable engagement. Here’s a dramatisation of his works; watch it in parallel to the BBC2 TV production of The Emperor.

I am aware of the present-day myriad struggles in Ethiopia. Still unfinished after all these years. I know it is extremely complex. I claim no expert knowledge, just an amateur’s commitment to understand better. I write this only for the humanity that Ethiopia has blessed the world with. That is our Rastafari tradition.




Black Academia 1.2

For the last couple of years I’ve written a bit of commentary on the Equalities Challenge Unit’s statistical reports on higher education, paying especial attention to what they say about the state of Black Academia in the UK. So here are some comments on the latest report, incorporating data from the 2013/14 academic year. I’m not a quants or stats person so do let me know if you think I have figures wrong.

Please note that, if I don’t mention it otherwise, I am mainly talking about UK-national students and academics rather than non-UK-national (i.e. international). This is because, while international students and academics can most certainly be affected by racialized structures of discrimination and exclusion, I am  fundamentally interested in the sources of these structures and the way in which they interact with other such structures in the UK life-cycle. Additionally, I do not talk about those who have defined as “mixed race”, which to my mind is not necessarily a useful category for doing the following kind of analyses.

First, a few comments on the status of Black academics.

The percentage of UK-national staff on academic contracts  who are Black is now back to 1.19% – the same as when I wrote the first of my reports in 2014. Not only is this proportion far less than the proportion of Black people in the UK population (3.3%); it is also far, far less than the proportion of UK-national students who are Black – 6.4%. In contrast, 91.7% of UK-national staff on academic contracts are white, and thus not only overrepresented in academia as a percentage of the broader UK demographic (at 86%)  but also visavis the 79.6% of the student population who are white.

There are now 70 UK-national Black professors and 30 non-UK-national Black professors, giving a total of 100 Black professors, or 0.55% of all professors working in UK academia. As a comparison, there are 16,465 white professors (UK and non-UK national), and they comprise 91.1% of all professors in UK academia. Nonetheless, this figure is an improvement. But I want to draw attention again to the importance of the UK-national distinction: it is easier to “buy in” diversity from abroad; not so easy to cultivate “equality” at home. What we really want to see is an increase in UK-national Black professors, although, of course, a general increase is also to be encouraged and welcomed.

There are now 5 UK-national and 5 non-UK national Black academics who have senior managerial roles. A slight improvement from last year, yet still, only 0.67% of all senior mananger academics are Black. Compare, again, with white academic senior managers – 1400 of them – who comprise around 94% of all senior management academics. As much as academics still hold institutional power in the Higher Education (HE) sector, these are some of the ones who do so. And they are overwhelmingly white.

Meanwhile, out of all ethnicities, Black academics are by far the least likely to earn over 57,032GBP – only 8.9% of UK-national Black academics do, compared to 20.7% of Asian academics and 19.7% of white academics. This, again, demonstrates a significant lack of Black academics at the higher reaches of UK academia.  

At the start of the career ladder, Black Postgraduate Research students are most likely, amongst all ethnicities, to be part time. 48.4% of Black PG students are part time, compared to 36.5% of Asian PG students and 36.4% of white PG students. Moreover, out of all ethnicities Black PG students evidence the biggest decline in full time numbers after the 1st year of study –  a 10% decline compared to an 8% decline in white students and a 7.6% decline in Asian students. It is well known that, all other things being equal, part time PG research students are at a disadvantage to full time PG students in terms of introduction and access to research networks and other career-forming opportunities. 

ScreenHunter_02 Jul. 10 07.43
Delegates at the First Black Writers And Artists Congress, 1956, Sorbonne University, Paris

Now what about students? In what follows I discuss solely the UK-national demographics.

The percentage of Black students vis-à-vis the whole UK student population remains high at 6.4%. In England, the figure rises to 7.5% and in London, further still to 16.7%. Bear in mind that Black people constitute just 3.3% of the UK population as a whole (and 13.3% of the London population).

The concentration of Black students in London is notable. Working in a London institution I have some thoughts on the implications of this. Anecdotally it seems to me that many London-based Black students live at home and continue to heavily rely upon their existing social and friendship networks. If they attend an institution that is somewhat alienating to them – i.e. institutionally and visually white – their response is often to fall back on those existing networks. This might mitigate against the building by Black students of meaningful associational and professional (not necessarily friendship) networks within university. This could be a hidden, unintentional but long-term detrimental effect of the notable concentration of Black students in London, although it might be experienced differently across different institutions. I also wonder if the same issue applies in Birmingham.

Also of note is the slow but inexorable increase of continental-heritage students as a percentage of Black students and the relative decline of Caribbean-heritage students. This reflects the changing composition of the UK Black population. It is also interesting to note that continental-heritage Black students (or “Black African” in the stats) is the LARGEST defined BME group 22.6% of the total BME student population; the second largest is Asian-Indian at 16.7%. These points are important because, as we’ll see, continental-heritage Black students are, in the main, not doing as well as their Caribbean-heritage peers, and indeed usually do worse amongst all groups in most indicators.

The highest concentration of Black students by subject field are in: Subjects Allied to Medicine (19.3% of all Black students), Business and Administration Studies (16.7%), Social Studies (14.3%) and Biological Sciences (9.2%). I thought I would try and calculate some student ratios  of UK-national Black students to UK-national Black staff.

There are 10740 Black students in Biological Sciences; and there are 65 Black academics in Bioscience. (I’m not sure if the Biological sciences include other subjects so please let me know if I have this wrong). This gives a ratio of 1 Black academic to 165 Black students. The comparative ratio for white students in this area is 1:20.  There are 19455 Black students in Business and Administration; and there are 210 Black academics in Business and Management Studies. This gives a ratio of 1:92. The comparative ratio for white students and academics in this area is 1:18.

You get the picture. Black students – even in the subjects that they tend to take most – will find far fewer Black academics than white students will find white academics. I don’t mean to infer by this that Black students are better taught (or even want to be taught) by Black academics. I am simply pointing to the fact that even amongst subjects most popular with Black students there is still a relative dearth of Black academics. In short, there are no “black” subjects and no “black” parts of the university.

NUS Wales Black Students conference

Let’s now look at the figures that tell us what happens to students at the end of each academic year (except the final year).  I am especially interested in transfers (which usually indicates that the student has some kind of problem with their institution), and “no longer in HE” (the student has left university before gaining a degree).

1.6% of white students transfer at the end of the year compared to 3.7% of Asian students and 4% of Black students.  Black students tend to transfer more than any other white or BME group. And this suggests that Black students are relatively less settled and secure in their institution than any other ethnicity. 6.5% of white students leave higher education without finishing their studies, compared to 6.8% of Asian students and 11.1% of Black students. Look at that figure: far more Black students fail to gain a degree at university than any other ethnicity including white. It’s also important to note that slightly more continental-heritage students transfer than Caribbean-heritage students, and that more Caribbean-heritage students leave before gaining their degree than continental-heritage students.

It seems that the most recent statistics on GCSE results for continental-heritage Black students shows a slight reversal of their recent success story. The last time that I looked these students were performing just above the national average for attaining 5 or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths. Apparently these students are now 1.3% below the national average (which has also increased). Nonetheless, continental-heritage students are now performing at 0.4% above the national average in terms of achieving an EBacc. The English Baccalaureate is the new “gold standard” recently put in place by government to ensure students going through to college and higher education have undertaken “core” subjects.  It remains, then, unfair to automatically ascribe an academic “deficit” to continental-heritage students as they enter university (and also to Caribbean-heritage students, but that is another story).

It is crucial to note that the long-term increase in attainment at secondary school by continental-heritage students has yet to be reflected in a proportional improvement in university attainment. A number of years separate GCSE results from Undergraduate attainment, and what we should be seeing now, I would say, is the dividend from the drastic improvement in secondary school results for continent-heritage Black students over the last 6 years at least.  But we are not. In fact, these students are attaining the same – if not slightly worse – than their Caribbean-heritage peers, who still suffer from various discriminations at secondary school resulting in attainments that are a good 10% less than their continental-heritage peers.

22.4% of white students attained a first class degree compared to 14.7% of Asian students and only 8.7% of Black students. Alternatively, only 3.7% of white students attained a Third Class/Pass mark compared to 7% of Asian students and 11.7% of Black students.  Again, Black students suffer the worst attainment amongst all ethnic groups – and by a significant margin. (Black students do marginally better in Scottish institutions, it must be noted. Additionally, Black students get marginally more first class awards in SET subjects than non-SET subjects).

Let’s put this in context. It is well known that the major graduate employers will cut through CVs by excluding all applicants who have a 2:2 (second class lower honours) award or less (ie a Third/Pass). So to have a chance at landing a good graduate job you really need to have a 2:1 (second class upper honours) or a 1st (first class honours) degree. And even that result is increasingly a basic requirement nowadays.  77.3% of white females attain either a 1st or 2:1 compared to 46.3% of Black males. That is the widest differential of attainment when it comes to the intersection of gender and race. It is a difference of over 30%. Think of the challenge that this difference presents to inter-generational social mobility along race lines. Yes, it’s true that the attainment of white and BME groups has experienced a secular rise over the last 10 years. But the differential between groups has remained fairly constant.

What is more, slightly more Caribbean-heritage Black students attain 1sts (9.5%) than their continental-heritage peers (8.5%). And again, more Caribbean-heritage students attain 2:1s (43.2%) than their continental-heritage peers (40.1%). Conversely, more continental-heritage students attain 2:2s (39.8%) and 3rds/pass (11.6%) than their Caribbean-heritage peers (36.2% and 11% respectively).  In other words, despite massively outperforming their Black Caribbean-heritage peers at secondary school, Black continental-heritage students have worse attainments than them at the end of university life! And out of all ethnicities, Black continental-heritage students have the worst attainments – by a notable margin.

I’ve said this before and I want to keep saying it: something is seriously wrong if a relative success story at secondary school is being reversed through higher education. When it comes to continental-heritage Black students specifically, university seems to be complicit in reversing their social-mobility, or at the very least dampening or slowing down this mobility.  And remember, this is the largest defined group of BME students in university.

So let’s look at employability after university.  

61.5% of white students find full-time work six months after graduating, and 49.7% of them find professional full-time work.  53% of black students find full-time work and 41.3% find professional full-time work.  4.6% of white students and 9.7% of Black students are unemployed 6 months after graduating. So there is a 10% difference between Black and white graduates finding professional work and a 5% difference in terms of unemployment, both to the detriment of Black graduates. Approximately the same percentages of white and Black graduates enter into postgraduate study. It is also important to note that continental-heritage Black graduates are less likely than Caribbean-heritage Black students to gain professional and general full time-work, and more likely than their Caribbean-heritage peers to be unemployed.

Certainly we can see here an effect of the attainment differential. But I also want to suggest, at least on first glance, that even with the inequitable attainment differential Black graduates are doing really, really well to shrink the difference when it comes to securing general and professional employment. What positive resources are our graduates drawing on in this respect? I would like to know more.

Blackness in Britain Conference, 2015

Finally, I want to look at the institutions through which Black students graduate. This is important because there is a de-facto hierarchy of higher education institutions in the UK despite the nominally “public” nature of the vast majority. We should be careful to conclude that more “prestigious” institutions are actually better at delivering higher education. Rather, I would want us to parse “prestige” through Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of “cultural capital”. Higher education has, for a long time, (decreasingly so nowadays) professed a meritocratic aim to set adults up for their future on the basis of their work and talents rather than their family name and connections. Yet it is still the case that the existing “cultural capital” that comes with inherited privileges by and large reproduces itself through the differential of “prestigious” and “less prestigious” institutions. That is why the more prestigious institutions tend to gift more employability to their students than less-prestigious institutions.

The Russell Group are the most prestigious higher education providers in the UK. 82.3% of their student population is white, 8.6% Asian and just 2.8% Black. Consider that the general demographic of Black peoples in the UK is 3.3%. Consider that Black students compose 6.4% of the student population. And compare this with the percentage of Black students who compose the less “presitigous” Million+ group student population: 14.7%. Let me parse this another way. 22% of white students go to Russell Group institutions; 22% of Asian students go to Russell Group institutions; only 9.6% of Black students go to Russell Group institutions. Now you can see how woefully under-represented Black students are in the most “prestigious” institutions. It’s difficult to find another similarly stark differential in terms of percentages of students across the various groupings of institutions than the Russell Group statistic for Black students. Seriously.

Nonetheless, whilst there is still concern over bias in admissions from Russell Group universities, a recent parsing of UCAS datarecent parsing of UCAS data suggests that differences between offer-rates to Black students and general offer-rates do not map neatly onto e.g. Russell Group universities. It is certainly a diverse set of institutions who suffer from this differential.

Does geography have something to do with this? I suspect that relatively more Black students study and live at home than white students. And Black students are far more likely to apply and be admitted into institutions located in cities and BME population centres – London, Birmingham etc. We also know that Black students tend to have a much older (“mature students”) demographic and to be more female than any other ethnicity. So thinking intersectionally, it might be the case that Black students tend to be less mobile than other ethnicities, with perhaps more social and familial responsibilities that require them to use the social networks that they already have.

I wonder then: which Russell Group universities have seriously undertaken outreach to potential Black students? Not to “disadvantaged communities” per se – I know a number are doing that. But let’s not conflate prospective Black students with “disadvantaged communities”; and also let’s not assume that the outreach to Black students is going to be the same as outreach to (usually white) disadvantaged students. I would be really interested to find out which Russell Group universities are expressly seeking to attract Black students by putting actual resources into targeted outreach.

Well, in conclusion I wish I could say many more positive things about the stats. But it’s hard to do so. What’s clear to me is that “inclusion” is not enough. In fact, in some ways,  inclusion is the wrong emphasis. There are plenty of Black students in the university system! The far more pressing and challenging issue is to change institutional and sectoral cultures and practices that lead to such outrageously skewed differentials regarding the placement, experience, retention, attainment and success of Black students. The difficulties in effecting such change is compounded by the refusal by many (and overwhelmingly well-meaning) academics to believe that their practices and non-practices have anything to do with the problem.

But I do want to end by listing some positives:

These positives suggest that Black is not a deficit colour. Rather, it is institutionalised whiteness that generates deficiencies.














Racism, multiculturalism and Brexit

I take it as a given (by polls) that the most influential reason why people voted  Brexit was not to restore British sovereignty in the abstract but more precisely to “take it back” in order to stop more of “them” coming over. I also take it as understood that  this statement does not infer that all who voted for Brexit  are racists. Structural racism does not make of every individual a racist but implicates every individual, variously, in the reproduction and/or contestation of racial structures.

I’m sorry I hard to start with Political Theory 101 and Political Reality 101 but I’m afraid that’s the quality of some of the responses to Brexit so far.

Glad that’s over with.

Because I want to move away from an analysis that puts the white English voter at stage-centre and key interlocutor of the Brexit drama. I haven’t got anything that’s too formulated; just some thoughts about the other kinds of relationalities in Britain’s postimperial and multicultural polity that are implicated in the referendum.

Let me give you two examples. They emerge from the fact that, while 73% of Black peoples voted to Remain – the HIGHEST % of any demographic parsed so far, some Black people voted Brexit and it doesn’t make them any less black for doing so.

I have heard solid and compelling anecdotes of Black people voting Brexit because, in their experience, white employers were preferring white (Eastern) Europeans to Black people. In other words, they felt that EU migration was eroding the tentative gains made against structural (and often anti-Black) racism in the UK.

I’ve also heard a number of people of African heritage in the UK talk about the opportunity that Brexit might give to a renewal of links with the Commonwealth. We might dismiss these ideas as post-traumatic-imperial-melancholy. But some of the arguments I have heard reference the UK’s effective abandoning of the Commonwealth with the European Communities Acct of 1972. And now they see an opportunity to focus back on the Commonwealth, especially regarding reparations for slavery, the ills of colonial rule, and the inequitable settlements at independence. Some even talk of a renewal of pan-Africanism through renewed commonwealth links.

In other words, these responses are parsing Brexit in some way shape and form through a postcolonial (global) justice framework.

Yesterday all this got me thinking back to one of the things that really shook me when I was living in Aotearoa New Zealand. It was this: government and society seemed intent on painting over the historical challenge of “biculturalism” with a gloss of “multiculturalism”. Let me explain.

The “bicultural” challenge is code for “reparations regarding settler colonialism”. More specifically, biculturalism emerges from a movement by Māori people to get their “partners” to honour the Treaty of Waitangi that was signed in 1840. Article 2 of that Treaty assures that Māori shall retain control over Māori things – including land, language, culture, etc. Through intensified Māori and Pasifika activism and struggles in the 70s and early 80s the bicultural model was to some extent “constitutionalised” in the Waitangi Tribunal process, which ultimately sought to repair – fiscally and otherwise – successive breaches to the Treaty by settler governments.

Yet, at the same time that this bicultural “settlement” was being crafted  in the mid 80s, NZ took a neoliberal turn (termed “Rogernomics”  after Finance Minister Roger Douglass of the 4th Labour government). Consequent to this “opening up” of the economy, different peoples started to move to and settle in Aotearoa NZ. Like many global population flows of the 1990s onwards, these peoples did NOT all travel the well-worn colonial/imperial routes.

Previously, those old routes facilitated the increasing arrival of Pasifika peoples post-war, for example. In fact, in the late 1960s and early 1970s many Māori and Pasifika activists were calling THIS movement “multicultural”. There lies a hidden conceptual history of a very different mobilization of the concept “multiculturalism” that does not place the white man as the foundational cosmopolitan.

But anyway, the 1990s saw the arrivals of peoples from especially China but also India, other South East Asian departure points, and, of course, small refugee populations. All this gave rise to a “new” kind of “multiculturalism”, buoyed by a paternalistic refugee industry, restaurants serving “kiwi hot” (not hot at all) South East Asian cuisine, internet cafes, flat whites and long blacks.

But what I distinctly remember is how many white New Zealanders – primarily from settler stock – preferred multiculturalism as a lifestyle over biculturalism as a responsibility. And from a political-economy perspective, because these new arrivants brought capital and skills (not just labour), multiculturalism promised far more easy access to and positioning within the global economy than biculturalism ever could. None of this, of course, has stopped a casual and occasionally not-so casual racism towards these new peoples.

Still, just how much Government structures have differentiated multiculturalism from biculturalism (read colonial legacies) can be gleaned by the fact that there is Te Puni Kōkiri (effectively, Ministry of Māori Affairs),  Ministry for Pacific Peoples, and then an Office of Ethnic Communities (for all other non-whites), part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Anyway, I remember one elder Māori activist tell me, bluntly, and with great concern, that Chinese were going to outbreed Māori. In fact, I think the % of Chinese living in NZ is now as great if not slightly greater than the indigenous population (around 15% – unless things have changed drastically).Racist you might say?

Perhaps. Or we could take the line that racism can only be an exercise of power, and indigenous people – similar to Black peoples in the West – do not hold that kind of structural power to make a structural difference on another group of people. Then this would count as xenophobia, or prejudice?

Again, perhaps. But I don’t think this was the intention. Really, this elder was conveying to me a deeper concern: how can you have a harmonious multicultural society that has been placed precariously upon a foundation that is out of skew because its colonial wrongs have never been righted? The ethical dilemma being communicated to me was actually this: how can Māori ensure the well-being of all those who live in their lands (their duty as tangata whenua) if they are not able to be meaningful partners – at least! – in the governance of those lands?

I want to return to Brexit UK. And think along similar lines, even though it is a very different context.

The struggles from the 60s onwards by “minority” peoples in the UK to a) address racism and racialized inequalities IN the place where they now live and b) confront postcolonial legacies in the points of departure  of their parents/grandparents: neither of these inter-linked struggles have been adequately resolved or sufficiently addressed. They are not history. These wrongs are living. And for some “minority” groups more than others.

Nonetheless, our multicultural make up is now composed significantly through migrations that are NOT from the old British imperial and commonwealth circuits. Some of these routes are from outside of Europe, but many – and increasingly half – are from inside the EU.

In  the last week the media has been awash with reports of quotidian and/or organized racism or xenophobia against Polish peoples, Jewish peoples, Muslim peoples, South Asian peoples, and Black and African peoples etc. In short, what we have right at this moment in time is a mini conflagration of racism and xenophobia. It was always there, of course, but it has now seen the light of day in an intensely political fashion.

How could a white English person tell a Pole and a Black person to fuck off back home, at the same time? Well, I would argue, that’s because of the one constant. English nationalism is necessarily postimperial and necessarily has a racialized – white – dimension to it.

In empire, Englishness assured that white people could differentiate themselves from the “darker” peoples of the colonies and dominions. They had to do this because by the late 19th century all were subjects to the British crown same way. So the racial-colonial division became articulated as English and/versus British. The Commonwealth always had and has its racial divisions codified as old and new members. And the “Anglosphere” still finds it hard to include within its reach the biggest national demographic of English speakers – India. Then there’s “expats” versus “migrants”.. etc etc.

Of course, when those who considered themselves British came to live in England – well that proximity was problem enough, and to all “classes”. But then when children grew up in England as, ostensibly “English”: all hell broke loose. Only in 1985 did the British government categorically disavow the eugenicist claim that the poor schooling of African-Caribbean children was due to the fact that they were educationally sub-normal.

So against this history it becomes clear just how seminal English nationalism is to the situation we are presently in. Even against other ostensibly white people, even “working-class” white people, it’s still the (post)imperially-crafted nature of English whiteness that is doing the talking, spitting, hitting.

That’s why I am convinced that ANY agitation to return public services and even meaningful jobs to areas hardest-hit by neoliberalism WILL fail if it does not unquestionably oppose racism and xenophobia. More, even: both agitation and opposition have to be intractably and organically connected. To my mind, English nationalism is the key faultline – from a cultural, political-economic and ideological point of view. Anyway you cut it.

But enough of the white English. What, now, of those Black peoples who I mentioned at the beginning? People who can’t so easily take succour in English nationalism, even if they and their parents were born in England?

I think this position resonates with that of the Māori elder I was talking about. It’s something to do with the sedementations of migrations and movements upon a base that was always skewed, wonky, uneven, fractured. Here’s how I visualise it: multiculturalism, placed on top of postcolonial racism, and then, in a granular way, falling partly into that base, while nonetheless keeping a somewhat defined stratum.

How to address this challenge? Ideally, I would say this: First we need to attend to the long-standing and deeply-entrenched colonial wrongs that continue to visit racialized inequality and discrimination upon “minority” peoples in the UK (some more than others). And second, after that is resolved, we could deal with the xenophobia that emanates from an English nationalism even towards EU migrants. For hopefully, by that point, English nationalism would be neutered and could no longer be either a lived identification or an instrument to be wielded by elites as they seek to divide and rule.

But that’s just abstract thinking. We live in a racially sedimented society (global formation, even), which, being unevenly laid, makes the layers intractably blurred: they can’t be neatly separated out in any kind of strategic or political sense.

So, thinking about this kaladescope of racism and xenophobia, of postcoloniality and multiculturalism, I want to take those Black peoples who voted for – or sympathised with – Brexit seriously. Even though I voted for Remain, no apologies!

What does that mean? Not too sure. I would like to know what you think. But I could say, at least, that for me it means cleaving to some small, albeit important principles, as we go forward from here.

  1. Every locality – whether regional, town, city, or intra-city – will have its specific ecology of this sedimentation that I am talking about. The political economy of the UK is complex when you get down to the level. There can be no abstract model to fit everywhere. Everywhere, the articualtion of colonial wrongs with multicultural xenophobias will be of a particular history and mix, and must be engaged with in light of those balances of forces.
  2. The point is, though,  that everywhere  they DO articulate. That means that we must push for the redressing of living colonial wrongs as we push against the demonization of non-EU (but not traditionally commonwealth) and EU migrants.
  3. That means that we should take care to keep our moral and political sensibilities fluid, while retaining fundamental pinciples. If a Black youth voted exit because she witnessed East Europeans were taking her jobs, we should not presume that she hates East Europeans. Perhaps she voted against white racist employees? In any case, the conversation has to begin from a recognition of the intersectionalities of race and xenophobia, colonial wrongs and multicultural prejudices. Nor a willful exclusion of either. Everything, all at once, necessarily in fluid hierarchies, but always in relation.
  4. Hence the terrain of struggle is not narrowly national, even though the intensity of the fall-out from Brexit is – at least at the moment. To be intersectional in the sense I am talking about here means that our arguments and actions, even if they take place mostly in the UK, have to be informed by a horizon that includes not just the UK and EU but also the Commonwealth (especially the brown and black commonwealth and under-wealth) and those places and peoples scarred by fifteen years of fallout of the war on terror fought by the UK and the EU, amongst others.



The Black Pacific: forum, critiques, responses

Recently The Disorder of Things ran a forum on my book, The Black Pacific. After an initial post by myself, Heloise Weber (University of Queensland), Sankaran Krishna (University of Hawai’i), Ajay Parasram (Carleton University), and Olivia Rutazibwa (University of Portsmouth) provided commentary and critique, and then I finished the forum with my response.

Since then, I’ve been very fortunate to receive an extremely valuable critique from Ponipate Rokolekutu (University of Hawai’i). Below is Ponipate’s critique, followed by my response.

Heterogeneity, Race and Genealogical Connection of Spiritual Hinterlands  

My issue with Shilliam’s book is first, the disingenuous nature of the book title: The Black Pacific – which not only erases the issue of race and its dynamics in Oceania, but ignores the heterogeneous nature of the region. And second, Shilliam predicates his theory – “anti-colonial science with deep relation” – on an encounter between two colonized groups (the Māori and Africa as represented by Keskidee and Ras Messenger) with questionable authentic genealogical connection, or genealogical links between their respective “uncolonized spiritual hinterlands” (p31).

Let me elaborate.

Polynesians, in Oceanian epistemologies, are considered brown or red. Such categorization articulates superiority over other Pacific Islanders, namely the Melanesians and Micronesians who do not exhibit the physical built and skin color that those in Polynesia display. Polynesians include, but are not limited to, the Māori of Aotearoa, the Kanaka Maoli of Hawaii, the Maohi of Tahiti, Tongans, Samoans, and Pacific Islanders who are articulated under the Freely Associated States of New Zealand, which includes the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. As such, the title of the book The Black Pacific is misleading simply because the Māori who are the focus of attention in the book (and of course Africa) are considered either brown or red but certainly not black.

Aotearoa, as a site of Shilliam’s intellectual engagement, is a brown or red space. Despite experiences of dispossession and marginalization the Māori are still held in high regard purely on the basis of their skin color and socio-political organization, as opposed to Black skinned people-inhabiting egalitarian structures that are “represented” as socio-politically deformed, and hence inferior. While Shilliam acknowledges the mapping of the Pacific Islands as a racialized project, he overlooks, or perhaps underestimates, the ways in which such a racist project shapes the epistemologies and race dynamics in Oceania. A such, to represent the Māori as Black is to be oblivious to the colonially constructed superiority of Māori as Polynesian, while at the same time ignoring Melanesians as the black people of the Pacific.

The Māori, undoubtedly, exploit the opportunity to use the ideology of “Blackness” as a political tool and a forum to articulate resistance against colonial dispossession and institutional racism, in view of the fact that race, in the global institutional context, is defined as black or white. One needs to demarcate the line between “identifying with Blackness” as a political forum; and “inhabiting Blackness” as a state of being (p107). There is a significant difference between notions of Blackness in the context of Africans/African Americans/British Americans and Melanesians on the one hand, and brown skinned Polynesians on the other. The former were characterized by Dumont d’Urville in his paper On the Islands of Great Ocean (1832) as the black people of Africa, and in the case of Melanesia – the Oceanic negroes. As black-skinned people they were categorized at the lowest in the racial hierarchy and the most primitive people of the human race.

The Polynesians on the other hand, were constructed as pale olive-yellow complexion that “displays almost as much variety as the white race of Europe”. Given the institutionalization, or the colonial construct of race, I am unsure if Māori or Polynesians for that matter would prefer to inhabit blackness. Polynesians have undoubtedly internalized the racial and colonial construction of their superiority. Therefore, and to assume that Māori embraces beyond its political utility, is questionable.

Further, the title conjures notions of homogeneity or uniformity. There is a fundamental obliviousness, and perhaps, the absence of reverence particularly by Western academia with regard to the complexities of the region. Oceania (excluding white colonial settlers and non- Pacific Islanders in Australia, New Zealand and French settler colonies in the Pacific) encompasses a population of approximately 12 million people that are culturally, linguistically, epistemologically, cosmologically and physically heterogeneous. Melanesian countries, for instance, feature more than one thousand languages. There are 700 different languages that are spoken in Papua New Guinea, 112 in Vanuatu and 87 in the Solomon Islands. Linguistic diversity is also reflected in Micronesia. Oceania is also characterized with socio-political fragmentations. Melanesia for instance, is featured with egalitarian structure, while Polynesia exhibits social stratification with centralized authorities.

Shilliam’s obliviousness of the complexity of Oceania is illustrated for instance, by his claim of Maui’s familiarity in the region – “Maui is well known throughout Oceania, although he is always integrated in particular ways into particular cultural constellations” (16). Maui is a Polynesian god who is unknown to millions of Melanesians in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, West Papua, the Solomon Islands, and Fiji, let alone in the scattered islands of Micronesia. In fact, I only learnt of Maui during my undergraduate years in college. Melanesia and Micronesia also have their own spiritual deities which ranges from seven headed snakes, to sharks, to eels, and to some of the most exotic birds in the world, of which little is known to Polynesians.

In addition, to envision the Polynesian Panthers as a broader forum that will include Micronesians and Melanesians or “indigenous peoples generally considered not to be Polynesians” is to assume that the people of Oceania share similar colonial experiences of dispossession and institutional racism. While land dispossession and institutional racism are featured in settler colonies of Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia for that matter, they are not necessarily reflected in other parts of Oceania. In Fiji for instance, the British colonial government created policies that “protected” indigenous rights to land and the preservation of their culture. It was the indentured Indian workers and Fijian of Indian ancestries, and not iTaukeis that experienced institutional racism. In fact, an overwhelming majority of ordinary iTaukei still romanticize the ‘benevolence’ of British colonial rule. In many villages today, portraits of British monarchs still adorn the living rooms of iTaukei homes. While I take issues with such assumptions, the fact is – iTaukei appear to have experienced colonialism differently from the Māori of Aotearoa, the Aborigines of Australia, or the Kanaks of New Caledonia. Despite colonization iTaukeis maintain customary rights of access to their native land in the post-colonial, and so is the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides) and Papua New Guinea. The people of Tonga pride themselves in the fact they were not colonized, in ways that other Pacific Islands were dominated – in terms of the imposition of a colonial state or direct foreign domination. As such, it is important that the establishment of anti-colonial forums such as the Polynesian Panther be sensitive to the vast diversity of the Oceania region.

Further, The Black Pacific pays inadequate attention to the issue of race and its dynamic amongst the people of Oceania with particular reference to Melanesia and Polynesia. While Shilliam acknowledges the race factor as instrumental in the “super-exploitation of labor and super of dispossession of land” he ignores the ways in which race shapes and perpetuates the racialized epistemologies and race dynamics in Oceania. Oceanian epistemologies are deeply racialized.

Race in Oceania and elsewhere is a European construction. In Oceania it had its origin in the European mapping and naming of Oceania as Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. The French botanist and explorer Dumont d’ Urville calls it the tripartite division in his 1832 paper, Sur le iles du Grand Ocean (On the Islands of the Great Ocean). D’Urville’s tripartite division was both a geographical mapping, and a racialized division as well. While Polynesia and Micronesia were named on the basis of its geographical configuration, Melanesia on the other hand, was named on the basis its skin color.

Melanesia means black-skinned people that according to D’ Urville exhibits very dark, often sooty skins with curly and fuzzy hair. The Polynesians on the other hand are seen as having brown complexion and proportionally built. In his paper Climate to Crania: Science and the Racialization of Human Difference (2008) Bronwen Douglas argues that the term Melanesia reflected the discourse on race which existed in Europe – where human beings were categorized in a racial hierarchy, with white or Caucasian at the top, and black people at the bottom. These ideas about skin color dates back to the 16th century.

Tcherkezoff in his paper a Long and Unfortunate Voyage towards the “Invention” of the Melanesia/ Polynesia Distinction 1595 -1832 (2003) asserts that the invention of the tripartite division of Oceania:

…..was not a simple matter of geography and map making, but of race…..long before Dumont d’ Urville ‘s invention, the black races were already labelled in the most disparaging terms…..The history of contrast between Polynesia and Melanesia is not the story of the 19th– century French navigator, but the history of European ideas about “skin colors” between the 16th and the 19th centuries”.

The European discourse on race has subsequently informed racialized epistemologies and racial categorization in Oceania. Melanesia are represented as inferior while a degree of deference is accorded to Polynesians. Both Melanesians and Polynesians have internalized such perceptions which subsequently dictates race dynamics in Oceania.

In Tonga for instance black is “uliuli” and is associated with dirt, darkness and paganism such as witchcraft.  Hence, Tongans view Melanesia, the black people of Oceania as dirty and undesirable. Interestingly despite the close association with Fiji and Tonga which dated back in the pre-colonial days, Tongans have stereotyped notions of iTaukei or indigenous Fijians. Virtually everything that is derogatory such as, thieving, fornication, adultery, etc. is considered “fakafisi” or Fijian way. Such view is articulated under the notion of “uliuli” that enunciates the derogatory nature and undesirability of Black in Tongan epistemology. In fact, to stay in an adulterous relationship is called “fakasuva”. Suva is the capital of Fiji. One can argue, that in this sense, Suva epitomizes a space and place of human depravity and not Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa.

The other sticky issue that I find about Shilliam’s book, is that the author takes an ordinary encounter between two disenfranchised or colonized groups to develop a theory that is intended to “retrieve the relationship between Africa and Māori anti-colonial struggles as a space that supports spiritual, intellectual, and political commitments to mana motuhake” or self- determination” (p11).

The first problematic aspect of this encounter is that the author did not name the kaumātua that welcomed them, neither did he quote what he said.

What he quoted was Rufus Collins response to the welcome:

  “……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”.

I view the above response with suspicion simply because one cannot ascertain Collins’ claim with regard to what the kāumatua actually said. The fact that Shilliam did not name the kāumatua is quite offensive, because it gives a sense of disregard, or rendering him as unimportant and invisible in this encounter. This, in my view, compromises the author’s attempt to establish deep relations between the Māori and Africans.

The second sticky issue about this encounter is Shilliam’s claim of a connection in the realm of the spiritual hinterlands. The Māori and Africans undoubtedly share similar colonial experiences of dispossession, marginalization and shared histories of institutional racism. However, the claim of genealogical connection in the realm of the spiritual space, or in the context of their respective spiritual hinterlands is questionable. What Shilliam seems to overlook is that, the concept of tātou tātou is articulated under the language of relationships that entails metaphorical expressions.  Shilliam unfortunately takes the notion of tātou tātou “everyone being one people” – literally to articulate colonial, genealogical and spiritual connection between Māori and Africans.  Simply put, the author took a metaphorical expression and interpreted it literally.

This piece is not intended to discredit Shilliam’s work- far from it – but instead, to create conversation about Oceania – its complexities, its disconnection, its racial categorization and metaphorical element that is embedded in indigenous cultures of Oceania.

Response by Robbie Shilliam

What is especially important about your critique, Ponipate, is that, unlike my other interlocutors, yours is situated in Oceania. You claim that my book not only erases the issue of race and its dynamics in Oceania, but ignores the heterogeneous nature of the region”.

I wish to say, unequivocally: you are entirely right and entirely wrong.

In addressing this seemingly contradictory assertion, I hope to be able to excavate from the book some crucial elements to do with race and resistance, and so I want to thank you deeply for providing a crucial and fundamental critique that impells the development of a conversation aroud these issues.

But first, I want to clear the way in terms of some of your misapprehensions with regards to the meeting at Te Hāpua, from which I present the trope: “the ancestors are meeting because we have met”.

The meeting at Te Hāpua is recorded in a documentary called Keskidee Aroha. The final cut of the documentary does not relay the entire welcome of the Ngāti Kuri elder, only parts. I presume that the selection of Rufus Collin’s rehearsal of the “ancestors are meeting because we have met” rather than the actual utterance of the elder is an editorial decision: both parties are given voice, while there is no repetition for the viewer.

I want to explain to you that the documentary was co-directed by award-winning indigenous documentary film maker Merata Mita. Having conversed with Merata about Keskidee, and knowing (as many do better than I) her clear principles on the representation of indigenous peoples, I am confident that Merata would not have undertaken that edit and cut if she was not happy that Collins represented in good faith and adequate fidelity what the elder had said – in Te Reo, first, and then translated by his whanaunga (family member) into English for the visitors.

The name of the elder is not given in the documentary and I was not told it. But Ponipate, you are right to ask of his name, and I have made further inquiries.

In the forum on my book at DisorderofThings I have explained in some detail (as I do in the book) the cosmological, philosophical and ethical architecture that frames the concept tātou tātou and so will not repeat this here, except to say that my usage is far from a naïve “literal” as opposed to “metaphorical” interpretation.

Now, onto – what is for me – the cutting edge of your critique: race and Oceania.

Despite your focus on heterogeneity, I think that you conflate the colonially induced and policed racial formation of Oceania (expressed by d’Urville) with the diverse lived experiences of race held by peoples of the region. Both are real, but they are not necessarily homologous. Or at least, when it comes to Māori, you seem to balk at the possibility that they might have experienced their colonial oppression as Black, because the regional colonial racial formation of Oceania delineates them as red/brown/olive etc. In this sense, I feel that you treat Māori almost like “privileged subalterns”; relatively privileged, but unable to speak for themselves about what this privilege might mean, or the degree to which it is actually felt at all.

I’m going to come back to this. But first I want to dwell on that regional racial formation you so powerfully focus upon in order to also suggest that its lines of delineation, although real enough, are not as sharp as you state.

I feel it important to point out that travellers, scientists, artists, anthropologists and soldiers do not always stay true to the classic and stark racial divisions articulated most famously by d’Urville. This racial division speaks to the adjudication of savagery or civility and thereby legitimises extra-ordinary violence upon those categorised as black (who d’Urville associates with Kaffirs, an Arabic term that colonial sojourners pick up, which denotes unbeliever, but especially African unbelievers). In truth, though, all peoples of Oceania are treated with suspicion of being savage – or of lapsing back into savagery – and thus all are in danger of being blackened. This even includes so-called “Polynesians”.

For example, the colonial sensibility that you report of Polynesian’s being of “brown complexion” and “proportionally built” is not always evident in European travelogues. Charles Darwin, for instance, differentiates within “Polynesians” such that some start to take on characteristics supposedly reserved for “Melanesians”:

Looking at the New Zealander, one naturally compares him with the Tahitian; both belonging to the same family of mankind. The comparison, however, tells heavily against the New Zealander. He may, perhaps be superior in energy, but in every other respect his character is of a much lower order. One glance at their respective expressions, brings conviction to the mind that one is a savage, the other a civilized man .. Their [Māori] figures are tall and bulky; but not comparable in elegance with those of the working- classes in Tahiti.

Such a distinction is also gestured to by d’Urville (Darwin’s contemporary) albeit not as strongly. In any case, the basis of Darwin’s ruthless comparison is simple: in his estimation, Tahitians have become the faithful tutees of Christian missionaries whereas Māori have not. It is difficult to find in Darwin’s observations a “degree of deference” as you put it Ponipate, accorded to Polynesians per se.

What about colour? As part of the last chapter of my book I reach into the colonial archive of travelogues and directly engage with the Melanesian/Polynesian colonial distinction. And one thing I want to say forcefully is that in the 19th century the attribution of relative lightness to Polynesians  does not necessarily detach them from their Melanesian kin in the eyes of European sojourners.

For instance, many European commentators argue that Māori are borne historically from a mix – to use a race science term – of Negro, Malay and other bloodlines. Māori are not “pure” brown. They are under suspicion: while “Asiatic”, they “nonetheless betray evident marks of a Negro extraction” as Tyrone Power put it in 1849. Some European commentators explicitly surmise that the Māori “race” are genealogically composed of a Melanesian and Polynesian mix. (d’Urville also suggests such “interbreeding” in general).

In short, brown blood is also contaminated with blackness.

Therefore the colonial gift of lightness, that is, the gift of superiority accorded to lighter colour, although clearly promised, is nonetheless a provisional one, and is easily and often taken away by Europeans. All are under suspicion. No discussion is required; no court needs to be convened.

Just one example from my book will hint at this complex phenomenon and is provided by William Swainson, a mid-19th century adventurer. Swainson considers that Māori have “nothing of the gentle, loving nature, the affectionate disposition, and the child-like docility of the negro race”.  Swainson differentiates Māori from Negros– at least, docile Negro “slaves”. But the savage temperament that he attributes to Māori in making this distinction is, in the d’Urville schema, associated stringently with Melanesians which, in turn, is intimately associated with African traits. (The chiefs of Melanesia, for d’Urville, apparently exercise authority “just as tyrannically as any African despot”). Despite not being categorised distinctly as “Negroid”, Māori are nonetheless blackened by Swainson.

But there is something else that happens in the 19th century. It forms a central point of investigation for my book. And it is all about the lived experience of Māori under colonial rule and how, regardless of and in opposition to colonial race schemas, some of them know themselves to be Black.

By mid-century Māori are increasingly taking on the missionaries’ religion. Nonetheless, many have acculturated this religion to their own cosmologies. Missionary Christianity damns Ham – the Black – and raises Japheth – the white – to be God’s emissary. At this juncture, Māori have the opportunity to identify with Shem (the “brown”), in whose tents an “enlarged” Japheth shall dwell (Gen 9:27): a cosy colonial relationship. Some Māori accept this gift of association.

But some Māori do not wish to associate.

And they make common cause with Ham – the damned – not Japheth. They argue that their redemption, as Shem, is dependent upon the redemption of Ham. One of – if not the most – influential Māori prophets of the 19th century, Te Ua, testifies to this solidarity, as does the chant of those who fight under his banner: “Shem, Ham, Father Glory, verily, Hau.” Hau can be glossed as “breath”, Hauora is the spiritual agent of reciprocity. Divine restitution for the crimes of European colonialism requires Ham and Shem to walk together.

And more.

Some of those who at this time resist settler encroachment with force of arms proclaim their Blackness in no uncertain terms: “my skin is black skin, my canoe is a Māori canoe”. At the height of the wars over land, one Māori newspaper even looks to the Haitian Revolution for positive instruction, hoping that “God will protect his black skinned children who are living in Aotearoa”.

Forward to post-war 20th century. Urban migrations from rural lands and islands. Now Māori are the “niggers”, as are Pasifika peoples albeit in slightly different ways. I mean this in terms of the place that Māori and Pasifika urban youth are made to occupy in racialized structures of exclusion, discrimination and oppression. I am not being flippant. One of the gangs out of which emerge the Polynesian Panthers is called “The Nigs”. Who did they learn that term from?! Who called them that?!

And what is one of the (very contested) responses by young Māori and Pasifika to the racism they have experienced as mainly urban youth in the 1970s?: to do what their ancestors have done and reclaim their Blackness. Only “the blanket of black skin” can act as “a whāriki – a cloak of dignity”. It is the women who reclaim Blackness the most. They categorically refuse to know themselves as a comfortable “brown”.

This is more than strategic identification. Although at times, it is this too. It is, as I develop in the book, an inhabitation – even enfolding – of Blackness borne of, firstly, being blackened, (despite being categorized as “Polynesian”), and secondly, finding redemption and liberation in and through Blackness.

As you note, Ponipate, in the 1970s the Polynesian Panthers, as I report it, hope for an Australasia–Pacific common front, a Black Power collectivity that also includes indigenous peoples generally considered not to be Polynesian (i.e. the peoples of Australia, Papua New Guinea and the New Hebrides etc.). I want to point out that this hope does not necessarily rest on the expectation that all colonial situations are the same everywhere. In fact, the project of a “common front” speaks precisely to the requirement to find solidarity across difference. Perhaps some of the Panthers already have resources to begin to understand the heterogeneity of Oceania. You mention that the peoples of Tonga, “pride themselves in the fact they were not colonized, in ways that other Pacific Islands were dominated”. I want to let you know that, although the main chairperson of the Polynesian Panthers grows up mostly in Auckland, his family is Tongan with close genealogical links to royalty.

Meanwhile some of the Māori activists who have come to know themselves as Māori again through their Blackness subsequently form the Pacific People’s Anti-Nuclear Action Committee, who make more common cause with all Oceanians, not just “Polynesians”.

Regional and global racial formations, as depicted by d’Urville are real. Ponipate: I agree absolutely. But at the same time, race happens and is experienced and lived in micro-cosms. I want to make this point very clearly and resolutely: it makes no discernible difference to downpressed, socio-economically impoverished Māori and Pasifika youth living in Aotearoa NZ that they might be viewed, if they were to ever permanently join the ranks of global travellers, as preferable in polite company to brethren and sistren from Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea etc.

It is the same as the issue I have with the dominance of African-American studies of slavery.

A little over 4% of Africans who are trafficked across the Atlantic end up enslaved in the colonies of what will become the United States. The dominant experience of slavery in the Americas, by far, is to be found in Brazil. The US colonies distinguish themselves as amongst the very few places where a policy emerges to reproduce the populations of enslaved peoples via “breeding” projects etc. For most other enslaved peoples, it’s work to the death while massa imports fresh meat in lieu of reproduction.

We know that the dominance of the African-American experience in academia when it comes to slavery and Blackness is due to the economic, political, military and partially cultural dominance of the United States in global affairs. None of this is representative. It’s not right. Yet, does any of this mean and should any of this mean everything to those who experience – and/or try to explain – the downpression of mainly poor Black peoples within the United States?

Perhaps I am sensitive to these issues due to my own experiences, especially in Aotearoa NZ. In my time there, aside from the usual airport dramas, I rarely felt any consequence for that element of my heritage that is African diasporic. What was more important than anything else in peoples’ initial apprehension of me was that (aside from being a man, still) I was “English”. This was all disarming, especially due to the consequences I have always received back in England. It was also a great lesson in humility when it came to the cultivation of my relationship with Māori and Pasifika, who are firmly on the receiving end. (This humility also extended to Pākehā allies).

But above all, I am making these points because I must bear witness to the longstanding, exemplary and beautiful resistance of Māori and Pasifika peoples to their colonial damnation and their principled relation with Blackness. Tāne/Maui-Legba; Shem-Ham.

Despite your critique, Ponipate, you reproduce some of the easy homogenisations of colonial-Pacific anthropology: “Melanesia for instance, is featured with egalitarian structure, while Polynesia exhibits social stratification with centralized authorities”. Really? With such certainty? According to what sources and from whom? I think many Māori I know would take issue with your claim that their authority evidences no egalitarian structure. And, likewise, some “Polynesians” I have known, heard and read about, know themselves to be Black… despite and because of the race science of d’Urville.

Still, let me repeat another element of your critique: There is a fundamental obliviousness, and perhaps, the absence of reverence particularly by Western academia with regard to the complexities of the region.”

You are absolutely right. And I think your inclusion of the term “reverence” is crucial.

Alongside – and enwrapping the micro-cosms of race – lie larger regional and global racial formations. They are real enough. They are especially reflected and refracted through academic knowledge production, as they are in all those circuits of expropriation, accumulation and exchange that are immediately more global in their constitution and circulation.

I don’t believe in being paralysed by power. Those of us who, in (an important) part of our lives, inhabit Western academia, and who wish to cultivate knowledge in a decolonial manner, are accountable to our necessary complicity despite other discriminations and exclusions that might be marked by our bodies (with different intensities). This recognition must not slide into an opportunity to be narcissistic. The academy does not define our very existence neither is it the energy source for all our intellectual work. But we must be accountable.

My book, Black Pacific, focuses mainly (albeit not entirely) on Aotearoa New Zealand. Here, I am an author in the Foucauldian sense, and whether I intend it or not, whether I like it or not, this book enters into a broader racial circulation that historically and presently demonizes – or at best ignores – those in Oceania who have been and/or are delineated as Melanesian. That the politics and methods of my book, on their own terms, are antithetical to this onerous regional racial formation in no way arrests its unavoidable complicity when situated at this particular level.

Moreover, for some Oceanians this level is also constitutive of the micro-cosm of race that they reside in. I must acknowledge that.

Ponipate, you claim that my book “erases the issue of race and its dynamic amongst the people of Oceania with particular reference to Melanesia and Polynesia.” I think concern over this erasure is what is behind your raising of the issue of heterogeneity. So perhaps, with my reply, you might understand why I think that on this point you are both entirely wrong and entirely right.

When I presented my work at the University of Hawai’i last November I was drawn into a discussion with you, Lee Kava and Joy Enomoto amongst others, about Blackness in Oceania. And I learnt greatly from our grounding. It confirmed to me the utility and integrity of the journey I had taken with and in the Black Pacific. And it taught me that I would have to journey more in order to contribute to the healing of the colonial wound that I am concerned with.

How might I appropriately undertake this work, and what might it consist of? These questions will occupy me as the book forum closes.

The Black Pacific

This year I published a book called The Black Pacific: Anti-colonial Struggles and Oceanic Connections. You can buy it, or download it for free from the publishers:

Because so much of the book was based on community stories, I wanted to make sure that the conversation could and continue and that the end of the book was not the end of the story.

So I creaed a page on this blog-page – BlackPacific – you can see it in the options above. I encourage people who read the book and who are in various ways related to the material, and who want to contribute, context, extend the stories to post on this page.

I’m not sure how many people might do this in the future. But anyway, I just received my first response.

I was recently emailed by Jeannette Ehrmann, from Goethe University, who is currently researching her important PhD on the Haitian Revolution.

This is what she says:

(PS It was Lachlan Paterson who first told me about the Maori/Haiti relationship)

Dear Robbie,

I hope your are doing well.

I am right now sitting in a light-flooded library in the heart of Paris, reading Jean-Louis Janvier’s book “The Detractors of the Black Race and the Republic of Haiti”, published in 1882.

I just stumbled over a passage that I would like to share with you in case you haven’t come across Janvier yet. It opens up another relation between Haiti and the Black Pacific and a shared identification across the pacific.

Janvier speaks of Australia, where the indigenous population has been slaughtered; the Sandwich Islands where the population is dimished day by day; the Gambier Islands whose population has to suffer from a theocratic, catholic regime imposed upon them; Tahiti whose population has been diminished dramatically through colonial exploitation, tobacco, alcohol and opium. And New Zealand, where “the extermination of the Maori race has been executed systematically and coldbloodedly by the English. This was accomplished within 40 years.” (p. 54)

“Don’t we have the right to raise our shoulders when some very ignorant voyagers tell us foolishly that Haitians should open their land to a mass immigration by whites?” (p. 55)

Unfortunately, there seems to be no English translation except from a short extract (

The French original is available online:

I was so astonished when I read you chapter on the Maori/Haiti relation. Now, it’s great to see that this relation was not one-sided but grounded in a solidarity from Haiti’s part as well and that it could transcend the boundaries of colonial empires and languages.

With this new discovery (at least for me), I wish you a great day on the other side of the channel.

All the best,

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.

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%. This is still, though, the smallest percentage of academics out of the working population of any ethnic group including white, although not far off the Chinese figure of 1.3%. Black people constitute 1.61% of both UK-national and non-national academics. This is an increase of .07% from the last report. But to put this increase in perspective: at this rate it would take 24 years for Black academics to become proportionally representative – i.e. to reach 3.3% of the academic population so as to match the percentage of Black people resident in the UK.  Yet this exercise does not take into account the growth rate of the Black population of the UK. So I wonder if, at this small rate, we would ever reach parity, at least in my lifetime. Alternatively, white people constitute 87.23% of academic professionals and remain overrepresented at 86% of the UK population.

In this latest report the ECU has changed its categorisation of academics workers and “cleaners, catering assistants, security officers, porters and maintenance workers” seems to have been replaced with “elementary occupations”. Hence direct comparisons are not really possible. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that in the last report, 6.91% of white workers in academia were “cleaners, catering assistants etc.” in contrast to 19.27% of Black workers. While in this report, 6.2% of white workers are employed in “elementary occupations” in contrast to 17.8% of Black workers.

So the upshot is that: Black people remain significantly under-represented in academic roles and significantly over-represented in manual jobs.

The lastest ECU report no longer breaks down the different types of academic job contracts beyond the BME category. In other words, the report no longer investigates job types by reference to Black, Asian, Chinese etc. Hence it is no longer possible to assess the change in percentages of Black academics in full time, part time, research or teaching only contracts. This is a great shame. And I am dissapointed with the ECU. Surely they most know that the BME category conceals more than it illuminates?

It might be interesting at this point to add an observation that I did not make last time. As a lecturer in International Politics I am especially interested in non-SET subjects (i.e. the social sciences, humanities and arts, as opposed to Science, Engineering and Technology). Incidently, Black students are the only ethnic minority group who are represented in non-SET subjects more than in SET ones. Within non-SET disciplines, anthropology, area studies and the classics have the least amount of UK-national Black academics – hardly any. Following them are theology, philosophy, politics and international studies, history and continuing education. For non-national Black academics, classics is the worst, then politics and international studies, continuing education and music/dance/drama/performance.

The now infamous statistic of 85 Black professors in UK academia – yes just 85 –  that’s right, 85 – remains exactly the same in the new ECU report! These professors are spread equally across SET and non-SET subjects. Black academics still have by far the smallest percentage of professors amongst any ethnic group. But the picture has got even worse when it comes to academics occupying senior management roles. Last time round, there were just 15 Black academics in senior management roles. Now there are reported only 5.

– You read it correctly, it’s not a typo.

— Just 5 Black academics in senior management roles across the whole of UK academia.  Seriously.

How about the filthy lucre? Across UK-national and non UK national staff, 29.2% of white academics make over 50,000GBP, roughly the same as last time. But the number of Black staff earning above 50K is down from 17.7% to 14.2%. The median salary for UK-national Black academics is 40,834GBP, while white academics pull 44,607GBP.  Black academics remain behind all other ethnic groups, except for “mixed”, in terms of their wages. Finally, UK-national Black academics have the largest gender differential amongst all ethnicities including white: 60.6% are women; I wonder if this is at least something to do with these earning differentials.

Overall, then, when it comes to staff, the new ECU report suggests that over a year Black academics have enjoyed an extremely modest – but positive – increase in presence, but quite possibly have suffered a decrease in position and power. This is why Black academics – and UK academia in general – need now, more than ever, initiatives like the Black Studies AssociationBlack British AcademicsBlack Doctoral Network (UK) and other institutional-building initiatives.

Ok, let’s now look at the situation with students.

 NUS Black Students Conference 2015 (NUS use the term Black in an expansive way to enable an intersectional constituency)

Starting with undergraduates, Black students now make up 6.3% of the UK-national student population in Britain, up from 6.0% in the last report. In England, Black students make up 7.2% (up from 6.9%) and amongst first year students 6.7% are Black.  So the more-than-a-decade long increase in Black students continues as does the significant overrepresentation relative to the broader Black population of the UK (3.3%). 4.4% of Black students have an African continental heritage, 1.3% a Caribbean heritage, and 0.3% an “other” Black heritage. This would suggest, when looking at the last report, that the increase in Black students is primarily coming from those with a Continental heritage, which also reflects the broader changing composition of the UK Black population.

Incidently, within non-SET subjects, history, philosophy, combined studies and languages attract the least amount of Black undergraduate students, although we would have to break down the ECU category of “social studies” to get a proper picture.

Happily, the number of Black masters students also continue to be overrepresented visavis the Black population of the UK. And Black research students have slightly grown to now provide an exact parity with the broader Black population of the UK at 3.3%. However, the percentage of Black research students enrolled in part-time study has increased from 46.2% to 47.8% (still by far the largest percentage of part-time research students amongst any ethnic group). This suggests that as the Black research student constituency grows, it does so primarily via part-time study. In the last blog I detailed why this is an important observation: part-time research students find it hard to build networks and translate their PhDs into full time research-positions.

What happens to UK-national undergraduates at the end of an academic year? In the new ECU report, 92.2% of white students continue to the next year, 1.5% transfer institutions and 6.4% leave higher education. In comparison, 86.4% of Black students continue, 4% transfer and 9.6% leave. By contrast to the last ECU report: very slightly more Black students are now continuing (good news); slightly more Black students are transferring (suggesting, I would say, little change in attitudes to diversifying institutional culture); and less Black students leave (great news). With regards to this last statistic it might be interesting to note that less Black students with Caribbean heritage leave compared to last year’s report; alternatively, more Black students with Continental heritage leave compared to the last report. Nevertheless, it remains the case that more Black students transfer than any other ethnic group except for Bangladeshi, and the percentage of Black students leaving higher education remains significantly higher than any other ethnic group.  

Here are the latest comparisons for end of degree attainments for UK-national undergraduates, focusing on white and Black students:

Class                      Group               % of group attaining award

1st class:                white women          20.3

1st class                 black women          7.4

1st class                 white men               20.6

1st class                 black men               7.7

2:1 class                white women          54.5

2:1 class                black women         41.3

2:1 class                white men              50.6

2:1 class                black men              36.4

Compared to last year’s report, the percentage of women and men achieving first class honours (1st) has risen for both white and Black students. However, Black women have increased their achievement of upper second class honours (2:1) by 3% from last year and Black men by 1%, while the percentage of white women and men attaining 2:1s is effectively the same as last year. This is a bit of good news in so far as it means that the significnat differential of attainment between white and Black students has decreased by a small amount. 

Yet the overall difference remains stark: 74.7% of white female students achieve either a 1st or 2:1 compared to 44.1% of Black female students; 71.2% of white male students achieve either a 1st or 2:1 compared to 44.1% of Black male students. This statistic is crucial because key graduate employers will only look at students with these achievements, not those who fall below – i.e. 2:2s and 3rds. If everything remains as it is, if white students do not increase their percentage of 1sts/2:1s and Black students continue to increase theirs at the current rate of 3.6% a year, then it will still take roughly eight years for Black students to obtain parity. That’s eight generations of finalists going out onto the job market with an attainment record, like it or not, differentiated across race lines. And of course, it is by no means the case that this increase will continue on its own accord at a rate that has only been sustained for 3 years so far. This is especially so if the race equality agenda continues to be dismissed, nay ridiculed, by the current Conservative administration which is otherwise obsessed with austerity.

Two final observations on attainment. 

Firstly, there has been a lot of talk about the closing of the attainment gap at school and significant improvement in Black student achievement. The achievements of children from a Continental African heritage are especially remarked upon.  It could be, perhaps, that African Continental parents have relatively more capital (social, economic etc) to invest in their students’ education as recent arrivants than their African Caribbean counterparts. (Although the latter fought exactly the same battles with similar social capital forty odd years ago). Yet, regardless, the undergraduate attainment rates of Caribbean and Continental heritage students are almost the same. In fact, in last year’s report, Continental students outperformed Caribbean students in attaining 1sts, but in this year’s report these attainments are on a par (both groups are within 0.1% of each other). And this year Caribbean students attain 2.5% more 2:1s than their continental counterparts, 1% less 2:2s and 1.4% less thirds. In short, Black students of Caribbean heritage are, relatively speaking, doing as well if not better than Black students of Continental heritage. We know that education is one of the key facilitators of social mobility in the UK.  So could it be that university is a key site wherein the social advantages of continental African children are being neutralised or reversed? Institutional racism is, after all, the great equaliser: Black is black is black. Perhaps we can see this struggle between migrant parents’ social capital and the insertion of their children into structures of racial inequality in the following statistic: upon leaving university more students of continental African heritage than those of African Caribbean heritage enter into full time postgraduate study; however, more students of continental African heritage enter unemployment than their African Caribbean counterparts.

The second observation is this. Amongst ethnic minority groups, Black students still exhibit the lowest attainments. Even if there has been an increase by Black students, it has been matched by, for example, increases in Asian student attainment (which is the second lowest to Black students). I am of course happy that Asian students are increasing their attainment, as I would be for any individual student. Nevertheless, I want to point out, as uncomfortable as it is, that those insipid intra-minority hierarchies seem to be at least partly remaining, even if small improvements are generally occurring.

Attainment issues also speak to the distribution of students amongst the uneven landscape of higher education institutions. I want to say, straight away, and reflecting on the comments of Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ think tank, that I do not personally believe that you will necessarily get a better education at a Russell Group university – recognised by government and industry as the most prestigious group of academic institutions in the UK-  than at, say, a Million+ university – one of the least prestigious recognised groups. This economy of prestige directly relates to career prospects and, to my mind, is really all about the reproduction and transference of inherited privilege rather than acting as the mark of an excellent education. But for this very reason it is important to look at the distribution of students across these groups of institutions.

Black students remain at the same percentage of the whole student population in Russell Group universities: 2.7% in last year’s and this year’s report. Whilst this figure might not seem a million miles away from the 3.3% of Black people in the UK population, we need to remember the overrepresentation of Black students in the academy, especially at undergraduate level (6.3% of the whole). Once this overrepresentation is remembered, the Russell Group figure is by no means as positive as it appears to be. Moreover Black students have increased their presence in all university groups except the most prestigious Russell Group. And the least “prestigious” Million+ group have the highest percentage of Black students at 11.9% of the population (the highest percentage of all ethnic minorities in this group). Overall the Russell Group – the most prestigious – remains the whitest (at 82.8% of the student population), and the Million+ – the least “prestigious” – remains the least whitest (73.6%).   This all suggests that the increase in Black student numbers is being served by the least “prestigious” universities. This would then qualify the success on attainments being made by Black students if they are proportionally more likely to obtain a 1st from a Million+ university than from a Russell group university. And again, I am not talking about the actual substance of the education but the economy of privilige it is embedded within.

One more thing to add to this mix. Black students have the highest amount of mature students than any other ethnic group including white, and significantly so. And again, Black students have the highest percentage of women.  So here, age, gender, race, institution and socio-economic privilege intersect.

How do all these intersections play out in terms of life immediately after university? 59.1% of white students find full employment after graduating compared to 49.5% of Black students. Both percentages have increased since last year’s report, but by pretty much the same amount, although there is a slight narrowing of the differential. More worringly, 5.2% of white students enter unemployment compared to 12.1% of Black students. Again, both these percentages have decreased since last year’s report, and again, there is a slight narrowing of the differential. A bit of positive news. Yet the difference still remains stark, and is consonant with wider disparities concerning minority youth employment.

So for Black students the gap has narrowed very slightly, but student outcomes and experience remain solidly and starkly differentiated along race lines that reproduce existing privileges. 

To finish, though, I want to point to one more invisible outcome for Black – and I would say many ethnic minority – students. A university education is supposed to be an experience and not just an “outcome”, that is, a process of critical reflection and clarification of one’s self and one’s place in the world at large. How many of our Black students find their years at university delivering them the absolute opposite? How many find a world painted white, a world that they are therefore effectively barred from investing in by the institutionally racist cultures of university? How many leave with a distaste and distrust of institutions that are supposed to enable and cultivate a civic life for all? How many of our academic colleagues even imagine that this might be taking place under their very noses?

 Afewerk Tekle’s 1967 “”African Heritage”


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 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):

Feb 25

@X @RobbieShilliam The intellectual’s version of Boko Haram.

Ok, that just made me giggle. Must have seen my dreadlocks. I was tempted to add that response to my Travel Notes. It almost carried on writing itself.

And then this response:

  1. X    Feb 28

@RobbieShilliam Would it be any different if someone wrote on Asia and Asians (or Africa and Africans) for European discerning travellers?:)

  1. Robbie Shilliam‏   Mar 1

@X yes it would. This is specifically about Europe and it’s colonial pathologies, one of which is avoidance of its pathologies!

  1. X Mar 1

@RobbieShilliam But it sounds as if European were intrinsically greedy and evil, and the rest were noble human beings dedicated to goodness

  1. Robbie Shilliam‏@RobbieShilliam  Mar 1

@X I didn’t say anything about the rest. Your projection. All the statements have truth behind them.

All quiet on the Northern front.

Until just now (same tweeter):

  1. 2h2 hours ago (19th April)

BBC News – South Africa anti-immigrant violence: Hundreds held … Who is to blame on this, @RobbieShilliam? 😉

  1. Robbie Shilliam‏@RobbieShilliam  2h2 hours ago

@X why ask me? I am not a south Africa expert.

  1. X 1h1 hour ago

@RobbieShilliam Sadly, racism and xenophobia are not exclusive of white people: they are a human (and ape) disease. No need to be an expert!

  1. Robbie Shilliam‏@RobbieShilliam  57m57 minutes ago

@X that’s your obsession X not mine. I never said those were exclusive to white peep. Ask yourself why u are defensive. 

Over the last eight years, one experience I have constantly had, mostly in the academic world it has to be said, is people from a very strong “modernity” (read, partially, “European”) perspective (variously articulated) consistently interpreting my work as “essentialist”, “nativist”, “racialist”.

All my work in this time period – ALL of it – is about cultivating deep relationality required to heal the wounds of colonialism. Isn’t that a global concern?

I have to ask myself: why can’t these people see my relationality? It’s not a matter of me writing badly. I own up to when I do that. But this is on a different level. It’s a wilful un-reading.

Case in point: I finish a paper which is engaging with but sympathetically criticising the Communist Manifesto on the grounds of its use of the slave analogy but at the same time consigning real-living enslaved Africans to the distant past of political economy. I finish by saying (pithily, I admit), “Forward, then, to a Manifesto coloured human”.

Respondent: Is worried about my engagement with Marcus Garvey in the paper. What do I want to replace the Manifesto with? (Computer code: do you want to replace class with race, Marx with Garvey?) My last sentence!!! LAST sentence!!! THE LAST SENTENCE!!! I don’t want to replace it at all. I want to reckon with it fully. Is that unclear? Did I say, “forward only to Marcus Garvey?” Or, “Forward to a new manifesto written by blacks only for blacks… in black ink, on black paper”?

Neither is it about people agreeing with me. There are plenty of grounds of disagreements and I really don’t mind them – I usually love them and learn from them. But it’s beyond disagreement through a dialogue. There was no dialogue!

As Gurminder Bhambra puts it in this blog, I have engaged with the Hegels, Kants, etc, the intellectual folk of the “European” culture. But their avatars never engage with my folk. They have an epistemological stereotype in their head – Fanon will tell you where they got it from – and then they respond to a stereotype.

Who is accountable? Who is self-reflexive? Who is seeking to cultivate relations? If I decide that I don’t want to waste any more energies on a conversation with a wall, then I guess it will be my “essentialism” that will have been the cause of my retreat.

Four quick paradoxes of the welfare state for Black communities

1) The welfare state was supposed to provide universal provision but was never extend to British subjects outside of the UK. However, British subjects in colonial territories were just as much subjects to the crown as those resident in the UK.

2) The era where, in large part due to the welfare state and the ethos of public goods, social mobility was most pronounced in the UK (late 60s, early 70s) was also the era of the proliferation of violent and visceral racism and entrenched institutional racism in public and private institutions.

3) In the 80s, funding the ethos of public goods allowed for the development and expression of community initiatives, especially with the Black community through Ken Livingstone’s GLC. It was a golden era, in this respect, despite being a high point of the battle against the BNP and far right.

4) The end of the ethos of public good, and the massive diminishment of the welfare state has done nothing to dampen institutional racism, and now visceral racism is on the rise again.

Welfare and social mobility did not get rid of racism. Welfare provided for an opportunity to fund provisions to ammeliorate racism. The material basis for ammelioration has now diminished and is disappearing fast. But a return to an ethos of “public goods” will not in and of itself get rid of racialised inequalities and discriminations. No triumphal leftist narrative is possible for Black communities – nor was it ever – when it came to the welfare state. How can we re-make the relationship of public goods to racism for a better tomorrow?