It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.
W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
The exploitation of black, brown and yellow labour through imperialism – and the dangers of white working-class complicity in that exploitation – was not a topic being addressed frontally or consistently on the British left in the immediate post-war years. […] Racism and xenophobic nationalism were frequently intertwined with labour militancy.
Priyamvada Gopal, “Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent” (2019)
Since the notion that we should all forsake attachment to race and/or cultural identity and be “just humans” within the framework of white supremacy has usually meant that subordinate groups must surrender their identities, beliefs, values, and assimilate by adopting the values and beliefs of privileged-class whites, rather than promoting racial harmony this thinking has created a fierce cultural protectionism.
bell hooks, Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995)
White America needs to engage in a form of crisis regarding its false and oppressive identity. It needs to grapple seriously with why it needed to project its vileness onto black people and people of color in the first place.
George Yancy, “Is White America Ready to Confront its Racism?” (2018)
This is a moment when the violence of racism and racist structural inequalities have been laid bare for all the world to witness. In the UK and across the world the words “I can’t breathe” have come to signify the depth of a crisis that has been ongoing for generations. We see how the Covid-19 pandemic, a virus that inhibits the ability to breathe, has disproportionately impacted people of colour, exposing an injustice that is not a quirk of our societies, but something that is woven into society’s very foundation.
We watched in horror when George Floyd, Eric Garner, Derrick Scott, and countless other people of colour uttered “I can’t breathe” as they were murdered by police. We share the pain and trauma as we watch the countless videos and photos of black, brown and indigenous peoples who have been brutalised and murdered by police and armed vigilantes, in what amounts to modern-day lynchings. And we share the deep concern that these images can be fetishized, contributing to the black death spectacle and desensitising us to the suffering of people of colour. The circulation of stories around the world of black, brown, yellow, and indigenous people being brutalised, killed, and subject to hate crime are impossible to ignore and discloses the reality of the countless other victims of racism who have gone unseen and unheard.
Racism is a crisis which we must all confront. It intersects with other forms of discrimination such as sexism, ableism and classism which are rooted in and upheld by the late capitalist logic as well as the colonial structure of exploitation and oppression. As W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon and James Baldwin all recognised, racism is a disease that damages everyone. As such, it is all of our responsibility to dismantle it. This is why we unequivocally support Black Lives Matter and anti-racist activism. The movement has been and will continue to be led by people, especially women, of colour, but we cannot and should not expect them to shoulder this burden alone. It is incumbent on all of us to dismantle white supremacy. It is the responsibility of our white colleagues throughout the psychosocial community to respect, listen to and learn from black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee (BAMER) colleagues’, students’ and patients’ lived experiences of racism. This is especially pressing given how issues such as the BAMER attainment gap and the lack of diverse staff signal long histories of embedded racism and structural inequalities in higher education institutions, a sector where many of us are employed. In this situation it is not enough to be non-racist. To simply not be racist is to passively accept structural inequality. Silence is complicity. We need to come together to formulate active anti-racist practices.
As psychosocial academics and practitioners we have a clear theoretical framework, which is grounded in practices, to address the crisis of structural inequalities and the generational trauma of racism. The Association of Psychosocial Studies (APS) is committed to working with academic, practitioner and wider communities to better understand the problems we collectively face and to formulate the tools necessary for the task at hand. The APS understands that we still have a lot to learn. We have no illusions that the conversations to come will be easy, but we intend to put in the work. All too often statements are issued in support of black lives and anti-racism that are not followed up by action. A statement without action is essentially empty. We will address our own practices of privileging whiteness, recognising how its pervasiveness presents a barrier to BAMER APS members, friends and colleagues. We recognise the direct relationship between establishing a reflective and enquiring culture around inter-racial dynamics and our ability to sustain an inclusive psychosocial community.
In the coming weeks and months, we will be formulating public events and publications to further a dialogue within our expanded psychosocial networks. The first of these will be online on 31 July at 14:30 as part of the APS Summer Programme. This will be a space for reflection and listening. Details of this event and others will be made public on our website and circulated in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, whether you are a member of the APS or part of our wider community, we value your insights and contributions to our continued development. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the APS members who are working on a newly formed steering group on anti-racism and discrimination. They are:
Dr Anthony Faramelli
Dr Nini Fang
Dr Jacob Johanssen
They can be contacted via adm.apsychosocialstudies AT gmail.com
The Association for Psychosocial Studies