Memorandum to Oppressors

Handout for a talk entitled Learning towards Justice, summer 1984

Introduction: notes on terminology

A relationship, interaction or social system is oppressive if it involves gains, benefits and advantages for some at the cost of losses, frustrations and harm for others. Oppressors are individuals, groups or classes who have more than their fair share of gains. The oppressed are those who have more than their fair share of losses. The archetypal oppressor lives in the northern hemisphere; is middle-class; is white; is male; has a senior position in a hierarchical institution.

Whether you are an oppressor or not depends on your location in an oppressive structure, not on your intention or wish. The question is what are you doing to transform the structure, not whether you wish to be an oppressor.
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1 Seek confrontation and opposition

Over and over you get things wrong. You are deformed and blinkered by your location and experience. You cannot trust yourself, not your eyesight, not your judgement. Seek out people who have very different location and experience—that is, the oppressed—and heed their critiques, criticism and challenges.

2 Flattery and chance

Day in and day out, people flatter you. For you control goods and goodies which they desire. The consequence of this flattery is that you suppose with pride that you are in your present position through your own merit and achievement. But no, you are where you are through chance, not choice. You live in a society in which people with certain attributes (gender, race, class, nation) get rewarded and flattered.

3 Don’t divide and rule

There is a diversity of interests, concerns and priorities amongst the oppressed, and many are prevented—for example by the mass media and by the educational system—from knowing the dimension and contours of their oppression. You must not take, let alone seek, advantage from this diversity and lack of awareness.

4 Selfishness and self-interest

All human beings defend their self-interest, yes of course, and all in this do things which are morally wrong. But only oppressors have the power to define which wrong actions are crimes. Also oppressors have the power to define the signs, symbols and conventions of courtesy and considerateness. In consequence of this dual power, oppressors typically think they are morally superior to the oppressed. They are not. Never forget this.

5 Positive action

Regardless of any formal equal opportunities policies which may be around, you should be engaging continually in positive discrimination. Do everything you can to distribute power, influence, resources and goods to or towards the oppressed. You will often have to do this covertly rather than openly: so be it.

6 Acknowledgements

Everyone peppers their discourse and conversation with bibliographical footnotes—references to people from whom they have learnt, and/or people who are big names. Make sure that you yourself, in your footnotes and references, give credit only to the oppressed. This means—amongst other things—that you should indeed reckon to have your mind nurtured only or mainly by the oppressed.

7 The climate of oppressor opinion

Transformation of the system will come, if it comes at all, from the oppressed. You yourself have only a small part to play. But one thing you can do, and should do, is criticise, cajole, badger, pester, speak out, in the forums, informal as well as formal, of the oppressor. But watch out: don’t let them dress you in the cap and bells of a court jester, or the stiff righteous collar of a prig.

8 Double-agents

As long as you stay where you are it is possible that you will work, whether you wish to or intend to or not, against the interests of the oppressed. For example, and in particular, you are part of the velvet glove round the oppressor’s iron fist; you may be containing resistance, buying time for the oppressor, that’s all. One consequence of this is that you have no right or reason to expect gratitude, sympathy or trust from the oppressed.

9 Lifestyle

Look at your possessions, your personal time, your personal space and mobility: you are very comfortable, and very corrupt. You cannot completely change your lifestyle as long as you stay in your location. But you can keep it modest and frugal; you can share it; you can treat it lightly; and you can—and you must—risk it.

10 Words and platforms

The essential educational task is to equip the oppressed with words—the ABC, the first two Rs, Shakespeare and all that. Part of the essential political task is to provide them with platforms—a hearing in the places and spaces where a rule is to listen (words + platforms = communicative competence). Often you yourself should be silent, or at least your memoranda should be unmemorable. But sometimes you may speak, you may use both words and platforms. Choose them, choose them with care.
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Robin Richardson, St James’s Piccadilly, 20 June 1984, published in Daring to be a Teacher: essays, stories and memoranda, Trentham Books 1990, pp 205-07.

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Islamophobia 2017 – challenges for us all

AN ANNIVERSARY PROJECT

2017 is the twentieth anniversary of the landmark 1997 Runnymede Trust Report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. A project is being planned to mark the anniversary. The aims of the project are:

  • to renew awareness of the causes, nature, facets and dangers of Islamophobia
  • to help develop and strengthen counter-narratives relating to citizenship, secularism, pluralism and justice
  • to provide resources, lesson plans, activities and course outlines for schools, colleges, universities and communities, and for training and awareness-raising events of various kinds.

THREE PRINCIPAL STRANDS

The project has three strands:

  • LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD: public lectures and events in Leeds and London to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1997 report – 19 October 2017 in London and 12 November 2017 in Leeds.
  • BLOGPOSTS: critique, reaction and responses hosted by ReOrient: The Journal of Critical Muslim Studies.
  • RESOURCING EDUCATORS: an archive of lesson plans, exercises, training programmes and course outlines. September/November 2017.

If you would like to contribute to the blog or the resources archive, or both, please send an indication of your interest to admin@islamophobia2017.org.uk. Also, please send  suggestions and requests, if you wish, about the specific topics and issues you hope this project will address.

PLANNING

The project is being organised jointly by the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies at the University of Leeds, the Insted Consultancy, the Muslim Youthwork Foundation and ReOrient: The Journal of Critical Muslim Studies.

The current members of the planning group for the project are Sameena Choudry (Equitable Education consultancy), Gill Cressey (Coventry University), MG Khan (Ruskin College, Oxford), Robin Richardson (formerly at the Runnymede Trust), S.Sayyid (University of Leeds) and AbdoolKarim Vakil (King’s College London).

INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION

The project focuses on the situation in the UK, as did the report published 20 years ago. But it also takes account of scholarship, issues, activism and creative developments in other countries as well.

BACKGROUND

The 1997 Runnymede report can be accessed via the following link: http://www.runnymedetrust.org/companies/17/74/Islamophobia-A-Challenge-for-Us-All.html.

A follow-up report published by Trentham Books in 2004 can be found at http://www.insted.co.uk/islambook.pdf

Many key theoretical issues are discussed in Thinking through Islamophobia: global perspectives, edited by S. Sayyid and AbdoolKarim Vakil, Hurst Publishers 2011.

FURTHER INFORMATION

The project has a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Islamophobia2017

A website is being built at http://islamophobia2017.org.uk/

POSTER

A poster about the project can be downloaded from http://www.islamophobia2017.org.uk/pdf/islamophobia2017-finalweb.pdf

 

Brexit, Trump and All That

‘We’re out!’, they crowed, we’re out and proud,

self-styled ‘real people’, triumphant and loud.

Thus began a meditation at a conference last week on development education. The meditation continued:

They’d got their country back, their turf and their ways,

the ones known by their forebears in good old days,

when foreigners everywhere, whatever their race,

were neither here nor uppity, knowing their place.

The meditation can be read in full at http://www.insted.co.uk/meditation.pdf

 

 

 

Teachers from Ireland

In the years since the collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy there has been a significant increase in Irish migration to Britain. However, little is known about the experiences of these post-tiger, post-peace agreement migrants. How might their experiences differ from earlier waves of Irish migrants to Britain?
In an attempt to gain a deeper insight into the experiences of migrants who have arrived in Britain since 2008, a study is to be carried out by the Social Policy Research Centre at Middlesex University, in partnership with the Federation of Irish Societies. The study will focus on teachers and will be directed by Professor Louise Ryan. There is preliminary information and a brief interview with her at http://leftcentral.org.uk/2013/05/20/ireland-the-land-of-scholars/#more-3422.

Dreaming One Nation

David Goodhart’s book The British Dream is a work of polemical journalism and reportage, not of scholarship, and has strengths and weaknesses accordingly. The strengths are that there are many anecdotes and striking phrases, and there’s relatively little jargon. The weaknesses are that over-simplification is commoner than thoughtful and tentative nuance, and that too many facts and quotations are left unreferenced and therefore uncheckable. The book is reviewed for the Insted consultancy at http://leftcentral.org.uk/2013/05/16/dreaming-of-one-nation-labour-multiculturalism-and-race/

Although aimed essentially at the centre left of the political spectrum, where it has been well received by, for example, Jon Cruddas in the New Statesman, and where it chimes well with Labour’s One Nation rhetoric, the book is likely to be read also, and with an even warmer welcome, on the centre right.

The book’s valuable features include its insistence that issues of race and immigration should be rationally not emotively discussed, and that discussions should centrally include narratives, understandings and dreams about national identity and national history, and concepts of imagined community and emotional citizenship. Within this context Goodhart refers from time to time to Danny Boyle’s pageant at the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games as an iconic and vivid illustration of what the concept of One Nation can mean in practice. ‘When a country is changing very fast,’ he says, ‘it needs stories to reassure and guide it’, stories which are ‘about connecting majority to minority and old to new’.

The book’s unfortunate and disappointing features include its caricatures of multiculturalism, and of thinkers such as Bhikhu Parekh and Tariq Modood who have devoted their careers to thinking in depth about how multicultural societies such as Britain have developed; the weakness of its references to the importance of law and legislation; its embracing, in effect, of a Daily Express view of British Islam and British Muslims; its uncritical endorsement of the view that ‘humans are group-based primates who favour their own and extend trust to outsiders with caution’; its insufficient attention to the global and international context and to relevant issues of gender and social class; and its disinclination to consider the continuing influence of racisms in their various forms (behavioural/attitudinal; colour/cultural; personal/institutional; crude/subtle; street/dinner-table).

Goodhart describes himself at one point as a member of ‘the political tribe of north London liberals’. His dream is indeed that of such a person. For others, though, in view of the shallow generalisations and stereotypes on which it is built, it has the elements of a nightmare.

Remembering Stephen Lawrence

Twenty years ago today (23 April) the Runnymede Trust published Equality Assurance in Schools. During the launch conference that morning we received news of a murder that had taken place in Greenwich late the previous evening. Amongst other things, the conference wrote a joint letter of condolence and solidarity to the parents and family of the murdered young man. The murder led in due course to the Stephen Lawrence Report by Sir William Macpherson, which in its turn led to the race equality duty (RED) in the Race Relations Amendment Act. The implications of the Lawrence report and of the new legislation for schools were considered in a lecture for the Society of Education Officers in summer 2001. Entitled ‘The Devil is in the Detail and in the Big Picture Too’, the lecture is re-published today at http://www.insted.co.uk/devil-in-detail.pdf.