COMMON GROUND JOURNAL CG2
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Why We Matter Michelle Codrington-Rodgers
Recycling the Anthropocene Harry Holmes
Third Culture Kid Meha Razdan
Decolonising Universities Daniel Butt
the hegemony of analytic philosophy alicehank winham
The Cost of Tourism Edwin Audland
The Aid Sector Shaista Aziz
Viceroy’s House: a review Safa Dar
The Case for a Centralised Access System Grace Davis
Giving an Account of Oneself Sneha Krishnan
“When I Was...”: Decolonising my Memories Anuja Jaiswal
Teaspoons and Traditions Pamela Roberts
Joe Higton and Myah Popat
Chiara Sanchez, Claire Soh Flo Ward, Jiaqi Kang, Ria Ranadive, Rebecca De Souza, Shreya Lakhani
Georgina Fooks, Chiara Sanchez, Jiaqi Kang, Michaela James, Suzy Vanezis, Noosha Alai-South
We are very excited to present the second edition of the Common Ground Journal. This term we set out to grow the journal, whilst staying true to our mission of educating and inspiring discourse around the themes of decolonisation, race and class. Although there are articles on personal identity, this edition also features a number of critical pieces which dissect and challenge the aid sector, films, climate change and tourism, to name only a few topics. The articles are diverse in their content, but also in their authorship: this issue includes the work of students, academics and wider community activists, uniting to create a space in Oxford for people marginalised by the imperial legacy. We hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as we enjoyed creating it.
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WHY WE MATTER Michelle Codrington-Rodgers Michelle Codrington-Rodgers is a teacher at the Cherwell School and a teachers’ union official. As a first-generation British-born Vincentian, from an early age education was of paramount status. Got a temperature? “Go to school.” Pet died? “Go to school.” Broken leg? “Go to school.” The hurricane of 1987? “Go to school.” Vomiting blood? “Go to school.”—well not the last one, but you get the drift, and yes, I was one of the only children from Jericho cycling to school in the middle of Michael Fish’s ‘storm’. to this day people can’t believe I cycled home during gale force winds! As I’ve travelled and met other 1st or 2nd generation immigrants, it became a common story: regardless of the amusing excuses our English friends came up with to miss school, we went to school. This could be because our parents and grandparents worked so hard, that for a child to be at home would mean no adult supervision, or it could be the experiences they themselves had of the education system ‘back home’. Some families would pull their daughters (or sons) out of school before they completed due to the need for extra hands working the family land, however
this wasn’t the case for my parents. Both families held education is such high regard, my father was so brilliant that when he left school he was quickly reappointed a teacher to the youngers at the grand old age of 14. My mother loved expressing herself and was strongly supported by her grandmother, who said an education was the key for a girl to advance and have ambition. An emphasis on education ran in my blood. Being a teacher wasn’t on my radar (I wanted to be a long distance lorry driver) but my mother seemed to have this vision of me in front of a classroom, a vision I didn’t share until I graduated from university and dabbled in student politics with NUS. Finally I could see why education is important to black communities. Education is supposed to be the tool that equalises; as long as you are clever, work hard or have ambition then anyone can succeed and get a good job. A good job which means you don’t have to work as hard as the generation before: our parents wanted us to have a better quality of life than they did, earn more money, own our own homes and have more job stability, so education was the key. How idealistic—a dream based on their experiences from home where the only differences between
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you and the child sat next to you was access to income and family support. The reality is that as black children, we were fighting to succeed in an education system which was stacked against us from the moment we put on the smart uniform and were dropped off at the gate on the first day at five years old. Black children often start school ready to learn, however their confidence is quickly eroded. Many studies and reports (Coard (1971), Rampton (1981), Swann (1985), Demie and Maclean (2017)), and commentaries by Tony Sewell and others, reach the conclusions are that Black pupils are not challenged enough in school due to low teacher expectation, institutional racism, and higher rates of exclusions. Black children are also more likely to be identified as having EBD (emotional/behavioural disorders) in comparison to their white peers. Stereotyping, lack of understanding and an education system that undermines Black ambition and potential does our communities a disservice and compounds inequalities. And it starts as simply as Black children being given work that is not challenging which means we often get bored at school. And when children are bored, they misbehave. Whilst waiting for the attention of the teacher, Black children
quickly move into ‘disruptive’ or even worse the ‘lazy’ category, and the cycle begins. As Black teachers in the UK education system, we don’t fare any better. If we have managed to navigate the biased education system to qualify as teachers we then face limitations being placed on our abilities, channeling towards pastoral
“It matters to the Black child in the classroom who doesn’t see her experience reflected in the curriculum she’s being taught” or being targeted for capability. It’s crucial to set the context. In 2014, the English school workforce census reported that of 208,000 teachers in the primary maintained sector, 3% (435/14,500) were BME; in total we make up 6% of all teachers in the sector. This is in comparison to BME pupil population of
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30.4%, and secondary is no better. Of 86,400 teachers across England, 8,533 were BME making up 9.9%. Of which only 46 were head teachers. But the statistics don’t tell the whole story. NASUWT, the Teachers’ Union commissioned research (with the Runnymede Trust) which found that BME teachers face discrimination at every stage of our careers. From being victims of the ethnicity pay gap (due to lack of support and institutional racism in the application of performance related pay), additional scrutiny and monitoring due to unattainable demands, and overt racism received from pupils, parents, carers and colleagues, BME teachers are facing challenges in the work environment that is affecting their lives outside of school. The fragmented education system is disproportionately impacting on the experiences of BME teachers. With 11.2% of secondary teachers walking away
from the classroom, there is a higher representation of BME teachers in the supply sector often working for agencies where they are not paid their full time equivalent, or offered opportunities for promotion. The NASUWT BME teachers conference every year is told about supply colleagues who turn up at a school and are sent home under spurious reasons, which on investigation is due to a complaint about their accents, their appearance or apparel (often the wearing of a hijab). Ultimately, there is a chronic shortage of BME teachers in relation to BME pupil population, and areas with diverse pupil populations are clearly missing out on BME teachers. Why does this matter? It matters to the Black child in the classroom who doesn’t see her experience reflected in the curriculum she is being taught, where her family’s history is erased apart from
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reference to their community trauma invoked by only revisiting slavery and the US civil rights movement; or when it’s only acknowledged during Black history ‘month’ where only the exceptional are recognised and celebrated. It matters to the Black child who is trying to explain why time off for Eid or Diwali or Equinox is a good enough reason for missing homework. It is important to the Black child who has come to school with braids for the first time and has had to endure friends commenting and touching all day, to see that Miss has had to endure 5 hours sat in a kitchen chair too. It is important for the boy who has been threatened with being sent home because his hair cut doesn’t fit with the ‘school code’ or the girl wearing a hijab for the first time who is pulled aside by a teacher to check that it is really her ‘own choice’. It is important for that Black child who has just come out to their parents and is scared that granny
will reject him for being a ‘batty bwoy’ and has walked into that maths lesson with the teacher who talks about their partner. It is important and it matters to each and every child to see members of our community achieving, living our lives and not having to say decipher the coded language that we in the Black communities have had to develop as a survival technique. Education is absolutely the key, in a system that is stacked against our achieving it is crucial that our children are reflected in the faces of those in positions of leadership. The Black teacher is becoming a rare commodity and as long as the curriculum continues to be ‘white washed’ it is essential that we are in the room to remind the next generation that we are important and that we matter. Education is the key and we need Black teachers to hand it to the next generation and show them how to unlock their potential.
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RECYCLING THE ANTHROPOCENE Harry Holmes
If you were to write a history of environmentalism it would consist of a series of splits and infights; Green party schisms across Europe, public spats in activist groups, and fighting across UN lobbies. One of the most toxic debates amongst environmentalists in the 20th Century was between Deep Ecologists and others eco-movements, such as Social Ecologists and Eco-Feminists. Through this debate, environmentalists had to grapple with how to save nature, without acting in an unjust way. As a result, a central idea of modern climate justice is that responsibility for environmental crises should be placed on the empires and corporations who have caused them. Yet, just as planetary health worsens, we are seeing the return of more problematic ideas which divorce environmental protection from fairness. Deep Ecologists, who found their primary spokesperson in the Norwegian
philosopher Arne Naess, argued that life has inherent worth beyond human needs, and that society must eradicate humancentredness, or anthropocentrism, to save our planet. As such, Deep Ecologists demanded that everyone ‘treads lightly’ and engage in aggressive simple living, as well as calling for a large reduction in world population. However, this supports the argument that the whole of humanity is responsible for our planet’s destruction, ignoring the distinctions and inequities inherent in society. The critics of Deep Ecology included the Social Ecologists, who were inspired by the work of American political philosopher Murray Bookchin. They argued that environmental destruction isn’t borne from anthropocentrism but results from hierarchical social structures. Alongside them, the Eco-Feminists, including the American activist Val Plumwood, argued that anthropocentrism is a result of similar social institutions, such the oppression of women. In short, they felt anthropocentrism is part and parcel of patriarchy. Consequently, for these movements, it is the active
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dismantling of institutions of oppression and injustice that will realign us towards a healthy relationship with nature. Most environmentalists accepted the critiques of Deep Ecology, but the debate is actually still relevant today. Anthropocentrism as an idea, with all its deeply problematic reliance on a general ‘humanity’, is returning, albeit in a different form. Early this century, Paul Crutzen argued that our planet had changed geological age. He thinks that the Holocene, which began at the end of the last Ice Age, has ended. Instead, we are in the Anthropocene, where humanity’s impact has become the largest environmental force of change on the planet. This new term requires us to rethink our relationship with the planet, especially across academic disciplines: precisely how is society more dominant an atmospheric force as say, plant life? And exactly when did this planetary change occur? The Anthropocene’s popularity has grown exponentially in the past decade, generating TED talks, art installations, and new activist slogans. The term finds itself in most environmental book titles such as Adventures in the Anthropocene, Art in the Anthropocene and, my personal favourite, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene. The idea’s impact on activism and policy has been mixed: whilst many see it as a spurring call for more radical approaches, others characterise it more with a sense of fatalism, facilitating business-asusual attitudes or even more nefariously, an acceptance that geo-engineering is ethically sound to survive. Maybe the memories of environmentalists are very short, or our planetary crisis is so large that we reach for whatever terms we can use, but it seems the ideas which underpin the Anthropocene narrative draw parallels with Deep Ecology’s problematic elements: an uncritical acceptance of homogenous
‘humanity’ as the leading factor of planetary damage fails to account for how unjust social structures, like colonialism and class, have contributed to destruction. We cannot forget that the development of modern environmental destruction is closely linked to colonial structures. As Bonneuil and Fressoz have summarised in their book, The Shock of the Anthropocene, the British and American empire are deeply linked to fossil fuels. The UK’s abundant coal reserves allowed it to become a leading exporter and build its imperial fleet. Coal reserves also meant it was profitable to refine metals taken from places like South America in the early 19th century, helping the UK become the first nation to industrialise, release carbon dioxide, and begin runaway global warming. This reliance on coal exports and primary product imports was a driving factor in the UK’s interference in world politics. Sadly, this link is not just limited to the release of emissions. The British Empire, in search of more profit, encouraged sugar monocultures in the Caribbean, helping colonial ‘Sugar Kings’ get rich from the labour of enslaved people. This resulted in both deforestation and soil crises, through poor agricultural practices to keep up with imperial demand. Where the British Empire finds its root in coal, the USA’s imperial rise is closely allied with oil. By the end of World War Two, America was selling large amounts of oil to Britain, superseding them as the dominant fossil fuel pusher. They had built many refineries and pipelines to aid the war effort which were then used to increase US wealth post-war. Since then, the USA has started regular conflicts in the Middle East as a method to secure oil reserves, linking fossil fuel dependence to America’s imperial agenda. Again, the USA’s responsibility is not limited to oil: the ‘Green Revolution’ of the late 20th Century, which saw a massive increase 7
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“We cannot ignore that social justice issues like colonialism, class and race are all tied together with our environmental crisis.” in agricultural output due to the use of modified grains and pesticides, was largely pushed by the US. This ‘revolution’ has led to loss of biodiversity, collapses in small scale agriculture and increased proliferation of deadly pesticides. Alongside the historic responsibility empires have for environmental destruction, nations damaged by colonial empires, openly or indirectly, will likely be hit hardest as our climate rapidly destabilises. For example, the excolonial nations of Central America are increasingly subject to climate changeenhanced hurricanes. Similarly, in May this year, over 200 people were killed because of heatwaves in India, and the Indian National Disaster Management Authority claims that heat waves have killed 22,000 people since 1992. With increased global temperatures, it will be a battle to keep that figure still. Imperialist nations like Great Britain and America have greater financial reserves, which they accrued on the backs of subaltern nations who, though now autonomous, are unequipped to adapt to coming disasters. As it gets harder and harder to locate oil reserves, pipelines and wells have become increasingly controversial and dangerous. A clear example is the Niger Delta oil conflict, ongoing since the 1990s, with Shell being accused of undermining Nigeria’s democracy and failing to deal with regular oil spills. The fallout has
stoked ethnic tension and encouraged armed conflict in the region. Similarly, the USA’s Dakota Access Pipeline was built, despite the opposition of indigenous groups, through sacred lands. Concerns about water quality were ignored, posing a huge risk to communities already neglected and abused by the US government. Clearly, there is a historic, present, and future colonial aspect to climate change. Environmental problems are not just related to colonialism, but they also interlink with class as well. As Andreas Malm has made clear in his book Fossil Capital, one of the leading reasons that Britain transitioned its industry from water to coal was the control of low-income labour gained from relocating to the city, where workers were more abundant and so less likely to strike from fear of job loss. And as Timothy Mitchell has argued in Carbon Democracy, the transition from coal to oil undermined the stability of traditionally radical miners’ unions. Strike alliances between miners and rail workers could cripple energy supply but oil was an industry without an international union and which was transported through tankers and motorways, reducing the disruption oil strikers could engage with. Oil was thus more flexible to supply and came to replace coal, which took away local workers’ power to vocalise their demands, thus securing employers’ production and profit.
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The impacts of environmental destruction are also felt differently by classes. 2005’s Hurricane Katrina led to an evacuation of New Orleans, one of the poorest areas of the US at the time. The evacuation made no provision for those who were homeless, low-income and infirm. The flood came at the end of a Social Security payment cycle, meaning many couldn’t afford to flee. Additionally, the lowest income areas of the city were low-lying, having the most unstable housing. As a result, it was the poorest of New Orleans who felt the brunt of the flooding. Prisoners were reportedly left in their cells when guards evacuated, many of whom are still unaccounted for. Over 700 bodies were recovered by that October, with many left floating around the city, meaning identification was hindered. Hurricane Katrina is just one example of the classist impact of natural disasters and, worryingly, our climate has derailed even more in the past decade. We cannot ignore that social justice issues like colonialism, class and race are all tied together with our environmental crisis. Yet, anthropocene is founded on the homogenous ‘humanity’ as the leading geological force and this ignores the fact that responsibility and vulnerability are not equally distributed. Some groups caused our problems more than others, and these same groups are much less vulnerable to the consequences they have created, through appropriated wealth and early industrialisation. Instead of ‘anthropocene’, the term that best understands this feature of our crisis is ‘climate justice’. Like all
definitions, the meaning of climate justice is contested, but it has some unifying features: Climate justice is a form of social justice. It means working to eradicate racist, sexist, queerphobic and colonialist attitudes within and outside of the environmental movement. It seeks to institute a society that is not only fair to one another, but fair to the planet. It aspires to compensate past victims of the fossil fuel system, as well as ensure future generations are considered in its decisions. Just like the Deep Ecologist debate of the 20th Century, the anthropocene debate is ultimately a conflict against grand narratives and their problematic implications. By implicating all of ‘humanity’ equally we erase the differing responsibilities unjust power relations give to different members of our species. The climate crisis will demand a lot from society if we really want to prevent catastrophe and adapt: if these changes and demands are not spread in a just way, environmentalism has the capacity to become oppressive. Decades ago, the Deep Ecologists genuinely believed we needed to reduce world population to a survivable number, feeding into narratives of blame on nations with high population growth, despite their low impact. Anthropocene can open us up to similar narratives, by focusing on ‘humanity’ as the cause, and we should be deeply concerned by this. With the latest IPCC report stressing we only have 12 years to save the planet, it’s more important than ever that climate justice, not the so-called anthropocene, is the focus of our movements.
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THIRD CULTURE KID Meha Razdan
Growing up, my life was built around boundaries—the international boundaries my family crossed every time we moved somewhere new, and the invisible ones I constructed myself, cautious barriers designed to neatly compartmentalise different facets of my life that I couldn’t see mixing in my head. At school I was British, I listened to Scouting For Girls and talked about the ‘X-Factor’ eliminations and acted in the Christmas play. At home I was Indian, I watched Bollywood films and ate rajma chawal and decorated diyas for Diwali. Of course the biggest threat to this well-ordered world was me—immigrant children aren’t designed to colour within the lines, to stay between those neatly drawn lines. The first time this became glaringly clear was in Year 7 R.E. Class. We were learning all about Hinduism from a nice White Canadian lady with curly blonde hair. The topic for the day? Arranged marriage. A good number of us in the class were Hindus ourselves, some whose parents or grandparents had had arranged marriages. This was a foray into uncharted waters for me, hearing about things like rishtas and shaadi in my classroom, outside the confines of summer holidays at my nani’s house. It was like the entirety of India was a secret I’d kept to myself that was just now being glimpsed by my British peers—a little frightening, a little exciting. And then the class started. Our introduction to arranged marriage, it turned out, was to watch it take place. In an episode of ‘The Simpsons’. It may not have been my first encounter with arranged marriages, but it was my first introduction
to Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. India, it turned out, was no well-guarded secret. The episode we were watching was about Apu’s arranged marriage to Manjula, and as the whole thing unfolded, my confusion grew—the menagerie of peculiar accents and behaviour so eccentric it bordered on maniacal; the circus of ‘Indian’ characters were a lineup of characters so caricatured and absurd they were scarcely recognisable as human so much as an alien species descended to wreak havoc on the order of suburban America. None of the underlying affection and self-awareness that went into creating the lovably hapless Homer or Marge or Bart softened the absurdity of the behaviours of the brown characters on screen. You could laugh with Homer, but you laughed at Apu. Truth be told, the Nahasapeemapetilons were as alien to me and the other Indians in that R.E. class as they were to everyone else. But the message was clear—whatever mental barriers I’d taken such pains to construct didn’t matter. The West already had its vision of India and Indians set in its own mind. What we were really like didn’t matter. That R.E. class was really the breaking of a seal. I saw people who looked like me in the media I consumed, but only through the lens of Western assumption. On screen, Indians were never the girlnext-door or the everyman, never the characters that were meant to be relatable. We existed solely to be quirky neighbours and awkward friends: even in a show like ‘The Big Bang Theory’, meant to celebrate the underdogs and losers, Rajesh Ramayan Koothrappali is the biggest loser of all. His white friends are quirky nerds, funny
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because they’re a bit weird. They all grow up and get married and end up happy. Raj is funny because of his foreignness, an outcast among outcasts. He can’t talk to women unless he’s drunk; he’s the lowest common denominator in his group of supposed misfit friends. Even when Indians are the supposed heroes of their stories, the packaging they’re bundled into to be palatable to the Western viewership isn’t one I recognise. Slumdog Millionaire, a roaring success at the Oscars, was glamorous poverty porn, and further cemented a reductive image of Indians in the Western imagination. Suddenly I had friends enthusiastically telling me that they knew a Bollywood song—The Pussycat Dolls’ version of ‘Jai Ho.’ Dev Patel and Freida Pinto put up decent performances, and it was certainly refreshing to see actors that resembled me and the people I grew up with. But these actors were still subject to the imaginings of White British directors and writers, part of a carefully constructed image of India as a land that seemed to consist entirely of tragic poverty and corrupt criminal overlords peppered through with the odd colourful choreographed dance sequence. The fact is, all the careful pains I’d taken to ensure that my Indian heritage never bled into my Anglicised identity had been part of a subconscious effort to ensure that I could assimilate. But ultimately, none of this
mattered—in the eyes of Western media, the very fact of my Indianness excluded me from that by default. The Koothrappalis and the Nahasapeemapetilons of the screen had determined how England and America and the wide white world I grew up in would view me, long before I ever had a say in the matter. Still, from one angle, the fate of Indians in media is far from dire. Bollywood is, in terms of production, the largest film industry in the world with an annual output of close to 2000 films. I’ve grown up seeing Indians as romantic leads and superheroes, as everymen and it girls and icons. Bollywood is an ever-present cultural bridge for non-resident Indians— many of us can credit a steady diet of Indian cinema with retaining any grasp on Hindi at all, and the sizeable filmography of Shahrukh Khan provides a kind of common backstory for Desis all over the world. There really is no shortage of Indian representation on screen if I know where to look for it. However, this representation has a narrow definition of what it is to be Indian. A memorable scene in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai sees Rani Mukherjee’s character Tina returning to Mumbai from studying at Oxford to complete her final year of university in her father’s college. A halfflirting-half-hazing routine orchestrated by Shahrukh Khan’s Rahul sees Tina
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â€œI was trying to force myself into boxes that I could never fit into.â€?
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accused of forgetting her Indian culture, tarnished by her stint abroad. In a scene meant to serve as an emphatic victory, Tina performs a lovely rendition of the Hindu aarti prayer Om Jai Jagdish, delivers—in perfect Hindi—an indictment of the assumption that living abroad would mean she had forgotten her sanskaar (roots), and snaps her fingers jauntily in Rahul’s face before waltzing away. The sentiment of the moment is nice, but at the same time, part of an overarching trend of the depiction of non-resident Indians in Bollywood that feels alien to my own experience. The ideal NRIs in Bollywood are all of Tina’s ilk, perhaps sophisticated or well-dressed or multilingual from their time abroad, but fiercely and allconsumingly Indian in their sensibilities. Kajol’s character in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham spends the entirety of her life in England yearning for India; she is brought to tears when her young son, born and raised in London, leads his entire class in a rousing rendition of the Indian national anthem. The NRI sentiment of Bollywood films can be summarised with Shahrukh Khan’s famous line from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (one of the first Bollywood films to feature NRIs as the main characters) “Main ek Hindustani hoon ... aur main jaanta hoon ki ek Hindustani ladki ki izzat kya hoti hai (I am a Hindustani… and I know how important a Hindustani girl’s honour is).” There is a sense of purity surrounding the image of Indianness, a purity that is tarnished the further away one moves from a complete acceptance of Indian culture and values. Perhaps it’s a sentiment that works for a generation of Indians homesick for
a country they left behind, but for my peers—children who left India as babies or were born in different countries altogether, children who’ve only ever returned to India on holidays or as expats—it’s a uniquely painful kind of disenfranchisement. It’s turning up to family reunions knowing you’re ‘the English cousin’ or the ‘coconut’ it’s wincing at the way your tongue stumbles over broken fragments of poorly accented Hindi knowing that someone is listening to you with the smug assumption that you’re practically an angrez, that you’ve forgotten your roots. Bollywood’s representation of us, the Indians outside of India, is only forgiving of those who know unquestioningly that India is home, that “Indian” is the most substantive facet of their identity. And if neither of those things are true, then we exist in Bollywood solely as punchlines and caricatures, foreigners once again. Because truthfully, many of us can’t call India home in the traditional sense. Our schools and houses and friends are all elsewhere, and more than that, the very fact of living as foreigners in our own homes is as integral a part of our identity as anything else. We haven’t been raised surrounding by people who look like us, or seeing ourselves reflected in the media we consume. We’ve been raised in worlds where having brown skin and thick eyebrows, wearing bindis or eating with our hands, celebrating Diwali or being bilingual—all of this has marked us inarguably as outsiders, no matter how deeply we want to belong. And if we return to India, our English accents and western clothes and ignorance about handling ourselves in the day-to-day of Indian life are just as damning.
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The problem, I’ve realised, with my early attempts to live my life according to boundaries is that I was trying to force myself into boxes that I never could fit into. The very fact of being an immigrant, of being a third culture kid or an NRI or an Overseas Citizen of India or whatever else you want to call it, is that my existence is defined not by living within borders but by constantly crossing and bending and straddling them. Hollywood and Bollywood alike have both set their own parameters for norms that myself and others like me will never fit into; they have their own views of us, the “others,” that fails to truly encapsulate our experience. And in many ways, our experience is our country, our common heritage, more so than either India or England or any other single location in the world could be. Ultimately, what we need to see in media to truly feel represented is an understanding of that experience. Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham is a film that exhibits such an understanding— everything from the distinctive West London twang that the characters speak with to the unglamorous shots of the shops and houses of Hounslow, the interspersing of words like gorah and sat sri akal into plain English to the visceral anger the main character feels when being called a Paki, respectfully acknowledging the sacrifice that the characters’ immigrant parents have made to give her and her sister a better life whilst still showing how hurtful it is that they don’t understand or respect their daughter’s own ambitions: the whole thing serves as a big affectionate love letter to the British Indian community, every quirk and foible celebrated on the screen. But
perhaps the most surprising thing about the movie is that whenever I mention it to friends, they’ve typically watched it. I have White British friends and cousins who’ve never left India who all love the movie as a solid work of entertainment. They can never guess at the unadulterated joy it brings me just to look at the film and think, honestly and without qualification of any kind, “oh my god that could be me.” It is, in short, a film that allows us to be the norm. Slowly, the media landscape is changing. Films like Crazy Rich Asians, The Big Sick, and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, or shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Master of None take the kind of immigrant characters who would have been typically left stranded in negative spaces, and place them at the forefront of their own stories. The prominence of figures like Mindy Kaling and Dev Patel, writers like Jhumpa Lahiri or newcomer Sandhya Menon, means that gradually, a voice is being given to those of us who’ve spent our lives defined by our status as immigrants and outsiders, an understanding is emerging that our identity is not simply that of two or more different countries broken up and cobbled together, but one that is whole and distinctive unto itself. As roads open for more and more of our voices to be heard and reflected in the media we consume and create, then hopefully the message will spread: we, the immigrants and third culture kids and whatever else, are defined not by fitting in to boundaries, but by breaking them.
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DECOLONISING UNIVERSITIES Daniel Butt The Second Wave
Daniel Butt is an associate professor of Political Theory, and Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford The last two years have seen dramatic developments in the discourse and practice of how universities in a range of countries respond to their colonial past. Earlier today, October 25th 2018, the chair of governors of the University of East London called for the creation of a ÂŁ100 million fund to support ethnic minority students who could otherwise not afford to attend university. Last month, Glasgow University launched a reparative justice programme in response to its disclosure that it had received past donations stemming from racial slavery worth at least tens of millions of pounds in the present day. In the United States, Georgetown University has acknowledged that it was kept afloat in 1838 by the sale of 272 slaves, and announced measures including a formal apology, the creation of an institute for the study of slavery, and a programme to award preferential status in the admissions process to descendants of the enslaved. The University of Oxfordâ€™s response has been, shall we say, rather more modest. Despite the dramatic impact of the #RhodesMustFall movement, the two Oxford Colleges most in the firing line, Oriel and All Souls, have made only limited moves in response to criticisms of the provenance of their contemporary 16 mag mbpwed21.indd 16
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holdings. All Souls College, whose Codrington Library was founded from the proceeds of slavery via Christopher Codrington’s cotton plantations in Barbados, has announced a scholarship scheme for graduate students from the Caribbean, along with five years of funding for a theological college in the West Indies. Codrington’s statue, however, remains in pride of place in the library that bears his name, just as Oriel’s statue of Cecil Rhodes continues to hold court from his lofty perch above the High Street. All the above initiatives share a common theme: they reflect the principle that contemporary institutions possess reparative obligations when it can be shown that they have directly benefited from historic injustice, even if they were not themselves responsible for the injustice in question. This is far from an uncontroversial claim, and at times has been vociferously resisted in a number of policy contexts, from the justifiability of affirmative action to allocation of the costs of climate change. Nonetheless, if the principle is admitted, it seemingly permits a relatively straightforward resolution. The elements of the response are becomingly
increasingly familiar: an apology is uttered; a plaque is erected; a cheque is written; and an embarrassing portrait is sent away for an unscheduled but surprisingly lengthy period of cleaning— but otherwise, life goes on much as before. Whether this is sufficient as a response is, to put it mildly, open to question, and certainly many have queried whether the scale of the initiatives seen to date are in any way proportionate to the degree of benefit which has accumulated over the years. But while it might be awkward and expensive to disgorge resources with a tainted past, there is at least a reasonably straightforward pathway to giving up bequests rooted in bloody violence and exploitation. But such bequests are only the most eye catching—and arguably the least problematic—markers of some universities’ historical entanglement with colonialism. Nowhere is that more true than in Oxford. Oxford did not simply benefit from colonialism. It ran a production line staffing the upper echelons of the British Empire. My own college, Balliol, educated three successive Viceroys of India – products of the tutorial system pioneered by Balliol’s
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legendary Master Benjamin Jowett, whose portrait graces every significant public room in the College, and whose name is invoked in every speech extolling the College’s rise to academic pre-eminence in the nineteenth century. Empire is in our DNA. And while the slave trade is finally, if lamentably belatedly, seen as a moral atrocity, ignorance—and, indeed, outright denial—of the cruel reality of the British imperial experience is widespread, both outside and within the University. So we can expect the second wave of efforts to decolonize Oxford to pose more profound questions about the University’s colonial past. The issue now is not simply about the receipt of benefit, but concerns complicity in and responsibility for injustice. This extends to foundational questions about the character of not only the historical but the present day University—whom we admit, what we teach, and the impact of our alumni on the wider world. Such concerns, of course, have been at the forefront of the #RhodesMustFall campaign from the very start, but they are only now working their way into the mainstream of university life. Properly addressing these topics
will require sustained and wide-ranging deliberation. This cannot be an insular conversation as it is not only members of the university who are affected. It is not simply a matter of a college Governing Body pondering whether to rename a scholarship or relocate a statue, but a debate about how a major university, in receipt of large sums of public money, affects public life in the United Kingdom and beyond. To restrict such a dialogue to Senior Common Rooms would be to replicate the top-down colonial mindset which has characterised so much of Oxford’s past. This time round, we must do better. Instead, what is needed is openminded and good faith engagement with a range of different constituencies; including students, of course, but extending beyond the bounds of the university. It is never easy to hear criticism, either from outside or from within, but a commitment to a reparative process commits one to giving such challenges a fair hearing. That is the very least that we owe to those who have lived in the shade of Oxford’s colonial shadow for so long.
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THE HEGEMONY OF ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY alicehank winham
the oxford philosophy curriculum predominantly teaches analytic philosophy, and this is a problem. in this piece, i argue that the core of analytic philosophy is a methodology extrapolated from a list of privileged white, western, male philosophers. the methodology therefore changes depending upon who constitutes this list, which can vary. analytic philosophy’s claim to be ‘objective & neutral’ creates a limiting structure which prevents it from critically considering reality or truth. if we were to deconstruct and, ultimately, decolonize the philosophy curriculum to hear and recognise nonwestern, non-white, and non-male voices, this would question the western understanding of two distinctions: firstly,
the false binary upheld in the department that philosophical work is only recognised as either ‘analytic’ or ‘continental,’ and secondly, the academic line drawn between philosophy and religion, as nonwestern thought is all too often described as the latter. these distinctions and the preeminence of analytic philosophy privilege western logic-based methods, closing philosophy off from open, collaborative discourse. the decolonizing effects of this shift would moreover extend beyond oxford: philosophical thought ripples through society influencing how we understand and structure our world, from education systems to political structures. at oxford, the historical roots of analytic philosophy,
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and its exclusive constitution, have palpable detrimental effects today: during my first year at oxford i witnessed other female first years dropping the ‘philosophy’ side of their joint honour school degree. i had no bame or female philosophy lecturers; i remember reading one assigned and two referenced works by womxn; i heard no reference in our mandatory coursework to pivotal female philosophers who existed at oxford during the last century (ex. the quartet of murdoch, foot, migdley, & anscombe who wrote distinctively beyond the binary), let alone references to bame philosophers’ contributions. students may be marked down for style despite developed, thoughtful content. if you want to study non-analytic philosophy at oxford, that comes through extra-course work. you have a double workload, and your career venues are limited to conforming or narrowing your focuses to be marketable (survivable) with the few alternatives. moreover, students are expected to write in the ‘analytic style’ while simultaneously, as i encountered, few or no tutors are able to offer a precise definition of analytic philosophy. the defence of analytic philosophy depends upon this evasiveness: it cannot readily be defined. prioritising an analytic philosophy in the curriculum at oxford has concrete effects. there are significant gender and ethnic achievement gaps in philosophy. womxn and bame students suffer from steep drop off rates at every step in career progression, reflecting a marginalisation of alternate voices. womxn of colour in the uk constitute 12.5% of undergraduates, dropping off to 7.9% of post-graduates, to then only 4.1% academic staff, and dwindling to 1.7% of professors. in contrast, white males’ representation increases at every step from 33.5% to 41.1% to 49.2% to 69.4%. this reflects forced obsolescence and marginalisation. bame and womxn students can think.
their intelligence is not the problem. the eurocentric hegemonic selective structure, also present in the curriculum, is. the limited nature of the curriculum which excludes marginalised demographics produces a methodology that is problematic. some would claim that it is possible to define analytic philosophy by its tenets and methodology, rather than by a constituent group of white, male philosophers, as i argue. however, these tenets and methodology ultimately stem from the worldview and lived experience of these white male philosophers. these constituent philosophers cannot portray objective reality individually, and every differing view cannot be blended into one notion of objective reality. each person experiences the world from a unique point of view, and we therefore value, emphasise, and perceive different structures and dynamics in the world. individuals are epistemically limited. in contrast to this fact, analytic philosophers, including russell and frege, “made metaphysical assumptions or came to metaphysical conclusions in support of their logic and logicist views”. this means their theories of an all-encompassing structure of reality have their foundations in their own subjective experience. analytic philosophy is therefore constituted by the limited and biased view of a similar demographic, and this has become the only recognised option. their opinions are now referred to as ‘neutrality’ in the discourse of analytic philosophy. ‘neutrality’ came to be understood as objective and unpolluted by individual viewpoints. however, this overlooks the fact that the changeable methodology of analytic philosophy and its theorisation of reality is constructed by subjective points of view, dependent upon the dominating demographic. if we therefore introduce alternative voices to expose how non-neutral analytic philosophy actually 21
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is, we would uncover how the tradition’s methodology actually contradicts its own aim: “to reveal every presupposition that tends to slip in unnoticed” for the guiding ideas themselves are subjective presuppositions from biased, individual viewpoints. those excluded from philosophy (whether systemically—i.e. non-western conforming thinkers—or stylistically—by being nonanalytic) can help elucidate how nonneutral (i.e. subjective) analytic philosophy is. they would do this through a different, non-analytic methodology, which alice crary identifies as radical. any such radical methodology must “direct our attention to systems of domination” in a “politically subversive attack on the relevant forms of bias” by “making use of the practical power of ethically non-neutral resources, conceived as themselves as cognitively authorative”, as bell hooks identified. singularly upholding the analytic style moreover invalidates key bame and womxn philosophers—such as cornel west, simone de beauvoir, frantz fanon, simone weil, and bell hooks. excluding philosophers such as these from the ‘official canon’ perpetuates a narrative that they are lesser because they are ‘other.’ this gendered and racialised hierarchy of thought is evident from the list of philosophers said to define the analytic method, which continues a colonial legacy. we see, against the tradition’s own inclinations, one can perhaps articulate an understanding of the ‘state’ of philosophy dominated by the
analytic style only contextually in a world of value with ethical consequences. the exclusion of certain groups from the history of analytic philosophy is neither accidental nor occasional. analytic philosophy has thus become an “ideology with material dimensions”—which means we identify its unspoken tenets by its material effects rather than through an agreed definition of its methodology (which is non-existent). instead, this ideology is evident in its history and its theoretical limits given it excludes and ultimately erases ‘other’ (non-western, non-male) voices. these ‘other’, or explicitly non-neutral ethical standpoints are vital in creating new philosophical concepts that stem from the unique social experiences of bame and womxn philosophers. their complex, subjective, non-neutral standpoints would push the boundaries of our metaphysical thought— that is philosophy. there is no justification for the systemic silencing of diverse philosophical standpoints, especially not at an academic institution like oxford where we most certainly have the tools at hand to change the way we view the world. we can cultivate different sensibilities of perception by actively and responsibly diversifying what would otherwise remain unethical exclusionary curricula. what might western academia have to face in decolonising our curriculum? decolonising the curriculum would challenge the current western world-
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“formal logic is not necessarily the pinnacle of analysis; different modes of thinking are still philosophy.” framework, such as the distinctions between religion/philosophy, analytic/continental, western/non-western. we would have to acknowledge we are all equally others, that we must entertain a myriad of ways of knowing, and that we must work to develop new conceptions for unconsidered but real social experiences. we must face completely different ways of thinking not spoken in the western structure. these shifts may lead to a collapse of a fine-cut western distinction of (moral) philosophy from religion. the term ‘religion’ arose as a term during recent western colonisation, yet the distinction did not necessarily exist linguistically elsewhere. much nonwestern metaphysical thought became differentiated as religion, rather than as institutionally sanctioned philosophy. cornel west reminds us that philosophers currently within the tradition can contribute to a better and more ethical global civilisation too, through upholding the “potentially infinite vocabularies in which the world can be described”— accepting a wide variety of thought outside the analytic comfort zone. ultimately, moving beyond accepted belief can and has brought about real social change (ex. the very creation of the ‘sexual harassment’ concept a few decades
ago). we need to continue challenging ‘accepted’ frameworks of thought. western formal logic is not necessarily the pinnacle of analysis; different modes of thinking are still philosophy. this examination shows that the philosophy department at oxford (like others across ‘western’ academia) eurocentrically prioritises thought associated with white men, limiting the expression and ways of thinking to mainly one group’s consciousness that cannot more fully represent a broader (let alone the entire) ‘hu(man?) condition.’ ultimately if we all participate in philosophy with the hope of examining reality, previously excluded voices could only make a positive contribution through a multiplicity of perspectives and beliefs. this would make way for a new realm of conception that could reconsider past philosophical notions as well as present entirely new ones. if philosophy endeavours to discern our understandings of reality, we could consider reality more lucidly through multiple lenses rather than through a singular unquestioned and prescriptive one. as pope once said: “what oft was thought but never so well expressed…/ that gives us back the image of our mind.” philosophy, like art, is impoverished if we limit it to one style by one set of people.
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THE COST OF TOURISM Edwin Audland
Opening up in Central Asia In central Samarkand, Uzbekistan, runs the Tashkent Road, a street lined with blossoming trees. It leads from renowned madrassas to mausoleums to mosques, architecturally impressive footprints of the various cultures that have passed through the city. It is not pedestrianised, but traffic rarely passes, and people wander as they please. The road seems new, but there is a team silently re-laying it anyway. It is walled in by shop fronts, and the atmosphere is punctuated by the gentle sounds of vendors going about their business. It is a far cry from the eclectic bazaars that typify the area, where the nostrils are assailed by spices, and eyes feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to turn next. About halfway down the street, I see a small door nestled between two shops. It is ever so slightly ajar as the shadow of an old lady disappears through it after her. Peeking through to chaotic streets full of life and noise, a disparate reality exists. Here, the road hasn’t been re-laid in years and it is lined with litter rather than trees. The pavements are cracked and power lines spider their way across dated streets. There is no one reconstructing this part of town, and no sign of any effort to do so. The shop-fronts act as a wall. These dual realities become visually and physically divided, with just a small portal connecting the two. “The enormous potential of our country in the travel industry has not
been efficiently or fully used for many years.” These were the words of President Mirziyoyev earlier this year as he spoke of Uzbekistan’s changing face in these initial steps of a post-soviet and post-dictatorship era. Tourism has been a state priority since his tenure began in 2016, and, as a result of these efforts, tourist numbers soared by an estimated 25% in his first year in office alone. The transformation is manifest, and it has not gone unnoticed. Al Jazeera recently published an article entitled ‘On the reform path: Uzbekistan opening up after years of isolation.’ It discusses the Supreme Court’s new found transparency, the vibrancy of social media after years of hiatus, and government recognition of prior human rights abuses. The nation has aligned itself with the UN’s ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, and has made plans for widespread reforms to education, health, and the judiciary. The article is saturated with optimism, giving a sense of a nation with high aspirations for development and future growth. But as the piece continues on in a similar vein, it mentions the “liberalisation of the economy” and, on closer inspection, this appears far more problematic. In Uzbekistan, great value is placed on the role of family and community, principles which govern both social and personal development. Consequently, the collective is often valued higher than the individual. It seems incongruous, then, that
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Uzbekistan is shifting towards a neoliberal economic model, which commercialises society in its entirety, pitting individuals against one another and evaluating success largely by financial outcomes. Yet consider what the social divisions of the Tashkent Road implicate and it seems that this is precisely what is happening. It is a move to a society in which only a fractional minority are seen by the middle-aged tour groups that flock to the city’s historical centre, while the rest are tucked away in the shadows. Whether this urban design be to hide the local inhabitants from tourists, or rather to protect them, these dual realities regardless represent a dramatic, divisive cultural shift. Nonetheless, it is an unavoidable one for a nation desiring a greater standing on the international stage. In a world culturally and economically dominated by the USA and other liberal capitalist societies, market-based neo-liberal economic models have become the norm. In these societies the individual has risen, and the self-made man is celebrated and revered. Given the proliferation of this model, to not liberalise would be in many instances be to not ‘fit in’, to risk losing a place of influence with these global superpowers. Of course, cultural changes across time
are natural, but this has now been taken one step further as traditional values have become an expendable trade-off for this so-called ‘opening up’. The situation is made ever more complex by international entities such as the World Bank. In a world of ideals this financial institution would be as egalitarian as its name suggests, unreservedly providing loans to help developing nations, with its constituent countries valuing each other’s interests as much as their own. In reality however, the USA currently holds 16% of the entire institution’s voting power. Japan, China, Germany, France and the UK hold a further 23% cumulatively and, undoubtedly, this only further contributes to the polarisation of international power balances. Moreover, since the creation of the Washington Consensus in the 1990s, economic liberalisation has become a requisite for ‘reform’ in developing countries if they are to qualify for aid. In effect, to benefit from foreign interest and investment and to develop, countries must adopt this model of choice. To be accepted, they have to fit a prescribed mould. Samarkand’s partial facelift highlights an attempt to do just this as the area is being tailored, made more attractive to western
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“Ostensibly neutral organisations, and by proxy the nations they represent, leverage control in developing nations in exchange for aid.” may feel obliged to accept […] policy advice from donor agencies in order to receive funding”. While this was written about education in particular, it just as easily applies to governmental policy and its implementation as a whole. The Tajik government had no choice but to consent to many of the World Bank’s demands if it was to receive an investment, which in turn was indispensable if it harboured hopes of social stability, relative economic growth, and a place on the international stage. It underscores how Tajik autonomy was compromised by the authority of a largely western organisation. The World Bank is, furthermore, far from alone in creating these issues. The International Monetary Fund, the International Finance Corporation, and the World Trade Organisation— the latter of which even has a seat on the United Nations Chief Executive Board––are just some other examples; and each inescapably serves the interests of developed nations in some shape or form. Tajikistan is of course an extreme case: its appeal for aid was born of a period of severe depression. But it does serve to magnify what this ‘opening up’ and quasi-requisite economic liberalisation engenders. It demonstrates that these ostensibly neutral organisations, and by
eyes at the expense of a more organic, socially inclusive progression. It may be a fundamentally economic change, but the repercussions are felt by society too. Of course, Uzbekistan is not alone. Take its neighbour Tajikistan, which holds a mere 0.08% voting power in the World Bank, as a further example. After gaining independence from Soviet control at the start of the 1990s, the country fell into a period of civil war, hyperinflation, human loss, and deep social upheaval. The situation was bettered by heavy investment on the part of the World Bank. A large proportion of this money went to education, so much so that by 2003, 10% of the Tajik education budget came directly from the institution. This has certainly made a difference: one of the Bank’s statistics shows that poverty levels have fallen from 83% in 2000 to 31% in 2016. Such development, however, has not come without a price. Much has been written about how Tajikistan and the World Bank clashed on education policy, with one commentator stating: “[Tajikistan]
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proxy the nations they represent, are able to leverage control in developing nations in exchange for aid. As Uzbekistan reforms, it must do so propagating this liberalised economic and cultural model and, especially given its dichotomous communist past, there seems little consideration for its cultural nuances when these developments are introduced. It may now be formally de-colonised, but these changes in Uzbekistan highlight how developing nations are still subject to the influence of more powerful, often colonial, nations. As the former strive to improve their international standing, the latter are concurrently able to exert their imperial influence once more, albeit with a far defter, more discrete touch. Yet every Uzbek I spoke to welcomed this transition. There seemed something inherently aspirational about a move towards a more open nation even at the cost of deep cultural change. For them, a globalised Uzbekistan represents progress. There is great allure for individuals in this economic freedom for a nation that suffered under communist autocracy for decades. But with this development comes
an ever-more commodified culture, and this highlights what the ‘success’ of a nation has come to mean. It has become synonymous with opening up to foreign investments, to tourists from wealthy nations, and to the arrival of world famous multi-national corporations even if at the risk of disenfranchising the disenfranchised yet further. Sitting opposite the door in a café on the Tashkent Road and looking around, nobody seemed at all fazed by its curation, by this inorganic westernisation of the area to appeal to foreign attention, and by the fact that merely a stone’s throw away lay a very different face of the town. Samarkand appears in the UNESCO world heritage list as ‘Samarkand – crossroad of cultures’. Historically, it certainly deserves the status. It was a multicultural hotbed where East and West met on the Silk Road to share cultures, knowledge and ideas. Ironic though, that as the West arrives at this crossroad again, there is little cultural exchange, and it finds instead a society conforming to its cultural mould to fit in. It seems neo-colonial in all but name.
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THE AID SECTOR Shaista Aziz
I first wrote about my experiences working for Oxfam and the aid sector in the Guardian in February, when the #AidToo moment kicked off following revelations that workers for the charity had paid women for sex in Haiti. Since then I have been inundated with emails from people across the world, mostly women, about their own experiences of sexual harassment and abuse. The vast majority told me they had never reported to their employer what had happened because they felt they wouldn’t be believed, and because they didn’t want their career to be impacted. We now know from the report that those fears were borne out— MPs condemned “a strong tendency for victims and whistleblowers, rather than perpetrators, to end up feeling penalised”. A small number of women of colour contacted me from a number of European NGO headquarters in Europe sharing their experiences of racism and sexism. These women, like me, experienced multiple discriminations based on their gender and their race—intersectional discrimination has not been examined by the committee, and neither has the issue of race. Alongside the urgent reforms the report demands, we need to start with how we overhaul and modernise a western aid system that is only willing to view people of colour as deserving of our “white saviour” pity, rather than people who are agents of change. There needs to be a greater redistribution of funds, resources and opportunities for civil society actors, women’s rights defenders and development workers from the global south.
This October, eight months on from the Oxfam “sex scandal”, as the media like to refer to it, the Department for International Development (DFID) held its international safeguarding summit. Earlier this year, as Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, was announcing the creation of a computer database—paid in part by £2m of British aid money—to store the names of sexual predators working in the sector, she was interrupted by my colleague from NGO Safe Space, Alexia Pepper de Caires. Pepper de Caires, a former Save the Children employee and whistleblower, was speaking on behalf of the women who want to make real change within the sector, but felt their voices were being silenced. She quoted Paula Donovan, who had refused to take part in the summit and said “We do not need fancy new systems, we do not need technology, we need systematic change. We need to understand the sexism, the racism and the abuse of power that happens from the very top of the leadership”. However, the solution to ending sexual exploitation in the aid and charity sector beyond Oxfam continues to be framed through the lens of safeguarding and IT systems. As we have been arguing for years, the focus instead should be on tackling the huge power imbalances, structural racism, sexism and patriarchy embedded in a neocolonial aid system that allows sexual predators to do harm, including to the very people it professes to assist. The launch of a “Global list of charity sex predators” will apparently use Interpol style alerts and notices will be issued over
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those “considered to be a threat to public safety”. Yet no amount of snazzy IT systems will stop sexual abuse. It is only through an independent mechanism holding power (currently overwhelmingly white, male and privileged) to account in this sector that victims and survivors will be protected. Until those accused of abuse are referred to the authorities rather than to opaque internal HR systems designed to protect organisations, there will be no change. In many of the cases that have become public so far, perpetrators were hidden in plain sight. The accused are senior men who were sent to work with some of the most vulnerable women, children, boys and men in the world—where the colossal imbalances between those who have nothing and those sent out to “save” them are at the heart of why sexual exploitation takes place, and why these men have impunity to carry out the abuses they do. If the aid sector is serious about getting its house in order over sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA)—and the jury is out on whether that really is the case—it needs to look inwards and detoxify the cultures and power structures that turn a blind eye to what is going on inside these organisations. It needs to listen to, and act on, the professional specialism and advice of feminists who have worked in the sector for decades. And finally, if the sector really wants to tackle sexual abuse, it needs to provide funding for follow-up and aftercare, from paying medical bills to providing independent counselling and mental health support. It needs to contribute to a legal fund to help victims and survivors find pathways to justice and provide compensation to victims, especially those exploited in the global south. Most urgently, it needs to ensure that victims and survivors feel believed and heard. 29 mag mbpwed21.indd 29
VICEROY’S HOUSE: A REVIEW Safa Dar
An aesthetic façade with a vacuous interior
History is written by the victors—these words, commonly attributed to Churchill, appear on the screen as I settle into my seat. This ostensibly subversive statement, suggesting that by the end of this film, history will have in some way been reclaimed from the victors, leaves me hopeful. So imagine my confusion when the credits start rolling and I am left wondering how, rather than subverting the statement, the film ended up reinforcing it, and how a film that was nearly called ‘The People’s Partition’ manages to make the Mountbattens its victims. Co-produced by BBC Films and directed by British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha OBE, who has comedies such as Bend It Like Beckham (2002) under her belt, Viceroy’s House is a historical drama set in the last few months of British India, prior to the country’s partition into India and Pakistan. It begins with the arrival of India’s last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, in Delhi. His main task is negotiating Britain’s exit from India with the leading Indian political parties: the Indian National Congress—led by Gandhi and Nehru—and the Muslim League, led by Jinnah. The movie’s protagonists are Aalia, a young Muslim woman, and Jeet, a Hindu man. Employees at the Viceroy’s house, their future together is threatened by the impending danger of the country’s division along communal lines.
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Aalia survives an attack on her train to Pakistan, and is brought to a refugee camp in Delhi where she is reunited with Jeet, who volunteers there. Apparently upon the suggestion of Prince Charles, Chadha bases the historical perspective of the film on The Shadow of the Great Game, a book by a former member of Mountbatten’s staff, Narendra Singh Sirala. Sirala’s book proposes the rather fantastical and widely discredited theory that, rather than having been decided by Cyril Radcliffe in 1947, Pakistan’s borders had, unbeknownst to Mountbatten, been drawn by Churchill long ago as a bulwark against the USSR. For a film that aims to set the record straight by shedding light on the plight of millions affected by partition, Viceroy’s House revolves around the sob-story of the Mountbattens an awful lot. The everagreeable Hugh Bonneville portrays a benevolent and burdened Mountbatten: given an impossible task from the outset, forced to deal with squabbling Indians, and ultimately betrayed by the upper echelons of British authority who have, it turns out, been using him as a puppet the whole time. The Mountbattens genuinely
care for India, a fact constantly reiterated by various characters such as Nehru (“I believe in your sincerity, Dickie”) and through their own earnest declarations (“this cannot be the legacy we leave behind in India after three centuries.”) They appear to make more sacrifices for India than Indians themselves and don’t shy away from rolling up their sleeves when the hour demands it: witness them toiling at refugee camps in Delhi, or offering to house the families of their staff during the riots. While opening on a promising note, when some Indian staff speak of their British masters in less than revering tones, Viceroy’s House soon disappoints. Enter the Mountbattens, full of heartfelt desire to do right by the country. Jeet and Aalia are enamoured of Mountbatten. Aalia, in particular, is hopeful (“maybe they’ll be different”) because “no Viceroy had visited the staff’s compound before.” Similarly, Jeet defends ‘Dickie’ from allegations of having hastened the transfer of power (so the British could avoid dealing with a mess of their own making), insisting: “he’s doing it to stop the carnage.” The implication throughout is, of course, that the carnage
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“Indian politicians are denied serious depictions.”
is the fault of Indians, and Indians at all levels can’t be trusted to even co-exist in the same room. They need the calm and even-minded Mountbatten to mediate between them. The only mention of the divide-and-rule policy, which was partly responsible for the communal violence, is a one liner from Nehru, who has already been characterised as unreliable and contentious: how much can we trust him? The voice of reason amongst a sea of quarrelling Indians is the troubled Dickie, who is in a bit of a fix. With Nehru refusing to entertain the idea of a divided India on one hand, and Jinnah, ever the trouble maker, disrupting the one roundtable he finally graces his presence with, Dickie is caught between a rock and a hard place. At a meeting with Congress leaders, Mountbatten emerges as the parental figure who duly chastises his squabbling children and is given the last word: ‘how do you [Nehru] expect me to get Jinnah to agree with you when you can’t even agree with Gandhiji!’ Shamefaced and silent, the Indian leaders concede that he makes a fair point.
Indian politicians, except the argumentative Jinnah, are denied serious depictions. Instead, they are caricatures: witness a toothless Gandhi and his goat’s curd milk. Both Jinnah and Nehru are reminded that they owe their debating skills to Cambridge; Indians are once again shown their proper place and reminded of their debts. Jinnah is introduced as the ‘troublemaker’ by various characters including Mountbatten, Nehru, and Aalia’s (Muslim) father. Jinnah’s portrayal as the villain reaches its climax when Dickie discovers he’s been played by his superiors: as we are told in the less-than-warm exchange between the two as they pose for pictures amidst Independence Day celebrations, “Jinnah was already promised his Pakistan.” Mountbatten comes out on the moral high ground and Jinnah is revealed to be a sneaky opportunist who sold out and struck a deal with Churchill years ago.
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Many historians have criticised Chadha’s decision to base her film on Sarila’s book, which, at best, misrepresent events of the period, and at worst, fabricates them. One can concede that the film is not a documentary, and Chadha owes no debts to reality. However, it is still important to consider its implications, given that for a lot of its audience, Viceroy’s House will be the only account they have of partition. Firstly, by acquitting the Mountbattens of all blame, Chadha overlooks their complicity in colonialism. Even if we accept her version of events—that partition had been decided long before Mountbatten arrived at the scene—the extent to which we are made to sympathise with them is dangerous, because it suggests they are the victims just as much as the millions displaced by the partition. When Nehru is slapped by a Sikh man who lost his family, it is not the Sikh man or Nehru one is made to feel for; rather the focus is on a guilt-stricken Dickie, who is close to tears. Moreover, this choice of plot, while not anti-Muslim, is anti-Pakistan. Painting the creation of Pakistan as orchestrated purposefully to secure Britain’s strategic interests denies the Indian Muslims who agitated for a separate country any agency. How many Indian Muslims wanted Pakistan, either as an idea or the fixed territory that it is today, is the subject of much historical debate, and Chadha is not wrong to indicate that many Indian Muslims were against it. However, by completely excluding opinions in favour of Pakistan (the one character who does support Pakistan is Aalia’s fiancé, aka the obstacle keeping her from Jeet) she denies the subaltern political agency. It is ironic that Chadha believes she is doing something different
here, when such a view is a classic trope in many Indian Partition texts of the 1950s: the tragedy of Pakistan, created to satisfy British global interests and fulfil the desires of power-hungry Muslim politicians. Chadha’s rendition is, plotwise, just another conspiracy theory of the first wave of partition historiography, disguised as an objective rendering. And where does it get its objectivity from? Supposedly, quoting the director herself, from the fact that, “only a British-Indian” can tell the story without bias. Of course, here she is referring to bias against the colonisers, who she claims must be given some credit. One also wonders why the few riots that are mentioned are explicitly identified as having been perpetrated by Muslims. Muslim members of staff are
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portrayed as disrupting the household peace when they break out into chants of “Pakistan zindabad!” At an engagement party, everyone is getting along just fine until a Muslim man picks a fight with Jeet. Not one incident perpetrated by a Hindu or Sikh is mentioned. In her very nicely proportionate film (one Hindu, one Muslim one Sikh manservant for the Viceroy), the rioting seems curiously disproportionate. I wonder if this distance Chadha claims “only a British Indian” can possess is what allows her to portray so unreservedly what she sees as the splendour of the Raj. The graphics of the movie exploit this splendour’s potential to the fullest: witness the elaborate costumes, pruned lawns and grand scenes of Lutyens’ Delhi. This glamorisation of colonialism is precisely where Chadha fails all South Asians. By appealing to the splendour of the Raj, she has enabled headlines commending her work as all the Raj, and provided more fodder for colonial apologists. The Grantham-esque Dickie and his paternalistic bantering with his staff gives the impression that maybe it wasn’t so bad, as does the film’s overall humour. Chadha’s witty quips might be welcome in her other films, but a film on such a serious subject hardly warrants light hearted humour that softens the blow of colonialism: witness the Scottish staff-manager cracking a joke that has the whole cinema chuckling right after he chastises Indians for taking an interest in politics, making him seem not a tool of the imperial machine and complicit
in enforcing its discipline, but just your average Joe. The danger here, of course, is that by painting such a rosy picture of the British Empire in India, Chadha has the power to influence an audience whose understanding of Empire will most likely be limited to begin with, allowing her portrayal to go unquestioned. In attempts to appeal to a wider audience by adopting Downton-esque tricks, Chadha has compromised the integrity of her narrative. There are other ways she could have made it accessible without sugarcoating and whitewashing the bloody history of empire. To add authenticity to her highly stylised world, Chadha includes some archival images of refugees towards the film’s end. The hasty transition from an aesthetically pure Downton world to a series of unfiltered and unexplained images is jarring. It’s evident that this was thrown in as the history part of the narrative. What’s especially jarring is her own treatment of refugee camps, with refugees serving as background noise as the star-crossed lovers are reunited at the camp, at which point the film ends and all is right again. But is it? What’s odd is that, despite Chadha’s claim that it was her desire to tell the untold stories of refugees like her grandmother, not a single refugee is featured as a main character and, apart from a few images of faceless, nameless refugees on trains (a highly stereotypical motif in the popular imagination of partition), their stories remain untold. The migration of Jeet’s family to Pakistan is briefly mentioned once. The couple’s
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reunion, amidst crying babies and starving refugees, pretty much sums up Chadha’s all-glamour-and-no-grit approach, and is frankly distasteful and insensitive. Of course, had Chadha been aware of the more recent (and sophisticated) attempts at setting the record straight, her film might have been more nuanced in its attempts to grapple with different ways of approaching the subject of partition. For instance, Urvashi Butalia’s focus on oral histories of abducted women, or Vazira Zamindar and Yasmin Khan’s syncretic histories. This could also have been remedied by consulting someone other than Alastair Bruce (royal commentator, Officer of Arms and a member of the Queen’s Body Guard for Scotland) as an historical adviser, given that he is most likely not an expert on Partition and is unlikely to be unbiased. Her other source was the equally unbiased Pamela Hicks (née Mountbatten). One can call Chadha’s film many things—creative, for example, if by creative we mean stretching possibilities and taking great liberties with them—but wellresearched would not be one of them. This makes sense, because she was drawn to the subject not through academic interest but a personal one. The fact that the process of making this film was a way for Chadha to discover more about the partition shines through in her naïve handling of it, and in her genuinely heartfelt belief that she is doing something new. I believe in Chadha’s sincerity, but wish her personal project of rediscovering her family’s past hadn’t come at so great a cost.
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THE CASE FOR A CENTRALISED ACCESS SYSTEM Grace Davis
Lessons from Llandrindod Wells
Inaccessible, elitist and Londondominated: these are just some of the criticisms Oxford faces without fail at every new release of access statistics. Politicians such as David Lammy have spoken out about these problems, whilst the university continues its defensive narrativeâ€”that Oxford as an institution is not in the wrong and schools are failing students before they even consider applying. While we should not ignore problems further
down the chain of education, Oxford cannot shirk responsibility for increasing access. Oxford, with its huge financial and historical power, has the power to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds, regardless of how much or how little their current education is promoting Oxford as a feasible route. Yet Oxford does not fully exercise this power. Its current access programme assigns most colleges two link regions: one
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from London and one from another UK region. This system is flawed in two ways. Firstly, it is obviously problematic that London is given such premium this way. London is an area with access problems, and many disadvantaged students who do not see Oxford as a realistic option. But it does not deserve to receive the same amount of attention as the rest of the UK combined. London represents a low-effort way for Oxford to appear to make an effort, because the larger populations within disadvantaged parts of London means that Oxford colleges are able to attract larger numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, than they would by spending the same amount of money on more rural areas of the UK. London also possesses a higher concentration of better-quality state schools, meaning the university does not have to expend such effort compensating for educational disadvantage. According to Oxford’s most recent report on access, students from London made up nearly 25% of the most recent intake into Oxford, yet represent just under 13% of the UK’s population. Compare this to Wales which made up 2.9% of those admitted, despite being 4.8% of the total UK population. The disparities between such regions shows clear inequalities when
it comes to admissions and access. Secondly, the monetary disparity between colleges also poses a problem for particular under-represented areas. Lady Margaret Hall caters for areas in MidWales and the West of England. Unusually, LMH, which has assets to the value of £58 million, caters to such a large and difficult, rural area, and yet, St John’s, with assets at a value of £4.75 billion, has the closer and wealthier Sussex, Brighton and Hove. It is no surprise that more students’ come from these areas. My school, Llandrindod High School, which is situated in the middle of the most rural parts of LMH’s link region, never received a visit, an unsurprising fact considering that I’m the sole person from this school to have gone to Oxford. Spending money on access in schools such as mine, under the current system, just isn’t worth it for colleges that have limited resources for access initiatives. However, things changed when I moved to a different college for sixth form. Although still catered for by LMH, my new college in Hereford was in a city and significantly larger. We received a lot more help, including visits to Oxford and Cambridge and guidance with personal statement writing and interviews. I don’t think I would be here in Oxford today if
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I didn’t make the four-hour round trip to study there. My twin, however, wasn’t so lucky. Because of his autism, he decided it would be better to stay in our old school, where he had his old friends, a dedicated autism centre, and didn’t have to cope with the long journey. However, having decided to apply to Cambridge to read Natural Sciences, the school never informed him of the earlier deadline, and despite insisting that there was one, the school didn’t send his application. Access horror stories like these are all too common in such areas. A friend who studied in a town in the Welsh valleys, which was linked to Jesus College, had to camp outside the office of her UCAS officer for hours on the day of early applications. Thankfully, she managed to ensure her references were written and now studies here at Oxford. However, the fact is that close-call situations such as these are all too common in poor and
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rural areas, and Oxford has not done enough to prevent them from occurring. Bright and talented students aren’t getting the same opportunities at applying to Oxford, merely because of a lack of resources available to them. A centralised access system that catered to every region could fix this problem. Funding could be centralised, while colleges could still be linked to regions, thus retaining from colleges a feeling of responsibility for their patch, while giving a more equitable distribution of resources. Oxford access should work on a rationale of sharing their large sum of resources between colleges, from those with more wealth to those with more difficult link regions. This requires a sensible realisation that some regions are more expensive to work with. In order to tackle regional inequality in Oxford, money needs to be spent in a way proportionate to the costs, so that similar amounts of students from rural areas and the North are attracted to Oxford as those from London. The idea of regional Oxbridge access officers should also be
considered. This would entail allocating one person per area, who is based locally, and would be in charge of going into schools, encouraging intelligent but disadvantaged students to apply, and then helping both students and schools with the admissions process. This is a system which my sixth form employed, and whilst it helped me get in, it saddens me that students such as my twin never had access to anything similar when they most needed it. There also must be schemes focusing on promoting access to students from rural areas. When Oxford access events are held in rural areas, they often require students to travel significantly further than for example, a Londoner, in order to attend and benefit from them. This was the case in my high school where we were given the opportunity to travel to Gwernyfed—a school merely an hour’s drive away—in order to receive any advice on applying to Oxford. This is where application advice began and ended for students at my school. It was difficult to reach these events and it was difficult, too, to reach Oxford. As a result, for many, Oxford simply wasn’t an option. In order for any real change to happen— for rural students to want and feel able to apply—intercollegiate schemes need to be put in place, and discussions on how best to tackle the problem of disadvantaged areas outside of London need to occur. This can’t happen if colleges are left to fend for themselves and their own link regions.
However, a centralised access system should not necessarily encompass a centralised admissions process. Opinion pieces positing a centralised admissions process, where colleges do not individually interview and select their students, but are instead done by the centralised university, have been included in both The Guardian and The Telegraph, following David Lammy’s comments that “Oxford is a bastion of entrenched, wealthy, upperclass, white, southern privilege.” The reporting by such news outlets seems to misrepresent the college system, and isn’t particularly helpful for the debate. Such an idea ignores the needs of state school students once they have already received a place at Oxford. For me, the collegiate system provided a safe haven when the wider university felt far more daunting, and to know that my tutors had picked me personally and wanted me to flourish, regardless of my previous education, is one of the few things that keeps my imposter syndrome at bay. Oxford is defined by its college system, but colleges too should be aware of when to work together. Until that happens, some of the brightest students will missed by Oxford, simply because they did not go to the right school.
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GIVING AN ACCOUNT OF ONESELF Sneha Krishnan Sneha Krishnan is an asssociate Professor in Human Geography, and Tutorial Fellow at Brasenose College, Oxford As a post-structuralist feminist scholar, I write a lot about subjectivity. Much of my day is spent considering how people— gendered, raced and caste-implicated subjects—give accounts of themselves in the world. And then I go to dinner in College and find myself playing a literal version of this game, where I find a way to answer, in the elevator pitch that is appropriate for three-drinks-down-andin-a-gown-and-bow-tie, the ‘tell me about yourself’ question. That should be fairly straight-forward. I’m a geographer of gender and childhood, interested in post-imperial landscapes of discipline. I did undergraduate work in India, and predictably came to Oxford for a graduate degree and have been here since. But that’s often not the information I’m being asked for. One more glass of wine and my favourite one emerges: ‘Was it really hard to be a young woman in India? All that sexual violence.’ Or worse: ‘Why do girls from where you come want to wear headscarves? In my day, we fought for women’s liberation: now it seems you want to go the other way.’ Trust me, after a day of tutorials, research and writing, grant applications and many hundred emails, I’d like to talk about the weather just as much as the next
person. On occasion I have fantasies of speaking as if I’m writing a journal article. ‘God—it must have been hard as a young woman in India. I saw a BBC thing about rising sexual violence in Indian cities.’ To which I respond ‘Refer Sinha 2006 on imperial tropes about sexual violence in India and their continued significance to discourse today.’ But then I remember that if we’re all giving accounts of ourselves in the ways in which we inhabit our everyday spaces, then in the Oxford College, I am, for the most part, a native informant. This is a particularly ironic situation in which to find myself because the research I do looks at young women’s encounters with education in the early and midtwentieth centuries. The women whose own accounts of themselves that I spend my days reading came from lower caste families that converted to Christianity in protest against their marginalisation within upper-caste Hindu practice. Given that ‘good girls’—the middle-class women whose respectability most interests me— rarely leave many sources about their everyday lives, I look at these young women’s writing in college publications. These publications are, to put it lightly, imperfect albeit fascinating sources. They were typically put together for circulation among funders in the West: in the case of Women’s Christian College (WCC) in erstwhile Madras—the main focus of a lot of my work—this was a sundry
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group that included the Rockefeller foundation as well as individual pious white housewives in the American South and in the English Midlands. Of course, the women in the College kept copies but the magazines’ focus is on representing the institution to those who might want to donate further to it. So much like me at high table, often these young women are being good, agreeable native informants in a context where they are meant to be grateful for inclusion at the table. Their essays in these journals are at most gently, jokingly critical—a tone that is intimately familiar—while presenting pleasant, well-turned-out versions of themselves: smiling sari-clad women in a row, with books and badminton racquets at their side. One pamphlet published a few years after Indian independence in the 1950s tells us that these young women are key to keeping India geopolitically stable in a Cold War world. ‘Good native informants’ are important to keeping the balance at the table. It’s hard Mrs Dalloway work and being Septimus Smith and becoming the feeling-magnet for all the trauma won’t do at all. Many of the young women I encounter in these publications ultimately had strong disagreements with the uppercaste Hindu character of India’s nationalist movement, even as they sought to critique imperialism. These fractures and moments of anger emerge in the odd letter that has survived, or in some publications of the Indian Student Christian Movement. Very occasionally, in the odd polemical article that is immediately followed by a more moderate piece, such opinions surface. A small number of them—whose stories I am only just beginning to make sense of through the archives in Oxford Colleges—migrated to Britain for graduate work as I did and proceeded to join antiimperialist and socialist movements here. Meanwhile, they continue to appear in
Oxford College publications as subjects of Western women’s charity: good studious girls unlikely to make any trouble, brought to Oxford for the purpose of an education that would allow them to return and be effective schoolteachers in India. This essay is something of a longwinded way to make two often-made but still-uncomfortable points. First: imperial logics and discourses endure in the ways in which structural racism and sexism play out in everyday conversations, making particular kinds of subjects of us. I feel very brown indeed, and very postcolonial when I’m asked questions that subject me as a native informant. Second: that educational institutions—places like Oxford and Colleges like WCC alike— have long been implicated in the imperial project and are not the most natural sites for an emancipatory politics. This doesn’t mean such a thing cannot be dreamed— and we can all be hopeful academics— but only that in doing so we’re fighting something fundamental to the ways in which these institutions enact power.
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“WHEN I WAS…”: DECOLONISING MY MEMORIES Anuja Jaiswal Age 5 Some of the earliest memories I have about hating my brown skin stem from advertisements. The multitude of skin lightening brands and products that dominate Hindi TV channels had me staring down at my skin in contemplation. “Maybe if I were lighter I would be more popular like the bleached actress on the TV screen.” This thought eventually spiralled into a ferocious attack on my own skin. In years to come I would feed off White supremacist beliefs entrenched in cultural myths and follow strict beauty rituals in order to achieve nothing less than a milkywhite complexion.
Age 7 The impact of embedded selfdiscriminations has now reached far beyond the superficial. During a vacation to the USA, I remember insisting to my family that I was American. I will not pretend as if I understood the real difference between a US and an Indian passport at age seven, although I distinctly remember feeling like a US visa was something elusive and important. So much so that I found myself wishing for Western origins. How much simpler would things like visas, job prospects, and university fees be if I had been born in the UK or the USA instead of India? Age 12 It is only in the last year or so that I have realised these questions come from the urge to efface my origins. As a child, I read many classic childhood tales, ranging from The Famous Five to Harry Potter. I was eleven when I decided to write my own stories and, visible in my fictional world was a disturbing truth. Behind the fantastical façade of a forbidden secondary school romance, my stories reflected the extent of my own internalised colonial ideas: every character was white. They had fair hair, light eyes and names like ‘Angelina’. Children tend to insert themselves into their imagined worlds, but I was nowhere to be seen in mine, erased and marginalised through my own doing. Fed by toxic media and representative
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of the literature I consumed, someone with a name like ‘Anuja’ could never be a Hogwarts student or a secret sixth child in Enid Blyton’s universe. But Angelina? She could do anything. Age 13 I became dimly aware of the nuances of Colonial History. Although I grew up in Bahrain, I attended a British School my whole life. I learnt the little I knew about Colonial India through a great deal of self-education and several intense conversations with my family. Often it felt like I was attempting to learn two entirely different histories—I was torn between righteous anger and the will to assimilate. Ultimately, I leant towards the latter. I learnt to swallow my discomfort about skewed narratives and accepted that I went to a British school, and so would be taught the ‘British way’. There was no room for argument or complaint. I did not realise how wrong I was until much later in life. Age 15 I read about a particularly horrific gangrape in New Delhi—the 2012 ‘Nirbhaya’ case—and started to educate myself about sexism and gender politics, calling myself a feminist. A little later, I started to call myself an LGBTQ+ ally. By the end of secondary school, I was very engaged in these activisms and yet, still unable to see how colonialism and race intersected with these concepts.
Age 18 It was only quite recently when I learnt how colonial attitudes pervaded society. I was always puzzled by my complete inability to relate to Raj from The Big Bang Theory. From his loathing of India, to his exaggerated accent, to the fact that, despite supposedly being a part of the core group, he is constantly treated as an outsider to American society, Raj embodied the Western interpretation of an Indian man, subtly pushing colonial ideas. Despite the inclusion of a brown character, I realised that a stereotypical and lazily written character was not representation at all. Age 21 Through my encounters and realisations of institutionalised racism, I now understand the meaning of decolonisation. It is not a singular event. It is an uncomfortable process that forces one to think about how existing colonial structures shape individual identity. It is rummaging through one’s memories to track colonial tendencies in order to challenge and dismantle them. And most importantly, whilst it is a process that is happening in politics, and in the media – it is a process that must begin in ourselves.
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TEASPOONS AND TRADITIONS Pamela Roberts
Reflecting the city’s diverse history in the Visitors’ Information Centre Pamela Roberts FRSA is a creative producer, historian, author and playwright and the founder and Director of ‘Black Oxford Untold Stories’. A port of call for tourists to any major heritage city, be they domestic or international, is the Visitors Information Centre (VIC)—central hubs for the provision of information and a place to buy a souvenir. Oxford’s Visitors’ Information Centre is situated at 15-16 Broad Street. The product offering available conforms to the Eurocentric traditional cliché of tea towels, teapots and souvenir spoons—all standard fare for any tourist outlet. The other reliable products are items and books connected with the city, most notably Alice in Wonderland, Tolkien, Harry Potter, and memorabilia associated with television programmes Morse and Downton Abbey. From a marketing perspective, it would be imprudent for the VIC not to maximise the city’s rich and varied history to produce products to capitalise upon sales for the domestic and
international market. However, its product offering perpetuates the mythology of Englishness; it does not acknowledge and accommodate the city’s rich and diverse history; there is a reliance on products that insist on only reflecting a onedimensional cultural purity. In the week beginning January, 22nd 2018, 722,166 people came into Oxford to shop, visit the attractions, or take advantage of the pubs and restaurants. In all likelihood, a significant portion visited the VIC, and looking at the VIC’s array of souvenirs provides a cosy 1950s time warp offering of sameness. The visitor may want to indulge in the perceived Oxford that they have watched and enjoyed and capture the memory through their purchase. But not all visitors may wish to participate in the construct of a false identity. When I visited the VIC, I met two Black men from South Africa, John and Harland, visiting Oxford to take a walking tour. I told them about the plaque I had unveiled to commemorate
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Christian Frederick Cole, the first Black African scholar from Sierra Leone, at the University. The lack of recognition across their faces indicated that they did not know about him. The message being communicated to the visitor with no knowledge of the diversity of the city or the University continues to reinforce the stereotypes of Oxford as a city that remains the domain of white middle-class people, either reflected through its student body or the city’s population. The University has started to make progressive strides in diversifying the portraits hung in the hallow halls of the colleges. However, many colleges have limited access for visitors and tourists. Thus many of the paintings remain ensconced in their position of privilege for the few and not the many to view and enjoy. The VIC is operated by ‘Experience Oxfordshire’, a partnership organisation. They work with local businesses to grow the visitor economy in Oxfordshire. Two of the partners are Oxford City
and Oxfordshire County Councils. The councils may argue that they do reflect the city’s diversity in the number of various cultural celebrations it provides through its festival and events programme. The question I contemplate is: if the acknowledgement of diversity and heritage is contained and compartmentalised into specifically associated celebrations and specialist months, and does not seep into the mainstream with the danger of disturbing a carefully crafted narrative of Englishness, is it ok? I realise that my article takes a broadbrush approach and that there are many indicative issues that must be addressed that have an impact on the offering at the VIC but I would like this article to initiate a conversation that will lead to the richness and contributions varied cultures have made to the city of dreaming spires being reflected in the product offering at Oxford City’s Visitors Information Centre.
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