Home / Events / #ReconstructionWork: Can the museum be decolonised?
7th July 2021
#ReconstructionWork: Can the museum be decolonised?
Date and Time
7th July 2021
Speakers and Artists
Our #ReconstructionWork online conversation series continues this year with another special event in partnership with the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) with support from Arts Council England.
On Wednesday 7th July, the Stuart Hall Foundation is hosting an online roundtable to think through the possibilities of decolonising the museum. The event will include short presentations from the panel of guest speakers followed by a chaired discussion:
• Mohammed Ali, Artist/Curator, Founder of Soul City Arts and Trustee of Birmingham Museums
• Sado Jirde, Director, Black South West Network
• Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Writer and Poet
• Ahdaf Soueif, Writer
• Intro: Bridget Byrne, Director, the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE)
• Chair: Orsod Malik, Digital Content Curator, Stuart Hall Foundation
What can the concept of decolonisation look like in practice and in relation to the museum? We welcome Ahdaf Soueif, Mohammed Ali, Sado Jirde and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan to share their experiences working within and without the museum to examine whether or not the museum can be a space for realising disruptive and radical possibilities. They will be discussing what and who the museum is for, the relationship between the museum and the construction of racial hierarchies as well as the museum’s entanglements with the history and legacies of colonisation.
This event will take place online and closed captions will be provided.
The Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) is an ESRC funded research centre providing theoretically informed, empirically grounded and policy-relevant research on ethnic inequalities in the UK. They bring together expertise from a range of disciplines including sociology, demography, economics, history, geography, political science, cultural studies and seek to communicate their research to a wide range of audiences.
CoDE has recently launched EVENS – Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS). This is the UK’s first and largest survey of its kind to document the impact of Covid-19, and the lockdowns, on 17,000 ethnic and religious minority people. Participate in EVENS.
Ahdaf Soueif is the author of the bestselling The Map of Love (shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999 and translated into more than 30 languages). Her account of the Egyptian revolution of 2011, Cairo: a City Transformed, came out in January 2014. Her collection of essays, Mezzaterra (2004), has been influential and her articles for the Guardian in the UK are published in the European and American press. In 2007 Ms Soueif co-founded the Palestine Festival of Literature which takes place annually in occupied Palestine. In 2020, after serving for 7 years, she resigned from the British Museum Board of Trustees.
Mohammed Ali is an award-winning artist, curator and producer, and a trustee of Birmingham Museums. He has been commissioned to work internationally with leading galleries, festivals, arts centres and theatres to produce large scale murals in open spaces in the communities where people work, live and play. Mohammed is the founder of Soul City Arts, a leading independent arts organisation based in Birmingham that has worked with artists, academics and activists from around the world to commission and present innovative exhibitions, performances and digital installations. He has worked extensively in places like Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, New York and South Africa.
Sado Jirde is the director of Black South West Network (BSWN), a charity focused on human rights, equality, access to knowledge and socio-economic inclusion within the framework of advocating on behalf of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities. She sits on various advisory groups and committees including the WECA Cultural strategy group, the Transatlantic Trafficking of Enslaved Afrikans Legacy Steering Group, Voice for Change England, the Baobab Foundation Steering group, and the Coalition for Race Equality organisation (CoRE) nationally. Amongst other accolades, she was most recently listed as a Women of Inspiration: 100 social enterprise leaders showing Covid who’s boss in 2020 and awarded West Woman of the Year – Most Inspirational Role Model in 2019.
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan is an educator and poet who disrupts narratives of race, history and knowledge in her writing and workshops. She is the author of ‘Postcolonial Banter’ (2019), host of the Breaking Binaries podcast, and published in multiple anthologies and national media publications. Her work has millions of views online.
Bridget Byrne is director of the ESRC Centre – CoDE (Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity and Inequality) and is currently directing a large project examining the impact of Covid19 on racialised and minoritised groups. Bridget’s numerous published works include the books ‘White lives: the interplay of ‘race’, class and gender in everyday life (Routledge), which was was joint winner of the BSA Philip Abrams Award 2006, ‘Making Citizens: public rituals and
Orsod Malik is a digital archivist, curator, content producer, and editor. Orsod is the Stuart Hall Foundation’s Digital Content Curator and the editor of the Imagined Futures Series. He is the founder of @code__switch, an archive/continuum of radical internationalism. His research focuses on disrupting colonial temporalities and exhuming peripheral histories to draw links between anti-imperial struggles and thought across space and time.
Whose Memorials? with Barby Asante and Shawn Sobers
The state backlash against the mass protests for racial justice in June 2020 is well underway. A reaction punctuated by the recent passing of the Police, Crimes and Sentencing Bill, which has increased the maximum penalty for criminal damage to a memorial from three months to ten years. As the state rushes to protect its memorials, this conversation focuses on questions of memory to ask: who speaks for the past?
For this event in the #ReconstructionWork series, the Stuart Hall Foundation welcomed artists and educators Barby Asante and Shawn Sobers to discuss the ways in which events can be remembered and misremembered, offering a space to interrogate the politics of memory.
‘#ReconstructionWork: Whose Memorials?’ is produced in partnership with the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE).
The Black Lives Matter movement has called for a global reckoning with the long history of anti-black racism and has specifically focused on the role of police in enforcing and enacting racial disadvantage. Included in their call to “defund the police” is a specific rejection of efforts to “reform the police” through interventions like training and community policing and instead focus on reimagining public safety independently of policing. This represents a sharp break with past efforts to eliminate racist policing.
In 1999 the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry found a problem of institutional racism within British policing. Officers had failed to take Lawrence’s murder seriously, had mishandled their relationship with the family, and showed a general indifference to the wellbeing of communities of colour. Later revelations exposed the fact that police were even surveilling the Lawrence family in order to undermine their efforts to hold police accountable. The ensuing Macpherson Report contained 70 recommendations designed to address racism within policing and the larger society. It included calls for police diversification, enhanced training around racial tolerance, and improved procedures for investigating racially motivated crimes all of which were designed to “increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities.”
Twenty years later, significant gains have been made in hiring more diverse officers and implementing a variety of diversity and sensitivity trainings. And while more could be done, in theory, along these lines, there is little evidence that this has significantly reduced the disproportionate negative impacts of policing on communities of colour. Arrest rates, police use of force, and deaths in custody have not been reduced. Non-white communities continue to be over-policed. This should not be surprising, in part because the Macpherson report specifically said that there should be no change to underlying policing practices. They should just be done by a more diverse force with more racial sensitivity.
At the root of this problematic dynamic is the unwillingness of the Macpherson report or subsequent efforts to reduce racism through police reform to look at what is really driving deep racial inequalities. For the last 40 years the political leadership of the UK has largely capitulated to a politics of neoliberalism and austerity. In the face of global competition, they have cut services to those in need while subsidising the already successful through tax breaks and deregulation in hopes that they will become so successful that some of their new wealth will trickle down to everyone else. But this system has not produced widespread prosperity. It has produced a small group of extremely rich beneficiaries and growing precarity for everyone else. And the burden of this has fallen disproportionately on communities of colour. At the same time, it has fed racial resentment among white populations who have come to blame foreigners and racial minorities for their declining economic status.
The result of this has also been an increase in certain types of conventional street crime as well as problems of low-level disorder and the growth of so-called “vulnerable populations.” The management of these “problems” has fallen to the police. This has looked like increased police involvement in managing those who are homeless, young people acting out in schools, responding to mental health crisis calls, and intensively policing youth of colour across the board on the pretext of stopping drugs or violence.
In response to these failures there is a deep reimagining underway of what public safety could look like independent of the criminal legal system. A growing number of people are calling for replacing police-centred strategies with community investments and commitments to long term strategies for producing greater racial and economic justice. Groups like the 4Front Project in London are demanding that government address the very real problem of youth violence by investing in youth instead of police. They take a youth centred perspective that understands the challenges young people face in a hostile environment in which their families are in crisis, schools lack resources, and the prospects of long-term stable employment seem non-existent. Any effort to produce real safety for young people must start with stable housing, family supports, access to high quality schools, and the prospect of upward mobility.
Similarly, Kids of Colour in Manchester is demanding that schools become sights of safe and successful learning, rather than extensions of the criminal legal system or as we say in the US, “the school to prison pipeline.” As young people face increasing pressures at home and in the community just as educational and social supports are diminished, this is producing disruptive behaviour in and around schools. Rather than framing this as a discipline problem to be counteracted by increased suspensions and policing, they are demanding more resources for schools and the families of these young people.
This kind of reimagining of public safety asks us to reject the false equating of justice with punishment and to instead invest in new systems of justice rooted in restoring communities and individuals so that fewer harms are experienced including those inflicted by the criminal legal system. These “restorative justice” approaches work with young people to develop real interpersonal and communal accountability and to take steps to repair past harms and prevent new harms from occurring.
Racial justice is not going to come from a black police officer, it’s going to be achieved by addressing racism in a broad array of institutional settings such as housing and employment discrimination, unequal funding of social services and infrastructure and the failure to come to terms with the legacies of slavery and colonialism at the root of these ongoing disparities.
Alex S. Vitale is Professor of Sociology and Coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and a Visiting Professor at London Southbank University. He has spent the last 30 years writing about policing and consults both police departments and human rights organisations internationally. Prof. Vitale is the author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics and The End of Policing. His academic writings on policing have appeared in Policing and Society, Police Practice and Research, Mobilisation, and Contemporary Sociology. He is also a frequent essayist, whose writings have been published in The NY Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, Vice News, Fortune, and USA Today. He has also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, PBS, Democracy Now, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
The Stuart Hall Foundation by Jess Hall and Richard Harrington
Stuart Hall Foundation Film by Jess Hall and Richard Harrington.
Inspired by the life and work of Professor Stuart Hall, the Stuart Hall Foundation is committed to public education, addressing urgent questions of race and inequality in culture and society through talks and events, and building a network of SHF scholars and artists in residence.
In many ways, the pandemic has deeply unsettled the routines and rhythms of social life. That which seemed immovable or unquestionable suddenly appears much less perennial. The disruptions of the pandemic have been particularly apparent in education. In the UK, schools were closed or moved online and, almost unthinkably, examinations were cancelled or replaced by algorithms and then teacher predicted grades. As the UK begins to emerge from the pandemic, in education, as elsewhere, the conditions in which we find ourselves are ripe for exploring how things might be different; how things might be better.
Whilst some things may look less immutable, if we look beneath the surface, some things remain depressingly intransigent – this is evident in the global distribution of vaccines, as well as racial patterns in exposure to the virus and in responses to the pandemic (policing, for example). In education, specifically, the negative impacts of Covid-19 have been particularly detrimental for working class students, and students of colour. This was evident in the furore over how examination alternatives will (re)produce inequalities, and the way that the uneven distribution of resources (between schools and between families) have shaped capacities for home learning, exacerbating a ‘learning gap’ or, more accurately, a provision gap.
As we imagine brighter futures, propelled as we are by a sense that things will never be the same again, our task necessitates a focus on systemic transformation with the most marginalised in mind. This is not a question of simply rearranging the furniture but one of dismantling and rebuilding the whole structure.
NME’s call is important for at least three reasons. Firstly, it highlights, and pushes back against, the reliance on punitive and disciplinary responses to crises. Such punitive authoritarianism has been evident not only in schools but at the level of government which – consistent with the direction of travel in recent years – has put policing and ‘law and order’ at the heart of its response.
Secondly, and relatedly, the call is based upon a recognition that in schools, as in wider society, the effects of such approaches have been deeply racialised and classed. That is, a reliance on school exclusions, like a reliance on the police, disproportionately impacts upon working class and racially minoritised communities.
Thirdly, and crucially, NME’s call is important because it brings us to the question of imagined futures. It offers a glimpse of a brighter future, an indication of how we might transform society for the better. Though the call initially focuses on the pandemic period, particularly highlighting the need for care at a time of such monumental upheaval, it has the potential to serve as a catalyst for the permanent abolition of school exclusions: radical long-lasting change beyond the pandemic.
Amongst an abiding sense that things will never be the same again, the conditions seem ripe for social change. Imploring us to keep those at the sharp end in mind, NME’s moratorium shows how communities engaged in resistance can push to ensure that such change transforms, rather than reinforces, the status quo.
Imagining schooling without exclusions points to a more caring and nurturing education system. In this regard, the moratorium call ties in with the work of other campaigns to offer a fuller vision of a transformed education system. For instance, the work of the Halo Collective, a group of young Black organisers ‘fighting for the protection and celebration of Black hair and hairstyles’, points to a future in which school policies no longer discriminate against Black students and other students of colour, and the NoPolice in Schools campaign imagines a future in which schools are supportive environments free from the presence of police officers. Relatedly, the work of young activists at Body Count encourages us to imagine educational futures that looks to transformative, rather than punitive, approaches to justice.
As the Black Studies scholar George Lipsitz observes, ‘domination produces resistance, and resistance plants the seeds of a new society in the shell of the old’. With this in mind, those of us committed to social justice would do well to take these oppositional movements as a springboard for our imaginations.
Remi Joseph-Salisbury is a Presidential Fellow in Ethnicity and Inequalities at the University of Manchester. He writes on race, ethnicity, racism and anti-racism, particularly in the context of education and policing. He is co-author of the forthcoming ‘Anti-Racist Scholar-Activism’, author of ‘Black Mixed-Race Men’, and co-editor of ‘The Fire Now’. He has also authored and co-authored several reports recently on race and racism in education. He is a member of the Northern Police Monitoring Project, and the No Police in Schoolscampaign.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.