On 3rd June, 2020, UEL’s Black Academy organised ‘A Place to Breathe’ – an online event for the East London community to respond to the lynching of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Over 200 people attended the event whereby – in line with concurrent calls from BLM protestors in the US and elsewhere in the UK – Black staff and students within UEL called for White staff and students to rise up against White supremacy. It also became clear that, while wanting to rise up, many White staff and students were inexperienced in doing so.
In response, and with the support of Black and Brown colleagues who volunteered to be our Accountability Partners, I set up two White Anti-Racist Collectives in Psychology – one for White staff and one for White students. We met regularly to interrogate our complicity in White supremacy, strategise about how to dismantle it and reflexively take steps toward doing so in our selves, our university and our discipline.
As well as providing me with a collective space to do this work myself, facilitating these groups allowed me to experiment with embodied tactics toward decolonisation and with bringing activist tactics into an institution. Following Sara Ahmed, myself and two of our Accountability Partners – Kellie Golbourne and Dona Henriques – also came to see ourselves a ‘complaint collective’ and in 2022 co-wrote an embodied review of Ahmed’s 2021 book, Complaint!. Below is a collage that I also created as part of this process.
At the point of setting up the White Anti-Racist Collectives, I had five years of experience making spaces for White people to engage in struggle around whiteness and ten years of experience in anti-racist activism led by people of colour. It was these experiences that schooled me in my own whiteness. Knowing this, two weeks after ‘A Place to Breathe’, the Black Academy asked me to speak as a White person at their next event, which they had decided to do on ‘Whiteness’. Below are the words that I spoke.