Muslim Women in Resistance: The Overlooked History of Women Resisting

In April 2020, Dr. Seema Yasmin published Muslim Women Are Everything, a collection of stories of Muslim women. The book was borne out of an angry tweet — a response to the awe people seemed to be in by the prospect of Muslim women doing anything at all. The tweet then turned into a poem called “Yes, Muslim Women do Things.” From the poem came her book. From her tweet to the book, all have become a form of testimony to the plethora of diverse capabilities that Muslim women have.  

Indeed, today most of the media regarding Muslim women is often shrouded in white saviourism or orientalism. The strength and resistance of women in general, but, more specifically, Muslim women, is often overwritten with the narratives of men who participated in the same way.  Traditionally, and even today, history is written for and by men. These narratives, especially those of resistance, more often than not tend to exclude women. According to Nahla Abdo, a scholar and activist, “there is an absence of academic and feminist institutional interest in the lives and experiences of women.” Despite the lack of representation of women in literature, their stories are pervasive in the cultures in which they occurred. 

More recently, there have been efforts to retell sections of history in order to include the “invisible” women who played crucial roles in shaping movements. Women for generations have taken part in both visible acts of collective resistance and, the more overlooked, everyday acts of resisting. Muslim women have played a fundamental role in social movements and fighting for social change and their stories should not be overshadowed. 

Muslim women played key roles in the civil rights movement in the U.S. Those involved in the civil rights movement today have heard stories of both men and women converting to Islam in order to “boldly protest racism and advance opportunities for African Americans.” Clara Muhammad, a Muslim woman, played a significant role in constructing “the vehicle that transmitted notions of race pride to the Black masses.” She is not considered to be a part of the so-called “mainstream” civil rights movement, but her work contributed to the evolution of the movement in creating it to what we know it as today. 

Clara Muhammad’s activism and resistance aren’t an exceptional case either. In India, Muslim women had crucial roles in shaping the independence movement and emerged victorious. Begum Hazrat Mahal, Abadi Bano Begum, Bibi Amatus Salam, and Hajara Begum are all examples of Muslim women who “proved their strength, enthusiasm and determinism in the fight for freedom.” These women not only helped India gain independence, but also broke the “stereotype of Muslim women in the society, who are merely perceived to be clad in Burqha and were never let out of the house.”

During colonial times, when the French and British encouraged Muslim women in their colonies to not wear the veil in order to “imitate European women”, women that continued to wear their veils “became a representation of national identity and disapproval with the West during liberation and pro-independence movements.”

Resistance takes many forms but, regardless of what shape it takes, Muslim women throughout history have left indelible marks on resistance movements. Despite the impact their participation has on movements, Muslim women’s stories, and really women in general, are often left out of history. Their absence in written history makes it more important than ever to recognise their accomplishments and keep the stories of Muslim women alive. Although their resistance may not always be visible, their importance should not be ignored. 

In the U.K., and throughout the Western world, Muslim women are disproportionately targeted by Islamophobic sentiment and hate. Despite this, Muslim women still find ways to not only resist but to help to their communities. 

JAN Trust’s late founder, Rafaat Mughal OBE, and our current CEO, Sajda Mughal OBE, provide further examples of Muslim women who have had a large impact on their communities through their activism and resistance. JAN Trust for over 30 years has helped marginalised communities by providing access to services, resources, and opportunities. We empower minority women and work to combat stereotypes by speaking out against racism and all forms of discrimination. For more information visit our website.

Posted in Active citizenship, BAME, discrimination, Ethnic Minorities, Hate Crime, Inclusion, Islam, Muslim, Muslim women, Racism, Representation, Sajda Mughal, Society, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What do we do about extremism and hate in our security forces?

Recently, there has been an increase in reported cases of members of the armed forces or police being found to have engaged in racism or extremism.

Historically, the security forces — in this piece, referring collectively to the military and police — have had a complicated relationship with minority communities. Whilst this is a general phenomenon in most countries, as the security forces by default enforce the policies of the majority government, this is especially true in the UK, with an apparent surge in news reports of members of the armed forces or Met Police being found to have committed racial discrimination or misogyny, or have strong extremist beliefs. 

Such an issue is only likely to make the mutual mistrust worse.

So, why does this problem exist, and what can we do about it?

Firstly, it is worth emphasising that, whilst extremism is a problem in the security forces, it is not a problem that is exclusive to that sector — more that, for understandable reasons, it receives much more attention. 

That said, it is concerning that vetting processes do not seem to have picked up of these beliefs or vulnerabilities during recruitment, regardless whether such beliefs were already in place before the application process or were developed after time in the role — the latter of which would raise a number of serious questions about counterextremism and safeguarding policies. 

We need to determine the root causes and make sure such beliefs aren’t even adopted to begin with. 

Those who have racist or far-right extremist beliefs tend to be strongly in favour of the status quo, strong national security policies, and state-controlled institutions. This could give such individuals a natural predilection for seeking to embark upon a career in the police or armed forces.

However, peaceful, tolerant people also have strong motivations for wanting to join the security forces, so the discussion must go deeper than this. 

The extended lockdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has potentially left many vulnerable individuals becoming further isolated from mainstream society and finding ‘solace’ in extremist and terrorist groups as a result. 

Such individuals may therefore see joining the police as a way of ‘belonging’ to a ‘family’ or ‘tight-knit group’, and finding ‘meaning’ in life — Benjamin Hannam, who recently became “the first serving British officer to be convicted of a terrorism offence”, is an example of this.

In other words, without adequate safeguarding measures and education, the same motivations for joining a noble cause of keeping citizens safe can be the same motivations that leave a person extremely vulnerable to radicalisation. The combination of these two phenomena produces an extremely dangerous risk of extremist officers becoming recruitment agents within our police or armed forces. 

There are a number of steps that must be taken to strengthen our security forces and the safety and wellbeing of our society as a whole. 

Clearly, there is a need to reform the Met Police vetting process to prevent the ease with which Hannam lied about his beliefs by ticking a different box on a form. 

Albeit written in response to the January insurrection in the US, an article published by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) emphasises that an effective counterterrorism strategy requires adequate government capacity and a tailored approach that takes account of specific personal characteristics and vulnerabilities. 

Related to this is the need to adopt a gendered approach to counterextremism that takes account of the role of misogyny in terrorism and gendered differences in radicalisation, and therefore goes beyond a superficial narrative of division and ‘us’ versus ‘them’.

At JAN Trust, counterextremism is one of our main focus areas, particularly the need to take a holistic approach to safeguarding our vulnerable minority communities against radicalisation and hate. Recognising the need to educate as many people as possible on the dangers of extremism, we have created two pioneering initiatives: Web Guardians™ empowers mothers to protect their children and communities against online dangers, and Another Way Forward™ galvanises a whole generation of young women and girls to take an active interest in campaigning against hate and extremism. To find out more, please do go to our websites. 

To support our vital work against extremism in the UK, please considering donating and following all of our social media channels. Together, we can make a society that is united and tolerant of all groups, and a national security system that upholds the diverse values that make our country what it is. 

Posted in Another Way Forward, british, Crime, Extremism, Far right, Hate Crime, MET, Online abuse, Online hate, police, Racism, radicalisation, Radicalisaton, Terrorism, Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Glasgow showed us about community cohesion and positive messaging

A Glasgow community successfully promoting a messaging of tolerance and unity, and freeing their neighbours from Immigration Enforcement emphasises the role of positive messaging in achieving social change. 

Whilst the news and consumers of the news tend to have a negativity bias and may absorb negative events more than positive events — though this theory is now disputed — positive messaging often has more impact in terms of changing minds and effecting social change. It is easy, in the current climate, to become absorbed in the prevalent negativity, but events in Glasgow reminded us that positivity still has the power to transcend divisions. 

Many political analysts have suggested that one reason for Brexit was that the Remain side was too negative with their campaign, and that the positive messaging of Leave appealed more to undecided voters. Often, the aftermath of a failure to win or humiliating losses will entail a discussion of how a candidate didn’t use enough positivity to engage with the electorate. 

This phenomenon is easily transferred from political strategy to social activism; refugee and immigration policy provides a particularly stark example. 

The U.K. has unfortunately been dominated by anti-immigration and xenophobic discourse — whose language does not deserve to be repeated on this platform. However, countering this negativity with more negativity or hard facts on immigration figures — when this is already a highly emotional topic — tends to have little effect. 

Immigration is — to an extent — a political issue, but it can be easy to forget how little connection most people have with the intricacies of policy. Positivity and experiencing immigration first-hand make much more difference.

In May, the Glaswegian ward of Pollokshields garnered national attention when what seemed like an entire community surrounded an Immigration Enforcement van to protest against the attempted removal of two of their neighbours on Eid al-Fitr. The two men were then released. Whilst the sheer numbers of people who came to help was astounding, it is also revealing that most of the messages were on tolerance, antiracism, and community solidarity: this was a protest motivated largely by horror at a contravention of positive principles with little to do with politics or numbers. 

Indeed, Pollokshields is a very diverse area and has four councillors from different parties, so it would be difficult to find a unifying political stance. It is also outrageous that the raid took place on one of the most important festivals for Muslims, but, in a diverse area where not everyone is even Muslim, religion also featured little in the protest. 

The unifying idea was the positive sense of community cohesion and unity, and the sense of members of their community being forcibly removed by the authorities. 

Similar events are understandably unlikely to take place everywhere, but Pollokshields shows the impact that speaking out about the positive effects of immigration and the many wonderful contributions that migrants and refugees can make to our communities can have. Rather than engaging with discourse about whether immigrants are a burden on state resources, we should steer the discourse towards focusing on what they bring — instead, focusing on the positives. 

We at JAN Trust stand in solidarity with all the victims of inhumane immigration raids, and work against hate and intolerance by adopting a holistic approach to countering the negative discourse. Through Another Way Forward™, we educate young women and girls on the dangers of extremism and hate, empower them to take an active interest in such societal issues, and encourage them to make a difference in whichever way they choose. By fostering active discussions in diverse groups, we show our participants the positive value of diversity and the importance of interacting with people from different backgrounds. 

We must start with positivity to make society a more positive place. 

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, BAME, british, Campaign, Campaigning, Citizenship, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, Islam, Muslim, Politics, Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ugly Side of Beauty: Oppression and Appearance

Like many other women, I fell prey to the oppressive standards of beauty. But it is not just mentally exhausting to keep chasing an unattainable ideal: beauty standards are discriminatory and further marginalise the people in society that are already underprivileged.

In my experience, growing up as a woman in a culture that values your looks as much as ours does, you are made aware very early on what the societal expectations for your appearance are. My earliest memory of my mother telling me to have a more ‘ladylike’ posture is from a birthday party at 5 years old, a word that has been repeated to me and many other young girls growing up more times than we can remember. We instil so much value in how women visually present themselves that it’s truly no wonder so many young women internalise that their worth is completely dependent on how they look, and often spend inordinate amounts of time, money, and effort ensuring that they are looking their absolute best at all times. 

From fad diets to always having to buy the trendiest clothes, young girls are constantly pressured into very unhealthy behaviours and beliefs at the expense of their true potential. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being interested in beauty or fashion — which can be incredible creative outlets for self-expression — it is good to ask oneself where your standards of beauty come from and whether they reflect your own values. I found myself questioning the teachings of my own mother about how is acceptable to appear or act like as a woman. Once you start noticing the implicit messages about beauty standards in your own surroundings and more widely in society, it is difficult to ignore how pervasive they are.

Beauty at the cost of justice

For me, breaking free from self-limiting beliefs about beauty standards — albeit a long process, since we are socialised this way since birth — took another level of depth when I made the connection with how beauty is used to oppress not only women, but almost all minorities. Thinking about looks appears a lot less frivolous when interrogated in this way: the perception of ‘proper womanhood’ and how to present or perform one’s gender as feminine can be used as a transphobic standard, for example. Furthermore, our current beauty standards for women stem from colonialism, and remain extremely Eurocentric and racist. We have previously written about colourism and how harmful privileging whiteness as an ideal of beauty is. The racist roots of our beauty standards even extend to food, as diet culture historically labelled non-European cuisines as ‘unhealthy’ and demonised non-white bodies. Fatphobia in our society manifests in not only discrimination of people in larger bodies, but also in soaring eating disorders.

The pressures of beauty negatively affect everyone, even if they are protected from appearance-based discrimination through their various privileges. It is mentally exhausting to constantly keep up with expectations of perfection. Crucially, this is not a fear that exists solely in one’s head: the professional capabilities of politicians who are women are more often judged on the basis of their appearance, whereas their male counterparts do not have to live up to the same expectations. For many women, not paying attention to their external presentation poses a real risk of being exposed to misogyny and marginalisation. Perpetuating insecurity of women benefits the profitable beauty and weight-loss industries, and every time women have somehow gained economic or political power in history, standards of beauty get stricter and stricter. Our current beauty ideals stand in the way of social justice, in both its demands and its power to preoccupy women’s attention from true liberation.

Unlearning beauty oppression

The question that arises is obvious: how do we combat these oppressive beauty standards? It seems clear that so-called ‘choice feminism’, whereby any choice that a woman makes is deemed inherently feminist, as it is assumed as an expression of autonomy without considering the societal conditions and structured behind that decision, is inadequate to counter the pressures of beauty. At the same time, we cannot judge anyone who would rather adhere to standard expectations of beauty to access certain privileges in society: indeed, for some, traditional gender expression can well be a question of life and death. Therefore, rather than attacking anyone who shaves their body hair for instance, we should seek to resist the structural oppression of women, particularly that of women of colour, trans women, and women in bodies that are discriminated against. 

For me, this started with exposing myself to a more diverse range of beautiful people — traditional and social media are saturated by thin, white, able-bodied, wealthy models, so merely breaking away from that can be helpful in diversifying your own idea of ‘beauty’. Moreover, I try to be extremely careful in perpetuating ideals of beauty that are harmful: for example, I avoid commenting on anyone’s body size (including my own) and, rather than paying attention to features that one is born with, try compliment someone’s choice of clothes instead, or something entirely unrelated to their appearance. While we undeniably live in a society where one’s appearance unfortunately does matter and recognising one’s privilege in this sense is extremely important, at the end of the day, we are all way more than our looks. Although I genuinely think that the people I love are beautiful all in their own ways, that is not the reason I think they are amazing people.

We at JAN Trust stand against all kinds of oppression and marginalisation, including discrimination based on one’s looks. Beyond the prevailing beauty standards, we know that for example visible expression of religion is often a reason hijabi women are discriminated against. Women have so much to give irrespective of their looks, and we want to encourage, educate and empower them to harness their full potential. In order to do so, we all must resist marginalisation of people based on their appearance.

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The Degree Gap: Preserving White Advantage

Historically, the education system in the U.K. was designed for and only benefitted White students. Today, although there have been great leaps made since the beginning of the educational systems in the U.K., large disparities still exist between White students and students of colour. In recent years, universities have been tracking the “disparity in the proportion of white students who were awarded a 1st or 2:1, compared to the proportion of Black and Ethnic Minority students awarded the same degree.” This disparity is referred to as ‘the degree gap’. A report done by Advance Higher Education showed that degree gap will not close until 2086 if it continues at the current rate. 

Although the degree gap in the U.K. between Black and White students has been decreasing in recent years, it is not decreasing fast enough. Many have called on universities to do more in order to “dismantle the structural inequality” within universities. Schools in the U.K. need to do more in order to enable students of colour and other disadvantaged students to access resources they need to succeed. If more is not done to close the gap, the status quo of White advantage will continue making life more difficult for already marginalised communities. 

The gap pointedly is not because of lack of intelligence on the part of students of colour, but rather the lack of resources and access to support these students receive once they get to higher education. Even when prior attainment is accounted for, there is still a significant and seemingly unexplained attainment gap between White students and students of colour in universities. Baroness Valeri Amons noted that, “even when BAME students overcome the hurdles that prevent them getting to university in the first place, they do not have an equal chance at succeeding. We are not operating a level playing field.”

The largest gaps exist between White students and Black students, and is prolific throughout all U.K. universities. At 96 of the 97 universities and higher education providers, which tracked ethnicity attainment gaps, Black student attainment is considerably lower than White students. 

Although some universities are worse than others, all universities need to do more in order to close these gaps. Indeed, many universities have made significant strides in closing, or rather shrinking, the degree gaps. The progress from these universities gives hope that more progress can be made in closing the gap when addressed properly. 

Universities UK and the National Union of Students have identified the five most significant steps needed to successfully close the degree gap: 

  1. Providing strong leadership
  2. Having conversations about race and changing the culture
  3. Developing racially diverse and inclusive environments
  4. Getting the evidence and analysing the data
  5. Understanding what works

Discussions around race and racism, although often uncomfortable for many, are necessary to highlight and then break down racial stereotypes, microaggressions, and biases that exist on student campuses. With more effort from universities in the U.K. the degree gap can close, and marginalised communities will able to excel in these environments of higher education as their White counterparts are able to do now. 

In the meantime, JAN Trust will continue its work speaking out against all forms of racism and empower marginalised minority communities. Our mission aims to connect marginalised communities with the resources they need in order to integrate and excel within their greater U.K. communities. Please see more information on our work on our website and donate to support us. 

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The Misuse of the Label “Terrorist”: How governments label people as terrorists without charging a crime of terrorism

The Capitol riots in the U.S. on 6 January 2021 led to outcries from many well-intentioned citizens from both parties to label the white supremacist extremists that stormed the U.S. Capitol as terrorists. Joe Biden, the President-Elect at the time, echoed these claims dubbing the rioters “domestic terrorists”.  Indeed, White people are often not held up to the same media or police scrutiny that BAMER people are. The media’s use of the term ‘rioters’ instead of ‘domestic terrorists’ led to this outcry from people. Many, including the President-Elect, acknowledged that if the so-called rioters were BAMER the response to them from the police and the media would have been drastically different, as shown by the police response to the BLM protests early in the year. 

Although this classification, “domestic terrorist”, when applied to the rioters, may indeed be accurate, expanding the terrorist definition and counterterrorism efforts will only backfire

Since 9/11, the perception of “terrorist” has fundamentally exacerbated racism, especially towards the Muslim community. The portrayal of Islam in Western media has led to deeply damaging consequences to the Muslim community worldwide in how it intrinsically ties Islam to terrorism. The U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have subjected American Muslims to abusive counterterrorism “sting operations”. These operations unscrupulously target these communities based on religious and ethnic identity. The Prevent strategy in the U.K., against which JAN Trust has long spoken out, can be deemed to operate in a similar manner by reinforcing harmful stereotypes, allowing individuals to use their discretion (including personal biases) to determine who is an extremism threat, and legitimising Islamophobia.

Research from Human Rights Watch uncovered that the U.S. government often prosecutes people for activities it labels as terrorism but rarely are the same people actually charged for a crime of terrorism. However, this label, in and of itself, without the crime, becomes damaging. Those who are prosecuted with the label “terrorist” often receive significantly longer sentences than those who are convicted of the same crime without the label.  

Further, countless people have noted that many of those charged with terrorist activities would not have committed these acts if it weren’t for government intervention. In a case dubbed “Newburgh Four” regarding those accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judge noted that the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all the relevant obstacles”. 

The U.K., similarly, has shown an increase in White terrorism over the years. The head of U.K. counter-terror policing noted “the far right as the fastest-growing terror threat in the U.K.” As of 31 Deember 2020, “one in five people behind bars for terror offences in Britain were right-ring extremists.” Despite this fact, there is still a large disparity in U.K. media coverage between the association of “terror” between so-called Muslim and non Muslim perpetrators. A study showed that, “over half of the terms ‘terrorist’, ‘terrorism’ or ‘terror’ were used with the terms ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ – almost nine times more than when the perpetrator was identified with the terms ‘far-right’, ‘neo-Nazi’ or ‘white supremacist’.” 

Misusing the label “terrorist” or, more commonly, overusing the term “terrorist” especially in relation to minority or Muslim communities leaves damaging effects. Expanding the application of terrorism to further encompass White terrorism inescapably gets turned back on communities of colour, even if their intent is White terrorism at first. 

JAN Trust works hard to not only combat extremism but also speak out against all forms of racism and empower marginalised minority communities. JAN Trust aims to protect society from extremist views by educating mothers and young women on the dangers of extremism online. Through social inclusion and empowerment of youth and women we are able to combat radicalisation, extremism and hate. For more information on our work visit our website and donate to support us. 

Posted in Another Way Forward, BAME, Crime, discrimination, Ethnic Minorities, Extremism, Far right, Hate Crime, International, International Affairs, Islam, islamophobia, Muslim, Politics, Racism, radicalisation, Terrorism, Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How do I “go home” when I’m already in the only home I’ve ever known?

My “home”, to racists, is a country where I spent very few years of my life and with which I have extreme culture clash.

From a young age, I was different. I knew I was different. I felt different. I looked different. 

My parents sounded different when they spoke English, and I found myself constantly learning new words that all the other children seemed to already know. 

Everyone did things differently from what I remembered being taught and there were constant reminders that I wasn’t “doing things properly”. 

Most of my friends saw their grandparents regularly and I saw mine for a few weeks every year, if that. For me, my grandparents are close elderly relatives with whom I unfortunately have very little in common and never had the opportunity to develop that emotional closeness. 

As most young immigrant children do, I quickly adapted and ‘assimilated’, but that feeling of ‘otherness’ never really left. It wasn’t helped by the constant reminders that I didn’t quite belong in my country of origin, nor did I really belong here — whether from direct taunts of “go home”, “go back to where you came from” and racist stereotypes, or observing the discourse on immigrants and ethnic minority people. 

Ironically, people who know me well often tell me how ‘English’ I am — I can always complain about the weather, I drink a lot of tea, I default to being very polite if I’m uncertain, and my accent is clearly English. This last characteristic is almost always commented upon. I appreciate it and realise that people often don’t come from a point of malice, but I also don’t think that immigrants who have a non-English accent should be treated any differently.

No, I was not born here, but to me that doesn’t really matter. Other than stories other people have told me, I only have a couple of hazy memories of my life before England, and none of them carry much sentimental value. My close friends come from a variety of backgrounds but almost of none are from the same country or culture I was born into — I find the culture clash gets in the way.

I tested out everyone’s theory when — also partly out of my own curiosity — I spent some time studying in the country where I was born and where most of my family still live, alone, and not with my family, to see what it felt like to actually live there for the first time since my early childhood. 

The results of this experiment: extreme homesickness and a serious decline in mental health that took a couple of years to overcome. 

When my flight landed back in the UK, I looked outside, saw the dreary weather, and felt a sudden sense of relief: I was home. 

For some years now, I have only had British citizenship. Losing my original citizenship hasn’t nearly affected me as much as I thought it would. 

I thought this was all settled, until the pandemic hit, and suddenly anti-Asian hate spiked to unprecedented levels. Lockdown came into effect in March 2020, but, as an Asian woman living alone in London, I had made the decision to go into self-imposed lockdown for my own safety towards the end of 2019 — rarely going anywhere other than my flat, my university, and the local supermarket. By May 2020, the stress of everything caused serious mental ill-health. 

That said, I have still been quite fortunate to have had my life. I am rarely subject to abuse like “go home”, and, even when I am, I am usually secure enough in my own self-confidence and support system to be able to not let it affect me too much — though, of course, it still hurts and I’m pretty sure I have internalised some of it. 

Many young people and women are not as lucky as I am, and that is why I think it is extremely important for me to use my experiences and privilege to make a difference for those who, bar a few coincidences of life, could well have been me. I have had a good education in diverse surroundings with little deprivation. I believe I should know better than to let abuse or discrimination against others slide — particularly when they address ethnicity, gender, or immigration status. 

Funnily enough, the midst of my last mental health crisis is when I joined JAN Trust and found a new purpose. I feel like I have been able to channel my negative experiences into something positive and, although some will always think differently, I have found my home and what makes me feel at home. 

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George Floyd, a year on: has any progress been made?

Whilst the British public wake up to the realities of racism, the government are reluctant to pursue real change.

Over a year has passed since George Floyd was murdered by a police officer on the 25th of May 2020, sparking a summer of protests and a global conversation about anti-Black racism. Floyd’s death became a watershed moment for both publics and politicians, encouraging recognition of systemic racism and discussions over what can be done to turn the tide. But a year on, what progress has actually been made in the UK?

One positive development has been an increase in public awareness and racial consciousness. Constructive discussions about race and racism have dominated British public discourse, with glaring racial discrepancies in educationhealthcarehousing, and the criminal justice system becoming the subject of discussion and debate. Slogans like #UKIsNotInnocent have been used to challenge the idea that the UK is less racist than the US (or not racist at all) and draw attention to our own problems with police brutality and anti-Black violence.

The country’s own unique, UK-specific problems have also been dragged under the spotlight, especially those regarding British history. The toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston became the catalyst for what has been called an “unprecedented public reckoning with the British empire”, prompting efforts towards changing street names and removing statues — including the forming of London’s new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm — as well as campaigns to ‘decolonise’ the British curriculum by challenging the whitewashing of British history and academia. 

Perhaps most important is how these debates are being closely and enthusiastically engaged with by White people, eager not only to confront their own privilege and unconscious biases, but to acknowledge and challenge the system that they both contribute to and stand to benefit from. In other words, there has been a definite swinging of the pendulum towards more authentic White allyship. 

However, the political response has left much to be desired. The UK government’s response has been lukewarm at best, and regressive at worst. Campaigners and politicians alike have criticised the government’s promises to tackle racism in the UK as little more than lip service, undermined by their continuing failure to act on the disproportionate rates of Covid-19 deaths, the 40% rise in the use of racist stop-and-search powers during lockdown, and the ongoing Windrush scandal.

In fact, a former government adviser has warned that the government have no real plans to challenge racism in the UK, and nothing has demonstrated this better than the catastrophic failure that is the Sewell Report — commissioned to investigate the impacts of race in the UK. Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, the report reaches the incredible conclusion that the UK is not institutionally racist after all, and in fact is a beacon of diversity and positive race relations. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have repeatedly argued that we need to “change the race narrative”, implying that they care more about putting a positive spin on things than actually making any changes.

This lack of true commitment has been demonstrated most of all by the introduction of measures that indicate a massive step back in the UK’s approach to racism, rather than progress, suggesting that very few (if any) of the public’s concerns have actually been taken on board. In particular, the controversial Policing, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Bill has been treated as a slap in the face to months of protest over police brutality and demands that funding be rechannelled into community approaches to criminal justice. By increasing police powers such as stop-and-search — which has been proven to disproportionately target Black men — the Bill is placing more power into the hands of an institution that, as campaigners have been tirelessly pointing out, is steeped in racism. 

Nobody believed that racism could be ‘solved’ in a year. Dismantling the structures that uphold racial hierarchy and white supremacy is a continuous process and a long-term goal, that was never going to be achieved by a single 12-month period of protests and dialogue. But, whilst positive progress has been made in terms of public awareness, the government has shown a depressing reluctance to take any steps that would actually pursue structural change. The public may be increasingly on board with the anti-racist mission, but can we ever expect genuine allyship from a government who don’t believe that systemic racism even exists? 

At JAN Trust, we speak out against racism and in solidarity with BAME communities. We have supported marginalised communities for over 30 years and continue to push for political action on BAME issues alongside our community work. 

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Minority athletes and mental health: the price of winning at all costs

What is sacrificed by athletes who overcome racial and gender discrimination to become the almost god-like machines at the pinnacle of their respective disciplines that we see them as?

Our greatest athletes are often praised for ‘keeping their cool’, likened to machines, or hailed as the ‘Greatest Of All Time’ (a ‘GOAT’). This is particularly the case for minority athletes — whether of a minoritised gender, race, religion, or some combination of the three — who overcome the inequalities of structural discrimination and discrimination by the officials, opponents, and critics they face. These athletes, to an extent, are subject to more pressure, with the pressure of the groups they represent and as some of the rare famous figures that look like them. 

We have previously written about the expectation that athletes stick to their sports and do not express opinions outside of sport. 

As most sports have become more diverse and the dialogue surrounding personal struggles has become more open, mental health has also been included in introspective discussions. 

Recently, mental health has come to the fore with the highly controversial nature in which Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open days after announcing she intended to boycott press conferences out of mental health concerns. Whilst the specific method with which she announced her planned boycott was criticised, Naomi herself admitted she could have gone about it better — but, then again, we have all done things we later regretted. More to the point, she revealed serious mental health struggles beyond just the past few months. Revealingly, when asked in the aftermath, Serena Williams commented that she empathised. 

Debates on how to best address post-match questions from the press will likely last some time, but it has reopened discussions about mental health in sports, particularly the mental health of people who have personal characteristics other than male and White, which will expose them to more microaggressions that can be internalised and further threaten mental wellbeing.

At its core is the progress that we still need to make on combatting the stigma associated with mental health — if, for example, Naomi Osaka withdrew because of a chronic leg injury, the response would likely have been very different. 

mental health organisation in the US published a piece about the impact of sport on the mental health of Black athletes: the expectation that athletes can’t be seen as “weak”, particularly for men — which is, itself, problematic — combines with lived experience of consistent racial discrimination by society to create a dual layer of mental health inequality. The problem of stigma is by no means exclusive to American athletes. It is also a problem that affects White men — notably in rugby — but minoritised women face a combined intersectionality of inequalities. 

Gymnastics is now infamous for the toxic culture of abuse and fear throughout the world. British gymnastshave spoken about eating disorders caused by their sport. Katelyn Ohashi, the American gymnast who went viral in 2019 for her perfectly scored collegiate gymnastics routine, was on course to compete in the Olympics before withdrawing and moving to collegiate competition — only doing so after ‘pushing through’ eating disorders and serious physical injuries. 

No one wants to seem weak. Weakness is an obstacle when you have to stay strong in the face of racism, sexism, abuse, physical pain, and the constant questioning of your skills by the well-meaning press. But then, what even is weakness? If anything, it takes a great amount of strength to be vulnerable and open about personal struggles. 

It is undeniable that we need to combat the cultural stigma surrounding mental health, especially when it comes to the mental health of athletes, but we also need to address the structural mental health inequalities — which are associated with many of the same intersectional inequalities that affect physical health — so that, when athletes do feel comfortable seeking help, they can receive the help they need. 

In recent months, we have seen countless examples of minoritised ethnic women being belittled, not believed, or subject to further abuse when they have spoken openly about mental health struggles — there is fundamentally a cultural problem of these women being regarded with suspicion. 

Sport is, to a large extent, a story of survival of the fittest, but at great cost. Whilst many athletes are our idols, we should be mindful of the expectations placed upon them, as they are, ultimately, just as human and vulnerable as the rest of us. We wouldn’t subject our friends or relatives to serious abuse, so we should not be hurling racist abuse at footballers, for example. 

JAN Trust works to combat the issues presented by online abuse by raising awareness of its threats among young women and girls through our Another Way Forward™ workshops. We know that our actions and words all have an impact, and, indeed, we are keenly aware of the entrenched societal inequalities that affect many of our beneficiaries, including mental ill-health

Each of us can make an impact on society through our own words and deeds. We can admire athletes for succeeding, but we cannot forget the cost at which that has come and the immense pressures they’re under. By addressing mental health stigma and mental health inequalities, we can all enjoy life more as a result.

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Following my dreams by helping others follow theirs

One of my main motivations for working in the charity sector is to do my best to help people reach their full potential and be who they want to be. 

It wasn’t until perhaps adulthood that I finally seemed to find my own voice and confidence in knowing who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do professionally. As a child, I constantly succumbed to peer pressure and familial pressure on the kind of person I should be, what I should study, and who I should aspire to become. 

What changed?

With hindsight, I think just gaining confidence and maturity were important, but I was also lucky to come across people who saw something in me and encouraged me, whether they knew it or not. 

Sometimes, all it takes is that one person to have confidence in you and show you what’s possible. Even if I may not actually always meet the people I try to help, I went into charity work because I realised that I wanted to be that source of hope for others — a voice for the voiceless or for those who have had their voice taken away from them. 

I paid very little attention, if any, to charities when I was younger. I hated sponsored events at school because I don’t come from a family that pays much attention to charities. But, the constant was that I always hated just letting things be without questioning why and how these things came to exist. I also never felt like I fitted in and felt alone a lot of the time. 

Ironically, it took my original ‘well thought-out’ plans not entirely going to plan for me to get here. I didn’t get my first choice of A-Level subjects because of timetabling problems, so I switched to Politics from History — and learnt all about how government can be both a force for good and a serious threat to equality. I completed an internship with a big company that turned out to be a terrible personal experience that completely put me off a corporate career, and confirmed that the part of my mind that was saying “maybe you should consider another sector” was probably right. 

As a fairly independent and stubborn — but also lonely and shy — child, sometimes all I wanted was to be free and ‘follow my dreams’, whatever that meant in my young mind. The characters in the many books I read seemed to be able to do what they want. People on TV seemed to be able to do what they want. 

What these people have in common is the availability of opportunity and support. 

I am lucky to come from a background where — whilst not upper-class — I was able to pursue further education without having to make any major, life-changing sacrifices. I was lucky to have had access to opportunities to try out charitable work, even if, at the time, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I was lucky to have gained experience in charities that allowed me to see how I could make a difference whilst also granting me the freedom to be my own person — to be free and follow my dreams. 

I am increasingly aware that this is not the reality for many people, especially children from marginalised, disadvantaged, and minoritised ethnic backgrounds. It took other people paving the way and having faith in me for me to be able to pursue some sense of my dream and aiming towards my full potential. Since I have the passion and knowledge to try to be that source of light for other people, I want to do so, and I will. 

I have had plenty of experiences of discrimination, but I have also been able to build a solid support system and overcome some of those obstacles. I couldn’t possibly imagine the struggles of facing discrimination and abuse every day with no support at all. The fact that I can’t possibly imagine what this kind of life would be like is also the exact reason why I am pursuing charity work — I want as few people to be able to imagine this reality as possible. 

Far too many people are unable to follow their dreams because of discrimination, limited resources, and entrenched inequality. 

I still don’t have an exact idea of where I will be in twenty years, but I know that it will have something to do with making a difference for other people, and that I will be fortunate in having comparatively few struggles in my way. 

Working with JAN Trust lets me pursue my dreams by speaking up for those who can’t pursue their dreams because they have nowhere to turn and are being discriminated against. Charity work can be tiring and isn’t always glamorous, but, at the end of the day, I know I’m making a difference and contributing towards something bigger. 

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, BAME, british, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, Inclusion, JAN Trust, Racism, Representation, Society, We At JAN Trust, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment