- When were you first aware of whiteness and how does whiteness affect you on a daily basis (if at all)?
I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I have only considered whiteness since starting the PgCert. This sounds rather shameful but, I suspect, not shocking. I went to a Secondary school in a predominately black (now Asian) area of East London so I never thought colour of skin was ‘questionable’ or specific. Yes I gave it little thought whilst I worked in Finance when I left school as I had black colleagues, we socialised etc. When I went to CSM to study my BA I noticed the lack of diversity in the College but the term ‘whiteness’ or diversity was never broached. It was middle class, whiteness; 24 of us. The College’s Diversity policy has changed but I suspect that the College’s attitude to money took precedent over diversity when I was a student in the early 90’s. I am frustrated by the ratio of overseas students in relation to BAME students. Does whiteness affect me now? Yes – I give more teaching time (albeit in minutes) to non-white students due to trying to help the attainment figures to improve… I often think this foolish to think how little difference I might make; I think it stems from guilt. I look at the ratio of BAME students and think ‘What can I do to enrol or entice non-white students to start on an Arts Education without any direct contact to schools’? I do help out on the UAL Insights and WP programmes which have helped open possibilities for BAME students and to see some students enrol at BA level energises me to do more.
- What actions do you take to practice anti-racism?
Racism at the Foundation Centre? Does my whiteness blind me to micro aggressions or deafens me to imperceptible mutterings? I treat everyone as I would like to be treated; with respect and understanding, with empathy and kindness. The Prevent Duties have led to presentations in the Class that would not have, previously, appeared to have a relevance; we are now sharing our concerns, sharing our ideals and our students lead the way.
- How do you manage the trauma of seeing evidence of hate practices and crimes (environmental/personal lives/educational setting/media)?
I get very upset. I ask myself how can humans be so cruel to each other. But I feel powerless and too insignificant to help change. I have never witnessed any race crimes in person but have witnessed gender hate crimes. My empathy steps in to help victims but rarely have I gone to the source for fear of violence. I have fought with words rather than fist. The trauma fades due to ‘life’ taking over… yes; I’m aware that this is self-protection which doesn’t help the victim or the repeat of the crimes.
- Have you recognised or identified ingrained beliefs that stem from whiteness in yourself (environment and/or personal lives or educational setting) and what does this mean to you?
I had many black friends at my Secondary School. We were streamed like a secondary school. My friends were CSE, I was in O’Level class. I was aware of how many more black students there were in the 2 CSE classes compared to the 2 predominantly white cohort O’Level classes. I was naive and didn’t question this but assumed that the students parents showed little interest in them. They were mostly interest in Sports education rather than academic subjects. I ignorantly put this down to genetics not thinking for one moment that I was being taught by white, middle class teachers who had not thought of the difference in our backgrounds, how role models were mostly, if not all, white in History, Sciences, Arts, Language, Religious and Maths classes. Now working in Theatre industry I have seen a gradual change in perception of colour (and gender and sexuality). It does not represent the national ratio but at least, at present, it is moving in the right direction. Several productions I have designed have been written for Black Actors but so few are ‘available’ and therefore black actors are in high demand that white actors have been cast instead – so the work is there but there are simply not enough BAME actors.
- Where in the Creative curriculum have you or would you consider topics surrounding whiteness or construction of race?
I could ask the students if they have had any discussions in their previous education as to race and whiteness or if studying in Higher Education is the only place that it has been mentioned. How do we deal with whiteness without patronising white students into guilty conscientious or is that simply the point? To re-dress the balance; to challenge the unchallenged? To make visible the visible?
- Had you either experienced or witnessed the effect of micro aggressions and how did you manage it?
I was advised of 2 Lecturers working in Design Department at Foundation Centre who wanted to mix up the class so that the students could talk to each other, or talk to those that had not spoken together before. The students who were mixed up were, predominantly, Chinese who rarely spoke English in the class. The 8 Chinese students who all sat together were asked to sit with “someone else in the class” knowing that they were being asked to sit with someone who did not speak Mandarin. The brief was set but within 30 minutes the 8 students had returned to their original table and they worked together on the project. An act of impassive micro aggression on behalf of the Lecturers or is this more to do with communication skills and timidity than racism? I would like to engage with International students far more than I feel I am able at present. I need to find a way of ensuring that the students are comfortable and in a safe environment to allow this and to are able to feel included in the class.
- Where does whiteness sit within a post-racial world?
It is NOT a post-racial world. We look to America and realise whiteness has stepped back onto the podium. We look to our own Parliament and realise that the UK puts Sexism before Racism. Whiteness in European Countries will take several more generations to shift…
Having Shade of Noir as a reference point helps tutors, students, academics, businesses and bystanders to share approaches, start conversations, air unspoken truths and make the visible visible. By having a digital interface to refer students to (especially the live Tweet feed) will help acknowledge the changes that still need to be made. Allowing the students to share their heritage, their experiences and backgrounds and to use these to inform their own work regardless of the briefs that have been set could open up everyone’s understanding and development. By sharing we become stronger. By opening up my references and modifying my teaching practice I would hope to have an influence in levelling the playing field for everyone. There are many avenues to reference and research in this goal; Responsibility of whiteness, Experience of whiteness, White fragility, Transcending racial oppression, Pedagogies of social justice, White privilege, Creative cultural currency, Institutional racism, Colonisation, White ally-ship, Micro aggressions, Creative liberalism. I can no longer hide behind naivety or ignorance.