Written by Ming Akila with an introduction from Talia Randall
A+S: Could we start with each of you giving us a bit of background about yourself and your practice?
Ming: I’m still trying to get used to answering this question with ‘I’m a storyteller’, even though most of the time it still doesn’t quite make the cut! Storytelling is where all my ideas live and the only way I know how to transform and affect the world around me. It exists at the heart of my music creation with sound art collective Papermache People and has always been the philosophy behind She Is Creative.
Talia: I’m a white writer, performer and facilitator. I work in multiple settings from schools to PRUs to theatres. I might work with a group of young people for a one-off one-hour workshop, a two-day session or a term length project.
A+S: And a quick re-cap of the recent Anti-Racist Practice in Education session you co-facilitated?
TR: As the BLM movement was continuing to grow and gain traction online I wanted to do something meaningful and useful for myself and other facilitators – particularly white facilitators – who felt that there was so much we could do in terms of instilling anti-racist practice in our work. What tools do we use when we work? What inclusion methods and checklists? How are we holding ourselves to account?
I posted on Instagram to see who was interested, turns out quite a few people. A friend recommended an expert to help facilitate the conversation and I was introduced to Ming, a writer, content creator and inclusion consultant (shoutout to Chima Nsoedo for linking us up). So using a little bit of money from an ACE grant I was lucky enough to have, I was able to bring an incredible professional into the space.
After an initial 3-hour zoom session with other writers, educators and cultural workers where we explored our own biases and experiences we’ve committed to meeting monthly and working through exercises to hold each other to account. We may be freelancers and ‘our own bosses’ but ultimately our accountability is to the young people and audiences we work with. If we’re not instilling anti-racist and inclusive principles in our work we’re failing.
But enough from me. Over to Ming, who is going to tell you more about anti-racist practice and her approaches.
MA: Thanks Talia! This was definitely a breath of fresh air for me and the timing was perfect. At the height of what felt like an ‘uprising’ and for the first time in my lifetime a ‘revival’, I realised that now was the perfect time to approach conversations about systemic racism with an exclusively non-BIPOC collective. I use the word ‘collective’ intentionally here, because my next steps were equally as much about educating and facilitating, as they were about solidarity and allyship. It was refreshing to achieve this as part of the work I did with Talia and the participants, where critical-thinking and meaningful discourse had translated into actions and accountability.
A+S: What does anti-racist practice really mean?
MA: I always feel so obligated to answer this question responsibly! Anti-racist practice is rarely a ‘one-size fits all’ approach, so there does need to be some scrutiny into why this question has suddenly become important, and who is going to be affected by the change. Not only that, but anti-racist practice is costly, no one is exempt, and the process saves no one from feelings of guilt, embarrassment or resentment. It also requires individuals, businesses and organisations to be fierce, shameless and empowering.
What is anti-racism? It is not equality and diversity policies and manifestos
Most of what will need to be unlearned, uprooted and dismantled as part of the practice, will hardly ever be understood, especially the first time around. ‘Complicity’, ‘supremacy’ and now even ‘fragility’ are stigmatised words that have connotations to ‘whiteness’ and this needs to be addressed and understood before it can be challenged. If educators can deconstruct racist ideology and intercept the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy of privilege’ safely, then they are always off to a great start.
What is anti-racism? It is not equality and diversity policies and manifestos. Black tiles on an Instagram feed with #blacklivesmatter hashtags. It is certainly not a 24-hour housekeeping exercise, where the objective is to erase more than 45 years of cultural racism. Goodbye Fawlty Towers.
Lack of on-screen diversity is all part our history and our relearning. This is one-sided-erasure that needs to remain in our public domain to act as the precedent for how we have evolved and grown in cultural subdomains and digital communities. Anti-racist practice is also about transparency. It is honesty, virtue and morality.
This is a sagacious process that requires global membership and allegiance to work. It is explaining to all, not just some, that racism isn’t just the KKK, police brutality, and the use of the ‘N’ word. If I can deconstruct overt and covert racism, to the point where participants understand, that a nationalistic president cannot “Make America Great Again”, then I always feel like I am spearheading change and taking our movement in the right direction.
A+S: As a facilitator/educator, how has the recent rise of the BLM movement impacted the way you think about your practice and/or the practice of others?
MA: I will be the first to admit that everyone still has so much to learn, not just white people. For years, most of the invitations I received to facilitate big conversations around racial inequality were almost always an explosive reaction to tragedy. What became apparent to me during the early years of my practice, was that I was always being called upon to respond to instances of ‘blunt force trauma’. An instance of implicit bias had gone a step too far, or there had been an instance of workplace discrimination that had affected a protected characteristic and ended up in court.
My guidance was often over once old wounds had healed, but there was hardly any interest in work such as ‘debiasing’ to avoid the same incident repeating itself all over again. This was just too forward-thinking and innovative and exceeded lines in various budgets. Now, if you’re not having these conversations routinely, you’ll be left behind in a world that is waiting for you to mess up and ready to accuse you of virtue-signalling the moment you try to put it right. I was always asking organisations — or I should say leaders, directors, educators, practitioners, entrepreneurs — to be preventative.
Now is the time to step outside of your comfort zones and create long-term allyship
Post-Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and many more deaths at the hands of police brutality, I am proactively seeking collaborative opportunities with anyone who has the same goals around allyship. There are a lot of third-party conversations happening at the moment, but dialogue needs to be direct and provocative. Conversations need more transparency and ‘change agents’ need bigger and better platforms and more visibility. This is the time for experimental joined-up working, critical thinking, direct access to resources and reliable sources. As a black facilitator, it is important to be working from a place of trust and reliability. Now is the time to step outside of your comfort zones and create long-term allyship through initiatives, incentives and long-term strategy.
A+S: What is ‘unconscious bias’ and how does it affect racism in education?
MA: Unconscious bias is rooted in cognitive science. I say that to scare anyone who is even thinking about co-opting it into a programme of works, or with plans to cover this as part of a syllabus, or a course outline! It requires real mental agility, some academic application and a real interest in a specific niche area of research, such as “what exists at the root of racial stereotyping?” When we discuss unconscious bias with labels, what we are actually saying without really saying it, is, “this charity is suffering from colourblindness”. I can prove that your black trustees were “token hires”. There are instances of your leadership team “fearing people of colour”. This neo-classical building is filled with examples of “cultural appropriation” and only 2% of your staff are “Black African or Afro-Caribbean”. BAME is too generalised. Not only that, but it would be great to look at your diversity and inclusion policies, to see whether it’s all just a cover up, or a genuine call to action that has been “informed by” people who are actually feeling the effects of unconscious bias. “How many people are there in your management team and are they black enough?”.
A+S: What are some ways in which facilitators could share best practice and hold each other accountable?
MA: I am not confident that ‘best practice’ exists just yet, but what does excite me at the moment is this unwavering commitment to bring about real change. White people are passionate, invested and for the first time, championing our causes and securing our narratives. Accountability will work best in small networks and non-judgemental spaces. I also encourage the use of a third party BIPOC facilitator with experience in either; coaching, counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy, to ensure that participants are having protected conversations and feel safeguarded.
A+S: How can Black artists and facilitators make sure they’re protecting themselves and practicing self-care in their work, especially during this time which must bring increased feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted?
MA: There has never been a more pressing time than now, to address the issue of self-care in BIPOC communities. Earlier today in a meeting, without even realising, I touched on feelings of grief and mourning, about things that were outside of my control and impossible to change, but it goes beyond that. This is a great question because basic self-care for black people is micro-meditation after every single micro-assault and micro-aggression. It is about creating new coping mechanisms for virtually every potential interaction, that always seem to appear at unpredictable moments in an evolving ecosystem of new generations and archaic practice. It can be so hard to keep up and white denial leaves no room for negotiation or dialogue.
There has never been a more pressing time than now, to address the issue of self-care in BIPOC communities
I am currently creating a self-care package called #askmeanything which will be launched as part of the work I do with She Is Creative. I am so conscious of the fact, that POC feel overwhelmed and attacked from what is currently a “triple threat pandemic”. These stressors are psychologically harmful and cause chronic, long-lasting and irreversible damage, on top of experiences of cyclical racial hatred, that exist as part of the fabric of white supremacy. The #askmeanything campaign is an anonymous way for non-POC, to ask questions about how to create, support and sustain anti-racist practice and process, without putting pressure on friends, family and work peers.
A+S: From resources to delivery, what are some key things facilitators should be considering when planning a workshop or teaching a session to ensure their practice is anti-racist?
MA: The goal I always recommend educators to strive for is allyship. This will ensure that toolkits are designed to tap into the psyche of white privilege in a way that doesn’t disgrace and dishonour “whiteness”. Looking directly into the eye of a participant, while accusing them of upholding imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy, isn’t going to be rewarding for either party, the wider group or bigger conversations. You’d be better off asking the participant to explain what this all means, in their own way, with their own words, in their own time, followed by exercises.
If the process reduces white people to feelings of shame or scandal, we will only eternalise DiAngelo’s construction of “white fragility”, which achieves nothing but weakness, from both the oppressed and the oppressor. If educators can deconstruct racist ideology and intercept the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy of privilege’ safely, then they are always off to a great start.
A+S: Do you have any recommendations of resources facilitators may find useful in educating themselves further on some of the points discussed here?
MA: Sure, of course!
- Layla Saad: Me and White Supremacy
- Reni Edo-Lodge: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
- Ibram X. Kendi: How to Be An Antiracist
- Ta-Nehesi Coates: We Were Eight Years in Power
- Angela Saini: Superior: The Return of Race Science
- Robin DiAngelo’s: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
A+S: Any must-read/must-watch work by Black poets?
MA: My school of thought for recommendations on ‘ones to watch’ is to put forward one artist at a time! Here she is, the infamous and legendary: Belinda Zhawi
Follow Belinda on Twitter: @mamoyobornfree and Instagram: @ma.moyo
Read an interview, here. Buy her pamphlet, Small Inheritances, here.
Ming Akila is a writer, creative content strategist and lyricist. Her work as an educator, coach and facilitator began in 2010, when she launched her first learning intervention programme for Peabody Trust. A colourful creative polymath, Ming has worked with London’s Southbank Centre, Somerset House and Good Relations PR. Ming is part of the sound art collective Papermache People and the founder of She Is Creative.
Raised on a London council estate, Talia Randall began her artistic career as a participant in community schemes including the Roundhouse Poetry Collective. She has since performed her poetry, comedy and theatre on stages across the UK. Talia currently runs What Words Are Ours? a D/deaf inclusive poetry party and Cassette Tape Radio a comedy and poetry podcast.
Photo credit, Talia Randall: Mike Massaro