Reset and Research

I’m a strong believer in being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right person in the right season. I spend a lot of time encouraging, motivating and supporting others. But at times, I meet people who without realising do the same for me.

This happened on Sunday. I attended my local church, New Testament Church of God, it was Youth day and a guest preacher Rev Nerissa addressed the congregation.  Her message was directed at the youth, but I got a lot from it.  What particularly stood out for me and is the focus of this post was her take on the prefix ‘RE’ from a spiritual perspective.

Before I begin, I would like to give some context to this post.

Between the 2nd and 3rd April 2020, I will be presenting a poster and article entitled: Black women in leadership: The Complexity of Intersectionality, at the Third International Convention on Gender Research – University of Reading. The study was a continuation of my Ph.D. researcher, Defining Our Experience: A Psychosocial Analysis of the Racial, Gendered and Subjectivity of Black Women Employees in the British Prison Service. This study was converted into an academic book: Black Women Prison Employees: The Intersectionality of Gender and Race, published in 2018, by Edwin Mellen Press.

My article and poster have been peer-reviewed and accepted. I had planned to update my article by publishing my research findings. Unfortunately, I have faced several barriers and challenges from my chosen organisation and have not been able to undertake my research.

There are times when good ideas are dismissed and ignored. Studies have shown that black scholars’ ideas and research are more likely to be rejected when the focus is on race/ethnicity issues, because of the colonisation of the curriculum and structural racism/sexism within organisations. So, I was not surprised by the rejection, but I was disappointed.

Don’t be deterred!

The ‘RE‘ words were just what I needed to realign my focus and move around the barriers I am currently facing. So, I am sharing them today because I strongly believe they will inspire and motivate other scholars who may be facing similar challenges.

There are many words with the prefix RE. I will be discussing six: Reignite; Reenergise; Reinvent; Rethink; Rework, and Rebuild because these are the words that I have decided to apply to my situation.

Reignite – There may be times when the flame which once burned brightly metaphorically speaking, flickers and needs reigniting to shine brightly again. The flame is your passion. When you feel passionate about your project you will find a way to negotiate, amend, or move to a different institution to complete it.

I have decided to pursue a different project in a different organisation. Look out for my updates.

Reenergise – Life, work, responsibilities can take its toll. I’ve noticed recently how I have had to discipline myself to prioritise my time to ensure I have work-life balance. The energy and drive I once had for my original project were seeping slowly away because I was distracted with work commitments and wanting to follow my original plan, even though it had been rejected. However, now that I have redirected my interests into a new research project, I’m feeling reenergised and excited.

Reinvent – My interest in black women working in white patriarchal organisations has not diminished. I completed my PhD because I wanted to make black women employees visible in HM Prison and Probation Service. I have achieved that through my research and publication. I recognise black women work in different sectors and have similar and different psychosocial experiences depending on the dynamics of the organisation and the reality, not policy on inclusivity. For my own growth, it is time for me to move on and take my innovative thinking and revolutionary ideas and talents elsewhere.

Rethink – I’ve realised how easy it is to become complacent and comfortable. I was in a state of institutional paralysis. In simple terms, I was focused on my current organisation, overlooking other organisations interested in embedding inclusive practices for all staff, and the opportunity to work collaboratively with others interested in my area of expertise.

Rework – I now accept the barrier I’m currently facing as a blessing in disguise. Because it has forced me to think beyond my organisation and rework and rethink my current study interest.

I still have an interest in black women’s positioning in white patriarchal organisations. My new study will still focus on black women in leadership from an intersectional and organisational psychodynamic perspective, but within a different organisation.

Rebuild – I have built and established a network as a result of my study. I aimed to draw on this network to recruit participants to take part in my original study. Now that I have changed my research focus, I plan to rebuild my network in different sectors. It will be a challenge and take time, but I am looking forward to meeting black women from other organisations.

My recent discussion with a new sponsor from a different organisation was fruitful. I am looking forward to working beyond the carceral space (a term discussed in my book).

To summarise, do not be disheartened if your ideas are rejected. Apply the prefix RE to your situation, have faith and persevere.

You will succeed!

Study Tips 2020

I have not posted as frequently as I should over the last 6 months, for several reasons. a) I started two new jobs within a month of each other and needed the time and headspace to adjust. b) I am currently defending my academic and professional reputation. c) Adjusting once again to being a mother of an independent black man. d) Fulfilling my role as a dutiful wife. e) And undertaking all my other responsibilities and commitments.

In all honesty, I have not felt comfortable taking this infrequent break from posting because in 2017 I made a commitment to use my blog to encourage and support others, specifically black women and girls in higher education and the workplace. So I apologise for slipping.

I was reminded of my purpose recently when I was asked to mentor three new clients.  All young black women, one is in her first year at university, the other has started studying her a-levels, and the third is working in a graduate role.  They are experiencing different issues from racial isolation to managing priorities, time management, and working independently.

They all have one thing in common, they were struggling to transition into a new chapter (metaphorically speaking) in their life journey.  Entering a new domain, whether its college, university or a job can cause anxiety and discomfort. We can easily forget what it feels like to enter the unfamiliar when we are comfortable in our current position.  So my advice to those who are transitioning into something new and may not have a mentor is as follows.

Be proactive

Seek out information that will help you to adjust to your new learning environment and balance your personal life. Do you need to adjust your working hours, if you are in employment to fit with your study timetable? If you are not living on campus, plan your route to ensure you do not miss lectures.  Join the different societies and make connections with other students on your course.

Take control of your learning

We have spent a large proportion of our education being ‘spoon fed’ information. Where you are spoken to by the teacher, tutor or lecturer. You now have the opportunity in further and higher education to steer your learning. Make the most of the different ways to learn. It doesn’t have to be restricted to the classroom.  And do not be afraid to ask questions during the session.  It’s pointless leaving a lesson not understanding what you have been taught.

Time management

Managing your time is one of the most important skills you will need to develop while studying if you want to avoid missing deadlines. Time management is not only about giving yourself enough time to start and finish your assignments. It is also about using time effectively. For example, taking public transport can be used to read, or use your smartphone to do your own research while commuting. Google scholar is accessible anywhere.

Forming relationships

You are not alone when you start a new course or a new job. We all feel anxious and out of place. Speaking to people, just by saying hello breaks down barriers and builds your confidence.  This will ultimately help you to form effective working relationships.

Setting goals

It is important to set short and long term goals as this will motivate you during the difficult times when you feel bombarded with work. Your goals act as the finishing line, using the marathon analogy.  I have run the Brighton marathon three times. The last 6 miles were always the hardest. It’s at this point the spectators cheer “you’re nearly there” but the end seems unreachable, but you keep going anyway because your goal is to complete the marathon. Your immediate goal when you start a course is to be awarded your qualification, you’ll do it if you keep going.

You are not alone.

Many women and men have gone through similar situations before us. From a personal perspective, I found taking the time to meet people, talk to people, especially women of my own reflection, who were few and far between during my academic journey, made me feel less isolated. I literally sought out black women academics and black women in different sectors just so I could learn about how they overcame racial isolation and racial micro-aggressions.  By talking to these women I was able to draw on their energy and quickly learned I was not alone.

Authentic lecturing

In my true innovative fashion, I decided to deliver a lecture on autoethnography.

Why? Because this approach allows me to capture and analyse my emotional response to situations and events. Plus, I’m interested in this approach and I wanted to introduce this research method to my students.

Autoethnography incorporates the personal (auto) the cultural (ethno) while describing and analysing (graphy) a phenomenon. I applied an autoethnographic approach during my PhD journey as a means of self-reflection. My first autoethnographic publication entitled Reflections of a black woman practitioner-researcher was published in the Qualitative Research in Psychology Journal, February 2018. It was a special edition and by chance, I came across the journal’s advert seeking abstract submissions. It’s important to understand your purpose and to grasp opportunities when they arise. I will explain why.

I can recall fond memories of my numerous conversations with my supervisor Dr Gail Lewis about the use of poetry in qualitative research. While she would remind me to focus on my academic writing, I was determined to incorporate poetry in my research as data.

At the time autoethnography was not widely recognised as a methodology. I guess because it challenges canonical ways of doing research. My supervisor, in advising me to remain within the traditional academic writing style, which follows a particular tone, using formal and objective language, was fulfilling her duties to ensure my thesis was at the appropriate standard, but she encouraged me to investigate the application of autoethnography in qualitative research. I am forever grateful for her approach to guiding me. I respected her because she was direct, culturally aware and racially yoked. Even now three years after being awarded my Doctorate, when I write I remember her advice.

For those who me personally, it is no surprise that I remained steadfast in wanting to incorporate autoethnography into my study and I was determined to find a way. I had to investigate the validity of the approach and teach myself about the application of this method in qualitative research. The true essence of being a Ph.D. researcher. My tenacious attitude paid off. I incorporated autoethnography by including a self-reflective chapter within a psychosocial framework. I also begin every chapter of my thesis with one stanza of a poem, which I had to justify, but in doing so, I felt empowered because I taught myself about autoethnography.

Through my lecturing, I aim to instill in my undergraduates a hunger to explore and analyse what they are being taught. I encourage them to be independent learners and researchers. I want them to question concepts and theories, think about their application and how they can be used to analyse their own work-based practice.

Ethnography, in my opinion, is a perfect tool to help undergraduates to apply reflective practice techniques.  My aim in writing this post is to raise the profile of this methodological approach. What I enjoyed about delivering the autoethnographic session was drawing on my own work, the article I referred to earlier and contents from my book entitled Black women prison employees: The intersectionality of gender and race.  By using my own work I was inspiring my students. This is the main reason why I chose to complete my Ph.D. and decided to lecture part-time. My purpose is to make a difference in higher education and inspire others to do the same. But most importantly, having the autonomy and confidence to be authentically BLACK and WOMAN!

The woman in the mirror

When we allow limiting thoughts, other people’s low expectations and misconceptions about our capabilities, purpose, etc, to enter our psyche, inertia seeps in leading to stagnation, demotivation, and helplessness.

We can easily find ourselves suffering from ‘BLAMEUS’ a made-up word but nonetheless, I’m using it to describe when a person becomes fixated on blaming others for their lack of progression, success, and self-fulfillment.

Look in the mirror. No, look in the mirror and you will see that the woman/man in the mirror is you. You have the power to determine your destiny, how you react, feel and allow your current situation to affect how you feel about yourself.  Irrespective of your gender, race, and class, you have ‘power’. Power to influence, the power to make changes, the power to accept/reject your situation.  As long as you have breath you have power, power power.

Remember Nelson Mandela? He was incarcerated for 27 years, but his mind, his thoughts, his dreams of freedom remained intact. His oppressors failed to destroy his dream, his ambitions, and his purpose.  He was inaugurated as the country’s first black president on 10th May 1994, at the age of 77. The man who was once a prisoner became president.

This shows that irrespective of our gender, race, class, or our situation, we have power over ourselves, our thoughts and aspirations. You may find yourself in the depth of adversity, banging your head on the concrete ceiling, or in the thrust of oppression. But remember you have power.

The problem is that we do not necessarily exert our power in a productive way.  For example, you may find yourself in a situation at work where you have been overlooked for promotion, your contribution and views are being ignored, or you may be in a situation where you feel there is no positive outcome.

Where there is a will, there is always away. My Grandmother’s words of wisdom. Or how about a Yoruba proverb:

Ubee eese l’use, onen yo gbe jake oun o se l’use.
Translation: A good beginning is of no value unless one perseveres to the end.
Meaning: He who perseveres to the end will be rewarded

To overcome challenges, adversity and difficult times require perseverance as well as resilience. These are terms bandied about and occasionally used interchangeably.  They mean different things. When you continue to put in the effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, challenges, or opposition, you are persevering. While resilience is shown by your ability to brush yourself off and recover from or adjust to misfortune or adversity.

For those of us who bear the scars of gender and racial oppression, we are testaments of resilience and perseverance.  Personally, I have and continue to draw on my arsenal of tools, support, and energy from my many BWA – Black Women Amazons, who remind me of the power within to move from the valley to the top of the mountain, metaphorically speaking.

Therefore, if I can keep going through trials and tribulations, and apply my power within to maintain my sense of purpose, continue to pursue my dreams, and fulfill my aspirations when others attack me. Then draw strength from my words – you have power and you will overcome.

Traveling while Black

I decided to write this post after reading my husband’s poem about his experience of staying at a plush hotel in Southern England.  It was quite sad listening to the stanzas that echoed the pain of racial isolation in recreational spaces owned by the dominant racial group.

I have lived in white areas and worked in predominantly white organisations for over 20 years. So, I had become accustomed to being the sole black person in these environments.

However, the sole black person phenomenon became exponentially obvious when I began traveling with my husband and black family/friends to European countries, but more so when we go for walks in my local towns and villages.

The stares are blatant and uncomfortable. We receive stares from white people of different age groups. For those who have traveled while being black, you’ll understand the look. 😲 Mouth open, neck crooked and eyes bulging as though a black person has never trodden the pavement. In fact, the looks received frequently make you feel as though you are an alien from a faraway place.

Now, I could assume when abroad that the locals may not have seen a black person before. However, when you receive the same looks when traveling in the UK, river thamesI find myself asking the following question:

Have attitudes really changed from the ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ signs in British pub windows and houses of yesteryear?

I’m not sure. There are some white people who may have a genuine curiosity when they meet a black person for the first time. I have engaged with individuals who have declared I was the first black person they had met and spoken to in the UK, not abroad, but here, the country of my birth. While there are others who have displayed hostile attitudes, as though ‘we’ as black people have no right to enter certain towns, villages, and businesses in the UK.

It is easy to make the assumption that traveling while black in Europe and in the UK, encountering curious stares or hostility from white people, is a form of everyday racism. But are these situations in Europe and the UK the same? Before I continue with my discussion, let me first explain what I mean by everyday racism. Everyday racism is more than individual prejudice, or discreet acts of discrimination. It’s the manifestations embedded in practices, artifacts, discourse, and institutional realities. Brown et al (2003) eloquently assert that everyday racism is akin to the water in which fish swim.

Another question. Do all non-white people experience everyday racism in the same way? I can recall while conducting my interview for my book: Black Women Prison Employees: The Intersectionality of Gender and Race. I interviewed a participant – Raisa, a British Asian woman, who had explained that she had never experienced racism until she worked for HM Prison Service. I have met other men and women of Asian descent who have informed me that they have not experienced racism. There has always been an assumption made by the dominant group that all non-white people experience inequality in the same way. Clearly, they do not.

Now the 2011 Census, showed that 19.5% of the UK population were from non-white groups (Race Disparity Group, 2018). So there are plenty of non-white people dispersed across the UK, and we do not all live in large cities. But don’t be quick to assume the demographics of the different ethnic groups are the same. Or like my friend, when I was discussing writing this post, had made the assumption that people of black Caribbean and/or African descent were the largest group. We are not.

People from Asian ethnic groups make up the second-largest percentage of the population (at 7.5%), made up of Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, and Asian other. Followed by Black ethnic groups (at 3.3%), which comprise: African, Caribbean and Black other. Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups (at 2.2%) and Other ethnic groups (at 1.0%).

Similar to the variation in numbers amongst ethnic groups, there is a difference in the experience of inequality and everyday racism amongst black and Asian people in the UK. Unfortunately, UK policymakers, organisations, individuals, etc tend to treat ethnicity and race as a monolithic concept, in which all those who are non-white share the same experience of inequality. This approach acts as a means to minimise the diversity that exists amongst different ethnic groups.

I strongly believe there is a need for a new way of understanding, theorising and addressing the ways non-white people are affected by everyday racism. And for policymakers to recognise the inadequacy of treating all non-whites as a homogenous group. For this reason, I have continuously advocated for a bridge to be developed between policymakers and academics, as there appears to be a lack of understanding that ethnicity and race are socially constructed in different ways, and therefore explain different aspects of inequality within different conditions, context, relationships, etc (Valdez, 2017).

I had planned to give a few tips on how to remain safe, and comfortable when traveling while black. But I got distracted when I began to think about the difference in the experience of everyday racism between black and Asian people. I am of the opinion that everyday racism is the root cause of the negative experience we encounter as black people when traveling. I strongly believe there is a need for intersectionality to be used as a psychological framework for understanding multiple social identities. And until this framework is applied across disciplines, we as black people will continue to encounter everyday racism when traveling while black.

References

Brown, M. K., Carnoy, M., Currie, E., Duster, T., Oppenheimer, D. B., Shultz, M. M., & Wellman, D. (2003). Whitewashing race: The myth of a color-blind society. Los Angeles: University of California Press.