OU blog

Personal Blogs

light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

Dominating characteristics

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Wednesday, 6 Sep 2023, 14:33

I was writing something about people with what I was calling 'dominant' characteristics, to distinguish these from 'protected characteristics' (EHRC list of 'protected characteristics'). I didn't feel comfortable with the term and had a closer look at it. I felt that by calling them 'dominant', I was supporting the idea that these characteristics just (always already) are more powerful. Maybe some might argue that by calling for those with 'dominant characteristics' to be mindful, we are being a Nanny State - why should those with stronger characteristics take care around those who are more vulnerable? What about 'survival of the fittest'? Of course I feel that 'the fittest' are usually those who have beenunfairly fitted up before the start with strong advantages over less empowered 'Others'. 

I thought it might be more helpful to say 'dominating characteristics'. That gets across that these are ways of being which enforce themselves as powerful, onto those who have characteristics which mean they need support and protection - because they are being unfairly positioned as 'subordinate', not because they are of themselves 'vulnerable'. 

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

From Intersectionality to Articulation

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Wednesday, 6 Sep 2023, 14:42

(I mainly talk about issues for global majority people here, alongside other protected characteristics – rather than attempt even-handed discussion of all the protected characteristics. Race politics is the lens I am most focused to look through just now, particularly because it seems as if this is a peculiarly deeply entrenched privilege/prejudice in society and in our Higher Education institutions.)

Interest and use of the concept ‘intersectionality’ has increased exponentially since Crenshaw (1989) first introduced this key term, building on Black Feminist Standpoint theory and Critical Race Theory. (A good account of Standpoint Theory can be found in Harding, 1986, and there are articles about Critical Race Theory on OpenLearn’s Race and Ethnicity hub.) ‘Intersectionality’ has been key in opening our minds to the understanding that discriminations (and also privileges) do not happen one at a time, that many people may be subject to many different prejudiced perspectives of our position in society all at once.

Here I would like to suggest we might build on Crenshaw’s concept, to introduce the idea of ‘articulation’. Intersectionality identifies the multiplicity of issues faced by Black women or Black lesbian women or LGBTQ people with a disability. ‘Articulation’ can help identify how to overcome ways privilege operates to silence and contain people with protected characteristics. From identifying ‘intersectionality’, we could move to asking: “Are we enabling articulation?”

Definition of key term: articulation.

‘Articulation’ has two meanings:

  • Speaking, putting into words;
  • Two or more things connected in a way which allows them to move together.

Both of these are restricted for people experiencing ‘intersectionality’.

Example 1: class and ethnicity

For example, class privilege, in particular, sometimes works to over-write or speak over the top of other protected characteristics. Class privilege already of course means that those from upper/middle class backgrounds are articulating at the expense of those from lower/working class backgrounds, however I want to focus here on how privileges articulate together to strengthen other privileges.

Those from global majority backgrounds might appear to have the same social networks as global minority people from the same socio-economic class background. However, we are not always able to articulate – in the sense of speak our points, and in the sense of move together fully joined up in society – as easily as global minority people. Where social networks are based more on class identity than ethnic community, upper class people of global majority backgrounds, or from LGBTQ communities, or with a disability, may be treated with initial suspicion until emphasising an accent or talking loudly about where we were at school/college proves our credentials. Even then we may not be regarded as full members of that network. Those who are successful in negotiating upper class dynamics of power relations usually have a deep understanding that people with protected characteristics are not as powerful as those with the full set of privileged identities, and therefore not as useful in the network (‘social capital’, as Bourdieu would call it). They are therefore less likely to engage as closely (“articulate”) with those with protected characteristics.

The increased anxiety of those with protected characteristics to prove credentials in an upper class social network with the advantages this offers, also works to further instate socio-economic class privilege.

Global majority working class people, too, are often counted as from Black, Asian, minority ethnic communities, separate to working class communities. Global majority working class and global minority working class people are pitted against each other by campaigns which try to persuade global minority working class people that global majority people are unfairly taking jobs, housing and other resources. This disguises the fact that the funding for social resources is being unequally distributed across class lines, not race lines.

Example 2: ‘white saviour’ behaviour

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

(Lilla Watson, drawing on thinking of an Aboriginal Rights Group she had belonged to in Queensland, at the 1985 United Nations Decade for Women Conference, Nairobi.)

In ‘white saviour’ behaviour, by stepping in to ‘help’, people take up a position of privilege they belong to and ‘reach down’ to those below them. In so doing, they re-state their power. The very act of ‘helping’ paradoxically fails to offer full articulation to those they want to support. When those in a position of power speak for them, the authentic voice of those being ‘helped’ is over-talked by the voices of the powerful. Those in power move for them. Those with a protected characteristic are not enabled to engage in “articulation”, either in speaking for ourselves or making our own moves.

This is not diversity, but the co-option of diverse voices into dominant power and culture. As an example in Higher Education, we see this when research projects are conducted about those in a position of disadvantage by those in a position of privilege, for which the researcher may both earn a salary/fee and gain kinds of cultural and social capital that enable them to advance their career. Meanwhile, those they are writing about have their views expressed at second hand, and are not necessarily enabled to articulate beyond that.

The researcher may genuinely hope their project will lead to change, but figures about the issues faced by global majority communities during the recent pandemic indicate that we have not come very far, very fast in tackling racial/ethnic disadvantage. Even during the 1980s, for example in the 1982 collection of essays: The Empire Strikes Back (CCCS, 1982), researchers like Errol Lawrence were speaking critically of the way: “sociology generally and ‘race/ethnic-relations’ sociology too, are top-heavy with white personnel” (p.131). Of course it is important for global minority staff to take up a perspective which recognises issues of race politics, and to do work to tackle privilege/prejudice in their own field of study. However, it is now 40 years since The Empire Strikes Back was published. We do not seem to have moved very far during those four decades towards ensuring that global majority academics have equal opportunities even to research and write about the issues we and members of our own communities face.

One way of enabling articulation for global majority communities, then, is to look to create opportunities for members from those communities to do paid research that supports their career advancement. We can do this partly by mapping the researchers involved in these studies. If we are seeing that this research is being done by disproportionate numbers of global minority people, we should ask how it is that they are being enabled to articulate through this research. What is preventing us from recruiting more global majority researchers to the work? What could we do to enable better articulation for global majority researchers, and thereby communities, in this work?

A positive example of enabling articulation in Higher Education

One way of working to do this is the 100 Black Women Professors programme. Identifying that only 35 (now 41 61) of 22,000 Professors are Black women shows us the impact of intersectionality in Higher Education. Engaging directly with the teams who manage Black women who aspire to be Professor, the 100 Black Women Professors programme enables universities to understand how privilege/prejudice might form a barrier for groups of staff with a protected characteristic. Working together towards mutual liberation, enables Black women in particular and hopefully more staff who face similar barriers, towards articulation with and within the institution.

 A positive example of articulation, intersectionality at work.

See description in text.

Picture of a powerpoint slide that says:

A note of hope.
Pilgrim, 2000, p.144

Fashanu’s coming out was an iconic moment for a black lesbian and gay movement which had learnt from black and feminist politics and had experienced a decade of autonomous organisation. The Sun – at the heart of New Right discourse – was beyond reach, but The Voice was speaking the language of a black politics which had been inflected by a feminist understanding of plurality, and it could be addressed in that language. Just as racism can work to support homophobia, pluralist anti-racist discourse could be articulated to speak for gay rights.

I offered this quote from my PhD thesis in a recent talk I gave about Justin Fashanu and the exposé of his sexuality in the media. I discussed how a group calling themselves Black Gays and Lesbians Against Media Homophobia put pressure on The Voice newspaper, by pointing to the equalities policies of local government who were substantial funders of The Voice through placing job adverts with them. They were able to persuade the newspaper to change its editorial line to one that was supportive of the Black gay community of the time.

The Sun newspaper remains beyond the reach of equalities, diversity and inclusion activism. However liberal institutions are at least starting to recognise the detriment which privilege embedded in their own systems: systemic prejudice, institutional racism, causes to those with protected characteristics. There is uncertainty about how to move from a ‘white saviour’ mode, however the recognition that tackling prejudice and discrimination will not be straightforward or simplistic is a start.

To move on from this start, I suggest that we need to think not just about publishing pay gap data, and hearing from those whom the institution fails to resource, support and promote. The institution needs to think about what will enable articulation for all staff.

Fit with academic theory

In terms of academic theory, ‘articulation’ fits well in postmodern thinking. There are many tropes based around speech or text which are used to consider gender/sexuality (Butler using Austen’s “speech act”), and power in general (Foucault on “discourse”). The Marxist Structuralist thinker Althusser’s concept of “interpellation” of identity is also often used in postmodern thinking.

Bourdieu’s ‘habitus’ also has congruence with an idea of ‘articulation’. I have referred here to two of Bourdieu’s four forms of capital: social and cultural. As well as economic capital, Bourdieu talks about a fourth form: symbolic capital. Symbolic capital is what the other kinds of capital translate into if they are legitimated. We all have social networks, but not all of them have the kind of power and influence that means they can translate from social capital into symbolic capital. Articulation is perhaps the means by which other forms of capital translate into symbolic capital.

(Cardiff, 2022/ edited 2023)


(Some) references:

Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (1982). The Empire Strikes Back. London: Routledge.s

Crenshaw, Kimberle (1989) "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics," University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989, Article 8. Available at: https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8

Harding (1986). The Science Question in Feminism. Cornell University Press.

 Pilgrim, A.N. (2000). Feeling for Politics: the translation of suffering and desire in black and queer performativity. PhD thesis. Goldmsiths College, University of London.

 


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

Mum

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Friday, 22 Feb 2019, 21:06

This is my mum, who passed away suddenly last year. It would have been her birthday last Monday. I took four days off, although this is the busiest time of the academic year for me, with New students just submitting their first assignment and three cohorts of students from the autumn, many catching up after a long winter of illness, house moves, births and bereavement. (Marriages are usually in the summer.) Teaching mature students, I sometimes feel that a pageant of life worthy of the pen of Chaucer moves through the requests for support that come into my email in-box. 

When I say that I took four days off, two of the days were the weekend and one was my normal day off - usually at this time of year I would be working all the way through. In Camus's L'Etranger, the protagonist asks for a day off to go to his mother's funeral and, thinking his boss is looking strangely at him, apologises for the inconvenience. A stranger to normal human sociability, he can't comprehend emotion in his life. Increasingly, though, I notice colleagues and students apologising when the most difficult circumstances interrupt our work and studies. I myself found it very hard to get time off when mum died. So partly I am using this blogpost to appeal to people to be more understanding, to be more vocal in our support to colleagues who need time to come to terms with loss and other difficulties. I'm not surprised at the rise in mental health issues when I see how we are expected to be Strangers to emotion in the workplace. 

Black and white photo of Japanese woman in 1950s western dress

My second reason for writing about mum is to continue my account of racism in Higher Education which I began in my last blogpost. Thinking about mum gives me hope for the future. My own working life has not been at all easy, however I have had a much better time than my mum. Although mum lived a good and interesting life, travelling extensively with my dad and we three children, and her own mother, she never secured an academic job. In 1960s Britain, her qualifications and experience were completely discounted with no legislation to support her if she felt discriminated against. 

My mum was a young child in World War II (subsequently she wrote a book about her experiences). Afterwards, she became a student at Tokyo University. This is a spectacular achievement even today, and for a woman at that time was remarkable. She then won a Fullbright scholarship to go to the States and study with Margaret Mead. The States was an unsympathetic environment at that time for anyone Japanese, and mum made up her mind to go back to Japan, however Margaret Mead suggested she go to Cambridge. In Cambridge, she had tea with E.M. Forster and she was one of the first women to eat in the dining hall at King's College (women previously were allowed to watch men eating from a gallery above the dining hall). Later, I was to become one of the first generation of women to study at King's, and I used to sit and look up at the gallery and think of her. 

Travel then was a much less common experience than now. Mum went to the States from Japan by ship. 

Japanese lady in elegant western dress holding bouquet of flowers and waiting to board a ship Young Japanese woman sitting on floor typing. Above the photo it says 'Jan 58'.

When dad asked mum to marry him, she had to decide to make her life in the UK - although eventually she did travel all round the world accompanying him in his work across Africa and Asia. He tried to get her some work experience, but her intelligence and achievements were not highly regarded. Later on in life, people would continue to talk down to her. I'm sorry to say I was myself dismissive towards her, as I had got used to correcting her pronunciation since the age of three. (I still struggle to say Fullbright properly.) 

Mum was hugely proud of me. As soon as I had successfully got through my PhD viva, I rushed back to the flat I was then living in in London, threw some things in a bag and ran out the door to catch the next train to Bath. I had to tell her in person. I can still see her opening the door to me, with a hopeful smile on her face. It was our joint triumph. 

When I think of how difficult it was for mum, I see there has been some (painfully slow) progress. I hope the workplace will be much better for my daughter, her grand-daughter. 

Only one institution I worked in has ever got my title and name right on my office door. The office staff had not been instructed to put up a door plate for me. A woman professor down the hall noticed, and wrote out my name on a piece of paper; she felt it was wrong I didn't have something to tell students where I was. Oxbridge don't officially recognise doctorates from anywhere else, so I was a bit surprised and touched when I got this letter from my old college, whom I had contacted recently about visiting with my daughter, without saying anything about my title. Mum encouraged me to aim for King's College and for my PhD, and in her Japanese way, she would have liked this envelope which acknowledges my status with respect. 

Envelope with King's College postmark addressed in handwriting to Dr Anita Pilgrim


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

Not Much Black in Higher Education

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Friday, 15 Feb 2019, 16:27

Lakhi sits by Paul Gilroy's There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack

Black cat sitting beside pile of books on race studies

An Equalities and Human Rights Commission survey into racism in the Higher Education sector will close at the end of this month. Meanwhile the BBC published an article in December showing that ethnic minority staff are often put on lower pay grades and struggle against prejudice and bullying. Many did not want to be identified in speaking up about the poor conditions we work in. 

I decided I would. 

I didn't want to name any institutions. All the many Higher Education institutions I've worked in have been equally poor at rewarding my efforts and recognising my contributions in research, publication, impact in the wider sector and teaching. 

At the worst times, when I did think I would be overwhelmed and just swept under without anyone noticing (except my daughter), I doubted myself. I couldn't believe it was true, that I was being discriminated against in such a blatant way; that the structures of the institutions were so integrally white, masculine and middle class that they could not see how their nobly worded policies were being contravened. 

For 20 years I've worked on casual and short-term contracts in Russell Group, post-92 and distance learning universities. This is a recognised fate for academics who are women and also for academics from ethnic minority backgrounds. Sometimes people do say to me "perhaps you just weren't good enough for the full-time position." Actually, if you are constantly having to be re-interviewed and prove yourself for your job, you have to be much better at it to stay in it for 20 years. 

Very often, I didn't get the job. These were some of the reasons I was given for not being appointed: 

  • I never thought of you! Why not? Of course, you would have been perfect. 
  • You can't teach quantitative methods
    • But I'm already teaching quantitative methods
    • Oh. Well, you can't do research. 
    • But I'm the only person in Wales doing sociological research on race and ethnicity, and you advertised the job saying you'd give special consideration to any applicants in that field.  
  • You can't debate the uses of social science. 
    • (10 years experience teaching postgraduate research methods and writing social policy reports for government.) 
  • You can't demonstrate the relationship between power, inequalities and evidence. 

It was that last one that provided the break-through. I am the author of an Equalities and Human Rights Commission review of evidence on Education and Inequalities, and I was being interviewed by an expert in film and television studies. Evidently he could not know better than me if I were demonstrating the relationship between power, inequalities and evidence. Some other small thing he said in the interview was actually racist. I was able to finally bring a legal case for discrimination, instead of being brushed off by someone from Human Resources saying (never in writing) "it's very unfair, but unfortunately it's not against the rules." 

The Dean of Faculty wrote to assure me that the Faculty treated such cases with great seriousness. They valued the qualifications and experience of staff such as myself. Unfortunately when he did this, he addressed me as Ms. while signing himself Prof. I had to write back and point out that a PhD was part of my application for the job, and a professional qualification in our field of work. After three days he wrote to say: "I note your concern about the use of your title." I knew he had had to go to the lawyers and that I had won. 

When I say 'won', I don't mean we were in court and I got proper recompense for losing that job. I mean that we came to a gentleman's agreement that I was sitting on a heap of embarrassing evidence about the way those in power were instituting inequalities and that I would give anyone who tried it on me again a very bloody nose. We both understood that I would be treated scrupulously fairly in the future in job interviews (not favoured - be treated fairly). Sometimes since then I have not got through in interviews, and I believe these were fair decisions; I understood the reason I was being turned down. I worked incredibly hard, putting in long hours to write up evidence and show how power and inequalities were related in my case. It was worth it, although I am still angry I had to waste such a lot of time and effort just to get fair and equal treatment. 

In this looking glass world, I did often doubt myself. I could not believe that people who would laugh and joke with me at other times, academics in the social sciences who did research and teaching on equalities, would treat my qualifications and expertise with such contempt in the vital context of a job interview. 

There were two kinds of people who made it hard to believe what was happening. Those who discriminated against me, and those who were so lacking in discrimination themselves that they couldn't believe a person like me - whom they respected and loved - could be the target of such irrational and cruel prejudice. They couldn't believe it was happening. They said things like: "Are you sure?" "Maybe he meant …" instead of: "Can I take your daughter for the morning so you can write your case out for the union to look over?" 

I survived because the union had my back. The union recognised what was being done to me, supported me and represented my case. United we stand. 

I've not had a high-flying career, but I have a job. I enjoy my job, but I don't put my photo up on my profile. I would rather people not take my cat profile picture seriously than not take my real photo seriously. 

Black cat sitting up as if in bed, looking indignant

What is to be done? Higher Education cannot become diverse by sticking different kinds of people into itself, colouring up the profile pictures. It must change from within. 

People in Higher Education must listen when women or ethnic minority or disabled or gay staff are concerned about how we are treated, when we say we are made to feel uncomfortable. The knee-jerk response to bring the shutters down and protect reputation must be replaced by genuine open-mindedness and willingness to question: Was it fair? I think I am treating this person as an equal, but perhaps they are actually smarter than me? Too often people in power feel anxious and uncomfortable around ethnic minority staff, and quickly move to thinking the ethnic minority person is a problem rather than the predominantly white working culture. 

It would also help if employers immediately started assuming they under-estimate black and minority ethnic staff, and 'artificially' increased their idea of how well we are doing. Then we might get recognised for some of our achievements instead of constantly over-looked. Then they might find they have much better numbers of black and minority ethnic staff in senior roles. 

Friends worry about me writing this blogpost, in case I experience backlash of some kind. I fear the opposite: that I will be met by a wall of silence, drowned out by white noise. ("We never think of you.") Even my friends will hesitate over the 'share' and 'like' buttons, made anxious and uncomfortable. Although even if one other person reads this (woman, gay, transgender, disabled, ethnic minority - just different), and realises 'it was true! It wasn't me, it was them,' that will be worth my making the effort to write. 

Partly I wrote this blogpost because I wanted to read Why I'm No Longer Talking (To White People) About Race (lent to me by a friend of Cornish/Irish heritage). I wanted to write about my own experience first. I'll make notes about my reading on Instagram and tweet using the hashtag #WINLTTWPAR. It would be a start great if you could check it out and give me some feedback. 

Glass of water beside copy of the book Why I'm No Longer Talking (To White People) About Race


Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Sophia Economides, Saturday, 2 Oct 2021, 21:18)
Share post

This blog might contain posts that are only visible to logged-in users, or where only logged-in users can comment. If you have an account on the system, please log in for full access.

Total visits to this blog: 121635