Why I object to the Black Asian Minorities Inequalities Report by Tower Hamlets Council, noted by the Mayor and Cabinet on the 24th March 2021. And why I will be seeking support to challenge the decision on the report, asking for a genuine debate.
Orientalism Revisited: We are not all Abduls!
43 years after Edward Said’s seminal work, Orientalism. It appears the method of research, the philosophical world view and the mode of political domination he criticized is alive and well in Tower Hamlets, in particular, in the Black Asian Minorities Inequalities Report by Tower Hamlets Council. To summarize, Orientalism was a cultural tool, to reinforce prejudice and domination of people’s by silencing their voices and lumping them all into a mass to be spoken on behalf of, by the very same forces that are dominating them. Tower Hamlets Council mimicked this attitude, by stating to tackle the issues of racial prejudice by employing methodology in the report that reinforces racial prejudice. Treating the diverse communities in our borough as a voiceless mass, only to be heard through preselected spokespeople. Reinforcing subconscious prejudices of an underclass of subhumans, telling us what we want to hear rather than what needs to be heard.
One of the key aims of the Inequalities Commission was, “Engage and operate at the heart of Tower Hamlets’ communities to hear about people’s lived experience and solutions, specifically Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women and young people who experience higher levels of inequality”. Yet in its method, it has done anything but to engage with residents.
The consultation was conducted all online, in a borough that has high levels of data poverty. No translations provided in an exercise aimed at residents, many of whom have poor levels of English or English as a second language. Instead of engaging with a population of in excess of 150,000, the report based its findings on a selected contribution of less than 100. An irrational approach contradicting the aim to, ‘engage and operate at the heart of Tower Hamlets communities’, contravening the Tower Hamlets Council’s own promise to consult fairly on an issue that affects so many people’s lives. A modus operandi that is in breach of the Council’s own Public Sector Equalities duty, in particular, the duty to encourage people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low. How can the Mayor and his Cabinet note a report within a week of publication, that took five months to compile? Surely we need at least a six-month period, to effectively engage with a majority of our residents.
In view of the above legally questionable behaviour by Tower Hamlets Council, I will be seeking the support of fellow councillors to have the decision by the Mayor and his cabinet reversed. Have the report translated and put out to public consultation, have a long detailed debate engaging with residents in a manner they can access. Making up the earlier error of not consulting properly and allowing for a genuine debate on an issue that affects the lives of many.
A good illustration of a methodology based on outdated 19th century essentialism. Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’, first published in 1978.
Debating Anti-Racism: Universal, not Special Treatment
“We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity.”
Fred Hampton (1948 – 1969)
Three facts that are key to any debate around ant-racism. First, the academic consensus in biology and sociology, especially in light of the horrors of the second world war, tells us that there is no empirical basis for race, it is a social construct. Second, however, racism is real and negatively affects peoples lives every day. Third, racial disparities that we find in our society are a proxy for barriers upholding structural poverty. Therefore, to tackle issues around racial disparities we have to go beyond adjusting behaviour and tick box diversity exercises and institute real policies that have tangible effects on indicators around inequality. The consequences of tackling racial disparities go beyond the minority groups it’s aimed at but has beneficial impacts on our wider working-class community.
Public policy has to be based around empirical facts to have an impact and move beyond the narrow and divisive confines of identity politics. Let’s have a wide discussion, inclusive with solutions that benefit everyone. The solutions to these issues are less than the costs, costs which everyone in society pays for, for example, mass incarceration in our criminal justice system (highest in Western Europe). It’s not a matter of resources but a matter of political will. Let’s have a genuine debate and let’s put out the report to public consultation.
“Not only is it evocative of nineteenth-century essentialisms, it also reproduces the mindset of the mass information industry, which, though public opinion and market research, sorts the population into the demographic equivalent of sound bites—market shares, taste communities—all in service to the corporate sales effort and management of the national political agenda.”
Adolph L. Reed Jr. – ‘Class Notes’