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The Essentials


Celine Tan, Reader, recommends Seeing White, which is a podcast produced by Radio Host John Biewen with a regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika

"Everyone should listen to this podcast series. It will change how you think about race and society and understand what it means when people say everything is racialised. Although the podcast is US-centric – in terms of its historical and contemporary references and addressing specific circumstances in relation to race relations in the US – its themes are sufficiently universal that we will all benefit from listening to it. Through a series of 14 episodes, the podcast, hosted by Scene on Radio host John Biewen and his regular guest Dr Chenjerai Kumanyika, explores the concept of ‘whiteness’ and how it has permeated everything that we understand about society, the economy, politics, science, law and culture.

Most specifically, it emphasises how race is a social not biological construct and reinforces the often-overlooked point that racism is not about individual prejudice but about structural exclusion. It invites – no, challenges – us to think about our own complicity within racist structures and to recognise that we CAN be racist even when we don’t ‘intend’ to be by sheer dint of our racial privilege. As an immigrant and woman of colour in the UK, I found Episode 10 on Citizen Thind, especially thought-provoking. It addresses how law and the legal process can and do instrumentalise race as a mechanism of inclusion and exclusion (here in the case of citizenship laws) and how non-black people of colour can also become part of oppressive racist structures against black people. Please listen to this series. It will make you very uncomfortable, especially if you are racialised as white. But it will get you thinking and hopefully learning to challenge your own thoughts about race."

I was a bit conflicted about including Fanon, because I have always thought of him as very academic. However, Sam Adelman and Christine Schwöbel-Patel, who are both Associate Professors in the Law School, convinced me that he needed to be on the list.

Sam had very personal reasons:

“Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, which was banned in apartheid South Africa, so I had to read a ‘samizdat’ copy opened my eyes to the impacts of colonialism and imperialism and how racialised identities such as coloniser and colonised are created. It also forced me to think about violence in the struggle against apartheid and elsewhere.”

Christine, on the other hand, thought that its importance lay in the fact that it changed the common narratives around decolonisation:

“In international law, and more generally in many histories of the 20th century, there is a reproduced narrative about decolonisation, namely that it is a term from the 1960s in which the former colonised states gained independence and were admitted into the 'family of nations'. Fanon's account does many things to undo this progress narrative of decolonisation:

First, it insists on the agency of the Global South. From the first page, the language demands to be heard. It is beautifully and belligerently written. After reading The Wretched of the Earth, one is under no illusion that decolonisation 'just happened', or happened due to the goodwill of the former colonies. This was real struggle. And continues to be.

Second, the text uses the term decolonisation far more broadly than the narrow meaning it has in international law. As part of an ongoing struggle, decolonisation also needs to happen 'in the mind'. Crucially, it is emphatically not a process in which the former colonies become like the colonised. 'Let us decide not to imitate Europe', Fanon says (p. 252).

Third, the text does not shy away from violence – calling it out on the side of the colonisers, and a call to arms for the colonised. When I first read this, I felt uncomfortable with the violence in it, thinking that international law is somehow a more peaceful means. Until I realised that the violence of law is precisely part of the story of 'the wretched of the earth', not something neutral to be hoped for.

Fourth, the text very clearly sets out the connections between race and capitalism. In Fanon's words: 'In the colonies the economic substructure is also a superstructure. The cause is the consequence; you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.' (p. 31). Now, Fanon wrote this before the various forms of racial capitalism which would become naturalised due to the legal-institutional framework of neoliberalism. Today, under neoliberal capitalism, these words are even more important, as they denote the 'Souths' in the 'North' (say, indigenous communities, or those in racialised urban estates) and the 'Norths' in the 'South' (say, the gated communities or UN-protected international organisation enclaves).”

Professor Roger Leng suggested an iconic piece of music by the Nobel-prize-winning musician Bob Dylan for highlighting the vulnerability to wrongful conviction of black Americans in his album Hurricane.

Our Director of Administration, Isabel Wood, suggested To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which is an American novel on rape and racism in the American South.

“Shortly after the BBC published the results from The Big Read survey in 2003, I tried to read the top 20 books on the list. One of them was To Kill a Mockingbird. Thinking back on when I read it in my early 20s, it might be the first book I read which covered issues regarding racial injustice and the need to question our prejudices. Considering I grew up in Croydon, a large diverse town in South East London, and studied A level English Literature, this is surprising to me. Writing this paragraph has made me think about my education and why such books were not included in my curriculum.”

Isabel’s views are important at a time when we are trying to think about curriculum in the Law School and seeking to decolonise it. How can we teach Law much more broadly and inclusively? Does our Law in Context approach go far enough in helping us interrogate racism or other injustices when we think about law?

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