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“One of the biggest misconceptions about finance is that it’s investment banking and that’s it, but I feel there is a role for everyone.”

Joseph Walsh studies BSc Financial Economics alongside his role as a Front Office Services Analyst at an asset management firm. Now President of Birkbeck’s Economics and Finance Society (EFS), he shares how the EFS has supported his career journey and his vision for the future of the society.

Joseph Walsh wearing a suit and tie against a white background.Why did you apply for BSc Financial Economics at Birkbeck?

After my A Levels, I went straight into work as an apprentice in Cyber Security. I started earning my own money and became more interested in investing and the world of finance, so I was keen to pursue further education and a career in finance and investing. I really liked the flexibility of Birkbeck’s evening study format, which allowed me to work and study at the same time. The course modules looked really interesting and had a good balance between economics and finance.


How did you get involved in the Economics and Finance Society (EFS)?

I found out about EFS through the Students’ Union at the start of term. It was one of the more prominent societies in the School of Business, Economics and Informatics and had a good range of ongoing events and activities.

One great guest speaker who sticks in my mind is an investor called James Hughes, who gave a really useful introductory talk about finance and investing. At that point, he was running his own private equity fund in Hong Kong, so it was really interesting to hear his experience of working in different locations and areas of finance.

What is your vision for the future of EFS?

As President of EFS, I’m looking to direct the society to cover two distinct areas. Firstly, the networking and social aspect, because it can be difficult to socialise spontaneously after class when everyone is juggling work and busy lives. I’ll be pushing for more structured events and activities. It could be something as simple as arranging a time for members meet at the student bar, but hopefully going forward we can host socials around London and do a range of different activities to get to know one another outside of lectures.

Secondly, and just as importantly is the technical knowledge and experience that you can get from having experts giving talks and speeches. That’s a really important part of the society and it’s something that is unique to EFS to hear from experts across finance and economics. It’s been difficult to replicate our networking events online, especially during exam term, so we’re looking forward to hosting in-person events when restrictions allow. In the meantime, we’ve been sharing useful industry-led content on our website and social media pages.

What are your career ambitions after Birkbeck?

I consider myself fairly lucky in that I know what I want to do in terms of a career and how to get there. I’m really interested in asset management, basically investing across the markets, so I’m strongly considering doing a master’s after my undergraduate degree to develop my knowledge and technical skills. Looking further ahead, I would like to go into some kind of investment research role. The dream role would be a portfolio manager, but I acknowledge that it’s quite a competitive field!

I appreciate that some people might not have that clarity of what they want to do, and that’s something that I and the other committee members are trying to address through the society. Through networking, talks and the different resources we post online, we can help people figure out what they’re interested in and whether they want to take economics and finance further and develop a career in it. One of the biggest misconceptions about finance is that it’s investment banking and that’s it, but I feel there is a role for everyone. Even for undergrads that haven’t got their degree yet, there are a variety of trainee schemes available. That’s how I started and was able to get a role at an asset management company.

Stay up to date with the EFS on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

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Do you know the significance of Chinese New Year?

Preparations for Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year and Spring Festival, started on Thursday 4 February and will last until New Year’s Eve a week later. It’s the first year those observing China’s longest festival, celebrated in many parts of the Far East and beyond, will do so with social distancing and a full lockdown in the UK.

This is a photo of red Chinese New Year celebration items

Given the social restrictions, how will people be celebrating this year?
Organisers have been creative with their events, pulling most online. Birkbeck’s Chinese Society will be putting on an event, including a quiz and other activities, to commemorate Chinese New Year. This is a free event, open to all and can be accessed here.

There’s also the digital tour of Chinatown by Chinese Arts Now. Their festival starts right after Chinese New Year, from 15 February- 15 August and will feature performances and art installations. The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, will also be putting on workshops, performances and storytelling online to mark the festivities on 13 February.

Will any of the usual traditions hold?
It’s very likely Chinese people will still observe the usual customs including sprucing up and decorating their homes with red lanterns and other decorations, having a dinner of fish, said to bring good fortune, and will stay up until midnight for fireworks to ward off any bad spirits.

So, what do you wear for the New Year, which is officially marked from 12 February until the Lantern Festival signifying the end of the celebrations on 26 February?
Well, if you’re born in any of the following recent years: 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 or 2021, it’s highly recommended you adorn yourself and your house in red for the rest of the Chinese calendar year, which runs from February 12 2021 until January 31 2022.

Why?
Superstition has it that red, white, green and yellow will bring good fortune to those born in the Year of the Ox; who otherwise will be beset by bad luck according to Chinese astrology.

But isn’t red synonymous with bulls?
Well, yes, but 2021 is the Year of the Ox, specifically, which we all know is the bull’s close relation. The chinese calendar has quite a methodical way of assigning the ox to set calendar years.

What’s the significance of the Ox?
The Chinese zodiac has determined 2021 the Year of the Ox, an animal celebrated for its strength and reliability; and is the second of the zodiac animals.

Are they all animals?
They do, indeed, all happen to be animals. The Chinese zodiac is split into 12 blocks/houses, each with a one-year time span and an associated animal. Last year was the Year of the Rat and next year (2022) will be the Year of the Tiger. Though, bear in mind, with the start of the calendar falling between the end of January and the end of February, there’s some overlap with animals in any given year. The animals come around every twelve years.

So, does the calendar run with the smallest animal to the largest?
Not quite. Chinese folklore states that the Jade Emperor had beckoned 13 animals and thereafter named the years on the calendar according to the order in which they arrived.

13 animals?
Yes- one dropped out of the race. A very unlucky cat who is said to have drowned in the race. Not to be confused with the lucky cat charm, Maneki Neko, the Fortune Cat which is believed to bring good luck to its owners and is known for its signature wave.

Are there observations one should make in making sure they enjoy prosperity and good fortune?
Absolutely. Those celebrating are likely to skip a porridge breakfast on the Lunar New Year so as not to start the year off ‘poor’; and don’t expect to see them doing any work involving scissors or needles either, as this is said to lead to a loss of wealth.

We extend our well wishes for a safe, prosperous and Happy New Year to all within our community who are celebrating.

Read more about Birkbeck’s Chinese Society.

Joining instructions for Birkbeck’s free event here.

Find information for our International Student community.

See how Birkbeck students celebrated Chinese New Year last year (2020).

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Diwali is the festival of light and new hope!

With the recent Diwali celebrations, Professor Sanjib Bhakta, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Biochemistry, reflects on what the festival means to him.

Mousumi Shyam, a Newton-Bhabha International Fellow at Birkbeck’s School of Science, has celebrated Diwali by decorating the International Students House with the traditional ‘Rangoli’. The purpose of the colourful design, ‘Rangoli’ is to feed strength, generosity and it is thought to bring good luck.

Diwali follows the epic story of ancient India: “Ramayana” to represent the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The symbolism of Diwali is appropriately summarised in the simple act of lighting a lamp or ‘diya’. These are said to ward away evil and welcome the Goddess Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity) into the house.

The positive vibe that comes with the Diwali festival is more relevant worldwide in this challenging year than ever before with the unprecedented pandemic. During the second phase of lockdown in the UK, while we should strictly follow the Government guidelines on social distancing, face covering, good handwashing routine and patiently wait for a better control for the debilitating infectious disease to be available to us, I have been celebrating this ‘Diwali’ with my family at home and with all of you remotely over the weekend by lighting ‘diya’! Let us together give thanks for all we hold dear: our health, our family, our friends and to the scientists, NHS staff, and all the key workers who are working relentlessly to tackle the health challenges this year…

I moved to the UK precisely two decades ago but I still miss India when It comes to celebrating Diwali! To all the staff and students at Birkbeck, University of London I wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali!

Take care, stay happy and celebrate the festive season with all the available precautions and protections.

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Why a Black History Month?

October marks Black History Month in the UK, a celebration of the history and achievements of people of African descent. In this blog, Rebekah Bonaparte discusses why Black History Month is still as important as ever. 

Claudia Jones

Claudia Jones is credited with creating the UK’s first black newspaper, the ‘West Indian Gazette’ in 1958, she has also been described as the ‘Mother of Notting Hill Carnival’ for her part in its founding.

Among the many challenges 2020 has brought, the conversation around racism and inequalities came to the forefront for many with the resurgence and prevalence of the Black Matters Movement following the murder of George Floyd in the US. The effects of this were felt here in the UK, and the subsequent conversations around inequality and belonging in Britain serves as a strong reminder why Black History Month is still as important as ever.

Black History Month was first established in the UK in October 1987 in London. It was organised by Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebbo who served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council. The month was adapted from the United States Black History Month that began in the 1920s, and was established in response to heightened racial tensions in the UK.

Prior to it being established, there had been riots in the 1980s, and throughout the 20th century, which left the burgeoning Black British population relegated to outsiders, and marginalised, separate from the British cultural identity which was perceived as representing the interests of only the English.

The creation of Black History Month served as a way to celebrate the black people living in Britain, at a time when the denial of black people’s contribution to history was limited to the horrors of slavery.

In his book, Black and British: A Forgotten History, British Historian, David Olosugo notes that the “uncovering of black British history was so important because the present was so contested.” So, to highlight black people’s place and belonging in Britain, Black History Month serves as a welcome reminder that black people come from a long tradition of people who have enriched this country and beyond with their culture.

There is a rich and relatively unknown history of Black people within the UK that does not feature on the national curriculum, a glaring oversight considering the range of backgrounds that are seen in British schools, around the city and while diversity has become a buzz word in business and beyond, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate this history at all levels of society. It’s through history that we form our collective identity and therefore in studying blackness in the British context we can, in one-way, foster inclusion and pride.

To be clear, black history should feature in all months of the year, but setting aside a month when black people and their contributions can be marked and celebrated and brought to everyone’s attention should not be taken for granted. Black people have done so much in this country and continue to influence and shape culture, a fact that should never be forgotten.

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“Birkbeck was the only university offering the exact course I wanted to do”

A desire to specialise in innovation and electronic business led Nigerian, Ayomide Disu, to enrol on Birkbeck MSc Business Innovation with E-Business.  In this blog, the recipient of one of Birkbeck International Merit scholarship, tells us about his background and life in the UK.

Ayomide Disu

Ayomide Disu, MSc Business Innovation student from Nigeria.

Tell us about your background. What were you doing before you started studying at Birkbeck?

I am originally from Lagos, Nigeria. During my teens, I came to study at a boarding school in Gloucestershire in the UK. Following that I went on to the University of Central Lancashire and Cass Business School for my BSc and MSc respectively. Prior to Birkbeck, I was working as an independent consultant/advisor to a non-profit organisation in which I collaborated with C-Level executives and other stakeholders to gain an understanding of the business process which lead to bridging the communication gap between management and employees. I also suggested, pitched, trained and implemented the use of software such as Slack to increase productivity and pitched and developed a new website and algorithm for organisation operations.

Why did you decide to come to Birkbeck?

Studying management twice has its pros and cons, the understanding of different functions and different models of business are some pros, but the drawbacks are the overlap in knowledge and a lack of specialisation.

I wanted to specialise in innovation and electronic business which is what has led me to undertake a second postgraduate degree in that subject. I could have studied at Warwick and Newcastle, but I choose Birkbeck because I wanted to be in London, and it was the only university that had the exact course I wanted to do.

I attended orientation and it was quite useful just to get a feel for the surrounding areas, the Library and all other facilities. Birkbeck is unique as it’s the only place that gives working professionals the chance to study and work simultaneously (not that I’m working). However, for me as a full-time student, it allows me to be flexible and manage my time as I don’t have classes till 6 pm. However, although we don’t have lectures until night-time, there is still plenty of work to do in the day, so managing your time effectively is a must.

What it is like living in London?

The UK generally and London feels very much like my second home as I have been coming here since I was two years old for holidays and family gatherings. For me moving was quite simple as I had lived here when I was studying for my first masters.

Transportation is quite straightforward and efficient, and I love London as it’s so multicultural and has one of my favourite places in the world (Ronnie Scott’s).

What have you found most challenging about your time in the UK so far? What have been your highlights so far?

The only challenge for me personally is the weather and lack of sun, but I think it’s all part of the experience and I’m grateful. In terms of actual study challenges, I feel that the university could do better in bringing together the full-time students, so a sense of community may be fostered outside of the classroom. My highlights so far have been taking modules such as intellectual capital, digital creativity as they are so unique and give me a fresh perspective on how I approach business. Also, the friends I have made are lovely. I am looking forward to taking the block chain and entrepreneurial finance modules in the summer term, hopefully getting more sun and submitting my dissertation.

The advice I would give to prospective students would be to get involved in activities you enjoy, cultivate a habit of exploring different friendship groups outside your nationality and bring an umbrella.

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Where is our 1939-45 War Memorial? Help Us Find It!

Professor Joanna Bourke reflects on the story of Birkbeck’s missing war memorial. Have you seen this? Let us know and we’ll send you a £20 voucher.

Lost war memorial

Birkbeck’s lost war memorial created by sculptor, Ralph Beyer.

How can a large, very heavy sculpture made of solid stone simply disappear?

This is the question I asked myself while researching the history of Birkbeck. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the College recognised the need to commemorate the lives of thousands of Birkbeck students who had been killed, mutilated, and bereaved by the war. The man for the job, they concluded, was German-born sculptor Ralph Beyer.

Beyer had fled to England from Nazi Germany (his mother was killed in Auschwitz). Despite being only 16 years old and barely speaking English, he had quickly found a job working with the famous artist Eric Gill. When war was declared, Beyer was interned as an “enemy alien”, which is where he met fellow internee Nikolaus Pevsner, who lectured on art and architecture at Birkbeck. They formed a life-long friendship. Beyer was eventually released from internment and served in the British Army in the UK, France, and Germany. On his return to England, he was commissioned (thanks to the support of his friend Pevsner) by the College to design our war memorial.

The memorial was four feet high (excluding the plinth) and carved out of a single cube of brown Hornton Stone from Warwickshire. It showed a woman sitting on a rectangular block on top of a pedestal. The woman’s legs were close together, with her arms resting on her knees. She was draped in a flowing garment. While her hands and feet were large, her head was disproportionately small with few discernible features. Her posture and heaviness suggested grief or the mourning of a mother.

Not everyone approved. Some commentators complained that the war memorial was “at pains to conceal its identity” as a war memorial. “Are we to suppose”, one critic asked, “that the artist” was “more concerned with pleasing the living than honouring the dead?”

Pevsner came to his friend’s defence. He reminded its critics that a utilitarian memorial (such as a lecture hall) had been ruled out as “unsuitable to commemorate the sacrifice of so many young lives”. The commissioning committee had also decided not to simply inscribe the names of the dead on a tablet: too many men and women had “given” too much and any list would inevitably be incomplete anyway. Creating a stained-glass window was also dismissed because, as a College in which teaching took place in the evening, the “glow of colour and the composition would be lost”.

Pevsner also attempted to disabuse critics of the assumption that a war memorial “ought to be a soldier with a gun”. After all, war of the scale seen between 1939 and 1945 depended on “so many jobs of work, in different surroundings, and with different uniforms”, all of which “led to the same gateway of death”.

Pevsner argued that Beyer’s design was “both personal and universally valid”. The woman’s face “creates a sense of mystery and reverence”, he contended. Her hands “lie heavily on the thighs, as they do in archaic Greek statues of women, and that sense of weighing down is essential for the mood”. Pevsner concluded that the Birkbeck war memorial was “a piece of sculpture which is of today and yet at the same time of an undated rightness”.

Beyer went on to become a distinguished artist. He is best known for his design and carving of the lettering in Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral (1961+), which remains the most significant work of British public lettering in the twentieth century.

But what happened to his memorial to the dead and suffering men and women of Birkbeck between 1939 and 1945 remains a mystery.

Joanna Bourke, Professor of History in the Department of History, Classics, and Archaeology at Birkbeck and writing the history of the College for our bicentenary in 2023.

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“It’s crazy to think that an idea I had when I was 21 is now my full-time job.”

Alexander Flint Mitchell took home the prize for Best Business Pitch in June’s Pioneer awards. He reflects on a life-changing year of building his business, Blind Cupid.

Picture of Alexander Flint Mitchell

When Alexander Flint Mitchell enrolled onto Birkbeck’s MSc Business Innovation last September, it was with a view to changing career direction and developing the business idea that had been on his mind for the last five years.

Handing in his notice just one month later, you could say things had moved a little faster than expected. “Looking back on it, that was probably a bit naïve,” Alexander admits, “but if you want to achieve something big, you’ve sometimes got to take a leap into the unknown.”

The motivation for this leap of faith? A little idea for an app called Blind Cupid.

Blind Cupid is a dating app with a difference, using a never-before-used science to match people based on their fundamental values, giving users the chance to see bios and compatibility scores before they reveal pictures to potential matches.

“A lot of dating apps claim to be all about personality,” says Alexander, “but it’s really just a slogan. In their questionnaires, they will ask about polarising issues like politics, which is valid, but simply agreeing on something doesn’t mean that you’re compatible. Take Brexit, for example: people voted Leave on both extremes of the political spectrum. It’s essential to understand the rationale behind the belief.

“The questionnaire that we use for Blind Cupid goes right to basic principles. The greatest feedback we have received so far from users is that they could see the value in the product even from just filling out the questionnaire – before they’d received any matches. When we tested the product, 80% of the test group went on four or more dates with their matches – that’s way higher than anything else in the market.”

Was the concept for the app born out of Alexander’s personal experience? “People ask me that a lot,” he says, “but in reality, the idea just came to me in a lightbulb moment, fully formed. I came up with the concept aged 21, while studying Law and working in the City. I found the reality of being a lawyer very boring and would end up spending most of the day daydreaming about this app. I knew that I was going to do it eventually, but I wanted to do it properly.”

In 2019, Alexander applied for the MSc Business Innovation at Birkbeck, specialising in entrepreneurship. “Studying in the evening meant that I could continue working in the City until the business was up and running,” Alexander explains. “I thought that, worst case scenario, I could find a role in venture capital, but I really wanted to give Blind Cupid a go.

“The course was everything I wanted to learn. One of the early modules, Entrepreneurial Venture Creation, required us to write a business plan. I wrote a business plan for Blind Cupid, and that’s when I decided to quit my job.”

As Alexander worked through the masters and the Pioneer programme, his business and networks grew. “I’ve made some amazing connections and put together a dedicated team – we’d meet at 8am and still be working together at 1am, before we were earning any money to do it, which just shows the commitment we all have to the business.”

Alexander’s Pioneer experience culminated in June’s virtual awards ceremony, where he took home the award for Best Business Pitch. “It was a shame not to be able to do the finale in person, but I was really surprised and pleased by how many people came along to the virtual ceremony. When pitching Blind Cupid to investors, it usually takes a full hour to go into all the detail, so drilling it down to three minutes was a real challenge. I’m thrilled to have won the Best Business Pitch award; it feels like all the hard work is paying off.”

Alexander is currently fundraising for Blind Cupid, with the aim of getting the product on the market within the next three months. Encouragingly, it seems that he’s also hit on an idea that can withstand the current tough economic conditions: “Strangely enough, the dating industry is booming at the moment. Regardless of what’s happening in the economy, people have a natural desire to have someone in their lives romantically, and that doesn’t go away in a recession.

“The decision to do the master’s was a life-changing, life-affirming decision. It’s crazy to think that the idea that I had when I was 21 is now my full-time job.”

Further Information

 

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What are the origins of the Pride March?

In June we celebrate the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities around the world as part of Pride Month. In this blog, Rebekah Bonaparte, Communications Officer at Birkbeck, explores the radical roots of the annual Pride March.

June usually marks Pride Month. The streets of London and many UK towns and cities are adorned with the infamous Pride rainbow, as thousands would usually turn out in celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

Many will now be familiar with the rainbow flag that has become increasingly visible throughout the month of June. The Pride logo can be seen on the websites of corporations and organisations as the internationally recognised event has become increasingly mainstream. But what are the origins of the Pride march?

The Stonewall Inn

Although there had been groups campaigning for the rights of the LGBTQ community to be recognised before the 1960s, the Stonewall Uprising is thought of as an important moment in the fight for gay rights in the US and beyond.

The uprising began when New York police officers raided the Stonewall Inn bar on 28 June 1969. Police raids of gay and lesbian bars were commonplace at this time and this instance proved to be the catalyst for an outpouring of fury amongst the LGBTQ+ community who were continually targeted by the police. A lesbian woman, Stormé DeLarverie, who is thought to be one of the first to fight back at Stonewall insisted that the often labelled ‘riots’ was “a rebellion.”

Six days of protests followed the raid on the Stonewall Inn and figures such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera emerged as leaders of the revitalised movement.

The following year, Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee held its first march, initially called ‘The Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee’ to commemorate the Stonewall uprisings and promote cohesion amongst the LGBTQ community. Today, the Stonewall Inn is considered a national landmark and the LGTBQ+ Pride March is held across the world in June.

Pride in London

In 1970 two British activists, Aubrey Walter and Bob Mellor, founded the Gay Liberation Front in a basement of the London School of Economics. Walter and Mellor were said to have been inspired by the Black Panthers as that year they attended the Black Panther’s Revolutionary Peoples’ Convention, but also the various liberation movements that were taking place all over the world. At the time in the UK homosexuality had been partially decriminalised and homophobia was largely accepted.

The Gay Liberation Front in London held its first Pride rally in 1972 on 2 July (the closest Saturday to the Stonewall anniversary) and continued to host annual rallies until it became more of a carnival event in the 1990s. In 1996 it was renamed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride. The march was thought of as a display of solidarity and self-acceptance, but also a vehicle to drive social change and challenge injustice.

The Pride March has been held in London and across the UK since. It is characterised by its carnival spirit, and a safe space for members of the LGBTQ community to assert their identities and achievements. In recent years it has become increasingly mainstream, with corporations and organisations capitalising on the annual celebration and some believe it is has become far removed from its radical roots.

The organisation Pride in London was set up in 2004, and has been arranging the march since. Due to the ongoing pandemic, this month’s march in London was cancelled, but Pride in London have announced that it will be held on 11 September with the theme being, Visibility, Unity and Equality.

Pride remains a visual reminder for the continued struggle for LGBTQ+ rights across the world, a source of hope and jubilation for many.

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Dear White People

In the wake of the worldwide Black Lives Matters protests Jessica Brooke, Social Media Officer at Birkbeck, offers a view on how White people can begin being anti-racist. 

In light of the recent murder of George Floyd by federal police in Minneapolis and subsequent rioting across the globe, you might find that you are asking yourself some new questions. If you’re White like me, here are some things that we can consider.

Firstly, racism is everywhere and that is a fact. Some of the most harmful racism is the most transparent. I use the word transparent because although it might not be directly visible, (particularly to a White person), such as a murder filmed on video camera, it is always there. And it is there deep in the bones of the structures and institutions within our society.

Here are some statistics that illuminate how racism is functioning in British society today:

  • Job applications in British cities from people with White-sounding names were 74% more likely to receive a positive response than applications from people with an ethnic minority name.1
  • Black British women are five times more likely to die in childbirth compared to White women.2
  • In January 2020, exclusions for racism in primary schools were up by more than 40%.3

These British statistics show areas of British life that are affected daily by racism, and that restrict and disempower Black people from living the same quality of life as White people.

This is why claiming to ‘not see colour’ is racist. To not acknowledge a person’s identity, their history, and the ways in which they are treated in society means not acknowledging that person at all. The first step to overcoming racism is to fully acknowledge and identify it within the structures around us and especially within ourselves.

None of us will get it right every time, and overcoming racism is continuous work. We have to constantly check ourselves and others around us to ensure we’re considering our race and the race of others, and the impact that has on situations. Sometimes, our racism is unconscious. But applying ourselves to make these considerations is the first thing we can do to working towards eliminating it.

And this means acknowledging our privilege as White people. I’m going to say this again because I feel this often gets misconstrued:

Being White is being privileged.

This does not mean that being White means we’re richer, healthier, more supported or successful than every Black person.

What it does mean is that we are free to exist peacefully with no negative consequence of the colour of our skin. We do not fear unemployment, arrest, or deprivation of access to basic needs because of the colour of our skin.

To expand:

  • We do not need to change our names to be invited to a job interview.
  • We are not demanded an explanation of our nationality, our ethnicity, or our religion, due to the colour of our skin.
  • When we go on holiday or move to a new house, we do not need to check whether certain areas are racist towards people of our skin colour.
  • Throughout our lives, we have opened books and turned on the television and always seen people that look like us.
  • When we look to those in power, we will see people with the same colour skin as us.
  • We are able to recognise our identity as accepted and celebrated around us.

If you’re Black, you often do not have these privileges.

If you’ve never had to question whether you’ve been held back by the colour of your skin, then you are privileged.

The first thing we can do as White people is educate ourselves on the privilege that we enjoy, and the struggles of those Black members of our society. To do this, we must reach to existing resources. Black people have struggled physically, mentally and emotionally for long enough. It is now time for us, as White people, to understand this struggle without burdening them even more with the task of educating us.

Here is a list of resources that I have found helpful:

Books:

  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge: this book was the first book I read about race, and it blew my mind. Includes a great chapter about Black Feminism which I thought was useful in ways we think about ‘intersectionality’, as well as a brief but informative chapter on British history.
  • Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri, discusses the cultural relevance of Black hair and how it symbolises the subjugation of Black bodies.
  • I’m Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite discusses being a Black British mother – from the treatment of Black women in healthcare, to knife crime in London, to moving to rural areas of Britain and the experience of that as a Black family. A humorous and fun read that also educates.
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is a brilliant work of fiction that plunges you into the lives of 12 different Black women and their experiences in Britain all through the 20th and into the 21st Funny too.
  • Black and British by David Olusoga provides more of an insight into Black British history, helping to understand racism in our country.
  • I listened to Becoming by Michelle Obama on audiobook and would highly recommend consuming it in the same way. She speaks calmly, articulately and firmly about her experiences with racism as a child and then as an adult. Aside from the attention she gives to issues around race, she is just an amazing and inspiring human being and I would recommend this book on that basis too.

Articles/Social Media:

TV:

  • 13th: a documentary on the U.S. prison system, looking at how the country’s history of racial inequality drives the high rate of incarceration in America.
  • When They See Us shows the story of five young men who were unjustifiably charged and sentenced of the crime of assaulting and raping a jogger in Central Park.

References

  1. 2009 research from NatCen Social Research, commissioned by the government.
  2. 2018, MBRRACE-UK, https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/downloads/files/mbrrace-uk/reports/MBRRACE-UK%20Maternal%20Report%202018%20-%20Lay%20Summary%20v1.0.pdf
  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-50331687
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Pain, loss and protest: Black Lives Matter and the struggle for justice

Protests have broken out across the world following the murder of another unarmed black man. In this blog, Rebekah Bonaparte, Communications Officer at Birkbeck shares her view on the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Black Lives Matter

Image courtesy of Clay Banks

On 25 May 2020, in the Mid-Western town of Minneapolis, USA, George Floyd was murdered. It is likely that many already know this with Floyd eulogized in yet another hashtag of black men and women who have died at the hands of a racist system.

Here are some things you may not know about George Floyd. He was a 46-year-old man, born in Houston, Texas and later moved to Minneapolis. He has a six-year-old child, was nicknamed ‘Big Floyd’, and has been described as a ‘gentle giant’.

News and social feeds are flooded with Floyd’s final words, “I can’t breathe”. The words he repeated over and over again as four police officers knelt on him, one on his neck for a total of eight minutes and 46 seconds, ignoring Floyd’s cries.

For centuries, black men and women have been brutalised by the police, witnessed by countless people across the globe thanks to social media and the ability to record such instances. Just in the last few weeks we have heard the stories of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old woman who was shot by police in Louisville, after they stormed her home looking for a suspect who they already had in custody.

Ahmaud Aubrey was killed while out jogging, by an ex-police officer, who pursued Aubrey with his son. This happened in February but it is only now that the video footage has gone viral and those men have been charged with Aubrey’s murder.

These are just some of the cases we have seen this year where black people have been murdered for the simple fact that they are black. What is left for the rest of us who witness these atrocities is the grief and loss, but also a stark reminder of the position held by black people in American society and the West.

What has ensued in the past week is a massive release of anger and frustration that has culminated in worldwide protests organised by Black Lives Matter and other parties, both peaceful and non-peaceful, against a system that perpetuates and condones the killing of black people.

Critics have condemned the use of force against property, calling protestors ‘thugs’. Yet when continual acts of violence are committed against black bodies, the level of understanding extended to the perpetrators implies that the smashing of a store front window is the more heinous crime.

At the core of these protests is a desperate plea to be seen, to be heard, for the suffering and loss of black lives to not be brushed aside once again, for all people to wake up and question and dismantle the racist system in which they live, and truly understand that until black lives matter, all lives do not matter.

Many non-black people have come out and condemned the officers who murdered Floyd and to acknowledge the perpetual racism that has not abated since the days of segregation. But moving forward, the question of how these most recent killings will affect change within people who live in a system which favours one race over another will be the true measure of how far we are willing to come after this.  It is simply not enough to declare yourself not racist, we all must act to eradicate a system built on the subjugation of black and brown people across the world.

 

 

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