The Myth of Raising Aspirations

We need to talk about how we talk about young people.

For a sector that is supposedly dedicated to improving young people’s chances in life, we use a lot of language that stereotypes, marginalises and ultimately disempowers young people. After many years of listening to this damaging discourse disguised as inspiration, I have divested from the language of raising aspirations.

Hear me out.

The terminology of raising aspirations is everywhere in the youth and education sector. Schools recruit Assistant Heads with this as a speciality. Charity funding is predicated on the promise to raise the aspirations of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. All of this aspirations-focused intervention and activity would suggest that the reason that so many young people are struggling is in their mindset: they simply do not aspire to achieve their best possible outcome, so they don’t.

But is that really the problem?

I’ve spent enough time around young people to know that they do not lack big dreams. What young people lack is a system that is set up for them to achieve those dreams. The reality is that we live in a society that relies on some people being worse off than others. All the narrative of raising aspirations does is locate the problem (i.e. low aspirations), and thereby the culpability, with the young person. This inevitably leads to pursuing solutions (raising aspirations, building confidence, developing resilience) that completely ignore the reasons that young people’s aspirations might be low in the first place.

A young person’s marginalisation does not occur in a vacuum: they are marginalised by a system that relies on this to happen in order to maintain its survival.

If our work with our young people focuses solely on their individual progress through raising aspirations, building confidence, exposure to role models, etc., without any consideration of this systemic context, we will never run out of disadvantaged young people. Our work will never be done. In Dutch we call this dweilen met de kraan open: mopping while the tap is running, in other words, an endless and fundamentally futile endeavour.

This is not to say that individual triumph over the oppressive structure isn’t a victory – it is! It just isn’t the victory you think it is. It isn’t justice. These individual stories of success often serve to legitimise the system by proving that it is possible to “win” within it, so as to distract from the system’s inherent injustice. The oppressive structure by its very nature will always allow a few people to succeed in order to maintain its own image as a functioning, equal opportunities system that can work for everyone as long as you work hard enough, all the while ensuring a never-ending pipeline of marginalised young people.

So let’s stop talking about raising aspirations.

If all our interventions ever do is tell young people how to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps, without also acknowledging that there aren’t enough bootstraps, we are leading them to believe that it was always their problem to fix or avoid. If we don’t acknowledge the systemic nature of their experiences of disadvantage, we risk gaslighting entire generations with the message that if they’re not succeeding, it’s because they aren’t aspiring to do so.

We are complicit.

Saul Alinsky wrote about those who would go into communities marginalised by society, not to organise them to rebel and fight their way out of the mess, but to get them adjusted, so not only will they continue to live in hell; they’ll also like it. “A higher form of social treason would be difficult to conceive – yet this infamy is perpetrated in the name of charity.”*

So much of youth work is wrapped up in a discourse that actively obscures the structural causes of the problems it attempts to remedy. If as youth workers we only ever focus on helping young people overcome the challenges of marginalisation, we are part of the problem. In fact, our work would then serve to enable and legitimise the system that marginalises them. We should actively be working on preventing that marginalisation from happening in the first place. This requires locating its root causes, and dismantling the systems that routinely marginalise our young people. It also requires a radical reimagining of the world we exist in. This is not to say that the youth sector’s work can’t be meaningful. But we have to critically analyse the role that it plays within a system that will fundamentally never be changed by this work alone. We have to dream bigger. So let’s stop mopping the floors for a minute.

Let’s turn off the tap.


  • Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, 1946.

This guest piece is by Imane Maghrani, Spark Programmes Director at The Advocacy Academy.

Luther is Not Authentic Enough

TV’s Luther “doesn’t feel authentic”.

Says Miranda Wayland, the BBC creative diversity chief, points out that he has no black friends and doesn’t eat Caribbean food.

She also praised Elba for playing a “really strong, black character lead”.

I have to say I agree with her.

The Problem with Diveristy

The problem with diversification is that it seeks solely to show fair representation in our curriculum.

What is that representation worth?

The representation issue is that it doesn’t take into account what whiteness is. Before I am dragged for judging people for their melanin deficit, let me define whiteness. Whiteness is a psychosis of power; it is the need to acquiesce, coalesce and embody success which in our world is measure on this metric.

For the academically minded: Whiteness is a sociological construct that can be defined as a technology of affect which is surreptitiously taught implicitly (Leonardo 2013, Lentin 2016). Whiteness is a hegemonic ideology based on the socially constructed oppression at individual and systemic levels (Ahmed 2004).

The closer a person is to power and whiteness, the more accepted they are. Power likely flows from this source. As a result—the gatekeeper to success a persons proximity to whiteness. People of colour who espouse those values are more likely to be represented/successful, i.e. middle class, no accent, credentialed, light-skinned, Christian, etc.
The whole image of success, and therefore success itself, is perpetuated and protected by you get what you see and see what you get (Bourdieu refers to this as the habitus, click here for more).

White Supremacy in Melanated Bottles

White supremacy is contained and upheld by people of all skin tones. With recognising that we must seek to rebuild the system as fairer, our house of cards needs to be rebuilt. Simply switching white faces for melanated ones without really questioning why we reject the ‘other’ does not make the world fairer; it merely shuffles the deck.

In schools, the question to ask ‘why does success always align itself with whiteness. Why is that PoC, on the whole, are disadvantaged? Why are pupils of colour always more likely to under-assessed by their teacher? Receive harsher punitive sanctions? etc.

Yet when we look at the students who are perceived as successful, they are almost always aligned to whiteness; only white males are afforded the mantle of success without reservations of achievement the wrong way (east Asians working too hard, etc.) (Archer 2004).

Only some PoC are afforded some of the privileges of the system. Ask yourself – what do those folx have? What makes them better? If we remove the privilege and whiteness metrics, we quickly realise that racism is not about melanin but solely on this image.

Representation matters. This is a step in the right direction, a step.

Yes, the secret garden and to kill a mockingbird may include people of colour, but where are the vast number of people of colour in the hierachy. Both narratives are guilty of the same tropes of people of colour being subservient, having the need of white folx.

A novel way of looking at this issue is through a reverse lens, white folx are bestowed with the luxury of just being. An average white person in stories can live their lives and do amazing things. To be a person of colour and do the same, you have to be either magical or act as close to whiteness. Luther can not have an accent, eat different foods, wear traditional clothes, celebrate his faith openly. Well, he can, but in the real world, he would be disadvantaged as a result.

Luther was an opportunity where art could have disrupted reality.

Blackness is as worthy as whiteness; it’s time we demand this in our classrooms and our screens.

Do No Harm

I am a Brown man who has lived most of his life in the UK, and I proudly exclaim that I am a ‘teacher’. What does this mean? That I am charged with imparting knowledge from my brain into the brains of willing receivers. That is part of our wonderful profession, but I arise to a conversation around free speech in the classroom on this cold weekday morning.

Free speech is a right; This got me thinking about the power we wield. Aside from the intricacies of the argument, the crux boils down to is the right to free speech more important than the damage we wright. Should we have to take a ceremonial oath when receiving a QTS certificate? Three simple words:

“Do No Harm”

The care of our student should be a priority, actually the priority. Our actions impact their physical and mental health. The way we educate may ameliorate minoritised groups’ journey through health inequities and to early death.  Yes, premature death. (Bernard et al 2020)

What is Harm?

There are two facets to this prism of ‘Do No Harm’. The first being the present. How do we change the quality of life for those around us at this moment? What are the possible actions to improve the life chance today, and the other is how we take steps to ensure the scores of folx that follow are not held down by our legacy and by the same toxic prophecies.

What is diversity in schools? In the curriculum, workforce and narratives? Diversity includes every facet of school life. Move away from what you have included, and analyse who you are omitting.

Do your curricula include the world as it is? are 40% of the people you teach about women of colour? How many fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella? Look at the workforce who in it holds power? Who is allowed to sit and the table, speak and even speak at the table? (From the Poetry of @Hyfreelance and @thebrownhijabi)

Schools are like homes. Schools are like families and at the heart of every family is ‘belonging’. A place you are safe to be, and I believe that many organisations create a beautiful inclusion environment. Is inclusion belonging? My metric for belonging is ‘how much of your authentic self do you have to leave outside when you enter. 

Looking at yourself through the eyes of the dominant culture can cause a myriad of issues. It is our job to create belonging in our classroom in which all pupils reject this internal dissonance. Yes, include pupils but embrace them for their cultures and differences. Inclusion means that these differences are often accepted but through a hierarchy. Students are being forced to remove ceremonial religious artefacts, have their culture criticised, told their natural hair is not school uniform and their home language banned. The most significant impact on students is not the immediate sanction but the schizoid state of double consciousness this creates (W.E.B Dubois). I will return to this blog at some point and detail the harm wrought by our system, but today is not that day. Let’d all just reflect on our role.

Making Change

Where does real work start? We need to think about how We make change to our system.

Yes, impart (in part) this includes classrooms, but it also consists of the structures that we all inhabit.

Our society is based on a hierarchal system, a pyramid of people, and like a concrete architectural building, every layer depends and is held up by the layer below it being more extensive than itself. 

Success is measured in many ways, let’s look at cold hard cash. In our world, if you work harder, you will earn more money. So, to make the system fairer, we could give every person on the lower layers, double what they earn now. That would redress the balance!  Well. Remember that society is built in the shape in which it is necessary to have a fixed minimum number of people in each layer. If the monetary wealth is increased for the majority, then inflation would redress the balance and keep those people in their place. Which is the way it works. I often hear fellow teachers talk about being there for these [insert protected characteristic] students, and they are making a difference.

The Whole Picture

When looking at the whole picture:

“Teachers make no difference.”

That statement may be as controversial as it is true. While we may enable some of our students to jump into the upper strata of the pyramid’s structure but by the system’s very nature, we simultaneously hold back the same number of students back while we elevate the few.

In supporting those who are othered, we conterminously hold back more others. The solution is to move away from social mobility and towards a social justice model. Shuffling the deck of card to redress the balance doesn’t serve the layers at the bottom at all.

Do no harm, can only exist if we build a world in which the harm does not propagate. Social justice starts with the enlightenment of the practitioner, followed by the awareness of students. Adapting our aim from the transmission of knowledge to creating a generation who can critically evaluate and democratically promote and resist their interest is the step that needs to be made.

Prince Philip Vs DMX – The Philosophy of Education

Lots of folx are obsessed with the idea that we should or should no boycott people based on their actions and views. When a person dies, these questions are often hurled into the forefront of public discourse.

This weekend saw Prince Philip’s death, the consort of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, and the passing of DMX, one of the most influential artists of the 90s and 00s. 

There are often calls for teachers to concentrate on teaching instead of ‘indoctrinating children with their politics. I hope those voices see the hypocrisy in not extending the same conditions to the death of the public figure because if they advocate the norm, this is also an act of politics. 

Teachers, if you are reticent in teaching, discussing or decolonising and you are not applying the same measures to the royal family or the status quo we live in, you are not only engaging in politics; you are engaging in brainwashing. 

Politics has no part in teaching! (Nor does truth apparently) Teach them to write.

Well, teaching in its entirety is an act of politics. It is the duty of every teacher not to be neutral (Friere). We cannot exist in this isolation in the classroom without impacting on our revolutionary role of endowing (or disendowing) our pupils with the critical and democratic skills to change their world.

I am not saying that we should not teach or mention that a royal family member has left this mortal coil, but I am saying that we can’t have it both ways. Politics that are the norm, good. Politics that give the skills to change, wrong.

The Meritocracy

Most schools are based on the ideology of the ‘meritocracy’. Work hard kids, the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be. Anyone who has read any of my work knows the falsities of this rhetoric.

Here is the question: 

“Sir, What does the royal family do to deserve their success?”

As an educator, it is your duty to encourage this sort of critical thought. Are you prepared for that question? If you are not, don’t engage in the conversation at all. Teach rote facts; radicalisation isn’t the one.

Are you comparing Prince Philip to a Rapper?

What I am asking you to do is make that comparison. 

How do you reconcile any of the vast array of issue people present?

“My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism.” (Foucoult, 1983)

Postmodernism philosophy leads that we should be suspicious of all ideas, or more accurately, ‘grand narratives’ which claim the way the world should be (Lyotard, 1979). This binary thought leads to a form of non-knowledge an anti-knowledge that seeks to compare apples and pears and rubbish ideas based on appleness or vegetables’ pearness!

This forms the critique of the Platoian dialectic, in which arguments solely exist to be thrown into the abyss, while this works in reductio ad absurdum context (which are simple logic arguments); This is not how the reality of our world. Society is much more complicated.

Everything in our world is open to interpretation, and the nature of such is investigated by Jaques Derrida. Ultimately there is often no correct answer. Seek not to teach that, wright a student into the halls of critical epistemology. 

No matter what happens in schools, those grand narratives exist in society. If we do not prepare our students to be erudite about the world around them, we create more automatons who choose sides and politics without the skills to engage safely. 

Philip Good DMX Bad – DMX Good Philip Bad

Even if you largely skipped the above because I have not written in the most accessible language, please take the following from this blog.

There are very rarely good guys and bad guys in this world. Teaching students that goodies should be celebrated and baddies should be denigrated is inherently political as this polarised view does support learning or thought.

Is it true that Prince Philip was overtly racist? Yes. Are some of the lyrics that DMX wrote were problematic? Yes. 

The power dynamics, oppression and privilege is the water we all swim in. It is the air we breathe. 

There is nothing hypocritical about listening to rap music and abhorring its misogyny, if we own we support it for all its faults. It’s okay to to want a more egalitarian world and own an iphone. This are not dichotomous nor are they hypocritical. It’s okay to believe in right wing economic and fiscal ideology and love the NHS and socialised medicine. Yes, it is fine, to celebrate the royal family but take ownership the problematic nature of their existence and the white supremacy that is the foundation of their establishment.

Teach all of it or teach none of it. All of it and none of it dangerous.

All of it is Politics.

Cultural Capital Part 3

This is part 3 of the series-

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

The Alter of Success

Whose Cultural Capital?

In the real world, society’s macro field is a culmination of the cultural capital becomes the status quo. In everything we see, these are norms and behaviours are reinforced. Whiteness and anything with proximity is good, and everything else is relegated to playing a subservient role. 

Those with monetary resources to gain social connections fit in more readily into the existing habitus of success (swapping economic and social capital for cultural capital). For this exchange to happen, people may willfully deny the canon of colour either externally in overt expression of denial of worth or internally through a rejection of one’s roots.  

people may wilfully deny the canon of colour either externally in overt expression of denial of worth or internally through a rejection of one's roots.   Click To Tweet

Remember, the three capital and sources of power are interchangeable. If the colour of your cultural capital pot is too dark, not the correct type of complete, you either have to start a new barrel in exchange for either economic and social capital or accept that this society is not for them. This is where dissonance and separation occurs. Here, where students of colour start to exclude part of themselves to engage and or internalise the impact of racism. 

‘To thine own self be true’ 

Polonius exclaims to his son, intending to advise Laertes on behaving at university in act 1 scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I will have to agree if ‘thine’ own self has not had to be battered and moulded in the accepted model.

The world, your teachers and those who are successful constantly tell students that “White knowledge is good, everyone else’s is bad”. Racism in its internalised form turns the victims of oppression (People of Colour) into the perpetrators of further injustice through a process is called defensive othering. Fanon takes this ever deeper and describes sub oppression in White Mask Black Mask. Remember, this exhibition of internalised racism comes straight from societal training. This is the habitus; these are the rules of the game.

Upon the altar of success, students of colour are forced to sacrifice their heritage and identity or their potential success.

The Habitus is Self Protecting and Propagating

Any habitus is self-replicating and self-propagating. Capoeira is a Brasilian martial art forged during the oppression of slavery. Due to the need for the secretive nature of training martial arts under enslavement, certain rules were developed to protect its practitioners (or players) from the ire of the authorities:

1. Capoeira is always played to music.

2. Players practice in a circle (Roda/Wheel).

3. The roda is entered by the berimbau.

4. The music dictates the pace and flow of the game.

5. When and if a chamada (call) is made, there are rules about the next engagement.

From Mestre Israel Costa (Capoeira Renascer, London)

Other than the above, the game is played in any way you’d like: cartwheels left and right, head spins, whatever you can conceive of as long the structure holds. 

Over the last century, capoeira has evolved through various schools of thought, Regional, Angola, and contemporary. No matter what capoeiristas produce? It is always variations of the same brand. Like capoeira uses these norms of engagement, Bourdieu refers to these rules as Doxa, ensuring the habitus’ reproduces.

To Create is to be Human

Music, fine art, and dance have existed in every corner of the globe since the dawn of time. To create is to be human. People are excluded from ‘scholarship’ and the beauty of human endeavour because they lack the funds, knowledge of norms and connection. We have come full circle, back to Bourdieu’s three capitals.

Music, fine art, and dance have existed in every corner of the globe since the dawn of time. To create is to be human. People are excluded from 'scholarship' and the beauty of human endeavour because they lack the funds, knowledge of… Click To Tweet

Earlier I quoted Polonius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet ‘To thine own self be true’, but you have to be exposed to the actual play to appreciate the nature of the speech. We have a man who is exclaiming the virtue of freedom that his son should live; he is a blatant hypocrite later spying and interfering in the lives of both of his children to the point that his daughter chooses suicide. All the while, his children see him as being an object of ridicule, as they are often seen standing out of his sightline mocking him through physical gestures.

When the social strata or any group are not able to appreciate the culture of art due to the lack of time, money or contacts. It becomes impossible to discuss and learn to understand the work of Rembrandt or Dickens. People not only miss out, but they are unlikely ever to be able to consume and engage. 

How does one access any of these pots, never let alone exchange? There is no place for ‘us’, by ‘us’, nor your endeavours; your knowledge, the only thing left to do, is to create. Create your own. Alternative modern cultural capitals are formed in the stead, for example, graffiti instead of fine art, spoken word for poetry and rap (or in the UK grime) for classical music.

‘Cause each and every time you touch the spray paint can

Michelangelo’s soul controls your hand

Grandmaster Mellie Mel and the Furious Five. Cite track

The parallels between the cultural capitals are apparent. To engage in the appreciation of rap, you need to exchange time, money and social connections to learn the requisite knowledge.

Case Study

‘Eric B. is President’ 

by Eric B. and Rakim 1986

For scores of people of that generation, that song was an anthem. We see a mix of rhymes, internal and multi-syllabic; Let’s look closer so you may appreciate through a basic knowledge of music.

I don’t bug out or chill or be acting ill

No tricks in ’86 it’s time to build 

Rakim later drops this verse.

But he’s kicking it ’cause it aint no half stepping

The party is live, the rhyme cant be kept inside

It needs erupting just like a volcano

It aint everyday style or the same old rhyme.

Those of you who are confused about why I am showing you a relatively simple verse are likely missing the required cultural capital to access beauty. Rap consists of rhymes by also rhythms controlled by bars.

The line 

‘The party is live, the rhyme cant be kept inside’ 

Rakim crosses the bar line. The bar ends on the ‘in…’, and the ‘side’ is the next bar’s first beat. Now reread the line and tell me that it isn’t poetic, intelligent, now watch the song and beautifully actioned.

Iambic Pentameter and other rhythms make the base of rap and of literature. It is ironic that Shakespeare is revered for his rhyme and rhythm, but the Notorious BIG is not even recognised as an artist and wordsmith.

HypnotiseNotorious BIG

Escargot, my car go one-sixty, swiftly (Come on)

Wreck it, buy a new one

Your crew run-run-run, your crew run-run

Notorious BIG accents the ES in escargot, this likely a reference to the Mercedes S Class (which had a speedo max of 160) which he destroyed that year. In the video, he is still using a cane from the injury. In the final line Mr Wallace creates a motive from the Crystal’s Da Doo Ron Ron (1963).

I could go on but the point here is not explain the art but to appreciate it has status with worth. To engage you need to exchange capital to inhabit those spaces. To appreciate Christopher Wallace’s or Rakim’s skill which may be some of ‘the best that has been thought or said’, there needs to be a level of understanding of hip-hop’s habitus. It is a must that you give one more chance at building a corresponding coloured pot of institutional cultural capital, albeit an alternative cultural institution but an institution all the same. 

In the same way, in our world of whiteness, this cultural capital can be exchanged from social connections and investing time and money in to learn the norms. It seems OfSTED use and interpretation of Bourdieu’s cultural capital extend to all cultures, even those it appears to seek to diminish.

I am not suggesting we destroy the classics or anything that already exists in the curriculum. I am advocating for a shift in thinking when it comes to the curriculum. The denigration of alternative cultures’ capital is problematic, but more than that, it denies students the richness of global knowledge.

Do you appreciate knowledge and or is it solely the knowledge you’re trained to appreciate? 

Fighting for your Right to ‘Habitate’ – Resistance, Rebellion and Removal

As a person of colour, the habitus can also hold you to stereotype, which negatively impacts you and the world around you. Any resistance is meet with 

Chadwick Boseman when addressing a graduating class of his alma matter (Howard University) describes a interaction with the executive who had hired him.

Chadwick Boseman when addressing a graduating class of his alma matter (Howard University) describes a interaction with the executive who had hired him. Click To Tweet

“I decided to ask them some simple questions about the background of my character, questions that I felt were pertinent to the plot. Question number one, where’s my father?

“The exact answer he left when you were younger, of course.”

“Okay, question number two in the script alluded to my mother not being equipped to operate as a good parent, so why exactly would my little brother not have to go into foster care?”

“Matter of fact, we said, well, of course, she’s on heroin.”

“That would be real, I guess.”

“But I don’t want to assume that’s what it was. If we’re around here, assuming that the black characters in this show are criminals or drugs and dead beat parents, and that will probably be stereotypical, that word stereotypical. When one of the execs pulled out my resume and began studying it, the other exec was smart, trying to live up to what they had promised me only a few moments before.

If there’s anything you need, just let us know, she said. As you have seen, things move really fast around here. But we are more more than happy to connect you with the writers if you have suggestions. Yeah, I said that that would be great. I say because I’m just trying to do my homework on this. I didn’t I didn’t know if you guys had decided on all the facts, but maybe there are some things we could come up with, some talent or gift that we could build.

Maybe he’s really good at math or something. He has to be active. I’m doing my best not to play. This is acting like a victim.

I left the office and shot the episode. I come in to shoot on that day, probably the best one I did out of the three, because I got what was bothering me off my chest. I was let go from that job on the next day, a phone call from my agent. They decided to go another way yet. 

Cultural Capital – Part 2

This is part 2 of the series-

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 3

OfSTED Framework

I assume that the inclusive of cultural capital in the OfSTED framework means that schools should be equipping students with a schematic repertoire to navigate society. This is fine; teaching students how to make choices that make them more ‘successful’ is not controversial. ‘The best that has been thought and said’ and ‘an appreciation of human creativity and achievement’ needs the addition of ‘by those imbued with whiteness’ and ‘of whiteness’ to be truly authentic.

Now in each micro field, let’s ask which cultural capital is valued? Whose unwritten rules and structural expectancies are held as worthy? In the playground, whose games are catered? Whose norms are adhered to? In the classroom, the poetry of Shakespeare has more value than Rumi, the Rza, or Chip. Why is this? Is it the aesthetics of the language? The content? The highfalutin nature of the language?


Akala at TEDxAldeburgh compares the valued work of Shakespeare to hip hop artists.

” “To destroy the beauty from which one came.” To destroy the beauty from which one came. If you think that’s hip hop, raise your hands please. If that’s Shakespeare, raise your hands please. Brilliant, okay, that’s 70% towards Shakespeare. It’s from a gentleman known as Sean Carter, better known as Jay-Z, from a track called “Can I live?”

"To destroy the beauty from which one came." To destroy the beauty from which one came. If you think that's hip hop, raise your hands please. If that's Shakespeare, raise your hands please. Brilliant, okay, that's 70% towards… Click To Tweet

We’ll go for another one. “Maybe it’s hatred I spew, maybe it’s food for the spirit.” Maybe it’s hatred I spew, maybe it’s food for the spirit. Hip hop? Shakespeare? Getting overwhelmingly towards Shakespeare. Interesting. Anyone heard of a gentleman known as Eminem? He’s not Shakespeare. That’s from a track Eminem did with Jay-Z actually, called “Renegade.”

We’ll go for a couple more. “Men would rather use their broken weapons than their bare hands.” Men would rather use their broken weapons than their bare hands. Hip hop? Shakespeare? Pretty even spread with a Shakespearean lean. That one is from Shakespeare, it’s from a play known as “Othello.”

We go for: “I was not born under a rhyming planet.” I was not born under a rhyming planet. Hip hop? Shakespeare? That one is Shakespeare. It’s from “Much Ado about Nothing.”

We go for two more. We’ll go for: “The most benevolent king communicates through your dreams.” The most benevolent king communicates through your dreams. Hip hop? Shakespeare? Ah, 50:50 there. A gentleman known as the RZA who’s the head of the Wu-Tang Clan. 

It isn’t that easy, is it? Once we remove the context, the cultural setting (and power), it becomes complicated to differentiate between hip hop lyrics and academically valued work. Kingslee Akala going on to asks the question, who is allowed to be the custodian of knowledge? The beauty of the lyrical words is very similar to the accepted pantheon. The apparent only difference is that an alternative culture brings us one, which is not known or accepted to the ears of those defining which ideas are worth spreading. “

Is This About Knowledge?

Let’s think about the educational canon in schools; what is the decision makers’ cultural capital? The culture they accept and propagate. Power begets power, and the habitus begets, well, more habitus. 

Why do certain groups cluster together in the playground and tend to behave in similar ways? In staff meetings, why do teachers of colour rarely feel comfortable wearing traditional garments? Who decides where value resides in your organisation? 

Is ‘value’ a synonym for how entrenched in whiteness the cultural activities are?

Is 'value' a synonym for how entrenched in whiteness the cultural activities are? Click To Tweet

The etiquette of a ‘business wear’ style uniforms are more important than the students’ expressions of self in the classroom’s micro field. These different sections of society all have different levels of value. Through teaching a preselected narrative, we endow our political views on the children we serve. I have no issue with being political; After all, teaching is an act of politics (Freire). 

But, we have to admit this is a form of brainwashing—just a brand so unique it may be sponsored by Daz.

What happens when we elevate one culture over another?

People of colour’s cultural capital, no matter how valuable, if it does not align with whiteness’ metrics, is deemed worthless. Students of colour are forced to adapt by rejecting that part of themselves; forced to have to navigate this discord constantly. The process presents as subconscious code-switching between social groups, home and school; this is exhausting takes up precious cognitive resources, leading to many issues.

It begs the question, is this about knowledge or is this about protecting the status quo? We are trained through our education system to endorse this ideology by promoting a particular type of knowledge and actively denigrating the majority’s cultural worth of knowledge; Who, if anyone needs reminding, are the working class and our melanated kith and kin? 

It begs the question, is this about knowledge or is this about protecting the status quo? We are trained through our education system to endorse this ideology by promoting a particular type of knowledge and actively denigrating the… Click To Tweet

It is okay to state that hip hop/bhangra/bongo, graffiti/tinga tinga/rangalo, and street dance/garba/forho are not accepted because they are not borne solely of whiteness. But, stop pretending this is about the quality of academia or the ‘best’ of anything.

Cultural Capital – Part 1

This series of blogs will interrogate whose cultural capital is valued – Part 1 is based around the foundations of Bourdieu’s work.

French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu describes reality as being given meaning through the social experience of it. He refers to the ‘field’, which is where these three sources of power are exchanged. For example, In an educational setting, we have the macro field, the school on the whole, and then split up into micro ‘fields’. Here are three different examples of staff meetings, the playground and the classroom.

Bourdieu presents the three sources of control (or power) as interchangeable pots, which he refers to as capitals:

1. Economic Capital: This is measured in terms of money, property and other assets.

2. Social Capital: A measure of social influence.

3. Cultural Capital: Split into the institutionalised, such as formal qualifications, and the embodied, for example, a persons’ phonology (accent and dialect). The embodied cultural capital is made up of the implicit unwritten rules and etiquettes and knowledge we pick up within an environment and the objectified which are material artefacts such as works of fine art and books.

Economic capital for Social capital:

We may gain influence by spending money to inhabit the same spaces (golf club membership) to build professional and personal networks.

Economic for cultural capital:

Having the money and time allow people to be able to learn the rules and strive towards qualifications.

Social Capital for Economic Capital:

Social influence means you can exchange these networks for economic gain through winning contracts, selling your products and services to the number of connection you have.

Social capital for cultural capital: 

Having social connection makes you more likely to achieve qualifications. Knowing people who can support those journeys and being in the same spaces as those deemed cultured leads to the social osmotic learning those unwritten rules.

Cultural Capital for Social Capital: 

Knowing the (valued) culture in a conversation enables a connection such as talking about Foucault, Hegel and Hume at a party.

Cultural Capital for Economic Capital 

Cultural capital means you can not only connect with those with wealth but exchange it knowing the rules of engagement and having the formal qualifications in an interaction increase your chance of transacting for material gain.

What is the Habitus?

Eventually, through constant interactions with the rules and the unwritten norms, the cultural capital impacts people’s tendency to behave in specific fields. This set of behaviours is the physical of the embodied cultural capital Bourdieu calls the habitus.

Eventually, through constant interactions with the rules and the unwritten norms, the cultural capital impacts people's tendency to behave in specific fields. This set of behaviours is the physical of the embodied cultural capital… Click To Tweet

Each micro and macro field contains its specific cultural capital; actually, all three capitals; which are exchanged freely. This is evident when we observe school leaders and teachers behaving very differently in the classroom, staff meeting and playground (see diagram also draw a better diagram). This behaviour may give away the leader’s status, teacher or pupil in the hierarchy without any explicit statements. The habitus is not borne of free will or the structures rather; it’s the child of the interplay of both. There is no decree absolute of how a senior leader will act in a staff meeting or in a classroom. There are no fixed rules around what the teacher wears, but we all know the rules and etiquettes exist.

Isabel Wilkerson gives a personal example of observing the habitus in action while on a trip to India researching the Dalit class by stating. 

“began to be able to tell who was the high born and who was low born among the Indian people among us, not from what they looked like, as one might when in the United States, but on the basis of the universal human response to hierarchy is the case of an upper caste person an inescapable certitude in bearing, demeanour, behaviour, a visible expectation of centrality”. 

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste.

"began to be able to tell who was the high born and who was low born among the Indian people among us, not from what they looked like, as one might when in the United States, but on the basis of the universal human response to hierarchy Click To Tweet

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 3

Is this Anti White?

I can’t wait to be a father. I will raise my child and teach them about the accomplishments of those of colour; I’ll replace white achievements with later comparable sources from people of colour.

I will manipulate the books and films they consume, so all the main characters are of colour, and white ones are in supporting roles. Flipping the poles, so the white person needs rescuing or has to be endowed with special powers to feature.

Of course, in (home) schooling, I will teach about a few white people who have achieved. They’ll need to understand what they need to do in life. I will teach them that it’s about effort, and if white people work hard enough, they’ll also rise.

I will tell them to be wary of white men by educating them about the crimes that white people commit. That type 2 paedophilia is 100% white and almost exclusively male; Abroad that white people go into schools, kill their peers, etc. We learn about world religions and pointing out that all of them have been founded by people of colour.

That the US and UK, which have majority white populations, have issues with their democracies, have their leaders incite insurrections and lie to them regularly. Oh, and in the UK, indulge in corruption and don’t believe in fair tendering processes.

That when people of colour exploited and enslaved white people, it was for their betterment. Bringing religion, civilisation, medicine, law, etc. They should be grateful.

In teaching about the savagery of family war, I’ll teach that the world wars were about white royal families killing each other over cousins’ power positions.

That white people are the fastest-growing terror threat and that more white people have arrested in the UK for terrorism than any other ethnicity/race for the last three years.

Do you think this would be wrong? And the above acts are anti-white? Well, I am not telling any lies. I’ve propagated a knowledge-rich approach. Do you think it cruel? That’ll change how my children look at their white family and peers that I would be indoctrinating them, maybe even radicalising them.

Well. If we flip the narratives from white to colour and vice versa. We have a very familiar current world we live.

It is time.

What is White Solidarity 2

So, you’ve blacked out your profile picture, you believe in equality, and you even attended Black Lives Matter protests. What was the point?

When at a dinner party, a person from the dominant group tells a racist joke.

“An Asian person arrives at a huge event educational charity … and we all thought it was the takeaway delivery man …”

“ha ha”

A member of the BAME community points out:

“Excuse me; you understand that is incredibly racist”

At this point, what is the reaction of the room? Who is ostracised and well is supported?

“He is a good person.”

“He didn’t mean any harm.”

“Look at him in this photo with people of colour.”

“Why do you have to take everything to heart”

“Why did you ruin the party?”

“Not everything is about race.”

  1. What has any of the above got to do with the prices of bread?

“He is a good person.” – Good people can uphold white supremacy.

“He didn’t mean any harm.” – Intentions means nothing when melanated bodies are dying as a result of our racist system.

“Look at him in this photo with people of colour.” -If a person murders someone being a character witness to the member of the victims’ family supports the act of murder.

  1. Silence is violence. We live in a system that leads to a quantifiable trauma route to early death (Yes, I have just spent months researching and writing about this – yes, the book will be out soon). Doing nothing leaves us all there.
  2. Support, shockingly, puts you in same the bracket as the perpetrator of violence.
  3. Whether laughing, staying silent or attacking those brave enough to make change at the dinner table or in the cesspool of social media. Live your lives the way you want but understand that we see you. No, those of us of colour feel your actions.

This is essentially white solidarity. If a racist attack occurs, all I ask is for people to judge it on the actions and violence that have been committed.

Before I get back to the chapter – I would like people to reflect on those responses. This person dares to make us all better; as a victim of the system, who are we to question their voice or motives.

“Why do you have to take everything to heart”

“Why did you ruin the party?”

“Not everything is about race.”

The Knowledge of Genocide and the Mass Genocide of Knowledge.

2 x 2 = 4

2 x 2 = 4

2 x 2 = 4

The Tutsi genocide of Rwanda, the Bosnian, Cambodian genocides and the Holocaust can be taught in the same manner and the way timetables may be taught.

Learn, rinse and repeat.

-Between 800’000 and one million people lost their lives in the Tutsi genocide of Rwanda.

-Between 800’000 and one million people lost their lives in the Tutsi genocide of Rwanda.

-Between 800’000 and one million people lost their lives in the Tutsi genocide of Rwanda.

This emphasis on knowledge existing in a vacuum may herald great exam results, but I ask, is that our aim? To raise our students to be able to pass examinations, is that it? Where is the ‘I’m here to make a difference’ war cry from our vocation? Learning the numbers, the location and times of these events may be enough for our students to wave around a piece of paper that grants them entry into academic and professional spaces, but what are they learning?

When the aim of teaching is solely to pass knowledge, the meaning gets lost in the meleê, the teacher and student lose the ability to contextualise the whole, to learn what is there to consume, engage and enjoy. 

I’d argue that the rote transmission of written facts is more than bland if it dulls the voices in the survivors’ literature and silences the messages of never again. This part of our role trains our young people to accept, assimilate and replicate within a concrete structure. It’s high time we chip away at that structure. The cost is too great.

Let’s look at teaching as a process from the above example to:

If we as a profession do not foster thoughts and feelings around something as poignant as mass murder, we fail our young people. Yes, between 800’000 and one million people lost their lives in the Tutsi genocide of Rwanda. Yes, most of the dead were Tutsis, the Hutus committed the violence, and yes, this was sparked by their President’s death.

Is this the level we want students to consume, empathise and engage? What is the end goal?

When Belgian colonialists arrive in the early 20th century, they produced identity cards that demarcated Tutsis from Hutus. These people share the same culture, language and land, although there are claims that the minority Tutsi are generally taller, thinner and have fairer skin. Let me repeat fairer skinned. 

The white colonialists saw the Tutsis as superior and, as a result, built a two-tier society which, as a result, lead to the community subjugating the Hutu majority. Tensions rose until a boiling point of violence where 20000+ Tutsi were slaughtered, and many sought refuge in the neighbouring countries. The Europeans left three years later, in 1962, and the Hutus realised power as the majority.

In the 1990s, Tutsi rebels renewed attacked on the Hutu government, and the then Hutu presidents plane was shot down. What followed was a Hutu led extermination, a 30000 strong militia hacked their way through the Tutsi populace.

In the above, I may be teaching you some new facts. The superiority of lighter skin usually comes as a surprise, but this is still me taking the knowledge in my brain that I have a relationship with and conveying it to you as cold hard facts. How do I foster an environment for you to build your meaning around it? 

All knowledge is socially constructed. Even if teachers believe that they are passing on an objective fact to their students; They wrap their reality around your construct anyway.

School may create learning environments that promote empathy, but where is the consuming and engagement with content? 

What do we want students to take away from the content? That these are the facts and to connect with the horrors and ensure it never happens again?

The context here is everything. Knowing the Belgian state used the white supremacist construct is one thing and understanding why segregation is helpful to a colonising power is another. This understanding is what educators should seek. This is the world we all strive to inhabit.

This society is created by intertwining knowledge, skills, and feeling around a broad range of experiences (and the curricula) that build a defensive and offensive fortress and build bridges.

Disclaimer: The above based on a hugely simplified version of an incredibly complex situation. That further adds to the point too.