Walking the Walk: Including Ethnic Minorities in Green Initiatives

Dr Zana Vathi

As the press has recently highlighted, walking is both an expression as well as a means to develop positive relationships with the outdoors. But is the ‘outdoors’ a flat realm within the Anthropocene? The inequalities of urban inhabitation are widely known and talked about. Since COVID-19 blurred the boundaries of the private and public while extending the urban lives beyond the urban perimeters, those same inequalities were extended and made more visible, too.

Recently formed minority groups that explore the green areas were given a boost by COVID-19. FootstepsNW is one of these initiatives operating in the North West of the UK, working closely with CPRE, the Countryside Charity – Lancashire, Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester

But green spaces close to home can still be inaccessible by ethnic minorities. Often concentrated in areas lacking green spaces, minorities can be spatially excluded from the green areas. Yet, community regeneration projects often make greening of abandoned urban areas a priority and amazing results have been celebrated in areas in Liverpool.

Living sustainably in urban cohesion, and equally inhabiting public spaces can only mean caring for and cultivating urban green spaces together. As the pandemic exposed the importance of immediate green areas for the urban communities, a new awareness of co-existence and new forms of urban mixing were developed and can be further forged. Community projects and in particular green areas and community gardens help with bringing people together in these areas, improving wellbeing.

The pandemic posed additional challenges, while creating opportunities for new ways of working or establishing connection between sectors and professionals, and migrants and minorities. The implementation of integration strategies by the local authorities were challenged by lockdown and the greater need for outreach of the most vulnerable among migrants and ethnic minorities. A blurring of the state and charity action to contribute to those most in need was also noted, while online support for those affected emotionally and mentally was made a priority from the charities with experience in this area. Online communication also enabled the overburdened NHS to coordinate with other sectors and new understandings on migrant and minority vulnerabilities were formed.  

However, stepping away from online communication and collaboration means stepping back into urban mobilities and convivial interactions. Isolation and constrained local lives as a result of lockdown render green spaces as key urban infrastructures to realize these local mobilities and connections during the pandemic. Research in these areas has the potential to enable, channel and thread local narratives that go beyond the divisions based on ethnic and social diversity.

Dr Zana Vathi is Reader in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University and Director of the Migration Working Group North-West.

Photo by Zé Zorzan on Unsplash

Why a Blanket Macro Approach to Health Communication Won’t Cut it Anymore!

Dr Ruxandra Trandafoiu

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed a number of health inequalities, particularly when it comes to ethnic minority groups.

The Office for National Statistics reports that before the vaccine rollout, men and women of black ethnicity were more than four times likely to die from COVID-19 compared to people of white ethnicity. The Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre data also shows that 34% of COVID-19-related admissions to intensive care are for ethnic minority people, when they only account for 13% of the population of England and Wales.

From my perspective as a former journalist and now communication scholar, the pandemic has also revealed the weaknesses of current approaches to public health communication. This observation was confirmed during a knowledge exchange event organized by ISR on 3 June 2021 entitled ‘Communicating Health Messages and Risks to Minority Groups in the Wirral’.

The Wirral Peninsula has a rapidly growing and increasingly ethnically diverse population, now reaching just under 10%. However, work with our partner organization Wirral Change, which is a Black and Racial Minorities Outreach Service, has unmasked how little attention has been paid to the role ethnicity and marginalisation play in access to healthcare, trust in public communication and health outcomes.

As Clint Agard, Wirral Change CEO, pointed out during our knowledge exchange event, government health communication rarely considers local diversity, leaving organizations like Wirral Change to shoulder the burden of health information and work within communities.

Edna Boampong, Director of Communications and Engagement Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin CCG & Integrated Care System, qualified this problem further during her contribution to our knowledge exchange event. Before taking up her current role, Edna Boampong held for 18 months the position of Interim Director of Communications for the Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership, the second largest ICS in the country. As part of her responsibilities in this role, she curated ‘Getting under the skin: The impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities’ by the Cheshire and Merseyside Health & Care Partnership. This revealed lack of trust in government authorities, poor understanding of key messages, such as the level of immunity after vaccination, substantial vaccine hesitancy and a major diminishing of access to healthcare for the BAME community.

So, what can we do? With the macro approach failing it is time to adopt a more grassroots, spread out networked approach that delivers more targeted, culturally specific, communication. We need to identify and work with communication brokers within each community, not forgetting that these brokers are not just the business or religious leaders, but also women of different age groups and young influencers. We need to do more work at community events. We need to capitalize on the diversity of NHS health workers and train GPs in community specific health challenges and diversity. We need to research and dismantle emotional barriers to achieve more effective health communication. Translating jargon heavy health leaflets into foreign languages simply won’t cut it anymore.

Dr Ruxandra Trandafoiu is Reader in Communication at Edge Hill University.

The Coup that Overthrew Democracy: The Black History Month Screening of ‘Wilmington on Fire’

Dr Jenny Barrett

If Black History Month seems like a recent American phenomenon, it may surprise you to know that Black History Month has its roots in a public history event in the US in February 1926 called “Negro History Week” which sought to endorse equality and celebrate Black achievement. Fifty years later it was given Presidential recognition and became a national month of celebration.

Thanks to the trailblazing efforts of activists and politicians in Britain over several decades, Black History Month was first recognised here in 1987, allegedly moved from February to October to coincide with the start of the academic year for universities. Whilst clearly inspired by the US BHM, it was also important for us to appreciate the distinct context of Britain as a nation with a long history of both racism and anti-racism.

Through recognising the efforts of those who have gone before us we can find the motivation to find ever more creative and effective ways to stand against racism here in the UK.

There is much, however, that we can continue to learn about Black achievement and persecution in US history.

Only in recent years has the story of the city of Wilmington, North Carolina, become public knowledge. In 1898, the black businesses, officials and families of Wilmington were massacred and exiled by a white militia. Their attack was the only completely successful coup of its kind, eventually filling all positions of power across the city with white people and claiming homes and land for themselves. It has been described as the event that began the consolidation of the White Supremacy movement and the establishment of Jim Crow segregation in the state, but for over a century it was kept out of the history books.

African American filmmaker Christopher Everett’s documentary, Wilmington on Fire, allows descendants of the Wilmington riots to tell the story along with local historians and scholars. In their own words we hear of the politically-sanctioned corruption, greed and violence which led to an event as shocking as the events in Washington, D.C. in January of this year.

On Thursday 21st October, Edge Hill University’s International Centre on Racism will be hosting the first UK screening of Christopher Everett’s film, followed by a live Q&A with the director via video link. Chris will also tell us about his follow-up to the film, Wilmington on Fire II, filmed in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Please book early to avoid missing this astounding, important film by clicking here.

This event is generously supported by the Institute for Social Responsibility.

Black History at Edge Hill University will be considered across several discussions, debates, and performances from international, national, and local experts. Please use this link to find out more.

Dr Jenny Barrett is a film scholar at Edge Hill University, and is the Co-Director and founder of the International Centre on Racism.

How the Biden Administration Can Take on White Supremacy

By Heidi Beirich

Taking the stage on January 20 for his inaugural speech in front of the American Capitol that had just been stormed by hundreds of right-wing extremists, President Joe Biden specifically called out the problem of white supremacy and the need to confront it. He denounced the “racism, nativism, fear, demonization” that propelled the assault and said it was now time to confront “a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, [and] domestic terrorism.”

Days later, it was announced that the director of national intelligence would work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to produce a comprehensive threat assessment of these movements. The White House also plans to strengthen the National Security Council’s (NSC) ability to counter domestic extremism by improving the flow of information among government agencies, supporting programs to prevent radicalization and looking at ways to disrupt domestic extremist networks.

These are all necessary steps and a very important start, especially given the prior administration’s encouragement of these dangerous groups and ideas. But to confront the challenge of white supremacy and other forms of extremism in the U.S. there are several issues that need to be confronted simultaneously.

As white supremacist extremism is now an international movement propelled by networks that transcend borders, the U.S. needs to work with allies affected by this menace. There is no other way to effectively counter a threat that knows no national borders. As a Brookings Institute report recently said, “By working with allies around the world, the United States can prevent the groups and cells from helping each other, as it does already with jihadi organizations. In addition, a global effort can reveal otherwise unknown individuals who have ties to extremists back at home.”

Of great importance is the need to confront extremism in the Armed Forces and in law enforcement. Nearly one-fifth of those arrested so far in the Capitol insurgency were either veterans or active-duty troops. Police from several jurisdictions were also found among the rioters. Several major terrorist plots in recent years involving dangerous neo-Nazi organizations including the Atomwaffen Division (atomic weapons in German) and The Base (the English translation for Al Qaeda) have involved arrests of active duty troops and veterans. Given the training they have had in weapons and bombs, the danger is obvious. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who committed the largest domestic terrorist attack before 9/11, had been a veteran steeped in white supremacist and militia ideas.

Hate crimes are another area needing attention. In the U.S., less than five percent of hate crimes are actually documented according to the Department of Justice. The FBI, which collects the data, annually reports around 6,000 cases, but the DOJ says the actual number is more like 250,000 hate crimes. Without accurate data, we are unable to actually understand and address this social problem, which is driven by hatred of various kinds.

Another major problem in growing extremism is the role of the social media companies. It’s clear that dangerous ideas like the increasingly antisemitic QAnon conspiracy and racist propaganda such as the “Great Replacement,” which argues that white people are being displaced by people of color in their home countries, could never have spread without the online space. It is time for the U.S. government to investigate curbing the role of technology companies in proliferating hatred and conspiracies.

It is also important for the government to invest in communities most impacted by hate. For too long, resources for issues like hate crimes have not found their way into marginalized communities. By building their resilience, we can also help to fight white supremacy and extremism.

For more on GPAHE’s suggested policies to curb white supremacy and extremism, see our policy brief.

Dr Heidi Beirich is a co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) which has a mission to strengthen and educate a diverse global community committed to exposing and countering racism, bigotry and prejudice; and to promote the human rights values that support flourishing, inclusive societies and democracies.

Photo by Brett Davis

Gendered Double Imbalances in Higher Education

Some of you might have seen the Tweets and blogs making the rounds regarding the sexual harassment and exploitation (sexual and not) of female academics.

I read them with a profound sense of knowing sadness: whilst I have been lucky to not be in these women’s places, the misogyny and gendered power imbalances are evident everywhere I look in the academy.

They were evident in the disdain with which a very senior colleague treated me at one institution – on the basis of, I have to assume as we never really spoke, my sex and age (I was approximately half his age). Indeed, he was only ever civil with me once he knew I was leaving. It was also evident in the problematic, unethical behaviour of a senior professor at another institution who started a relationship with someone freshly graduated from a PhD despite the fact that he was her line manager. In most of these, the imbalance created by gendered relations of power are further distorted by the imbalances connected to seniority.

Sadly the academy still views seniority as something that is connected to masculine behaviour. Thus, essentially, seniority itself is gendered, thus creating a double barrier for women and enabling the continued imbalances that exists.

What do I mean by all this?

Seniority is still all too often awarded on research achievement – the number of publications, the number of international collaborations, the number of funding bids completed. All of these take time, and it’s time that women, if they behave in gendered ways, rarely have. Research has shown that women, again and again, take on more pastoral care and also find themselves contributing more to institutional work on student support more generally. Several initiatives have been started that are meant to support women, such as the Aurora leadership programme. But what that means is that often women have to do extra work in order to fit in better, rather than the academy better fitting in with women.

Also women, already have less time – something that has been exacerbated by Covid-19. The Guardian recently reported on the inequalities exposed by the pandemic. Oxford University ran a webinar on the 24 June to talk about how female academics, and mothers in particular, are affected by the crisis. Of course I, as other mothers, couldn’t attend because we were too busy juggling home schooling with holding down the job. So the question arises: how will the academy support women in the future?

How will it recognise how women are exploited in many different ways by the gendered double-imbalances described above? And will it finally address these imbalances, or will it ask us to do more work?

Dr Elke Weissmann is Reader in Television and Film in the Department of Creative Arts at Edge Hill University. Her research is focused on television, transnational relations, and gender and the media.

Image: alexsl

Lockdown 2020 – The Impact on Social Care

During this unprecedented lockdown, serious concerns have been raised across society about the social care of the country’s most marginalised and vulnerable groups; and the safety and protection of those who provide their care.

Despite this, provisions within the Coronavirus Act 2020 undermine the Equality Act 2010 and the Care Act 2014, which guarantees disabled people and other marginalised groups the right to appropriate social care and support, and for their social care needs to be met.

The Act stipulates that local authorities will only have to provide care ‘if they consider it necessary’. The Act allows health bodies to delay assessment for continuing care in the NHS. In addition, duties relating to young people transitioning into adult social care have been suspended. People can also be detained under the Mental Health Act using one doctor’s opinion instead of two ensuring that it is easier to detain people. There is also potential for releasing people into the community from mental health care too early, or for people in care staying in care for longer than necessary.

The mantra of  ‘we can do’ and ‘let’s stick together’ oft repeated by the ableist and most powerful in society during this pandemic, runs contrary to the provisions within the Act and will likely ensure that the most marginalised in society will be worst off.

Ironically, the real experts of ‘lockdown’ are the disabled and marginalised. Perhaps we should be listening to their voices, and drawing on their expertise and knowledge, during this global crisis instead?

Dr Michael Richards is a Senior Lecturer in Health and Social Care and the Deputy Director of the Centre for Arts and Wellbeing at Edge Hill University.