In order for a conversation regarding pressing social issues to be productive, it is important to work collaboratively to understand the complexity of voices that exist within the structures of our society. We recognise that the hierarchical structures of our society place men above women, prioritises whiteness and favours the rich over the poor. In this capitalist system, those who are able-bodied are treated as more of a utility to the capitalist agenda and equally those who are not, a threat.
Within this traditional binary, there are those who fall into the margins — thus becoming silenced, alienated, dehumanised, and invisible. Through our work we seek to explore how these structures interact and overlap, and to move towards an intersectional understanding of many of the socio-economic issues that exist in the UK today. We will do so through a series of three intergenerational interviews. The interviews should be understood as evocative pieces, which attempt to capture the complexity of the interviewees by layering their voices with sounds from their daily lives, to create a rhythmic almost melodic soundscape.
To preface our work it is important here for us to define intersectionality in order to demonstrate its importance and relevance when discussing social mobility, gender equality, community resilience and social housing, When we use the term intersectional, we begin with Kimberle Crenshaw’s pivotal response to the limitations in existing discourse surrounding feminist and race politics in the late 80s.
“Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. . . . But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.”
(Crenshaw, 1989) 1
Here Crenshaw is specifically demonstrating the burden of the Black Woman’s position as a victim of varying assaults on her identity, which can be attributed to a composite of forces. What Crenshaw introduces us to is a malleable approach which allows insight into the varying nature of structures of oppression. If each car represents an oppressive force, then it is possible to remove or add cars in order to understand different experiences of disadvantage. For example, different cars could be faith, ethnicity, class or mental wellbeing. Without wishing to misappropriate Crenshaw’s work, we have applied this analogy to guide our exploration, using it as a starting point to attempt to understand the lives of our three interviewees within the context of race, class, and gender.
Throughout this project, we have come to understand the multiple ways in which class, gender and race are defining factors in gentrification and regeneration in London. In particular our piece seeks to explore the complex link between black masculinity, community, social housing, social mobility and change. Lorde states:
“Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age and sex. But it is not these differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognise these differences and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and these effects upon human behaviour and expectations”
There is often a real reluctance to see the ways these differences intersect and materialise. A truly unified project requires this recognition and furthermore, it requires us to restructure and rebuild these relations.
We asked three males from the same family network to talk to us about what they found important. Their stories are seen through the lens of race, class and diaspora, yet their concerns are universal: belonging, purpose, progression, dreams and aspirations. Their journeys carry us across three generations and across continents, but in the end they all bring us to a single city: London.
Our piece emerged from our concern that the people we were speaking to were often left out of mainstream discourses, or that their experiences were misrepresented or appropriated. It was important to us that our conversations were not prescriptive, but that they allowed the speakers a platform on which to be heard.
Within the Homes for Londoners (3) plan, the mayor and councils commit to maximising affordable housing. The current threshold for affordable housing in London, is 35% for every proposed development (under the Section 106 Agreement). However, loopholes such as the Viability Assessment have seen the amount of affordable housing fall short of this target. In 2014/15 only 13% (4) of homes given planning permission were affordable. In London in 2016, over 50,000 households were in temporary accommodation while 227,549 families were on local authority waiting lists (Shelter databank). Within this climate of need, the city faces ongoing redevelopment work, which constantly fails to safeguard vulnerable communities and instead provides costly homes and forces low income families to leave their communities. With high numbers of ethnic minorities found within lower income brackets, it is hard to imagine how diverse the communities occupying these new spaces will be. And with the coming of new communities, increasingly defined by their ability to afford costly rents, it is important to consider who and what was once in their place (5).
In the following piece we hear from Mr Edwards as he reminisces about his home in Dominica. As he speaks we understand that his story is one filled with conflict, one in which it is clear that his choices were influenced by many competing and complex factors.
When it comes to debates around social housing, it is important to acknowledge the complexity of the lives within those homes, and the myriad of factors which brought them there. Opposing arguments will often urge you to admire how much these individuals love their home, their community and their area. Or on the flipside, will convince you of how neglectful, violent and disrespectful the residents of social housing are. Mr Edward’s story is more complex than that. He moved to London in the 80s, prompted to do so by a global system which presented him with more opportunities in the UK than he perceived there to be in his home country. The London he moved to would not have been the most tolerant, or welcoming city for a black man from a Caribbean island. Despite this, he made a life here, raised children here and now he continues to live in London.
Mr Edwards, like many of the residents of social housing, is not grovelling with gratitude nor is he indignantly ungrateful. When asked to discuss whatever he wished, he did not choose to talk about how much he loves London. However, he is an integral part of the city. He is an example of the diversity and multiculturalism that Londoners are taught to be so proud of. But how long will people like Mr Edwards be able to continue to live in London, and if they leave, what and who will replace them?
We believe that we should protect the right of Mr Edwards to grow old in London, in his home, while still dreaming of another home that he left far away.
Motivated by the words of our first speaker we felt it necessary, amongst the multiple ‘othered’ bodies struggling to co-exist, to to explore black masculinity further. Although we exist as women, and one of us as a women of colour, which on the macro level means we experience the force of structural oppression, (in particular as a black women operating at a disadvantage to black men) on a micro level there are some sites which we are able to navigate and some boundaries we were able to transgress with ease. We acknowledge that a significant factor in this being the case is down to the fact that we were not perceived as a threat in the same sense that black men are in our society.
The experience of being a black man growing up in London, where a climate of fear still surrounds black male bodies, is crucial to understanding the position of our second speaker. As he spoke to us, we could not ignore the tension between the London he used to know, and the London he knows now, nor could we ignore where this tension came from. We spoke with him of how the post-colonial system has fundamentally failed those from the Afro-Caribbean community, which as a result is led to form its own communities based on geographical location: the streets surrounding where they lived becoming a place of belonging when other spaces in the city remained inaccessible or unwelcoming. However, these communities, formed out of rejection from mainstream spaces, posed a threat which our speaker saw as being linked to the social cleansing which underscores many regeneration plans. It has been these communities, where there is a high concentration of black males (often mislabelled as gangs) which have been the first to go.
Black males in London have been used as a scapegoat and excuse for knocking down estates and moving families out. They have have been demonised in the media. Many live a life where they are seen as suspects and not victims even though it is they who, as as community, are victimised by the police. With stop and searches in 2016 6 times as likely to happen to black men, we felt it important to demonstrate the conflict between the idea of black men as a threat and the actual stories they have to tell.
In Black Bodies White Gazes (2008) George Yancy discusses the way in which the black body is returned to it’s owner as something unrecognisable. Through showing violent images of black on black crime, by casting black men as thieves on popular television programmes, by creating these perceptions of black masculinty, the media effects the mobility of these same individuals; their image negatively engrained in the collective unconscious.
These individuals are at the mercy of a threatening system which limits their progression. Instead of seeing the individual, the public are encouraged to project their misconceptions onto the black body. Seen as a threat to the status quo they are deemed a hinderence towards civilised society and so it is these communities which are most vulnerable to demonisation and forced displacement.
“As we move toward creating a society within which we can each flourish, ageism is another distortion of relationships which interferes with our vision. By ignoring the past, we are encouraged to repeat its mistakes. The “generation gap” is an important social tool for any repressive society. If the younger members of a community view the older members as contemptible or suspect or excess, they will never be able to join hands and examine the living memories of the community, nor ask the important question, “Why?””
Through our project, we hoped to demonstrate the complexity of what makes a community, and to show the differences between an objectively designated community, and communities which individuals designate as their own. In some ways similar and in other ways conflicting, these three voices represent communities found within communities. As our speakers progress through time, we can see how each one lays more claim to London as their home. For each, what they saw as their community and what they saw as their home was a personal journey.
We hope that our project highlights the resilience of black communities. While Mr Edwards dreams of going back to Dominica, Laurence dreams of being able to buy his own house in the only place he knows as home. With black communities often being regarded as a whole, members of this community live with the burden of acting as representatives. Therefore we felt it was important to individualise these three voices, to make a small step towards a more nuanced and respectful understanding.
We finish our project with Raejuan.
Raejuan is living in the shadow of the other two speakers; in some ways their experiences may define his being, but in other ways his future is open ended. Although Raejuan carries with him the trauma of his ancestors, we wanted to close our project on an optimistic note; with the hope that Raejuan is able to create a stable community in London which will allow him more choices and options than limitations.
“We are all lost in the immensity of the universe and in the depth of our own spirit. There is no way back home, there is no home…We can neither deal with the past nor with the present, and the future takes us more and more away from the concept of home. We are not free, as we like to think, but lost.”
(Miéville and Godard)
- Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989, 149.
- Audre Lorde p115 (1984) Sister Outsider. Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. CA: The Crossing Press.
- Homes for Londoners 2016, https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/ah_viability_spg_20170816.pdf
- Homes for Londoners 2017, p11 https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/ah_viability_spg_20170816.pdf
- Information from this section has been sourced from ‘The dark side of VIABILITY’ documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHVFMUaG8fQ