More about this episode
Chanté was an awardee of the Walter Rodney Dissertation Award (2019-2020) and is a SOAS Geography and Development Studies Graduate. Chanté is currently training with Teach First and the IOE to be a Mathematics teacher.
Dissertation Abstract: My essay aims to explore the relationships, real or perceived, between different generations of British-Caribbean people and the British state, since 1948 until the present day. It aims to understand whether relations have improved or worsened over time, from the perspective of nine people from the British-Caribbean community. These nine people come from three separate generations; the Windrush generation, those born around the 1970s and those born during the 1990s, and they help the essay explore the relationships between the wider British-Caribbean community and immigration legislation, policing, housing and education and media representations.
Walter Rodney Dissertation Awards
In her foreword to the new edition of Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Verso 2018, first published in 1972) Angela Davis points to the extent to which Rodney’s work has transformed the field of African history. More importantly, she highlights the close connection between painstaking historical research and anti-racist activism Rodney’s life exemplifies. She portrays him as the quintessential ‘scholar-activist’ whose research was passionately linked to his determination to change the world for the better, the much needed ‘brilliant example of what it means to be a resolute intellectual who recognizes that the ultimate significance of knowledge is the capacity to transform our social worlds.’ This is probably the best way to capture the spirit of the Walter Rodney Dissertation awards.
SOAS History Blog
Transcription: Haritha Balasubramaniyan
Sound and production: Ellan A. Lincoln-Hyde
Additional text: Andrea Janku
Hi there, my name is Emmanuella Bamfo and I’m currently a first year student at SOAS studying History. Today I have with me – Chante. Would you like to introduce yourself please?
Hi Emmanuella, my name is Chanté Chan. I’m a former Development Studies and Geography student from SOAS, and I’m now currently a trainee maths teacher in Croydon.
So, Chante, you won the award for the Walter Rodney Prize. The title of your dissertation was “An Intergenerational study of Black Caribbean experiences of Racism, Discrimination and the State.” So how did the idea for your project take shape? Was there any specific question that you wanted to answer?
It took shape more through the ideas and the interests I really had. When I got to third year and we needed to come up with a dissertation idea, I found that I was actually really interested in lots of different things such as colonialism, gender studies, and even a little bit of anthropology. I think that’s really the beauty of a Development Studies degree.
So, in the end, I knew for sure that I wanted to continue along the lines of studying something to do with me because I felt like I’d be passionate about it, and that I would find researching and reading and looking at and spending quite a bit of my time on this piece of work. And then I think I came up with a few ideas, mostly to do with colonialism, and then I came to this idea, which I think I was a bit apprehensive about doing because it seemed like I’d read up stuff on this anyway. So it was almost like “am I going to be covering anything new at all?” After many conversations with my supervisor, I finally came to this idea – looking at different generations within the Black Caribbean community and looking at how their lives have been impacted by different parts of society. So, that’s how it took shape.
Can you briefly summarise for us, what your dissertation entails?
It looks at the different generations of the Black Caribbean community, specifically the Windrush generation – those who were born back in the 1960s and those who were born in the 1990s – and it looks at their relationship with the State, with police, education, healthcare, housing, and the media.
What part of the research did you enjoy the most?
I definitely found that it was the most interesting to read up on and research things to do with the Caribbean community and health. Just looking at that history of why there are such disproportionate impacts on Black people and also Caribbean people within the UK. That was really interesting to me. Because it was very new, I really enjoyed it.
What was the most surprising outcome of your research?
I think I went into the research thinking that things have probably got better in terms of Caribbean people and the police in particular, and Caribbean people and housing. But it didn’t seem to be that way. It almost seemed to have gotten worse. For example, when I had spoken to people and carried out my interviews and spoke about people’s experiences in terms of policing, I was very surprised to learn that members of the older generation I had interviewed had actually had fairly pleasant experiences with the Police. Whereas, I was speaking to people who were much younger than them, and they had way more experiences with the police that were extremely, I would say, traumatic.
One of the interviewees that I spoke to said that they had been stopped by the police one time and I think they thought that it was a bit suspicious – like they had been pulled over for just no reason, but it was fairly pleasant and non-traumatic. Whereas when I spoke to somebody who was, at the time of speaking, 22, they had had way more experiences (I don’t even remember exactly how many), but they had a handful of experiences that they could tell me where I would not have wanted to be in that position. They were explaining how they had experienced being taken out of the car, being told to go up against the wall, all over what is really a stereotype and a suspicion. But it seems that that suspicion was based on the colour of his skin.
Do you have any thoughts on why you think this is? Why the younger generations have suffered more with the police than older generations?
I think that’s a good question. I think that perhaps relations have deteriorated over the years. I can only speak for, obviously, what I have experienced and seen. And I have not experienced much racism but I do think that when I was researching into institutional racism in institutions such as the police, I don’t believe that anything transformative has actually taken place. So, reports have been written and they have found that there is institutional racism – but what has been done about it? I couldn’t find much. I couldn’t find much that had been said to be done to actually tackle the causes of institutional racism and how they are going to combat that. So I think it’s great to research these and look into and find and get statistics and numbers about what’s happening in society. That’s one part of the problem, but we then have to actually think about “what are we going to do about it?” And I don’t believe that institutional racism has been as much of a priority as it should be, and therefore, time and resources have not been invested into actually tackling this.
So, 2020 was the year where the world came to a halt but at the same time you were still doing a dissertation, so do you think COVID had a great impact on the process of your research?
I actually don’t think that the pandemic impacted the process of my research a whole lot, the reason being because by the time we were instructed to go into a lockdown, I had actually already finished my research and interviews. However, I did find that the pandemic ever so slightly changed my conclusion, as even at the beginning of the lockdown, although we were under the belief that the pandemic and COVID-19 was not discriminating so anyone was at the risk of catching COVID, there was clear data that was showing us that it actually was affecting people from a minority background disproportionately. So, as a Black person, you are more likely to find yourself living in crowded spaces. That might be council flats, housing associations, and that means that you are more likely to catch COVID because you’re coming into contact with more people.
In your opinion, do you think that the Government has taken enough responsibility when it comes to those who are of the working class and they don’t not have enough housing, or they have poor resources when it comes to education? Do you think that the Government has taken enough responsibility in improving their lives? Or do you think that they still have a way to go?
There’s a lot of data that says that housing inequality is stark, not just between class, but also race. There are lots of questions though, and lots of disagreement on whose responsibility that should be. Which is unfortunate – that we should be debating whether or not people deserve somewhere to live. It’s a very interesting question, but the answer to that is, no.
I think that can be seen in Grenfell as well, in the issue with housing and the government not caring enough to make sure that they have the right equipment used on housing.
Exactly, just like the Grenfell fire. That is a very relevant issue that I no longer hear anything about in mainstream news. But there are still people who have been displaced from that fire and it just seems to be that they are not cared about because they are not, perhaps, seen as profitable to the state.
What do you think is the potential of an oral-history approach for writing a history of the Black Caribbean community in the UK?
There is lots of potential there to gain real insight into the lives of people within the community. It would obviously be very time-consuming, but the depth you would get would be amazing. And to all of those who are interested, I think it would be great to actually hear. But I do think that some of those have been done, so there have been lots of documentaries where people are speaking about their experiences and how things have changed, such as the music scene in the UK, or perhaps in policing. It would be really interesting to see that replicated in other things such as healthcare, or education, so that we get an insight into loads of different parts of society that impacts everyone in that community as well.
Do you think that if you had gone to a different university, your dissertation would be similar to or still on the subject of the Black Caribbean community, or do you think your time at SOAS helped cement your interest in this?
I definitely think that my time at SOAS cemented my interest in this. SOAS definitely has a reputation for delivering and instilling the need for authenticity. So the type of people and the environment that SOAS is definitely made me feel like I want to learn more about the community I’m a part of. So, without a doubt, it’s definitely SOAS.
I love that so much. Thank you so much Chante, for taking the time to speak to us. I really enjoyed our conversation and I wish you all the best!