The Death of Stuart Hall – Why Blackness is Best When it is Dead

By Sonia Soans

The recent death of Stuart Hall was promptly met with furious social media activity. It was a sad event. However it’s ironic how we mourn the death of well known black academic and forget racism is still alive and kicking in British society. We all know the statistics we know we still bear the brunt of white supremacy. Black men are likely to end up in jail we know this all too well.

Where is the racism you might ask Britain is an ‘equal opportunities’ nation, on paper- yes. The no dogs no blacks signs are gone, no one has ever called me rude names in public. Racism is still around. Week after week my British –Asian flatmate returns home from lectures about race and post colonialism taught by white men and women. Now there is nothing wrong with white men and women many of whom have worked hard to get to that position but where are the people of colour in academia? Why aren’t we the ones teaching people about our  issues around race and culture? The same university my flatmate goes to has lots of Asian students in the business school very few in the social sciences out of that number very few are ones in charge of teaching. So things are not bad we are not intentionally excluded or are they?

Things have changed since the days of Stuart Hall the ‘blacks not allowed’ signs have been taken down invisible signs exist in these places.  There are unwritten rules about race segregation, a city like Manchester is still divided into ghettos. The nicer areas tend to be all white and we have a politically correct word for it – gentrification. The word has come to be associated with white affluent classes. Walk outside and university students seem to divide themselves into convenient racially segregated groups. It seems to be an unwritten rule move in your racial, ethnic, national circle. Diversity bubbles burst soon and everyone seems to sink into automatic segregation.

The same thing happens in class the few undergraduate classes I have been to I have felt what it means to be brown. These were not the subtle comments but blatant ‘what is she saying? I can’t understand you.’ No one has ever complained of that before. I manage to make myself understood everywhere else except in university. I am lucky to work with people who are older than the average undergraduate I never seem to face that problem there.

Our absence in academia is obvious, we are spoken about with a sense of nostalgia as if we are abstract things not people. Often I feel like my opinion in these matters is not needed, when I correct people and present facts I am whitewashed or over thinking. There seems to be a discomfort when it comes to discussing issues that matter. The Delhi Gang Rape Case of 2012 made international headlines most of my friends expressed their grief after that died down there were calls not to talk about the perpetrators nationality or not to bring up the condition under which they committed the crime. While I can see why this is an issue what about the victim? This was about her why did it turn to an issue of race? I have been to events where when black men challenge stereotypes they are shouted down or worse still silence follows. It’s the silence which is the most disturbing, because it seems deliberate and yet it is polite.

The subtle racism that exists in society seems harder to fight because it benign and takes us up our concerns, but flips them around in a nasty way. Take for example films and television. We now see black people on screen but we all know the black guy dies first. He is expendable almost like we are. While we are represented on screen we are represented badly on the margins, making quick appearances. Stuart Hall seems to fit into the same category he is dead now and glorified, we can now make him big in death and forget what he stood for. While some of people who mourned did so for genuine reasons most of us did it in the heat of the moment.

Stuart Hall is dead may he rest in peace. His work taught us a lot but the battle is not over our society needs to keep the debates alive, slip into complacency and our hard fought achievements might be lost. Now more than ever we need to address racism not in the language of a generation before us. Their oppressions were different from ours but they are oppression nonetheless.

Sonia Soans is a PhD scholar at MMU. An adopted Mancunian she is an Indian psychologist who has only just discovered her brand of feminism is coloured.  Her work focuses on how nationality and addiction intersect to produce discourses of women who transgress these boundaries. Twitter @SoniaSoanspsy

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About Black Feminists Manchester

This is a group for women who are ‘black’ in the political sense. I.e: women who self- identify, originate or have ancestry from global majority populations (i.e. Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America) multi heritage and indigenous backgrounds.
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