An outward sign of an inward grace: how African diaspora religious identities shape their understandings of and engagement in international development
Scholarship on the different ways that international development is understood, accessed and engaged by various communities, is often contextualised by analyses of how these complex practices are communicated to (and received by) audiences. This includes established motifs of poverty and social deprivation in visual discourses of ‘charity’ and ‘need’ that abound literature, film, television and the social media of western democracies. Indeed, insights have also been drawn from quantitative and experimental measurements of people’s philanthropic propensities and attitudes towards ‘distant others’. While these are well established, less considered are the broader understandings of development that are informed by religion and faith subjectivities, especially for African diaspora communities engaged in international and local forms of development. Addressing this gulf in knowledge has important implications for the scholarly and programmatic application of development and attendant policy recommendations. This is especially true when recognising African diaspora identities as critical for engendering particular forms of cooperation and alliance with religious members of these communities. So too, how and to what extent their religious orientations shape and determine their different priorities, strategies and traditions of ‘help’ and ‘giving’ in and for their countries and communities of heritage.
As such, are we to assume that religion(s) and faith identifications are inconsequential or secondary to how diasporas participate in and negotiate understandings of international development? Or are they much more significant and constitutive than we think? Is there space for religiously informed interpretations of international development that move beyond its definitional and operational preoccupation with technocratic rationality to allow for new and extended conceptual possibilities? All these speculative questions and theoretical possibilities constitute the intellectual space within which my Identities article: '"An outward sign of an inward grace": how African diaspora religious identities shape their understandings of and engagement in international development’, is concerned.
Using first-and-second-generation London-based Christian and Muslim Nigerians, as a case study, the article reveals that religion, religious identities and ‘narratives of faith’ are all instrumental for understanding how these diaspora communities, as development actors, assign meaning to and participate in international development. This is best understood in their religiously moralised evaluations, rationalities and theological obligations for engaging in development-related activities largely in the form of private remittances and allied non-monetary contributions and services to Nigeria and continental Africa more generally, via their places of worship.
That is, for Nigerians, their Christian and Muslim identifications provide the theological and doctrinal foundation and vocabulary through which they articulate (and demonstrate) their interpretations of/for international development. These faith(ed)-vocabularies of development are undergirded by and organised around embodied discourses of humanitarianism, compassion, and justice. The significance of this religious moralising by Nigerians also extends to their conceptualisations of their development activities as 'consecrated acts' operating within systems of meaning and practices associated with and constituted by, moral expectations and cultural obligations that frame and which signify their religious and faith orientations.
Within this frame, development is dually understood by Nigerians as a ‘performance’, practicality or an ‘action-ing’ of their religious-faith identities and of their embodied ‘religious selves’. Certainly, these communities conceive religion and their religious selves as not just significant for development practice but as development itself. Consequently, my article calls for a (re)theorisation of international development that affords space to alternative articulations that necessarily include transnational Afro-religious diasporic performativity.
Blog post by Edward Ademolu, The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
Read the full article: Ademolu, Edward. 'An outward sign of an inward grace': how African diaspora religious identities shape their understandings of and engagement in international development. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1813462
On 26 May 2020, professional football in England resumed after a three-month shutdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK. The disproportionately high COVID-19-related mortality rates among Britain’s black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities prompted some debate among football professionals, journalists and academics as to the potential higher risk ‘project restart’ posed for black professional footballers compared to their white peers (Minhas et al, 2020). Nonetheless, the launch commenced, and fears were alleviated (initially at least) by the implementation of a robust test, track and trace system and by clubs operating extraordinarily high levels of surveillance and control over their players’ daily activities.
On 12 September, the Football Association in England (FA) ‘restarted’ the non-professional format of the game. By comparison, there has been much less public scrutiny of this roll-out, and especially in relation to broader questions around public health. Or to the potential of local football to contribute to the disproportionately high COVID-19 mortality rates among Britain’s minority ethnic communities.
The absence of debate is quite remarkable given that, according to the FA, there are currently over 3,000 non-professional women’s, men’s, youth and mini-soccer football clubs that play on a ‘Saturday’ across England, compared to just 92 professional clubs. This is also surprising given the long history and relationship between local football and Britain’s BAME communities.
Thus far, much of the guidance for clubs operating below the professional level, has focused on safety around the activity of playing. A recent study by the Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond, for example, found that because the majority of contact during a match fell below the 30-second threshold for transmission, outdoor-football is deemed to be remarkably safe for players (Consultancy.co.uk). Undoubtedly influenced by this kind of logic, on 19 August, the FA published its ‘COVID-19 Guidance on Re-Starting Outdoor Competitive Grassroots Football’.
Much of the focus has been on protective measures during and before matches. For example, while contact between competing players during games is permitted, contact for goal-celebrations are not. Likewise, social distancing measures of at least one-metre-plus should be observed by coaches, substitutes and spectators. Where possible, players should walk or cycle to matches. Epidemiologist, Patricia Bruijning asserts that ‘carpooling’ should be removed as an option for getting players to and from matches. Enforcing the majority of these provisions is the responsibility of club officials.
Most local football clubs and organisations operate on the labour of a limited number of dedicated volunteers who often double, triple and quadruple-up on club roles and matchday duties. This reality makes regulating and enforcing the safety measures proffered by the FA extremely difficult. For example, at a recent preseason match I attended, some nine levels below the professional leagues, the home team’s ageing club secretary and designated COVID-19 officer, was simultaneously administrating the match-officials and players, staffing entry into the ground as well as staffing the tea-bar.
All this undoubtedly limited his ability to notice – and stop - the substitutes and coaches of both teams huddling together in their respective dugouts, for the duration of the first-half of the match. So far, there is little evidence to indicate that such safety measures are being strictly and evenly adhered to across this format of the game.
Of course, the failure to follow guidelines fully by club officials, players, coaches, and spectators has to be seen within the context of football as a prized counter-hegemonic space within the local sporting imagination. Local football has a long history of being resistant to policy, which is often seen as the overreach of the State into the private affairs of clubs and how they operate. Resistance to top down policing, in this context, is also undoubtedly bound-up within the politics of youth and masculinity.
Overly simplistic and narrow guidelines on car-use provide us with a useful example of the ways in which these provisions often fail to fully account for the social and economic inequalities that exist between players from different raced and ethnic backgrounds, or for the host of clubs which are connected to specific BAME communities.
Unlike the professional game, non-professional football in England includes organisations and clubs that are symbolically, culturally, demographically, and often quite literally situated within specific minority-ethnic and faith communities across the country. These include clubs such as Highfield Rangers, Leicester Nirvana, Nottingham Cavaliers, IQRA and Guru Arjan Dev Khalsa Sports Club. While clubs seldom operate quota systems, they usually consist of young players from particular BAME communities. For example, London Tigers consists of predominantly local South Asian Bangladeshi volunteers and players.
Race and ethnicity in the UK is a proxy for various social and economic inequalities (that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic). A recent report by the Runnymeade Trust found that all BAME groups had significantly higher poverty rates than British white. Furthermore, Pakistani, black Caribbean and black African households respectively averaged around 55% (£127,000), 70% (£89,000) and 90% (£30,000) less savings than white-British households (£282,000).
In this context, car ownership for parents and young people from these communities is uncommon. For clubs that are predominantly populated with young people from these communities carpooling is not a choice but a necessity. The bi-weekly task of getting squads to away pitches across cities and counties without quite literally packing the few available cars full of players, would mean they would not be able to take part in sporting competitions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there also appears little consideration within ‘project restart’ to the potential of local football to double-up as a conduit for the transmission of COVID-19 directly into the BAME communities that they serve.
Preliminary evidence has indicated that ethnicity is also a proxy for certain structural and health-related conditions of social life, which leave black and south Asian communities in the UK prone to higher than average COVID-19-related mortality rates. For example, BAME communities have higher rates of hypertension and diabetes, which increase the risk of individuals developing complications if infected. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, black males are 4.2 times more likely to die from COVID-19 when compared to white men and women (Minhas et al, 2020).
The relatively low-level risk of transmission when playing outdoors, combined with the generally young age and healthy physical condition of most people that play regular football, suggests that BAME footballers may not be at an especially high risk of possessing the underlying conditions that lead to mortality from coronavirus.
This also means that they are more likely to develop only relatively mild symptoms if infected. The recent infections of high profile professional footballers such as Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte, alongside the quarantine of 300 people that attended a recent charity football match at Burnside Working Men’s Football Club in County Durham, clearly demonstrates that neither BAME (or white) footballers, or those directly or indirectly connected to local clubs, are not immune to the virus. And herein lies the problem for the football authorities.
Local football as a cultural activity is not confined to the 22 players. Nor does it take place in social or spatial vacuums. BAME players and clubs are directly plugged into the very families, households and communities where the impact of COVID-19 is much more lethal, and whom require the most protection. For example, Punjab FC in Gravesend and the Community Relations Football Club in Rugby often operate out of their local Gurdwara and Caribbean Centre respectively, which bring them directly into contact with the communities they serve. And it is in these spaces where an outbreak effecting hundreds of people, like that experienced in the North East, could have the most devasting consequences.
Data have shown us that the relationship between coronavirus and Britain’s BAME communities is complex. A combination of structural, cultural and social inequalities has contributed to the disparity in mortality rates experienced by people of colour in the UK. My own research has detailed the important resistance, integrative and transformative functions of local football for BAME individuals and communities since their arrival in significant numbers over half a century ago (Campbell 2019).
Undoubtedly, restarting local football will provide some social, psychological and health related benefits. However, unless careful consideration is given here, local football might also provide another channel through which coronavirus directly reaches our most vulnerable communities and further widen the health related disparities and inequalities that the current pandemic has exposed and exacerbated between Britain’s white and BAME communities.
Campbell, P. I. 2019. 'That black boy's a different class': a historical sociology of the black middle-classes, boundary-work and local football in the British East-Midlands c.1970−2010. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1590028
Consultancy.co.uk. 17 June 2020. Research suggests football can be played safely during Covid-19.
Minhas, J. S., Martin, C. A., Campbell, P. I & Pareek, M. 16 August 2020. Project Restart and COVID-19 – how do we reduce risk for ethnic minority athletes? British Journal Of Sports Medicine Blog.
Blog post by Paul Ian Campbell, University of Leicester
‘That black boy’s different class!’: a historical sociology of the black middle-classes, boundary-work and local football in the British East-Midlands c.1970−2010
‘Is it because I’m black?’: personal reflections on Stuart Hall’s memoir Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands
Inhabiting the diasporic habitus: on Stuart Hall's Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands
The stigma of being Black in Britain
Korea has been said to be one of the most racially and culturally homogenous countries in the world. Although many critics claim that this is a 'myth', it is true that the country has not suffered from the racial and religious conflicts that have troubled so many countries. This alleged racial homogeneity may make a different race the primary indicator of 'the stranger' in Korea.
Thus, I was somewhat surprised by the descriptive statistics from a nationally representative survey of the permanent and naturalised immigrants in Korea conducted in 2013. According to the survey, the majority of immigrants who experienced perceived discrimination believed that they were discriminated against because of their national backgrounds, and not race, religion or economic status. From the respondents’ perspective, Koreans seem to be very proud of their nationality. If, as the immigrants claim, Koreans are so proud of being Korean, what is the source of that national pride? Further, could it be the way they justify discrimination against immigrants?
My Identities article, 'Constructing Chineseness as other in the evolution of national identity in South Korea', addresses these questions. Drawing on scholarly publications, newspapers, policy reports, surveys and films, I compared two different Chinese immigrant groups who came to Korea in different eras. I traced the narratives of Chineseness used to construct Chinese immigrants as strangers and examined how these narratives are related to Koreans’ evolving self-perceptions. The country’s national goals and sources of pride – in particular, historical eras – constitute the national subjectivity. As the most immediate strangers, Chinese immigrants have been easy targets for Koreans to demonstrate and confirm the new national identities they desire.
Chinese residents from Shandong province in eastern China, referred to as Hwagyo, were the first immigrant group in Korea’s modern history. Their Chineseness was constructed from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries when Korea was subjected to colonial rule, and struggled to survive economically as one of the poorest countries in the world. Highly motivated by their desire to survive and grow as a nation, Koreans targeted the most immediate others as threats to those goals. The Hwagyo’s dominance in trading and their expanding economic activities were perceived to be a national security risk that was used to justify the legal measures adopted to marginalise them socially and economically.
Later, ethnic Koreans from the People's of Republic of China, referred to as Joseonjok, immigrated to Korea to take low-income jobs, and became more visible strangers and the new representatives of Chineseness. The Chineseness of these immigrants was contrasted to Koreans’ redefined national character, in which Koreans envisioned themselves as the only legitimate citizens of an advanced, capitalist and liberal society. This new national subjectivity is culturally defined by particular behavioural patterns, ethical orientations and lifestyles. Joseonjok’s Korean ethnicity has not been embraced and celebrated sufficiently to compensate for their cultural otherness which is framed conveniently as Chineseness. Further, the media has often portrayed them as lawless, wild and dangerously naïve compared to the image of orderly, restrained and sophisticated Korean citizens.
These two kinds of Chineseness constructed in different historical eras served the same purpose of designating immigrants as others to enhance the vision of Korea’s national character that its citizens desired. Thus the Chineseness of immigrants to Korea has evolved over time from an economic to a cultural threat, through the process of delineating the legitimate boundaries of economic and cultural communities.
The quest for Koreanness has been troubled by the political polarisation between conservatives and progressives who disagreed over various critical issues from whether the birth of South Korea was legitimate or not, to who are the true evil others to Koreans. However, this long-time discursive divide itself is superficial enough not to enunciate the evolving national goals, visions and characters of Koreanness. As Hall suggested, we should think of identity as a production, which is always in process, and always constituted within representation, instead of thinking it as an already accomplished fact. This paper traces the construction of Chineseness of immigrants as the evolving reflections of self through which Koreanness, as the product of historical experiences, was constantly discovered and expressed.
Blog post by Oh-Jung Kwon, Korea Institute of Science and Technology, Republic of Korea
Read the full article: Kwon, Oh-Jung. Constructing Chineseness as other in the evolution of national identity in South Korea. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1757253
Death is often thought to hold a special place in Irish culture, or even, for some anthropologists, to be indicative of a morbid fixation on the part of Irish people more generally. One academic has even stated that ‘the Irish death fixation… is a cultural fact that cannot be ignored’. Of course, we can easily dismiss such attempts to cast an entire people as possessing some essential, psychic quality as a heavy-handed failure to appreciate the diversity of attitudes and experience within a nation.
Nevertheless, death remains a feature of Irish political, social and cultural life even if it is not the primitive atavism that some might claim. The mobilisation of death in political ways is explored in my Identities article, ‘Racial capitalism, hauntology and the politics of death in Ireland’.
One example of the politicisation of death can be seen in the document that proclaimed the birth of an independent republic in 1916. It stated that it was from ‘the dead generations’ that Ireland ‘receives her old tradition of nationhood’. The dead are mobilised in pursuit of an archetypically modern political project – the establishment of a democratic nation-state.
These ‘dead generations’ can be identified in the failed rebellions that are alluded to in the same document: failed and bloody, each iteration of the assertion of national independence looks forward to a promise of future fulfilment. The dates ring out on the lips of the revolutionary devout (1798, 1848, 1867, 1916…). But, it is not only the hapless insurrectionists who are alluded to - the million who perished in the Great Famine (1845-52) are also enlisted into the ranks of the national martyrology.
With the Famine comes the one of the dominant features of Irish social life over the past century and a half - mass emigration. The social death that this entailed was marked by the so-called ‘American wake’ that mourned the passing of soon to be emigré. The population was decimated to such an extent that today that it has not recovered to the levels seen in 1840.
To understand this, it is necessary to look to how processes of racialisation intersect with the biopolitical technologies that emerged in the nineteenth century. The ways in which the Irish were produced as racialised subjects has been traced by Cedric Robinson in his classic work Black Marxism and how they overcame the restrictions that this entailed in the United States by the work of historians Noel Ignatiev and Theodore Allen.
The effect of the Famine was to centre death at the heart of Irish political life. Death itself became to be seen as a final marker of resistance to the processes of oppression that many felt had led directly to the Famine. The echo of this experience extended beyond surviving generations and its iterations at different times are explored further in my article.
Blog post by Edward Molloy, University of Liverpool, UK
Read the full article: Molloy, Edward. Racial capitalism, hauntology and the politics of death in Ireland. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1658395