This year, UK Disability History Month (UKDHM) focuses on the experience of disablement amongst children and young people in the past, now and what is needed for the future to reduce the stigma, stereotypes, negative attitudes and socially created barriers in the environment and the way things are organised.
To mark UK disability history month, we caught up with colleagues Sarah Wigham (Senior RA) and Simon Hackett (Clinical Senior Lecturer) to find out more about their research about improving access to healthcare for people with Learning Disabilities.
What is the focus of your research?
Our research projects focus on the health care and health needs of people with a learning disability. People with a learning disability experience high levels of inequality in their health and marginalisation in access to health care services compared with the general population. Our research aims to develop resources that may help to reduce some of these barriers and inequalities.
One area of our work focused on how barriers that people with a learning disability face accessing primary care could be removed. We worked with people with a learning disability to create ten recommendations to make accessing the doctor’s surgery easier for people with a learning disability.
Why do you think this research is important?
Research has shown that people with a learning disability die much younger than the general population. The average age of death for people with a learning disability is 61 years compared with 81 years in the general population (LeDeR, 2018). They have more mental and physical health problems and more problems accessing health services.
Many people with a learning disability are prescribed medication. A key aim of the UK Government NHS Long Term Plan is to improve understanding the health needs of people with a learning disability and reduce use of medication for people with learning disabilities.
What are the main challenges?
Primary healthcare systems may not be accessible for people with a learning disability. For example, people with a learning disability may have problems using the telephone appointment system. Annual health checks which are carried out by general practitioners (GPs) and nurses can help to identify health problems and address health inequalities experienced by people with a learning disability. However, our research shows that primary care systems are organised in ways that can create barriers and make it difficult for people with a learning disability to access.
We also found that there are barriers to the identification of mental health conditions among people with a learning disability in primary care.
What are the biggest opportunities to reduce the stigma around disabilities?
We published our findings from a recent study in the British Medical Journal Open and we hope that lots of nurses and doctors working in primary care will read the article and that it will help improve access to primary care for people with a learning disability. You can find out more about our work on improving access to primary care for people with a learning disability in recent outputs:
To launch the new NU Diversity Calendar this September, the PHSI EDI committee is marking International Day of Sign Languages on the 23rd of the month. This special date commemorates the establishment of the World Federation of the Deaf in 1951 and aims to promote the celebration of linguistic equality, diversity, and cultural understanding.
Worldwide, there are more than 70 million Deaf people who collectively use more than 300 different sign languages (a language which conveys meaning visually with hands, facial expressions, and body language). Historically, sign languages have faced limited recognition and acknowledgement as official languages. The International Day of Sign Languages provides an opportunity to address these concerns through celebrating and raising awareness of the importance of sign languages in the human rights of those who are Deaf.
The theme for this year’s International Day of Sign Languages is: a world where Deaf people everywhere can sign anywhere. To mark the day, two colleagues (Niamh Foy and Sally Lamond) from the School of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, HAAS) share their thoughts on sign language inclusivity.
A Culture of Compassion
What is the International Day of Sign Languages?
Established in 2017, the International Day of Sign Languages is celebrated annually on the 23rd September. It’s a day for celebrating the wonderful diversity of language needs, raising awareness of the rights and struggles of individuals who use sign languages to communicate.
In an era where a quick google search can reveal important dates such as “Talk like a pirate day” (19th September, for the curious) or “International Beer and Pizza Day” (9th October, if you are so inclined to save the date), it seems clearer than ever that amidst the backdrop of innumerable “International” days, this is one that is deserving of some more attention.
What is sign language?
Whilst most individuals outside of the signing community are likely aware that sign language uses visuals (hand shapes, facial expression, and body language), many may be unaware of the high variation and nuance of signing. Far from being internationally mutually intelligible, “sign language” comes in many “shapes and sizes”; wherever humans exist, language exists, and wherever deaf, Deaf, Hard of Hearing (HoH) (DHH) or otherwise non-verbal individuals exist, sign language will inevitably evolve to fulfil the human drive for connection and communication. Whilst here in Britain we use British Sign Language (BSL), our friends across the pond use American Sign Language (ASL), those in New Zealand use, perhaps unsurprisingly, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL)…and so on. Despite these varieties often being unique to a country or region, sign languages are not, as some might speculate, verbatim “translations” of spoken language either— they consist of distinct vocabulary, connotations, and complex grammar unique to them.
Signing as an Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) method
Whilst many signing systems are fully fledged languages in their own right, as a Speech and Language Therapy student, it would be remiss of me not to mention the versatility of sign as an AAC technique, however briefly. Makaton, a simplified signing system based on BSL and developed in the 1970s by a team of Speech Therapists, is a prime example. The signing system was created by selecting and altering core BSL concepts for use with children and individuals with learning disabilities; these signs are used in conjunction with speech to support communication. These individuals, who may be unable to express themselves verbally or who may struggle to understand spoken language, can be supported by learning meaningful, consistent gestures.
In the decades since, the system has become increasingly popular in early years and additional needs settings, and becoming certified has become exponentially more feasible for many as courses have spread across the country. Though true Makaton proficiency is measured in levels 1-4, the internet is a fantastic resource for exploring some of these simple signs— and as a matter of fact, the Newcastle University Speech and Language Therapy Society engages in “Makaton Mondays”, where a weekly Makaton sign is shared.
Why is sign language awareness important?
In brainstorming this blog post, I was prompted to consider my own awareness of sign language. I vividly remember the first time I— 17 years old at the time, and in the first of many customer service roles I have occupied in the decade since— served a signing customer. Despite being born in the UK and using a language with “British” in the title, I was faced with the reality that this individual likely experienced daily frustration and accessibility issues I would never have to, largely due to others’ lack of knowledge and (to some extent) lack of effort. Put simply, it felt unfair, and I was embarrassed not only by my own lack of signing ability, but by my lack of awareness of the lack. The realisation was disconcerting, suggesting a key question: what exactly is our level of responsibility to each other in this domain?
Years (and several encounters with signing customers) later, I finally embarked upon an introductory sign language course in an effort to bridge the gap I had become aware of (which, of course, served to humble me further— I’ll reiterate here that sign languages have their own grammatical rules). I was very fortunate to do so through a local university society; though the course itself was self-funded, the university subsidisation made it feasible and affordable in a way many BSL courses simply are not.
As Language Pathology/Speech and Language Therapy Students, we are taught repeatedly that everyone has a right to a voice, and that every voice matters. The right and ability to share one’s hopes, dreams, opinions, and experiences is intrinsically tied to the autonomy every person innately deserves. To this day, I think admiringly of the patience and grace signing individuals must cultivate simply to exist in a linguistic environment which, at best, frequently overlooks them and at worst, is actively discriminatory and unwelcoming.
As cultural awareness of sign languages has grown in recent years, they have begun to be seen not only as a communicative tool for those who are unable to produce or understand spoken language, or for those may be non-verbal for other reasons, but as living, breathing languages which can be equally— if not more— expressive than spoken languages. We do not have to look very far to see examples of incredible DHH signing individuals who are turning the tide of public perception, showing the rich diversity and creativity within the signing community. ASL interpreter Justina Miles, for example, who took the world by storm with her sign performance at Rihanna’s Superbowl halftime show earlier this year, ultimately going viral across multiple social media platforms as she brought the music alive for Deaf and hearing viewers alike.
The concept of sign performing, as opposed to traditional interpretation, allows sign language users greater access not just to the verbal content being expressed but opens up the door to the attitude, the atmosphere, and to being included in the collective enjoyment of fellow fans. This is relevant to all ages, as is evidenced by the recent creation of SignUp captions (www.signupcaptions.com), a chrome extension which provides access to Disney movies for younger viewers through sign performance—current supported titles include hits such as Frozen, Moana, and Encanto.
With the rise of social media which centres around videos (such as Instagram and TikTok), members of the signing community are also joining in the creation of content which details the huge spectrum of DHH experience; ranging from joy and pride to struggles with accessibility and discrimination. Content creators such as Estefani Arevalo (@thatdeaffamily), Janet Moreno (@deafmotherhood), Felicia Aquilo (@feliciaaquilio), Beth Leipholtz (@beth_and_coop), Brittney Nolte (@brittneynoltee) are sharing the realities of raising children in the Deaf community, both as hearing and Deaf parents themselves, with discussions relating to Cochlear Implants (CI), views on “passing” the newborn hearing test, and tips on making sign learning fun for toddlers. Younger creators are being empowered to share their experiences through sign— for example, Savannah Dahan (@savvyasl) a 13-year-old who has recently become the first Deaf KidzBop performer and speaks about wearing hearing aids, or Kylee (@tjandkylee), a young girl who raises awareness of hearing loss through making informative and entertaining videos with her dad, TJ. Deaf teen TikToker Elizabeth Harris (@lizzytharris) and Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) Jon (@drunkcrier) are also well-known influencers in the space.
A ways to go…
Though public awareness of sign language is growing and perspective shifting, there is still much room for improvement. Consider this challenge: as you go through your daily activities, think about whether they would be quite as accessible to you, were you a sign language user. Getting a ticket for the bus, ordering your morning coffee, metro announcements; there are work arounds, of course, humans are nothing if not adaptable. But my question is this— why should the DHH community have to accommodate hearing individuals quite so extensively? What compromises can we collectively make to ensure that accessibility is not an afterthought, but at the core of design?
Is it reasonable to expect that every UK citizen will become fluent or bilingual in BSL? Well, no, of course not. Is it unreasonable, however, to suggest that some core signs be taught in schools alongside the standard Spanish and French? My answer would have to be the same— of course not. Compassion and access to participation should not be a luxury.
The Quiet Stigma Around Silence
As a society, we have a problem with silence. Namely, the fact that we can’t decide whether we like it or not. In English, we only have to look at the rich tradition of idioms related to silence to grasp the outline of our complicated relationship with it. Silence can be eloquent, stony, or heavy; for some it is golden, and for others, it is paradoxically ‘deafening’. We can listen to radio silence, or be part of the silent majority. Silence can be physical – irreparably damaged when we ‘break our silence’, or crashed into, like a ‘wall of silence’ after an awful work presentation. We can give birth to silence with a pregnant pause, or, ominously, be as silent as the grave. Some people even choose to administer silence like a medication, by giving loved ones or friends ‘the silent treatment’. And if that’s not enough, we may find ourselves facing a ‘silent killer’ when we carry a disease with no obvious symptoms. It’s enough to make anyone want to stay quiet.
I think there’s a reason for our fascination with silence, and it relates to two key desires of human beings; we are natural born communicators, and we are also helplessly self-interested. We naturally want to forge bonds with others through shared stories, confessions, and conversations – and even better if these dialogues concern our own hobbies, interests, and welfare needs. Silence, which by its nature is nonverbal and is indifferent to all parties, flies in the face of both of these desires – and that can be a shock to the system for many. There’s something wonderfully human about the fact we have a word for when we’re not talking.
In the speech and language therapy community, we face the same confusion regarding silence as the wider culture, but in ways which are technical rather than literate and much more pressing given the impact that our work has on real life human beings. Speech is the raw material of a speech and language therapist – like a carpenter’s timber, a blacksmith’s iron or a farmer’s wheat. And yet, there is growing dissent against the notion of ‘oralism’ within the speech and language therapy community; the belief held by some members of the profession (perhaps subconsciously) that speech is the be-all-and-end-all, and that other methods of communication such as sign languages, writing, and gesture are comparably inferior.
Pushback against oralism is felt acutely in the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) community. AAC refers to any type of artificially added (augmentative) communication method used instead of (alternative) speech. AAC can be high-tech, with iPad-like Voice Output Communication Aids, or low-tech, with clients using specially-made picture books and cards to help get the message across. Famous AAC users who have pioneered AAC in mainstream media include the late physicist Stephen Hawking, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ comedian Lee Ridley, rugby league hero Rob Burrow, and cerebral palsy activist and blogger Beth Moulam. Whilst these four individuals are much-appreciated trailblazers, a great deal of further work and investment is needed to promote the views and welfare of AAC users in daily life. Anyone who has worked alongside a speech and language therapist in their practice, or anyone with a loved one who uses AAC, will be all too familiar with ‘horror stories’ around maltreatment of AAC devices by carers, teachers, and healthcare workers – communication books being left out of reach of a client in a hospital bed; children’s Voice Output iPads being smashed, left to drain their battery, or even locked away in cupboards while at school; confused clients being handed AAC without proper guidance or modelling of how to use it. All of these experiences are rooted in a pervading and unwelcome societal preoccupation with oralism. Since the AAC device is seen as inferior, it is given less respect and decency than a person’s spoken voice. But an AAC device may well be a person’s only way to communicate – would you tear out a person’s larynx and leave it in a cupboard, or lock someone’s mouth shut and leave the key painfully out of reach?
I write with feverish discontent about this issue because I myself have some experience of having my voice locked away without my consent. As a child I experienced what is now called ‘situational mutism’ but was then called ‘selective mutism’ – a medical speech disorder caused by uncontrollable anxiety, where the speech functions shut down in seemingly innocuous but underlyingly stressful situations. This meant that I barely spoke outside of my house for the first ten years of my life, mainly relying on a faint knowledge of British Sign Language (BSL) and a lot of gesture to get my message across. Whilst I did have a few friends in school, I was bullied, and retreated into a world of creative writing and drawing to express my feelings. One of my most bittersweet childhood memories is telling my favourite teaching assistant that I had a new little brother by drawing a pencil sketch of a baby on some green paper she had salvaged from a cupboard. That little baby is now a strapping lad of sixteen and is probably taller than me and the teaching assistant combined, but that memory is as warm as my love for him. To the ardent oralist, this memory is indicative of failure, since I wasn’t able to use my voice to tell this teaching assistant my thrilling news. But to me, this moment remains as a touching example of tenacity and creative ingenuity from two different people in the face of a communicative challenge.
There are some individuals who place a special amount of virtue on silence and mutism, to the point of viewing silent contemplation as a necessity for spiritual discernment. As a Catholic, I find myself drawn to the example of St Benedict of Nursia, the Patron Saint of Europe known for his demon-fighting medals and for sharing his name with sixteen Popes. St Benedict was born into a noble family, but after witnessing the vices his fellow rich students indulged in and the political situation in Rome, decided to run away and live in a cave (increasingly tempting in today’s world … ). To this day, the Trappist monks inspired by St Benedict spend most of their daily lives in silence in order to better receive the will of God, and have even developed their own ‘monastic sign languages’ to communicate in the monastery. Whilst these monks took silence to the next level, even lay people have a natural understanding that quiet contemplation can unlock secrets which idle chatter cannot. How many of us meditate, pray, or need perfect silence to sleep or study?
In this blog post, I’ve touched upon two communication needs discussed in the speech and language therapy community – AAC and selective / situational mutism. However, there are plenty of examples of other areas of speech and language therapy where negative attitudes and stigma about alternate communication methods act as a barrier for clients and clinicians; speech and language therapist (SLTs) working in care homes and in the community with adults living with dementia, SLTs working with adolescents and adults with learning disabilities, and SLTs working with young offenders in the criminal justice system spring immediately to mind.
If you enjoyed this blog post, I’d highly recommend delving into the writings and work of some speech and language therapists and academics who have addressed this issue before me: Dr Helen Robinson, who specialises in AAC and is the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists’ representative for the North of England; Warda Farah, an entrepreneur and lecturer at the University of Greenwich; and Professor Pam Enderby OBE, who has worked for over 40 years with adults living with conditions such as dysarthria and dysphagia, and is lovingly referred to by some as the ‘rockstar’ of speech and language therapy. I’d also like to thank the Selective Mutism Clinical Excellence Network (CEN) who made me feel really welcome when I was reflecting on how best to approach this blog.
This International Day of Sign Languages, I’d invite you, the reader, to reflect on your own experiences of alternate communication methods – have you observed attitudes of oralism out in the world, or unwittingly pushed them yourself? What is your favourite method of communication besides spoken language? Do you know anyone with a speech, language, and / or communication need? What will you take forward from today? And, if you’ll pardon the pun, what communication inequalities are you willing to speak out about?
Finally, if you are still keen to learn more, why not…
Keep an eye out for public places and landmarks being lit up in blue this September 23rd.
We are a team of researchers working on the promotion of positive mental health, and how best we can support thriving, rather than just ‘surviving’, for all. We try to explore new and creative ways to provide support, drawing on different ways of thinking about what it means to be mentally healthy as well as diversifying who is involved in providing support.
An individual living with a severe mental illness (SMI) dies on average 15-20 years earlier than someone without an SMI, and health inequalities continue to worsen in the Northeast of England. Currently, our main project is focused on improving the lives of people living with SMI in Northeast England. The WHOLE-SMI project explores holistic approaches to health and supporting people to live well, with a focus on how best we can embed physical health promotion services within support pathways for people living with SMI.
Another area of work is centred around whether and how community organisations can use digital technology to promote good mental health and wellbeing, reduce social isolation and loneliness and prevent mental illness. Crucially we will investigate which groups in the community are more or less likely to benefit from using digital services.
How did you get involved in this area of research?
Our team have diverse disciplinary, theoretical, methodological and prior research backgrounds, but with a common goal of improving physical and/or mental health and wellbeing. Collectively, we have worked with cohorts ranging from those living with severe mental illness, overweight and obesity, individuals living with prediabetes, our older populations, staff within the NHS, people living in lower-middle-income countries, and professionals working in elite performance environments. We became involved in this work as we feel particularly passionate about addressing the challenges that face people living with SMI or other complex circumstances, and we all feel very strongly that more needs to be done to help everyone to live healthier and longer lives.
Why do you think this research is important?
The facts and figures speak for themselves, particularly when it comes to life expectancy and SMI. There is also still a large stigma associated with mental illness and we all advocate breaking this stigma to facilitate individuals to experience better quality of life and live longer. We recognise that current service delivery has a tendency to be compartmentalised and not address the whole-health needs of an individual, especially when there may be underlying causes affecting other aspects of a person’s health that are not acknowledged. We have found that there is an appetite for a change of approach to health from stakeholders and patients alike. Additionally, we respect the different burdens our primary, secondary and community care providers face. We understand the importance of facilitating service delivery as effectively and efficiently as possible.
What are the main challenges?
As with all research, we have also experienced challenges in our studies. A challenge we have faced in recruiting experts with lived experience has been developing new ways to support the involvement of groups that are typically underrepresented in research. For example, we have recently engaged with a charity organisation called The Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company, run by and for people with learning difficulties, who have helped us better understand their experiences with research and how we can be more approachable and accessible to potential participants in this demographic. We have also experienced challenges with competing priorities and demands, not just within our own workloads, but also that of the healthcare professionals we have engaged with. With services stretched, we have found having conversations with healthcare staff via existing NHS structures (e.g., team meetings or training sessions) and attending clinics and sites in person for short data collections ‘on the hoof’ to be helpful.
What are the biggest opportunities to reduce the stigma around mental health?
Communication and engagement! Whilst massive improvements have been made in how we discuss mental health, there is still a long way to go. Additionally, we need to consider those that have been brought up to mask their feelings and how we change the conversation to include them and help them more. In doing the research we do, we have a heightened appreciation of the importance of listening to the experiences, opinions and needs of those in the community, those with lived experience of having an SMI, and those on the front-line delivering vital services and support. As Dan in our team says, “I think the biggest opportunities to reduce the stigma around mental health are in the open and two-way conversations we have with people, and sharing our experiences, whilst also being open to changing how we approach mental health.”
Easter is one of the most important festival in the Christian calendar. The date of Easter Sunday varies from year to year. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon, on or after 21 March. This year Easter Sunday falls upon the 9th April 2023. PHSI Research Associate Dr Abisola Balogun-Katung shares her reflections of Easter celebrations past and present.
Easter is one of the biggest festivals for the Christian church. It is when the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion is celebrated. In more modern times it has become a celebration that everyone regardless of their religious affiliations or beliefs can partake in. Though the origin of the word ‘Easter’ is uncertain, a school of thought is that it is derived from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility, Eostre, whose animal symbol is a bunny. Celebrated with family and friends, Easter Sunday lunches, egg hunts, bunnies this mix of pagan and Christian traditions (and a whole lot of commercialisation), has become one of the most exciting traditions in the UK.
I reminisce about how Easter was celebrated growing up in my hometown Lagos, a multi-cultural and -religious a city with a large population of Christians. The Easter festivities commence with Good Friday, the day Jesus Christ was crucified. This prelude to the Easter celebrations is a solemn day of deep reflection and introspection. In some areas of the city, it would be common to see re-enactments of the process to the cross and the final hours of Jesus’ life played out on the streets. Men dressed in Roman military clothing, holding swords and whips, hurling curses, and walking behind a man carrying a huge cross, donned with a purple seamless robe and a crown of thorns. They would make this journey round the streets as onlookers would shake their head in pity and some even weep. Some who observe this day, fast, and abstain from dairy foods and beef, pork and goat meat. We would have neighbours bring Frejon, a local delicacy enjoyed by emancipated Nigerian returnees from Brazil who settled in Lagos after the abolition of the slave trade, a story for another blogpost. I can almost taste the delicious and flavourful thick pudding made with coconut milk and beans usually accompanied with fried peppered fish or snails.
The next big event following Good Friday is on Sunday, Easter Sunday. The long-awaited day for many Christian adherents, the day of Christ’s resurrection! There would usually be a church service held and people would celebrate the great resurrection after three days. The joy and happiness, palpable! After the 4-hour church service, yes, 4 hours! We would be dismissed by the preacher to our homes. My family and I would drive to my Aunty Abosede’s house, now Aunty Abosede made the best Easter Sunday lunch, the roasted whole chicken, jollof rice and golden yellow plantains fried to perfection. I always looked forward to that. The parents would sit in the living room, chatting about the latest news, while the children played hide and seek or noughts and crosses.
I recall one Easter, the church across the street from my family house having an outdoor procession, jubilating, dancing and shouting, ‘He is risen’. This is how Easter Sunday was typically celebrated. The following day, Easter Monday, the wrap up to the long weekend. For those who had not had enough of the Easter Sunday festivities, they carried on into the night not minding they had to wake up in time for work the next morning. Music blaring, drinks, and food flowing endlessly. For others, like myself, it was a day of relaxation, perched on a chair, enjoying the cool mid-day breeze on my face, and getting lost in my thoughts.
Easter this year, for me would be a little different. I intend to spend it relaxing at home with my family in Newcastle. I will attend my local church service on Sunday and join in with friends to enjoy the North East cuisine. For me, it will be a time to reflect and recharge. No matter how you choose to spend Easter, with family, friends or alone, with a book, in bed or at an Easter egg hunt, make sure you spend it doing at least one thing that brings you joy. Have a lovely Easter Break.
In 2021, the United Nations General Secretary designated 15th March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. It calls for a global dialogue on the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace, based on respect for human rights and for the diversity of religions and belief. PHSI PGR students, Arwa Katab and Nik Nuraisyah Nik Nasir, share their own experiences and reflections of this cause.
In this first section, Arwa Katab reflects on her own experiences of Islamophobia and what makes her feel supported, including support from Newcastle University Islamic Society (Newcastle ISOC).
What is Islamophobia?
Islamophobia is a fear, prejudice and hatred of Muslims that leads to provocation, hostility and intolerance by means of threatening, harassment, abuse, incitement and intimidation of Muslims and non-Muslims, both in the online and offline world. Motivated by institutional, ideological, political and religious hostility that transcends into structural and cultural racism, it targets the symbols and markers of being a Muslim.
The Home Office Report of hate crimes reported that most victims of religious hate crimes in England and Wales were Muslims. (Of the 8,307 were religious hate crimes reported between 2021-2022; 42 percent of offences were against Muslims.)
In some cases, hate crime against Muslims can be very evident, for example, in some places outside the UK, Muslim women who choose to cover their hair with a hijab, would not be allowed into educational institutes; this would mean that I, and my Muslims colleagues, would be stripped away from the opportunity to complete our PhD, purely because we choose to look visibly Muslim.
In other cases, hate crime can be less obvious to spot through job rejections, being ignored and being treated passive aggressively.
Growing up visibly Muslim, experiencing hate crime was not a foreign concept to me; I remember as a child or young teenager, being discriminated against and verbally abused by adults, because I chose to wear clothing that covered most of my skin, and hair. My situation was not an anomaly; this was the norm (and still is) for many of my Muslim friends and family, and Muslims around the world.
What are the impacts of Islamophobia?
Worryingly, the experience of hate crime runs deep. Through my background as a child researcher interested in children’s health and wellbeing (currently working towards my PhD), I wanted to start with some facts specific to children’s experiences:
Children are only starting to develop their identity. One of their main concerns is around ‘fitting in’ with their peers. It’s not surprising to learn that having a big part of your identity tarnished and abused as a child can be associated with a greater likelihood of poor mental health, especially as children begin to internalise these negative stereotypes associated with being a Muslim.
In my case, experiencing hate crime happened in a variety of settings, including schools, public places and transport. This meant that being vigilant of my surroundings was constant habit. For some Muslims, this behaviour can eventually manifest itself into social anxiety, agoraphobia and/or depression. It also meant that trusting adults took time; children need to feel safe enough to disclose any troubles to a trustworthy adult. For some young Muslims experiencing hate crime in school, the negative affects could spill over and affect their academic work.
For adults, in terms of trusting the public, this could also mean that seeking support when needed, for example visiting their local GP, is put on hold in fear of being hate crime-d on the way there, are at the location. In terms of research participation, it therefore unsurprising to see the association between lower rates of Muslims and those of ethnic minority taking part in our research studies.
What makes things easier?
It can be scary to intervene when someone is experiencing a hate crime, but offering support after the incident can make a big difference (see Figure 1).
Being at Newcastle university, there ways in which I feel supported as a Muslim, through access to prayer rooms, availability of halal food and general knowledge from colleagues about Islam.
Recently, the Islamic Society at Newcastle University (ISOC) held its weekly ‘Discover Islam Week’ (starting every year in March), where Muslim students tackle any misconceptions surrounding Islam, and give other students and staff the opportunity to ask questions and increase their knowledge. These events have always been popular, with snippets of our cultural food and art (calligraphy and henna) being included.
It’s events like these that help dispel any negative beliefs around Islam and display the true character of a Muslim who builds their identity around charity, peace and kindness
International student and Islamophobia
In the next section of this blog, international PhD student Nik Nuraisyah Nik Nasir talks about her experience of moving out of her Muslim country to the UK to study, and how Islamophobia impacted her.
Growing up in a Muslim country, the thoughts of Islamophobia, or even the meaning behind it was never a concern. It felt safe and accepted to practice your religious belief anywhere you like. I did not feel different, nor unusual to put on the hijab and covered the hair and most parts of my body (where I chose to do so). Being discriminated over those choices – had never crossed my mind. It made no sense to me that in some countries there could be a threat to safety because of your choice of religion.
Until I went out of my ‘comfort zone’ and travelled to a non-Muslim country – where the truth behind this type of discrimination do prevail. As sad as it may sounds – I have had my fair share of experiences and also friends and families who went to further their education abroad (to a non-Muslim country) who encountered some types of discrimination and hate towards them as a Muslim student.
Due to these past experiences, I could not help but feel rather insecure, vulnerable, and unsafe whenever I walked through the streets or in a public transport. Coming to Newcastle with my child, the anxieties surround being a Muslim and international student grew without realising. All the ‘what ifs’ that could happen could consume me. I want to feel more ‘inclusive’ and ‘fit in’ so that we blended well – and not just for myself, but above all, for my child. Putting the ‘brave mask’ on is almost like the daily idea that I need to do to not look weak and ‘targeted’ to being verbally and physically abused because of my religion but also because we look and talk ‘differently’ than the locals. Religious and racial slurs were not unusual for these past years, and it should not be.
Choosing to pursue my PhD in Newcastle University was one of the conscious choices I made based on how safe, open and acceptance were the locals towards Muslim community. Fear of being discriminated, rejected, or ignored on any occasions based on my religion was one of my major concerns. Any decisions I made, it made me feel conscious of being judged not just as an international student, but also as a Muslim. Thankfully I could have my thoughts on rest as my colleagues and peers in the university are very supportive and never have I feel dejected and discriminated by being both a Muslim and an international student. Access to prayer rooms and serving options of halal foods to us Muslim colleagues are the primary instances of the general support and acknowledgement of the university towards our beliefs.
Being far away from home and my family, I almost feel like seeking a refuge and protection from the Muslims brother and sisters is compelling to make me feel more accepted and secured being in a foreign land. The sense of security by being in this close knitted community can be expressed in a simple gesture such as exchanging eye contacts and smiles and even better by giving “salam” to each other would make my day (Salam is a Muslim greeting that means peace be with you)– knowing that we are indeed brothers and sisters no matter where we are or how we look like, but we do bonded/binded by our beautiful religion. I am reminded on an unfortunate incident that has happened to me recently in Newcastle, where afterwards, a kind man came up to me and said “You are Muslim right? And so am I. I got you” – in this very moment I am again reminded by the unity of being a minority will make a big impact on an individual’s wellbeing no matter where you are in the world.
If you would like to know more about how to combat Islamophobia and the support available to Muslim colleagues and students, please visit the following:
World Cancer Day, which occurs every year on 4th February, is an international initiative intended to raise awareness of cancer and take action to improve the prevention, detection, and treatment of this condition. In this article, we provide a brief outline of cancer and then include three separate cancer-related blogs by Dr. Fiona Malcomson (Senior Research Associate), Ruth Norris (PhD Student & Research Associate) and Dr. Christina Dobson (Senior Research Associate) on some of the promising cancer-related research going on within the Newcastle University Population Health Sciences Institute.
Cancer – a term which refers to a collection of diseases affecting every part of the body – is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for around 1 in every 6 deaths. Common types of cancer include breast, lung, colon, rectal, prostate, and liver. This condition occurs due to a transformation of normal, healthy cells into tumour cells via a series of processes that progress from a pre-cancerous lesion to a malignant tumour. These changes occur because of an interaction between an individual’s genetics and external agents (or carcinogens) which can increase cancer risk.
It is estimated that up to half of all cancers could be prevented by avoiding cancer risk factors and maintaining a healthy lifestyle (more on this later in the blog from Dr. Fiona Malcomson). Some of the things that we can do to help reduce the risk of developing cancer are shown in the image below.
Cancer doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, and we know that certain groups of society may be less likely to receive a prompt diagnosis for cancer or, after diagnosis, obtain the treatment that they need (more on this in the blog by Ruth Norris below). There is clear evidence for inequalities in cancer care between patients of different ages, sexes and ethnicities – and, as discussed in more detail by Dr. Christina Dobson below, by geographical location too. Raising awareness of these issues and exploring potential solutions is one important way in which we can try to ensure equality for all individuals whose lives have been impacted by cancer.
Blog 1: Dr. Fiona Malcomson, Senior Research Associate
Lifestyle factors including body fatness, diet and exercise affect one’s risk of getting cancer and may also be linked to chances of surviving after cancer diagnosis. Approximately 40% of cancers in the UK could be prevented if everyone adopted a healthy lifestyle. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) – two leading bodies focused on understanding, preventing, and treating cancer – published 10 lifestyle-based Cancer Prevention Recommendations including maintaining a
healthy body weight, being physically active, and eating little red and processed meats.
In the CALIPER UK Study, we are using a large UK dataset (UK Biobank) to explore whether greater adherence to these Cancer Prevention Recommendations is associated with a lower risk of developing cancer. Later down the line, we will also be investigating whether better adherence affects chances of survival in people who have been diagnosed with cancer.
The UK Biobank is an invaluable resource which has collected a wealth of data on over half a million participants, including socio-demographics (e.g., age, sex, ethnicity), lifestyle factors (e.g., diet, levels of physical activity), and collects data on health-related outcomes, including cancer diagnoses, during follow-up.
We will first assess associations between a standardised score (used to measure adherence to the Cancer Prevention Recommendations) and the risk of all cancers combined and for cancers for which there is strong evidence for links with lifestyle factors, such as breast and bowel cancers. Through some methods-based work, we will see whether we can improve assessment of adherence to these recommendations by creating different score versions, and explore whether this should be tailored for specific cancers. For example, a large amount of evidence exists for links between eating too little dietary fibre or eating too much red and processed meat and bowel cancer. So, perhaps a score which gives a greater weighting to intakes of these foods will work better to predict bowel cancer risk.
The findings from this study could help to guide lifestyle recommendations and public health policies for the UK population, and for cancer survivors, to reduce the risk of cancer and improve length, and quality, of life. We are also investigating sociodemographic differences in adherence to these Recommendations, as both cancer incidence and survival are socio-economically patterned. Our findings may provide on which specific recommendations for cancer prevention could be tailored, or targeted towards, those in different socioeconomic groups in the UK.
Blog 2: Ruth Norris, PhD Student & Research Assistant
Equality – it’s not the first word that comes to mind when thinking about (or facing) a cancer diagnosis. Yet fair treatment and opportunity for all in cancer care is unfortunately not guaranteed. Rather, for many patients, barriers such as age, gender, income, ethnicity, education, and where you live negatively impact experiences across the care pathway from diagnosis to treatment and through to end-of-life care. This so called “cancer care gap” is ingrained and affects everyone – not just those in the most disadvantaged groups. Fortunately, the Union for International Cancer Control’s 2022-2024 World Cancer Day campaign (Close the Care Gap) aims to raise awareness and advocate for change, and as someone with an interest in cancer inequities – this move is very much welcomed.
My research has focused on determining whether socio-economic status (SES) acts as a barrier to novel cancer treatment. We already know that a low SES is associated with reduced access to conventional cancer treatments (surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy). However, the way we treat cancer is also changing – we now have increasing use of novel, targeted treatments tailored to individual tumour genetics and immunotherapies which use the immune system to attack the cancer. What we don’t know is whether access to these newer cancer treatments is fair.
Our initial work, reviewing studies addressing this question suggested that a low SES was associated with reduced access to novel treatments. Similar outcomes were found when we analysed real world cancer registry data from England linked with a new drug database – the Systemic Anti-Cancer Therapy (SACT) dataset:
Low SES reduces likelihood of new anti-cancer therapy receipt – even in a publicly funded healthcare system (English NHS).
Low SES is a barrier to new treatment access across a range of cancers.
In non-small cell lung cancer, patients living in the most deprived areas were 46% less likely to receive a novel therapy than those patients in the least deprived areas (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Likelihood (odds ratio) of novel anti-cancer therapy receipt by deprivation in non-small cell lung cancers diagnosed in England between 2012-2017. Multivariable model adjusted for: sex, age, diagnosis year, ethnicity, rural/urban indicator, stage, comorbidities & histology.
Moving forward, we still have some way to go to make cancer treatments equitable and to remove socio-economic barriers. First steps start with understanding why these barriers persist, followed by action to address imbalances. As one in two people will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes, World Cancer Day 2023 serves as a reminder to all of us that “our time to act is now” if efforts to #CloseTheCareGap are to be successful.
For more information and to get involved, follow the campaign.
Blog 3: Dr. Christina Dobson, Senior Research Associate
World Cancer Day is a great opportunity to take stock and reflect on the diverse range of cancer research going on within the institute, and the shared- vision of reducing cancer inequalities and improving outcomes for patients. For instance, the COLO-SPEED research programme is galvanising patients, clinicians and academics to deliver world-leading endoscopy research into how we can prevent, diagnose and treat bowel cancer regionally (where we experience high health inequalities and deprivation), and nationally.
My work also focuses on inequalities and place, in relation to the experiences of rural patients. Rural cancer inequalities have been evidenced now for decades, but little research has been undertaken to understand the causes of this. Our recently published study identified barriers that rural patients face when it comes to seeking help for symptoms of possible bowel cancer. This work, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, showed that rural populations face specific barriers to early diagnosis, including:
– The financial and logistical constraints that people who are self-employed, particularly in seasonal industries (such as farming and tourism), face which can prevent them from seeking help about their symptoms.
– How rural living requires individuals to be self-sufficient, and stoic, qualities which can be detrimental when it comes to consulting GPs about symptoms early.
– And the importance of continuity of care, and a good relationship between GPs and patients, to encourage and empower patients to feel like they can consult.
Examining barriers to early diagnosis and survival for different patient groups, across the diagnostic pathway, is vital. Understanding the obstacles and challenges that different groups face enables us to go on to develop and tailor meaningful interventions that are acceptable to communities and can have a tangible impact on their diagnostic experiences, quality of life, and life expectancy.
World Diabetes Day was created by the International Diabetes Foundation and the World Health organisation in 1991 as a response to growing concerns about the rise in diabetes and its danger to health. The event is marked annually on the 14th of November, the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who along with Charles Best discovered insulin in 1922.
‘Access to Diabetes Care’ is the 2021-2023 theme and ‘Education to Protect Tomorrow’ is the specific theme for 2022. Access and education go hand in hand because one of the most important ways to improve access to diabetes care is through increasing awareness about the condition. By raising awareness of diabetes, prevention, early detection, and effective treatment can be ensured.
For World Diabetes Day, this year at PHSI, we are raising awareness with facts and figures about diabetes, shining a spotlight on the amazing research of PhD candidate Anna Boath and signposting you to educational resources on diabetes.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a lifelong chronic condition that causes an individual’s blood sugar level to become too high. The two main types of diabetes are: Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
With Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys cells that produce insulin. Although it can affect adults too, this type of diabetes is the most common in children. With Type 2 diabetes on the other hand, the body fails to produce adequate insulin or the body’s cells do not reach to insulin. This type is more prevalent among adults aged over 40 although more younger people and children are getting diagnosed with the condition. During pregnancy, some women may be unable to produce adequate insulin to absorb the high levels of blood glucose produced by their body, leading to gestational diabetes.
Did you know? Diabetes Facts and Figures!
One out of 10 people GLOBALLY are affected by diabetes. In 2021, 537 million adults that is 1 in 10 adults were living with diabetes and these figures are expected to increase to 643 million by 2030 and 783 million by 2045. Diabetes also affects children and there are over 1.2 million children and young people aged between 0-19 years globally living with type 1 diabetes. In 2021, there were 6.7 million deaths from diabetes. Just over 40% of diabetes cases remain undiagnosed with the majority of these being Type 2 diabetes.
Spotlight on Diabetes Research at Population Health Sciences Institute
Maternal Health by Anna Boath, PhD Candidate
I am currently a 4th year PhD student at Newcastle University researching health in pregnancy. Researching health in pregnancy particularly interested me as the health within pregnancy impacts the woman herself and can impact health of the child across their lifespan. Therefore, health throughout pregnancy affects every single person. Research in pregnancy is crucial to provide safe and effective care and treatments for women and their children, with research being carried out in a way that promotes access to all women.
My research has a focus on gestational diabetes, which is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and tends to resolve around 6 weeks after giving birth. Understanding and researching gestational diabetes is important as across the world the number of women developing gestational diabetes is rising. Also, women develop gestational diabetes are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life. Conducting more research in the area means we can provide better care for women.
In every pregnancy, the placenta causes a degree of insulin resistance; this means that during pregnancy all women don’t have as much ability to absorb sugar from their blood stream; however, this is a clever mechanism means more sugar goes to the baby and helps it to grow! In gestational diabetes, there is too much of this insulin resistance, which keeps blood sugar levels too high and for too long, which can have an impact on mum and baby.
Interestingly, we still do not know the exact cause of gestational diabetes, but we do understand some of the risk factors. One of the risk factors that is thought to be important is an increased body mass index (BMI), which women have calculated when they have their first midwife appointment. BMI can be used to indicate weight status, with a higher BMI considered a higher risk for gestational diabetes. However, we know that using BMI on individuals doesn’t accurately reflect total body fat or how body fat is distributed. Using BMI alone also does not select all women who go on to develop gestational diabetes.
My research looks at how we can use different measures of body fat and body fat distribution and how these might be better for selecting women that might benefit from extra care in pregnancy. Different measures we can use include waist circumference, which indicates how much body fat someone has around the centre of their body; this can be a good indicator of body fat that is associated with disease development.
Being able to understand which women might develop gestational diabetes would along health care professionals to potentially offer care such as dietary and physical advice which may be able to prevent the development of gestational diabetes.
Links to Educational Resources
Understanding Diabetes: This is a free online learning platform that provides information about diabetes, so that you are more confident in preventing or managing it: https://www.understandingdiabetes.org/
All Together in Dignity (ATD) Fourth World initiated the UN International day for Overcoming Poverty on the 17th October 1987 and five years later the UN officially designated this day as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (IDEP). For over three decades people living in poverty across the globe have used this day as a platform to speak out about their lives and come together in solidarity. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the IDEP and provides an opportunity for everyone to recognise our shared responsibility to eradicate poverty and combat all forms of discrimination.
Poverty is not inevitable, it is a result of deliberate decisions or inaction that disempower the poorest and most marginalised people in our societies. Poverty is not hidden, we can see the effects of it in the variations in health outcomes and life expectancy between the most deprived and affluent communities within towns, cities, and across the globe. In England, for example, healthy life expectancy varies by up to 21.5 years for women and 15.8 years for men between the most and least deprived local authority areas. England is not alone. These health inequalities between the rich and the poor exist globally. Wherever there are inequalities in opportunities and income there are people living in poverty who will not live as long as their affluent neighbours.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare these inequalities and highlighted how we are not in this together. Our recent review found extensive evidence of inequalities in COVID-19 mortality rates. At every level of geography – neighbourhood, town, city, region – people living in poverty had higher rates of COVID-19 deaths than their more affluent neighbours across the globe. The pandemic has been an unequal experience with higher mortality rates in the most deprived places and communities (McGowan & Bambra, The Lancet Public Health in press).
My research focuses on examining regional inequalities in health, highlighting the root causes of poverty, and advocating for those with lived experiences of marginalisation to ensure they are included in decision-making processes and developing solutions to eradicating the structural drivers of inequality and poverty. I developed the Equal England Public Network to create a space for members of the public to share lived experiences of poverty and influence research/practice to reduce health and social inequalities. Our public partners co-develop research to tackle the root causes of poverty and have influenced national decision-making on actions to improve health post-pandemic.
To commemorate the International Day to End Poverty I attended an event hosted by Thrive Teesside, an award-winning organisation that aims to implement a legal duty to put the voice and experience of socio-economic disadvantage at the heart of policy making and local decision making. The event showcased good practice in participatory approaches to local decision making and highlight how the value of lived experiences can develop local responses to mitigate the impact of poverty.
The event highlighted how tackling poverty requires collaborative action. It was encouraging to see members of the local council, grass roots community organisations, the local mayor, academics, and members of the public coming together to hear about the lived experience of poverty and engage in discussions about developing solutions to poverty as well as immediate actions people are taking at the local level to ameliorate the effects of the current cost of living crisis.
Thrive Teesside work on a local level providing one-to-one support to those with immediate needs but they also work on a national level to raise voices of those often unheard with APLE (Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience). They work collaboratively as Poverty 2 Solutions with ATD Fourth World and Dole Animators to use their expertise to propose solutions to some of the biggest issues that lock people in poverty across the UK and recently produced a short film to advocate for the need to implement a legal duty to put the voice and experience of socio-economic disadvantage at the heart of policy making. Their Listen Up to Level Up film makes visible the real issues surrounding poverty which aims to create discussions, mobilise and motivate people, it highlights how the insight of lived experiences of poverty is essential to creating fairer policies.
To mark the 30th anniversary of IDEP we should reflect on how we can make our research more participatory, develop connections with our local communities and harness the skills, expertise and insight within them to develop research agendas that focus on the root causes of poverty and co-develop more effective solutions for change.
Black history Month (BHM) was first celebrated 35 years ago in the UK in October 1987 to recognise African contributions to cultural, economic, and political life in the UK. To celebrate the study of Black life and history in 2022 ARC funded PhD student Ania Couchinho, along with Research Associates Abisola Balogun- Katung and Fiona Graham have decided to focus on the important research, organisations and events across the UK that focus on the improvement of healthcare for Black people.
Five X More is dedicated to supporting mothers with its campaigning work and recommendations. It focuses on empowering Black women to make informed choices and advocate for themselves throughout their pregnancies and after childbirth.
As a disease that disproportionately affects Black individuals, the Sickle Cell Society has been working alongside health care professionals, parents, and people living with sickle cell to raise awareness of the disorder. The Society’s aim is to support those living with sickle cell, empowering them to achieve their full potential.
BAATN are the UK’s largest independent organisation to specialise in working psychologically, informed by an understanding of intersectionality, with people who identify as Black, African, South Asian and Caribbean. Our primary focus and area of expertise is to support people from these heritages. However, we are open to other People of Colour who are affected by oppression due to the colour of their skin and global white power.
Black Minds Matter UK is a fully registered charity operating in the UK; connecting Black individuals and families with free mental health services- by professional Black therapists to support their mental health. Our vision is to make mental health topics more relevant and accessible for all Black people in the U.K., removing the stigma and remodelling the services to be relevant for the Black community.
In this lecture, Professor Adi shares his own experience of Black History Month. He reflects on the struggles, over the last 40 years, to combat eurocentrism and develop what is often termed ‘Black British History’, and discusses his new book, African and Caribbean in Britain: A History.
How can oral histories be used to develop more affirmative practices? This lecture explores the role of ‘self’ in relation to power and research knowledge(s). Focusing on how orality is approached within the context of Rastafari methodologies, Gray will draw on her personal and intellectual reflections from reasoning and documenting a history of the Rastafari community in Britain to suggest alternative routes to engage with life histories.
This exhibition will celebrate the work of key Black British children’s authors, illustrators, and editors as well as exploring how Black people and communities have been represented within the pages of stories for children. It will include illustrations, archives, and books from the collections of Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books and Newcastle University Special Collections. The exhibition will take place across two sites, on L3 of City Library and the ground floor of Newcastle University Library.
Date: Thursday 6th October till Wednesday 30th November 2022
Organised by the University’s BAME Network and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit, our keynote event will feature Prof Hakim Adi, who will speak about our Black History Month theme for 2022, Time for Change: Action Not Words.
Minority Ethnic Group and Allies Network (MEGA) are excited to hold ‘Thinking Outside The Box – Cultivating The Shift’. Our showcase event as part of Black History Month 2022 event will be held in person, as well as live streamed. Guest speakers include: Rianna Scipio, the UK’s first black weather presenter, and now International Authenticity and Relationship Consultant.
Ballaz in The Middle, two ex-professional NFL football players, Discussion will be centred around equality diversity and inclusion, whilst raising the awareness of important topics such as; good mental health, wellbeing, resilience, mentoring and outreach
What must change for Black pupils to feel they fully belong in our education system and wider society? How can we teach pupils the full story of how modern Britain was created? Joseph Harker, the Guardian’s senior editor for diversity and development, chairs our panel of speakers, which includes Jeffrey Boakye, former schoolteacher and author of I Heard What You Said; Lavinya Stennett, founder and chief executive of The Black Curriculum; and Desta Haile, deputy director of the Royal African Society.
Black and British provide its reader with a thorough and vital history of black Britain. It provides the reader with an exposé of the lingering relationship between the people of Africa, the Caribbean and the British Isles, this book has rightfully been described as a “thrilling tale of excavation” and a ‘testimony to the rich experiences of Black people of Britain’. It is also available as a short, essential history for readers aged 12+.
The Good Immigrant
The Good Immigrant brings together 21 thrilling Black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain. With a collection of poignant, challenging, sometimes angry, heartbreaking and humorous essays, it explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a foreign country miles away from home.
Tribes explores the benign and malignant effects of our need to belong in society. This genetically programmed and socially acquired need to belong manifests in positive ways through collaboratively achieving great successes, which individually cannot be achieved. On the other hand, this need can manifest in negative ways, particularly with globalisation and digitisation leading to new, more malicious forms of tribalism. David Lammy provides the reader with a fascinating and perceptive socio-political analysis of Britain and what it means to be British.
What White People Can Do Next
Vital and empowering What White People Can Do Next teaches each of us how to be agents of change in the fight against racism and the establishment of a more just and equitable world. In this affecting and inspiring collection of essays, Emma Dabiri draws on both academic discipline and lived experience to probe the ways many of us are complacent and complicit—and can therefore combat—white supremacy. She outlines the actions we must take, including: Stopping the Denial, Interrogate Whiteness, Abandon Guilt, Redistribute Resources, Realize this s**t is killing you too . . .
To move forward, we must begin to evaluate our prejudices, our social systems, and the ways in which white supremacy harms us all. Illuminating and practical, What White People Can Do Next is essential for everyone who wants to go beyond their current understanding and affect real—and lasting—change.
In the Wake: On Blackness and Being
This captivating and poetic piece of work unpacks the state and existence of Black beings in modern society. It Considers what binds Black lives together following the journey from slave ships to consciousness or what Sharpe labels ‘The Wake.’ The consciousness and awareness of Blackness that writers such as Shilliam (2015) and Adichie (2017) adopt in their work. Sharpe reinforces her idea of The Wake by defining it as a Black awareness of ‘skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, impoverishment’ (Sharpe, 2016). This Black consciousness is what Sharpe aims to academically theorize and encapsulate in this text. Its four chapters, The Wake, The Ship, The Hold and The Weather, it cleverly addresses themes of postcolonialism, decoloniality and feminism.
Things Fall Apart
This emotive and comforting novel offers a Pan-African narrative completely free of Eurocentrism. The story of Okonkwo, a man of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria, tells a story of a way of life many modern Africans continue to mourn. It brings to light both the positive experiences of African life before colonisation and mirrors the fall of African customs and traditions towards the end of the 19th century.
A moving novel that tells the stories of a Black woman, a Black man, a white woman and a white man and the way in which their paths overlap unexpectedly. Set at the time of the Windrush era, Small Island tells the story of the Windrush generation. Levy taps into the unique racialised experiences of each individual, the gender roles set by both racial backgrounds and the socio-political experiences of all four individuals as England recovers from the 2nd World War.
Black Skin, White Mask
This timeless historical critique rewrites the history of colonialism from a lens that describes the transition of Africa towards Eurocentrism. Fanon discusses Africa’s heart-breaking psychological, physical, and cultural transformation that provides historical context for today’s socio-political landscape. A must-read for all those interested in Decoloniality, Black and postcolonial studies.