A CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE EQUALITY, WITH DR. THOMAS FLETCHER
Updated: Jan 21
In amongst the research and reading, the sticky notes and the rabbit holes, I came across the works of Dr. Thomas Fletcher. I felt like I’d struck gold. Dr. Fletcher, Reader in the School of Events, Tourism and Hospitality Management at Leeds Beckett University, whilst being a cricket fan, is also a passionate advocate for race equality and social justice. He has published academic works that cover the relationship between cricket and Empire, migration, cultural resistance and much more. I was, and probably still am, swimming in his papers related to the question(s) I have previously asked. That research will be brought up and touched upon in further thoughts that I plan to piece together, but for this, I wanted to speak to Dr. Fletcher about where he started, why and where we are today.
As part of a PhD on English identity and nationalism, Dr. Fletcher stumbled across a South Yorkshire based cricket club whose first XI was made up entirely of Asians. Where some teams intentionally establish themselves in such a way, this particular team had simply evolved over the last 50 years or so. He decided to analyse the club, as well as the club he played at himself. “They formed a really interesting case study about what it was like to navigate the structures of whiteness…it fascinated me how whiteness was normalised where I was and then whiteness was incredibly problematic for the Asian guys at the other club.” Not many others were writing about, or discussing, the topic at the time. Especially not academically. Some of Dr. Fletcher’s work was fed into the ECB’s South Asian Engagement Action Plan, which has been integral to some of my thoughts and blog posts, thus far. Even though the ECB’s work is extensive and his own work is embedded within the proposed initiatives, Dr. Fletcher feels there’s still more to be done. “My argument is that the South Asian Action plan only addresses South Asians. There’s much greater ethnic diversity in this country than South Asians and we need to tap into that.”
Any initiative to help diversity and participation rates, where it is lacking, should be seen as positive and progressive. “These things are good to have,” Dr. Fletcher says. But the reasons for those initiatives also need to be genuine and rooted in the right reasons. In January 2021, the ECB introduced bursaries to enable under-represented demographic groups to gain coaching qualifications[i]. One of the things Dr. Fletcher says he feels uneasy about is the aspect of making things free because of the assumption that this demographic is poor. Referring to work on the under-representation of Asian coaches in English cricket, Dr. Fletcher says that, “What became more apparent, as we were working, was that it wasn’t around poverty...it was cultural.” Dr. Fletcher has found that in a lot of cultures the idea of volunteering does not exist. “It was this view that ‘coaching is not a career’ and therefore ‘why would you pay your money to qualify to be a coach that you’re not going to get any sort of monetary reward for.’” An assumption that poverty is the only reason for the lack of South Asian coaches may come across as offensive and therefore fail in its end goal. “None of these initiatives will work unless there is a genuine commitment to them. If you introduce them ad-hoc and they’re piece-meal, to alleviate tensions at a particular time, or just to put out fires…that won’t work.” And that commitment needs to come from the top, down. “What you need is leadership. Committed leadership. That’s all it boils down to. If people at the top support it then they will take a punt on things. They will take a risk with an initiative.”
The reality is, the majority of people implementing these initiatives will not be from the background of the people they are trying to target. And so, the question is whether they will have this genuine commitment? I have previously talked about lived experiences and how important I think these are to understanding the problems and issues at hand, such as those surrounding a lack of independence, Enmeshment Trauma or alcoholism within the Sikh community (to name just a few). “It doesn’t matter how often white people sensitise themselves to the challenges and say ‘we understand the challenges and we’re trying to rectify them,’” Dr. Fletcher says. “It doesn’t have the same substance unless it comes from someone who is like them. Looks like them. Sounds like them. Or, similarly that it’s someone they can look at and say ‘they understand what it’s like to be like me.’” Granted, there will be people who don’t have the lived experience but are committed to change. In this instance, Dr. Fletcher is reminded of a conversation with Arun Kang, Chief Executive of Sporting Equals. “He was saying lived experience is clearly the best thing you can ever have. If you don’t have that lived experience, what you need is empathy. So, you need to have a genuine commitment to understanding the barriers, and the enablers.” Being surrounded by those who empathise is priceless for those who are the first in their family to have been through the process. For example, those who have been to University, progressed through sporting pathways, or even ventured into the arts. “It’s [about] creating a system where you acknowledge that and say ‘right, we know that there are people navigating this for the first time,” Dr Fletcher says.
With all of this said, all of the progressive actions from organisations, social media movements, race diversity campaigns, I do still wonder how we change the opinions of those in positions of power, who might not be as committed as they say they are. Something that Dr. Fletcher said towards the end of our conversation stayed with me. “What I found in my work was that there was a shared sense of whiteness. When you’re in and around people that are like you, you kind of assume that everybody has the same point of view. It just makes it easier not to have that diversity. You don’t have to think about the way you talk to the kid, you don’t have to worry about what food you serve up, you don’t have to worry about when games take place, whether it takes place during Ramadan, or not.” It's this easy route out that worries me. Change is never easy. But what’s worse is not wanting that change, in the first place. “It’s not good enough to not want to have those conversations.” Absolutely right, Dr. Fletcher.
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