Body of Work

Racialised Bodies and Anxiety

Orange, blue, and white circular patterns

How is inequality in the workplace articulated by people of colour?

The first session of The Body of Work was on the theme of ‘racialised bodies and anxiety’. In this session, we discussed anxiety, power dynamics, and white structures.

‘Race’ is not only a concept that has been constructed and attached to certain bodies using different logics over history; but results in a social, economic, and political reality for people who experience the world through those bodies.

We began this session with two academic speakers; Dr Akile Ahmet and Dr Deborah Brewis, who contributed forms of knowledge about how racialisation and the reiteration of whiteness (ultimately, white supremacy) operates through mechanisms of organizing.

Further third-sector practitioners joined us as panellists to share their experiences of agitating for change. Their fields of expertise join together racism and its implications for mental health: both its antecedents and how we might support greater wellbeing. These speakers are Tammana Miah, Samir Jeraj, and Dr Anke Strauß.

This first session came to a close with a workshop in the afternoon, dedicated to Creative research methods, and led by Dr Anke Strauß.

Watch the video

For each session in the series, we collaborated with a performance company to develop a video resource that can be used to illustrate the content of the research themes. These creative responses to each topic are aimed toward sparking discussion, debate, and the development of inclusive workplace practices. You may wish to show these videos, and use the additional resources we have collated, in your work workplace as an way of starting discussions around the issues depicted.

These are the 10 key learned lessons from this event that we would like to share with organizations.

  1. We can reflect analytically on the physical spaces of our organisations as a route to understanding who and how they include/exclude certain bodies
  2. Creative methodologies for research can both give access to insights we may not have found through traditional research methods
  3. Creative research writing can enhance the impact of research findings 
  4. When considering interventions around racism as organisations or individuals, we need to think carefully about what those actions achieve and reconsider those who primary or sole benefit is to making us look or feel good
  5. Students are a potentially powerful group to engage in research, but we need to consider carefully how we work with them and ensure that their labour is compensated fairly and we can offer them sufficient safety.
  6. As individuals and organisations we can learn and legitimate language developed by communities of colour that helps name the ways that racism manifests in order to shed light on them and resist them.
  7. Belonging is a a key concept, but can be difficult to measure as it is relational. We need to re-learn to attune and listen to one another.
  8. We can consider ways to make physical and mental health care more easily accessible as a way to support those who endure racism whilst we engage in ways to combat it.
  9. We can reflect critically on who is doing the labour of combatting racism and who is receiving the benefit of credit for equalities work, and ask ourselves where we might need to step up or step back.
  10. In the first session of The Body of Work we came together to explore the theme of ‘racialised bodies and anxiety’. We welcomed two speakers who touched upon each element, and in their relation to one another.

Explore what our speakers discussed:

Dr Akile Ahmet

Dr Akile Ahmet started us off with an insightful and powerful talk on a piece of research she conducted on Racism in the Academy. Using a photo-voice methodology she asked participants to explore the physical space of the university to visualise marginalisation and exclusion.

Drawing on concepts such as Puwar’s ‘bodies out of place’ and the works of Stuart Hall, Shirley Anne Tate, and Yuval-Davis the research develops effective maps through visual and discursive analysis. Dr Ahmet discussed the importance, and current lack, of care in representation in higher education and her work searches for ways that such spaces can be transformed beyond a surface level to facilitate belonging.

Dr Ahmet’s work spurred a vibrant discussion around elevating student voices as part of research and the types of consideration that such work entails. We also discussed the merits of the photo-voice method which yields imagery that is sometimes more resistant to contestation. Dr Ahmet was also able to share insights with us as to the lasting effects of this piece of work in the forming of student networks and collectivities.

Dr Deborah Brewis

Dr Deborah N Brewis shared a presentation of developing work on Whitely Vocalities. This work focuses on ‘naming’ as a strategy for the reveal for revealing the operations of power that constitute and reiterate racism. Dr Brewis uses a critical-creative methodology to examine and represent examples of interactions in her own scholarly field and communities. Using poetic forms of writing and presenting, the research distils and gives language to dynamics of power giving others language with which to make concrete and recognisable what is often felt as subtle and fleeting moments of invalidation and marginalisation.

The presentation resonated with the room particularly upon reading the poetically-described vocalities, which evoked interactions so familiar to some of us. The presentation also touched upon the politics of naming as a form of claiming work as one’s own as an individual, where whole communities and histories of people may have contributed and could be credited.

Discussions around Dr Brewis’ work have continued beyond the workshop to explore the potential of critical-creative work in advancing equalities, and around the issue that ‘more data’ is so often demanded of workaround racism.

Tamanna Miah

Campaigner Tamanna Miah shared a short talk about her experiences of Islamophobia and the mental health implications of racism. She shared some of her charity work with participants and spoke on the need to engage in generational work to both intervene and prevent experiences of racial trauma.

Samir Jeraj

Samir Jeraj joined us as our final guest to discuss racism within the charity sector and journalism. This talk raised issues of how people of colour are often responsibilised for educating about racism, the physical toll it entails, of demoralisation among those doing equalities work, and lack of sufficient access to mental health care.

Dr Anke Strauss

Dr Anke Strauss whose work explores affect through Stewart’s notion of ‘atmospheres’ led an embodied workshop. Dr Strauss described how we ‘unlearn to listen’ to one another and particularly through our bodies, becoming less adept at recognising subtle movements and expressions. We engaged in a walking exercise in pairs in which we shared stories, hopes, and challenges in order to practice really attuning to one another. We were also led through some physical-spatial exercises and brought the session to a close-by mapping out striking concepts we had explored.


Tammana Miah

Speaker, Body of Work project

Tamanna is a media spokesperson, workshop coordinator and campaigner around issues of race and mental health. She has worked with organisations such as ReThink, Time to Change, YoungMinds, and the World Youth Organization.

Samir Jeraj

Policy and Practice Officer, Race Equality Foundation

Samir assists on projects including the Department of Health Strategic Partners programme, and the National Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Transplant Alliance (NBTA). 

Dr Anke Strauß

Chair of Art Theory and Curating

Research Fellow, Zeppelin University

Dr Anke Strauß is a critical management and organization researcher working on the intersection between art and economy. Being interested in changing forms and politics of organizing contemporary work-lives, she researches and writes about solidarity, affects, aesthetics, practices of collaborating and alternative ways of organizing,

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