A Better Future: Health Activism, Hair, Race, Beauty & Practical Wisdom

This event took place on the 26th October and was supported by the Hibbert Trust and took place in recognition of Black History Month. We were delighted to welcome four speakers from four universities at very different stages in their careers in education, the arts and medicine.

Kariima Ali, is a PhD researcher at Roehampton University and her research explores discursive forms of activism and politics of care present in the extensive oral and archival history of the emerging Black women’s movement of the late 1970’s. While much of this activism was instrumental in shaping current discourses on racial health disparities, it has been marginalised in the history of ongoing service-user and psychiatric survivor movements.

Her talk addressed how a meaningful engagement with this history of Black feminist health activism not only provides significant insights into our current moment but also addresses the erasure of Black women’s resistance in contemporary thinking about social change.

Kariima is a visual artist, curator and researcher whose work focuses on the possibilities for the Black intramural space, globally. Her artwork has been exhibited in a number of independent and public institutions including Autograph ABP, Tate Modern, and the Southbank Centre. A co-founder of Black British Girlhood and a trustee for the art charity Idle Women.

Dr Sabena Jameel is an Associate Professor in Medical Professionalism and Academic Quality Lead at the University of Birmingham Medical School. She is also a practising GP in inner city Birmingham. She talked to us about Practical Wisdom as a Solutionary Heuristic.

Davina Hawthorne (De Montfort University) discussed FACE x Horniman – Hair: Untold Hair stories an online exhibition that explores personal narratives attached to hair from Black, Brown, and Asian perspectives within the UK in conversation with Max Kandhola (Nottingham Trent University) who expanded on his latest submission to the exhibition. FACE is the network of ‘Fashion Academics Creating Equality’.

This was a dynamic workshop event with brilliant presentations giving us much food for thought and the basis for future discussions. Our Honorary Secretary Charmaine Burton led a lively discussion which highlighted the difficulties of defining and ensuring all minority groups are represented and the major contribution the Black Lives Matter Movement has made to our understanding of the issues highlighted in this month-October but a continuum in the UK since ,at least, 1978 and the Brixton riots highlighted by Kariima Ali.

The opening talk by Kariima titled ‘The Black Women’s Movement and Mental Health Activism’ gave graphic examples from archives in Roehampton and the Black Cultural History Archives as well as her lived experience while completing a PhD on Black activism through the archives and interviews.  This starts with the creation of OWAAD the organisation of women African and Asian Descent which has spread nationally and included the Black Panthers and other activist groups. Many movements focussed on health and social care e.g. sickle cell anaemia but especially mental health.  But a project in Lambeth developed by IPAMO in 1995-2002  “A local Black Alternative to Hospital” still seeks funding.

Dr Sabena Jameel drew on her published PhD and experience as an academic G.P. and educationalist to show that a philosophical study based on principles expressed by Aristotle and his “golden mean” can lead us to conduct our medical approach through practical wisdom, mutual respect and partnership with our patients. A major question was “ Is medicine too scientific” As important in a demoralised NHS was her finding through “corpus linguistics” analysis that the wisest doctors were the happiest. She will play an important role in promoting these conclusions. 

The final presentation was a conversation between 
Davina Hawthorne and  Max Kandhola that provided a lively history of FACE founded in the UK to challenge the lack of Black and Brown Academics and support young ethnic minority creatives to fulfil their ambitions. Their impact is reinforced by their SUMMIT 2022, available on U-tube with 1000 attendees on line, being the founders and first winner of the Black Excellence Prize and the Hair, Race and Beauty Intertwined exhibition in collaboration with the Horniman Museum, Art Fund Museum of the Year 2022. After Max’s striking images of hair and ageing truly inspired us all.

Peter Mayer