Thursday, 29 October 2015

Kids Company: White privilege personified.

If you're a member of one of Britain's many black communities you've probably  had the experience where you've witnessed well articulated black expertise or experience ignored or invalidated until re-articulated and spoken by a white person.

We've all been there right? Sat in a meeting with the 'suits' who've ignored and marginalised your every word, only to see them erupt in a chorus of applause and adoration for a suggestion made by a white person, that you've made a thousand times before.

Its probably one of the more lesser known aspects of the British black experience and its true not for just white people. Lets be frank, our own can be just as bad, if not worse.

I know of black professionals who will often line up a white person to make suggestions to a black audience, recognising that if they were to suggest something similar they would most likely be sorted down or ignored. Women can face much the same dynamic.

Now hold that thought and think of the recent travails of Kids Company, who for the last 15 years were considered the  'cutting edge psycho-therapeutic' response to the needs of predominantly 'dysfunctional' black children.

I have known of the company for years and even declined to fund them whilst Policy Director for Equalities for the Mayors Office. My reasoning and assessment back then was simple. Kids Company were never going to have any problem getting funding. That was the underestimate of the decade.

If you've worked in the black voluntary sector, you'll know the scenario. Governments, civil servants, local authority officers, funding officers, with little to no real understanding of the reality racism and poverty are predisposed to pathologising black communities as problematic, the black voluntary sector as chaotic and incapable.

This lack of expertise and insight into the reality of racism and its effects, leads to cultural racism infecting public and private funding policy approaches. Lets be clear hear with regard to  Kids Company, their perspective was that black people are incapable of looking after their own children.

This  approach of course resonated and indeed elevated their standing in they eyes of Government and London's white middle classes.

Camila Batmenghelidjh and her all white Board at Kids Company, were seen, by many as the traditional 'white saviours' of poor black communities, who despite their best intentions. were incapable of looking after their own children.

It's a scenario that has its roots in an outdated, racist and colonial 'missionary approach' to 'community development' in Black communities.

Unfair? Lets remember what Camila told a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into Young Black People and the Criminal Justice System in 2006 where she told  the BBC and MP's that 'black women were hugely responsible for the family breakdown which fuels crime'

In front of an eager and attentive audience she informed them that in her 'experience', black women had a 'cruel' culture of rejecting black men and adolescent boys.  She told the Parliamentary committee that ...

I also think that actually the mothers are hugely responsible, because they have created a culture where they can get rid of the adolescent boy; they can get rid of the male partner, they can survive on their own.'  24the October 2006 Ms Camila Batmanghelidjh Home Affairs Committee: 

Camila's view of black culture and Black History Month was equally problematic. Here's what she told the same committee.

' I really think these differentiations (Black History Month ) are destructive. Why are we having Black History Month? I am not sure that these constructs are very conducive to having a society that accepts everything as a citizen, and does not define people by their racial identities.'

We now know, through a report published by the National Audit Office, that although concerns were expressed about Kids Company by some senior Civil Servants, they were given a whopping £46 million over the last 15 years, money British black organisations can only dream about.

Further, the National Audit Office has uncovered what appears to be huge sums of money, inappropriately spent on paying peoples mortgages, private tuitions for her chauffeur and God knows what else.

Contrast this with London Evening Standards stories published in 2007 falsely alleging that over 17 London black organisations, all working in the same field, tackling youth violence, were potentially corrupt and or inept.  Two years later and investigations by Met Police. Boris Johnson Forensic Audit Committee, Audit Commission, London Development Agency, Deloittes Forensic accounting all concluded that not a single penny was found unaccounted for.

Kids Company were arrogant and patronising. They simply refused to work with other black organisations period. I know of occasions where funders suggested that they work in collaboration with other groups and were told by Camila in no uncertain terms  'You either give all the money to us or we pull out'.  They complied and backed down.

The reality is Government, desperate for political cover for the cuts to local authority budgets, blinded by their own prejudice, welcomed an Iranian 'Mother Theresa' saviour figure as the solution to our problems.

They loved her, this woman who dressed in vibrant 'ethnic' clothing. A woman who was happy to confirm and support their reluctance to fund black organisations. The Prime minister was also  impressed and in agreement with Camila's demonisation of black communities.

It is also true that with the reality of reductions to health and social care budgets, Government  needed a convenient fig leaf to mask huge cuts to children's services. Problem was Camila was happy to play the game as long as the cash kept coming and come it did by the bucket load

This peculiar conversions of interests and ' ethnic' alchemy worked for Kids Company and as a result local and central Government,  the adoring City of London and wealthy celebrities were all too willing to give Camila all the money she wanted.

No doubt some will say that Kids Company was extremely popular with the very community Camila held in such low regard.  I cannot, nor would I, deny that excellent work done with many with families, it would be churlish to do so.

The harm reduction, therapeutic approach to violence trauma and familial dysfunction utilised by Kids Company is the correct philosophical and pragmatic approach to this incredibly difficult and complex work. Work done by the Wave Trust over a decade a go pioneered this approach.

 Great work indeed but all is now overshadowed by the incredible way in which finances were managed.

Notwithstanding this good work, we cannot lose sight of the brutal fact that handing out huge sums of money every Friday afternoon will always be popular among poor, desperate, deprived  communities.

Then as we saw the slow unraveling of Kids Company, as it neared its end, we saw the hapless Alan Yentob Chair of Kids Company and Camila deploying the classic  'Mau Mau' strategy remonstrating with Government, telling them, 'If you close us down there will be riots.' 


Racism never comes cheap and the effect of Kids Company dominating the funding arena's and hoovering up all available funds, made possible because of the predisposition of white people to stereotypical tropes about black people and their fundamental fear of the black communities, has cost the country dear at a time of great austerity.  

£46 million of our money to be precise, millions that could have been spent more effectively in in other areas desperate for funds. Money that could have saved many of the credible and effective black and white voluntary sector organisations many of whom were sacrificed to ensure Kids Companys survival.

Such community organisations struggle on valiantly against the odds, but many have closed being unable to compete with Cameron's favourite charity. The damage of raised child expectations now being dashed is incalculable and the retrenchment of institutional racism in funding circles is explosive.

We are all victims of the  combination of hubris, racism arrogance, political naivety and white privilege that defined the charmed existence of Kids Company.