Invited yet not welcome

Now, this is a story all about how, conversations about tackling systemic racism in UK require free objective spaces. I have tried to be reasonably detailed, so it is a bit long! If you want to skip to the main act, scroll down to the aptly titled - This is what you came for!

Can we talk for a minute?

Receiving an invitation generally implies you are welcome, but let me disabuse you rapidly because I was invited and unwelcome! Now, I was not expecting any plush red carpets, that is not normally the case when the invitation comes after criticising processes and people (yes, clutch those pearls, I did ask for an invitation after citing concerns, because that is what happens when you choose fearlessness):but the lesson I learned was that people make choices about who they respect and regard highly, and then once this choice is made, criticism of that individual is extremely difficult under an objective lens.

Let's talk about stats baby!

So, go on, ask the question, girl, what happened that these people unwelcomed you? Well, li'l ol' me challenges anti-Black racism, systemic and institutional racism in academia, NHS and schools in UK. I do this in public because so much has already been discussed behind closed doors and the needle is yet to move. Get ready for some statistics, I promise, they are so shameful and fascinatingly terrible. As it stands, there are 160 Black professors in UK out of 22,855 [1]. This is less than 1%. Every year since 2015, the headlines are the same and so are the woeful lamentations of the necessity for change - 'Fewer than 1% of UK university professors are Black,' says the Guardian [2], 'Just 1% of UK Professors are Black,' (technically 0.7%) from the Independent [3].

However, it is not just universities, it is pervasive and extends to pretty much 'everything everywhere all at once'. In the NHS, London based Kingston Hospital in 2020/2021 received 418 applications from Black doctors and hired 0[4]. UKRI - the largest research funding body in UK answered open letters in 2020 within an average of 24 days except the two about racial justice, these were answered in 207 and 390 days respectively[5]. In schools we have the example of the horrifying indignity in the racist treatment of Child Q by police[6].

Systemic racism in UK: The source of data for this figure is contained within the text of this article

Above are singular examples but there is a whole catalogue of evidence, each serving as a brushstroke to paint a very clear picture of systemic and institutional racism, woven through the fabric of virtually all organisations in UK. Black people (as well as other minoritised and marginalised groups) within these organisations have to find ways to navigate a system designed to hinder career progression and essentially eliminate them despite their skills and talents. These strategies includes hyper vigilance, suppressing feelings and not reporting racism from colleagues [7].

I am the outlier, I have sufficient knowledge of the systems and processes in academia, NHS and schools. I actively maintain contacts who continue to discuss their issues with me, I make my own observations and then I take action as an external voice to get organisations to address their systems, processes and people. So that is a neat segue - finally used that word! - to the first act of this tale of being invited but yet unwelcome!

RCPCH: An Invitation with shackles

This actually all began at 10:38 on 30 July 2021, uh huh, very precise timing, patience, it is relevant. I am going to navigate from the present to the past, allow it, it is a bit of artistic flourish, it will make sense soon. In Feb 2022, an announcement came up on Twitter of an anti-racism workshop taking place at the conference for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). It immediately rang alarm bells to me because none of the named panel members were Black doctors, but, this was supposed to be an anti-racism workshop? Why would input from Black doctors not be compulsory given the knowledge (statistical and qualitative), of how much discrimination they face in the NHS? [4] Further, a familiar name, Dr. Zeshan Qureshi, someone that I associated with misrepresentative tweets on racism, appeared to be leading it. I immediately flagged this up in public, clearly stating my reservations and tagging all the panel members. Now, forgive me, dear reader, but I must omit some details at this point, I have received a direct apology from the persons concerned so I do not wish to name them or rehash their actions. Suffice it to say, my public statement of reservations did not receive a considered response initially. After the apologies, a statement was issued that the panel announcement was premature and there would be further details later.

Fast forward to May 2022, I emailed RCPCH to ask about the panel composition and content of the workshop. The panel was now composed of Dr. Zeshan Qureshi and the president of the RCPCH Dr. Camilla Kingdon who had been named previously on the original panel as well as 3 others. There were now 2 Black doctors on the panel. Please note that I take no credit for the inclusion of Black doctors on the panel, I was not privy to whatever internal discussions happened. There was though another concern, the title of the workshop had changed and appeared to be linked to a BMJ paper Dr. Zeshan Qureshi et al. had written. This was the paper that I was really dismayed at because it lacked critical assessment in my view and I had spent a few weeks writing a response that you can find here [8].

I decided to extend the benefit of doubt and ask about the actual content of the workshop, it turned out one of the replies sent to me was a 5 page email which had been sent to my junk mail - I am not smiling, you are! A few days before the conference, there was another tweet from Dr. Zeshan Qureshi which I regarded as misrepresentative. What to do? Well, I have committed to this bold person thing, so I asked for an invitation to observe this workshop and of course I asked for it in public, as well as by email -the modus operandi! After a few days, I received a response and here was the first indication of how I was unwelcome. The email from the RCPCH was dripping with formality, it was no longer a nice cheery, 'Hi Ruby' but instead 'Dear Ruby'. RCPCH was letting me attend the workshop, good news! Are you ready for the but? Well, the email outlined restrictions, mentioned a 'principles of engagement' for the session I had asked to attend, made a note about my use of social media and worryingly appeared to outline how I could be excluded from contributing as preference would be given to contributions from conference attendees (yes I did think, am I not an attendee if you are allowing me in as an independent observer?). Anyway, with time ticking away, I decided to accept the limited access pass but I did outline my concerns to RCPCH and got a response which really did not change the information from the initial email invite but it certainly did state 'you are very welcome to speak', so ok, let us catch that train and go to the meeting!

Surface solutions for a depth problem

I made my way to Liverpool, the sea air was gorgeous which made up for the 5 am start to the day! I then made my way to the conference and the session started with the Chatham House Rule which I believe most participants had not heard of previously. The panel explained the rule, initially stating that there should be no communication about what was said. A doctor queried what use are the discussions if they cannot be repeated and it was then clarified that participants can talk about what was said but not who said it. This was framed to be in the interest of the personal accounts of racism that the doctors would be discussing. The laser focus of the session was on creating RCPCH guidelines for an incident where a parent/guardian is racist, but this omits the reality that 80% of racism that health care professionals experience comes from other staff - a statistic that was mentioned in the session but no focused solutions were proposed for it.

The workshop session was wrapping up and I was glancing through my notes thinking about how to pen the article to say the meeting was generally ok with the exception of the myopic focus on guidelines without working on systemic racism which will hinder their implementation. However, here came the closing comments to flip the script!

This is what you came for

In her closing remarks the RCPCH President Dr. Camilla Kingdon singled out Dr. Zeshan Qureshi who she stated she had known for years and regarded him as brave, a leader and mentioned criticism of his work. Hold on,wait a minute, what was the implication of that reference? Were those comments intended for me who had repeatedly criticised him?

I value transparency and I have criticised Dr. Zeshan Qureshi in public always. My critique includes:
1. multiple times for his tweets (content, misrepresentation)
2. his publication in BMJ (lack of critical assessment)
3. the RCPCH workshop announcement (anti-racist workshop with no named Black doctors)

Now it all goes back to what happened at 10:38 on 30 July 2021. I am deliberately not sharing screenshots of those deleted tweets at this time but yes, I do have them all. I am fully cognizant of the repercussions that sharing those tweets in public may have, including personally to Dr. Zeshan Qureshi, and I am choosing to exercise a degree of compassion - even if none was extended to me. I am, however, asking for accountability.

Dr. Zeshan Qureshi, create the support structure you require to be able to address those tweets ethically. To be very clear, I do not believe that you should repeat any of the claims in those deleted tweets in public because there is no method to ethically check the veracity of those claims:that would involve potentially asking others to revisit deeply traumatic experiences. Deleting the tweets is insufficient as that only serves to remove them from public view (I am not opposing the deletion, it is good/necessary) but it does not address their damage. The right thing to do is to withdraw those tweets in a clear public statement. Move forward openly (unblock all those who questioned your tweets from 30 July 2021). Stop writing incomplete tweets about racism, they easily can be misconstrued and are misrepresentative. Stop conducting polls on racist scenarios on Twitter, it is not the correct platform to do it as it lacks any support for the trauma that it may induce!

For Dr. Camilla Kingdon, the spaces you create and the voices you choose to hear from as an organisation (RCPCH) need to be broadened. I tagged you in multiple tweets, I named my concerns, I asked for your email in the run up to this conference, I got no direct reply from you. There are no open lines of communication, at least not for me. Honestly, I do not need you to address this specific incident in any manner, I hope the first line of this paragraph is sufficient explanation of my experience at your conference.

For RCPCH, I believe that there should be no distraction from the key message, which is, systemic racism needs to be dealt with in order for Black and minoritised doctors to feel supported by their colleagues. There are key issues of child health and safeguarding that the RCPCH really should be commenting on such as the adultification of Black children which results in the racist treatment of children such as Child Q.

No more - sing with me 3LW style!

- I refuse to be governed by rules which allow others to express themselves and do not afford me the same rights.
- I refuse to be governed by hierarchy(because I don't care for it) but mostly when it exists to uplift certain voices and suppress others without objective merit.
- I reject a periphery seat at the table.
- I choose risk every single day because my work is about addressing anti-Black racism. It should not be risky, but yet it is one of the greatest risks in existence.


[5]. UKRI Freedom of Information request - FOI2021/00410
Movie and lyrical references are gently sprinkled around in this article (seasoning), credit to those artists and if you spotted all of them, you are the MVP!

First published 5th July, 2022
Edit 03/08/2022 - Error on figure has been corrected - Less than 1 Black professor for every 100 professors in UK