Dominic Bruce, founder of Wisdom Against Racism, kindly made the time to answer some questions about his life, the app he has created, and what is to be done…
1. You grew up in Moss Side in the 1970s, of mixed-race heritage. The stereotype would have you dead from an overdose, or else in jail. You mention in the video that this didn’t happen to you. What were some of the things that made that the case?
Luck was the biggest factor. Many times, I have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and fortunately managed to avoid a terrible outcome.
My mother was a very strong and dynamic woman. She had a great work ethos and always believed in me. My family worked in different positions for national cleaning companies and from the age of 15 I’d get little cleaning jobs. At 18 I was cleaning ceilings at the Kellogg cornflakes factory while doing the first computer graphics course in the UK. Naively or with great courage, at the age of 19 unable to get a job within 50 miles of Manchester, I packed my bags and moved to London.
I landed a job in the Graphics department of an International Management company and saw how the other half lived. This inspired me and opened my eyes to what I needed to do to succeed, how I needed to assimilate and what I needed to ‘hide’. In them days an accent was about as much as the corporate world would tolerate, having a different background, class and without doubt, colour just wasn’t an option, no matter how talented you were.
At the interview, the perception was, you just won’t fit in. Most white people have a narrative of what black working-class people have come from and the presumption is they somehow feel comfortable in it, when the reality is the opposite. Nobody appreciates an opportunity more than someone who doesn’t have any.
A year later returning to Manchester, I spent my weekdays in an all-white middle-class advertising agency of 150 people (later I realised I replaced the one black guy who left) and I’d spend my weekends with my friends in nightclubs full of notorious gangsters. Not by choice but there were never more than two venues for black people to go to Manchester.
Too many incidents happened for me to go into details, but many could of lead to my whole life being changed forever in an instant for nothing more than a girl, someone wanting to prove a point or jealousy.
The stakes were high because it seemed the police were not concerned about gangs, as long as it was the black communities being victimised. My friends and I would be given every excuse under the sun by Bouncers at white venues. Sometimes it would be as simple as “We are full” as they let white groups go in or as blatant as “For your own safety I can’t let you in”.
My friend and I got attacked by a gang, I managed to escape and flagged down a police car, I got in the back with a bleeding nose and mouth begging the policemen to take me back to get my friend. He put the central locking down and started questioning me about ‘Drugs’. Eventually, he drove me back where we found my friend beaten to a pulp and advised us not to report it and to take ourselves to the hospital.
2. You worked in advertising for 25 years and I must say I laughed out loud when you said there are too many people who mistake their privilege for talent. Is there ever any point explaining that to those people, since they seem pretty immune to reality…
Some people are too invested in the status quo. To acknowledge they have had privilege is to acknowledge an advantage that may be taken away. Some people call it white psychosis, this belief that we live in a meritocratic society and black people just haven’t worked hard enough. I’ve had to listen to middle-class white people whinge about being skint when they have hundreds of years of generational wealth in their families, inheritances and parents paying deposits for houses. Often finding out that somebody’s uncle is such a person, or somebodies dad is mates with somebody else it almost started to feel like the advertising industry was incestuous.
My parents or my friend’s parents in the 60 – 90’s had no relationship with bank managers, estate agents and lawyers leaving lots of room for discrimination on if their offer would be accepted (unofficial Redlining), interest rates could be dictated on an individual basis. When councils and developers decide to invest in areas it is always engineered towards black business and residents being taken out and white being brought in (regeneration). Having been a property developer before the crash in 2008, I have seen the other side of this coin. Banks throwing money at me, estate agents ringing me before properties go on the market and secret clubs offering me membership. This world is hidden from black people and still is to a large degree.
White privilege doesn’t mean you don’t have stress. It simply means the colour of your skin has never impacted your life in a negative way. Statistics prove being black is a disadvantage in the UK, if we don’t acknowledge this is down to racism in many forms the only other conclusion is black people are inferior genetically meaning white must be superior. I think you can see where this is going.
3. Tell us about the origins of the app? What was the spark, what was the development process, where is it at now?
The inspiration for MUSA came from personal experiences and the conclusions of several government-funded reports such as the Lambeth Report, Black Caribbean Underachievement in Schools in England, 2017 and the McGregor-Smith Review.
I am a single father of a charming 9-year-old boy, although his mother is French white and I am mixed heritage, he has brown skin, so he will inevitably face the same challenges that I did as racism hasn’t changed since I was his age, it’s just sophisticated itself. The best analogy I can think of is when I was a little boy, I loved The Lone Ranger as all boys did, the difference between black and white boys is white boys continue to be the Lone Ranger but black and brown boys at the age of about six realise that the world perceives them as Tonto.
I wanted to brace Paco for this realisation and make him proud of his black heritage and culture. The narrative constantly given to us is black people are dependent on white people and our contribution to civilisation is zero. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I looked for an option to teach Paco and there were a few, International Slave Museum and Egyptian exhibitions that barely mention that Egypt is in Africa.
I decided to create a resource to empower him to navigate, challenge and disarm racism. Racism is what Kryptonite is to Superman if you believe it, because the forces and influences to support it are all over the place and consistent.
Knowing Racism is the mother of race is the first step. Purposely our children are not taught that the human race has existed for 200,000 years and black people moved out of Africa 8000 years ago and their skin turned lighter, becoming white due to a need to absorb Vitamin D resulting in the first ‘white people’. We aren’t taught the first human was a black woman, but we all know what photosynthesis is. So, I decided to create a resource that isn’t made through a white lens. A resource that black and brown children can relate to and white children can learn from.
MUSA will provide access to its extensive database of empowering and informative videos, downloadable activity sheets, and integrated quizzes designed to help people navigate a system still trying to find its feet in the area of diversity and equality. In addition to its database of historical information, debates, political analysis, interviews, documentaries, plus knowledge from philosophers, leaders and mentors, MUSA also serves as an important classroom resource. Educators will be provided with features including online analysis of students’ behaviour, time spent on content, quiz scores, categories viewed, and more.
Now we are in talks with secondary schools and PRUs regarding incorporating MUSA into their curriculums. COVID has slowed progress but we are getting there.
4. What would success look like a year from now for the app? How are you trying to measure success?
The most powerful aspect of MUSA is our ability to track engagement by users. To know that we have had children watching and interacting with thousands of hours of educational empowering videos will be fantastic. Most importantly instilling pride and understanding in black and brown young people about where they have really come from and why we are where we are today is the ultimate achievement. As well as enabling white young people to understand and be equipped to resist the dog whistle forces directed at them every day to accept imbalance in inequality of society as just one of those things.
5. Finally, on the environment. The environmental movement has been accused (rightly in our opinion) of being crushingly white and not interested in people of colours’ experience. Do you share that opinion? Other that “listening a hell of a lot more”, what would you like to see white people do, both for the environmental movement, but also as allies on other issues?
I would like white people to stop considering the environment as a problem of the future. For decades we have had droughts that have killed thousands in Africa. I feel the environmental movement is putting up smoke alarms in their own house while watching their neighbours house on fire. The focus on the present critical situation as opposed to the future would turn the emphasis towards Africa. We are producing wind farms, solar fields etc because there is a massive long-term financial gain while we give very little towards Africans who are suffering today from what we acknowledge is mostly our waste.