Academics have been called “shameful” for staging a re-enactment of a slave auction at an event at the University of Liverpool.
Attendees at the clinical psychology conference dinner, hosted by the British Psychological Society (BPS) on 5 November said the show was “unexpected” and branded it “ill-judged”.
The BPS, who organise the annual Group of Trainers in Clinical Psychology (GTiCP) conference, has since apologised in a message to conference delegates, admitting that they had not “thought sufficiently” about the ramifications of the re-enactment on those who attended.
The BPS went on to explain that the Toxteth-based group, ‘Capoeira for All’, were invited to perform a display about the slave trade as part of the “more challenging social programme” of the conference.
“Despite being a suitable anti-racist performance as part of Black History Month and for the International Slavery Museum, where there is trust in the intentions of the organisers, it was not suited to the nature or the timing of the event.
“We also now understand that, while intended to acknowledge UK’s oppressive colonial history, the focus of the performance was experienced by many present as reducing that history to representing black people through slavery.
“We are sorry that we did not read the distress of some people in the room and act accordingly.”
Is clinical psychology a safe place to be for black people? Are we even seen? Does anybody actually care?
– Samantha Rennalls, clinical psychologist
The conference was held in Liverpool which has a three-century history as a slave trading port that transported half of all Britain’s slave trade across the Atlantic.
The re-enactment had no prior warning, and included the audience being invited to bid for a slave and the “slave” being ordered to run around to “show the strength of his legs”, according to Psychologists for Social Change.
Tweeting about the performance, trainee clinical psychologist Samantha Rennalls asked: “Is clinical psychology a safe place to be for black people? Are we even seen? Does anybody actually care?”
A fellow clinical psychologist, Chris Jones, also took to Twitter to say that “the re-enactments of the slave auction at #GTiCP2019 was a shameful day in the history of British Clinical Psychology.”
Kat Alcock, another clinical psychologist, wrote that the “unexpected” re-enactment at the conference had “caused enormous distress on the part of Black trainees and EBE’s”.
The chair of the Minorities Group, a committee supporting minorities within clinical psychology, tweeted that members had been “deeply impacted” by the performance.
Katrina Scior, a senior lecturer in clinical psychology at University College London (UCL), said that allowing the re-enactment was “ill-judged and plain wrong”.
Capoeira for All have since released a statement defending their performance, saying they believe that it had been taken “out of context” by critics “primarily on social media”.
The groups managing director Akil Morgan says in the statement that it aims to represent its own ancestors who “were sold for profit and political power.
“This shameful truth is the reality of our past that we should not censor and in fact, we believe, should confront head on,” which he considers the performance to do.
The university said it was concerned to hear about the distress caused and would ensure that support was given to staff about what is appropriate to include in future events.