‘Shameful’: Slave auction re-enactment held at UK university conference dinner

Eleanor Busby

Academics have been criticised as “shameful” for holding a slave auction re-enactment during a university conference dinner.

There was no warning that the performance would be taking place at the meal, which was part of a conference hosted by Liverpool University, with attendees branding the show “unexpected” and “ill-judged”.

Organisers of the Group of Trainers in Clinical Psychology conference, run by University of Liverpool academics, apologised – admitting they had not “thought sufficiently” about how the performance would be received.

On the slavery performance, Samantha Rennalls, a trainee clinical psychologist, asked: “Is clinical psychology a safe place to be for black people? Are we even seen? Does anyone actually care?”

Katrina Scior, a senior lecturer in clinical psychology at University College London, said on Twitter that allowing the re-enactment to take place was “ill-judged and plain wrong”.

Clinical psychologist Kat Alcock added that the “unexpected” theatrical performance at the British Psychology Society event last week caused “enormous distress” among black trainees.

The chair of the Minorities Group, a committee supporting minorities within clinical psychology, tweeted that members had been “deeply impacted” by the performance during the dinner.

Chris Jones, another clinical psychologist, added: “The re-enactment of the slave auction at #GTiCP2019 was a shameful day in the history of British Clinical Psychology.”

A statement from the organising committee of the conference said: “We want to recognise and apologise unequivocally for the personal distress that some people experienced following the ‘Capoeira for All’ performance on the evening of 5 November.”

The organisers said the ethnically diverse Toxteth-based group were invited to perform a show about slave trade as part of a “more challenging ‘social programme’” for the conference.

But they added: “We now understand that, 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 [conference] 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.”

Liverpool University said it was concerned to hear about distress caused to those in the audience, and would ensure support was given to staff about what to include in future events.

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