The University of Liverpool’s Doctorate in Clinical Psychology programme hosted the Group of Trainers in Clinical Psychology’s (GTiCP) 2019 annual conference and, as an organising committee, 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 5th November.
A message for all GTiCP 2019 conference delegates:
We want to thank members of the Division of Clinical Psychology’s Minorities Group and other conference delegates for having the courage to come forward and express the feelings that were brought up by the performance.
We are grateful for the opportunity to reflect and recognise that the performance was understandably distressing for some delegates and was experienced as particularly confronting for people from historically oppressed groups who have been impacted by slavery.
We want to thank those delegates who spoke up about this for raising the issues and challenging us such that we are able to continue the conversations about this in relation to race in clinical psychology.
We take full responsibility for the event and we would like to try to explain our thinking, while being mindful of not ‘explaining away’ or in any way trying to minimise the hurt experienced by some delegates.
When planning the conference we were keen to change the format of the evenings, moving away from the typical GTiCP conference format of a ‘gala dinner’ with ‘entertainment’, to a more challenging ‘social programme’.
We were also keen to maintain the themes of the overall conference, and to work with local community groups as part of our ongoing focus on being more outward facing and learning from others.
Within this framework, we wanted the conference to reflect the themes of resistance and rights within the context of Liverpool as a city. For example, rather than having an ‘after dinner speaker’ on the Monday we held a public lecture focusing on the psychological impact of the Hillsborough Tragedy.
We supported SolidariTee and invited a speaker from the charity to address the conference as part of the Tuesday evening’s social programme with a talk that focused on the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers as marginalized members of the community.
On the Tuesday evening, ‘Capoeira for All’ were invited to demonstrate capoeira as a form of anti-racist, anti-oppressive resistance.
‘Capoeira for All’ are an ethnically diverse, Toxteth-based, not-for-profit CIC working with schools, colleges, youth clubs, universities and the NHS, among other organisations, to explore the psychological and physical benefits of capoeira.
They are well-respected and trusted within the city of Liverpool and have been commended for their work promoting mental health with ethnically diverse young people across the city.
‘Capoeira for All’ offered a performance, described by them as follows:
Shackled (Remembering Slavery) - Capoeira for All CIC’s themed performance.
In August 2017, Capoeira for All CIC were commissioned by ISM (International Slavery Museum) to devise a performance for Slavery Remembrance Day. The piece was called “Remembering Slavery” and combined theatre, Capoeira, music and Afro Brazilian dance.
The story followed two indigenous African tribes on their journey through the transatlantic slave trade. The show was a huge success and was subsequently commissioned to perform for a range of venues for Black History Month over the last two years.
With some considerable regret, we acknowledge that we had not thought sufficiently about how the ‘Capoeira for All’ performance would be received, particularly given the focus allocated in the conference on discrimination in selection and pervasive issues with racism and Whiteness in clinical psychology in general.
We acknowledge that we did not view the performance beforehand. Consequently, we were not fully aware of the overall emotional tone and power of the performance as a whole.
We also acknowledge that we could have consulted with the Minorities Group about our decision-making. None of our decision-making should in any way be seen as a reflection on the politics and professionalism of ‘Capoeira for All’.
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 GTiCP 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 have been asked why we did not stop the performance. As a predominantly white staff team, using our own feelings of shame and intense emotional discomfort as a guide to censor a powerful performance developed for Slavery Remembrance Day could have been viewed as unacceptable.
We are sorry that we did not read the distress of some people in the room and act accordingly.
On reflection, we acknowledge that our choice was not suitable and that communication about the performance was lacking.
We take full responsibility for this and are now aware that we should have:
- provided a clearer statement of our intention to offer a more challenging social programme as opposed to ‘entertainment’,
- pre-viewed the performance, which would have allowed us to work with the performers to re-design elements of content, particularly the specifics of the re-enactment of the transatlantic slave trade,
- considered consulting with colleagues from the Minorities Group,
- included information about ‘Capoeira for All’ in the conference materials, which may have given context about them as an organisation and built trust in their, and our, motivations,
- offered a much clearer description of the nature of the performance, to facilitate individual choices about whether to engage,
- provided a warning about the specific content immediately before the performance.
The organisation of the GTiCP conference will lie with a different programme team for 2020.
The current steering committee will ensure that we reflect further and deeply on the issues raised and, as a minimum, make recommendations that future organisers consult more proactively with relevant parties such as members of the Minorities Group about future content and communication, including evening content.
The aim for the 2019 GTiCP conference was to begin and develop dialogues about human rights topics, including race, oppression, and social injustices, which are challenging within clinical psychology training and the profession.
Although, not in the way we originally intended, the performance has underlined the urgent need to do just this.
However, in trying to tackle the issues, even with the best of intentions, we will make mistakes. We would hope that the keynotes invited by the committee, topics chosen for workshops and the level of co-production in the conference would support your sense that we are sincere in our intention to change clinical psychology for the better.
The worst outcome, as we see it, is for others to shy away from difficult conversations about race, ethnicity, and clinical psychology.
We hope our response above is seen as an invitation to continue this conversation with us, as our aspiring clinical psychologists, colleagues, EBE partners or colleagues in training.
We remain committed to challenging racism and other abuses of human rights in clinical psychology and in mental health services.
We hope that you will feel able to continue to talk with us and work with us to improve clinical psychology training and mental health services.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues further with us, you can contact us at [email protected]
The University of Liverpool’s Doctorate in Clinical Psychology GTiCP 2019 annual conference organising committee
13th November 2019