Peninah Wangari-Jones: Responding to PHF Shared Ground Theory of Change

Published: 27 August 2021 
Author: Peninah Wangari-Jones 

Peninah Wangari-Jones, Director at the Racial Justice Network, calls for a greater focus on anti-racism and an analysis of the global forces driving displacement.

The migration system is not dysfunctional, it is totally functional for a system designed to be unjust.”

It is often said one has to understand the beast to unmake the beast. Reading through Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Shared Ground Fund Theory of Change (ToC) was encouraging and overwhelming in equal measure… the sight of the beast we are dealing with regards to migration. It gives a sense of having an understanding of the enormity, depth and endemic nature of migration injustice.

It is sad to imagine that while funders appear to give more, authoritarianism, far-right ideology and anti-migrant narratives have become more accepted and mainstream over the same period. It shows migration injustice’s complexity and the pillars of influence that continue to uphold and reinforce that oppression, including the acknowledgement that is not an easy task or one that can be sorted out in a flash.

The ToC also highlights many valid and key points; for instance the interconnected nature of social injustice and the need to pull others in like racial justice, climate justice, human rights into migration justice as some of us have been doing for a while. It highlights the inequity that has existed by acknowledging and supporting lived experience, the wealth of knowledge, expertise, informal leadership, invisible labour/​burden that has often been invisibilised’ – calls to rebalance this will go a long way as will the understanding that this is long-term work.

Other encouragement was the openness and willingness to learn, as that comes with listening, allowing for mistakes and growth. These were not the only strengths but I would like to leave a little more room for what I would have liked to see more of. I will do this by addressing/​referring to funders and the migration sector but I also mean the ToC.

One of the key conclusions that a few comrades and I reached as we pondered, strategised, questioned the state we are in, is the ultimate power that funders have, including one of setting the agenda. Those of us who find ourselves in activism, organising, movement building and so forth do so because we are unable to turn away from injustice. However those who are willing to hold the banner and agitate, often feel undervalued, unsupported, alone, burnt-out, unable to make ends meet, because often those with the resources are not always able to see we are in fact on the same side. Or that it should be a partnership of mutual benefit and accountability, for changes we seek in society, a collaboration between those with the ability and those with the means as opposed to hierarchy, mistrust and multiple barriers encountered. Areas that get funded sometimes mean those on the ground are constantly moulding their work to meet the agenda and losing some’ in the process.

I would have liked to see terms mentioned like: capitalism, classism, authoritarianism, legacies of colonialism and enslavement and education, as these are the global powers and forces that are driving all of what we are experiencing right now. Bringing them into focus is not to say PHF will do that work, it highlights understanding the bigger and source of the problem.

For instance through this overstanding, it becomes clearer how climate change, global inequality, foreign policies, international corporations (upholding above as well as racism) all cause conflict and displace those with the least – for example the arrival and treatment of Congolese or Sudanese families that journey to the UK is a symptom of rather than the problem. How diversifying media is politics of representation and not enough, as those considered diverse’, who occupy these spaces of power are not only minoritised, they are educated in, often have similar mindsets or pursue similar interests as those before them (Priti Patel and Sajid Javid are case in point).

Building across sectors

The migration sector often stays within migration sector silos and echo chambers, as opposed to building across other social justice issues. Some of us have been doing this and seen huge positive changes. Building an understanding of migration injustice within classism, policing, disability, gender, LGBTQI+ and so forth, and going to other sectors like education, law, research, unions and the NHS really strengthens the movement and quest for changes.

Due to interconnected and interdependent nature of structures of oppression, funders should also engage with funders in other sectors or social justice issues to maintain an intersectional approach from other angles rather than this remaining an expectation from those being funded or on the ground. We witnessed #BlackLivesMatter’s ability to speak to more than policing and the killing of Black bodies – we are witnessing a change within climate movements in acknowledging and building on climate with reparations, antiracism and race/​internationalism analysis. The migration sector needs to do the same via vehicles like this ToC.

To counter what is currently going on, there is a need to be radical, which according to Angela Davis means grab it from the roots, rather than address the symptoms. Therefore create the alternatives we want to live in, design ahead rather than being reactive, as the firefighting is exhausting, ineffective and unsustainable whilst the right continues to plan paces ahead. The sector needs to get organised; the government, media and far right are organised. This also means taking the government to task rather than relying on the mainstream, laws and policies built to disadvantage as the only vehicles for change – Audre Lorde reminds us the master’s tools will never destroy the master’s house.

This is long-term work

The mis-education and inequality has been ingrained over decades if not centuries. Supporting sustainably means resourcing and standing in solidarity with those who step forward over long periods of time rather than short-term, if we want to see and make changes.

Finally, it would have been good to see more on antiracism. As much as xenophobia is an issue that affects many, not all migrants are despised or visible. There is often an assumption that because the migration sector is fighting for the rights of those who migrate (racially minoritised communities on arrival) that they have a good and clear understanding of antiBlackness, race/​colonial literacy or what antiracism looks like, but this is not the case. The migration sector needs to do this, led by funders, and in this case a thorough theory of change.

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Director at the Racial Justice Network