Malcolm Richards is a second-year independent, self-funded PhD student at the University of Exeter. His research uses critical autoethnography to explore funds of knowledge/identity from Black educators, examining how digital resources promote de/colonial dialogic pedagogies in UK schools; it is supervised by Dr Judith Kleine-Staarman and Dr Alexandra Allan (Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter).

Navigating de/colonial dialogues in digital spaces by a Black Atlantic researcher during one day in the time of Covid-19  


The last time I was in-person with a group co-facilitating dialogue about race, anti-racism and social justice was on 7 June 2020.  It was the first time I had left my Devon home since the pandemic started. I was stressed. I remember being concerned about the rain which I assumed would fall.

Anyone engaging with local social media knew where I would be. Cathedral Green in Exeter. I was preparing to support a co-hosting community-led event in support of #blacklivesmatters. We’ve got to speak to several hundreds of people. I know why I am there. If not we, who…? 

Too many things to consider. There were posts on social media advertising the event. Would the far right turn up? Police? We consulted, but we know that things change quickly. Social distancing? What if someone is ill? What if someone becomes ill? What is the far right turn up? What..? Perhaps we are asking the wrong question.

Why? We have always claimed space and place in which we draw upon our “funds of knowledge” (Moll,, 1992) to articulate our individual and collective voices. Today, there is a predominately ‘white’ audience prepared to join us in this space. Perhaps to consider our complicity in the structures and institutions we maintain?

Digital anchors

I am trying to break the habit of being transfixed to a broken mobile phone screen. I’m outside. There are people nearby, yet distant. Face coverings aren’t compulsory but I am wearing a thick scarf wrapped around my face. My phone vibrates in my pocket constantly.  Why was I spending so much time transfixed by the unsteady gaze of someone else’s camera phone narrative?

I need to avoid the videos showing the  8m and 43 seconds violence inflicted upon George Floyd (Rest In Power). The world has been consumed by the rescreening of his trauma, and my educational world seemed consumed by a blood lust for dialogue of my trauma. We’ve experienced enough violence in these spaces to last several lifetimes. I won’t watch a digital anchor where a police officer kneels on our neck while we cry for our mothers. I’ve heard those cries too many times.

Digital barriers

I try to focus. I know soon I have to speak. I forget my physical form is likely to inform perception and placement for many in the audience. As I scan the groups carefully assembled at distance on the grass, my eyes lock, for a moment, with some of the participants. I smile. Their gaze shifts quickly. A little shaken, I instinctively rely upon my routines of calm. We’ve been here many times before.

Quietly, I began to hum the first line of a Jamaican/Caribbean fable, ‘The Blackheart Man’, made famous by Bunny Wailer as the opening song of his debut album (1976). I call on the ancestors to give me strength and guidance, to be brave enough to engage with and listen to dialogue which may disrupt, distress – but seeks to heal, to de/colonise. I draw a deep breath and begin to speak.

Adapting and adjusting your research during Covid-19

I saw a tweet yesterday (3rd October 2020) from academic Dr Pat Noxolo (@patnoxolo; Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Birmingham). Dr Noxolo often uses autoethnography in her work, and in this series of tweets speaking about her experiences of shopping while black, and the way in which as a Black womxn, the choreography of shopping has changed in our post-Covid-19 times. Dr Noxolo tweets of the way she “uses her smile a lot to warm the encounter  with suspicious looking shop assistants”.

Her shopping experiences are now transactional and speedy, suggesting that the bleak economic climate ensures that “the shopkeepers have gone full-on hard sell”. The weirdness of the experience that Dr Noxolo illustrates, resonated with me immediately. Her words promoted a connection to the aforementioned events of 7 June 2020.

Next steps

I’m a cis-male, racialized as Black Caribbean, who is attempting to complete a PhD independently and currently self-funded. Statistically, it is unlikely that I will even complete this course.

Using autoethnography, I can reflect upon how my research is underpinned by assumptions associated with access to physical spaces, conversations and spaces. My research is reliant upon collaboration in dialogue with Black educators who live and work across the UK, my ‘fieldwork’ has needed to become highly adaptable.

In many ways, my original research design had been bound by my access to self organising spaces of Black educators, who have had few ‘formal’ spaces or places for their funds of knowledge, or cultural histories, traditions or repertoires to be told. The greater availability and understanding of digital technologies has enabled this research to connect with educators who may have been out of reach.

The critical discourses forced to the light by the racialized inequalities by Covid-19 have triggered exponential growth in interest of resistance in anti-racism and social justice in education.

As before, I continue to teach, support and advocate for research which seeks to disrupt, develop and ultimately de/colonize.

This post origianlly appeared on the Research and Innovation blog as part of their 20 in 2020 series.