In this short interview, Gary touches on his influences, the COVID-19 pandemic, and what he would do if he was Prime Minister for a day…
Q: Could you please share the inspiration behind the title of your talk, ‘I danced here on other peoples’ dreams’?
A: The primary inspiration is my mother who would dance me around the house on her feet as a child to Bob and Marcia’s “Young Gifted and Black”.
But it is also the numerous people, most of whom I don’t know, who fought for the rights that I have even when there was little immediate prospect of those rights being granted and even though they themselves would never have the chance to enjoy them.
Q: If you were Prime Minister for the day — how would you set about building the more ‘diverse, inclusive, and respectful’ society that you will be discussing in your talk?
A: In a day it would not be possible to do anything substantial to undo the things that took centuries to get us to where we are. So it would have to be something largely symbolic.
“In a day it would not be possible to do anything substantial to undo the things that took centuries to get us to where we are. So it would have to be something largely symbolic.”
I would release all the people in prison for minor drugs charges, invite all those who use foodbanks to Number 10 or Chequers for a garden party, and pay for mayors up and down the country to do the same, and I’d offer an official apology to every country we have bombed or oppressed in contravention of international law.
Q: Has the COVID – 19 pandemic taught us anything new, or has it just re-enforced inequalities within society?
A: Both. It has laid bare the inequalities and shown us how they work and whom they affect. What is new is that we have never seen it quite so clearly before.
Q: In October 2021, we were joined by Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu. Elizabeth is a very inspiring woman, and spoke with great passion about the influence of Mary Seacole on her own career. Who is the biggest inspiration in your career? In fact, is there someone in particular who instantly springs to mind as soon as you read that question?
A: In an immediate sense my mother. Raising three boys on her own while being thoroughly engaged in her community and instinctively drawing connections between race, class, religion and other identities. Beyond her it would be C.L.R. James, the Trinidadian-born activist, intellectual and writer who wrote beautifully and maintained a sharp, incisive critical analysis throughout his life.
Q: You’ve been Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester since 2020. Have you had chance to explore the city? How does it compare to London— both in its history, and today? Does Manchester inspire you in a different way than to London?
A: I started at the university a week after lockdown, so I have not explored the city half as much as I would have liked to. I’m not from London but lived there for 10 years before going to the US for 12 years. When I returned it had become prohibitively expensive and inhospitable, particularly for the young and those on low incomes. Manchester inspires me as a city where it is still, for now, possible, to be young and enjoy a halfway decent life and still be creative and not have to work all hours.
“Manchester inspires me as a city where it is still, for now, possible, to be young and enjoy a halfway decent life and still be creative and not have to work all hours.”
Q: What do you have planned for the future? Is there anything that we should be looking out for?
A: I studied French and Russian, then fell in love with an American and spent most of my journalistic career in America and/or writing about America. I am now shifting my research interests back to Europe, and more particularly the black experience in Europe, and will be writing more about that in the years to come…
Thank you to Gary for taking the time to answer our questions