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Arts & Culture Series: Expert Comment

The importance of belonging

Dr Lynsey Mahmood provided expert opinion on the importance of belonging in a BBC Radio 5 Live discussion with Michael Fuller, former Chief Constable of Kent Police Force and Adam Pemberton of children’s charity, Barnado’s.

by Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer)

Michael Fuller is an author and former Chief Constable of Kent Police. To date he is the only black Chief Constable to be appointed in the UK.

Broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live, Fuller joined presenter Nihal Arthanayake to reflect on his newly published memoirs, “Kill the Black One First”, and discuss his question, ‘why does a sense of belonging matter so much?.’

They were also joined by Adam Pemberton, Corporate Director of Strategy and Performance at children’s charity, Barnado’s and Dr Lynsey Mahmood, Lecturer in Organisational Psychology at City, University of London.

During the discussion, Fuller described his upbringing in the UK care system and his concerns about the social stigma associated with being in, or having been through the system.

Adam Pemberton added:

“The gap between attainment and realising potential of care leavers and those who haven’t lived in care is huge, and it continues to be the case. That’s partly about stigma, but I think it’s also about just realising how different their lived experience is to kids who live in a stable home. “

Fuller also shared his experiences of being in the police force and some of the prejudice he experienced, both from within the force and from the public, and the effect this had on his sense of belonging. He said:

“The issue of belonging, the reason the title [of the book] was chosen, was because I felt throughout my life, both as a child but also as an adult in the police, that I was always singled out for attention because of my colour. So the actual words ‘Kill the black one first’ come from my being lined up in the Brixton riots with 30 other cops. I was the only black cop, and the rioters singled me out and [someone] said, and actually shouted, ‘Kill the black one first.’”

Dr Lynsey Mahmood

Dr Mahmood was asked for her view on the importance of belonging, based on her academic research into group identity.  She said:

I think there’s a basic human need to belong, it satisfies things like our self-esteem and our sense of self, and I think part of the need to belong is that you get validation from the fact you share some common ground with other people. So there’s the fact that you’re not so much alone in your own experiences, but you can see how other people could be in the same boat. They could be experiencing the same kind of things and I think that just helps make people feel they are part of something which boosts their sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Fuller later went on to talk about his experiences on duty at the home ground football matches of Chelsea Football Club during the early eighties, when football violence in the UK was rife.

At the time, he could not understand why groups of opposing supporters would direct violence at each other, sometimes up to 200 to 300 people at a time, and which he now believes to be a form of tribalism.

Reflecting on this example, Dr Mahmood explained:

“I think the example Mike [Fuller] just talked about in terms of the football is a really good one. Because people of one team feel very accepted by other supporters of that team, and really don’t accept the other team. Until we get to the World Cup when it becomes about a shared group, where we all back our national team.  The idea of acceptance then doesn’t really matter, you know, the group identities on your weekend football matches seem to go out the window. So it’s, I think, dependent on the group that’s important to you at the time, and feeling you’re accepted within that group.”

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