Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Tag: racism (Page 3 of 3)

The Reality of Diversification Without Beginning the Process of Decolonisation

Lauren Blackwood is one of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Project Officers at King’s. Lauren has penned a blog post using her own personal experiences in Higher Education to highlight the importance of introducing inclusive practices as well as increasing diversity.

An illustration showing a lecturer teaching to a group of students, who are depicted with idea-lightbulbs above their heads, in a large lecture theatre.

Institutions across the UK are finally embarking on diversification projects, spurred by the Equality Act 2010, equality accreditations, and calls from those underrepresented and their allies. But it is important to ensure that the culture that we are inviting those underrepresented groups into does not hinder the broader goal of equality – this includes (but is not limited to) ensuring equal feelings of safety and belonging. In order to achieve this broader goal, we must, at the very least, start processes of decolonisation alongside diversification.  

In this blogpost diversification is understood as attracting underrepresented groups to an institutionThis often includes recruiting staff at all levels who are representative of the frequently more diverse student demographics. This serves to broaden the scope of teaching styles and taught topics and to introduce educational perspectives which reflect the personal experiences of, and knowledge produced by, marginalised individuals and communities. As highlighted by Louise Autar “power dynamics, inherent biases, and (micro-)aggressions [that persist in Universities] can become hurdles in the learning process” (2017a, abstract), disrupting feelings of belonging, and in more extreme cases, safety. Therefore, it is important that diversification efforts go together with beginning decolonisation to ensure we are safeguarding as well as welcoming our most marginalised students. 

Here, decolonisation is defined as positively changing the longstanding, traditional, and exclusionary norms and culture of an institution. This may be done by rigorously questioning the university “structures that produce inequalities” (Friedberg and Felix 2019)Prominent examples of calls for the decolonisation of universities internationally include the University of Cape Town’s #RhodesMustFall campaign and UCL’s Why is My Curriculum so White’.  It is important that the process of decolonisation begins alongside, if not before, efforts to diversify, as “[i]n diversifying the university, ‘others’ are added without decentring the norm” (Autar 2017b, 318), thus maintaining their experiences of marginalisation and inaccessibility of the institutions services. 

As described by Kavita Bhanot (2015, 1) efforts to diversify without attempts to decolonise invite marginalised groups to the institution, but do not give those marginalised a seat at the table. This is to say that power imbalances are still maintained as well as systems and experiences of oppression.  Without decolonising work, diversification exists as ‘tick-boxing’ and tokenism  work which does not listen to, or act on, the needs of those marginalised concerning equal and inclusive experiences within the workplace and the classroom.

Attempts to decolonise should start with listening to and collecting the experiences and recommendations of those marginalised within your institution, faculty, school, or department. It is important that, in doing this, data collection is in line with the Data Protection Act 2018. This is to advance the safety and confidence of marginalised staff and students, and to work in line with our legal obligations.  Secondly, critically observe who is teaching and what is being taught. In my previous experience as a student, my degrees were predominantly taught by white western men, covering predominantly white, Western, masculinist theories and perspectives. This effected the extent to which I could relate to the material presented to me and proved to be an obstacle against my colleagues taking seriously my critiques of the material, critiques which reflected and grew from my disparate life experiences and subsequent knowledge. Thirdly, recognise and normalise understanding of the fact that there are barriers within Higher Education which disproportionately effect marginalised staff and students. Without recognising these historical barriers, it is unlikely that we will move onto commit to effective and sustainable change, rather than tick-boxing and tokenism.   

An illustration showing a diverse group of students sat around a table conversing over course material.

Bibliography  

Autar, L (2017a) Decolonising the Classroom. Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies. 20(3) Accessed at: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/aup/tgen/2017/00000020/00000003/art00008 pp.305-320 

Autar, L (2017b) No Democratisation Without Decolonisation. Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies. 20(3) Accessed at: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/aup/tgen/2017/00000020/00000003/art00009# pp.321- 332 

Bhanot, K (2015) Decolonise Not Diversify [PDF]. Media Diversified.  Accessed at: https://www.academia.edu/39008909/Decolonise_Not_Diversify 

Felix and Friedberg (2019) To Decolonise the Curriculum we have to Decolonise Ourselves. WONKHE. Accessed at: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/to-decolonise-the-curriculum-we-have-to-decolonise-ourselves/ 

Akala’s Natives and white supremacy: what does ‘all that race stuff’ have to do with me/you/us?

Every so often I experience a seismic change of understanding about myself, the world and societal issues. This is often brought about by books. Way back in time, Mike Phillips’ Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain was a game changer. More recently, I was inspired by Caroline Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women. These books were amazing wake up calls. Reading them felt at once like a punch in the face, a hug, and something akin to the “ice challenge”. Reading them felt like many things I previously only half understood had come into focus, while other things I had never thought to think about were beginning to emerge. 

finally got round to reading Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by artist, writer, historian and educator, Akalaas I had been meaning to since he spoke at the sold-out King’s Race Equality Network Black History Month event last year.  

Akala, who was born in the 80s to a British-Caribbean father and a Scottish-English mother, grew up in a single parent, working class family dependent on free school meals. He is extremely bright and has used his knowledge about his heritage to articulately deconstruct much of our ‘typical’ British social context to reveal new insights – insights that those of us who are like me (also dual heritage, brown skin, a child of immigrantssort of knew but could never quite put their finger on. 

In an extremely direct and accessible way, Akala examines mixed race identity and the racism, reduced expectations and stereotyping he was subject to as a black skinned boy in 80s Britain. He explores the real threats to personal safety he experienced and the attitude of the criminal justice systemhow the achievements of people of colour are often detracted from and underminedthe unreality of what we are taught about the ‘British empire’; how stereotypes and media (mis)portrayals skew our perceptions of underrepresented groups; how money and class underpins so much of how people experience and perceive the world; how all these things link to politics and social identity. All in 350 pages or so.  

For some, what Akala says will be shocking – both the reality of the lived experiences that he relates and the intellectual concepts he promulgates. For others, like myself, there will be a lack of surprise and a degree of comfort to be found in the universality of the experiences he articulates – not because these things happened, but that they happened to others; that they are a ‘thing’; that I wasn’t imagining itwhy it took me so long to recognise the long term impacts on myself.  

“racist insults leave you feeling dirty because, even at five years old, we already know on some level that, in this society at least, we are indeed lesser citizens” 

I can’t possibly relate how impactful Akala’s book is without taking up thousands and thousands of words – and why would I do that when you can read the book?! Instead I am going to pick out a few things that stood out to me or really helped me hone my thinking.  

  1. How easy it is to be taken in by the current picture of multiculturalism and not realise how recently that was achievedhow hard thfight to achieve it was and how so much is still considered acceptable – e.g. racism in football.
  2. A key point I have internalised – know yourself and know your history. Check who is telling you what and think about what other points of view and versions of that story there might be. I was in Ghana last year and Japan the year before. In Hiroshima I was really struck by how the various choices America made in dropping the atomic bomb were portrayed with a very clear judgement of the abominable nature of this decision and how different the Japanese perspective on this was to anything I had learnt in school. In Ghana, where the ‘Gold Coast’ marked the beginning of the journey for many slaves, this history is well acknowledged locally. I was equally struck with how understated and sanitised this was in the various museumsHow there seemed to be no blame or acknowledgement of the power dynamics that created slavery or the legacy that power dynamic created, which lives on to this day.  
  3. What Akala refers to as White Supremacy. I know, as I write that, a lot of readers will find it difficult to read. Please do stop and examine your feelings and then carry on reading.  

It is important to remember  

“White supremacy was a mainstream and openly espoused legal, political and moral imperative until the latter half of the twentieth century so hardly ancient or remote history” 

and 

“modern British identity grew with and was shaped by the fundamentally and undeniably racist British empire” 

I have done a lot of thinking about this since reading the book and the best way I can help people think about it is in terms of how we have come to understand and accept ‘the patriarchy’.  

Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.” 

While there are still people that argue against the patriarchy’s existence, it seems to me it is generally accepted and understood as a concept: a structure that actively maintains gender inequality.  

If you read that across and see the same sentiment in white supremacy and recognise that  

“even discussing whiteness can be uncomfortable for people who have taken their white identity for granted, who think of themselves as unaffected by all that race stuff, but there is now a good body of work on the history of ‘whiteness’ that we ignore at our peril. 

Alongside acknowledging 

Whiteness can usually be taken for granted by those that it protects; the absence of whiteness can literally be the difference between life and death  

and   

The concept of whiteness goes hand in hand with the concept of white supremacy 

Growing up I was very much brought up to know and believe  

British identity, despite all of the liberal rhetoric to the contrary, is obviously seen as synonymous with whiteness; 

My parents were clear that I would have to work twice as hard. My experiences at school and elsewhere showed that there were different rules and perspectives for me as a brown skinned woman. We didn’t have the language or understanding then but fundamentally my parents had been conditioned to understand their place in the world and were doing their best to help me navigate what they saw and accepted as the hostile road ahead of me.  

So, where does that take us? We can’t change history, but we can learn from it. We can work on how we want the future to be. We can only do that with honesty. We need to come to terms with the fact that 

“Despite all the rhetoric about meritocracy and equality of opportunity, Britain is still – like every nation on earth to some degree – a society where the social class and area you are born into will determine much of your life experiences, chances and outcomes” 

And  

“we are all influenced by what we are exposed to and experience; the best we can hope for is to try and be as fair as possible from within the bias inherent in existence”. 

That’s why I urge you to do what you can to educate yourself, consider your own positions of power and innate thoughts and challenge yourself to recognise what you have accepted without question and what that means for social equality.  

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