To be or not to be: Black Studies

To be or not to be: Black Studies

I’m frequently asked by my students where I position myself in relation to the controversy surrounding Black Studies in the UK and want to know if it should be actively promoted. My usual response then takes a fraction of second, a resounding yes! They usually then proceed to firing a second question, why? It is for that reason I want to share and locate my position in a transparent and open way.
In my own discipline of criminology I have quickly learned how the contribution of black British perspectives has largely been rendered invisible. As usual there are a few individuals who have broken the glass ceiling and gained some prominence but the need to go deeper into the issue and uncover some uncomfortable truths pushed me to investigate the extent of this epidemic.
Within the history of crime, criminological theorising and analysis, we have been both victims and perpetrators going back centuries. However, the theories, analysis and framing of the understandings of how and why has been literally air brushed out of the discipline itself.
Not content with having to face this travesty which in itself is an injustice, I then proceeded to look at other disciplines; media studies, literature, theatre, sociology, psychology, and education. Once again I discovered that in spite of a small cluster of black academics who managed to swim up stream and escape into free water.
But the results were still the same; a small cohort of ideas, papers, and books- extremely important but without a central or coordinated focus that would enable a wider counter narrative to become visible.
Ironically, there has never been a shortage of white academics writing about race, black people, ethnicity and so on; in some shape or form as if to demonstrate that down to the lack of objectivity, black academics in Britain may be too subjective to be promoted. These discoveries made me angry and compelled to contest any claims that we cannot intellectually represent ourselves.
I then began to explore how notions of black invisibility and colour blindness combined with other facets of identity politics have led to the maintenance and sustainability of white privilege in the academy. This state of affairs not only transcends racism but underpins a more disturbing reality.
Namely, if the epistemologies of non-white people have been air brushed out of the academic canvas then how do the next generation of students present literature reviews, methods and analysis with insights that both contest and challenge that which have rendered those views subordinate?
If in 2013 we are still focussed on equity in the academy then the black contribution to any discipline needs to be given heightened prominence, alongside the generation of new thinking as a matter of urgency.
There are those who will see the desire to constantly seek permission for the right to be seen and heard, or those who are frightened of asserting a counter narrative for fear of recrimination. Can I criticise them? No.
Fear is very real in the eyes of those who are already isolated and struggle with their confidence to make their ideas more recognisable. The converse is true for others like myself, who are tired of seeing generations of aspiring students having to contend with the benchmarking of colour blindness in academia as the norm.
As an educator I’m committed to assisting the growth of inquiring minds. If conflict ensues in the fight for recognition of other views and perspectives to make academic investigation more rich, then so be it. Thank you Rosa Park for teaching me that one person can make a difference.

One thought on “To be or not to be: Black Studies

  • 1st August 2013 at 11:52 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading above article. It was informative and helpful in clarifying misconceptions I once held. A citizen of the United States, I have been in the UK for 10 years so was, initially, reluctant to voice my concerns about the absence of Black Studies in this country. I convinced myself that time was needed to gain a genuine sense of race relations before making any definitive statements about matters pertaining to possible valuations of race and culture, etc.

    I thought growing up in America might have polarised my views on matters of race, so was concerned that I could unintentionally, engage in a type of counter transference, if I was not careful. After all, I had been led to believe Britain long ago resolved race related issues that are yet to be addressed in the USA.

    Having received an undergraduate degree in Black Studies, I also internally questioned if this might taint my view of British life, so I took the decision to remain a quiet observer. Whilst I will continue to learn from observations, all these years later, having gained a PGCE, Master Degree and PhD, I am ready to break my silence. I have seen, heard and experienced enough to know that Black Studies in the United Kingdom is necessary.

    Outside of major metropolitan areas, it seems people from Black communities and other minorities are tolerated but not genuinely respected. Even in my work, I find people less qualified consistently attempting to dismiss the relevance of my work; oftentimes with the support of senior management. Even in my work, I know less qualified individuals receive higher pay then me.

    Even in my work, the only one on the entire staff with a PhD, I have yet to be considered for a management position, despite doing management level work. I assure you that this is not me ranting about racial discrimination; I am accustomed to fighting the good fight! Remember, I am from the USA. Black Studies in the United Kingdom could contribute to a greater understanding and appreciation of Black history and culture.

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