Transforming the Ivory Tower review by Sheila Freeman

Transforming the Ivory Tower review by Sheila Freeman

This eagerly awaited successor to the ground-breaking Inside the Ivory Tower immediately resonated with me, by way of the writer of the foreword: Professor of Criminology and Sociology, William “Lez” Henry.

In his former life guise as DJ “Lezlee Lyrix”, he and the other proponents of sound system culture, from the 1970s through to the late ‘80s, provided Black British youth with not just a sound, but a voice that was uniquely ours; a voice that helped us navigate our way through the unabashed racism that was, for many of us, our everyday existence in our schools, our leisure, our dealings with law enforcement and authority – and just about every White institution we encountered.

Professor Henry’s support and encouragement of this book’s editor, Dr Deborah Gabriel, during her undergraduate years, helped forge a mutually respectful friendship, which endures to this day. His collaboration in this text speaks to the importance of forging alliances with those whom we can confidently call on to provide that all-important sounding board, which comes from a place of shared lived experience of oppression and the ensuing understanding and desire to champion and not denigrate the work, struggles and achievements of our brothas and sistas.

Dr Gabriel’s introduction provides a detailed explanation of both the commonalities and differences between the first and the follow-up texts (referred to as IT1 and IT2). It helps the reader understand the work which she and her 11 equally passionate, committed, knowledgeable and skilled contributors will go on to discuss.  In the three year period, since they first spoke truth to power about the institutional racism and systemic inequalities which abound in the corridors and campuses of academic institutions across the UK, IT2 showcases their amazing efforts and successes, but also the work still to be done, if meaningful and lasting change is to be achieved.

Split into two parts, the first provides autoethnographic accounts of the activism the women have undertaken to transform their teaching curriculums, work collaboratively and support one another, while highlighting the impact of some of their seminal initiatives. Part two provides the reader with an almost fly-on-the-wall insight, through extremely frank conversations, led by Dr Gabriel, with three of the text’s contributors. Topics covered include decoloniality within a framework of intersectional feminism, disrupting whiteness, and community engagement through storytelling.

Like part  one, the critical reflections section provides an opportunity for the reader to learn much about the women’s motivations, proudest or most-prized moments, engagements, collaborations and thoughts and hopes for future decolonizing and change-making activity.

Through reflection on the work of noted activists, scholars and disruptors, such as Angela Davis, bel hooks and Audrey Lorde, IT2 provides a powerful framework to which aspiring scholar activists may refer. Through the quoting of each other’s writings, the promotion of each other’s works, and obvious mutual professional and personal respect, love, friendship, mentorship, honesty, integrity and support, Transforming the Ivory Tower is a powerhouse of a text on using Black Woman Magic to challenge the Academy’s non-inclusive status quo.

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