There are fewer than 100 black professors in Britain – why?

It is a shocking statistic that there were just 85 black professors in UK universities in 2011-12. In stark terms, this means that there are more higher education institutions than there are black British, African and Caribbean professors actually teaching in them. The latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency put the number of UK academic staff from a known ethnic minority at 12.8%.

Black Professor

In contrast, black and minority ethnic students are well represented. In some institutions, such as City University, they make up nearly 50% of the student population. Yet even in these universities black academics are a rarity, particularly those in senior positions.

It is hard to think of an arena of UK public life where the people are so poorly represented and served on the basis of their race. Yet this scandalous state of affairs generates little by way of investigation, censure or legal scrutiny under the 2010 Equality Act.

The Metropolitan Police has come under intense scrutiny for a number of years for its lack of diversity. It was famously labelled as institutionally racist by the 1998 Macpherson report for its failure to be representative and adequately serve the black community under its jurisdiction. In statistical terms, UK universities are as unrepresentative as the Metropolitan police. Somehow, they have managed to escape intense scrutiny of their attitudes, practices and procedures relating to the black populations that they have a duty to educate and serve.

It is also evident that there is a staggering absence of black people in other leadership positions within the UK higher education system. This includes vice chancellors, registrars and other administrators who make the key strategic decisions concerning ethos, priorities and direction of their institutions.

No Black British studies

Another stark feature of UK academia is the absence of any degree courses that systematically explore the experiences of black people in Britain. In the US, African American Studies are part and parcel of the academic environment. Many academic institutions house departments and academic leaders dedicated to the discipline.

But in Britain there is not a single institution that has a degree programme in Black British studies. If one thinks about the plethora of degree programmes that are offered by UK institutions, it is remarkable that not one of them offers a programme of teaching and research into the experiences of communities that have been so important to the shaping of the United Kingdom.

However, black communities are often the objects of detailed academic scrutiny by UK academics. In sociology, psychology, politics, history, theology, and numerous other disciplines, black communities are analysed, assessed, examined, evaluated and commented upon.

This analysis of black life, conducted primarily by white academics, often portrays black communities as dehumanised. Black people are used to illustrate problems as diverse as educational underachievement, health inequality, and religious extremism.

In doing this, universities contribute to an unflattering, stereotypical and false image of black communities in Britain. The rich complexity and diversity of the black British experience gets buried under an avalanche of supposedly detailed and well-established research findings. Equally damaging is that the communities who are the objects of this research are so rarely empowered by these findings.

Black communities still experience exclusion, under-representation and marginalisation when it comes to the UK’s major institutions. While academics benefit from research income and a raised profile because of their knowledge of black communities, the communities themselves remain on the margins of academic life.

Call to action

In order to move black people into the mainstream of British academic life, fundamental cultural and procedural shifts are required. It needs to be acknowledged that the British higher education system has institutional inadequacies. Universities need to take pro-active measures to ensure that institutions genuinely reflect the diversity of the wider society, both in terms of personnel at all levels and in relation to curricula and research.

The introduction of Black British studies courses in British university campuses could be one positive step on the journey towards a more inclusive higher education system. But rigorous scrutiny, analysis and action is also needed to tackle the institutionalised discrimination that is a stain on the reputation of Britain’s liberal university culture.

The Conversation

~ This post was written by William Ackah, Birkbeck, University of London. William Ackah does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This post was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original here.

International Racist Hate Crimes: American Export?

Stop hating (all way)There are two hate crimes in very different parts of the world, one in the UK the second in Russia, that have me wondering about how much of American-style racism gets exported overseas (Creative Commons License photo credit: sylvar ).

In Britain recently Nathan Worrell, a neo-Nazi who waged a racist campaign against a mixed-race couple and was stashing loads of bomb-making materials in his flat, was arrested, tried and convicted on charges related to the case.   He was sentenced to seven years in prison on two charges: “possession of material for terrorist purposes,” and “racially aggravated harassment.”   Among the materials found in Worrell’s flat were a video showing how to make a bomb from household items, and what police described as “a significant amount of far-right propaganda, as well as membership cards for groups such as the Ku Klux Klan….”

In Russia, last week Stanley Robinson, an 18-year-old African American exchange student from Providence, Rhode Island, was stabbed by unknown assailants in Volgograd.   Russian n an attack officials say may have been racially motivated.  Robinson remains in grave but stable condition.  According to published accounts, the student’s mother, Tina Robinson said:  “I believe it happened because he is a person of color. It was completely unprovoked.”

Some may chalk up such horrific stories as just another example that “the whole world is full of inequality, injustice… “ [as Robert Berger suggested in his comment on this blog awhile back]; and, others may erroneously suggest that racism is overblown and that efforts to call attention to racism are part of a “racism industry.” I, however, have a different perspective on these incidents.   To me, these suggest that American-style racism may be exported from the U.S. to other countries with deadly consequences.   The fact that Worrell in the UK had propaganda from the KKK, a U.S.-based racist organization, certainly suggests this.   Of course, Worrell also had material from British far-right groups as well and the UK is no Johnny-come-lately to racism.    And yet, the fact that there are materials from the U.S. that are tied to the racist actions of a neo-Nazi in the UK suggest that there are global flows of racism.   Add to that the fact of America’s cultural and political hegemony in the world today (although quickly fading if recent shoe-tossing incidents are any indication of the nation’s standing in the eyes of the world), and it suggests that American-style racism may be seen as the “standard bearer” for racists around the globe.

The second example, of the African American exchange student attacked in Russia, also suggests that the American-style of racist hate crime has been exported to regions far beyond the borders of the U.S.   If, as this young man’s mother suggests, he was in fact a target of a racially-motivated assault this raises some puzzling questions about how this is possible.   Russia is a country with a completely different history than the U.S. when it comes to race and racism.   So, the question becomse, how is it that this young African American teenager is even “seen” as a target of a hate crime?   That he was even fathomable as a target of such an assault suggests that this young man had to first be recognizable as a racial subject.    To put it plainly, he had to be viewed by his attackers as a young black man.   And, his racial subjectivity, his “blackness,” if you will, had to be interpreted through the lens of the white racial frame.   Within this frame, a young black man gets read simultaneously as a dangerous thug and as a racial target.    Without this interpretive lens,  Stanley Robinson would just be another exchange student exploring another culture.   Within the white racial frame, Robinson became a target.

It would be bad enough if America were simply exporting racism if we, as a country, were also doing something in the international community to combat racism.  But, alas, this is not the case.   In forum after forum in the world arena, the U.S. is the notably absent guest not seated at the table to discuss how to resolve racism globally.  Sometimes this is couched as a concern about free speech rights, sometimes in terms of defending the right of the state of Israel to exist, both worthy concerns.  Even so, the point remains that the U.S. is not in involved in these discussions at the same time that the country is exporting American-style racism.    It’s analogous to the U.S. environmental policy in many ways.  As a country, we’re about 4% of the world’s population, yet we’re responsible for something like 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, yet the U.S. government under Bush refused to sign the Kyoto treaty which would have held accountable for reducing those emissions.    Now, I realize that reducing carbon emissions is not going to do anything to eliminate racism,  but it seems to me that part of the change we need to see in the U.S. is to try to rejoin the international community as responsible global citizens.   A big step forward would be to stop exporting American-style racism and sit down at the international table to discuss how to address global racism.