As part of the Advance HE focus on tackling structural race inequality in higher education we are producing a series of podcasts ‘in conversation’ with a range of exceptional guest speakers. We’ll be looking at how the identity of Black, Asian and Minority staff and students impacts and influences their experience of higher education.
Our podcast episodes include:
- Episode 1 ‘What’s in a name’?: Khadija Mohammed (Advance HE Senior Fellow and Senior Lecturer in the School of Education and Social Science at the University of West Scotland), Professor Binna Kandola OBE, (Business Psychologist, Senior Partner and co-founder Pearn Kandola) and Mia Liyanage (decolonisation advocate and scholar of queer history).
- Episode 2 ‘Today world I will play the part of…’: Dr Jason Arday (Associate Professor in Sociology at Durham University) and Gary Loke Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE.
- Episode 3 ‘Can I get my ally badge now?’ Dr Gurnam Singh (Associate Professor of Equity of Attainment at Coventry University and National Teaching Fellow) and Robiu Salisu (Student Inclusion Officer and Member of Courts at the University of Bristol).
Why ‘Decolonising Identity’?
I’ve spent years supporting institutional change, whether with institutional leaders or practitioners, student unions, government and funders, and across different national and legal jurisdictions. I’ve helped people to consider and explore equity and inclusion in relation to a range of identities: gender, trans identity or history, religion, and ethnicity. No surprise then perhaps, that I’ve been on a personal exploration of identity. A little about myself - my face does not ‘fit’. I am what they call ‘white passing’ meaning I look white but I am not. That has bestowed upon me the privileges that come with the perception of that particular identity until I am ‘found out’. I do not hide who I am: I usually have to spell it out on a first meeting or introduction. The fact I need to do this can be exhausting.
In my journey reflecting on the categorisations of ethnicities I took inspiration from Dr Foluke Ifejola Adebisi’s blog ‘The Only Accurate part of ‘BAME is the ‘and’…" . Here legal scholar Dr Adebisi explores the problematised nature of and histories of the acronym. She writes ‘the use of ‘BAME’ pathologises those whose identities have been “racialised”'. It also absolves those with privileged/invisible racial identities from the responsibility of addressing, tackling or even recognising racism. The racialised become ‘the problem’, not racism.
I do also appreciate that we cannot automatically assume colonialism and identity are always interconnected, but the complex histories of racialised categories we have inherited – particularly in the UK – are still evoked in this terminology. Can we decolonise these identities? When sourcing a definition of ‘decolonise’ the simplest version came from Merriam Webster: to free from colonial status. How much is packed into those words? I kept repeating in my head ‘to free from’, ‘to free from’, ‘to free from’. I note too that in ‘Decolonising the University’ Gurminder K. Bhambra, Dalia Gebrial, & Kerem Nişancıoğlu refute that there is one definition of ‘decolonising’: that to do so is to miss the whole point. Decolonisation is inherently pluralistic with ‘contested… and multiple character’. (Bhambra et al., 2018, p2-3) But there are common elements, one of which is to “offer alternative ways of thinking about the world”.
What of Identity?
This was fun. One of the simplest definitions from Oxford Lexico ‘the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.’ I then read Collins Dictionary ‘Your identity is who you are’, followed by the example, ‘Abu is not his real name, but is one he uses to disguise his identity’. As an Indian woman reading the use of an Asian name I felt that joy only people of colour feel when you think you’re represented – even in a small way – like this. Then I read the next sentence: ‘the police soon established his true identity and he was quickly found’. After the year we’ve had I’m not sure I have the energy to explain the problematic nature of those sentences.
An invitation to listen and learn
Time then, perhaps, to let people of colour in higher education tell the story of who they are in their own words? I chose a podcast ‘in conversation’ format to do just this.
This series of podcasts will ask guests and listeners to explore how free we are within our own sense of our personal identity, and what can be the impact when this sense of self does not align with an identity often prescribed to us through categorisation, stereotypes and perception.
We will unpack this in the context of the higher education sector and reflect on how people of colour or Black Asian Minority Ethnic staff and students navigate their sense of self within predominately white spaces. Our conversations were organic and open to crossing boundaries: informed by lived experiences, individual journeys, academic research or practitioner expertise, or all of the above.
We invite you to listen, learn and unlearn, and hope these conversations will be a useful additional free resource to our members to support your efforts to tackle structural race inequality.
Listen to Episode 2 ‘Today world I will play the part of…’
The second episode in the series explores how people of colour navigate spaces both personally and professionally, when self-identity comes up against assumed identity. In conversation with Advance HE’s Sukhi Kainth, are guests Dr Jason Arday (Associate Professor in Sociology at Durham University) and Gary Loke (Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE) who explore how to be authentic in different spaces and the tensions that can arise.
Listen to Episode 3, ‘Can I get my ally badge now?’
In the third and final episode in this podcast series, Sukhi Kainth, Senior Advisor, Advance HE is joined by Dr Gurnam Singh, Associate Professor of Equity of Attainment at Coventry University and Robiu Salisu, Student Inclusion Officer at Bristol University, who share their views on the role of allyship in tackling structural racism and what being an anti-racist advocate looks and feels like.
Further engagements planned on this topic include:
- Bhambra, G. K, Nisancioglu, K, & Gebrial, D (2018). Decolonizing the university. Pluto.
Leading Race Equality in HE workshops Explore the history, context and current race equality challenges that universities need to address, as well as approaches that have been employed to tackle racial inequalities in HE on one of our Leading Race Equality in HE workshops.