During the last year, there has been a heightened level of public awareness and outrage over the mistreatment of Black* people and the disadvantages they face in Britain. From the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 to the royal racism scandal, Black people continue to be severely underserved by the racist social structures and institutions that have existed in Britain for centuries. The higher education system is, sadly, not an exemption from this (despite conclusions drawn in the Sewell report) as can be seen by figures that illustrate a significant degree awarding gap between white and Black students (AdvanceHE, 2020).
Shortly after joining Oxford Brookes University in 2016, I consciously began to develop anti-racist practice. With the recent publication of our research on the experiences of Black students in higher education, I have reflected on how I started developing anti-racist practice with a view to inspiring others to do the same.
Drawing on the principles of self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), I argue that becoming anti-racist can happen most effectively when we experience fulfilment of three psychological needs.
- First, this needs to be of your own volition and not because someone else is telling you to do it; it should reflect your authentic commitment to anti-racism and not be a superficial act (fulfilling the psychological need for autonomy). Completing various training courses because they are compulsory won’t necessarily help.
- Second, seek others around you who will support you in becoming anti-racist, and who may also be trying to become anti-racist themselves (fulfilling the psychological need for relatedness).
- Third, take time to develop a sense of mastery or belief in your ability to become anti-racist (fulfilling the psychological need for competence).
To develop competence, I have summarised ten things that you could do, which are based on things that I did, to begin to develop anti-racist practice. If you have any suggestions of things to add to this list, please email me. Here is a brief outline of 10 things you could do:
- Discover what you weren’t taught in school: There are some excellent documentaries and texts about racism in British history including colonisation, the slave trade, and the Windrush generation. The book by Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017) titled ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’ provides a brief and accessible introduction.
- Diversify your bookshelf: Seek out novels written by authors who are from a different ethnic background to you, or authors who are writing about people from different cultures to your own. I started with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.
- Check your understanding of racism and its consequences: If you like reading, read a copy of Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish) (2018) for example. If you prefer listening, check out some podcasts at www.theantiracisteducator.com/listening
- Empathise with people’s personal stories of lived experience of racism: There are several such stories on YouTube, e.g., No. You Cannot Touch My Hair! | Mena Fombo, and Everyday Struggle: Switching Codes for Survival | Harold Wallace III
- Diversify your social media feeds: Follow some groups who advocate for Black rights or individuals who campaign for equality, e.g., Black Lives Matter @BlkLivesMatter or Dr Ibram X. Kendi @DrIbram.
- Travel (after the coronavirus pandemic): Travelling to countries with different cultures to our own broadens our perspective and can increase our acceptance of difference. If you can’t travel, then travel documentaries and books can provide a good alternative.
- Be inspired by biographies of those who have fought to overcome racial discrimination: Examples include Michelle Obama - Becoming (2018), and Malala Yousafzai - I am Malala (2014).
- Reflect: Reflect on what equality means to you. Were you taught to treat everyone equally? Does that necessarily lead to equal outcomes? What stereotypes or assumptions do you make if you see a Black person? If you are white, consider whether you have experienced White Fragility by watching this 5 minute video explainer by Robin DiAngelo
- Check your language: ‘Where are you from?’ is a question that we might ask someone who looks different from us, usually out of friendly curiosity. But to the receiver, the frequency of it can contribute to feeling different and not belonging, so resist the temptation to ask it.
- Adapt your teaching practice: Consider setting up discussion groups for Black students in your department so that they can share their experiences of racism and be empowered to raise any issues of concern with the teaching team. For more detailed guidance, please see www.brookes.ac.uk/SIIP.
Given that children as young as three and four years are already aware of differences in skin colour and assign more negative traits to Black people (Doyle & Aboud, 1995), educators at all levels have a responsibility to develop inclusive and anti-racist teaching practices that contribute towards eliminating racism. Becoming anti-racist is not something that can be achieved overnight, but change needs to start today. So, which of the ten things can you start doing right now?
*I use the term ‘Black’ as an inclusive term to refer to people who experience racism on the basis of their skin colour in societies where the majority of people are white.
Dr Louise Taylor Bunce is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and a Principal Lecturer Student Experience at Oxford Brookes University. She has led research to understand the experiences of students who experience racial discrimination in higher education, and has developed educational resources (see www.brookes.ac.uk/SIIP) to support equality of educational outcomes for these students. She is also a leading expert on the impact of students identifying as consumers of their education, and has produced a workshop for educators to enable students to reflect on their identities as consumers (also available at www.brookes.ac.uk/SIIP).
Contact Louise: firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about Advance HE's work: ‘Tackling structural race inequality in higher education’, and our Race Equality Charter, the framework through which institutions work to identify and self-reflect on institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff and students.
We have also developed a portfolio of support, which can be tailored to institutional need, to tackle racism and race inequality, find out more here.
Race Equality Charter Governance Committee: Advance HE is seeking expressions of interest to join the committee. The new Race Equality Charter Governance Committee will inform and oversee the development of the Charter. This development work will consider all aspects of the Charter, including systems and processes, panels, materials and support to ensure the future REC is as effective and supportive as possible.