Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Unveiling White Supremacy in the Academy

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Unveiling White Supremacy in the Academy

Article excerpt

The following appeared, April 28, 2016 in Pambazuka News ( and in other international publications.

The project of genuinely decolonizing the university must be part of an inclusive task to transform the wider society of which the academy is an integral part. It is a long term undertaking which surely starts with the audacity to name the elephant in the room: white supremacy.

In Britain there has yet to emerge a movement to decolonize British universities, particularly in the fields of African Studies, the Humanities and Social Sciences along with an increased appointment of African scholars in these specific fields. Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that there has not been a civil rights movement in Britain comparable to the struggles in America which demanded Black Studies and African history be taught in American universities in the 1960s and 1970s. People of African-Caribbean and African descent are only 2.8 per cent of the total British population, compared to African Americans, who were approximately 10 per cent of the American population during the 1960s and therefore the demographic weight of African Americans contributed significantly to achievement of their demands for changes in the curriculum.

Yet, there is something profoundly disconcerting when one looks online at the faculty of African Studies at the University College London (UCL) and at Oxford and hardly sees an African face within the faculty. I ask you the reader to take 30 seconds and scroll through these links and see for yourself the invisibility of African faces at UCL and Oxford. The visibility of African staff may perhaps be found in their cleaning staff, canteens and as security guards.

In 2001, the then director-general of the BBC, Greg Dyke, described that institution as "hideously white" and that its management structure was more than 98% white. During 2015 the Black British actor, Sir Lenny Henry, called for increasing diversity of ethnic minorities in British television, which raises questions as to how much progress has been made since Dyke made his comment 15 years ago.

The same "hideously white" characterization can be made of the current state of British universities. In a discussion with a male colleague who is also a Nigerian social science professor based in Canada, he gave an incisive response after looking at the links to the African Studies faculties at both UCL and Oxford. He replied: "There's something fairly pernicious and contemptuously arrogant in that sneering ex cathedra way, that only the English can affect."

In a 2011 Guardian article, it was revealed, "The Higher Education Statistics Agency figures show black British professors make up just 0.4% of all British professors--50 out of 14,385. This is despite the fact that 2.8% of the population of England and Wales is African or African-Caribbean, according to the Office for National Statistics. Only 10 of the 50 black British professors are women." This is still 0.4% of all 17,375 professors at UK universities. In regards to Black vice-chancellors, there are none. It was only in 2015 that Lady Valerie Amos of Guyanese ancestry was appointed the ninth director of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Recent research in the USA has also unearthed low numbers of minority professors across 1500 US colleges.

"The Imperial/Racial Factor" is Linked to the Patriarchal Factor

Yash Tandon's critique of Oxford in his recent article entitled, The Rhodes Controversy: Storm in Tea Cup? "that the educational system at Oxford University is fundamentally conservative almost reactionary," was almost spot on. However, in his analysis of the "imperial/racial factor" at Oxford (and many other UK universities), he fails to see that the "imperial/racial factor" is inextricably linked to the patriarchal factor. Neither does he address the lack of African people in the above mentioned African Studies Centre at Oxford. …

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