5 things to read in… Black History Month

by | Oct 29, 2021 | Inclusive teaching

Freddie Gent, Institute of Teaching and LearningOctober marks Black History Month in the UK and has been celebrated annually since 1987. Whilst it may have started as a way of remembering important people and events in Black history, it has become a celebration of Black British achievement and an opportunity for our society to unite in learning anti-racist lessons for the present and the future. For 2021, the Brilliant and Black event served as the University’s keynote celebration of Black History Month.   

I have capitalised ‘Black’ in the context of social-identity as this falls in line with other University of Manchester communications. However, it is important to recognise the debate surrounding this grammatical choice and I would recommend Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah’s article, The Case for Capitalizing the B in Black, as a good introduction to some of the issues present within the discourse. Being alert to such debates should facilitate, rather than stifle, conversations on issues of racism and decolonisation, helping to make our classrooms a safe place to raise such matters. 

Anti-racist practice for digital and online learning 

In this presentation for REMOTE, Jessica Rowland Williams challenges the misconception that digital learning is the Higher Education sector’s answer to inequity. Disparities exist within digital learning methods, with a growing body of evidence showing that online environments do not prevent individuals from being judged on their race or gender. To achieve anti-racist practice for digital and online learning, institutions must start with an exploration of existing inequities present in its learning spaces – both online and on campus.  

Please note: access to this article requires a Times Higher Education account. Sign up is free. 

Britain’s first Black Professor 

Sir William Arthur Lewis joined the Victoria University of Manchester in 1947. Lewis was made a full professor in 1948 and in doing so became Britain’s first Black professor. During his time at Manchester, Lewis developed some of his most important concepts about the patterns of capital and wages in developing countries. In 1979 his work was recognised with a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, won jointly with Theodore Schultz. 

Earlier this year, the University supported colleagues who wished to apply for 100 Black Women Professors Now, a 12-month accelerator programme for Black female academics working in UK higher education institutions. The University committed to a number of fully-funded places on the programme. 

Black Lives Matter and the Student Voice 

Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests took place across the UK and the world. A report from AdvanceHE investigated the actions taken by UK universities in response to the BLM movement, including responses to the critiques raised by their own students and staff. Published four months ago, the aim of the report is to ensure that universities do not lose the momentum gathered during the peak of the BLM movement last summer and take steps to implement further anti-racist initiatives.  

Developing Stamina for Decolonising Higher Education 

Simply adding authors from ethnic minority backgrounds to reading lists can be viewed as tokenistic and fails to address the pillars of colonialism that underpin our knowledge. As Dr Sharon Stein puts it in her OpenLearn post, “we cannot just read ourselves out of colonisation, nor into decolonisation”. For it to be effective, decolonisation work in Higher Education (and beyond) must be uncomfortable for those people who have traditionally benefited from its structures. To build a stamina for decolonisation work, there must be a willingness to learn to sit with and hold what is difficult, uncomfortable and painful. It might be attractive to set an end goal for decolonisation initiatives and work towards this, but it is the integrity of this process which is truly important. 

The role of universities and employers in allowing Black graduates to thrive 

Universities play a vital role in preparing students for the transition to the labour market. Whilst the BLM movement challenged Higher Education providers to look inwards and challenge any racism present within, Professor Tristram Hooley argues that it is just as important to think about what happens when students leave university. To prepare students for entering diverse organisations, Hooley posits that universities must facilitate learning about racism and inequality in the workplace and how to challenge it. Employers are an important ally to universities on this matter and should push each other to do better on issues of racial justice.