Dr Louise Taylor Bunce, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
In this blog, I will share ways that I have started to develop anti-racist practice, and gained confidence to talk about racism in the classroom. I will describe 10+ steps that I have taken to achieve this, for example, by diversifying my screen time, and having conversations with students who experience racism. More information can be found at www.brookes.ac.uk/SIIIP
This blog is written from the perspective of a white woman, who was born and lives in the UK.
I keep saying there’s no such thing as being “not racist.” We are either being racist or antiracist. And in order to be antiracist, we must, first and foremost, be willing to admit the times we are being racist.
Ibram X Kendhi (2020)
During the last couple of years, there has been a renewed level of public awareness and anger over the mistreatment of Black* people and the disadvantages they face in Britain and other countries with a white majority. From the unnecessary death of George Floyd caused by police officers to the disproportionate influence of Covid-19, Black people continue to be underserved and negatively impacted by the racist social structures and institutions that have existed in Britain and the West for centuries. Despite this, there is comparatively little awareness of how we might practically start to change our behaviours in order to redress these inequalities. Some people may think that as long as they are not committing racist acts then there is no need to do anything; other people may be aware that we are all capable of being unintentionally racist but not know where to start to change their behaviour.
As suggested by Kendhi in the opening quote, not being overtly racist or simply ignoring incidents of racism is not sufficient: to be truly anti-racist we need to understand what is racist, recognise and admit our own acts of racism, and learn from them to change our behaviour in the future. Unfortunately, the institutions that comprise Britain’s higher education system are not exempt from the negative influences of structural racism in our society (despite conclusions drawn in the Sewell report). As can be seen in figures reported by Advance HE (2020), there continues to be a significant degree-awarding gap, meaning that the number of first-class and upper-second degrees awarded to white students is substantially higher than those awarded to Black students. We also know that Black students are more likely to have a negative experience at university, encountering racism from both staff and other students on campus (Bunce et al., 2021). In this blog, I will briefly describe some of the ways in which I have started to develop anti-racist practice with a view to encouraging others to do the same.
Drawing on the principles of self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), I believe that developing anti-racist practice can start to happen when three conditions are met. These conditions are referred to as our ‘psychological needs’, which include relatedness, autonomy, and competence. These are described below.
- Relatedness: You need others around you who will support you in becoming anti-racist, and who may also be trying to become anti-racist themselves. Self-determination theory proposes that we are more likely to be successful in achieving our goals if we have relationships with supportive others. At Oxford Brookes University, an anti-racist culture is developing, as seen through the addition of a fifth Guiding Principle of ‘Inclusivity’ and work towards gaining a Race Equality Charter Mark. There is a BAME staff network, which provides a forum for people to connect who want to promote race equality. You could get in touch and join the community of people to support your developing anti-racist practice.
- Autonomy: Your will to become anti-racist needs to reflect an authentic commitment to anti-racism and not be a superficial act. It needs to be done of your own volition and not because someone else is telling you to do it. Completing various training courses because they are compulsory won’t necessarily help.
- Competence: We are more likely to achieve our goals when we have a sense of mastery or belief in our ability (irrespective of our actual ability). Below, I have summarised ten things that you could do to begin to develop autonomy and competence to support you to become anti-racist. Below is a brief outline, and a full explanation can be found at www.brookes.ac.uk/SIIP (inclusion project). If you have any suggestions of things to add to this list, or feedback about this blog post, please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Ten things you could do to start to develop anti-racist practice
- 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 and engaging with local people with an open mind can broaden our perspective and 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.
Becoming anti-racist is not something that can be achieved overnight, but you can start today: 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.