Kent University’s Student Union has come under fire for including singer Zayn Malik and London Mayor Sadiq Khan in their promotional material for Black History Month, despite both individuals being of British- Pakistani heritage.
It is understood that those involved in the Union’s decision were instructed to select six public figures to be included in poster advertisements for the campaign to celebrate a “range of ethnic cultures”. The decisions made received an immediate wave of backlash from students and advocates across the UK when Malik and Khan made the final selection.
The organisers of Black History Month UK criticised the Union, saying the “ill thought” move had left them “deeply disappointed”, having previously supported Kent Union’s campaign. The organisation tweeted: “With Asian Heritage Month being observed by a growing number of countries in May, will black icons be celebrated by Kent University then?”
Shortly after the posters were removed from the Union’s website, Kent Union President Rory Murray released a statement on behalf of the Union, apologising to individuals who were “upset, uncomfortable or offended.” In a statement organisers of the posters said, “we can see that many of our students disagree with the direction the campaign took. We made a mistake.”
Responses to these statements have been overwhelmingly negative, with students taking to social media to deem his words inadequate and forced.
This latest controversy has done very little to deter the growing critics of the NUS endorsing “political blackness”, a theory which groups the experiences of ethnic minorities into a single homogenous identity. Though historically the term has been a source of solidarity for British ethnic minorities, it is now mostly considered a form of erasure in a time where race plays such a vital role in a person’s individual experiences.
Despite this view, the NUS Black Student’s Conference recently rejected the proposition of changing its use of the term, with President Malia Bouattia frequently advocating this stance.
Kent Student Union’s campaign organisers have since met with the university’s Afro Caribbean Society to discuss possible solutions for this incident. An open forum has also been arranged for all Kent students to debate and discuss the decisions made by the Union.
Union organisers said, “We value the input of all of our students in our liberation campaigns and welcome the opportunity to talk to any of you further.”
Discussing the controversy, UEA Ethnic Minorities Officer Tarun Sridhar said: “there is a lively and active debate about the terms ‘ethnically black’ and ‘politically black’, but the crucial thing is that these issues are settled by students.”
“Here at UEA, as well as hosting debates on the issue our BME caucus has discussed the issues and chosen to celebrate the month from a politically black perspective.”