Organized to combat the colonization of humanities subjects, the Black Lives Matter Seminar Series that took place from the 7th to 11th September saw academics both from UEA and outside UEA discuss various points about Britain’s colonial past and how it has rippled through our curriculums in the present day. Concrete writers followed up on a few of the seminars, read below to see what they wrote.
White Supremacy, racism, and complicity of academia (9th)
Marking the halfway point in the series, the third day draws away from the historical side of colonialism and onto systemic racism within university curriculums, joined by Professor Anshuman Mondal and Dr Elizabeth Cobbett, both lecturers at UEA.
The first point of the discussion was about how the Western narrative has taken over the way universities write about African history and culture. Admittedly, this is not something I had ever considered before, but after realizing that most non-Western modules in universities are optional, that learning about Britain’s atrocious past is not mandatory in British schools and that there is no statutory training for tackling unconscious bias, this colonial mindset is prevalent in academia.
It is one thing for schools to recognize the atrocities committed in the name of colonialism, but a different thing altogether to consciously rid ourselves of the colonial mindset that still pervades academia. For a polycentric continent to be viewed predominantly with a Eurocentric lens is not only inaccurate, it is damaging to how we view Africa and Britain’s relationship to it.
The relationship has been shifted with a power dynamic that holds Britain as the saviour of Africa, Britain as the teacher and Africa as the student, one as the doctor and the other as a sick patient that is unable to get better without the help of a more stable external force. This feeling of superiority assumes that the West does not have any problems in comparison, giving us cause to neglect any kind of much needed social development in Britain.
Dr Cobbett touched upon this, sharing her own experience of students who want to “save” Africa when they are ignorant of the problems they wish to solve. The history of Africa, Cobbett says, is seen as useless information in comparison to learning about the economics models and policy, when neglecting the history creates narratives like “Africa is corrupt and ignorant” and the discussion ends there.
Both Cobbett and Mondal agree that if students want to help Africa, then they must begin by educating themselves on African history and decolonizing the mindset they have about international development. As Prof Mondal says, don’t keep decolonization at an intellectual level, but also at an emotional level. It goes beyond the mere collection of information, decolonization means being ready to be put in a vulnerable position. If students want to make lasting change on the way academia approaches these topics, then the change can’t come from academics, the change must come from students putting pressure on universities to make the changes.
Intersectional Activism and Research (10th)
In Dr. Aviah Sarah Day’s lecture on intersectional activism and research, she discussed her work with Sisters Uncut, a British activist group that opposes the closure of domestic violence services. Day currently works as a Criminology lecturer at Birkbeck University, and is constantly looking for ways to improve the experience of Black, brown, and working-class students. Her PhD research sought for methods for survivors to not be criminalised by the justice system, which similarly plays an important role in her activism.
In the seminar, she highlighted how decolonising the curriculum cannot be where the work stops. An anti-racist, anti-imperialist curriculum is worth nothing when the material difficulties of students at the university remain untouched, which is something I had failed to consider; I realise now we cannot call for an informative academic environment without also acknowledging struggling students.
Focusing hugely on intersectional feminism, Day’s work places a spotlight on issues facing women and non-binary people. Oppression is a system that reinforces itself. Feminism and anti-racism cannot exist separately, particularly when intersectionality had its roots in Black lesbian feminism. Domestic violence and violence caused by a skewed criminal justice system targets the powerless, and it is the powerless we must protect through intersectional support.