When the BA (Hons) Black Studies course launched in September 2017, we took the first step forward in opening up academic discussions on race relations and Black history not only in Britain, but in Europe.
Here are five ways that Black Studies will shape the future of university education in the UK.
Celebrating and acknowledging the contributions by Black people to British history.
In Britain, Black history is often passed over or barely glanced at, leaving it to be touched only in Black History Month, or by studying the slave trade and the American civil-rights movement alongside World War II and the Suffragette Movement in GCSE History. This is about as far our mainstream education takes us.
The Black Studies course not only celebrates the achievements of Black people in the UK, but studies how the history of this country has been directly influenced by the actions of those from African descent, and openly discusses histories that are challenging and often overlooked.
Facing national issues head-on
It’s clear that, in the UK, people of any minority background face a wide range of issues on a daily basis that often don’t get discussed or challenged. Most recently, we saw how the Government handled the Windrush Scandal, and witnessed hateful comments in response to the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
The Black Studies course is a step towards opening up dialogue about these issues and allows a chance for us to challenge them. For example, the Black Studies City Talk event hosted by the University, entitled ‘The End of Racism’, invited people from all walks of life to discuss the importance of the Black Studies course in breaking down racial stigmas in British Society, opening up an important discourse not only for those who face these barriers, but for everyone in our society.
Legitimising Blackness as an academic subject
As Professor Imani Perry (pictured above) of Princeton University said at that recent event, “You cannot have a thorough education about the history of modernity without a serious examination of how the idea and fact of Blackness fits into its fashioning”.
Black Studies doesn’t just talk about influential Black figures; it goes beyond that. The subject actively breaks down what the concept of ‘Blackness’ is, questioning what it means to be ‘Black’, and exploring our constructs of race, ‘Black Culture’ and institutionalised discrimination in the UK. It produces philosophical concepts and provides a relatively unexplored context within which students can explore society and history.
In doing this, the Black Studies course legitimises the research and teachings of Black British academics and provides a platform for this research to be showcased; something universities have done with previously marginalised research areas such as feminist and gender studies and Queer Theory.
Opening up new dialogue within the higher education system
For a long time, it’s been possible to study courses on Middle Eastern Studies, Ethnicity, Asia-Pacific Studies, among others at universities across the country. However it’s not been possible to study Black histories and culture, especially in a UK context, at undergraduate level. This is despite a call from academics for a Black Studies course to run in the UK for years, driven by academics from a variety of disciplines.
Along with other humanities subjects, Black Studies is important in providing students with a worldly perspective they can use to help guide and shape future society; an important lens in a world filled with growing racial tensions and the rise of nationalism.
Increasing diversity in higher education
In 2013, there were just 85 Black professors out of a total of well over 15,000; a percentage of 0.49%. Compare that to the percentage of the UK population that is Black, 3.3%, and it’s clear that there is a massive underrepresentation of Black people in academia.
Additionally, according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Report in 2017, Black students accounted for a minority in applicant numbers, and they were also the least likely to achieve a 2:1 or a First degree.
By celebrating Black culture and legitimising the academic nature of this subject, the Black Studies course hopes to play a major role in widening diversity in higher education.