Why is my curriculum white?
Last week the University of Birmingham’s Black and Ethnic Minority Association (BEMA) held an event where a panel of academics spoke about the white-washing of the University curriculum. In this short post I don’t want to repeat everything that was said during the event, I simply want to share my thoughts on anger and how to respond to the issues raised during the evening.
Every time I attend a BEMA event, I’m reminded of the struggle it is sometimes to live between two skins. I love it and yet I continually question it and am challenged by it. As I have grown to understand and come to terms with this mixed identity of mine, I have grown in passion to see reconciliation amongst races, and at times I have burned with anger for the ways in which this is continually inhibited in conversations with people and in institutions as a whole.
Anger is an emotion that is often shied away from because when it is not channelled appropriately it has the tendency to burst forth and cause more harm than good. But I have learnt that anger is good, when certain factors are placed onto its expression.
1, I understand that anger, over the right things, can be an accurate expression of a feeling towards a situation or a hurt. For myself I consider that when I’m angry about what makes God angry, this is good, because it breaks our heart in ways that align with God’s will for the world, and drives us to action.
2, When anger is expressed appropriately; in a way that is not domineering, threatening or violent, this is also good. It can become the drive to bring others into see the world through my perspective which is, in part, shaped by my racial experience. This is good. But this is also hard. It causes us to confront things we would rather not confront, and to be uncomfortable when in our nature being uncomfortable is something we seek to avoid.
This work on my part to channel anger effectively, requires work for those who listen, in that people must listen to understand; rather than respond. These are two vastly different acts, and I am guilty of the latter, but seeking to grow in the former. Doing this will help to deepen my understanding of people as they share with me their experiences of living on this earth.
Anger is not a negative response to oppression, marginalization and misrepresentation. But the way in which this is channelled will, I think, determine the outcome of events like the ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ campaign.
After the event I was having a conversation with a friend who asked ‘whose validation are we seeking?’ A long conversation ensued, and resulted in our agreement that we should be creating spaces for our own engagement, discussion and representation. This is not the same as infiltrating the spaces dominated by false or white-washed representations of blackness, but instead it creates space to give and receive validation from within our own community.
I was brought to remember that our generation does not stand in this struggle against institutionalised racism alone, but we can work alongside others such as Kehinde Andrews, Lisa Palmer, Maila Bouattia and Afroze Zaidi-Jivraj who formed the panel for the discussion, alongside Nathaniel Adam Tobias, founder of the campaign in the UK, who attended as a participant in the event.
The work they are doing is important, and something that I want to stand alongside and learn from. Tapping into the communities they have already created and using them as spaces to share, learn and develop my understanding of BEM history and support the campaigns they promote. For an example, check out Kehinde Andrews organisation Black Unity: here
Societies like BEMA offer this space, while also using their voice to speak out and campaign for justice. Another example I have seen of creating a space for community validation, though within a completely different context, is Centrala in digbeth; a cafe, gallery and artist studio established by Polish expats. Centrala is also used to hold a Saturday school to educate their children about language, culture and history. Spaces like these are important to create validation within communities as well as move forward in terms of re-educating ourselves and the next generations with truths about their cultural history and heritage. When thinking of this I was reminded of Akala, who accredits the Pan-African school he attended on Saturdays to developing his passion, interest and knowledge of African history today.
The final answer for me in terms of how we respond was ‘education’. Which is why challenging the white-washing of curriculum is so important, because it creates the narrative of how we see the world. We need a re-education of the mind, and we need to press into the literatures already created that address these issues (there were many names thrown around of BEM scholars who have published works on Afro-Caribbean history and culture – and shamefully I didn’t know most of them). Alongside this we need to remember why societies such as BEMA exist: that is to confront oppression and strive for the liberation of BEM voices and lives.
There is anger, and rightfully so, but it is how we respond in light of that feeling which will make the impact we seek to achieve.
search #decolonisebrum and #WIMCW on twitter for details of the campaign and check out the NUS page: here