The recent experiences of barrister Alexandra Wilson (see: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/black-barrister-defendant-court-racism-alexandra-wilson-justice-b691638.html) provide further evidence of everyday racisms in UK. Examples of discriminatory treatment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people span decades; the extent is beyond the symbolic intervention of Black History Month. However, it would be amiss, at this time, not to share research about Higher Education.
Dr Nicola Rollock’s research for UCU (see: https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/10075/staying-power/pdf/ucu_rollock_february_2019.pdf) documents the current situation in the UK as follows:
“There are only 25 black female professors* in the UK – they make up just 0.1% of all professors, compared to white men who represent two-thirds (68%) of professors. Dr Nicola Rollock (for UCU) interviewed 20 of the 25 at length about their experiences of higher education.
Respondents spoke of a culture where the route to professorship lacks transparency and values only certain forms of knowledge and achievement.
Some complaints – including huge workloads, the blurring of personal and work lives and an obsession with meeting targets – will resonate with many working in academia. However, the report provides a powerful insight into the extra pressures black women have to deal with, and try to manage.
Respondents talked about their experiences of explicit and passive bullying, clumsy stereotyping and the mentally draining strategies they need to devise and implement at speed just to cope. One professor explains how after “over preparing as usual” for a meeting she is still introduced by a senior white colleague as the student representative.
The report says improvements for black academics are not possible unless there is a fundamental shift in how race and racism are understood. UCU said universities need to rise to the challenge set out in the report not just to ensure support is there for the few black women who make it to professorial level, but to overhaul their promotion structures so there is genuine equality of opportunity.
Dr Nicola Rollock made the point: ‘Institutional statements expressing commitment to equality and diversity lack sincerity in the context of the findings’.
‘We need to look at how to transform a system that black female professors say is riddled with unfairness and bias. That starts with an overhaul of promotion structures to ensure genuine equality of opportunity.’ (Matt Waddup, UCU).”