I was horrified to watch David Harewood’s documentary Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister on the BBC last night (it was first aired a year ago) and to hear the shocking statistics. Not only is there a four per cent chance of a black student getting the three As needed to get into Oxford, but even after achieving the three As, they are still less likely than a white student with the same grades to actually get admission.
Institutionalized racism is unacceptable in higher education. Kehinde Andrews, a professor at Birmingham City, tells the Guardian that racism is endemic in top-level universities in the UK. He says that only 60 out of 14,000 professors in the UK are black. Factors that lead to this kind of inequality include primary and secondary schools where black students are often identified as the ‘problem kids’. There are low expectations from them to start with, and this problem gets worse as they get excluded from opportunities because of their seeming behaviour. But even when they achieve academic excellence, they still don’t always make it through the interview stage. On top of that, when they do make it into university, the curriculum is predominantly white.
Every term, when I teach BA students, I make it a point to talk body politics – I talk gender, race, sexuality, age, culture – I discuss these things with the students, and I see them again and again surprise me by rising to the occasion, by understanding the dangers of stereotyping and blind prejudice, by showing an awareness and sensitivity to questions of diversity. These kinds of conversations are possible and they are necessary. It is also crucially important to include race studies in teacher training for school teachers. Not to teach political correctness, but to make teachers wary of their own stereotypes and prejudices, to broaden awareness of what a ‘good student’ looks like. There is just no excuse for higher education to be prejudiced when in fact they should take on the responsibility to change social and cultural beliefs for the better.