Within the United Kingdom (UK), the education system has always been centred on a dominant White Eurocentric curriculum which has often omitted the contribution of Black and ethnic minorities historically. As a consequence, racial and ethnic inequality continue to be a pressing issue within our knowledge canons.
Bias and inequality are interwoven within the fabric of the Academy. Invariably, this impacts the pedagogical knowledge on offer. Consequently, the omission of diverse histories and the knowledge this brings marginalises and omits Black and minority ethnic learners (BME). Recent discourses continue to advocate for the diversification of a inclusive curriculum which focuses on decentring dominant White Eurocentric curricula in favour of a more multi-cultural and diverse curricula that is reflective and representative of the presence and contribution of Black and indigenous people within the UK and beyond.
In these divisive and factious times, politically and socially, anti-racist education in Britain provides a cornerstone for reconceptualising how knowledge is constructed and proliferated. It also raises questions for how we begin to broaden the membership beyond the ‘normal’ custodians of knowledge particularly within the context of curriculum design and decentring the inherent notion that historically the gatekeepers to knowledge are the White middle-class. Within the UK and the Academy more generally the liberal assumptions of multi-culturalism have been integral in uncovering and dismantling the hidden power structures that were responsible for sustaining inequality and racism within our institutions. Educational institutions, in particular, continue to be complicit in reproducing and cementing White privilege and supremacy.
The dearth of Black and ethnic minority gatekeepers to knowledge in the Academy has been a contributing factor in prioritising a dominant Eurocentric canon and sustaining systemic racism and particular stereotypes against ethnic minority groups. While traction regarding this issue continues to gather momentum nationally within the UK and globally, the curriculum and pedagogies that pervade within our institutions continue to remain a site for the systemic reproduction of racism.
Attempts to disrupt a space that has historically been exclusionary of ethnic minorities’ remains difficult due to a reluctance to relinquish the monopoly on knowledge. The work of scholar-activists concerned with decolonising the curriculum remains to disrupt the canon in favour of something more egalitarian and representative of our diverse multi-cultural society. Within the UK there has been a continuing critical mass of students and academics that have sustained calls to decolonise the curriculum and diversify the canon at universities by ending the domination of Western epistemological traditions, histories and figures.
Pedagogically, there is an obligation within our higher education institutions to ensure that the knowledge provided is historically representative of an ever-changing global community. In attempting to disrupt the exclusionary canon that pervades, it is important to assert that the continual advancement of a nuanced and constrained curriculum also disadvantages White students with regards to broadening and challenging their own worldview particularly against dominant discourses and stereotypes concerning people of colour. Within the UK, perhaps the most notable rejection of the dominant Eurocentric canon has come from grassroots campaigns such as Why is my Curriculum White?; and Why isn’t my Professor Black? Fundamentally, both campaigns share a commitment towards decolonising the Academy and diversifying a dominant Eurocentric, White curriculum that does not acknowledge nor reﬂect the contribution of people of colour and the diasporic, historical lived experiences of ethnic minority individuals and migrant populations.
The landscape and current structure of higher education requires dismantling in order to be fully representative, diverse and more inclusive. There is a collective responsibility required in dismantling racism within higher education if the sector is to serve its function to promote social mobility and improve individual lives through the vehicle of education. An overhaul of the current system may seem insurmountable upon initial consideration but with an ever-increasing university populous, institutions must work harder to address the deeply entrenched inequalities that blight and compromise equality and equity within the sector.
While universities continue remain a reflection and microcosm of society, they should be committed to structurally and culturally facilitating the needs of a multi-cultural and diverse learning community.
Dr Jason Arday is an Assistant Professor in Sociology at Durham University in the Department of Sociology. Jason is a Visiting Research Fellow at The Ohio State University in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a Research Associate at Nelson Mandela University in the Centre for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation and a Trustee of the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading Race Equality Thinktank. Jason sits on the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) National Advisory Panel and is a School Governor at Shaftesbury Park Primary School in London. Jason also serves on the Editorial Boards of Educational Philosophy and Theory; and the British Sociological Association (BSA) journal Sociology.