It was recently revealed that Birmingham City University has become the first in Europe to produce a degree focusing on the achievements of African descending people, entitled ‘Black Studies’. Set to come into action in 2017, the degree is said to inform and strengthen relationships both nationally and internationally regarding the success of black people with links to other courses such as African studies.
Successes in these departments are evident within many US college programmes and despite well respected British institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and SOAS, I am very much proud to know that I come from the city that will host the first British qualification of its kind. Arguably, this suggests that the ‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ campaign alongside other academic pressures have made a step forward in really pushing agendas for BME students.
Ever since I started my undergraduate degree, I continually sought some form of racial representation within my course. In my department, there are currently no black members of staff and I addressed this in my dissertation. Consequently, I was later informed that my essay had been sent around my department as an example of why these issues are important. Although I am yet to hear of it progress, I am glad to hear that my queries were recognised by non-black academics.
Too often I feel as though I am to act on behalf of other black black students. It becomes all too easy to rely on the token BME student to be the final say in topical dicussions regarding race. Even with this token platform to express myself, my personal experiences are still not considered legitimate enough in an academic context, simply because they aren’t adequately discussed in academic spheres. For example, I were to discuss my position as a queer Womanist in Britain, although resources exist, institutionally it becomes difficult to explain, especially as for many non-black people, Womanism is a foreign concept. If I were to speak as a feminist on the other hand, the discourse becomes a lot more accessible.
I feel that many other black women in education experience similar things. A place where they come to study a chosen field becomes less and less about that and more about getting to know their place in their field. It’s almost impossible to take steps forward in race relations if non-black people do not initially see or understand there is a problem. Although my university has been caught in some issues recently, I am fortunate enough to have met some wonderful people pioneering and pushing BME agendas forward.
Not too long ago, I was asked to be on the committee for UEA’s first Womanist society. A group designed to support the discussion and activism of race and gender politics both in academia and surrounding areas. Of course in its initial stages it faced some backlash, but I truly believe that was an incentive for us to keep pushing our ideas into mainstream student politics. Instead of sitting back with an angry fist, I was invited into a community that takes action and seeks to make effective change.
I am set to graduate soon, so my responsibilities within the society will soon decrease, however, my activism will not. I am eager to see how ‘Black Studies’ and ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ will prevail in the next few years. More and more black students are taking to the internet, the streets and their respective institutions to fight not only for visibility, but fairness and justice.
I am also hoping that more academic fields will open up for BME students, widening the market and the appeal for black students and black academics. Our history is just as prevalent as any other we are compelled to study and in that regard, our achievements should be celebrated as much.
Well done Birmingham and here’s to other institutions following suit.