14 October 2016, Friday, 272 High Holborn.
Academia promises to be a world of merit, where all that should matter is your work and dedication towards your field. But anyone who lives outside the ivory tower of the white skin would tell you a very different story. According HEIDI (the Higher Education Information Database for Institutions), only 110 black professors out of over 18000 professors in the UK Universities are black, of which only 30 are black women. This doesn’t say that people of colour, especially women of colour, are not taking part in education. Rather these statistics point towards a system, which either consciously or subconsciously differentiates based on skin colour and gender. Even after years of condemning racism (and sexism) in the world, some narratives even today show us the true picture and highlight the need to take a stand today.
And this was the core theme of an event co-hosted by Black British Academics and Shades of Noir, called Sisterhood, Solidarity & Self Empowerment for Women of Colour in Academia.
Black British Academics, founded by Dr. Deborah Gabriel, intends to provide a platform and build a network for all women of colour in academia, to undertake research and develop strategies to overcome this exclusion and marginalization in society. They follow this simple quote by Oyewumi as their core value principle:
“The kinship term sister is ‘central to the Black experience…an enduring legacy of plantation slavery’, a term that establishes ‘solidarity and a sense of connection and community among Black people’”
In the event, Dr. Deborah Gabriel talked about her upcoming book Inside the Ivory Tower: Narratives of Women of Colour Surviving and Thriving in British Academia, which she is co-editing with Dr. Shirley Ann Tate. The principle motive of this book is to share experiences and incidences of black women in academia, and what it took for them to reach where they are today. This has become important now more than ever before in history, with the need to break the hierarchical roles of society and provide a new vision for the future.
This introduction was followed by a heartfelt discussion between a panel lead by Dr. Gabriel and some of the contributors from the book, women who are highly renowned in their field of work . They shared their own experiences of sometimes blatant and sometimes implicit racism in their lives, and how they overcame that to reach where they are today.
The panel included the following wonderful academicians:
Dr. Shirley Ann Tate
Associate Professor of Race & Culture & Director of the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies in the School of Sociology & Social Policy at Leeds University
Professor Heidi Safia Mirza
Former Professor of Race, Faith and Culture in the Dept of Sociology at Goldsmiths University.
Dr. Marcia Wilson
Associate Dean, School of Health, Sport & Bioscience, University of East London
Dr. Elizabeth Opara
Associate Professor in Nutritional Science & Field Leader for Nutrition at Kingston University.
Lecturer in Art & Design & Joint Chair of GEMS (minority staff network) at UAL; Founder & Director of Shades of Noir (race in creative arts education and industry).
The event also saw two dissertation presentations in this area by BA graduates from the Bournemouth University.
Rebecca Aynge, who graduated with a BA Politics degree this summer talked about her research titled: My Culture is Not a Trend: An Exploration Into Cultural Appropriation of the Black Female Body in Popular Culture.
And Pauline Shabani, a BA Advertising graduate presented her work titled: You Just Have to Laugh It Off: A Study on How Humour is Used During the Sharing of Experiences About Racial Micro-aggressions.
These researchers carved the way for audience interactions and discourses amongst other members of the group present in the event. The discussions highlighted how a sisterhood is fundamental and quintessential to ensure all women of color, in academia or otherwise, get the right platform for their voices to be heard and to find ways for strategizing constructive solutions. An important word of advice from an audience member was the need to heal ourselves first from all the baggage we may be carrying around, and understand the difference between response and reaction. About a decade ago the response to racism was anger and frustration, but now knowledge has the power to overcome these difficulties and give birth to a new world. Solidarity becomes important because a power hierarchy still exists, but this change is not impossible anymore as long as we stand together and keep moving forward.
- Black Sister Network. 2016.Sisterhood Solidarity Self-Empowerment Event: Meet Pauline Shabani | Black Sister Network. Available at: http://blacksisternetwork.blackbritishacademics.co.uk/2016/09/01/sisterhood-solidarity-self-empowerment-event-meet-pauline-shabani/.
- Sister Network. 2016. Sisterhood Solidarity Self-Empowerment Event: Meet Rebecca Aynge | Black Sister Network. Available at: http://blacksisternetwork.blackbritishacademics.co.uk/2016/09/21/sisterhood-solidarity-self-empowerment-event-meet-rebecca-aynge/.
- Carmen G. Gonzalez and Angela P. Harris. 2016. The “Liberal” Ivory Tower Often Discriminates Against Women of Color. Available at: http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/24838-the-liberal-ivory-tower-often-discriminates-against-women-of-color/progressivepicks/item/.
Sisterhood Solidarity, Self empowerment, Women of color, Inside the Ivory Tower, Racism, Academia, Black Sisters, Black British Academics.
- Runnymede Trust. 2015. Aiming Higher Race, Inequality and Diversity in the Academy. Available at: http://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/Aiming%20Higher.pdf
- Times Higher Education (THE). 2016. Universities confront ‘horrifying’ figures on BME promotion | Times Higher Education (THE). Available at:https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/universities-confront-horrifying-figures-bme-promotion
- About Us | Black Sister Network. 2016. About Us | Black Sister Network. Available at:http://blacksisternetwork.blackbritishacademics.co.uk/about-us/
- Women Academics of Colour | Black Sister Network. 2016. Women Academics of Colour | Black Sister Network. Available at: http://blacksisternetwork.blackbritishacademics.co.uk/projects/women-academics-of-colour/