History Opinion

Whitelash against Black knowledge isn’t only in the US: ask UK Prof Adi

Professor Hakim Adi was the first person of Afrikan heritage to be made professor of history in the UK (he is still only one of two that come to mind, shout out to Professor Olivette Otele). He founded a research master’s degree (MRes) in the history of Afrika and the Afrikan diaspora. He is a prolific scholar who has produced acclaimed work for decades including African and Caribbean People in Britain with Penguin. He is internationally known for his work which has been translated into multiple languages. And yet, the University of Chichester has decided to cut the master’s program with the “cost of delivery [outweighing] the income from fees received,” and put Professor Adi under threat of redundancy. This has caused backlash and outrage and I encourage you to sign the petition and voice your disgust to the university. But the mistreatment of Professor Adi shows that although the problems of the White curriculum are louder in America, they are worse here.

In an interview with Newzroom Afrika, Hakim said the reasoning for scraping the course was: “Well, what they say is the course didn’t recruit sufficient number of students, but there has never been a target set for this course. There are other master’s programs still running at the university that have very similar numbers of students, and we think that given the particular importance of this course, it was especially established to train students of Afrikan and Caribbean heritage, which we have a great lack in this county–to train them as historians. We think we have been successful. We’ve managed to have seven of our students pass through that course and begin Ph.D. studies. One has just received their Ph.D., five of those students are still studying at the University of Chichester.”

“But the university has never promoted, advertised, marketed the course. And I think they’re seeing now, with how much we support we have globally, just what they’ve missed and what a great opportunity it was for the university to recruit many more students. But that is what they say ‘well not enough students recruited’.”

“The only person in the history department who has also been threatened with redundancy is [Dr Dion Georgiou] also someone of Commonwealth heritage, and who also teaches courses on empire and decolonization and so on. So we think yes, there is something discriminatory in what the university is doing.”

“The Whitelash against Black intellectual thought is something to behold across the pond”

The Whitelash against Black intellectual thought is something to behold across the pond. According to the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), more than “thirty states have introduced some form of gag order with respect to teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) or concepts related to gender justice and equality among sexes.” This has been on the back of Trump taking the war on (CRT) and Whiteness studies to DEFCON 1 when he banned any course that would make “any individual feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex” from receiving federal funding. Under the Ron “bootleg Trump” DeSantis, Florida specifically banned the teaching of the New York Times 1619 project and launched a “Stop W.O.K.E Act.”

The legislation “prevents teachers from discussing advantages or disadvantages based on race.” This has led to hundreds of books being banned in schools. In response to the law, the school board also banned advanced placement courses in African American studies being taught in high schools. DeSantis is now running for president so this war on Black intellectual thought could reach even newer lows. But the nature of the battle tells us just how severe the problem is in Britain.

“But the nature of the battle tells us just how severe the problem is in Britain”

There have been longstanding campaigns against the Eurocentric curriculum that continue until today. But there have only been large numbers of Black children in schools on the British Isles since the late sixties. We came into a lily White school system that previously didn’t need to exclude us because we were governed by remote control in the colonies. Unlike in the US where there were millions of African Americans before the country existed, there was previously no need to openly segregate and indoctrinate racism in the schools. Once arrived we were simply told that this is the “British” curriculum and that we should conform.

America cannot pretend that racism is a foreign issue and so practices its White supremacy with refreshing honesty. The long history of Black communities in the US also means that there is a centuries-long tradition of Black Studies. There were Black schools during segregation and Black universities. In the 1960s there was a powerful Black Studies movement that has continued to this day. Black intellectual thought has been incubated in the community and the universities so that there are an array of voices pushing back against the Whitelash.

In the UK we have a national curriculum that in theory allows for Black history to be taught in the schools but only up to 11% of students at GCSE level are studying about Black people’s contributions to Britain. Most children will go through their entire schooling never hearing the word empire, even though it is the single most important feature that put the so-called “Great” in Britain. Ignore the deranged howling from the right-wing press and politicians (even Black and Brown ones) about CRT and White privilege being taught in the schools. Only the delusions of the psychosis of Whiteness could make anyone think that a school curriculum that marginalizes Black people to the point they are mostly invisible could believe that utter nonsense. The government could not ban a nationally recognized course on Black people in Britain’s schools, because one doesn’t exist.

“The government could not ban a nationally recognized course on Black people in Britain’s schools, because one doesn’t exist”

The situation is even more dire in the university where just 0.7% of professors are Black and we simply don’t have Black intellectual traditions like Black Studies and African American Studies. The master’s at Chichester is just one of a handful of courses that are rooted in Black intellectual thought at the postgraduate level. And BCU has the only undergraduate Black Studies degree in the country. We are only able to offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses because our university isn’t allergic to hiring Black people like most are. If Professor Adi is made redundant it will leave a crater-sized hole in the academic field of the history of Black people in Britain. We need to make as much noise about the almost entire absence of Black scholarship in Britain as is being made about the Whitelash in the US. Support AAPF’s #TruthBeTold campaign and sign the petition against the treatment of Professor Adi. The world can only be as equal as the knowledge it is built upon, and we must ensure that Black Studies is not erased from the agenda.

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