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Absent from the Academy: A film confronting the lack of black academics in academia.

Richard Sudan
graduate 300x190 Absent from the Academy: A film confronting the lack of black academics in academia.

(Getty Images)

For as long as they have existed, institutions in the UK, which act as crucial pillars of our society, have failed to fully reflect the diversity of Britain.

The corridors of power, the political system, and the police force remain corrupted by an old boy exclusive network mentality. We’ve seen the ramifications of this surface again and again especially over the course of the last few years, with scandal after scandal hitting the news. Part of the failure of these institutions, is due to the fact that none of them adequately reflect or look like Britain in 2013. In other words, they don’t represent the people.  They are not representative of the population.

Absent from the Academy is a film which seeks to raise awareness of the lack of black professors and teachers in academia, discussing the effects of under-representation on current and incoming students, academics and academic culture, and the educational system.

The film which is the creation of Nathan E Richards, breaks down the information, and outlines the negative ways in which such an ineffective and non-reflective system impacts on wider society. Films like this have the potential to open up debate quickly, and move debate along too – and this is a debate that needs to be had.

The collaboration of credible individuals, emphasising the fact that a culture does indeed exist, which by its very nature doesn’t want to change, a consequence of a patriarchal established system based on elitism compounds the reality that the educational system is undeniably unrepresentative and flawed. Sadly in fact, it is the institutionalised norm among many institutions. And of course the numbers don’t lie.

There are currently 18,550 professors in the UK and, unbelievably, only 85 of are of a Black African or Caribbean background. That’s 0.4 per cent of the total figure. This doesn’t tally with the fact that black student numbers are over-represented as 5.9 per cent of the student body.

Why are there so few black professors when there are so many black students? Given that black people make up 3.3 per cent of the UK population it’s crystal clear that there is a significant lack of black representation in academia. Just like within politics, the media and virtually every other institution the problem is evident, and requires radical action.

Where calls in politics for undertaking positive discriminatory measures to deal with other inequalities are taken seriously, race equality has long since been off the agenda, and it needs to be forced back onto the agenda. Educational institutions need to know they cannot get away with not recruiting enough black staff, when we know the talent is out there.

The film goes into a lot more detail, breaks things down clearly, and is a valuable resource. It features contributions from many individuals including Dr Denise Noble of Ohio State University, and also Professor Paul Gilroy of Kings College London, and was also recently given some recognition in a recent article exploring issues of diversity.

What’s refreshing about the film for me, is that it makes no bones about making the point as Mr Gilroy puts it, that many of us have drunk a “Neo-liberal Kool aid” model of education, which excludes the contributions of black literature and culture to history, a model which itself has ultimately come to shape our psyche in terms of how we look at the educational system, and how we look at ourselves. It’s these perceptions which need to be challenged as much as the institutions.

Absent from the Academy makes a strong argument to suggest therefore, that there needs to be an emphasis on students and teachers academically investing in history, and ultimately for black academics to invest in building a black academic scene in the UK, that can challenge the dispositions of the current system rivalling  that of the US.

Nathan Edward Richards says on his reasons for making the film: “While we have an abundant number of reports outlining the existence of institutional racism, I was more interested in looking at how the absence of black people in certain spaces impacts wider society. For far too long I think the discussion has focused on how black people suffer, but in the case of academia, it is the country that intellectually distorts itself when it is unable to embrace the diverse knowledge and perspectives that exists not only within this country, but throughout the world. We are so concerned with maintaining a particularly kind of hegemonic discourse, that we are blind to the rapid social and political changes taking place around the world.”

Absent From The Academy is an important contribution to a long overdue debate.  I urge everyone to watch and share this film, which you can do by clicking here.

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  • TheBandyDandy

    It’s funny how the peer review and grants system always favours the same old universities too, leading to their self-fulfilling prophecy of academic excellence.

  • Veritas

    I suppose it’s never crossed your PC-addled, left-wing mind that blacks are simply not up to the intellectual capacity to make it into academia?

    After the 10 Nobel prizes ever awarded to people from Moslem countries, Africa as a whole manages only 10 as well, and that drops to 9 if you remove Obama.

    Seems to me the facts are simply being ignored.

  • David

    But the black people can hardly even pass their exams. Surely the author is not suggesting that laughably underqualified people be hired as professors!

    In the USA we’ve had too much affirmative action and it leads to an unproductive sector of academia that we must continue to pay and support. But look at fields with objective standards, like science and engineering, and see how many black faculty make it to positions in those fields. If you want to bleed money for black-studies departments like we have here, go ahead it’s your money to waste.

  • Helen Anderson

    Your notion of the reason that black people are poorly represented in academia will be laughable if not infuriating and insulting in its simplicity and idiocy. It also show how you an American with your deep rooted lack of global knowledge can make such generalised assumption.

    The affirmative action in your country is there to attempt to reduce the years of under-education and under representation of people of colour. It is not so that unproductive ‘black people’ should gain employment. By the way unproductive people are not limited to those covered under the affirmative action. Just so you know.

    Black people in the UK are not failures or uneducated. Black people are faced with years of hegemonic exclusion where their ways of knowing, their ‘Otherness’, and their ability is seen as ‘less than’. There is structural and embedded racism that continues to make it difficult to break through the glass ceiling even when academics sprout expansive words like diversity, equal opportunity, and inclusion. The reality is that a preference is often shown for those that looks and sounds like the selectors.

    Universities in the UK are still steeped in archaic hierarchical modes of governing that does not favour those from the BME nor representative of the UK society as it stands today.

  • David

    I am describing the actual result of affirmative action in the US, regardless of the reasons given for its existence. The actual fact is that many unproductive people — largely black — gain employment and are nearly impossible to fire. I sense some of this teflon is wearing off, and it’s a good thing for everyone else.

    While you’re ensuring diversity to include black people in the UK, how about inclusion for Poles and Chinese and Australians? Maybe I am wrong to think in terms of my US experience that black people are benefiting from way too many breaks, but one thing that’s certainly true both places is that diversity should not just involve the white-black axis.


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