Diversity is a Con, Unless You Decolonise
When you look at the history of Britain, it’s littered with the accomplishments of those with different coloured skin, but also the less able-bodied, women, gay people, trans people and more.
Representation is a necessity — be it people of colour, women or otherwise. When you’re any of those, it’s a struggle. Let alone, if a person manages to fit into two or more of those demographics. What about the stories of Black trans women? What if that person is also in a wheelchair, dyslexic or on the autism spectrum? Diversity is never a straight line, nor is it linear. How about that?
On Friday June 28 2019, I was part of a roundtable meeting on the ethnicity award gap at University of Birmingham. Whilst there were representatives from University of Birmingham, academics also came from SOAS University of London, Anglia Ruskin (Cambridge) and University of Arts London. Whilst we touched on many subjects, including student experience and engagement in relation to attainment, what struck me was language.
How some institutions opted for “diversification” of the curriculum — rather than “decolonisation,” as UAL did. I am interested in UAL’s training on decolonising the curriculum too. Many lecturers don’t like the term “decolonisation,” due to how harsh it sounds. Yes, many of those lecturers are white, so is this tied to white guilt or fragility? And a little discomfort would never hurt anyone, right? Moreover, could this be tied up in the wider British resistance to acknowledging its own history? Is the United Kingdom a country that’s in denial of its past and its present? In my experience diversification is not the same as decolonisation, as decolonisation links into uprooting colonial ideologies, including race, but it’s a dialogue that encompasses sex, gender and sexuality too — all are tied to patriarchal, white supremacist views of otherness through the Male Gaze.
Diversity is simply the inclusion of everyone, focussing on othered visions. Yet, “decolonisation” is often met with hostility. The fact that elements of arts and culture could be intrinsicially tied to white supremacy is questioned by many. But to decolonise would be to acknowledge that white supremacy is emebedded in all institutions and leave it open to scrutiny. Whilst we would keep colonial-era novels on English modules, we would then counter it with contemporary poetry, or simply show the poems of Rudyard Kipling (for example) for what they are and study how race was constructed (race doesn’t exist, it’s a construct).
Whilst arts and humanities are easy targets when it comes to decolonisation, it wouldn’t be fair to leave the sciences out. Decolonisation on primary school, secondary school and university curriculums (undergrad / postgrad) means countering European case studies with non-European case studies. When you have universities like DeMontfort and Northampton with strong Black and brown populations, to only be taught history, for example, via a Eurocentric lens, raises eyebrows and makes many feel that they don’t belong.
Yet, what about Business Studies? What about physics, sports, nursing and computing? What about engineering, tourism and fashion? Every level of study, be it primary, GCSE, A-Level or degree should be under scrutiny. What about the Black history that’s not on GCSE and A-Level history syllabuses? Through more widely institutional-led discussions on race, gender, sexuality and so forth, the holes in the curriculum will naturally present themselves.
And those trying to change are often met with challenge, facing off against British traditionalism. Many voices are not being heard and that’s a problem. And on text-based arts subjects, it’s oft in favour of straight, white men that have been dead for three hundred years, that were great at their craft. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have less able-bodied poets, more women writers, authors of colour, that represent all classes. This means adapting reading lists to something that’s more fitting of the makeup of British society today.
Diversity is this buzzword, a focussed effort on trying to include everyone’s narratives. Diversity is “Rosa” and “The Demons of the Punjab” in Doctor Who but it’s also Stormzy’s iconic set at Glastonbury, Gentleman Jack and the entirity of Black-ish; it’s Pride Month, and Wonder Woman in No-Man’s Land.
Yet, is all diversity good? Is it still possible to be diverse but offensive? Diversity only works when the narratives you spin don’t hurt minorities. Inclusion, diversity and representation are still nuanced. And that’s why the voices of women (more so WOCs) are needed in those decisions, as are the voices of people of colour, gay people, non-binary, trans people, the less able-bodied and more. Because only those people, really can tell you if it’s correct or not. Do they feel like they belong?And I would say that diversity doesn’t equal diversity of thought. Case in point: Black police officers that racially profile Black youth. They are police first and Black second and that supremacist thinking is in every industry.