Why Does My University Uphold White Supremacy?: The Violence of Whiteness at UCL
I am writing this because I refuse to protect the white supremacy and racism this institution upholds any longer. My character and faith leads me to deal with most issues privately and calmly, but not every issue must be dealt in this way. Especially when such responses do not elicit the right response. It is also unfair that the onus should be placed on me to treat every grievance in a way that is deemed “acceptable” and “professional”, people should look inwards and fix up themselves.
I am calling for UCL to properly and urgently investigate its issue of institutional racism and white supremacy.
At an institution like UCL whiteness stares you in the face every day, you must conform for it, you must change your way of speaking for it, you must change your character for it, as someone who is not racialised as white, you must change yourself to survive within it.
Black Minority Ethnic (BME), Black & Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME), People of Colour (PoC) — names which in themselves seek to box up all labels that don’t come under the bracket of whiteness into the singular box of “minorities”, please tell me how people from African, Caribbean, Arab, Asian, Latina and Indigenous peoples are a minority, when “white people” as a racialized group make less than 19% of the world’s population.
What whiteness does is that it creates an oppressive binary between itself and people who are classed as “minorities” or as “ethnic”, hegemonizing every other culture and heritage looking at them from a colonial, controlling gaze. Whiteness is the standard that everything else must compare to and reach for. It is simply reductive and insulting to put so many rich experiences into one box, we are not “minorities”, we are a global majority. We must and will be considered carefully and respectfully with our individual experiences disseminated from one another to show that it is whiteness that is the minority.
Let me explain to you how whiteness works in an everyday capacity, and the way it works in my job. I am the elected full-time Black Minority Ethnic (BME) Officer, and sadly but unsurprisingly I am the only full-time BME officer in the country which in itself shows the sheer lack of commitment, neglect and ignorance of issues faced by students that come under the BME bracket in the students unions of the 345 further education colleges and higher education institutions in the UK.
The blatant acts of mistreatment and psychological violence are very evident, I have received a dire amount of reports and complaints of racial abuse.
Last year when I was studying medicine, I attended a fair held to pick courses for 3rd year and was left disgusted when a student reported one of the tutors saying “Don’t let any Blacks or Hijab-wearing people over here to sign up”.
I have so many more instances that have come up and receive emails on this every other week but due to confidentiality I can’t disclose all of the examples, but I have seen twisted remarks made about Asians, Africans, migrants and Muslims.
We have employed academic “professionals” who openly make filthy remarks to students on the basis of race and faith, knowing full well students cannot take action as the institution’s systems protect them. Students fear taking complaints forward as even though policy states marks should be anonymised, academics still have access to names and data of students allowing them to act as they please.
These are ACADEMICS, COURSE LEADERS & PROFESSORS making such comments — THEY ARE PROTECTED. The university does nothing to chastise them, no suspensions, no disciplinary action, no avenues of reporting racial and faith based discrimination are made available to students.
One of the biggest cases was with the university shamelessly trying to send a Black Muslim economics student to a state in the US that had seen an increase of hate crimes and attempted campus mass shootings targeted at both Black AND Muslim students. The state senator was a self-confessed white supremacist who ignored these issues which rose to boiling point, so much so that the National Assocation for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) released a travel advisory stating that it was unsafe for any such people to travel to the state from within the US let alone outside. The student was told there was nothing that could be done, until he took to social media, then suddenly a magic wand was waved and the University of Pennsylvania had space — UCL still denies this issue and says that there should be no special process for students in these situations, along with this they denied this issue in itself was a function of institutional racism & islamophobia.
Last year in the Institute of Education alone, around 15 students came to the union to complain formally about mistreatment or neglect around racial issues either to do with their teacher training placements or the courses themselves. Some students proceeded to drop off their courses or they were not able to complete aspects of their course. What has been done for them? Where is their compensation?
UCL protects its racism and white supremacy, shielding it behind bureaucracy, procedure and its self-proclaimed “London’s Global University” reputation.
Francis Galton (commemorated through Francis Galton Lecture Theatre and Laboratory of Genetics formerly the Laboratory of Eugenics)
the creator of Eugenics installed Karl Pearson (commemorated through the Pearson building)
as the Chair of Eugenics at UCL after the then Provost in 1904 agreed to fund it. Meanwhile Flinders Petrie (commemorated through the Petrie Museum)
dug up human remains in Egypt and other lands to be used as experimental material in Galton & Pearson’s twisted pseudoscientific experiments. It should be noted that the ideology of Eugenics has strong links to Nazism and British colonialism, with Hitler implementing the ideology in the holocaust and Winston Churchill being a huge supporter attending eugenics conferences.
Francis Galton who has been proudly upheld on UCL’s sites for decades stated such:
“The Arab is little more than an eater up of other men’s produce; he is a destroyer rather than a creator, and he is unprolific.”
“The number among the negroes of those whom we should call half-witted men, is very large. Every book alluding to negro servants in America is full of instances. I was myself such impressed by the facts during my travels in Africa. The mistakes the negroes made in their own matters, were so childish, stupid, and simpleton-like.”
“The Hindoo cannot fulfil the required conditions nearly as well as the Chinaman, for he is inferior to him in strength, industry, aptitude for saving, business habits, and prolific power.”
“It strikes me that the Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations, and there is need of evidence that they are capable of fulfilling the varied duties of a civilized nature by themselves.”
All of the above speaks for itself.
I have lost count of the times I have either been called aggressive, or people have alluded to my behaviour being aggressive through their body language, words or simply stating it plainly. This racialised confine on my emotion means I must choose my words carefully and act accordingly otherwise I risk fulfilling the “angry black man” stereotype which seems impossible to shake off.
Many of my white counterparts talk down to me with condescending tones without realising, challenging my intelligence and competency in doing so. This pre-conceived judgement of competency is linked to the subconscious subtle supremacy that my white counterparts feel they have over me. I am a 21 year old medical student that entered an institution with exceptionally difficult entry requirements with a cohort of 350 where only around 15 are black but you still question my competency? Please come correct.
My intentions of centralising students of the Global Majority as victims of this issue in need of empowerment and raising is frequently taken as me focusing on causing harm or excluding students that come under whiteness despite the fact my job description is to represent all students other than them. Comments including “but we have to make this inclusive”, “we musn’t forget about white allies!” are frequently made, showing how whiteness always seeks to make itself central to the issue, whiteness must always be a beneficiary otherwise the work that is done is exclusionary and militant.
Over time I have had to change my way of speaking (code-switching) in order to be taken seriously and understood by whites. People comment on how eloquent and well-spoken I am, but to whose standards? Any other language and way of speaking, from observing body language and energy is either seen to be threatening or unintelligent.
UCL’s academic spaces strongly embody whiteness, this is seen through curriculums which enforce white supremacy seeing as whiteness is propagated as the body of legitimacy which decides on what is and isn’t academia, it decides what is and isn’t worth studying. Through this, values of worth are placed on information and knowledge because of who has ownership of it, the ultimate message that is sent out is that content that isn’t white, isn’t worth studying. More often than not Global Majority researchers have their work stolen, presented as findings by white professors & academics, directly creating a narrative that Global Majority content does not have any worth unless stamped by the badge of whiteness.
This then directly impacts on students of the Global Majority who hardly see themselves represented in curriculums or in the academic workforce, reinforcing this hierarchy of worth. Looking at the national workforce 6.2% of professors are classed as ‘BME’ males and 1.7% are classed as ‘BME’ females, breaking it down even further there are only 17 Black women professors in this country. What does this say about the worth placed on our labour? Who does it benefit? What systems are in place subjugating the progression and hiring of our people?
Looking at whiteness historically and presently as a construct it has always sought to categorise everything, especially in the form of “scientific empirical data”. That manifests today as an obsession with quantitative data and financial business plans, the institution refuses to take qualitative data into account when making decisions which in itself is problematic as the issue of racism and white supremacy is a philosophical, anthropological and qualitative issue.
The BME attainment gap data has surfaced in the last year or so, with universities like UCL only taking it seriously once the data emerged, despite noise being made about it for years. The national average shows that students classed as ‘BME’ do 15% worse than their white counterparts. UCL’s average is 3% which doesn’t seem a lot but is statistically significant when you consider the self-professed calibre of the institution and its very high entry requirements. The gap varies from faculty to faculty getting as high 20% in the Bartlett faculty.
I have been whitesplained by my white counterparts several times, I make a point in a space or a meeting and the exact same point is made by my white counterpart which is then suddenly taken up and accepted. It’s either this or I am frequently interrupted when I speak, this alludes to the entitlement of their point over mine when conversing.
Many white colleagues are patronising and come with disingenuous professions of understanding their privilege and their whiteness wanting a gold star for these realisations while they do nothing in their capacity to dismantle these constructs. “As a white man”…..”You as a person of colour”, I grow tired of fake smiles from those who pretend to understand me and my experience. Such words and sentiments mean nothing if one is doing nothing to dismantle them. There is something particularly sickening about these interactions and it’s not just the ingenuity of it all. Working in close proximity of such people is toxic as they know what the issue is seeing as they explained it to you themselves but again, do nothing to deconstruct it.
White “allies” are rarely actually allies, leftist & communist movements within the student body use global majority issues as a battering ram for their own campaigns and movements. Meanwhile they do not turn up to events, they don’t invest any short-term or long-term effort into campaigns but still feel entitled to use issues surrounding islamophobia and racism to spearhead their campaigns. They prove themselves to be liberals who say we should “debate and discuss” with those who advocate for death and violence on the basis of racism and islamophobia. Rather than help, they see our issues as marketing tools and bargaining chips, while their own brand of toxic whiteness is still intact, manifesting itself through a white saviour complex.
Over the past few months I have interviewed global majority staff gaining insight into their experience. The labour of people from these backgrounds is taken for granted and abused, such staff within their department are subtly given more and more workload to deal with keeping them inundated in lower grades while their labour is not respected and properly appreciated. They work harder than their white counterparts who move effortlessly through the ranks while they are static in the same role — we see this in the students union and all over the institution where global majority staff have worked in the same or similar pay grade without promotion for up to 20 years!
At times it feels like a lot is being done to attempt to find a solution to this problem, but what really happens is immeasurable workloads are put on staff who deal with these issues, with finite resources and funding. When we look at the BME attainment gap funding, funds are set to run out in 2019. Changes to the curriculum are made through bodies like Liberating the Currciulum, Connected Curriculum and Change Makers Projects, although these do well to supplement pre-existing curriculums, they don’t centralise global majority content and students are left to create business plans and proposals to change their curriculums while studying full-time, this expectation is too large.
Dealing with the entirety of what UCL represents, embodies and propagates takes it’s a humongous toll on my well-being and mental health. As a student who doesn’t come under the bracket of whiteness, I am given the choice to compromise on my character and accept racism and white supremacy in all its forms or I must conform. Every single day I come away deflated and alienated, this job is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Global Majority women have it even worse as they face hybrid forms of sexualised racism. You see, a lot more white people understand this issue than you’d think, they sigh and express how sad it is that such concepts exist and then go away and leave the conversation to go and benefit from that very same concept.
Despite numerous attacks by different bodies in recent years to remove my officer role whether it be from governance reviews or student media outlets such as “Pi Media” who published an article in March this year called “ UCLU: Get rid of the Black & Minority Ethnic Officer”, despite stating in their 1st paragraph “I have no clue who they are, or what they do”, I hope what you’ve read now goes to show that my officer role is necessary and always will be until we can say racism and white supremacy doesn’t exist in our society and on our campus.
The Decolonise UCL campaign will be answering the question “Why Does My University Uphold White Supremacy?” I hope from reading this you will start to formulate your own answers on why.