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How to start dismantling white privilege in higher education

Racism is still alive and well in US and UK academia, writes Kalwant Bhopal, author of White privilege. She argues that to dismantle it, there is a need for radical action from universities, which must start by acknowledging the existence of institutional racism and white privilege.

Originally published by the LSE British Politics and Policy blog on 28th November 2017. 

Kalwant Bhopal

Despite many claims to the contrary, racism is alive and well and robustly shaping the educational experiences of black and minority ethnic students in the United Kingdom and the United States. The evidence that this is happening in schools, when accessing elite (and non-elite) universities and later when applying for better paid or higher status jobs is scrutinised in my new book, White Privilege: The myth of a post-racial society. I argue that in neoliberal contexts, policy-making ensures covert and overt forms of racism, and exclusion continues to operate at all levels in society in which white identities are privileged. The talk may be all about a ‘post-racial society’, but in reality the status quo remains unchallenged.

Black and minority ethnic academics working in universities remain marginalised and regularly describe experiencing subtle, covert, and nuanced racism. At senior levels, they are less likely than their white colleagues to be professors or occupy decision-making roles. The white space of the academy perpetuates and reinforces white middle class privilege; consequently our higher education continues to be dominated by a white elite. I have researched educational inequalities for 30 years and it often feels like we are going around in circles: the more things change, the more they stay the same. A radical shift is needed from universities to acknowledge their long-standing role in privileging whiteness and implement change that addresses the inequalities this has fostered.

Credits: pxhere (CC0 Public Domain).

Higher education must firstly acknowledge institutional racism and white privilege; a failure to acknowledge racism results in a failure to act upon it. Institutional frameworks to facilitate change at local and national levels include universities monitoring racist incidents, identifying measures to address racism, and action plans with specific outcomes. Such action plans need to be characterised by their ‘clarity’; they need to demonstrate a clear link between identifying a problem, providing solutions, and measuring outcomes. Additionally, they need the ‘clarity’ we might associate with being ‘out in the open’, in which racism is publically acknowledged and addressed. Such clarity would ensure that it is the outcome of change that is assessed, rather than the rhetoric of what should happen.

Secondly, universities should be held to account for their lack of representation of black and minority ethnic groups in senior decision-making roles through monitoring and reviewing their staff profiles on a regular basis. A greater visibility of black and minority ethnic staff is needed in senior decision-making roles so that there is a specific recognition and valuing of diversity in staff representation. Unconscious bias training should be mandatory for all staff: at the very least, this training should be a requirement for individuals who are involved in promotion and recruitment panels. Simple measures such as the introduction of name-blind job applications to avoid the ample evidence that non-Eurocentric names are disadvantaged in recruitment processes are easy to implement and immediately signal a willingness to tackle issues of diversity. To support black and minority ethnic staff to reach their full potential, all universities should be expected to provide formal mentoring and training to staff who wish to progress in their careers.

Thirdly, universities must address the racial makeup of their student bodies. Oxford University was recently accused of ‘social apartheid’ for not admitting a single Black British student in nearly one in three of its colleges. Too often institutions that fail to recruit Black British students talk about their commitment to diversity by highlighting the numbers of international students they have recruited. These are discourses that demonstrate a lack of clarity. The value of international students for universities is closely tied to their greater economic contribution compared to home students. When the playing field is level, when white home students and black home students are paying the same fees, it seems remarkable that diversity is suddenly not accounted for.

Universities must be held accountable for failing to admit a diverse body of home students. I suggest a quota system should be introduced for selective universities, as well as elite universities, such as Oxbridge and the Russell Group in particular. The persistent failures of these publically-funded universities to address their inability to recruit the brightest students if they have the ‘wrong’ skin colour is, in the language of civil servants and policy-makers, not delivering value for money. Measures such as outreach programmes targeting poor areas, underperforming schools and underrepresented schools; offering support packages to pupils to develop their university applications; training for interviews; bursaries and scholarships to Oxbridge, are in no way about lowering standards. They are simple, necessary steps to move towards an inclusive approach for students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who are not currently finding they have access to the same opportunities afforded their white, more wealthy, privately-schooled peers.

White privilege is awarded to those who are already privileged. This reinforces and perpetuates a system in which white elites are able to maintain and reinforce their position of power at all levels. Within a neoliberal context, policymaking is legitimised through a rhetoric that reinforces the benefits of neoliberalism as a universal value. I argue, however, that it reinforces whiteness and white privilege. It fails to acknowledge the role that race and inequality play in perpetuating advantage over disadvantage and that neoliberalism does not benefit all members of society equally.

Furthermore, to argue that the aftermath of the Macpherson report on institutional racism in the UK police has resulted in a post-racial society is utterly absurd (as I highlight with Martin Myers in a recent paper). Such discourses only serve to further marginalise black and minority ethnic communities. Racism exists at every level of society: it permeates our schools, our colleges and our universities. It is alive in all elements of society, our popular culture, our media and the social spaces that we occupy. We do not live in a post-racial society. What you look like – if you are black or from a minority ethnic group determines how you will be judged. Race acts as a marker of difference in a society poisoned by fear, insecurity, and instability. If we continue as we are, then whiteness and white privilege will continue to dominate in higher education institutions, with white groups doing whatever they can to protect and perpetuate their own positions of power.

 

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Social media homicide confessions – stories of killing in digital culture

Criminologist Professor Elizabeth Yardley discusses the relationship between violent crime and social media use, ahead of her new research being published later this month. Originally published by Birmingham City University on 15th September 2017.

Elizabeth Yardley

On Easter Sunday earlier this year, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Senior went out for a walk in east Cleveland in the US state of Ohio.

It was a sunny day and he was making the most of the pleasant weather as he waited for his Easter dinner. It was during this walk that he would be ruthlessly shot dead in the street.

Most homicide victims know their killers but not this time – this was a chance encounter with a man who intended to do fatal harm. His killer had been making videos of himself as he drove around the streets of Cleveland that day.

In one of these videos the man is heard to say “I found somebody I’m about to kill”. He then pulled his car over to the side of the road, commenting on his plans. “I’m about to kill this guy right here. He’s an old dude,” he said as he walked towards Mr Godwin, who was on his own and walking along on the path. “Can you do me a favour?”, the man asked Mr Godwin before asking him to say the name of a woman. “She’s the reason this is about to happen to you”. He then shot Mr Godwin dead. This video, and several others, were uploaded to the social networking site Facebook.

This is one of many cases in recent years in which a perpetrator has posted about a homicide they’ve committed on social media. The killing of television news reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in August 2015 was accompanied by similar behaviour by the perpetrator.

Why do people do this? What is this all about? Are these people extreme narcissists, desperate for attention and notoriety or is there more to it than this? These are just some of the questions I set out to explore in the research covered in my new book – Social Media Homicide Confessions: Stories of killers and their victims.

I examine the case of Jennifer Alfonso, murdered by her husband following a relationship characterised by coercively controlling and abusive behaviour. After shooting her in the kitchen of their Miami home, her killer posted a picture of her body on Facebook, accompanied by a statement claiming that she had been abusing him. In this statement, the killer also referenced his ‘fans’ and said they would see him in the news.

I also consider the familicide in which Shelly Janzen was killed by her brother, who then went on to kill his wife Laurel and daughter Emily. Before taking his own life, their killer posted on Facebook, confessing to killing Shelly, Laurel and Emily and explaining that Emily’s chronic migraines were the reason for the familicide.

The murder of Charles Taylor is the third case I explore. Charles was killed by the former wife of his late son Rex. After the murder, she posted images and statements on a variety of social media platforms. This included a photograph taken by her male accomplice, in which she can be seen holding a knife and Charles’ dead body is in the background. This image was uploaded to her Tumblr blog and sent to a friend who ran a website about serial killers. She made several Facebook and Instagram posts whilst she was on the run, many of them blaming Charles for Rex’s death.

I spent several months exploring not only the homicide-related posts, but also how the perpetrators had used social media more generally in the years preceding the killings. Social media was a platform to tell stories about their lives and the social roles and identities they occupied. It was a space in which they revealed their expectations about other people and how they should behave.

They also performed their membership of social groups and institutions via social media. These performances were aspirational ones – presenting their lives in highly idealistic ways, concealing the realities that contradicted these idyllic imaginaries. Visibility was a weapon that they used to tackle the struggles and challenges of everyday life. It was also a tool they used to manage their transgressions as killers. They used social media to protect them from the consequences of accepting their realities and maintaining their fantasy idealistic identities and practices.

This fetishistic disavowal (Žižek, 2009) served to conceal the negative aspects of their identities and amplify the valued roles and behaviours that gave them status. Whether they embraced the identity of the killer, tried to claim victim status for themselves or accepted responsibility for their actions, social media enabled them to position themselves as particular characters in their stories of homicide for others to consume.

Several gatekeepers stood between the killers of the past and those who consumed their stories. Mainstream media organisations decided which cases were newsworthy and as such, which cases would enter the public consciousness. Whether the killers of the twentieth century would be seen or unseen depended on the judgements and decisions of other people. If these stories did emerge, they did so second-hand, mediated and edited, the perpetrator’s control of the story diminishing with every filter it passed through.

However, the tables have now turned, today’s killers can share their stories of homicide in their own words at the tap of a touchscreen. This has enabled them a degree of control over the narrative that they have not previously experienced. Social media enables these killers to show themselves and their victims in ways they want to be seen. Perpetrators both create and represent the homicides they commit. They go from consumers to producers, their content particularly marketable in ‘wound culture’ of public fascination with violent crime (Seltzer, 1998, 2007).

The confessions I explored were not bizarre, one off aberrations but patterns of entrenched behaviour. Just as individuals don’t suddenly snap or change when they kill, neither does what they do with networked media. In a world where to be is to be seen, this is not going to change.

As criminologist Steve Hall notes, ‘the terror of insignificance, of remaining unrecognised by others, might now reign supreme as the most potent and extractable source of human energy’ (2012: 172). Criminologists, social media companies and law enforcement all need to realise that the online and the offline are not separate. We now live in a world where real, embodied, visceral violence is performed and consumed on social media. We need to start making better sense of how people live within these seamless spaces if we are to tackle homicide in digital culture.

References

Hall, S. (2012) Theorizing crime and deviance, London: Sage.

Seltzer, M. (1998) Serial killers: Death and life in America’s wound culture, New York, NY: Routledge.

Seltzer, M. (2007) True crime: Observations on violence and modernity, New York: Routledge.

Žižek, S. (2009) Violence, London: Profile Books.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Three key lessons from Labour’s campaign – and how the party needs to change

Originally posted by Democratic Audit UK  12/06/2017

Patrick Diamond

Jeremy Corbyn has confounded his critics and increased Labour’s share of the vote in the General Election. But the party is some way from being able to command a parliamentary majority, says Patrick Diamond. Labour has articulated a vision of society which appeals to many young people and ‘left behind’ voters. Now the party needs to get over the intellectual defensiveness which has afflicted it for decades – and reach out to people in English constituencies who have no tribal loyalty to Labour.

Politics in the Labour party will never be the same again in the aftermath of the 2017 general election. Only six weeks ago many commentators, most Labour MPs, party members and even Jeremy Corbyn’s allies feared he would be humiliated at the ballot box.

‘Politics in the Labour party will never be the same again’

It didn’t happen. Labour fought an insurgent campaign in which Corbyn deftly exploited his status as the underdog; the Labour party appears to have excited young people as well as so-called ‘left behind’ voters in ways not seen for decades. Criticisms of Corbyn’s leadership style focused on his inept approach to internal party management and estrangement from his own parliamentary party; where Corbyn exceeded expectations was his ability to fashion a distinctive, eye-catching political agenda that captured the imagination of the electorate, and distanced the Labour party from its potentially ‘toxic’ legacy (one of the historian Stuart Ball’s key criteria for effective opposition party leadership).

Of course, it has not been plain sailing for Corbyn’s Labour. Arguably, the leader’s greatest vulnerability has been his reluctance to acknowledge the place of other traditions in the Labour party beyond his own heterodox brand of socialism. Corbyn’s weakest moments during the campaign were his defensiveness over the nuclear deterrent, as well as controversy over his previous reluctance to condemn IRA terrorism. There are still major questions about the viability of Labour’s manifesto, for all that its ideological clarity inspired the faithful. Still, there can be little doubt that the campaign Corbyn fought marks a decisive shift in the politics of the Labour party to which all sections of the party will now be obliged to respond.

So what strategic lessons can, and should, we glean from the Corbyn leadership project in the wake of the general election result?

The first lesson is that Corbyn’s politics evidently appeal to many younger voters, as well as the social groups that have increasingly abstained from voting in the UK since the late 1980s. The dynamic here was that Corbyn projected ‘hope’ because his programme was not constrained by conventional electoral calculation; Labour’s prospectus offered a different vision of society after nearly a decade of spending cuts, tax rises, and missed deficit reduction targets. Corbyn’s views on policy articulated a rare combination of clarity and conviction. The Labour leader offers an innovative politics of participation which is about doing things ‘with’ people rather than ‘to’ them, sweeping away anachronistic institutions and inherited privilege; if carried forward this might be the platform for a resurgence of British social democracy.

The challenge ahead for Corbyn’s project will be to construct the electoral alliance between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ that is required to win greater numbers of marginal seats, enter government, and deliver policies like progressive redistribution and public investment. Another general election appears likely to be called relatively soon. A Labour victory will mean winning in English constituencies like Reading West or Thurrock that Labour was unable to carry last Thursday.

‘There are still major questions about the viability of Labour’s manifesto’

The second lesson of the Corbyn leadership project is that Labour needs to get over the intellectual defensiveness that has plagued the party since the late 1980s. Corbyn says he now wants an open debate about policy; he ought to be taken at taken at his word. In the past, some modernisers behaved as if the best approach to making Labour a party of government was to give the entire PLP and party membership an intellectual lobotomy. This risked denuding the Labour party of the capacity to think and revitalise itself. The ascendency of Thatcherism convinced many that Britain had become an inherently conservative country, and that the Left could only win by accepting the basic parameters of the Thatcher settlement. In this election under Corbyn, Labour made its most audacious attempt since 1945 to shift the centre ground of politics towards the Left.

The Corbyn leadership project’s third lesson is that when effectively presented, measures that are widely perceived to be traditionally ‘left-wing’ are still popular with mainstream voters. Among the most important issues raised in the Labour manifesto was the question of public ownership in a post-industrial economy geared towards the production of information and knowledge. For the last 30 years, the assumption in the Labour party has been that whether ownership is public or private no longer matters. It was thought that utilities and public services delivered through the private sector could still be regulated effectively in the public interest. Nationalisation in the 1990s was rejected by Labour because it was believed to be too costly to bring major public utilities like water, gas or rail back into public ownership. Yet it is clear that since 1997, public opinion has become more hostile towards private ownership of the utilities, especially rail. Previous assumptions ought to be interrogated: many privatised industries in the UK are natural monopolies; the privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s have been detrimental both to consumer welfare and economic efficiency.

None of this ignores the fact that Labour is still some way from winning a parliamentary majority at a general election. The party has made significant progress since 2015; but to defeat the Conservatives Labour has to be capable of winning seats throughout Britain. It is not enough merely to rouse already committed supporters: the party has to be capable of reaching out to ‘non-Labour Britain’ where there is little tribal affiliation with the Labour party. It is clear from the election campaign and the terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London that national security is likely to remain a major issue in British politics. Offering voters social justice without addressing their basic concerns about physical insecurity in a world of borderless crime and terrorist threats is a recipe for future defeat. To help the most vulnerable and marginalised in Britain, Labour has to be a party of power rather than a pressure group of social protest.

‘To defeat the Conservatives, Labour has to be capable of winning seats throughout Britain’

Corbyn has spectacularly demolished Theresa May’s hopes of securing a decisive Tory majority. The ‘moderates’ in the Labour party will have made a grave error if they dismiss Corbyn’s approach to strategy and policy as outdated and destined to end in failure. Yet it remains doubtful as to whether as things stand Corbyn has an electoral or governing project that can end the latest phase of Conservative hegemony in British politics. That is the next crucial task of revitalisation for the British centre-left.

The Crosland legacy [FC] 4web The Crosland legacy by Patrick Diamond is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £15.99

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Of and for society: Thinking the prosocial

What would it take to make society better? Rowland Atkinson, Lisa McKenzie and Simon Winlow, co-editors of the new book Building better societies, discuss some of the obstacles we face in trying to improve society. 

Rowland Atkinson

Lisa McKenzie

Simon Winlow

Social researchers spend so much time investigating the problems of inequality, crime, poverty and ill-health that they rarely have time to step outside these painful realities to engage in the kinds of utopian, creative and counter-intuitive thinking that can change entire academic fields.

We are encouraged, more than ever before, to be ‘policy relevant’, and the space and time needed to identify new and imaginative routes forward is diminishing with every passing year.

Many of us act in ways that are self-disciplining, if not self-defeating. We make careful pre-judgements about who will listen to us, and this often prevents us from making proposals or running ideas that might make the world – dare we say it – a better place. Given the sheer scale of the problems we face today – unparalleled inequality, ecological crisis and deep economic and political uncertainty – the role, and perhaps the duty, of social researchers is to draw on their evidence and intervene effectively in helping social conversations about the issues that really matter.

Continue reading ‘Of and for society: Thinking the prosocial’

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