One of our Sheffield UCU members attended their first UCU Congress this year, and wrote the following reflection on their experiences. If you are interested in attending UCU Congress 2021, or in getting more involved with local Sheffield UCU branch work, or just want to ask us more questions about what ‘getting more involved’ might mean, contact us at email@example.com.
I thought it would be terrifying, but it wasn’t. I’ve never been to Congress before. In my mind, the now legendary meeting of 2018, where UCU leadership repeatedly walked out on motion debates leading to an early termination of the meeting had set the mental bar for it; somewhere between wild and lawless. Congress was not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for newbies like me.
But, turns out when you have an encouraging set of co-delegates, an online meeting and a lively and entertaining WhatsApp group, anything is possible. So I went. I won’t pretend I wasn’t a bit nervous. Sheffield Branch Committee members are universally well-informed about everything. This is undoubtedly a very good thing, but it can also be a little intimidating. I wasn’t sure of the format, whether I would be expected to speak, whether I would understand anything that was going on, or whether anything I thought about proceedings and motions would be sensible. As Congress progressed though, I found that I relaxed into it a bit, realised that those speaking were not all highly confident public speakers and that my opinions were just as valid as anyone else’s, even if they were sometimes not quite so well-informed. I came to learn a bit more about UCU and how things work, and that aim was more than fulfilled.
Congress is essentially a series of motions, proposed by branches and detailing suggestions and ideas for activity and action that UCU should take. They are presented by members with the opportunity for others to speak either for or against. In the online version of Congress, no voting takes place on the day, and instead we were asked to note how we would vote. An in-person Congress would have taken speakers on the day but in the online version speakers had been asked to register their intention to speak ahead of time. It did not make for the easiest of processes but was probably as satisfactory as it gets in order to ensure that proceedings ran smoothly. Motions were really varied with some concentrating on the interests of particular membership groups, others on union procedures and some much more localised and personal. If you’re interested in learning more, the full list of motions is on the UCU website. Overwhelmingly, the impression I came away with of a group of people who really cared about how they and their fellow workers are treated and how we treat each other. The discussion between Sheffield delegates on our WhatsApp group was really helpful, interesting and supportive. I learnt as much from that as I did from proceedings on the floor.
That’s not to say that the gathering was without controversy. A lengthy preamble to one of the motions, delivered by UCU’s in-house lawyer to set out the legal implications of a positive vote, provoked some interventions which required robust chairing. There were also some unpleasant transphobic objections to a couple of the motions, thankfully countered by the majority of delegates. At one point during the second day, it looked like a delegate would be removed from proceedings for refusing to retract a statement about a UCU staff member. Listening to those speaking for and against motions gave me a really fascinating insight into the politics of UCU and made a lot of things that had previously seemed quite mysterious make sense. The range of people that UCU includes gives rise to wildly differing opinions about a whole host of things and understanding that in a bit more detail is really helpful when thinking about how to go about things at branch level.
The next Congress is in May and we’ll be asking for delegate nominations shortly. I’d really encourage you to think about standing. It was (genuinely) an interesting and lively experience with a supportive group of people from the branch. I got to see some of the workings of UCU, both positive and negative, learn from branch colleagues. I was also really proud of those from Sheffield who spoke to our branch motions with such passion and grace. Unions really are the sum of their parts, and as members we can make a difference.
Today, we conclude our mini-series for the 2021 UCU week of Action Against Workplace Racism. Further down this page, you will find additional lists of resources in relation to themes discussed previously and the broader topic of racism and anti-racism in education. This also includes references from the other posts in this series.
As we acknowledged at the beginning, reading will not make anyone anti-racist. Yet an ongoing commitment to reading, learning, and putting learning into action is especially important for those who operate within the education system.
Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University (Austen et al, 2017) found that the best way to effect change was to begin by collaborating with others who recognise the problems and have made their own commitment to work for change. To facilitate that process, our new wall of actions highlights action being taken at Sheffield–using crowd-sourced examples submitted as part of this week’s activities.
Wall of Action
We welcome further recommendations from UCU Members and others about resources that you have found helpful in starting or sustaining an active commitment to anti-racism.
Bilge, S. 2013. “Intersectionality Undone: Saving Intersectionality from Feminist Intersectionality Studies”. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, (Carbado, Crenshaw, Mays & Tomlinson, eds), Intersectionality special issue, Cambridge Journals, 10(2): 405-424.
Davis, M. (2009), Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement. London: Pluto Press.
Doharty, N. (2020) `The `angry Black woman` as intellectual bondage: being strategically emotional on the academic plantation`, Race Ethnicity and Education, 23(4), pp.548-562.
Doharty, N., Madriaga, M. and Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2020) `The university went to ‘decolonise’ and all they brought back was lousy diversity double-speak! Critical race counter-stories from faculty of colour in ‘decolonial’ times´, Educational Philosophy and Theory, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2020.1769601.
Joseph-Salisbury R. and Connelly L. (2018) `‘If Your Hair Is Relaxed, White People Are Relaxed. If Your Hair Is Nappy, They’re Not Happy’: Black Hair as a Site of ‘Post-Racial’ Social Control in British Schools´, Social Sciences 7(219), pp.1-13.
Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2019) `Institutionalised whiteness, racial microaggressions and black bodies out of place in Higher Education`, Whiteness and Education, 4(1), pp.1-17.
Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2019) `‘Does anybody really care what a racist says?’ Anti-racism in ‘post racial’ times´, The Sociological Review, 67(1), pp.63-78.
Kwakye, C., Ogunbiyi, O. (2019) Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change. London: Merky Books.
Ortega, M. (2006) `Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Colour´, Hypatia, 21(3), p.56-74.
Ouali, N. and Jefferys S. (2015), ‘Hard times for trade union anti-racism workplace strategies’, Transfer, Vol. 21(1) 99–113 DOI: 10.1177/1024258914561419
Patton, L.D., Haynes, C. (2020) `Dear White People: Reimagining Whiteness In the Struggle for Racial Equity´, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 52(2), pp.41-45.
Stockfelt, S. (2018) `We the minority-of-minorities: a narrative inquiry of black female academics in the United Kingdom´, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(7), pp.1012-1029.
Stockfelt, S. (2018) `We the minority-of-minorities: a narrative inquiry of black female academics in the United Kingdom´, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(7), pp.1012-1029.
Sweetman, J. (2018) ‘When Similarities are More Important than Differences: “Politically Black” Union Members’ Experiences of Racism and Participation in Union Leadership’, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 74, No. 2, pp. 244-264, doi: 10.1111/josi.12267
Tate, S.A., and D. Page. (2018) “Whiteliness and institutional racism: Hiding behind (un) conscious bias.” Ethics and Education 13.1: 141-155.
Wallace, D. (2020) ‘The diversity trap? Critical explorations of black male teachers’ negotiations of leadership and learning in London state schools’, Race Ethnicity and Education, 3, pp.345-366.
This is the fourth post in our miniseries exploring the contexts of racism and anti-racism as part of our action against workplace racism. Tomorrow, we will share examples of actions being undertaken at and by members of Sheffield UCU, based on crowd-sourced submissions. A link to contribute is provided at the bottom of this blogpost.
The University of Sheffield has a BAME Staff Network and launched a Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan in 2019. Yet educational institutions, often thought of as vectors of social mobility, are also ridden with racial discriminations. In today’s blogpost we explore resources that discuss racism in the educational system more broadly, and others which draw on particular examples and experiences to illustrate the lived realities of racism and its impacts on individuals.
A 2016 UCU study highlighted the stark experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic staff in further and higher education in the UK. The study revealed issues around career progression, with an overwhelming majority of survey respondents reporting they had faced barriers to promotion; 59% across both sectors reported they had not been supported by senior colleagues and managers when seeking to progress their career; and about half of respondents saw no positive career development path with their current employer. When it comes to bullying and harassment, around 70% of respondents in Higher Education reported they were “sometimes” or “often” subject to it from managers and/or colleagues, while 86% of respondents in HE said they were “often” or “sometimes” subject to cultural insensitivity. This confirms findings from other literature: Black and minority ethnic staff in UK higher education routinely report being undermined and marginalized whilst their knowledge and experience are frequently called into question (Leathwood, Maylor & Moreau, 2009; Shilliam, 2015) [cited in ‘Staying Power’ The career experiences and strategies of UK Black female professors’].
In August 2020, ten Black women involved in UK research wrote an open letter highlighting the urgent need for greater transparency, accountably and inclusion in the distribution of research funding. Concerns had been raised about £4.3 million allocated by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to examine the relationship between COVID and ethnicity. £0 was allocated to Black academic leads, while one individual on the assessment panel was also co-investigator of three of the six awards. The letter-writers met with UKRI representatives in October 2020, and UKRI identified actions to be taken. Dr Addy Adelaine and colleagues have summarised this process in Knowledge Exchange, 2020. A reluctance to disaggregate data by ethnicity makes it very difficult to discern what is really happening–beyond that the distribution of funding remains unequal.
Turning to students, a 2020 study entitled Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK: State of the Nation led by researchers from The University of Manchester’s Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) and the Runnymede Trust found that “ethnic minority groups constitute 26% of all undergraduate students in England [but] are less likely to attend Russell Group Universities, with the Black group particularly under-represented” and that “all ethnic minority groups are less likely than White students to receive a ‘good’ (2:1 or first class) degree”. In terms of representation, the report (drawing on 2016/17 data) highlighted the “under-representation of academic staff [in Higher Education] from all UK-born ethnic groups, notably from Black and Muslim groups”.
Part of the explanation for this underrepresentation in academia is to be found in access to funding. A 2019 Leading Routes report entitled The Broken Pipeline: Barriers to Black PhD Students Accessing Research Council Funding examines the link between the UK BME attainment gap at undergraduate level and students’ success rates in receiving research council funding for postgraduate research. The report found that “sector wide discrimination and bias continue to play a significant role in restricting access to funding and in consequence limiting the number of Black PhD students and academics in the UK”. The report reveals shocking numbers: “just 1.2% of the 19,868 studentships awarded by all UKRI research councils [over a three-year period] went to Black or Black Mixed students and only 30 of those were from Black Caribbean background”.
Equally striking are the statistics for professors in the UK. A recent AdvanceHE staff equality data report for UK Higher Education Institutions showed that for the academic year 2017/18, only 10% of professors came from categories racialised as BAME (7.7% men and 2.3% women). Breaking this down, just 0.6% of UK professors were Black, in the narrower sense (90 men and 35 women). Across the whole of the UK, fewer than five heads of institutions were identified as belonging to groups racialised as BAME (3.1%) and of UK origin. A 2019 UCU study on the career experiences and strategies of UK Black female professors evidences “a culture of explicit and passive bullying [which] persists across higher education along with racial stereotyping and racial microaggressions”. Meanwhile, interviewing 37 UK senior academics racialised as BAME about their experiences of mentoring, Kalwant Bhopal (2019) found that the rhetoric of equality and diversity does not match up with experiences of policy and procedure.
As Black British scientist Winston Morgan writes, a lot of his time “was spent defending [himself] against those who found it difficult to accept that [he] could be a good scientist”. Because many still refuse to accept “that racism or even unconscious bias exists in academia”, forming racial justice equivalents of gender equality initiatives such as Athena Swan has proved challenging. The rebuttal of the very existence of racism is a hurdle that is both frustrating and discouraging, as Leona Nichole Black explains:
Having to shoulder the burden of proof, we as Black and Minority Ethnic communities often refer to the ‘covert’ nature of British racism. I suggest this speaks to our self-doubt, and frustration that the legitimacy of our experiences is routinely called in to question in the face of a tolerant and multicultural Britain. What clearer demonstration of this than the “I, too, am Oxford” initiative by Black students at Oxford University, a campaign exposing BME experience of racism at the institution, and the faux civility of the rebuttal staged by white students, “We Are All”.
This discussion frames some of the problems and offers some suggested resources. Tomorrow, we will be sharing examples of actions that are being taken by Sheffield UCU members as part of our action against workplace racism. The Google Form will remain open to contributions throughout the day; in the event that we cannot transform all of them into public posts in a timely fashion, you will see that the form requests (optional) permission to store the information provided until a later date.
As a trade union, UCU is committed to improving the working conditions for all university staff. It provides specific spaces for Black members — such as its Black Members’ Standing Committee (see the film ‘witness‘ which chronicles the lived experiences of Black members) and an annual Black members’ conference, as well as a Black Voices webpage.
In this respect, UCU operates with the framework of political Blackness, “an umbrella term …encompass[ing] minorities with family origins in Asia and the Middle East as well as in Africa and its diaspora.” Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy and law at New York University, explains the British origins of this inclusive approach to Blackness in a recent New York Times op-ed, “What we can learn from the rise and fall of political Blackness” (7 October 2020).
In 2016, UCU launched a week of action against workplace racism, supporting its wider campaigning against racism. In the past year UCU has published a short guide for branches to build anti-racist workplaces as well as several reports on racism in the education system (see below). UCU also incorporated a sector wide action plan to address race and gender pay gaps into its 2019-2020 pay claim, extending this to include disability pay gap in the 2020-2021 claim.
In spite of these efforts, it is important to be aware that, as the majority of members of UCU are white, there is a danger of overlooking or ignoring the needs of those who are not. In addition, UCU must be understood within the broader union environment and history, which itself is not devoid of racism.
In Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement, Mary Davis looks at patriarchal divisions as well as imperialism and racism and the ways these have shaped the British working class. In ‘connecting the separate spheres of class, race and gender,’ she highlights how UK trade unions too have had to deal with questions of racism and xenophobia. Reviewing the second edition (Pluto Press, 2009), Ronaldo Munck writes:
The term social imperialism, first coined by Karl Renner in 1917, accurately sums up a system in which the spoils of empire would be used to finance social reform at home. Racism, eugenics and jingoism or national chauvinism united in a potent mix. For Mary Davis this constellation “provided the new unifying antidote to the emerging socialist consciousness of the 1880’s which threatened to expose the possible class conflict of a declining economy” (p.88). Social imperialism continued as a powerful force into the 20th century, and not even all the socialist organizations took an anti-imperialist stance. As to the mainstream labour movement at the very best it was silent on Empire, the partition of Africa was simply never referred to, but much more common was a fervently pro-Empire stance. Notions of the ‘white man’s burden’ were more or less dominant with a racial chauvinism greatly weakening the unifying potential of the trade unions. Overt racial prejudice and an effective colour bar in many areas contributed to high Black worker unemployment, a situation that only changed with the acute labour shortages during the Second World War. Unfortunately, the contemporary debates around racism, black worker self-organization and the trade union relationship to immigration lie outside the scope of this book.
To this day, the ambiguity of unions’ anti-racism stance remains: EU-funded research led by Steve Jefferys (2006) showed significant differences between the tolerant and even positive discourse and national policies of trade unions against racism and xenophobia, and the reality in the workplace.
More recently, Jeffreys and Nouria Ouali have continued to explore how European trade unions have responded to workplace racism against minority and migrant workers, with reference to the impact of the 2008 recession. In “Hard times for trade union anti-racism workplace strategies” (Transfer, 2015), Ouali and Jefferys explain that while “union pressure for equal treatment had already weakened somewhat before the crisis”, “subsequently, unemployment levels for ethnic minority and migrant workers rose much faster than for “national majority’ workers, and levels of tension in the workplace have often increased”. They highlight four main union responses: “denial of racism and protection of the interests of national majority workers; the demand that minorities assimilate without special provisions; recognition of the need for minorities to have some special services and support; and the adoption of positive measures to promote equal treatment.”
Employing survey data from the largest (known) sample of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic staff in British higher and further education, and drawing on the psychology of social movements, Joseph Sweetman examines minority leadership within trade unions in the paper “When Similarities are More Important than Differences: ‘Politically Black’ Union Members’ Experiences of Racism and Participation in Union Leadership” (Social Issues, 2018). He finds that perceptions of racism and experiences of bullying may contribute to minorities attending union meetings and raising issues of racism with the union, but does not foster other forms of union involvement. He suggests unions need to do more to ‘build trust in the union’s position on racism’ and to improve politically black members’ levels of trust and commitment in order to make union leadership more representative of its membership.
If you are interested in taking action in this area, Sheffield UCU Anti-Racism Working Group welcomes new members. As with other areas of union work, how much we can achieve depends on our willingness to contribute time and energy to the cause. There’s space to volunteer and seek more information in the actions form, which complements this blog miniseries.
This is the second post in our UCU Week of Action Against Work-Place Racism series. See the previous post here. Contribute to our crowd-sourced actions (to be released on Friday) here.
Historically, many white-led groups committed to social justice have been instrumental in perpetuating oppressive structures by ignoring and silencing people of colour. In The Progressive Plantation: racism inside white radical social change groups, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin reflects on his own experiences within anarchist and anti-racist organisations; while Emahunn Raheem Ali Campbell responds to media comments on the absence of African Americans from the Occupy Movement by highlighting a misplaced focus on “togetherness” (being physically in one place) rather than “unity” (having a clear common cause).
Feminist movements, equally, have proven to be problematic when it comes to race. Writing in a US context, Monnica T. Williams highlights areas pertinent to black women’s lives which white feminism ignores–maternal care, infant mortality, the disappearance of native women, etc. Separately, Rachel Elizabeth Cargle analyses how practices such as tone policing in feminist movements uphold white supremacy, thereby oppressing, rather than liberating, Black women. Both are written for a general audience. In the journal Hypatia, Mariana Ortega’s 2006 article “Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color” offers a more in-depth analysis of potential issues that arise in the relationship between white feminists and women of colour; Ortega recommends the concept of “world”-travelling as a solution, inviting white feminists to experience differences affecting the lives of women of colour, rather than merely acknowledging that differences exist. Sirma Bilge’s 2014 article, “Intersectionality Undone: Saving Intersectionality from Feminist Intersectionality Studies”, highlights appropriation and misuse of the concept of intersectionality in feminist academic circles.
Much of what is written on this topic draws necessarily upon personal and culturally-specific experiences. In Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism (2018), Marquis Bey brings together personal experiences of social justice work in the United States (especially Philadelphia and New York) and the exploration of queerness, Black studies and Black feminism. The history and practice of Black feminism and Afrofeminism in Europe is the topic of attention in Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande’s edited collection To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe (2019), a portion of which is available open access courtesy of the publisher Pluto Books. There they explain their goal to ““correct the record” and “talk back against both American domination and European silence about Black feminism”. For a dense but enlightening account of British Black Power and its similarities and differences with the US Black Power movement, we also recommend John Narayan’s article British Black Power: The anti-imperialism of political blackness and the problem of nativist socialism (Sociological Review, 2019).
Look out for the next post in this series tomorrow, which will focus specifically on the role of Trade Unions in perpetuating and combatting racism.