Racism and anti-racism in unions and educational institutions: a mini-series for the 2021 UCU Week of Action Against Work-Place Racism

Today (22nd February) we mark the beginning of UCU’s Annual week of Action Against Work-Place Racism with the start of a short blog series on racism and anti-racism in contexts relevant to our Union. SUCU members Enja Helmes, Caroline Metz, and other members of the Sheffield UCU Anti-Racism Working Group have written a series of posts highlighting key issues and resources in relation to race and racism as it affects social movements, trade unions and education.

Monday: Introduction

It is easy to fill a reading list, but we then face the important question: how to turn learning into action? Action cannot wait until we are experts. We write as white-identifying members of UCU and with the acknowledgement that if we are to be active anti-racists and effective allies for colleagues, co-unionists, students and citizens racialised as BAME, then we need to get better at moving from words to deeds. That might apply to you too, so this first blog post comes with an invitation:

On Friday (26th February), we’ll be sharing actions that our members have been involved with, and pledges of action members intend to take. As well as collecting together formal actions taken by Sheffield UCU, we will be crowd-sourcing examples. So if there is something you are already doing that others might be interested in, or you have suggestions about what Sheffield UCU can do as we seek to translate knowledge into action, please let us know. Share your responses via this Google Form.

We will be capturing email addresses of those who share answers in case we have follow-up questions (e.g., if something you write is unclear); responses will be published anonymously unless you request otherwise. We welcome responses from non-UCU members too, though the form is only accessible to members of the University.


Following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police, the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum, including in Sheffield where a new BLM group was created.

The BLM movement is part of the wider racial justice movement, and in past months we have seen many ‘anti-racist reading lists’ published in various media outlets and on social media platforms. Most highlight non-fiction books about racism (including anti-Black racism), colonialism and white supremacy, their origins and how they have operated to this day. (This one, compiled by Foluke Ifejola Adebisi from the University of Bristol, is very comprehensive.)

Others suggest novels, graphic novels and poetry on racism and resistance to racism. Some university departments have focused on their own areas of research (see for example this anti-racist legal pedagogy resource), and Sheffield University library itself has shared a list of anti-racism resources.

As university workers and as members of a union, we need to be critical about our own institutions and practices. In this blog series we will be introducing resources—some accessible freely online, others available via the University library—that show how social movements and social change organisations such as schools, universities and unions are often complicit in perpetuating racial inequalities.

Speaking and writing as white people, it’s important to note that although we experience racism as a hierarchical and discriminatory system in that we benefit from white privilege (even when we might not be aware of it), we do not directly experience racism as a system of oppression. As such, we will be foregrounding the work of people who are much more qualified to speak about racism, and sharing resources that helped our understanding of racism. In doing so, we hope to provide a launch pad—and not by any means a definitive list—for others who want to learn, or learn more. The concluding post will include a reference list with further readings.

Some books, such as Taking up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi, share individuals’ experiences of what it means to enter academia as black womxn. See also the edited collection, The Fire Now: Anti-Racist Scholarship in Times of Explicit Racial Violence, which features chapters from Dr Azeezat Johnson, “An Academic Witness: White Supremacy within and beyond Academia” and Dr Muna Abdi, “I am not a Writer”–both of whom completed their PhDs at Sheffield in 2017.

In upcoming posts we will focus on the plethora of reports, articles and books that examine the various ways in which Black people, as well as other racialised communities, face disadvantages and discrimination in Higher Education and within social movements.

A note on language:
The vocabulary used to talk about race and racism is itself at issue. This blog series is written from the standpoint of white-identifying female academics who seek to be anti-racist. We have aimed to reflect the chosen terminology of the writers discussed and are aware that each terminology has its limitations and critics (Black vs. people of colour, vs. non-white, vs. BAME, etc.). We note that whereas the acronym “BAME” has been widely adopted by HE institutions and is commonly used for statistical purposes, it serves to obscure difference and is not ordinarily a component of the identities of those to whom it seeks to refer. In that respect, we use the more accurate “racialized as BAME”.

Tomorrow’s post: Racism and anti-racism in Social movements