Casual racism is endemic in Oxford

The lazy, demeaning discourse of male Oxford students who fetishise mixed-race women is unacceptable, writes Millie Chu. We must start treating it as such.

We set up Oxford’s first Mixed Heritage society this term for a wide range of reasons. Central to this was a desire to create a welcoming and inclusive space for people that may not feel that they fully ‘belong’ to other societies at Oxford. In a world in which being mixed heritage is becoming increasingly common, the ethos of the society is founded on optimism for the future. It provides those with mixed heritages a platform within Oxford’s racial discourse. Both these things are gaining considerable traction.

As someone who identifies as mixed heritage, growing up attempting to navigate places defined by white privilege came with its moments of uncertainty, self-questioning, and what I have come to call ‘casual racism’; instances of almost unconscious micro- aggression, largely from men, that resulted in my discomfort and a sense of displacement within my surroundings.

I came to Oxford in the confident knowledge that it would be a space of uninhibited tolerance in which I could celebrate my kaleidoscopic heritage with others. What baffles me is that certain white, entitled men feel the need to constantly assert what they believe to be their dominance in places like Oxford; places that should be a site for increased awareness and understanding of the multi-faceted nature of our peers and their backgrounds. What saddens me is that this is not a singular occurrence.

Upon speaking to other women of mixed heritages, these instances of seemingly ‘casual’ racism are a daily occurrence. There is an undeniable communal feeling of being exoticised by men who use language in order to demean, demonise, and fetishise mixed-race women. Being a young mixed-race or mixed-heritage individual requires finding an equilibrium between open-mindedness and vulnerability in disclosure of your identity, and maintaining a guard against potential prejudice. This balancing act is exhausting, and yet maddeningly inevitable. Of course, I fully acknowledge my privilege as being a mixed-heritage woman who can easily pass as white, but the fact that I endure this incessant micro-aggression and am made to feel uncomfortable about being mixed-heritage is telling of the environment we are fostering here at Oxford.

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In the wake of the publication of Oxford’s admissions statistics, it seems more important than ever to confront these issues surrounding marginalisation head-on, with increased frankness and transparency. In her forward to the report, vice chancellor Louise Richardson maintains that “in these debates emotion often trumps evidence, the facts are often overlooked.”

However, it is impossible to neglect the importance of emotion within this discourse. As a female, mixed-heritage student who has been subject to instances of racial quips and more serious insults, I have the right to anger and disdain at how our university approaches, or indeed doesn’t approach, these cases of “casual racism” that are still so prevalent.

How can we encourage students from a range of backgrounds to apply when the news is fraught with instances of misogyny, classism, and racism in our Universities?

A glimmer of hope this week came from the statement made by the JCR Presidents’ Committee, which concluded that “There is a place for you here”. This message of optimism was a powerful one, and illustrated how the majority of the University’s student body share a vision of unity and equality.

However, while diversity and access are at the forefront of many University-wide initiatives and societies, it is clearly not enough and there is undeniably more to be done and over- come, as the Committee’s statement states. This is part of a much larger issue that we face as Oxford students who aim to see increased diversity within our colleges which, sadly, for the time being is still a dream.

We have a long way to go with regards to the university’s accessibility for those under- represented here; a sure way to catalyse it how- ever is to tackle the problem closer to home, and confront the pervading marginalization that current students encounter every day. It is of paramount importance that we continue to strive for awareness and open-mindedness, but simultaneously also to call these people out when necessary.

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The time for upholding and perpetuating this outdated mentality is over.

5 COMMENTS

  1. This article should be preserved for future generations as a perfect example of our times. It oozes professional victimhood, cliched stereotypes and tropes.
    How about an article none of us have read before? You are at a great institution which will afford you the luxuries and a course of life few people ever experience.

    • Perhaps, we could preserve your comment for future generations as a perfect example of our times – as though such an example exists anywhere. It speaks of the vogue for anonymous, online detraction by amateur commentators with precious little insight.

      How can victimhood be professional when one cannot profit from it? Not uncommonly, when minority groups speak on the glass ceilings they encounter on society, they are faced with negative feedback – such as your comment – rather than support.

      Human behaviour has a tendency to repeat itself on the individual and collective level. Looking at how the past informs the present is a useful way of considering what kind of future would be desirable, how that can be actualised and then sustained. If you have read similar articles, you either haven’t got the message or you just don’t agree with it; if so, don’t read them rather than attacking their authors. The choice here is relatively simple: you either want a future where our top universities are more accessible to and comfortable for a broader range of people, or you don’t.

      They haven’t rubbished the institution; they just think that the university could do more to improve in specific overlapping areas. They are talking about their experiences as a mixed-race woman but their point could just as easily be made by a white, working class man from the North East of England – also a minority group at universities like Oxford – or a trans person, or a person who isn’t heterosexual, or a person whose physical or mental health circumstances impede their ability to access the education on offer. It’s a specific point which requires specific attention, but working against casual racism and misogyny intersects with working against other prejudices as well.

      You aren’t privy to the lifestyle of the writer and you don’t know the kind of future they are likely to have. Going to Oxford is a wonderful opportunity and that shows in how few people that are offered that opportunity turn it down. The point is to make the opportunity equal for everyone, not just the opportunity to attend, but also the experience of attending. No educational institution, no matter how good, can guarantee luxury or, more importantly, happiness. Almost all things in life are double-edged. We shouldn’t assume there aren’t stresses that come with the opportunity to attend top tier universities – stresses that will affect different people from different groups differently. No institution is perfect and no institution should be opposed to considering reform.

  2. In my opinion, articles such as this present a false and damaging view of Oxford, but what do I know.

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