“The way to end racism is to stop talking about it.”
“You’re just over thinking things.”
“Why do you always have to bring race into this?”
In discussions about race at Oxford, the assumption is always present that black and minority ethnic (BME) students or People of Colour (PoC) are somehow seeking racism in every facet of their daily lives; that we feel vindicated when we can whirl around and point the finger at racism as the cause of our problems. This is false. There is no reason for us to want to experience something that can crush us at both an institutional and a personal level.
We want the eradication of racism more than anyone. After all, 59% of the BME respondents didn’t expect racism to affect their Oxford experience, matriculating with a light heart and clear ideals. I was one of them.
As a light-skinned Woman of Colour who grew up in a predominately white area, where cultural divisions were not visible and colour-blindness is the order of the day, I never thought of myself as someone ‘of colour’. I measured myself academically against my white peers and blithely believed I had never experienced any ‘real racism’, making it all the more a shock when my experiences at Oxford opened my eyes.
Colour-blindness is an appealing concept, but when the majority of BME students have felt uncomfortable here due to their race – and I congratulate those who have either never experienced a problem or simply taken a rather struthious attitude to it all – it clearly hasn’t succeeded in its aims. It is time to eradicate the problem instead of ignoring it.
The overwhelming lack of representation among academics and courses is the logical place to start. Britain’s appalling response to Lenny Henry’s campaigns for diversity demonstrates that racism is not just physical attacks or slurs, but also sneering rejections of legitimate pleas for visible role models.
It isn’t about ticking boxes or filling quotas: I have suffered from depression as a result of feeling invisible – unimportant – while studying a course stuffed with white authors. When all your tutors are white too, in whom do you confide? It isn’t a problem that can be solved by a cheerful nod to the International Fair; its roots lie deep in the nature of Western academia and the myth of a meritocracy that conveniently rewards more white men than anyone else.
The necessary first step is being listened to, and we ask this of you because it still doesn’t happen. This report is a significant breakthrough, but will achieve nothing if everyone continues to pretend there isn’t a problem; that these findings aren’t worth taking seriously.
Being laughed off when we question a racist bop theme, listening to yet another well-meaning white person protest that they have ‘non-white friends’, consistently failing to see ourselves celebrated in portraits, on college alumni lists, in academia: these are real problems.
They are not the product of hypersensitivity, or the starting point for a ‘theoretical debate’: these are our lives, and we ask that you treat them as such.