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Decolonising the University, or Reviving Racialism?

30 Mar

This post – a very long one by TCM standards – is a critical assessment of calls to “decolonise” universities, through close analysis of the SOAS student union’s (SSU) report, Degrees of Racism: A Qualitative Investigation into Ethnicity Attainment Gaps at SOAS. The report, issued in September 2016, caused a furor in January 2017, with headlines reporting that it accused white lecturers of racism and being unable to teach black and minority-ethnic (BME) students. The report is broadly representative of the growing demand to “decolonise” higher education, most visible in the “Rhodes must fall” campaign. Indeed, it drew attention some months after its release precisely because SOAS student union had just issued a statement demanding the “decolonization” of SOAS’s curriculum, which many newspapers reported as a call to cease studying white philosophers.

Most media reports were extremely hostile to the students’ demands. Close analysis of Degrees of Racism shows this is partly justified: the demands are often incoherent and inadvertently racialist. However, our ire is best targeted not at students but the ideology guiding them: a confused mishmash of identity politics, relativistic postcolonial theory and consumerism. It is this ideological approach that leads them to tie themselves up in knots as they struggle to identify what is alienating and dissatisfying about their university experience. Continue reading

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