The Sheer Weight of Whiteness in the Academy: A UK Case Study

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapter

Abstract

The Macpherson report in 1999 claimed that public organisations, including universities, were characterised by institutional racism. This chapter examines the response of the academy and one specific university in the UK over a five year period to this charge. Three specific questions are addressed: • What factors have prompted the higher education sector and in particular Midshire University to address race equality? • How positively has the sector as a whole and the case study university specifically responded to these pressures? • In the light of the above, how analytically useful is the concept of institutional racism in comprehending the actions of the sector and the university? The main factors prompting universities to address race equality have been external to the sector. The Commission for Racial Equality encouraged universities to take race equality seriously through issuing a Leadership Challenge; the government cajoled universities to address race equality through two strategies for higher education, notably those concerned with widening participation and human resources; and the state required universities to develop race equality policies and action plans following new race relations legislation. The Leadership Challenge and government strategies for higher education did initiate some changes but had little impact either on the sector’s or the case study university’s approach to race equality. By contrast, the legislation did have an impact, with many universities developing for the first time specific race equality policies and action plans. At Midshire University, the legislation initially had little impact, with the race equality policy and action plan declared non-compliant with the legislation. This ignominious failure did, however, provide an opportunity for race equality champions within the university to initiate changes in 2003, which subsequently enabled progress to be made in promoting race equality. Resistance, however, to an agenda concerned with race equality has grown within the university, as external pressures to promote equality and celebrate diversity have subsided and other agendas concerned with community cohesion have taken primacy. Institutional racism is used as a sensitising concept in the chapter. While I was initially sceptical of its analytical utility since it seemed to gloss over important conceptual distinctions, the concept ultimately proved revealing in accounting for significant continuities in the approach of universities, including Midshire, to race equality. Throughout the period under discussion there was a reluctance to identify race equality as a priority and to take corresponding action because of what has been called ‘the sheer weight of whiteness’ (Back, 2004: 1). A comparison of Midshire University with Midshire Police reinforced this perception. While it identified contrasts in the occupational cultures of the two organisations, at the same time it pointed to surprising parallels in their approaches to race equality which stemmed from a taken for granted white norm.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvancing Race and Ethnicity in Education
EditorsRichard Race, Vini Lander
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave
Chapter12
Pages193-209
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-27476-2
ISBN (Print)978-1-137-27475-5, 978-1-349-44586-8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014

Keywords

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Education
  • Academia
  • Whiteness

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