Kalwant Bhopal is a visiting professor at Harvard University in the Graduate School of Education and deputy director of the Center for Research in Race & Education at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Next Spring she will be publishing her book “White Privilege – the myth of a post-racial society.” Her first US interview was with Steve Rackett for RI Future.
How do feel about the treatment of black & ethnic minorities since the Brexit referendum in the UK?
Within a week of the result there was an increase in the number of reported racist crimes in the UK and there has been a change in the ways in which racism manifests itself. In the past it tended to be – although not always – subtle & covert. Brexit has legitimized racism. It has enabled people to say ‘go back home this isn’t your country, you are not welcome here.’ The impact of Brexit is that it has increased levels of xenophobia. Brexit was successful because the public were not told the truth – for example, we were told immigration would disappear, we were told the NHS would get $350m a week. A slogan that was used was “we want our country back” which was similar to the sentiments of Donald Trump’s “Lets make America great again” so it was appealing to a mindset of the public that were unhappy with immigration which resulted in a manifestation of overt racism. After Brexit racism against non-white communities increased but also against East Europeans. Consequently many of these communities do not want to stay in the UK. The racism has become a justification of xenophobia against the ‘other.’
Has the internet enabled further racism?
I am not sure the internet has contributed to it. It is a vehicle that individuals can use to spread a message. It is a catalyst and enabler. It enables individuals to spread their message quickly and widely. For instance in the UK we have had anti-immigration marches organized by far-right groups in town centers which have been advertised on the internet. One of the differences between the USA and the UK is that in America the right of free speech is enshrined and you can say anything, whereas in Britain the caveat includes the barring of the incitement to racial hatred. I am not sure where I stand here. On the one hand I feel that if individuals have very extremist views they should not be given a platform, what ever those extremist views are. On the other hand perhaps we should give them a platform to question, challenge and refute them, to make them produce evidence for their often, false claims.
How do you see the United States is changing as a result of Donald Trump being President?
At the university (Harvard) in the School of Education, it is inclusive, liberal and these issues are discussed openly. So I feel comfortable being able to discuss exclusion, race and marginalization, but from a general perspective what has happened under Trump is similar to what has happened in the UK under Brexit. Some of the statements Trump before he was elected – for example, saying all Mexicans were rapists – these kinds of remarks were very inflammatory. This kind of narrative and rhetoric has enabled people to feel confident to say things they didn’t think they could say before. So racism has become legitimized.
What differences do you see between the UK and the USA in terms of access to a higher education at the top level?
In terms of elite universities, the USA is more advanced in terms of educational inclusion. Oxford & Cambridge & elite universities in the UK are predominantly white. If you are from a black or ethnic minority background you are less likely to go to one of those universities and less likely to leave university with a first class degree. The US tends to be more mixed in terms of diversity and socio-economic background. The US has made some significant changes but the UK lags a long way behind. In the UK we have 154 higher education institutions and only 3 are run by non-white vice-chancellors.
How about other levels of staffing in the UK? You are a professor from an Asian background. How common is that – and why?
There are very low numbers of professors from black & ethnic minority backgrounds in the United Kingdom. Professors tend to be white and male. There are 75 black professors of which only 17 are women. The majority of professors(92%)are white. This is because of Institutional racism & white privilege. Higher education is a white space reserved for white middle class men & women. white women have benefited from many advances in equality & policy making in higher education in ways that Black women have not.
What barriers did you find personally?
I have experienced covert and overt racism. There are stereotypes of what is expected of an Asian woman – an Asian woman should be considered quiet, weak, humble and I am not like that at all. I don’t hold back from expressing my opinions. But, I always felt I had to be twice as good as everyone else. If my colleagues had written 3 books I had to write more. So when I did get my professorship I made sure there was nothing missing in my CV. Racism is covert, subtle & nuanced but it is also overt and it manifests itself in many different forms. For example, in meetings… people have said “you don’t look like a professor,” and you are not given eye-contact or asked for your opinion, these are processes of exclusion which communicate that you don’t belong in this white space.
What do you hope to bring to the United States in terms of your visiting scholarship?
I am really interested in engaging with students and learning about their experiences in the US and comparing them to the situation in the UK. I am excited about this opportunity, but one of the things I am keen to look at is policy making around affirmative action, equity and social justice.