Black Histories: Looking Forward  

A collaborative blog post by the School of Education.

The final week of Black History month offers an opportunity to reflect on how ongoing work in the School of Education strives to promote racial justiceThe School recognizes the importance of a sustained commitment to racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement beyond the month of October. This post reflects upon important work that contributes to racial justice and the ways in which we can continue to support this commitment. 

Our involvement with history education provides a direct way to engage with and develop the ways young people learn about Black History. As part of the Bristol History Teachers Collective, David Rawlings, Senior Lecturer on the PGCE in History Education, is contributing to a new textbook entitled Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery: Origins, Impact and Legacy. Led by Richard Kennett and working in cooperation with local museums, the book aims to present a fuller history by focusing different narratives that weave through the history of Transatlantic Slavery. For example, the book will “zoom out” to discuss the development of racist ideas used to justify this trade and “zoom in” to tell specific stories such as the life of Pero Jones and the history of the Akan Kingdom before slavery. The project also hopes to tell a different story of the enslaved people, as the 13 million Africans who were enslaved are often sidelined or portrayed as passive victims in history books. Instead, this book will tell their story first and show Africans as active agents who resisted slavery. 

David and Dr Kate Hawkey from the School’s History PGCE Programme have also been working with Bristol history teachers and the CARGO Classroom Project to plan a series of history lessons covering the lives of fifteen African individuals from history. These are lessons that aim to inform young people about diasporic African stories from the perspective of the individuals being studied and free from a colonial lens. The School of Education will host a seminar on the project on 11 November. 

Ongoing research also looks at how Black students in Bristol experience race and racism in education. Iftiin, an engaged research project funded by the University’s Temple Quarter Engagement Fund, looks at the educational experiences and aspirations of Somali youth in Bristol, showing a substantial impact of racism on educational aspirations. Led by Ugbaad Aidid and supported by Robin Shields, the project has involved Somali youth in participatory data collection, which shows how their aspirations are often limited by negative assumptions about their abilities. The project is making an impact on local schools, with several presentations delivered to staff at local secondary schools, and a webinar for the Festival of Social Science is scheduled for November 10. 

Work undertaken in the Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education (CIRE) has taken a leading role in starting conversations on race and racism in international development education. In an article published in 2019Profs Arathi Sriprakash and Leon Tikly collaborated with Sharon Walker at the University of Cambridge to look at how discussions of race are often omitted from policies and agendas produced in international development organizations. The authors urge other researchers to look beyond “colour-blind and technoscientific approaches” espoused by these organizations and to consider how histories of colonial oppression and historical struggles against racism shape contemporary educational contexts in developing countries. 

Arathi also recently co-authored a background paper for UNESCO’s Future of Education initiative. In making an argument for “reparative futures,” the paper highlights the importance of meaningful engagement with Black histories, as it contends that education should 

embed the practice of asking ongoing and difficult questions with the past: cultivating spaces to remember, create, explore and discuss injustices; fostering an ethics of listening and dialogue capable of generating new perspectives; seeking to understand the histories, voices, and experiences that have been silenced or erased through assimilative forms of education; and grappling with the irresolvable difficulties of redemptive thought (p. 3) 

Arathi is also a co-organizer of the Race Education and Empire Collective, which aims to support critical discussions of race, racialisation and racism in education through critical discussion and exchange. The Collective runs a termly reading group and other events that all are welcome to join. 

Within our degree programmes, historical themes related to Black history hold a prominent role. For example, students in our undergraduate unit “Education Viewed from the Global South, developed by Angeline Barrett and Rafael Mitchell, study influential thinkers and ideas on education from the Global South, which leads to a strong focus on the violent history of colonialism, education’s role therein, and the importance of decolonising the curriculum. Students engage with important ideas from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Gustavo Esteva, Rabindranath Tagore and others. A new undergraduate unit – “Education, Climate Change and Social Justice” – focuses on education’s role with respect to two major global issues: climate change and the Black Lives Matter movement. The unit links racial oppression to the suppression of indigenous knowledge and ways of living. It looks forward  by exploring how education can make a positive contribution to both racial justice and climate justice.  

Research and practice related to racial justice in education also serves as a poignant reminder that there remains a need to better promote racial equality in the School and particularly to ensure our staffing and recruitment reflect our values. Through the University’s Black Heritage Scholarship initiative, the School of Education will be able to offer four PGCE scholarships to increase participation in teaching from the Black and mixed-Black heritage community, which will further increase diversity in the teaching profession. Additionally, the School is currently recruiting a Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor in Education and Social Justice, particularly focusing on scholars with expertise relating to racial justice and education. This important role will help to shape the School’s future teaching and research capacity in these important areas. 

Additionally, in July 2020 the School of Education’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee hosted an event to reflect on Black Lives Matter and the School’s responsibilities to anti-racism and racial justice. This event identified challenges and made suggestions for improvements within the School (view event summaries here). The School’s Senior Management Team asked the EDI Committee to develop an action plan based on the July event and this on the agenda for the Committee’s next meeting in early November. If you would like to add thoughts or suggestions for the Committee to consider, please use this form – comments are very welcome from all members of the SoE community. 

This ongoing work should provide lots of opportunities to consider the importance of Black History and motivation to promote racial justice throughout the year.