Accessibility navigation

Black Lives Matter: this is about all of us

colour portrait photograph of Deputy Vice Chancellor Parveen Yaqoob

Last week, the Vice-Chancellor condemned the racist violence that led to the death of George Floyd, and many others before him, and expressed his solidarity for those for whom racism is a daily and lifelong obstacle. The Black Asian and Minority Ethnic network followed with an emotional statement, urging us to take a stand against racism.

As a second generation British-Pakistani growing up in South London in the ‘70s and ‘80s, being at the receiving end of racist abuse was not at all unusual. My dad ran a grocery shop with a halal meat counter at the back for ten years before deciding that he was British enough to buy the fish and chip shop across the road and swapped the samosas for battered cod and scampi. Three days after opening, someone walked in and said, “We don’t want Pakis running our fish and chip shop.” A local campaign began; mainly graffiti, but sometimes broken windows. Dad had to sell the fish and chip shop after 3 months.

I talk about this frankly- and I hope you’ll forgive the informal style- but I find that people sometimes shift uncomfortably when I do so. Conversations about race and racism are not meant to be comfortable. If we can’t have those difficult conversations, we’ll never move forward.

If racism has played a part in your lived experience for as long as you can remember, it’s easy to imagine how it might affect the way you interact with people, the extent to which you trust people, what you do and where you go, and how likely you are to want to make yourself visible. When we think about the barriers that exist for underrepresented groups to take on visible roles, we don’t really think or talk about any of this.

You might think that this is all in the past and that things must surely be much better now, despite recent events. They are in many ways, but deep-rooted, structural racism is still here and it’s pervasive. When I first came to work at this University, I was invited to have lunch with two very senior figures. One of them described how on the previous evening he had looked out at a sea of faces in a lecture theatre and remarked that “not a single one of them was British.” I didn’t say anything at the time, but of course I wanted to ask him what exactly he thought a British face looked like.

In his article last week, the Vice-Chancellor asked me to work with Allan Laville, the Dean for Diversity & Inclusion, to undertake a review to understand racial inequalities within the University and to recommend actions to address them. Our first step towards this will involve active listening. We want to understand your experiences and get your views on the scope and nature of the review. We want to reach as many of you as possible, beginning with networks and action groups this month and then opening out wider to the whole community, colleagues and students, in July, before delivering the review in late autumn.

Some of you have already generously offered your help. If you haven’t, we’ll need you too. This is about all of us.

Prof Parveen Yaqoob

Deputy Vice Chancellor

Page navigation

Search Form

Main navigation