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New UEB champion on race

Paul Inman

A message from Paul Inman, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) and the new University Executive Board Diversity Champion (Race)

I have recently accepted the Vice-Chancellor’s request to serve as the senior member of staff on the University Executive Board (UEB) who will champion race across our University.

At the outset I should make it clear that I have worked as a leader in higher education for over 25 years and striven to ensure that staff and student populations are as mixed and diverse as possible. My battle (and occasional rage) has often been waged against class and gender inequalities. It hasn’t been concerned with the colour of my skin or my racial heritage.

I am white and accept that I hold a position of relative power, authority, and privilege within the University. I have always spoken out about injustice and enabled change to happen. I value mutuality above charity and have always encouraged a celebration of activism. But I am not an expert on Race.

At heart I am a filmmaker, who had a career telling personal stories in as uncluttered way as possible. Politically, I have been committed to removing the mediating filters imposed by others. I have always wanted to enable unfamiliar voices to be heard in a way that valued the subject’s lived experience. Unsurprisingly, I have spent a lot of time with the so-called disenfranchised.

I was born in Handsworth, Birmingham, and grew up there. My early formative years were multicultural. It probably explains why I have sought out cultural otherness throughout my adult life. I am at home in unfamiliar places.

I have had to change my views on many issues during my lifetime. As the multicultural dream of the world being ‘one big melting pot’ faded and was replaced by sharper single-issue concerns and difference, I have grown to realise where my voice was welcomed or needed, and when it was better to remove myself from proceedings.

Being candid and honest, I am troubled by terms like ‘race champion’. I am only too aware that there are strong Black, female voices out there at the moment who are done with advising or instructing white people how to live their lives in an anti-racist way. Many of my Black friends want to focus their energies on Black Atlantic culture, and move beyond the concerns of the nation-state.

So, what can we do? Certainly, it’s not enough to say: ‘I am not racist’. Being an active anti-racist is about calling out words and actions that are plain wrong. We need to do things differently. The global pandemic and the sad events of last year has offered us up a moment in time to re-evaluate. Like so many others, I don’t want to see a return to ‘business as usual’ (a seemingly innocuous term hiding something terrible). As SOAS academic and activist, Emma Dabiri, has said, ‘We need to expose and end institutional racism without deeper slippage into beliefs about racial identity as biological essence.’

Our University has already publicly admitted that we have much work to do. The recent Race Equality Review enabled us to listen to the life and work experiences of our colleagues and students from Black, Asian and other minoritised ethnicities (BAME) and draw a line in the sand. The many recommendations of that published report need to be faced up to and acted upon. However, we need to achieve more than that. We should aim to create a space where the white members of our community use their voices and privileges to make a positive difference, and the BAME colleagues feel their voices are heard and their contributions and concerns acknowledged.

No-one is pretending that some of the ‘stuff’ we will be dealing with is easy. Deep-rooted practices, viewpoints and structures can be tough to shift. But the resilience we have all shown during the pandemic now needs to be reflected in making our institution more diverse and inclusive. Each small step you take will help in making this change real, and I promise to do my bit as part of the University Executive Board.

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