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Dictionary slammed for lack of BAME entrants

LACK OF DIVERSITY: The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

THE OXFORD DICTIONARY of National Biography (ODNB) has come under fire after featuring only five people from a black or minority ethnic (BAME) background out of 241 new entrants.

The ODNB now has 350 biographies of black people out of a total of more than 60,000, which means BAME representation is less than 0.6 per cent.

Equality campaigners have said that editors should do more to highlight Britain’s historical diversity. Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, said: “The level of diversity on this list is appalling. “It’s a tragedy for the black community, but also for society as a whole, because what this represents is an extremely narrow view of great talent.

“If only Oxford could take off their blinkers, they would find a deluge of black talent that has vastly contributed to making this society great.” His comments were echoed by Lord Ouseley, former director of the Commission for Racial Equality, who said: “I’m not surprised – for too long, black lives have been airbrushed out of history.

“But this has been known about for years, so the onus is on Oxford to do the research and reflect Britain’s diverse history and the valuable contribution black people have made.” However, Alex May, research editor at the ODNB, suggested that the editors could not rewrite history.

May said: “The vast majority of the new subjects – 174, or 74 per cent – were born between the two world wars – mostly in the 1920s – and were primarily active between the 1940s and 1980s. “In effect, they provide a snapshot of Britain in the decades following the Second World War, when women and people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds continued to suffer discrimination of various forms and were not as prominent in public life as is the case now.”


He added that the ODNB would become more diverse in future. “We would expect the representation both of women and of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds to expand considerably over time,” he said.

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