No UCU, people can’t just identify as black

Blackness is not something that can be switched on or off. It's a biological trait passed down from parent to child. It’s ancestral, deep-rooted and not something you can just assume

PICTURED: Anthony Lennon and Rachel Dolezal

IMAGINE IF all black people could identify as white – just imagine it for a second.

While I personally love the skin I’m in and wouldn’t want to be anything other than black, white privilege certainly does have its perks.

I would not be judged for the various hairstyles I wear on a month-to-month basis, or the onslaught of negative connotations associated with my skin colour. I wouldn’t have to work twice as hard to get into some positions where I can then be isolated for being the only black figure in a white space. Also not having to deal with that pesky ethnicity gap would be nice…

But no, I wouldn’t change a thing about my rich melanated skin, beautiful culture, ability to dance on beat at any given moment and all the other wonderful attributes of being black. But the key thing is, I couldn’t change that even if I tried – yet somehow, we should allow white people to identify as black just for the sake of it.

The Universities and Colleges Union recently released a statement claiming that anyone should be allowed to identify as black regardless of their skin colour or background – yes you read that correctly.

The body, led by Jo Grady, a lecturer at Sheffield University Management School, said in their statement that they agree with self identification of gender, but also race and even more absurdly, disability.

The union said: “Our rules commit us to ending all forms of discrimination, bigotry and stereotyping. UCU has a long history of enabling members to self-identify whether that is being black, disabled, LGBT+ or women.”

They added: “UCU also supports a social, rather than medical, model of gender recognition that will help challenge repressive gender stereotypes in the workplace and in society.”

The union represents over 120,000 academics – some who’ve expressed disdain at the statement – and their views indicate an abuse of self identification.

Blackness is not something that can be switched on or off. It’s a biological trait passed down from parent to child. It’s ancestral, deep-rooted and not something you can just assume because one may decide to put on Fenty Beauty #380 Pro-Filter Foundation, wear box braids and put #blackexcellence in their Twitter bio.

And if people can decide to identify as black does that also include the reality of the black experience? Will they experience microagressions, racism or racial profiling? Probably not.

In addition, this disingenuous move from the union only further highlights their transphobia. Likening those who decide to identify as black to those who identify as transgender is not on the same level and it’s pretty despicable to the transgender community to suggest it is.

DISPARITY

The fact that this form of self identification has been legitimised by The Universities and Colleges Union is concerning and likely speaks to the lack of diversity within academia as a whole.

There’s a significant lack of black academics in the UK, specifically black female academics. In 2019, a report entitled Staying Power was released and detailed the experiences of female black professors in UK universities.

The research, funded by UCU, documented the experiences of 20 of the UK’s 25 black female professors and and found they made up just 0.1% of all professors, compared to white men who represent two-thirds (68%) of professors.

Another report from Advance HE found only 6.5 percent of professors were from BME backgrounds and only two per cent were BME women.

Statements like this further highlights the need for diversity within these sectors to call out areas of concern – much like this one.

In an attempt to be inclusive, the union have done the complete opposite, trivialising the experiences of those who are black, disabled or even more of a plot twist: both black AND disabled.

With many taking to social media to share their thoughts on the statement, I hope the union and others will take note. Blackness is not a commodity or something you can take on and off at your will – and “enabling members” to self-identify as black sets a concerning precedent that should not be advocated by the UCU.

Comments Form

4 Comments

  1. | Paula Sharratt

    This is a great article and I agree entirely.

    The thing about whiteness though is that it doesn’t exist in reality (we are all racially intertwined and all our parents and grandparents reproduced with people that were not ‘like themselves’ but as a world we’ve never had an honest, objective audit of ‘who’ humanity really is): we get the picture that the people in power present.

    Think of Henrietta Lacks and how “medical” got its good and bad reputation.

    Until the categories used are ‘freed’ by people rather than by powerful monoculturally controlled institutions with their predominantly monocultural departments then really this means little to people who continue to experience injustice and too much gatekeeping?

    These institutions are command economy hierarchies set up after the second world war to reconstruct, manage and plan reconstruction in Britain in a military way. The problem is as we’ve become more market driven, the gig and gang labour rentier economy has seen the end of a developing franchise (seven million people are too distracted by survival in agency work, rented accommodation that might disappear like their job tomorrow) so the development of a supposed ‘modern’ Britain is nothing of the sort: Tech and AI perpetuates the monoculture in all the key institutions.

    We need a New Deal beyond this monoculturally military, temporary end of empire kind of warehousing that licences and passports people through too many gatekeepers if are different.

    We need to show that difference and diversity is our unwritten and unrepresented history: not the Experian Mosaic that was originally financed out of selling mass produced, in the main, poor quality furniture to working class people on credit after the second world war, nor the mass planned and surveilled council houses which often weren’t accessible to the diaspora that were planned to lead the working class into consuming lots of cheap, low quality products rather than the quality that was supposed to be too good for them.

    (The Old Colonial Furniture Company, sold mass produced furniture of low quality on hire purchase (now called credit) in Nottingham. The company which became Cavendish Woodhouse having ‘borrowed the name, provenance from another long established company), then became Great Universal Stores catalogue empire through these sleight of hand techniques managed by the ex military. People trusted the military but in this respect, they probably shouldn’t have because they were just being led into temptation that would suddenly be called ‘working class culture”: gambling, drink and drugs and even the story of the working class was written for them by a film propagandist, Alan Sillitoe. Notice how the hero of Saturday Sunday morning is a caricature: he drinks, he womanises, he gambles he gets carried away but you never see his aspirations, the people, places he will have encountered during the war, the expectations he may have had. Look at the people in Saturday Night Sunday Morning, not one black character, no sense of what the working class and the diaspora were mutually experiencing before, during and after the war, nothing about their desire for beautiful things, for hope, for equality, for a really good life.

    The profit accumulated from selling expensive furniture on HP was used to implement american techniques of data gathering to create a new credit referencing system in the 1980’s that the people who’d financed it were often excluded from, a company was created: CCN Systems which then evolved into Experian, a company that was described in a House of Commons select committee as holding the crown jewels of british data: Experian is now used in every walk of life but you must think how segmented and socially divided we all are: Experian’s ‘predictive Mosaic’ was recently utilised by the police to map potential offenders: guess who the suspects were?

    It’s also used in health. We need to understand how the problems that we’re told are insoluble were constructed and create a new deal based on a new kind of Mosaic that properly represents everyone in this country and to see their links locally, regionally, internationally and back again.

    We need to invest in our country, our people, to grow ideas, talent and people on the basis of giving them back their identity, giving them credit, they are complete stars. Small is beautiful and there’s a whole world in a grain of sand.

    Reply

  2. | Sheba baines

    These people really treat us like a absolute mockery. And still we remain in Britain feeding their economy while we are completely belittled. Are they really suggesting you can self identify yourself and call yourself by a different race when you look nothing like or you have no genetic or historicrl ties to black people. A people who had suffer colonisation and empanication Racism for 1,ooo of years. They are truly are unbelievable. They want to steal and take away anything that belongs to us even our experience of evil oppression.. What u don’t understand and never will there plan all long is too bred us out and claim our name and shame who we are as people.. Wake up and promote getting your people together and leaving babylon and stop discussing and deliberating they never change but just get worst. These strange humans won’t stop there wicked weirdness until they wipe us out… Godsaveus

    Reply

  3. | Shaz

    I think this is the UCU and university culture all over. Inclusivity actually causing exclusion. Fine if people want to admire black cultures (notice the plural), but this does smack of privilege to choose while facing none of the societal negatives. On another note, this doesn’t help statistical recording of demographics when people who aren’t black are claiming to be. (I disagree with the “all black people can dance on rhythm” however. Most can, but an unhelpful stereotype written as fact.)

    Reply

  4. | Pasha

    It is extremely embarrassing when people choose to play these psychological games about self-identification.
    It is a little bit like voting. Most people vote without being fully aware of what is in a party’s manifesto but they are aware that it is not going to be perfect. There will be things in it that they are not going to like but they vote anyway, based on hear-say. Identifying as black without knowing the real implications
    is highly offensive. I guarantee that they will not be identifying as black when applying for the role of University Chancellor or Dean of Faculty. However, are we going to expect the people who look black but are genetically white and those who look white but are genetically black to provide a DNA sample before we allow them to identify as one thing or another?

    Reply

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