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.
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.