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UCU support for #BlackLivesMatter

In recent weeks, peaceful protests have taken place around the world calling for justice and equality following the brutal murder of George Floyd. Here in the UK people have taken to the streets in their thousands in all major cities under the banner of ‘Black Lives Matter’. The parallels between the murder of an African American man by law enforcement in the US and our violent colonial past and racist present are clear. In Bristol, protests culminated in a statue of Edward Colston, which had long been a controversial landmark and the subject of numerous petitions, being pulled down and thrown in the river. Britain’s colonial history is being taught via these acts of resistance and there is a sense that something different is happening. 

There is hope that honest and difficult conversations about racism in the UK are happening at last. On social media, people have been calling for recognition of the UK’s own record of police brutality (Christopher Alder (1998), Sean Rigg (2008) and Mark Duggan (2011)). Black people account for 3% of the population, but 8% of deaths in custody. Articles in major newspapers by black public intellectuals, politicians and activists have called out the hypocrisy of claiming that the UK’s racism is more ‘subtle’ and less violent. Although many people have voiced concerns about protesting during a pandemic, the connections between Black Lives Matter and the current health crisis are also being brought to the fore. BAME people in the UK are dying in far greater numbers from Covid-19, not because of genetics but because of socio-economic inequalities and racism. These same inequalities were brought home by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which saw its 3rd anniversary this week – 72 deaths and still no prosecutions

For our part, universities around the country are showing their support for Black Lives Matter through public statements, hashtags and even by illuminating their buildings. But the suspicion remains that such expressions of solidarity are often nothing more than window dressing, and form part of a broader strategy within UK higher education where universities speak of ‘promoting diversity’ whilst failing to challenge the systemic racism that is embedded into the very heart of our institutions. The fact remains that across UK Higher Education institutions fewer than 1% of professors are black, and there are even fewer black female professors. Additionally, the race attainment gap in education continues throughout higher education. 

Student groups have being drawing our attention to racism in universities through campaigns such as #RhodesMustFall. Students at Manchester University painted over Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’, which adorned the newly refurbished Students’ Union, with Maya Angelou’s ‘I Rise’.  At Southampton, the Black Students Solidarity Network have called upon senior management to do more to address systemic racism and have written their own anti-racism charter for student clubs and societies. We are grateful to the Black Students Solidarity Network for supporting SUCU’s recent industrial action. They saw that two of the ‘four fights’ which called on universities to end casualisation and pay inequality were explicitly linked to systemic racism and the disproportionate number of BAME staff who are on casual contracts. During the action, the Disputes Committee and the Black Students Solidarity Network organised a teach out with SOAS in support of their #preventingprevent programme. We are aware that as a branch we need to better support BAME staff and students and fight against institutional racism in our university and HE more broadly. To this end SUCU pledges to support our colleagues in Shine BME Staff Network in furthering their anti-racism work, including their commitment to the Race Equality Charter. We also support the Black Students Solidarity Network in their initiatives to end discrimination at the University of Southampton. 

This branch reiterates UCU’s stand against racism. We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, but we do so whilst recognising that so much work still so urgently needs to be done.  We stand in solidarity against everyday acts of racism, microaggressions and harassment that black staff and students face across UK Higher Education institutions, including our own. We stand in solidarity with movements seeking to resist hostile environment policies on our campuses. We stand in solidarity with the disproportionate number of black workers at our institution who are paid only slightly above the living wage. All our members have a role to play in eradicating racism. Messages of solidarity are not enough. We need to do so much more.

DONATE:

We encourage our members to donate to the UK Black Lives Matter fundraiser: 

https://www.gofundme.com/f/ukblm-fund?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unknown&utm_campaign=comms_h4hk+ukblm-fund

LEARN:

We encourage members to learn about anti-racism work already being done:

https://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/

https://www.runnymedetrust.org/

https://www.ucu.org.uk/action-against-workplace-racism

https://www.southampton.ac.uk/diversity/how_we_support_diversity/harassment_contacts.page

FOLLOW:

Members who want to learn more can follow these social media campaigns:

#BlackintheIvory

#decolonizethecurriculum

#BlackLivesMatter

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