A new documentary, Absent From The Academy, on the status of black scholars in the UK. Alongside Paul Gilroy, Adam Elliott-Cooper, Denise Noble and others, it features our own Robbie Shilliam. The problem is simple enough: why are only 85 Professors in the UK – that’s 0.4% of the total – black? The official statistics show that only 1.4% of all academic staff are black or black British, whether African or Caribbean, compared to 4.5% of manual staff and around 3% of the general population (those, alongside assorted “mixed” and “other” are the categories available for contemporary biopolitics).
This accounting – while necessary – leaves some identities unreconstructed, not least when the inclusion of marginalised groups is read as synonymous with an intellectual identity politics. Gilroy channels C.L.R. James to warn of the reductionism, of making the status of whoever an issue of ‘X studies’, whilst privilege remains invisibly white. Or, as James argued in ‘Black Studies and the Contemporary Student’ (1969):
Now to talk to me about black studies as if it’s something that concerned black people is an utter denial. This is the history of Western Civilization. I can’t see it otherwise. This is the history that black people and white people and all serious students of modern history and the history of the world have to know. To say it’s some kind of ethnic problem is a lot of nonsense.