I recently attended a conference in New York at St John’s University to talk about my work around social justice pedagogy with a focus on communications practice – and the teaching of it, which within many higher education institutions is devoid of any focus on race, racialisation and representation. To me, this is surprising, considering the frequency with which corporations are forced to apologise for perpetuating stereotypes, promoting colourism or cultural appropriation, which are all now commonplace.
It has also been my experience through attending international education conferences in Hawaii, Washington DC and now New York, that critical issues around race, ethnicity and culture are not frequently engaged with at these academic events. While the term ‘social justice’ may be used in promotional material, the content of papers rarely relate to whiteness or White privilege within the institutional culture or in educational practice.
A colour-blind ideology prevails in academia and at international conferences. In New York, a Professor from a country still suffering from the economic impact of White racism said “I don’t see colour”, an expression I have heard many times from people of all ethnic backgrounds, who perceive themselves to be liberal and egalitarian. However, colour-blindness supports White privilege by denying the reality that race profoundly shapes social, cultural and economic outcomes to the advantage of Whites and disadvantage of people of colour.
Addressing racial inequality in higher education should be a priority given the unequal outcomes for students in terms of attainment, and the disparities in pay and tenure for academic and professional staff of colour. The lack of focus on racial inequality and White privilege around pedagogy at educational conferences suggests there is still a long way to go to decolonise, democratise and diversify the curriculum.
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