How a former student reinforced my hope for young Black people

How a former student reinforced my hope for young Black people

At the start of 2020 I felt psychologically and emotionally drained.

The cause of my mental anxiety has been the ongoing and enduring burden of labouring against institutional racism in higher education, swimming against a tide of resistance while surrounded by White privilege and complicity.

While the murder of George Floyd in the US has attracted world-wide condemnation, I question why some recent expressions of solidarity from White colleagues, celebrities and protestors have been previously absent following the deaths of other Black men and women, not just in America, but here in the UK.

The resistance and on occasion, disrespect I have endured from mostly White students whilst trying to teach them about race and racism, as documented in the Ivory Tower series has often made me question whether teaching in a predominantly White institution benefits Black students and students of colour that endure racism and marginalisation themselves.

My whole chapter in Transforming the Ivory Tower reflects on my work around critical pedagogy and my development of the 3D Pedagogy Framework. It was therefore heartening to receive an email from a former Black, female student that re-ignited my motivation to focus my efforts on supporting and developing young Black people and gave me hope for their future. It is published below, with her permission:

“Hi Deborah, 

I hope you are well. I know it’s been almost two years now since finishing uni but I want to thank you for educating me on the institutional racism we are going through and have been going through. I remember in one of our seminars when you corrected my ignorance of this matter, at first, I remember being so defensive and then reality hit. I realised I wasn’t being taught better growing up so I didn’t know any better – so I started educating myself of what it takes to being black and living in this unjust world. 

Now as a black woman navigating life in this world, I have nothing but gratitude for you and the lessons you taught me because you made me understand that actually I am not privileged but at the same time you made me to start to understand my worth in this world and that I deserve to be heard and we deserve to be heard as black people. 

The death of George Floyd shook me in a way that racist slurs hadn’t before. Me and my black peers are literally grieving but we wouldn’t have if we were still ignorant to the fact that we live in a world were systematic racism is still festering and thriving. 

Thank you so much for your resilience in educating white people about their privilege in the space you are currently at and for educating us young black people to look at our ignorance too regarding this issue, as most of us are not taught about our history in schools. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for fighting, thank you so much for choosing to be bold and fearless, especially in Bournemouth where black people are such a minority. Thank you for continually challenging the Chancellor and BU staff, thank you for all you do because like me, you are changing our mentality little by little and it’s something that will always stick with us, I know it has done for me. 

 Thank you so much!

Sincerely, RM.

The reason I have chosen to publish the student’s email – with her blessing, is because I know I am not alone. I know from conversations with other Black women and women of colour that they  also experience gendered racism and White complicity on a daily basis, especially at this current moment in history.

I also know that there are many more students out there who are grateful for the tireless efforts of Black women and women of colour in academia and like me, I think their spirits would be uplifted and their hearts touched to know how much they are appreciated.

To all the students who have supported me during difficult times, who have engaged with issues around race and reflected on either their privilege or racial disadvantage and who have made my teaching so meaningful (as I share in Transforming the Ivory Tower), I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Also published on Black British Academics

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