History is in crisis when black students refuse to study it and staff suffers abuse.
what happens when a highly respected professional body undertakes serious and rigorous research into race and racism in its industry? Then, in the light of depressing findings, the researchers call upon their profession, institutions and colleagues to confront “persistent inequalities in our habits and practices”?
The dismal answer is that both the researchers and their findings are served up, by parts of the press, as disapproval fodder for the “world’s gone mad”, “had enough of experts” demographic; the hard core of the unreality-based community.
The report, Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History, is the work of the Royal Historical Society (RHS). Based on surveys and interviews with more than 700 UK historians, it examines what is taught in the history departments of our universities and who does the teaching. It paints a bleak but hardly unexpected picture, one that some newspapers elected to ignore in favour of a handful of cherries picked, out-of-context quotes that pushed their culture-wars agenda.
Most people involved in the delivery of history, in universities, publishing, museums and the heritage industry, are aware that we have a problem with diversity and inclusivity. The RHS’s findings show us just how deep that problem is. By multiple measures, the report reveals, history as an academic subject is less inclusive and less open than others. While the overall UK academic workforce is 15% black and minority ethnic (BME), in history departments, that figure collapses to just 6.3%. So while 85% of all academics are white, for historians the figure in 93.7%. A mere 0.5% of academic staff in history departments are black. Black people make up 3% of the UK population, nearly 2 million people.
The statistics for diversity are accompanied by surveys about experiences. They reveal that almost one in three of the BME history staff surveyed by the RHS had had direct experiences of discrimination or abuse because of their race – from academic colleagues, members of the public and students. The respondents also reported that colleagues presumed that, as BME historians, they were only interested in the histories of their “own” communities and that their language skills would be in some way deficient. Critically, the report reveals that black historians face particular problems when they try to discuss race and structural racism, what is sometimes called institutional racism. One respondent to the RHS’s survey wrote: “Whenever I tried to discuss it with my colleagues (all of whom were non-BME), I was told unequivocally that I was imagining it.”