All in! Regularising ethnic presence in the curriculum

Reflections: Sandew Hira's decolonial review

All in! Research Fellow Vipin Chauhan reflect's on the critique provided by Sandew Hira, co-ordinator of the Decolonial International Network, in response to the University of Amsterdam's Commission for Diversity 2016 report:

Decolonisation methodologies

In 2015 students and staff occupied the administrative buildings at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) as a protest against budget cuts and a move towards greater democracy. Students of colour also mobilised using the slogan “No democratization without decolonisation”. This prompted the UvA to put decolonisation on its agenda by establishing a Commission for Diversity leading to the publication of Let’s do diversity: Report of the University of Amsterdam Diversity Commission (2016).

 Sandew Hira, Co-ordinator of the Decolonial International Network (DIN) undertook a decolonial review of the UvA’s report critiquing it on two main fronts: the conceptual and the methodological. On the conceptual front Hira argues that the report focuses disproportionately on intersectionality and the notion of diversity thereby serving to marginalise the issue of race and racism. Hira has written elsewhere in greater depth about the deficiencies of focusing on intersectionality in decolonisation discourse and practice.

 In this brief piece, we will reflect on Hira’s critique of the methodology that was deployed by the UvA. Hira argues that in adopting a positivistic methodological framework, the report marginalises the experiences of students and staff of colour.  Components of UvA’s methodology as criticised by Hira include closed questions, not talking explicitly about race and racism, giving equal weighting to the experiences of discrimination of white and people of colour without regard for systematic discrimination on the basis of skin colour and, interpreting low or negative responses to questions about whether or not individuals had experienced racial discrimination as a sign that things were not so bad.      

 From Hira’s analysis the following observations can be drawn:

  1. Though important in helping us to understand the compounding effects of multiple oppressions, intersectionality can divert attention from truly appreciating the impact of individual, cultural and institutional racism, both overt and covert, on BAME lives.
  2. Decolonisation methodologies need to start from the centrality of race and racism, a perspective that is held also by proponents of Critical Race Theory.
  3. Racism is a reality for BAME communities. Research and policy initiatives have to start from this basis rather than come across as if we are still trying to establish whether or not racism exists – otherwise every time BAME (and white) experiences of race and racism are investigated, it will seem as if we are investigating something with which we are not familiar or, are doing this for the first time.
  4. Finally, the decolonisation methodology calls for actively listening to the voices of the oppressed and marginalised. This includes placing these voices and lived experiences at the centre of analysis rather than the inquisitiveness of the researcher or the learning and development needs of white participants.


Posted on Thursday 24th October 2019

All in! Regularising ethnic presence in the curriculum

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