Next time you log on to study direct, download your reading list and gaze despondently upon the various texts, ask yourself this: how many of these academic writings have been penned by non-white intellectuals? How many pieces are by women? Representation continues to be recognised as something fundamental within today’s society; be it the inclusion of LGBT+ figures within the media, people with disabilities or from different ethnic backgrounds, the need for a non-normative representation in what surrounds us is finally being recognised. So why should what we study, and pay extensively to study, be an exception?
As a combined English & Art History student, I have seen my fair share of reading lists. Be it endless critical theory, novels, artists and critics, poems or canonical literature, one narrative seems to be the heavily predominant one: that of white upper-class males. In first year, it took until the spring term to read any critical theory by a woman in literature. The only reason for looking at texts from non-white writers was for that very reason – that they were non-white. We constantly analyse and evaluate how past ideas have formed the basis of what we see as Western thought, and how the West has pushed their own motives onto other cultures. Whilst this is progressing in terms of our understanding of different cultures, we still seem to be stuck on only foraging within Western work to prove it. Would it hurt to throw some books from Arabic writers, or African-American writers, or writers from any other ethnic groups that aren’t white? It’s the exact same in Art History; coming to university people are under the general impression that they will develop their wider understanding. Yet, over a year down the line and I still feel like I don’t know any more than I already did about Arabic art or really any multi-cultural artists. I could tell you what Western culture has done to them, explain to you in detail the problems of post-colonialism that pushes Western values onto the rest of the world but have we actually looked in depth at paintings or sculpture from these multi-cultural artists? No, we have not.
Black History month is underway, and whilst not enough people seem to know about it, it’s organisations like this which celebrate black history and the achievements of it. It’s organisations like this who also push constantly for better representation; pushing away from institutionalised racism. To me, university seems like a pretty fundamental place to gain a retrospective understanding of knowledge from all around our globe, not just the rich white areas. So why not push for better modular representation – ask around, how many people do you know who are currently studying African or Moroccan art, or literature from South-East Asia or Brazil? Shut the dusty hypothetical thesis this week for Black History Month, and if you want to broaden your own understandings, crack open a book from further afield.