Pilkington, A. (2012) The sheer weight of whiteness: race and higher education in the UK. Invited Presentation presented to: Oxford Learning Institute Public Seminar, Institute of Learning, Oxford University, 18 October 2012.
The Macpherson report in 1999 claimed that public organisations, including universities, were characterised by institutional racism. This presentation examines the response of the academy and one specific university in the UK over a ten year period to this charge. The main factors prompting universities to address race equality have been external to the sector. While government strategies for higher education made little headway on the sector’s approach to race equality, race relations legislation did have an impact, with many universities developing for the first time specific race equality action plans. Resistance, however, to an agenda concerned with race equality has grown within the sector and the university, as external pressures to promote equality and celebrate diversity have subsided and other agendas concerned with community cohesion have taken primacy. Throughout the period under discussion there was a reluctance to identify race equality as a priority and to take corresponding action because of what has been called ‘the sheer weight of whiteness’. A comparison of Midshire University with Midshire Police reinforces this perception. While it identifies contrasts in the occupational cultures of the two organisations, at the same time it points to surprising parallels in their approaches to race equality which stemmed from a taken for granted white norm.
Conference or Workshop Item (Invited Presentation)