Colonial curriculums – why they are c*&%! and how we are changing them

For many years schools and universities in the UK have taught curriculums with a bias towards white, western knowledge frameworks with their legacy in empire, power, and hierarchy. It is everywhere and some people will not even notice. Without change though, generations of students will continue to graduate with white western biases that marginalise diverse viewpoints and limit the equal, global co-operation needed to build a sustainable future.

We invited Lianna Williams part of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network and Intern for Equality and Diversity to share her thoughts:

Black Lives Matter: What’s Changed?

Since June 2020 when Black Lives Matter protests spread across the globe, here in the U.K many were confused as to why an American “issue” made its way here. Lots of people believed racism in this country was not as bad as in America yet, many experiential stories, including my own, were shared by those who experience racism and kept quiet. I realised this was not for my benefit, but for the benefit of not making those who do not experience racism feel uncomfortable. Sceptics were failing to appreciate the context of the BLM movement and the roots of the movement. When statues such as the Edward Colston in Bristol was pulled down and Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square was spray painted with the word ‘Racist’, the more resistance to the issue of racism became evident.  

A moment I recall as I write this was during the BLM protests in Bristol, a white man found himself in the newspaper and to his horror, was depicted as a racist. The image of him shirtless, megaphone in hand, passionately shouting into the crowd and a video of him beating his chest, I was confused why he was horrified at being called a racist. He later went on to take part in an interview with a Black man, so both had the opportunity to share reasons behind their actions. It was great to see. What interested me most was when the Black man shared the history behind the Colston statue, to which the White man admitted he wasn’t aware of Colston being a slaver.

This to me, spoke volumes showing of how colonial education perpetuates racism and re-affirms why decolonising our curriculums is so important.

Massive Attack say Edward Colston statue in Bristol "should never have been  a public monument"
Photo source:

We must learn from History

I hear this a lot and I absolutely agree, what I don’t agree with is a history cherry picked to perpetuate a capitalist society. My issue with blurring the truth, in any context, is it takes away an opportunity for the receiver to make a well-informed decision about matter being discussed.

How can we challenge and create healthy debate and discussions if we are only given one side and that sold as truth?

Preserving a sense of who we are as people is at the core of resistance to change, yet to preserve history and culture, it does not mean to disregard or exclude other perspectives part of a culture or history. Ideological belief systems and systems of racism are dominated by whites, always, being at the top of the racial hierarchy. The hierarchy is important to recognise as arguably, until colonialism, perceived racial superiority was not a thought.

What has Decolonisation got to do with Sustainability?

Within the last year I have become more invested in decolonial thought, it is only through starting my degree, I became aware of how colonial education shaped how I saw myself, to the point I was resistant to accepting my Caribbean heritage. Interestingly, I have found myself in several conversations with those proclaiming to be devout environmentalists, yet the very mention of colonialism and you can see some shrink at taking the conversation to a “negative space”.

Without understanding historical context, we are only ever going to scratch the surface of today’s social, economic and environmental issues that are deep-rooted in colonialism.

Institutions and corporations continue to perpetuate colonial thought and practice by means in which they operate. The exploitation of labour and resources from Africa for continued forms of imperialism in the West, and the misguided acceptance of universal education, maintains divide and a false superiority and the undermining of colonized people. Capitalism is inextricably linked to slavery and colonialism since European “discoverers” of continents began. I myself, was brought up celebrating Christopher Columbus as a hero because “he was a discoverer”, this is still the rhetoric sold to our children in schools today. There is a false belief that universal education makes us equal: how can this be if colonial education is the very thing designed to perpetuate inequalities? An interesting point to consider comes from Professor Kehinde Andrews: “what does it say about colonial education when colonized countries are still in poverty?”

Why it's time to decolonise the curriculum and diversify learning |  Fairtrade Foundation
Photo source: Fairtrade foundation

What is happening here at UoG?

UoG is working hard to change things, reflecting on assumptions of the world and challenging dominant narratives in partnership with the Equality and Diversity Team and the Black, Asian and Minority + network.

In a recent blog by Psychology student, Thomas you can read about how he is working with academics to co-create an action plan for decolonizing his curriculum, but Psychology isn’t the only course taking steps to change. This year a dedicated team of academics are working to build on a toolkit of good practice and provide active support to senior teams across all academic schools to re-think and re-design decolonized curriculums. Find out more here, and follow UoG Equality on Twitter for updates.

What can I do?

Whilst I would love to say, “educate yourself” however, I am very aware that unless it is a personal area of interest, the likelihood of us investing time to do so is slim. In writing this blog, I am reminded that I too am still fresh on this journey. However, as the saying goes, you’re only as strong as the weakest link, therefore each part of the sustainability chain must be given the same amount of attention to detail.

Meanwhile, there’s lots of resources available at the click of the button, but here are two lists curated by UoG to help you make a start:

  1. De-colonising the curriculum
  2. Black Lives Matter

It is my hope that if we are more understanding of the roots and intentions of colonial education, we are able to pass on knowledge offering people a new way of thinking about the world and themselves. I think that is an exciting and worthwhile contribution to a sustainable future we will all benefit from.

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