The University Cannot Be Decolonized

Nearly two dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed bills banning public schools from teaching critical race theory (CRT). Conservatives claim CRT portrays US history, especially white people’s role in it, negatively. As a Black studies scholar, I am often asked what can be done to fight such communities efforts: As Black history disappears from school curricula across the country, how should of color respond? In an interview I conducted with Kehinde Andrews, a professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University, he talked about Britain’s Saturday school movement as a counter to the absence of Black studies from the school curriculum in the UK. Since the 1960s, Black communities across Britain have organized weekend supplementary classes—held in Black-owned businesses, homes, and churches—to educate their children about their history and culture. Might a separate Black studies curriculum similar to the Saturday school efforts in Britain be needed in the United States? I asked Professor Andrews to explain this kind of community and education.

—Karlos K. Hill

Karlos Hill: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Kehinde Andrews: I am the only professor of Black studies in the UK. In fact, I’m the only professor of Black studies in all of Europe. When you think about it, that’s crazy. We have professors of African history, I’d guess, and there’s probably a professor of Caribbean studies, so it’s not like there are no other Black people in academia. But in terms of Black studies in Europe, I kind of started the movement.

KH: Could you talk about some of the work you’re doing to try to bring more Black history into the British school curriculum?

KA: There is nothing about Black history in the UK school curriculum, or even in most university curricula. They have brought slavery into the schools a little bit sometimes, but there is nothing about Black life or Black studies. I’m reminded of Carter G. Woodson in America, who came up with the idea of ​​a Negro history week in the 1920s. The racism was so bad, he was worried about genocide, right? Like, they’re actually going to kill us all if they don’t understand that we’re human beings. We’re not worried about genocide in the UK, but look at the way we’re still treated in schools and by the police, for example. A large part of that is that we’re not seen as fully human.

The purpose of Black studies is potential. That really is the emphasis, and that really is what’s needed. My parents were involved in the British Black Power movement, which was largely about education. And then there were the Black-owned bookshops, which provided a space for Black voices. During the Black bookshop movement, when I was a child, we actually worked in the Harriet Tubman bookshop here in Birmingham. The racism was so bad in the schools that Black communities organized their own supplementary classes, which we call Saturday schools because they were usually held on Saturday. These were ways to create different knowledges, to link things on the outside to things we had on the inside.

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