Notes on: Whigham S & Arday,J. (2021) A response to 'Seeking equality of educational outcomes for Black students: a personal account' — a sociological perspective. The Psychology of Education Review 45 (2): 46 – 52

Dave Harris

[This is clearly a response to an earlier paper which was psychologically informed and about enacting antiracist practice]. They claim to have 'sociologically – trained minds' and therefore to illustrate sociological analysis of the data and issues. They agree on the importance of theoretically informed analysis, but challenge the idea of self-determination theory as robust and universal. Instead they want to deny that any claims of universality for any single theoretical approach to race is 'perhaps overstating the utility of said theory' (47) [including CRT?]. This approach especially fails to deal with the complexity of social structures in the domain of education and society.

For example the Covid pandemic shows the 'intersectionality between ethnicity and socio-economic status' which exacerbated the risks for 'Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, especially in frontline employment. There needs to be in alignment with 'Black Marxism and CRT amongst others'which scrutinised social structures and institutions, especially illuminating 'inherent institutionalised racism within the educational, economic and social hierarchies of Britain' leading to intersections. WEB Dubois advocates Black Marxism in terms of racial capitalism, the negative effects of capitalism and neoliberal ideology is; bell hooks talks about the racialised lived experience and this might help explain racial disparities in the pandemic. These approaches need more acknowledgement, perhaps in the form of a multidisciplinary approach. Of course CRT now has a '"bogeyman" status in the eyes of the current Conservative government in the UK' (48), but it is still needed in social work courses to enhance the empathy of White students [you must be joking!].

White academics also need to increase their reflexivity within their antiracist research and practice, as acknowledged — their 'positionality' requires integration into the research. This endeavour is complex but we all have to complete it, 'regardless of our own ethnicity'. The honest appraisal of experience in this particular study is welcome, and is seen in shifts in pedagogical practice which the author advocates.

This could be developed further, for example to challenge the so-called '"attainment gap"' and to illuminate instead institutional failings and broader social structures, say by switching to a notion of the '"awarding gap"' (49) and the general deficit approach toward Black and minority ethnic students. However there is a risk of denying Black agency in overcoming social inequalities.

Further acknowledgements might be made on the discussion of the author's sheltered upbringing and lack of educational racial differences, witnessing of racism, and experience of White privilege. We all need to do this to become anti-racists and allies, as a 'lifelong development for all White practitioners'.

There are pedagogical challenges which need to be highlighted in achieving antiracist practice. We need to scrutinise colourblind approaches and to think about decolonising the curriculum to challenge White Eurocentrism especially in HE. Colourblindness neutralises racism. However both endeavours are 'often more challenging to achieve in practice though they are in principle' (49). Sometimes colourblind practitioners also explicitly denounce discriminatory institutions: colourblindness is not necessarily a problem if we are teaching topics which do not themselves refer to race or  racism, and we should not focus on that in every session anyway, nor assume 'a heterogeneous experience for all racial and ethnic minorities' (50). There are dangers of lapsing into safe space discussions. There is always a need for a pedagogical purpose.

Decolonising the curriculum faces a number of practical challenges and it will take time to make sure that for example the leading theorists in sociology 'are fully reflective of contemporary society' [a very revealing aim]. We need to acknowledge the curriculum as colonial and racialised and its influence on key thinkers. It is not just a matter of adding more contributions from nonWhite scholars.

They want to add their own suggestions. It is helpful to name 'Whiteness as a "race" and the associated privileges of Whiteness'. Macintosh's activity of '"Unpacking the Knapsack"' has been useful as a catalyst, focusing on the affective domain and empathy, while recognising that 'White students were never be able to truly experience or understand the malfeasance of racism'. Safe space discussions are still useful if they have a clear pedagogical purpose. The 'inherent student–teacher power hierarchies' need to be 'proactively and consciously challenged' for all students 'as part of a broader culture of effective androgogical practice. 'White academics should wherever possible defer to those who can teach from a position of knowledge on racism and ethnic discrimination' (51). There should be sharing of personal narratives of racism, purely voluntary of course because there are risks.