I had never heard the acronym Soas before I started work at the BBC, almost 30 years ago. But as a very young producer at the corporation I was asked to fix up a story about something appalling happening in Africa — I can’t remember exactly what. Famine or cannibalism maybe. Or perhaps one mitigated by the other. The senior producer told me to get someone from Soas to explain it all. What’s Soas, I asked?
‘The School of Oriental and African Studies,’ I was informed. ‘It’s in London. It’s basically a place where we try to work out what on earth the natives are up to now.’
It was a different BBC back then. I was based in the old Broadcasting House, at the top of Regent Street. An eight-floor building — the first seven floors pretty much exclusively white. But then loads of black people working on the top floor — that was the canteen. By the time I left the BBC in 2004 things had changed markedly. The canteen was still staffed almost exclusively by black people. But now there were lots of black people several floors lower down, not serving food at all — in the ‘Community Affairs Unit’. Progress, then, of a kind.
I suspect Soas has changed quite a bit, too. As far as I can discern, it now seems to be a place for castigating whitey and especially British whitey. Fair enough — I suppose we need castigating, and it’s good for the soul. But it has got itself in the news recently as a consequence of the demands of its students’ union, which has outflanked even the students’ unions of Oxford and University College London in the cretin stakes. Which takes some doing.
The students have been addressing the fact that black and minority ethnic (BME) students get lower grades than whitey. The conclusion they reached was that white lecturers, especially the older white lecturers, were unable to teach black students because they effectively spoke a different language. ‘Non-white students were comparatively less likely than their peers to be able to access the advantages of cultural familiarity with their tutor,’ as they put it. There were also complaints that the courses were ethnocentric, or culturally biased in favour of the crackers.
It’s a remarkable finding. Can you imagine what would happen if white students complained that they were unhappy with black lecturers because of the students’ inability to ‘access the advantages of cultural familiarity’? Here’s what one student said: ‘Both of my tutors are white men. How can I really… have a rapport and feel comfortable talking to a 60-year-old white man…?’
The obvious answer is — by shedding your institutionalised racism, you moron, a racism which has been inculcated by two decades of liberal pandering to this epic sense of misplaced victimhood. But don’t hold your breath for that to happen.
And the implication of all this is what? That black students should be taught only by black lecturers, and whites by whites? That the classes should be segregated? Or that simply that all the crackers should be sacked? Because they are no longer relevant.
But perhaps there is a way forward for these forlorn and derided white academics. They could get with the programme a little and attempt to communicate with their BME students in a familiar discourse — and present the facts with a little more modernity and in a form of patois which would be appreciated by all BME students. Such as this year one module in White Colonial Oppression:
Yo, muthafucka, this ain’t gonna please ya,
I’m talkin bout a place whitey call Rhodesia,
Tings that went on there, you’d have a muthafuckin seizure,
You’d be sick to your gut and you’d get alopecia.
But now it’s ok it’s called Zimbabwe
And run by a bro we call Mugabe
An bitches — this is gonna faze ya
He whup’ some Uncle Tom call’ Abel Muzarawe
Now Bob’s da man an’ he rule de whole place
Cos Zimbabwe now is a democratic safe space
Yo, bitch, chillin, etc.
(With apologies to Snoop Doggy Dogg)
That kind of thing would do it, I think. But it might be difficult to jolt the hideous white academics out of their ethnocentric complacency. And yet it would add such a vibrancy and vitality to the course, don’t you think?
Ah, forgive me, please. My pastiche above is grotesque and offensive, and indeed intended to be. It is not remotely how most black people talk. Most black British people talk very similarly, if not identically, to the way in which white British people talk. There is no real problem of communication, unless you are a racist who hates being lectured to by someone who has a different coloured skin. Unless you have racism and victimhood socialised into the core of your very being. And that pastiche was intended to highlight the repulsive undertones to those complaints from mithering sections of the student body. Sack whitey, because he’s white. Isn’t that foul?
The comparative failure of BME students (though I’ll bet most of the Asian BME students don’t struggle terribly much) is not a consequence of some lecturers being hideously white. My guess is that it’s more a consequence of an anti-educationalist culture, reflected in the GCSE and A-level attainments for young black Britons. And of that acquired sense of victimhood, drummed into them from far too early an age — and also might perhaps be the consequence of affirmative action intended to raise the proportion of BME students at Soas, so that some real dunderheads get through pretty much solely on account of the colour of their skins.
Surely, sooner or later, we will get rid of all this idiocy, this approach to race which is deeply divisive and corrosive. It has been going on for too long.