If it isn’t white, it isn’t right? #WhiteCurriculum

Our group approached the subject of postcolonialism in education from the viewpoint of university studies. We found a post by Minna Seikkula in the Raster-blog on racism and borders written by antiracist researchers titled “#WhiteCurriculum – opiskelijaliike eurosentrismiä vastaan [student movement against eurocentrism]”. The movement referenced in the post originated in the UK as a statement about the one sided curriculum content, execution and setting in the universities that privilege western knowledge, white minds and bodies. It challenges Eurocentric teaching and textbooks. In the following video produced at the University College London (UCL) some students and faculty members talk about the white curriculum:

As Mariya Hussain (2015) points out, “the education we receive at many universities is one that has been largely shaped by colonialism. It places white, Eurocentric writers and thinkers above others without much concern. This leads to a blindness to other perspectives, and a complete dismissal of the large amounts of thought provoking work produced throughout history by non-white thinkers and scholars.”

Some might ask, how does all of this relate to Finland which has a distinctly different history from the UK and has never been a coloniser? A few points arise in response to this, the first being the situation of the Sami people and the history of taking lands from these indigenous inhabitants and denying the right for self-determination. This can be discussed in terms of colonialism, as has been done in a recent article “Sata kolonialismin vuotta [One hundred years of colonialism]” prompted by the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. Another important point, which is not exclusive to Finland, are the global economic processes and related systems of oppression that are linked to the history of colonial exploitation. Our lecturer Pia Mikander gave us an everyday example of a cheap T-shirt: when you buy a piece of clothing for 5 euros, someone else is paying more for it with their labour.

A practical way of shifting people’s focus to the relationship between capitalism and colonialism is to teach them concrete examples, as above, of how these are interrelated. This approach can be an easier way to get a grasp of colonialism compared to the historical view just because it deals with the material “reality” of the everyday lives of the majority student. However, the historical aspect cannot be ignored since today has its’ roots in the past.

Some things in the curriculum are often taken for granted. You might easily think that white authors are the best just because that’s what you’ve always been taught. But maybe it’s not the fact that they are the best but rather it is a matter of choice to teach only the texts of (dead) white male writers. When was the last time you pondered the limitations of the university’s curriculum? What would be some concrete ways to detach from white curriculum thinking?

The first step, one that we have taken (thanks to this course), is to acknowledge that our curriculum is mostly white. Whiteness often appears as neutral, the norm, something that doesn’t have to be pointed out, hardly even thought of. It is easy to fall into the mundane sense of “neutral” whiteness or better yet the invisibility of whiteness since white Finns do dominate the universities of Finland. In this critique of White curriculum, whiteness is not challenged as an individual characteristic (such as skin color) but as an ideology that bestows privileges and power to those perceived as white (‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ collective, UCL 2015).

A part of the problem is the illusion of universality, the assumption of western=better/more evolved, and everything else is almost automatically seen as secondary, subpar. To question this, to interrogate the history and the social and political construction of this hierarchy and power relation can help us see problems and a need for change where we used to see nothing special.

Whiteness and ethnocentric monoculturalism are powerful and entrenched determinants of worldview. Because they are invisible and operate outside the level of conscious awareness, they can be detrimental to people of color, women, and other marginalized groups in society. (Sue, D. W., 2004, 761–762.)

The change of perspectives might require a change in our ways of learning as well. The OSDE methodology (Open Spaces for Dialogue and Enquiry) initiative for teaching could provide a fruitful platform for complex discussion on a multiplicity of perspectives. The methodology has been developed to give concrete guidelines on how to create an open/safe space, where individuals can, among other things, discuss and examine western knowledge production. According to the OSDE an open space can help individuals understand and analyse their own way of thinking, i.e. the lenses through which they are looking at the world. Getting acquainted with the lenses of others can also give the opportunity to imagine other ways of thinking, living and being together and therefore open up an ethical dialogue between different perspectives. (Andreotti 2011.)

We were particularly intrigued by the idea of dissensus. Participants in a OSDE open space are not encouraged to reach a consensus, instead they are asked to commit to dissensus to enquire their own and other’s viewpoints. A consensus might be needed when making decisions that affect everyone involved, but when it comes to learning, it can be important for different perspectives to have the opportunity to coexist. In OSDE these opinions and points of view are interrogated individually and together as historically and culturally constructed, situated and partial – not final or personal. (Andreotti 2011, 191–215.) OSDE proposes some basic principles for the open space:

  1. Every individual brings to the space valid and legitimate knowledge constructed in their own contexts.
  2. All knowledge is partial and incomplete.
  3. All knowledge can be questioned. (Ibid., 197–198.)

Within the OSDE initiative, independent thinking is dissociated from the autonomous Cartesian thinker and linked to the self-reflexive stance: the ability to trace the collective origins and implications of one’s own thinking through the awareness that one’s subjectivity is constantly constructed within one’s social, cultural and historical contexts (Andreotti 2011, 194).

The domination of white curriculum also refers to language, gender and culture. In the academic sphere English is the universal language and we read papers written in English, partly because Anglo-American universities are at the top of the hierarchy of universities in the Western world. The ethos in Finnish universities emphasizes Greek philosophy, which includes only male thinkers and even today, appraised and quoted scientific thinkers are mostly male, or at least born or educated in the Anglo-American universities. For example, one of our group members participated in two Philosophy of science courses this academic year. The courses gave an overview of only Western philosophy, thinkers and perspectives that represented white hegemony. We can’t help but think, what if the courses would have had a more diverse array of philosophical theorisations from multiple geographic and cultural backgrounds? Often, perspectives that differ from the assumed cultural norm, in this context, Western philosophy, would help to broaden the understanding of the topic in question.

So we conclude with a call for non-white curriculum content and the dismantling of the structures that perpetuate white hegemony in the University!

Group F

 

Lähteet

Andreotti, V. (2011). Actionable postcolonial theory in education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hortelano, P. (2015, November 30). On practicing anti-racism in academia. Rasismista ja rajoista – Maailma rasisminvastaisten tutkijoiden silmin [On racism and borders – The world from the viewpoint of antiracist researchers].

Hussain, M. (2015, March 11). Why is My Curriculum White?. National Union of Students.

Seikkula, M. (2016, September 5). #WhiteCurriculum – opiskelijaliike eurosentrismiä vastaan [#WhiteCurriculum – student movement against eurocentrism]. Rasismista ja rajoista – Maailma rasisminvastaisten tutkijoiden silmin [On racism and borders – The world from the viewpoint of antiracist researchers].

Sue, D. W. (2004). Whiteness and Ethnocentric Monoculturalism: Making the “Invisible” Visible. The American psychologist, 59(8), 761–769.

‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ collective, UCL (2015 March 23). 8 Reasons the Curriculum is White. Novara Media.

Extras

Why is My Curriculum White

Decolonise Leeds – 14/3/16

2 thoughts on “If it isn’t white, it isn’t right? #WhiteCurriculum”

  1. Thank you!

    This was a well-informed and coherent discussion about the effects of colonialism and whiteness. Great that your group has thought about your own courses and the academia. The video was very informative, too.

    1. Indeed!

      I agree with Pia, and also want to express special thanks for the tips/references you provided us with. That “Sata kolonialismin vuotta” is an interesting angle to look at this celebratory year of Finnish independence.

      -Iida

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