How Black Deficit Entered the British Academy

I have written a draft of an article that seeks to address some of the criticisms of current projects to “decolonize” the British academy. I also hope the article will be a resource for those who are undertaking these projects. In Britain we suffer from a paucity of detailed investigation into our own academy; much of the literature is focused on the US academy. While issues of race, education and pedagogy resonate across national spaces, there are also distinctions to be made between academies that are set up within settler-colonies and those that emerge from the imperial centre.

In the article I show how the assumption of Black deficit has never been refuted in the British academy. Such an assumption entered through late 19th century white abolitionist thought, early 20th century social anthropologies of colonial development, and “race relations” scholarship in the immediate post-war period. Through all these inter-connected intellectual dispositions an assumption remained, despite various shifts in argumentation, that Black people enter the colonial urban/the socially modern/the nationally-English milieu with a dangerously destabilizing cultural deficiency and cognitive incompetency.

To the critics of current projects, I would want to say that you need to think again about your assumption that the academy has ever been a space of impartiality and democratic reasoning.

Here it is:

2 thoughts on “How Black Deficit Entered the British Academy

  1. Hi Robbie,

    Thanks for this. I’m recovering from a cataract operation which means, in practical terms, that there are limits to how much I can read at present. So most of what follows is based on memory rather than recent reading.

    First, it was refreshing to read a different take on British abolitionism & anti-imperialism which is usually seen as a Whig history of ethical superiority winning out. It is important to distinguish, as you do, white liberals attitudes towards slavery & empire from their views about non-whites. It was never hard for Brits to be both racist & anti-slavery/anti-imperialist.

    I was expecting to find more on Lugard, after you first introduce him on p.6. As I recall, perhaps unreliably, Lugard’s dual mandate thesis came out of his military experience as one of the lessons of British rule in India. He came to view British rule as unsustainable in the long run and tried to apply this lesson to Africa.

    If Africans are bound to achieve independence, how can one rationalise imperial rule? Dual mandate is the answer: we help them by helping ourselves. I found it striking that he argues in favour of taxing native peoples, in part, as a way of preparing them for independence so they learn that their own government will cost money.

    Lugard’s book – not anyone’s idea of a great read – was astonishingly influential in British ruling circles and I guess that Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown would have been exposed to the dual mandate fantasy, which sets an interesting frame to Malinowski’s ‘Practical Anthropology’

    Further on Malinowski, although i’m not sure how it relates to your narrative, M befriended Jomo Kenyatta while he was a student in London and he wrote a preface to K’s *Facing Mount Kenya*.

    M married while he was in Australia, his wife, if i recall correctly, was manager of an Oz Christian Mission. i would not be surprised if his awkward account of the urban African came out of Australian government/mission views of indigenous peoples – although I had not thought of this until I read your discussion of M’s views, which, by the way, I found very clear & useful.

    Finally, one of the curiosities of Oxford Uni while I was student, of mathematics, during the late ’50s/ early ’60s, was the presence of an Institute of Colonial Studies – run by Margery Perham (who impressed me as being both racist and pro-independence, a combination that made no sense to me at the time). I don’t know if the Institute survived her departure. She wrote the best known biography of Lugard, which, although boring, is a much better read than L’s own work. i fully expected to find her in your discussion.

    A for Banton, he was the UK’s go-to academic expert on race for many years – in fact up to the appointment of the white South African, John Rex as Professor of Sociology at Durham and later at Warwick. Banton was head of Sociology at Bristol for many years. He achieved a kind of fame among the younger generation of sociologists by sending a memo to his colleagues saying that they were using too many paperclips.

    Finally, again, I was expecting your conclusion to return explicitly to the question of black deficit in the academy

    Best wishes,


    barry hindess School of Politics and International Relations, ANU, Canberra, ACT0200, Australia barryhindess@gmail

    On Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 1:03 AM, Robbie Shilliam wrote:

    > Robbie Shilliam posted: “I have written a draft of an article that seeks > to address some of the criticisms of current projects to “decolonize” the > British academy. I also hope the article will be a resource for those who > are undertaking these projects. In Britain we suffer from a” >

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