In this blog post, PhD student Daphne Martschenko writes about the research collective Race, Education and Empire at the Faculty of Education in Cambridge.
We are living in a world marked by rising populist and xenophobic movements, political conflict, and increasing austerity. Global conflicts, the rise of the “far right” and the legacies of colonialism and imperialism are re-inscribing race and racism into contemporary society. People of colour are recast into positions of marginality whilst systemic inequality and oppression are regularized – posited as the status quo. These realities have long defined and continue to shape our world.
How do we recognize and make sense of the racialization of space, place, and people? How can we work to break down the entrenched colonial and imperial traces that continue to regard certain bodies as valuable and productive and others as threatening and intellectually worthless? Theory can be used as a tool to make sense of the world. The aim of the research collective Race, Empire, and Education (REE) at the Faculty of Education in Cambridge is to understand and use theory to contextualize and make sense of lived experiences, both our own and others.
For me, the birth of REE and our reading group has been invaluable. My research focuses on the historically burdened concepts of intelligence, genetics, race, and socioeconomic status. I examine how these four terms intersect to inform the United States education system – a system marked by socioeconomic and racial disparities in academic achievement, educational attainment, rates of suspension and expulsion, and representation in special education and gifted education (to name a few). Prior to REE I found myself feeling alienated. When I explained to others that my work focuses on the United States, I was asked various iterations of “are race relations really as bad as they seem over there?” I grappled with what seemed like a consensus view that the UK does not have “issues with race” like the US. How could this be the case when I found myself here at Cambridge in situations where I was treated like an outsider because of the color of my skin? What was being done to promote inclusion and representation in the student body, faculty, and course reading lists?
I knew there had to be others studying race and racism in the Faculty. However, there was no space in which we could meet and share our ideas, frustrations, and questions. The Theorising Race reading group, convened by Arathi Sriprakash, Amina Shareef, Sharon Walker, and Amberley Middleton in Michelmas 2016, created a collaborative environment in which scholars of race and inequity could do what had previously been a challenge. What started as a bi-weekly meeting of a handful of PhD students and faculty members has since expanded into a research collective looking to grow our presence within the Faculty of Education.
In the current context, marginalized groups who are burdened with a history of dispossession and oppression are silenced. REE seeks to empower those voices by offering a space for critical discussion of the works of authors who not only theorize on race but who themselves may be impacted by it (e.g. W. E. B. DuBois, Sojourner Truth, James Baldwin). We believe in increasing awareness of the ways in which history and context inform lived experiences, affects, and understandings of race. We also acknowledge the salience of intersectionality, drawing an eye towards class and gender in relation to race.
Here in Cambridge, critical examinations of race within a space structured by Whiteness and class privilege, works to decolonize dominant hegemonic discourses. This means challenging the blind acceptance of norms, expectations, and institutions, and at times traditional representations of history. The conversations REE and our Theorising Race reading group encourage may be uncomfortable, but we believe they are important for the disruption of spaces in which racialization is normalized.
Our collective brings together researchers within the Faculty of Education working on issues of distributional and epistemic justice. We use postcolonial and critical race theories to enrich our scholarship while drawing upon our own personal experiences as citizens and noncitizens, outsiders and insiders, who have at one point or another been racialized and categorized. We stand together against the hierarchies imposed by race, working towards the unmaking of what W.E.B. DuBois called “the problem of the color line.” We stand to recognize those who have been relegated to the peripheries.
The REE Manifesto
Race, Empire, and Education is an interdisciplinary research collective at the University of Cambridge that supports critical discussions of race and racism in education. Drawing upon historical and contemporary theoretical resources concerned with racism, imperialism and their intersections, REE cultivates creative research on the formation of inequality in education and facilitates exchange among faculty and students at the university and globally. Within this collective, we look at an array of domains, including but not limited to literature, policy practice and migration in relation to education. Our examination of theory, events, and movements, both past and present, provides ways of interrogating structural domination across scales and societies.
If you’d like to learn more about us or are interested in joining our reading group, please contact Daphne Martschenko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daphne Martschenko is a third-year PhD student at the Faculty of Education researching the impacts of behavior genetics on teacher philosophies on student ability and achievement. She is the current President of the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club. You can follow her on Twitter at @daphmarts or read her research blog at: https://historicallyburdenedconcepts.wordpress.com/