Staff at the History Department, in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, stand shoulder to shoulder with the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, UK and across the world. The killing of George Floyd has seized global attention by highlighting the deep-rooted problem of state violence and systematic racism. As historians we are only too aware of the historic connections between slavery and colonialism on the one hand and racism on the other, and here in Manchester – a city historically connected to both slavery and colonialism – we endeavour to bring to light, in our teaching and scholarship, the cultural constructions of race and knowledge that continue to inform systemic discrimination across the world today. Twenty-seven years ago in the UK the murder of Stephen Lawrence was once hailed as a similar moment of ‘awakening’, but we see every day that lessons from that event remain unlearned; today, Black Lives Matter protests are taking place against the backdrop of a COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately targeted Black and Asian communities due to enduring structural inequalities. We hope that this profound moment in history is not forgotten and to that end, we commit to deepen our work towards confronting racial inequalities and discrimination within the discipline and our department.
It is for this reason that we have actively engaged with the Royal Historical Society’s call for strategic interventions designed to ‘challenge the racial foundations of the discipline and to reflect the full diversity of human history.’ These interventions have included a systematic review of our curriculum, the development of new modules at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, reform to our teaching practice in partnership with students on our modern British history courses, and the creation of several new posts focused on histories of race, ethnicity and migration. Staff and students from the History Department are also active in wider campus-based anti-racist initiatives such as the Race, Roots & Resistance Collective, the In:Colour Zine, and Decolonise UoM. Racism ultimately results from ignorance and invisibility, along with fear, silencing, and oppression. By shining the spotlight on it and redoubling our efforts to create a fairer and just world for all through our work as committed commentators, campaigners, teachers and researchers, we hope to create a congenial and genuinely inclusive environment where our students can continue to thrive and pursue their intellectual goals in a manner that satisfies their quest for history and identity.
So what are our next steps? We are currently developing a new level 1 module entitled the Manchester History Workshop, which engages students in the archival work of recovering the untold stories of the generations of multi-ethnic migrants who came to and shaped the city. Members of our department are working closely with students to launch the new EDI Allies and EDI Collective, two student-led schemes to provide a supportive space to identify and address instances of discrimination and micro-aggressions within our classrooms and the wider University. As our Professor of Public History David Olusoga writes, ‘The real conversation has to be about racism and how we confront it.’ We are committed to doing this at Manchester.