Higher Racism: The Case of the University of British Columbia

by Stephen Petrina on March 15, 2021

Higher Racism: The Case of the University of British Columbia— On the Wrong Side of History but Right Side of Optics

Stephen Petrina & E. Wayne Ross

Here’s a summary of the article: UBC faculty, staff, and students commonly question senior managers’ assertions that “diversity is our strength.” If, counter to the cliche, diversity is not our strength, then what is it? This type of assertion may play well for a political audience but with insider knowledge, the reality is quite different. Insider knowledge is an effective antidote to confusions of audience and duplicitous speech. With this in mind, we analyzed UBC managers’ messaging and optics in matters of anti-Black racism. In conclusion, we don’t buy it and provide dozens of examples of where the rhetoric falls short of reality. We suggest that without action and real results, the optics seem insincere. Hence, senior managers are complicit in anti-Black racism at UBC.

Here’s the argument: What Robyn Maynard (2017) infers from history education practices in Canada sums up the case of UBC: “a discernable lack of awareness surrounding the widespread anti-Blackness that continues to hide in plain sight, obscured behind a nominal commitment to liberalism, multiculturalism and equality” (p. 30). Hence, in this case of UBC, we provide various examples of how the institution functions through racial bias and prejudice but argue that leaving the explanation to structural or systemic racism makes it too easy to deny elite individual and everyday racism, especially racist attitudes and decisions of the managers and their means of employment discrimination (i.e., blocking and undermining racial minorities’ access to career advancement and opportunities).

Here’s the conclusion: Anti-Black racism in higher education requires specific attention to history and action, whether affirmative or equitable. We argued that elite racism and everyday racism experienced by African ethnic and diasporic faculty, staff, and students and made visible through demographic data can no longer be dismissed or overlooked. Through the case of UBC, we demonstrated various ways in which the higher racism of managers works to maintain individual and systemic discrimination. Preferences of managers for image and optics over action— surface over substance— is especially shallow in this era of Black Lives Matter. We also raised questions of the logic of popular shortcuts to intersectionality (e.g., IBPOC) and stand with scholars explaining that therein, equity claims of African ethnic and diasporic faculty, staff, and students are readily deprioritized or marginalized. Code-switching has its limits. At UBC is an established record of defending middle and senior managers’ inequitable, and often enough for concern, racist, practices. Cases introduced by racial equity seeking individuals are routinely deferred, dismissed, or misdirected to external agencies, where again senior managers agitate to request dismissal of the complaints. Finally, we articulated concerns that managers are preferring to isolate and shield themselves from critical conversation and critique. Critics of problematic and racist practices risk disciplinary measures as managers grow increasingly intolerant of commentaries on mismanagement and whistleblowing.