Academia, Colonisation, Politics

WHAT is my degree actually doing?

For those of you who don’t know (or anyone that cares) I’m in my first year studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at UCL.

I’m writing this purely out of a reoccurring frustration I’ve been having with politics. I have my qualms with the other P and E but upon reflection, they’re personal problems.

However, when it comes to politics I know this goes beyond just my personal feelings. At first, I thought that what I learned and the way I was taught wasn’t problematic and the issue was just me not paying enough attention. But when I really started to pay attention to what I had been taught, I realised I have learned a whole lot of nothing.

And by nothing, I don’t mean I literally haven’t learned anything new. Some of my lecturers are actually really great. I just feel like I haven’t learned anything relevant. Even though I only just started studying politics I don’t really feel like I know anything more about solving political problems or the extent of what they are.

When I did my weekly readings I thought that my boredom came from a place of misunderstanding because of how dense and historical they could be. I also thought that perhaps the topics we were studying like the state and democratisation were necessary for an introductory course; so I was totally willing to devote my time to making sure I understood these things.

Then I realised that I was only learning about a small section of Western/Eurocentric thought. The thing is I could complain about the lack of diversity in academia but there are so many people that have already done this. Not that it makes it any less of a pressing issue, but I’m honestly just over talking about it. My main issue is that the extent to which my studies are even Eurocentric is questionable. How honest and transparent my subject is, is my concern. For some reason talking about colonialism in lectures or seminars is totally ignored, this is genuinely shocking to me. This must be madness because how can we talk about Europe and NOT talk about colonialism. It’s like if anyone says the word colonialism they’d burst into flames. I even saw that on one of the readings I had for this week the scholar said in the introduction that he wasn’t going to address colonialism. But why?

The answer is I’m not totally sure, but I think I have an idea. One thing I have learned in politics is how big of a deal nationalism is. British values are something that continue to be heavily promoted in this country despite the values being incredibly generic (in my opinion). This isn’t an issue though, I think that British values are great in some ways but to some British history is a massive threat to this. For example, tolerance is a British value but in the countries that the British colonised they essentially did everything they could to label native people as barbaric and toxic. They drew boundaries where there weren’t boundaries before and forced their language and religion on pretty much every single country they could get their hands on. So my question here is WHAT exactly did they tolerate? If we really deep it, the Brits (and also other European colonists) couldn’t tolerate other people living in their own countries. That is laughable. Sure, British values came after this but my point isn’t that the British are hypocrites. The point I’m trying to make is that if the British essentially just owned what they had done I really believe this could dampen a sense of national pride and I think this might be why history and politics are taught the way they are. And I think this is so wrong. National pride doesn’t depend on the erasure of a countries toxic past. To be honest it’s even debatable how necessary national pride is but that is a whole other topic.

The extent of the British Empire is actually quite remarkable, it stretched literally across the whole world people used to say “the sun never sets on the British Empire”. Well, the sun has set. But at what cost? The colonisers reaped enough economic benefits from the colonies that independence would not have been a long term threat to them. However, independence wasn’t as liberating as it is made out to be for the colonised. There is a lot to unpack here and I would be doing a huge disservice if I pretended like I knew all the ins and outs of colonies gaining their independence. But what I do know is that the effects of colonisation are still felt today which makes total sense because a lot of countries only recently gained their independence. Even in saying this, the extent to which ex-colonies are independent should be closely examined. Conditional aid/loans suggest that poorer countries (often ex-colonies) aren’t totally independent and what’s holding them hostage is economic growth and stability that they are made to believe can only come from the west. Economics is also guilty of not addressing this issue.

I think that sometimes “woke” culture or whatever you want to call it can make colonialism seem something that we just cannot seem to get over or always complain about and I do understand that. It can get really exhausting. But I think that when you really think about the scale and the proximity of colonisation it becomes something that we should examine so that we can offset the issues that have arisen from it, not something we should just forget about because it’s depressing to think about.

When I decided I wanted to study politics I thought it was going to be more problem-solving. Like, what are the issues in the world today and what political mechanisms can solve them? Perhaps that was my naivety coming out but regardless I guess I do have politics to thank for making me think in such a critical way. I just wish that it came from a place of genuine interest and not passionate outrage.

Interesting stuff to read: (slyly long but worth it)

 

The Case for Colonialism

 

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Academia, Altruism

Why wait?

Most of us are our biggest critics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless we are also aware of our strengths. A lot of the time we’re more qualified than we think, we know more than we think we do and we have more influence than we’re aware of. We can often forget that we are capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for, and this includes the extent to which we can help others.

When I’m talking about helping others I’m not talking about conventional charity, not that this doesn’t matter, but I’m talking about doing things that directly make use of the skills we have acquired. Helping out at a food bank, feeding the homeless and bucket shaking are all things I’m sure we’d agree are extremely charitable but it doesn’t appear like us young people, including myself, are doing much of that (unless we’re forced to or you’d like to put it on your cv of course). If you’re an academic, why not teach? If you’re sporty, why not coach? You might be a musician, a creative, a programmer, a gamer etc. Whatever you are, whatever you do, where you are is where someone else wants to be. This might not seem like the case, which is understandable. Most of us are young, where we are now isn’t the end goal but that doesn’t mean we can’t share with others the things we learn along the way. Especially those of us that live in communities where our younger peers don’t have older role models, there is a space there we need to take up.

We shouldn’t just wait before we arrive at a stage in our lives where we feel like we’ve made it to then decide “I fancy giving back to my community now”. Especially after you’ve left your community, assuming that you’ve spent years working hard to become more socially mobile it’s easy to get tunnel vision and become out of touch with the lifestyle you once lived. That’s not to say that you can’t work your way up first and then ‘give back’ but you have the means to help now, so why not help now? Knowledge is currency.

What do I mean by helping others? I look at it this way: when I was slightly younger I had a few short term goals and achieving what I did was a lot easier than it could have been. But the only reason this was the case is because I had guidance. I was privileged enough to have a support system that was made up of people of different ages; but those that really had an impact on me the most were those who were close to me in age. Listening to your elders is something we should all do, within reason. But taking the advice of those who have just experienced something that you potentially might, is invaluable. You’re more likely to take the advice of someone who understands the environment and stage of life you’re in currently.

Sharing and teaching others what you have learned or mentoring someone younger than you doesn’t just benefit them. Where there is teaching there is learning. You might not necessarily gain any more insight into your area of expertise but you will learn a lot about yourself and how to communicate effectively and considerately. But don’t feel obliged, because when someone looks up to you to some extent they can become your responsibility and this is a big deal. That being said, someone looking up to you helps in keeping you accountable for your actions. I just think this is something we should all consider.

Be transparent, show people your process, learn from others, pool your resources, take someone under your wing. How do you make your mixtapes? How do you edit your videos? How do you revise? What does it feel like to achieve what you did? When did you fail? There are so many questions that you have the answer to, that could give someone else the insight they needed to live better. It’s also worth noting that we should also allow ourselves to be taught, to be led and to be corrected.

I HIGHLY recommend you watch these:

Peter Singer talking about effective altruism. (This is more about money)

What is altruism?

Shawn Blanchard on mentorship.

‘How can you climb the social ladder and then take the ladder with you?’ – A.Aboker

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Academia

Are you taking up space?

I was contemplating writing about this because often when it is brought up in conversation it’s rare that someone fully agrees with me. I didn’t want to write this in a ‘preachy’ way to make people feel guilty about their privilege so instead I’ll take a different approach. I’ll talk about my personal experience, what I have learned about myself and why I feel as though I was taking up space. So technically most of this is going to be about me, but you should try to relate if you can. 

I’ll start by saying that privilege isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s great and incredibly useful. I think twitter culture has partly caused people to believe privilege is something to be ashamed of, when actually it’s only shameful when you knowingly use your privilege to do a bad thing. This is a very simple way of looking at it though. I also think that a lot of the time we may feel as though by acknowledging our privilege we are devaluing our efforts. Sometimes it makes you feel like you’re not good enough to do something just because you asked for help. This shouldn’t be the case, someone else helping you out benefits you in the end and admitting that doesn’t mean you aren’t great. You are. But that person who put you on is great too.

What does it mean to take up space? Well to me, taking up space means that I chose to take an opportunity that would have benefitted someone less fortunate and less equipped than me. “That might be true Jes but at the end of the day you rightfully earned your place at that summer school” is the response I tend to get. I made sure to mention summer school specifically because this is what the main focus of this post is going to be about and summer schools tend to be made for less equipped and less fortunate students but I digress. Yes, I did rightfully earn my place but it’s also important to note that I got that place because my privilege played a role where someone else’s did not

I might not necessarily have a billionaire background and know all the right people but that doesn’t mean I’m not privileged. I went to a high achieving school, my peers were driven (well most of them were), I was in an environment where extra-curricular opportunities were made available, when I was at home I had spaces where I could focus, I didn’t need to share a bedroom, the surrounding area of my home is safe, my Dad is an academic and helped me get work experience at his office. I could continue to go on. My point is I’m in an environment where it is natural for me to succeed. I didn’t necessarily consider these things being contributing factors until I started to imagine my life without them. 

For many, life does not include these things. There are people living with potential that doesn’t bear fruit. This might not directly be my fault, but let’s say I wanted to apply for a summer school or some kind of useful program. The process tends to be a little like this:

  1. I find out about the summer school on my sixth forms weekly notice.
  2. I decide to apply, I come from a BAME background and from my postcode it appears as though I’m impoverished so it’s fairly likely I’m eligible.
  3. I write a personal statement that is read and edited by every teacher and their mum. 
  4. I get on the summer school/program, but if I don’t one of my classmates most definitely does and it’s likely they went through the same process.

Someone else may have applied totally on their own with no one to help them and end up missing out on this opportunity that is likely to have had a marginally better effect on them than myself. Their application may not have been as good as mine because they were probably too busy dealing with the actual problems it appeared I had. This isn’t to say that the admissions people of such things should accept a sub-par application, but if those of us that could afford to pass up this opportunity took a step back then the majority of people who truly needed the opportunity could take it. Although, this is assuming that less equipped/privileged students are incapable of producing strong applications which is not true. 

I’ve often thought to myself when I had attended certain summer schools that a lot of the things I had learned whilst there, I could have learned by myself with some extensive research. Upon realising this I then thought, well I guess in this case I’m not really taking up space because someone else could easily google something if they desperately wanted to learn about it. At face value, this makes a lot of sense. Here’s why it doesn’t: some students have not been in an environment in which they fully know how to utilise the tools that are around them. As much as sixth form taught me my A-Level subjects (to some extent) I learned skills like how to research effectively and my favourite teachers were high-achieving academics who made great role models. Some students cannot relate and that is why they would need a place on that program more than me, because on that program they might learn the skills I already acquired and they might find a role model they never had. Just by taking a step back, as a collective we can allow others to be just as socially mobile as us. It’s also worth nothing that taking a step back doesn’t put you at a disadvantage, especially if you are equipped with the skills you need to create opportunities for yourself. 

Perhaps it’s up to admissions officers to make sure that the selection process is more extensive, they could request more information and even conduct interviews. Although, this may not be pragmatic and things like this require time and money. Also, requesting more information may feel invasive to students.

That being said, summer schools and extra-curricular programmes seem like an appropriate time to take a step back if you can afford to. They tend to happen earlier on in life where missing out means slightly less. Later on in life when it comes to internships, careers and work placements things tend to be different. But I’m not there yet, so I’ll get back to you in a few years.

Special thanks to Migena and Eyram for their encouragement and advice when writing this, it is much appreciated 🙂

Privilege is invisible to those who have it – Michael Kimmel

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