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UK: black African international students facing racist abuse

Racism and Othering “pervade all aspects of the lived experiences, both inside and outside the university” of Black African international students as they study and live in the UK research by The Centre for Global Higher Education has found. 

The research included interviews where African students in the UK spoke about their experiences of racism. Photo: Pexels

"As part of the research the stories of 21 BAIS studying in ten universities (which were anonymised) located in eight English cities were explored"

The report titled Racism and Othering in International Higher Education: Experiences of Black Africans in England was written by Solomon Zewolde, and included analysis of 21 semi-structured interviews with BAIS studying in 10 different universities located in eight English cities.

“I was about to approach this white guy, and he just raised his hand and dismissed me saying that I ‘should go back to where they brought me from”

BAIS experienced overt instances of racism including being called a racial slur, being told to go back to Africa, and racist missile attacks.

One student who was interviewed gave a testimonial that described how she had been told to return home to Africa. 

“I got this Christmas job, and I was meant to pitch the sales to people, like ‘oh do you have internet at home?’, ‘we are selling internet’, ‘get surprises’, stuff like that, and I kept approaching people,” the student said. 

“So I was about to approach this white guy, and he just raised his hand and dismissed me saying that I ‘should go back to where they brought me from’, I ‘should go back to Africa where I came from’, and that I am not needed here. 

“It was so funny because it had never happened to me before. I was just like ‘ah! wow!; sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you’, ‘if you are having a bad day, just go and educate yourself’, that kind of thing, that was what I said.”

As part of the research the stories of 21 BAIS studying at the 10 anonymised universities were explored. 

The study involved audio 16 recording of in-depth interviews, and a self-completed ‘contextual information sheet’ to secure demographic information about BAIS. 

The participants were recruited using a combination of criterion and snowball sampling strategy from BAIS who came from English-speaking Sub-Saharan African countries to study in the UK. 

Other experiences of racism included BAIS having eggs thrown at them. 

“Some of my friends here that are girls have actually experienced something like that [racist attacks],” another student told researchers. 

“They said there was a time they were going back to their hostel at night and apparently a car actually drove by and white guys threw eggs at them.

“I will probably say that was the only time that I probably thought people might look at me differently because I am black… They felt really bad about it. I mean, if I was walking on the street and a group of white people drove by and kind of threw eggs at me, definitely I will feel really bad about it.”

The paper found that BAIS face discrimination in the labour market and that securing work experience placements and/or a part-time jobs emerged as one of the most serious challenges almost all BAIS faced during their UK sojourn.

“BAIS experienced overt and violent racist attacks, where they were called racial slurs, told to go back to Africa, and attacked by missiles”

 “This phenomenon mirrors the UK national labour market context where black Africans have the highest unemployment rate even among ethnic minorities especially in big cities and inner London boroughs,” the paper said. 

According to the paper, the analysis of the data shows that BAIS’s experiences of racism and Othering while studying and living in the UK happened both inside and outside the university, and the perpetrators were people from various walks of life. 

“BAIS experienced overt and violent racist attacks, where they were called racial slurs, told to go back to Africa, and attacked by missiles. This finding is consistent with the limited existing literature in the UK on the racism experiences of postgraduate international students who experienced overt racist attacks,” the paper said. 

There needs to be acknowledgement on the part of universities that ‘race’ and racism affect BAIS’s adjustment and shape all aspects of their lived experiences, it added.

“Universities need to place race consciousness at the centre of institutional policy and practice. This would mean ensuring that considerations of ‘race’ and racism are central and not marginal in universities’ planning, design and implementation of internationalisation policies, from recruitment to placement and graduation,” the paper said.

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