Chapter 4: Superficial Representation and True Beaconing

Chapter 4 aims to suggest that HEI’s must challenge the wider underlying philosophy that has shaped the current approach.

Chapter 3 has identified 2 flaws of the current paradigm of promoting representation. Chapter 4 aims to suggest that HEI’s must challenge the wider underlying philosophy that has shaped the current approach and their flaws.

The UK is said to have engaged in the Culture War. It is “us” against “them”, us as the rightful descendants of Anglos and Saxons against the illegal migrants who are diluting the glory of Britannia. Differences are seen as invasive, as threats that needs to be actively suppressed and neutralised. The British identity is to be like us. If you cannot act, speak, think, see like us, you need to be managed. This mentality puts minoritized groups into a mindset of competition, it’s all for ourselves now. Black history month is for black people, Lunar New Year is for East Asians, it is not uncommon that HEI is becoming more eager to recognise differences, but it is unfortunately uncommon that these differences are not really celebrated. There is no platform to display horizontal cultural appreciation and solidarity when every group tries to keep themselves relevant, we are made to compete for higher cultural relevance in HEI, in politics, in society.

This meant that people from minoritized communities are then expected to take up even more responsibilities – you need to fight for diversity, representation, but also fight for the sustenance of your own culture. It is no wonder we feel exhausted and tokenised, as our efforts rarely translate into true cultural changes, as we failed to see enough improvements in our daily lives. We feel tokenised because our existence merely acts as virtue signalling, because we are used to fulfil tick-box exercises. Tokenised because it is always just us speak for ourselves. This divides the minority groups, instigating a “all for themselves” mentality, as difference is framed as threatening, cultural survival is perceived as something to compete for, that only the fittest will survive.

This cultural assimilation narrative does not only affect the minoritized groups, but it also breeds the resentment in dominant groups that were expressed too often in academia towards the minoritized groups. “You must be a diversity hire.” This resentment and grief do not (always) stem from race-based discrimination, although it is often framed this way, this could be instead an expression of anger or discontent towards the seemingly unfair system where the minoritized are rewarded with more merit than they perceived to possess. This perception of unjust is brewed from the current non-transparent and ineffective way of promoting “socially valued” practices, where genuine communications and respect of differences is left out unmeasured, hence of the scene. People expressing this resentment may not disagree with the principles of equality, they might even be strong supporters of the notion, but they were misconstrued with top-down promotion of visible representation.

To enforce these top-down, superficial representation, EDI groups quickly resorted to law and social contracts (that people might not agree). We are told that diversity and representation is valued in HEI, and that discriminatory behaviour will be punished. I argue below that neither of the 2 approaches – legal deterrent or social pressure – address the crux of the problem.

The legal system exists to refrain people from hating each another when they are violated, knowing that any mishaps (defined by law) will be justly punished or reattributed. Social contracts exists to refrain people from loving or caring for each another, when they only need to satisfy the need to demonstrate performative, socially acceptable behaviours to be seen as prosocial. This means that under the social contract of “no discrimination”, people learned that their lack of/unwillingness to love and understand differences will be hidden covertly behind a certain pattern of behaviours. Treating means as goals in promoting EDI becomes a retractive, ahistorical approach that avoids reconciliation and sustains colonial social hierarchy – to continue to see the culturally dominant group as the giver, and the rest of the minority flourishing conditioned on the dominant groups’ approval, that we are never seen as equals.

To demonstrate progress in “Beaconing and Sharing” activities is a key to be awarded the Athena Swan award. If HEI is an epitome of society, (that is, if we can separate HEI from society), beaconing activity must include the active reflection on the philosophy and ideology as we strive to push for a safe and diverse environment for everyone to reach their potentials to the fullest.

My final chapter will hope to suggest what a safe and empowering space for diversity and representation should look like.


Author: joseph lam

On a Part-Time PhD Journey. Reflection on living Academia into a better place. 🇭🇰 Migrant in 🇬🇧

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