This week, Trump prompts unrest in Palestine and universities pledge to reduce the access gap
Our Race Review has gal-dem writer Sana Noor Haq reflecting on equality in Palestine and speaking to university students from working class backgrounds.
Sana Noor Haq
03 Feb 2020
Happy Monday! I hope you’re having a good start to the month. My name is Sana, and I’ll be keeping you up to date on race-related news every other week, providing you with key analysis on important events that you may have glossed over. Today we’re covering what could be a major turning point in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and looking at a new target set by the Office for Students to reduce the access gap in England’s top universities.
REFLECT: Keep calm and carry on
This past week we’ve experienced a global deluge of watershed moments. From Britain’s irrevocable departure from the European Union, to the announcement of a unilateral Middle East “peace plan”, it’s natural to feel disorientated by the current state of world politics.
Last Tuesday, President Donald Trump unveiled a long-awaited manifesto with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It aims to put decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict to bed. Both men, who are each facing corruption charges in their respective governments, revealed a scheme whereby Palestine would need to concede large areas of the West Bank – expanses of land that most of the world consider to be illegally occupied by Israel.
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is an activist organisation based in the US that works towards non-violence in Israel and Palestine. Speaking about the new plan, JVP’s acting co-executive director Rabbi Alissa Wise said to gal-dem “it was never intended to actually bring about peace but rather entrench Israeli control over Palestinian land”.
“The only way forward towards lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians is through justice, freedom and equality for everyone,” she added.
In a similar act of defiance, Labour MP Rushanara Ali lead and co-signed a letter alongside 130 cross-parliamentary candidates calling for action against Israeli annexation, accusing Boris Johnson’s government of “uncritically welcoming Trump’s unworkable and unfair ‘deal’”. The actions of JVP and Rushanara serve to remind us that it’s important we are active in holding people in power to account, however despondent or powerless we may feel.
REPORT: Top universities pledge to halve the access gap by 2025
The university watchdog Office for Students (OfS) has approved over 200 targets by a selection of Russell Group universities to halve their access gap in the next five years.
Targets include reducing the gap between the proportion of white and black students who are awarded top-tier degrees from 22% to 11.2% and lessening the gap in dropout rates from 4.6% and 2.9%. Many of these plans try to accommodate students who come from particularly underrepresented communities, including care leavers, people from estranged families or students who have grown up in GRT communities.
Twenty-two-year-old Zoya graduated from the University of Nottingham last year, where she studied American Studies and English. In the summer of Year 12 she attended the Nottingham Potential Summer School, which pays for socioeconomically-disadvantaged entrants to experience one week’s worth of university life, lectures and seminars.
Coming from a working-class background, the summer school gave her a key access point to a top-tier university. “It gave me a huge insight into university life – it was really diverse,” she told gal-dem. “It was the most immersive opportunity you’d get before actually going to uni.”
The scheme also provides prospective students with cost-effective ways of paying for university, offering financial aid in the form of a £1,000 grant. “A lot of kids from working class families are deterred from going to uni because of the debt, but they had a really good financial scheme to help kids from lower-income families,” she told gal-dem. “Those factors played a big part in shaping my perspective, and making me actually want to got to Nottingham […] It was one of the best weeks I’ve had because they pushed the idea that you can get to university.”
Similar outreach programmes can provide a bridge for students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to such institutions. However, recent statistics show how much still needs to change. For example, despite a record number of black undergraduates in the UK attending the University of Cambridge last year (largely thanks to the Stormzy effect), they still only comprise 3.4% of the student population.
It’s important to remember that targets are just that – the final statistics speak for themselves.
• MPs and campaigners have demanded an independent inquiry after it was revealed that 57-year-old Errol Graham, who had severe social anxiety, died from starvation only months after welfare officials rescinded his housing and out-of-work benefits.
• In yet another example of our Tory government failing black communities in Britain, father-of two-Joseph Nembhard was separated from his wife and young children. He has been told that he will be deported and placed on a charter flight to Jamaica on Tuesday 11 February.
• Another day, another cringeworthy editorial blunder for the BBC, who apologised after showing video footage of Lakers forward LeBron James whilst reporting the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, blaming it on “human error”.
• Jamaican reggae musician Koffee made Grammys history this year, becoming the youngest person to win Best Reggae Album for her debut album Rapture. She is also the first woman to take home the prestigious award.
• Ciaran Thapar wrote an electric piece for GQ in a special report. He interviewed four British Asians in public life about how they have faced discrimination, writing that the consensus is “disheartening”.
• Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North Caroline Nokes has been made Parliament’s new equalities chief, despite voting against same-sex marriage in 2013.
• US television network Bravo TV announced the launch of a new reality TV show called Family Karma, which will feature an all Indian-American cast.
• David Schwimmer, most notable for his role as Ross Geller in Friends, told the Guardian he was “well aware of the lack of diversity”. However, he faced backlash after hypothesising that there should be an “all-black” version of the popular 90s sitcom, with many pointing out that Living Single was in fact just that.
• Netflix’s new animated series Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts was hailed by viewers after a sweet scene aired in which one of the central characters explains his sexuality to his friend.
• Super League rugby team Catalans Dragons have been criticised for their decision to sign Australian player Israel Folau, after he published a homophobic post on Instagram last April, which read that “hell awaits” gay people.
• Police in New York have arrested a man after he was suspected of attacking trans woman Serena Daniari, an activist and journalist. In a video she posted after the incident, she said “I didn’t do anything. “I just want to be left alone.”
• In the second phase of the public inquiry into Grenfell, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea admitted that the combustible cladding on the tower was wrongly approved due to out-of-date documents.
• Iranian artists are boycotting the Fajr International Film Festival, the country’s most prestigious annual film event, in protest of the country’s failure to admit it’s part in the downing of a Ukranian plane by Iranian forces earlier this January.
GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK
After celebrating a fabulous year for PoC writers in our most recent UN/REST print issue, we couldn’t be more excited to celebrate the founders of Black Girls Book Club. Last Thursday, it was announced that Natalie Carter and Melissa Cummings-Quarry have received a monumental deal with Bloomsbury Kids & YA UK. Their book, Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide to Growing Up, will be published 2021 – we can’t wait to get our hands on a copy.