White men can’t jump, but can they champion equality?


Credit: Rowan Dayton-Oxland

Craig Hale

Craig Hale argues that beliefs and actions outweigh identity

Six of the seven Equality Champions at the University of Glasgow are white men, but does their demographic make them unfit for the job?

What is the real question here? Would it have been asked if the Equality Champions were all people from ethnic minorities, or women? I don’t think it would be. That’s because what’s really being challenged is the idea that an all-white, mostly male board can represent the interests of people of colour, women, and other individuals from protected characteristic groups.

I believe that it can. Would it be better to have a more representative board? Of course. However, fundamentally, people with baseline empathy and the appropriate skills can, in my opinion, represent the interests of others.

The members of the board belong to a privileged societal elite: highly educated, well-paid, white, mostly male, and middle or upper-class. They have not faced the same experiences as people from ethnic and other minority groups, or those from other social classes. But this does not mean that they are incapable of representing the needs and views of those from different walks of life and different experiences. In the fight for equality, dedication to the principle and one’s acts to promote it are what matters.

The necessary requirements in fighting for equality are as follows: that one is dedicated to the cause, is aware of one’s privileges and how these privileges may have made your life easier than that of others’. You must have an ability to empathise with the concerns of others, promoting them even at the detriment of one’s own privilege. The role of the Equality Champions is to represent the views and needs of those groups they’re chosen to represent, and to promote equality. They are equally capable in their respective roles of representing their constituents, despite being from different demographics.

The irony of these champions of the “Equality and Diversity Strategy” being entirely white is stinging. However, as these Champions are all drawn from senior management, it raises issues primarily about the lack of diversity within the management of the University itself, and does not undermine their role or diminish their ability to do the task they have volunteered for.

We have no evidence that they lack the skills for the job, or that they are unsympathetic to issues of racism, homophobia, sectarianism, sexism, ageism – or that they hold any views that make them incompatible with the posting. We have no reason to suspect that these individuals – who have volunteered to fight for a more equal university – are incapable of the job. What we do know is that their sex, race, or class apparently make them unfit for the job.

The more attention we spend focusing on the privilege of those involved in the movement and critiquing them as opposed to the true opponents of equality, the less we spend on the achievements they make in promoting equality. We also make the equality movement seem like a place where those with privilege don’t belong, and we will continue to lose ground to the regressives and revisionists.

This is why I not only believe that the demographic of the Equality Champions does not undermine their role or ability to carry it out, but that our excessive focus on the protected characteristics of privileged members in the equality movement is actually harmful to the fight for equality, and flies in the face of what we aim to see realised.