Author Information Posted by : The Guardian
Post Information Posted on : March 14, 2014 Posted in : Perspective 30 Comments Visit The Guardian's site

I, too, am Oxford: Being othered at university

Inspired by black students at Harvard, who were in turn inspired by the final ringing line – “I, too, am America” – of a 1926 civil liberties poem, a group of black and minority ethnic students at Oxford has launched the website I, too, am Oxford.

Nearly 70 students have so far posed for photographs holding up a sample of some of the attitudes they have met at the university (“How did you get in to Oxford? Jamaicans don’t study;” “So do you like speak Nigerian?”; “Yes my hair is real!”).

While more “students of colour” are now studying at Oxford than ever before, the site says: “Students in their daily encounters in Oxford are made to feel different and othered from the Oxford community.” There are still “issues to be discussed”.





See the full selection here.


  • Mez Well

    Welcome to the world of discrimination. Just be white and try to go to a university in South Africa. You will know all about it. So please black people don’t complain unless you are any better.

    • Jabarichie

      Really, whites attend the best universities in South Africa, recently two white students at the Free State university beat up a black student just because he is black. So don’t taje us black pple for fools. How many years where blacks in South Africa denied basic human freedon by whites just bse they were black. Please stop insluting the black person’s intelligence.

      • Jay

        Agree Jabarichie, white people have never had it so good in South Africa. Yet the whining you hear! Its strange how those who were the racist oppressors play the victim card in South Africa.

    • Lebo

      What point are you trying to make?

  • Lucy

    I think I’ve enjoyed the comments more than the article for a change! i can’t make up my mind about what it all means yet, except that people must get better at geography!

  • bheki

    But the odd question is: how did you get a place at Oxford. That is racist! if i am human that must not be a question from someone studying at the same institution.

  • Mapula

    Guinnessholic, I will zoom in on you because your comment had my emotions go through the ROYGBIV in a second.

    I am an African, and black. On the surface, your comment is insensitive and brash, and as a result, I reacted as I always do with anything that belittles the historical struggles of a black man. However, your sentiments aren’t without truth. Perhaps it would help to explain a little bit on where we stand.

    Black folk will always have an identity crisis. It is only until very recently that we were viewed as if born of the same woman and destined for the same fate, i.e., to slave under the authority of the white man, to raise their children whilst ours fend for themselves, to be the perpetual subordinate whilst our white counterparts amass wealth and worldly knowledge. We were viewed as incapable of couth, civility and progress. Things have since changed, well, in as far as legislation goes, but the battle to detach oneself from such stereotypes is far from over. What you view as “preferred victim status,” some of us see it as resistance to return to the box. Irrational to some extent, but a more likely knee-jerk response in most social settings. The trigger is very often harmless curiosity, such as a colleague that found my hair surprisingly soft and bouncy, contrary to her previous ideas of wiry coils. At time it could be a bad case of ignorance, as in the case of the gentleman I met on a bus to Edinburgh, who bragged of how he decided to start learning Xhosa, and later decided to drop it because “it is an ancient Bushman language that no one has any use for anyway.” At times it is outright malicious.

    Regardless, this is not a “race”-specific problem. Issues like these will arise whenever there are “boxes” for the black, the white, the gay, the straight, the female, the male, etc. It takes a mature individual to stay calm and know when to educate, learn or walk away (ignore) in order to achieve mutual understanding or avoid unnecessary conflict.

    • Guinnessholic

      Mapula. In every single example of ignorance above, it is patently obvious that these were the questions, responses and queries of initial encounters. These people holding the placards had some decisions to make. Quick ones. And they chose the wrong one.

      The CORRECT response would have been to remain aloof, show a wry smile and then proceed to correct the misconception with an educated response. In this way they would have had the chance NOT to shame the person they encountered, but to both enlighten them and CHANGE the perceptions we all have of Africans (in particular). The broad perception of Africans is not incorrect if you take into account that so very few make a positive impression. You cannot and will not change broad stereotypes by reacting negatively, attempting to shame and blame, and accuse all and sundry of being racist (by implication if need be).

      And what makes you lot so special? You don’t think other cultures and races feel somewhat inferior and overwhelmed? The Koreans do at times, yet they combat this by playing up their virtues. And it works. What sort of cultural mien do you have, if your default position to any criticism (usually perceived) is to attack the messenger? When will you play the game as others play it? What are your virtues for that matter?

      Africans need to take a long hard look at themselves. It’s your biggest fault. Work at changing yourself and foreign perception will adapt accordingly. We’re all frankly sick of your moaning and begging frankly. We don’t need to understand you. We’ve all been there already.

      • Hopeful

        Where is the ‘like’ button?

        Africans need to get over themselves. Grow up! When are you going to stop being such victims, and put the locus on control where it should be, in you? You are NOT the only continent who was colonised. They are over it, already – decades ago. Countries who had a fraction of the mineral and other natural resources were able to work their way to great success, leaving Africa in the dust. Why?
        Only in the African victim mentality would a dreadfully BAD human being such as Robert Mugabe get away scott free with bringing his country to the verge of a failed state, by blaming white people (the British). This odious individual is a hero to Africans. That is what is wrong with Africa! To this day, this is sucked up by Africans! It’s ‘them’, not ‘us’. Sorry guys, Idi Amin, Mobutu and the other dreadful leaders are YOUR FAULT. YOU kept voting for them until all power was taken from you through legislation and a tame cronyist judiciary. Independent institutions are not a ‘white’ construct, they are important for a reason! To this day in South Africa, the corrupt and woefully unskilled and incompetent ANC will stay in power because voters cannot bear that ‘white people’ support the opposition (liberal economic policies). It has to be racist because it is supported by white people!!!!! Voting for your own poverty, and bitching about the suffering that results – is soooooo African.
        When are Africans going to have the courage and self belief to own that the main reasons for African poverty are: 1. corruption 2. incompetence 3. PC post-colonial theories 4. the blind loyalty of voters to their liberators no matter how bad [World Bank report]. All of those excepting 3 are AFRICAN problems. All Africans should study as a compulsary subject in school ‘The Architects of Poverty’ by Moeletsi Mbeki [THE LIBERATORS, for a quick summary], and ‘Capitalist Nigger’ by Dr Chika Onyeani. There are NO special rules of economics for Africans. Incompetence, victim ideology, cronyism and corruption = poverty. Why tolerate it? Why keep on blaming the past which cannot be changed? Don’t vote with your feet (the main African export is intellectual capital), DO SOMETHING about your blaming victim mindset, and call your dreadful thieving ‘my turn to eat’ leaders to account. PS I am African and sick to death of ‘racism’ always being ‘other people’s fault’.

      • Guinnessholic

        Quite right Hopeful.

        You can always count on Africans to draw their weapon, take careful aim, and then gleefully take part in some self foot-shooting. Case in point is this fruitless and counter-productive exercise in blaming-and-shaming.

        For one moment let’s look at the fall-out from this exercise. How will the people who attempted to engage (albeit clumsily) with these Africans feel about having their ignorance displayed for all to chortle over? Do these Africans not think that they will think twice before ever kicking off a conversation with an African in future? Or how about even getting to know Africans? Let’s just chalk this down as ‘score one’ for insulating yourself from ‘outsiders’.

        And how about everyone else who may have thought about befriending an African? Do you not think they may take a wide berth lest they have some imagined slight, or a question taken out of context placed on a cardboard sheet and posted on a derogatory, shame-filled web site?

        In other words these Africans have successfully separated themselves instead of merging with their peers, and all because they’d prefer shaking up their victim status. It’s the default position of the bruise-easy weaker cultures.

  • http://mailandguardian Mauricio

    it is not a black or white question. We have many universities in the US or Europe with many students from around the world. Of course, different background is a big problem.

  • Loophole

    a) “No my family did not have to fell the Sudan”,

    But many have had to, and if you had you’d want sympathy right?

    b) “What is your African name.”

    Not so good, but many Africans do have one right?

    c) My cousins’ nanny is from Kenya?

    It’s called “reaching out”, or are you against discussing the working class in social situations? (If someone said to me her cousin’s nanny was from South Africa and white, it wouldn’t worry me in the least.)

  • Phil

    More often than not these comments and questions arise out of 80% ignorance and 20% other factors, like racial prejudice, class snobbery &c.

    People in the UK are, for the most part, completely unaware of what really goes on beyond their island shores.

  • http://www.martyrdom, martyr

    I am white live in Cape Town and often when mention I am from SA asked if Iknow anyone on Libya etc, etc so these complaints are really a waste of time.

    • ute seemann

      agree wholeheartedly

  • Guinnessholic

    Really? And this passes as some sort of racism, or you find it uncomfortable? People who are foreign receive all sorts of polite queries (which is what these examples are) and the odd ignorant presumption. It’s nothing to do with colour, race or creed, but everything to do with mistaken engagement. But this says so much about Africans and their preferred victim status. It shows such a weakness of cultural character that you have to build a website asserting your sensitivities and managing to garner so much support and eager messengers. Have you no shame?

    What you should be doing is educating people on your home land. Setting an example, changing perceptions by being unmoved by petty ignorance. Why do you have to disassociate yourself from people, and make them feel so uncomfortable when you could be forgiving of such tiny slights? It’s disgusting really. I’d be mortified if I was an African who didn’t see himself as a victim of white people at every turn. Grow up already! It’s become quite pathetic.

    • Muzza

      Thanks for stating the BNP view so well.

  • Theo

    Well, it is not like students in South African universities always know where Belarus, Hungary or Finland are – or what languages people (mainly) speak there. Or how they differ from Dutch people, or Czech nationals, Ignorance is prevalent everywhere…

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed the article – thank you!