William Ackah, lecturer in community and voluntary sector studies at Birkbeck, University of London, told the event, which was chaired by UCL provost and president Michael Arthur, that outdated Victorian views on the “wild and untamed” nature of “the Negro” still persisted at some level in UK universities.
“This [idea] that black life is…anti-intellectual still echoes down the corridors of time,” Dr Ackah said on 10 March.
“Society has grown comfortable with black people in sport or music, [but] it has a problem with black people leading in public life and academia, even if…we are more than capable of doing so,” he added.
The situation contrasts with US universities, where the existence of black studies courses had created a space for black academics to gain a foothold in academic life, Dr Ackah explained.
Amid many comments from a mainly black audience of students and academics, UCL itself was also criticised for its uncritical praise of one of its benefactors, the Victorian polymath Francis Galton, known as the “father of eugenics”.
One student raised the issue of UCL’s Galton Lecture Theatre – Galton also endowed a professorial chair in eugenics, now genetics, at UCL – in light of the scientist’s controversial opinions on the “inferior Negro race”, whom he hoped to be supplanted in Africa by the “industrious, order-loving Chinese”.
“Why do we celebrate someone like Francis Galton who hated us [ie, black people]?” the student asked.