We are delighted to present this special issue of Anthropolitan—UCL Anthropology’s annual departmental magazine—on the theme of Race, Racism, and Decolonisation.
This issue has had a long gestation. It began with a Call for Papers in late 2020, inspired by urgent conversations being had in the department—and more widely, across anthropology and academia—in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May 2020. The power of the social and political reaction to this violent event (including, notably, the Black Lives Matter movement) was such that academics—particularly in the social sciences and humanities— could no longer overlook the themes of race, racism, and discrimination in society. Structural racism and other forms of prejudice and discrimination were brought into stark relief. Overdue—and ongoing—conversations ensued, focusing on the deep-seated systemic inequalities in society (and in academia) as well as the colonial legacy of anthropology as an academic discipline traditionally focused on “the Other”. The theme of decolonisation—much discussed and debated over the past few years—has become a focal point for ideas which aim to critique and destabilise the hegemonic structures undergirding academia (and attendant epistemological practices) as well as universities as educational institutions. The contributions to this issue, though on diverse subject matter, all explore decolonisation from different angles and vantage points.
We were humbled by the positive response to the Call for Papers. Students and staff from across the department—from undergraduates to emeritus professors—submitted abstracts, articles, interviews, and photo essays on relevant themes, demonstrating a remarkable breadth and diversity of engagement with this deeply important topic. More than anything, it has been humbling to see the prominent role that our students have held in inspiring, provoking, and furthering these critical and often difficult conversations in our department.
The special issue includes a range of topical and timely articles on themes including Chinese students’ experience of racism and decolonisation (Wenqian Yuan, Jinzhi Xie, and Dr Gareth Breen); a decolonial initiative by a cohort of PhD researchers in our department (PAPER); a Black Lives Matter rally in Oregon, USA (Rachel Parsons); decolonising practices among Sikh American art collectors (saeed husain); the rejection of the concept of race in biological anthropology (Volker Sommer); health inequalities, land justice, and the microbiome (Esther Kaner); urban gardening in post-explosion Beirut (Mustafa Almi’ani); deimperialisation through ontological theory (Son Vo-Tuan); digital methodologies for decolonising research (Sidali Sid); the biology of human genetic variation (Fragkiskos Darmis); indigenous struggles and forest rights in rural India (Sahib Singh); diabetes interventions among First Nations communities in Toronto (Helena Bogner); a review of the student-staff collaborative ‘Growing Sensations’ project (Dr Dalia Iskander and Nina Dyne); and, finally, an interview with UCL social anthropologist Dr Ashraf Hoque.
We would like to extend a warm thanks to all contributors to this special issue, as well as the editors, copyeditors, and designers who made the edition possible. Thanks, in particular, to Allen Abramson for helping edit this issue, Ishaan Sinha for his masterful design work, and Tai Cadogan, Caleb Scola, and Caroline Sinding for their help with proofreading the magazine. We sincerely hope you enjoy reading the issue, which feels crucial at the present juncture.
Title image: ‘Andes | Anden’ by Alexander Girst. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.