When it comes to education, politicians are very dismissive when it comes to the inclusion of authors of colour in GCSE and A-level syllabuses. It is blatantly obvious that these authors are under-represented, yet any reference to an author of colour, however small, is instantly used as an example of integrative and representational politics, an attempt to meet the needs of minority students.
Those in charge could easily use Sujata Bhatt’s Search For My Tongue as a poem to meet the needs of students of colour. Bhatt’s poem deals with navigating personal and cultural identities. Britain has many different cultures and communities in its population, and people in these communities may feel as though they have to adhere to a certain way of life and neglect their cultural heritage. Including a poem with a similar to context as Search For My Tongue in school curriculum could help students of colour with their own personal identifications.
However, post-GCSE, literature from different cultures vanishes and is replaced with more classic and convergent English literature. In these literary texts, minority/ethnic characters and authors are curiously absent. As in every form of modern visual media, there is a token presence of a character of colour. Literature is no different; the presence of Othello is supposed to appease the needs of minority students. At a time when students of colour or from the diaspora are increasingly experiencing eurocentric ideals in education, it would be a welcome change in academia for students of colour to have texts and authors whose works they can identify with.
The needs of white students are satisfied completely, take the feminist heroes Hedda Gabler and Blanche Dubois for example. Although students of colour can relate to these two women, heroines who deviated from adhering to stringent norms of a patriarchal society, neither Hedda nor Blanche had to navigate a further dismantling of their cultural identities which can occur in the lives of ethnic minority students.
Bell Hooks and Audre Lorde are great examples of black authors whose works focus on the topics of race, oppression and the invisibility of people of colour in visual media. Any minority student can relate to these issues, and become further enlightened on these topics. English Literature at A-level is an ideal medium for radicalising a new generation of students of colour; the nuance, subtlety and engagement that is required when dealing with these topics can also be found in the perfect environment of a further education institution. FE colleges do, after all, attempt to nurture the intelligence and maturity of its students in preparation for university or employment. The inclusion of authors of colour at A-level, and the sheer interest and passion their works can generate, may even raise the aspirations of minority students. After all, these students, in comparison to their white counterparts, trail behind when it comes to occupying top seeded university positions. It’s time to redress the balance.