An open letter has been written to the English Faculty to complain about its curriculum Lola Olufemi (Facebook)

After three long years as a Cambridge English student, the thing that is most memorable about my degree and the thing that has caused me the most frustration is just how unbearably white the curriculum is. Myself and countless others have written at length about the ways in which a white curriculum is nothing more than the maintenance of structural and epistemological power. Decolonising the curriculum is a process – a process that requires thought and consideration. It means rethinking what we learn and how what we learn it; critically analysing whose voices are given priority in our education and for what reason. It is not an easy process and why should it be?

“Postcolonial writing is not an afterthought; it is British literature”

There is a long history of exclusion in the Cambridge English tripos. This ranges from the formal exclusion of writers from the realm of study to the informal creation of a culture of disregard for postcolonial and BME writers. Instances include students being patronised or suffering condescension because they express a desire to write about race. There is an unspoken assumption that that the history of literature is a history that belongs exclusively to white men and the elevation of a Eurocentric canon, which purposefully excludes writers and readers like me.

We must stop assuming that white male writers have the ability to tap into ‘a shared humanity’ which comes to erase meaningful differences between us. We need to refuse to marginalise, silence and malign writers from the Global South. Taking the postcolonial paper this year, was for me, an act of resistance and a claiming of joy. So many writers on this paper from Fanon to Kincaid challenged me to think beyond the realms of Eurocentricity, taught me that a different way of learning is possible. They have taught me to refuse to be compliant, that disrupting a system, at the very least, creates ripples. 

“We need a faculty that recognises that ‘objective analysis’ is shaped by the material consequences of our lives: gender, race, class, ability”

But it is not enough to simply include one option at the end of a three year degree. Postcolonial writing is not an afterthought; it is British literature. It is a reminder of a colonial history that Britain and British institutions would like us to forget. It is therefore our intellectual responsibility to meet the claims of these authors with the respect and the dignity they deserve.

We need a faculty that recognizes that ‘objective analysis’ and the act of reading is shaped by the material consequences of our lives: gender, race, class, ability. This is not a cardinal sin. This way of reading might actually teach us something. Acknowledgements of the politics that surround literature, especially pertaining to race and colonial history, do not burden texts, but liberate them.

It is too easy to do an English degree at Cambridge and not notice the absence of postcolonial and BME authors. So we’ve decided to disrupt, disrupt, and disrupt again. This open letter was proposed and written by a group of third year postcolonial students after a meeting that took place in Lent Term. We have decided that there must be a point at which the faculty is forced to review and analyse its teaching materials and practice in order to end the exclusion of BME and postcolonial writers. We encourage anyone who understands the importance of decolonising; who cares about recentring the writers who have been purposefully forgotten and can imagine the possibility of a liberated curriculum in the next 10 or 20 years, to sign the letter