The collection covers issues including activism, civil rights and incarcerationAmy Batley

Cambridge University Press (CUP) has made a collection of journal articles, book chapters and books free to the public until July 12th following global anti-racism protests.

The move comes as black academics and students highlighted issues of racism in academia this week, using the hashtag #BlackintheIvory on Twitter. Thousands of tweets attest to deep-seated problems inside universities and research institutions.

“One of the most important things that we can do as a publisher is not just voice outrage, but provide research and data to inform progress,” CUP said to explain their move. “By standing together we can be part of the solution”, they continued.

Oxford University Press (OUP) has similarly published a reading list to “give context to the current protests”. Several of the titles remain behind a paywall, however.

Many academics have voiced their support of the move. Yet, others have called for these resources to be used appropriately. Davin L. Phoenix, author of ‘The Anger Gap’ which is featured in the CUP collection, implored “non-black folks to not read for catharsis, but rather to spark thinking about your own role in transforming norms, practises and policies within your own academic spaces”.

The authors included in the CUP list are primarily US citizens and from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

The CUP collection centres upon racism, discrimination and injustice. Topics range from minority activism and the civil rights movement, mass incarceration, homeownership, Medicaid, policing, US government policy to the election of Donald Trump.

One notable title is Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela Julie Gross’s Becoming Free, Becoming Black. Looking at slave societies in Cuba, Virginia and Louisiana, it traces how race and ethnicity became potent ciphers for civil belonging. The brutality of slavery was not merely its imposition, the authors argue, but in the creation of racial regimes that subjugated black bodies once they were freed from bondage.

The book emphasises how slave populations struggled to gain their own freedom, against interpretations that focus upon the actions of Europeans to end slavery.

Jessica Trounstine’s Segregation by Design examines how local governments in the US have used the distribution of public goods and land use to increase the wealth of white property owners at the expense of black communities. Trounstine proposes that this issue can only be solved if states equalise public goods with an eye towards integration. Mobilising and building coalitions are the “place to start”, she suggests.

Moving away from historical analysis, Suspect Citizens by Frank Baumgartner, Derek Epp and Kelsey Shoub illuminates how racialised policing is one of the most pressing civil rights issues in the US. Using data from police traffic stops, the book argues that aggressive policing strategies not only exact a high price in community alienation, but deliver precious little benefit for public safety.

In what might inspire today’s protestors, The Political Power of Protest by Daneil Q. Gillion demonstrates how protest around racial concerns has directly influenced the US government by signalling the political preferences of citizens.

The implication of this book is simple, yet profound: protest can play a powerful role in the democratic process.

Perhaps the most pertinent insights can be gleaned from Christian Davenport’s How Social Movements Die, which presents an innovative theory into how state repression, alongside internal fractionalisation, can initiate the demise of popular movements.

CUP has previously made titles publicly available in response to global events. In April, the publisher made a range of research and learning materials available for students, teachers and researchers beyond Cambridge as libraries began to close due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

With many pointing out that race and class are inexorably linked in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests, it is notable that the authors included in the collection are almost exclusively academics, many of whom are associated with Ivy League universities.


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When asked to comment on the release of the titles, Dr. Manali Desai, Reader in Sociology at the University of Cambridge, stated: “I hope this is more than a mere nod to the BLM movement. There are issues that need more thinking through, including whether black authors are actively welcomed by academic presses and whether there is enough BAME representation”.

Desai has previously commented on the decolonisation of university curricula, claiming: ’it’s not about how many black authors are on the reading lists. What’s important is the need for Britain, and white people especially, to grapple with the colonial legacy.”

“A tick-box approach to approach to inclusion, diversity and equality isn’t going to cut it”, she said.

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