From a childhood identity crisis to navigating academia, he discusses the importance of Black radical tradition – and why TV quarrels with Nigel Farage are worthwhile
When Kehinde Andrews was at school, his friends would never have imagined him growing up to become the UK’s first Black studies professor – nor that he would help found the first Black studies programme in Europe, at Birmingham City University. True, he grew up in the city, the son of two committed Black activists, who established numerous organisations and promoted the Black anti-racist intellectual tradition – but Andrews, 37, didn’t always embrace their legacy. In fact, his path to Black studies took a detour when he rebelled against everything it stood for.
“I had an identity crisis in high school,” he says. “I look back and cringe.” If this sounds like the usual chafing against parental authority, it was. But there was also a deeper – and sadder – reason. As the result of a sort of British version of bussing, Andrews travelled every day to a school with a good reputation in a predominantly white area. Even as a child, he says, he could see that Black students were pigeonholed. “The racial stereotypes were so clear,” he says. “It was so obvious, from day one, that Black kids don’t do well.” There was, he says, “a very clear path” based on what race the students were. “There’s me and one, maybe two, other Black kids in the top set – everybody else was in the bottom set. In my 11-year-old head, it was: ‘Well, I’m going to do well in school, so I’m going to go with the white kids.’ That was how it was set up.”