Cancel culture has “benefits”, academics at almost 100 UK universities have been told as part of an anti-racism course.
The Open University has devised a training programme titled Union Black, backed by £500,000 of Santander investment, which offers teaching staff lessons including “white people have a responsibility to solve the problem of racism”.
Academics taking the course are urged to become “active allies” in advancing racial justice, course materials reveal, and taught about the advantages of “cancelling” people and institutions.
Material in one online module states: “In relation to racial/social justice, cancel culture has been shown to realise benefits.”
Examples of these benefits in the material include “holding people or entities accountable for immoral or unacceptable behaviour” and “promoting collective action to achieve social justice and cultural change through social pressure”.
Course documents also add “motivating allies to reveal themselves”, as an advantage, along with “mobilising public opinion and sharing collective expressions of moral outrage”.
The documents urge “due diligence before effectively ‘cancelling’ someone”, which is an act of making an individual a pariah – often through social media pressure and sometimes to the point of people losing their jobs – that has become a growing issue in academia.
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‘Last-ditch appeal for justice’
Critics of “cancel culture” have often accused online “mobs” of enforcing moral conformity, but the Union Black course documents said the phenomenon of calling out people for their transgressions is “a last-ditch appeal for justice”, adding that social media can be “a place to sow discord”.
The Union Black course, launched in 2021, has been taken up by select academics and students in around 90 UK universities, including Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol, and Imperial College London.
Those taking the online course are offered insights on black history, race relations, unconscious bias, and “whiteness”.
Course material – drawn up by anonymous Open University contributors – states that “we still live in a racist society”, adding that “the black/white dynamic and structural racism” play a significant role in “all areas of modern life in western nations”.
It further claims that “white people have a responsibility to solve the problem of racism”, urging those taking the voluntary course to rate how active they are as “allies” in this struggle, with being “non-racist” deemed “not enough”.
Teaching staff and students taking the course are invited to sign a declaration of intent at the close of the course, in which they can acknowledge that “systemic racism is deeply entrenched in society”, and “racism may have influenced what I am being taught and what I am teaching”.
‘Agitprop training materials’
The Free Speech Uno has criticised the Union Black course, with the organisation’s chief legal counsel Bryn Harris commenting: “I am disappointed, though sadly not surprised, to learn that UK academics are being trained in the virtues of cancel culture.
“It seems instead that these materials were agitprop training materials, and that this is another sad example of UK universities’ inability to be serious about academic freedom and freedom of speech.”
Santander has said the course was conceived in response to a report highlighting the racial inequality in higher education, and the bank and the Open University have said the programme has had a positive response.
A spokesman for the Open University said: “We are proud to have worked together with Santander on developing this course which is aimed at increasing awareness of racism and building allyship to support inclusion.
“Feedback from participants on the course has been extremely positive, and we are recommending it to staff and students across all UK universities.”