One of the “I, too, am Oxford” campaign images. Photo: itooamoxford.tumblr.com
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The “I, too, am Oxford” whiteboards aren’t perfect, but they’re better than nothing

Of course, whiteboards do not have the space for the full complexity of the arguments about racial insensitivity, not do they represent everybody’s experiences, but they can start an important discussion about the micro-aggressions that make it difficult to express offence.

I distinctly remember the first time anyone called me a Paki. I was at university and it was a friend, speaking in jest. He saw my shock, and assured me that “the Paki” had been the nickname for the only Pakistani boy at his school, and that “he’d liked it”. The clear suggestion was that I was being oversensitive. I let it go.

In the grand scheme of racist comments, it wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened, but it was distressing for a number of reasons. First, that at 18, I didn’t feel comfortable standing my ground and saying more. Second, the sudden, shocking sense that people – friends – might see me not only as different, but worthy of pejorative names. 

It was that sense, of abruptly being “othered”, that the “I, too, am Oxford” and “I, too, am Cambridge” campaigns depict. Inspired by the “I, too, am Harvard” photo-series in the US, the campaigns feature students of colour holding up whiteboards explaining the various micro-aggressions they experience daily. “The first time anyone called me a Paki was at Cambridge,” says one. “These parts of my identity shouldn’t be mutually exclusive,” says another. “No, I am not here on an access scheme,” reads a third. You get the picture.

It didn’t take long for a counter-campaign to spring up. “We are all Oxford” states on its website that Oxford has been “misrepresented” and expresses concern that “the negative portrayal of an ethnic minority student’s experience at the university will discourage prospective ethnic minority students from applying”. Their whiteboards make statements such as “the only thing the tutors care about is what you bring to the table”. In my experience, that was certainly true – but it doesn’t detract from the original campaign, which focused on other students.

Of course, whiteboards do not have the space for the full complexity of the arguments about racial insensitivity, about prejudice at elite institutions, or about where curiosity ends and offensiveness begins – and nor did the original campaign pretend to. But those whiteboards serve the important purpose of articulating the small instances – the mundane comments, not always intended to offend – that are difficult to confront in the moment, but add up to a painful whole.

When I saw the photographs last week, I was overwhelmed by how strongly I identified with them. Not because I had a terrible time at Oxford; I didn’t. I had a brilliant experience there, socially and academically, and would encourage anyone – state school, ethnic minority, and otherwise – to apply. But at the same time, there were moments where other students made me feel uncomfortable, as if my race was an issue that I couldn’t understand.

The crux of the matter is that these things should be spoken about. After the original campaign was launched, I had some interesting discussions with fellow Oxbridge alumni. Some pointed out that comments about race were often the result of ignorance, not raging prejudice or the desire to hurt. No doubt that is often true, but that makes it all the more important to educate and raise awareness of where the boundary of acceptable behavior lies. Nor does ignorance excuse everything: the willingness to learn is also crucial. The friend I mentioned might have called me a Paki because he was not used to diversity, but it was his choice to tell me to relax rather than think about why I might be hurt or offended.

If you have a lot of people from cloistered backgrounds or exclusive schools, as Oxford and Cambridge do, it is likely that some of these issues will arise. Of course racially insensitive comments are not unique to Oxbridge (I’d hope that most people reading the campaigns would recognize that) – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be discussed at all. That’s the same mentality that says that female foreign correspondents shouldn’t speak out about sexual assault in case it discourages editors from sending women to warzones. Keeping quiet to avoid putting people off does not address the root of the problem.

I still feel angry when I remember some of the things that were said to me while I was at university, and my own silence. The reason I didn’t speak up was not a desire to preserve the university’s good name, of course. It was because I was young and lacked the confidence to challenge comments that made me uncomfortable; because I didn’t want to be seen as over-sensitive or the “touchy ethnic minority” and differentiate myself more; because growing up in an ethnically diverse area of London and being fair-skinned enough to have never experienced overt racism, I had not established coping mechanisms or arguments for these situations. The whiteboards may not relate to everyone’s experience (“my voice is not the voice of all black people,” reads one). But they do kick-start a discussion that needs to be had, and – for me, most importantly – they give ethnic minority students a way of expressing the fact that sometimes it is OK to be offended.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Want to send a positive Brexit message to Europe? Back Arsene Wenger for England manager

Boris Johnson could make a gesture of goodwill. 

It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Sam Allardyce, who coveted the England job for so many years, before losing it after playing just a single match. Yet Allardyce has only himself to blame and the Football Association were right to move quickly to end his tenure.

There are many candidates for the job. The experience of Alan Pardew and the potential of Eddie Howe make them strong contenders. The FA's reported interest in Ralf Rangner sent most of us scurrying to Google to find out who the little known Leipzig manager is. But the standout contender is Arsenal's French boss Arsene Wenger, 

Would England fans accept a foreign manager? The experience of Sven Goran-Eriksson suggests so, especially when the results are good. Nobody complained about having a Swede in charge the night that England won 5-1 in Munich, though Sven's sides never won the glittering prizes, the Swede proving perhaps too rigidly English in his commitment to the 4-4-2 formation.

Fabio Capello's brief stint was less successful. He never seemed happy in the English game, preferring to give interviews in Italian. That perhaps contributed to his abrupt departure, falling out with his FA bosses after he seemed unable to understand why allegations of racial abuse by the England captain had to be taken seriously by the governing body.

Arsene Wenger could not be more different. Almost unknown when he arrived to "Arsene Who?" headlines two decades ago, he became as much part of North London folklore as all-time great Arsenal and Spurs bosses, Herbert Chapman or Bill Nicholson, his own Invicibles once dominating the premier league without losing a game all season. There has been more frustration since the move from Highbury to the Emirates, but Wenger's track record means he ranks among the greatest managers of the last hundred years - and he could surely do a job for England.

Arsene is a European Anglophile. While the media debate whether or not the FA Cup has lost its place in our hearts, Wenger has no doubt that its magic still matters, which may be why his Arsenal sides have kept on winning it so often. Wenger manages a multinational team but England's football traditions have certainly got under his skin. The Arsenal boss has changed his mind about emulating the continental innovation of a winter break. "I would cry if you changed that", he has said, citing his love of Boxing Day football as part of the popular tradition of English football.

Obviously, the FA must make this decision on football grounds. It is an important one to get right. Fifty years of hurt still haven't stopped us dreaming, but losing to Iceland this summer while watching Wales march to the semi-finals certainly tested any lingering optimism. Wenger was as gutted as anybody. "This is my second country. I was absolutely on my knees when we lost to Iceland. I couldn't believe it" he said.

The man to turn things around must clearly be chosen on merit. But I wonder if our new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - albeit more of a rugger man himself - might be tempted to quietly  suggest in the corridors of footballing power that the appointment could play an unlikely role in helping to get the mood music in place which would help to secure the best Brexit deal for Britain, and for Europe too.

Johnson does have one serious bit of unfinished business from the referendum campaign: to persuade his new boss Theresa May that the commitments made to European nationals in Britain must be honoured in full.  The government should speed up its response and put that guarantee in place. 

Nor should that commitment to 3m of our neighbours and friends be made grudgingly.

So Boris should also come out and back Arsene for the England job, as a very good symbolic way to show that we will continue to celebrate the Europeans here who contribute so much to our society.

British negotiators will be watching the twists and turns of the battle for the Elysee Palace, to see whether Alain Juppe, Nicolas Sarkozy end up as President. It is a reminder that other countries face domestic pressures over the negotiations to come too. So the political negotiations will be tough - but we should make sure our social and cultural relations with Europe remain warm.

More than half of Britons voted to leave the political structures of the European Union in June. Most voters on both sides of the referendum had little love of the Brussels institutions, or indeed any understanding of what they do.

But how can we ensure that our European neighbours and friends understand and hear that this was no rejection of them - and that so many of the ways that we engage with our fellow Europeans rom family ties to foreign holidays, the European contributions to making our society that bit better - the baguettes and cappuccinos, cultural links and sporting heroes remain as much loved as ever.

We will see that this weekend when nobody in the golf clubs will be asking who voted Remain and who voted Leave as we cheer on our European team - seven Brits playing in the twelve-strong side, alongside their Spanish, Belgian, German, Irish and Swedish team-mates.

And now another important opportunity to get that message across suddenly presents itself.

Wenger for England. What better post-Brexit commitment to a new Entente Cordiale could we possibly make?

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.