Heidi Safia Mirza is Professor of Race, Faith and Culture at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is known for her pioneering research on race, gender and identity in education and has an international reputation for championing equality and human rights for black and Muslim young people through educational reform.
Why did you pursue an academic career?
I wish I could give a grand answer, but the truth is I graduated from university in 1980 with a baby in arms and no hope of a job. I applied for an ESRC PhD scholarship and got it! It was a lifeline and offered me the means to explore something close to my own heart - my own educational journey as a young woman from Trinidad in the British school system. Generous student grants back then made it possible to get on the academic ladder…and stay there! Thank you!
What career achievements are you most proud of?
I am really proud of my first book Young, Female and Black which after 25 years is still used as an A Level text in schools and was voted into the British Education Research Association's top 40 most influential educational studies in Britain. It laid the groundwork for my theoretical work on black British feminism and my research on marginalised and racialised women in education.
As one of the few women professors of colour in the UK I am very privileged to have a platform to develop and communicate my ideas. Being asked to give the 50th Anniversary Martin Luther King Lecture with Doreen Lawrence in St Paul's Cathedral last year was a highlight in my career. Young people want and need to be inspired, and we have to dig deep and draw on the wisdom and courage of those who went before us to power us onwards in our struggle for social and racial justice.
What is the most important issue society is facing today?
This is a big one - and from where I sit racial and religious hatred, endemic class discrimination and structural sexism remain deeply entrenched. The sheer scale of mass global dispossession these inequalities engender means it will become a flashpoint for 21st century. The global trafficking and mass rape of women, expulsions of indigenous peoples from the denuded land in the Americas, mass migration to Europe of the destitute fleeing north and sub-Saharan Africa, vast refugee camps in the Islamic Middle-East, cities of enslaved workers in China and India, and the murder and institutionalised incarceration of millions of black people in USA, all have the same root – illegitimate and state-sanctioned fear and violence of the ‘poor and huddled’ masses for global profit and gain.
However I am hopeful! While black, brown and poor lives still 'don't matter' (when did they ever!), our nascent technological revolution is opening doors to new forms of grassroots social movements. People are coming to 'voice' and speaking back. Control of social media will be the new terrain of struggle.
What do you feel is the most important finding of economics and social science over the past 50 years?
The civil rights and post-colonial intellectual movements of the sixties ruptured the safe parameters of western thought and knowledge in the social sciences. The irresistible rise of multiculturalism and social diversity brought new perspectives from scholars like Stuart Hall, that enable us today to talk about 'identity' and clearly see the intersectional complexities of race, class and gender.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ESRC.