Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) The Big Debate hosted on Wednesday October 8.as part of The University of Edinburgh’s Black History Month 2014.
The Big Debate, part of The Great Debate Tour, is a panel-led series of debates on the problems ethnic minorities face in the UK.
The Great Debate Tour presents panellists from the worlds of entertainment, politics, activism and the student movement to tackle the issues of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME), political disengagement, and representation.
The event series is travelling around universities in the UK this October and November.
The chair of the debate, Elorm Haligah, who is also the Midlands Regional Manager of the program, began by outlining the three goals of the debate: to educate the audience, impress, and empower.
“Sometimes we focus so much on the history that we forget about the current issues concerning black people,” Haligah said, setting the tone of the discussion.
The panel of students was made up of four participants who were primarily debating and facilitating discussion.
It consisted of students Faatima Osman and Brekhna Aftab from The University of Edinburgh, and also featured EUSA Vice President Academic Affairs (VPAA) Dash Sekhar, and Bradley Poku-Amankwah from The University of St Andrews.
The panel debated a variety of questions presented by Haligah both amongst themselves and with the audience.
The first topic debated was titled: ‘Africa’s Rising: Whose Responsibility?’
Panellists answered questions about the extent to which developed countries are responsible for helping African countries continue to develop, as well as how social media helps or hinders their progress.
A heated discussion over the effect of the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ social media campaign left the majority of the panellists in agreement that social media did little if anything to create social change.
Rather, a panellist said “it only makes the first world people who participate feel slightly morally superior”.
Other topics debated were political representation, media representation, and employment inequalities.
On why political officials in the UK remain unrepresentative of the diversity of ethnic groups in the UK, Sekhar said: “The fact that we don’t find representatives that actually represent us perpetuates the problem.”
He explained that young people don’t identify with the people in political positions and so don’t think of occupying those positions themselves.
While discussing how difficult it is to find positive representations of ethnic minorities in the media, Aftab came to a similar conclusion.
She pointed out the difficulty of finding standards of beauty that apply to women of ethnic minorities.
Aftab said: “You don’t have representation there and it kind of perpetuates itself.”
On the issue of employment, the debate widened to class inequality. “Ultimately it does come back to class a lot of the time,” said Osman.
Poku-Amankwah expanded on this, saying employers tend hire people who are like them.
“It’s to do with culture,” said Poku-Amankwah.
“If you can relate to people […] you are far more likely to offer them a job than if you can’t identify with them,” he added.
The debate ended with a general sentiment of how much work still has to be done.
Sekhar said: “The minute we stop talking about inequality people assume we are in a post-racist society.”
Black History Month events will be put on throughout October.
The next events feature a film screening and discussion on October 20 as well as a ballet performance on October 27.