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Our work on race

Our work on race

Racism has been brought to the forefront of everyone’s mind in recent weeks (you can read UK Research and Innovation’s statement here) but research into race and ethnicity is something our community has been working on for decades. Find out about just some of the work in this area going on across UKRI.

Past and present

Cambridge Professor Dr Pedro Ramos Pinto runs the Inequality, Social Science and History Research Network, helping to both understand and assess contemporary issues surrounding global social inequality, through historical thinking and debate.

“In my current work I am interested in understanding how contemporary inequalities are shaped by the past, bringing a more long-term view to explain how and why societies distribute resources, opportunities and capabilities,” he explains. “As part of this, I direct a research network on the topic of Inequality and History, which was started by an AHRC grant.”

Another Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded project is Black Lives Matter: Usable Pasts and International Futures - led by Dr Karen Salt (now UKRI’s Deputy Director, R&D Culture and Environment) and with involvement from activist and scholar Lisa Robinson, community groups, organisers and activists. The wide-reaching research sought to understand the origin points, dynamics and possible futures of Black Lives Matter as a global and intersectional human rights and social justice movement by linking it within a longer and wider geography of black protests across the African diaspora.

The ESRC Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) - directed by Professor James Nazroo and Professor Bridget Byrne - brings together an interdisciplinary team using quantitative and qualitative approaches to understand how ideas of, and responses to, ethnicity have changed, and what impact this has on contemporary ethnic identities and inequalities.

The researchers examine data that has been collected since the 1950's in the UK in order to understand changes in the ethnic make-up of the population, the dynamics of ethnic inequality and identity over this period and the factors that may be driving these changes.

The STFC Public Engagement programme’s Wonder Initiative aims to engage with communities from the 40% most deprived areas of the country, based on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation.  This group was chosen, not only because it is underrepresented in STEM, but it often also intersects with other underrepresented groups, including black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.  Wonder projects collaborate closely with their communities, to ensure the activities are appropriate and engaging – so that everyone gets the most out of their experience.  As part of the Wonder Initiative, we have worked on several projects with black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and will be looking to share learning and best practice across UKRI and the public engagement community. 

Racism online

HateLab is an ESRC-funded Policy Demonstrator Project that began in 2017. It has produced numerous studies aimed at measuring and countering the problem of hate, both online and offline, including both individual and group cybercrime.

The work ranges from analysing data linked to the rise of hate crime and online hate speech following the Brexit vote – these results underpinned the BBC One Panorama documentary 'Hate on the Streets’ in 2018 - as well as using artificial intelligence and social science statistical modelling techniques to create an online dashboard that automatically classifies hateful content in real-time.

Impact of ethnic and racial harassment on mental health

The ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change (MiSoC) has a research strand on Changing populations: ethnicity and migration, including causes and consequences of ethnic and racial harassment and identity, behaviour and wellbeing. The centre’s work into the impact of ethnic and racial harassment on mental health led to informing the practice of investigators at the Independent Office for Police Conduct, and providing evidence for policy makers and the third sector.

Researchers have used data from ESRC’s Understanding Society study – a longitudinal household panel survey of approximately 40,000 households, including an ethnic minority sample of approximately 4,000 households - to examine the Cumulative effect of racial discrimination on the mental health of ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom.

Children and adolescents from migrant backgrounds may be at increased risk of poor mental health outcomes due to exposure to stressful or traumatic events before, during and following migration. However, there has been limited research on ways to protect their mental health. Research funded by the Medical Research Council aims to utilise participatory research methods and art-based approaches to strengthen evidence on the mental health needs of children and adolescents from migrant backgrounds, and effective strategies to strengthen engagement and mental health promotion.

Improving access and participation in postgraduate research study

Research England and the Office for Students (OfS) are giving urgent focus to the experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic students’ involvement in post-graduate research (PGR).

A recent Advance HE Equality in Education Statistical Report indicated that representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic students is markedly lower among PGR study (17.2%) than in undergraduate (24.7%) and taught postgraduate (22.6%) study – and these disparities are persistent, year on year.

OfS and Research England are committed to working jointly, seeking to facilitate change in the sector and will launch a joint funding competition seeking to improve access for and participation of black, Asian and minority ethnic research students in autumn 2020.

The fund will aim to stimulate, scale-up and distribute effective practice in increasing access and participation for black, Asian and/or minority ethnic groups in PGR; address evidenced issues of equity across the PGR student lifecycle that create barriers for students from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups; and collaborate strategically to embed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) across the sector to improve access and participation for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in PGR.

Education and employment

Two studies led by the ESRC-funded Centre for Longitudinal Studies following children born around 1990 and 2000 have been used to investigate racial inequality in the workplace and differences in teenagers’ occupational aspirations by ethnic group.

Disabled and black, Asian and minority ethnic people are under-represented in business innovation. Innovate UK commissioned a project led by the Innovation Caucus in 2019 to identify the barriers and opportunities for increasing the participation of a diverse range of people in innovation.

The project identified that the policy initiatives targeting under-represented groups are currently insufficient. New actions are being taken forward including targeted initiatives to directly engage new diverse communities and changes to processes to ensure that equality, diversity and inclusivity are viewed as an integral part of and are embedded into, the development and outcomes of all mainstream programmes.

Engineering and physical sciences is another area that is working to address the imbalance of the representation of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds – as well as women, disabled and LGBTQ+ people. Northern Power: Making Engineering and the Physical Science a Domain for All aims to shape an actively inclusive culture in the engineering and physical sciences community (academic and beyond) in the North of England. The project is one of 11 Inclusion Matters projects launched at universities across the UK to improve equality, diversity and inclusion within engineering and the physical sciences.

Ethnicity and the creative economy

The creative economy is often celebrated for its contribution to GDP. However, research has also revealed the significant exclusions from this picture: the creative workforce demonstrates substantial inequalities in terms of social class origin, gender and ethnicity. An AHRC project at the University of Edinburgh will research this lack of representation.

AHRC leadership Fellow Dr Doris Eikhof is leading the Everyday Diversity project in partnership with the British Film Institute and the Creative Diversity Network to research new ways for the UK Screen Sector to achieve greater diversity in its workforce. Dr Eikhof has also recently been selected to conduct an independent review into the diversity of the BAFTAs following the selection of all-white nominations for the main acting categories in 2020. 

Black Artists and Modernism (BAM) is a three-year AHRC research programme that will investigate the often-understated connections as well as points of conflict between Black-British artists' practice and the art-works' relationship to modernism.

Pilot scheme for arts and humanities EDI fellowships

In May 2020, AHRC launched a pilot scheme to fund fellowships aimed at arts and humanities researchers working in the area of EDI.

Up to £100,000 is available for each fellowship, which will support researchers to work with relevant communities to generate more substantial and longer-term community engagement in the areas of history, languages, culture, heritage, creativity and many other fields.

AHRC Executive Chair, Professor Andrew Thompson, said: “Outstanding arts and humanities research can make a real difference to today’s EDI challenges.”

Engaging in the environment

Green & Black Ambassadors is a project set up to connect black and minority ethnic groups with environmental researchers.

That project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, was led by Professor Richard Pancost at the University of Bristol Cabot Institute and Green & Black Ambassadors Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley and Zakiya McKenzie, with partners Ujima Radio and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. The ambassadors worked to understand barriers between Bristol's environmental science and black and minority ethnic communities. As part of this they organised a trip to Slimbridge Wetlands Centre for local young people and ran a workshop with community organisers to find out about barriers people had to visiting places like this.

This is just a snapshot of some of the work UKRI funds into race and discrimination. We’ll be taking a look at some more of the research across UKRI throughout 2020.