‘I’m Going Home to Breathe and I’m Coming Back Here to Just Hold My Head Above the Water’: Black Students’ Strategies for Navigating a Predominantly White UK University


  • Lateesha Osbourne
  • Amena Amer
  • Leda Blackwood
  • Julie Barnett


Twenty-four percent of Black and minority ethnic students in the UK report facing racial harassment at university, and one in twenty leave their studies due to this. But how do those who remain negotiate a hostile climate and what can we learn from their strategies? In our focus groups conducted with 16 Black students at a predominantly white institution, we found a sophisticated awareness of multiple strategies, and awareness of the social and psychological consequences of each. Our reflective thematic analysis focuses on three of these strategies: First, the experience and expression of two versions of the self, depending on context and audience; second, performing a strategic whiteness both for personal and collective motives; and third, accentuating and embracing Blackness. Our analysis highlights how these strategies were adopted, encouraged, and discarded over time as well as the tensions between strategies; for instance, when the performance of whiteness is received as ‘inauthentic’ by other Black students. Importantly, our research troubles the notion that there are positive and negative strategies and instead emphasises the complex relational processes at play. Thus, rather than emphasising ‘fitting in’, institutions should endeavour to support the range of strategies used by marginalised students who remind us that it is not that straightforward.