Last week I got all dressed up to attend my graduation ceremony for my doctorate. It was a proud day for my parents and me, and marked a considerable achievement both academically and personally. It definitely opens doors for future jobs and research opportunities. While there are titles linked to more senior academic positions (such as reader, professor, dean, vice chancellor!), all of these are temporary and not awarded for particular academic study although some are likely to recognise a body of published work. The PhD is the highest awarded academic qualification, and now I’ve got one. Now it just remains to figure out what I am to do with the rest of my life…
The traditions of wearing academic robes may seem odd to some – one of my friends mentioned druids and I guess I can see her point. At the main ceremony I have to admit to being a little smug that my robes were fancier than those of the undergraduates around me. I had more orange on mine, and I had a floppy hat, a black wool ‘bonnet’ with an orange tassel rather than the mortar board worn by those receiving honours or Master’s degrees. Other universities make their PhD students wear full coloured robes or even sillier hats. It did help to feel special on the day, but I’m rather glad not to have to wear them while teaching. I’m sure the novelty would wear off and the weight and hassle and hood slipping off would get very annoying.
The robes at De Montfort include somewhat unusual shades of orange, but I quite liked them. I found a dress and cardigan which matched well, even if the hood wasn’t anchored quite as securely as it might have been on a blouse or jacket. I’m not sure quite how many shades of orange I was wearing, but there were plenty. Thankfully not on my skin (the fake tan incident seen recently in Bride Wars was rather scary). I used graduations of colour on one of my diagrams within my thesis as well, and actually used pastels to create an effect I couldn’t manage on a computer. I wait to see how it is rendered in the chapter that should be published soon – almost certainly in black and white.
At the weekend I enjoyed a wonderful graduation party with my close friend from Nigeria. She and her family looked fabulous in co-ordinated outfits and her very classy Warwick robes. The event had a definite Nigerian flavour, beginning with a thanksgiving service (where I gave a testimony) and including plenty of dancing and Nigerian food. I wonder if that part of town has experienced many such events, being generally a less affluent but predominately white part of town. I think generally people of different ethnicities get along well in Birmingham, and I think my friend has been a great example in the way she has served and befriended people with learning difficulties and older white people and doubtless influenced their opinion of people from very different backgrounds.
I still think people do make judgements about the colour of your skin – whether it is fake tan orange or ‘you’ve been on holiday’ brown, or a shade of pink or brown or black from your ethnic heritage. There’s a big industry of skin-lightening products, perhaps most widely across Asian cultures where fairer skin is considered more socially desirable. Some of these products are medically dangerous while others just provoke debate about whether skin colour is a fashion choice or about cultural identity. I saw an excellent play a few years ago about Caste discrimination in Britain called The Fifth Cup. It used the analogy of pouring out tea and putting different amounts of milk in the different cups, suggesting that actually, the ‘purest’ and most Indian colour is the cup with no milk at all, but also ending up pouring them all back together and showing how they can’t be separated.
I love the diversity within my local church and the international singing group I lead. Anyone who suggests that Christianity has anything to do with racial purity needs their head read, and needs to read their Bible more carefully. The prophet Isaiah foretold of a time fulfilled by Jesus where God’s house of prayer becomes a house for all nations. Revelation describes a final graduation, where all the robes are white, and where we come from every nation, tribe, people and language to praise God forever. You don’t have to study for it, write papers or take exams, you just accept Jesus’ sacrifice for you. Anyone who wants to live in a racial ghetto might decide this isn’t the place for them, but as for me, I’m getting some practice in early. When we’re singing together I plan to know at least some of the words… Tinotenda Jesu, Oluwa mi modupe, Chineke na Imela, Mukhti dilaye Jesu naam.