This week we meet Professor Heidi Mirza, Emeritus Professor of Equalities Studies in Education at the Institute of Education. Here, Heidi chats to us about giving the 50th Anniversary Martin Luther King Lecture in St Paul’s Cathedral and shares her latest projects.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I’m Emeritus Professor of Equalities Studies in Education at the Institute of Education at UCL. It is an honorary position that gives me the freedom to develop my passion for Black Feminist intersectional research and champion the power of education to change the lives of Black, Asian and Muslim women and girls in schools and university all over the world. I love it and it fills my life with hope for a feminist future for the next generation.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I came to UCL fifteen years ago as Director of the Centre of Race, Education and Social Justice (CRESJ) in the Institute of Education. Previously, I was Professor of Racial Equality Studies at Middlesex University. It was a landmark appointment especially created to tackle institutional racism highlighted after the racist killing of the young Black man Stephen Lawrence in 1993. I was one of the first women of colour to be a professor in UK, and I am so proud to be a member of the rare Phenomenal Women’s club of 35 black women professors in Britain.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my first book Young, Female and Black which is based on my PhD and is grounded in my experience as a young Caribbean woman from Trinidad growing up in Britain. Thirty years on from its publication it is still used as an ’A’ Level text in schools and was voted in the top 40 most influential educational studies in Britain. The highlight of my career was being asked to give the 50th Anniversary Martin Luther King Lecture in St Paul’s Cathedral with Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Stephen Lawrence’s mother. To quote MLK’s handwritten sermon and stand where he stood on a cold, crisp candle lit winter night was to be part of ’the dream’ for racial justice.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
I am currently leading on ’Race and ethnic inequality’ for the IFS Institute of Fiscal Studies Deaton Inequality Review which includes the impact of COVID-19 on Black and minority ethnic communities. Top of my to-do list is to prove to economists and policy makers that the shocking ’tangible’ statistical inequalities in educational and labour market outcomes for Black and Muslim people in Britain is linked to the ’intangible’ fact of racial discrimination. For International Women’s Week I was excited to be share my talk, ’Inside the Ivory Tower: Black, Asian and Muslim women in higher education’ with the brilliant pathbreaking women of UCL’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Album: Sade’s Lovers Rock
Film: Amazing Grace: Aretha Franklin
Novel: Toni Morrison’s A Mercy
What is your favourite joke pre-watershed?
Doctor, Doctor I’ve a strawberry stuck in my ear!
Reply: Don’t worry, I have some cream for that.
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
My Sheroes: Angela Davis, Sophia Deelup Singh, Frida Kahlo, Noor Inayat Khan, Ella Baker, Zora Neale Hurston, Sacagawea of the Lemhi Shoshone people, and last but not least my Indo-Caribbean grandmother Theresa (whom I never met) but I hope would approve of my world famous coconut curry and rice which I would serve!
What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s okay to be a girl and be angry! I would buy little Heidi a copy of Audre Lorde’s collected works which includes her stunning essay On the Uses of Anger.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I am a trained aromatherapist. My mother was a beautician and told me I needed a proper profession to fall back on when doing my PhD.
What is your favourite place?
My beach house in Tobago is my sanctuary from the madding crowd. I grew up there and feel a sense of peace sitting in the hammock in the shadow of my mums beloved hibiscus bush, sipping a cocktail as the sun goes down over the gently lapping sea. Heaven!