RACE: What is White Supremacy in Education? 

I start this blog with a video of some google searches I performed.

Recently I have had lots of conversations with people around the term ‘white supremacy’ (Dr Di Angelo deconstructs the term far better than I can). I know the term conjures images of burning crosses and white hoods. White supremacy, is anything that supports the structures and systems which in turn hold back people of colour from the fruits of their endeavours, as educators how do *we* engage in white supremacy?

1. Not checking our privilege and bias.
2. Omitting the successes of people of colour  .
3. Not supporting people against the grain of oppression.
4. Engaging the white saviour complex.
5. etc.

Let’s delve into the source of the issue. We live in a world where the achievements of white, middle class, males, cis, heterosexual, etc. are celebrated and the achievements of others omitted. This has the impact of inculcating our minds towards this way of thinking. Many of us, I hope, would rebuke at the thought of denigrating the achievements of others and discriminating in our actions.
Recently I sat with a group of amazing (mainly primary teachers), this very same conversation arose when questioned about the last time they used a person of colour in their lesson as a figure of success. I was greeted with silence (in this case there was alcohol involved however this is relatively common).
Personally, I ascribe to the label of Global Majority over BAME, this is because, believe it not, there are more non-white (a microaggression in itself) than white people. Is this reflected in our lessons in our various curricula? If you can’t think of people of colour in positions of success I would suspect you to have been inculcated into the same mindset through similar ethnocentric curricula through your informative years in school.

Photo Credit: @Rondelle10_B

Talking about microaggressions – at a recent educational event I prominent head teacher talked succinctly about cognitive load theory, the quality of the presentation was top notch. She continued to show a slide of what you are seeing and then what your students are seeing, in Mandarin script. Yes, the majority of pupils in the UK would not understand the Mandarin script; However, this denigrates the experience of those who do, it ‘others’ them.

There are numerous examples of omission and microaggressions, here are a few;

1. Modern Foreign Languages, who decides what a modern foreign language is? are Hindi/Arabic/Yoruba/etc. less useful than French, German or Spanish? I have had pupils describe their home language, their mother tongue, the one they actually think and dream in, as useless.

2. History – the omission of the numerous and vital roles of PoC, coupled with the hagiography around (openly white supremacist) figures such as Churchill.

3. Science – the achievements of the Muslim Arabian astronomy, etc.

4. One for the wider world, why are bandages and plasters, white and pink in colour? Remember more people of colour than people of no colour (financially this can’t be a reason)

5. The list goes on

I could debunk some of this through an interrogation of the BAME/gender pay gap, the initial results of the REC, the numbers of university pupils dropping out of their undergraduate courses due to overt racism, job applications from a non-traditionally British name, disproportionate numbers of black Caribbean pupils having their education dumbed down (https://www.bbc.com/news/education-47240580), etc. But that is for another day.

Some of you reading this right now will be shocked and question if this is the case. This may be due to the fact we are told that we live in a meritocracy it is prevalent British value and the tenets of our society. We judge people on merit.  To suggest otherwise rock the foundations of ourselves and the society we have built. This is natural. Dr R Di Angelo refers to this as ‘white fragility’ (https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116), where the label of ‘racist’ or ‘white supremacist’ is so important that they supersede self-reflection and growth. It is our duty as educators to let this get in the way of improving ourselves and the lives of those we serve.

That, in a roundabout way, brings us back to the title, what is ‘White Supremacy’? What is ‘racism’? I understand that these words are synonymous with good people and bad people binary. This polarised view is rarely helpful. Now when someone calls me a misogynist, antisemite, Islamaphobe, etc. I no longer take it as this personal slur or as someone calling me a bad person, I simply reflect where I am on the spectrum of oppression.

Racism isn’t about singular abhorrent act rather it’s an epistemology (your method of gathering knowledge) which causes the systemic oppression of people of colour, the same can be said for all protected characteristics. Here we should discuss the different intersections of class, gender, colour, etc. but my definition is a simplification of the individual journeys. However, it serves as one that is pragmatic and a great starting point.

The recent interviews with Angela Smith and Liam Neeson are an example of the consequences of systemic white supremacy, yet people will get caught up in the nuances of the act. This serves no one and does not even acknowledge the causes or remedies to the issue.

I will say it is impossible to grow up in a system which schools you and not feel its impact. Yes, that includes me, of course, I personally forward/promote a whole supremacist agenda, I went through years of training (schooling/media/working life) and I’m trained in its propagation. However, it is my duty to retrain, unlearn and undo the damage caused or I will fall into the box of becoming discriminatory.  I urge you all to do the same.

The aim of this blog was to make us all uncomfortable, hopefully, that energy will spur you to reflect and grow toward anti-racism.

8 thoughts on “RACE: What is White Supremacy in Education? 

  1. Right on point! I would also address the use of “Cleaning Lady”, which is a sexist term that also denigrates the position held by those who ensure our schools are safe.

  2. Such a great post and something that isn’t talked about enough. A lot of schools that I have worked in have a large Asian population, however the SLT are all white, middle class (and more often than not, male) Surely, the SLT in the school (and the staff body) should be representative of the students. Especially in the senior leaders, students need role models and people to look up to that they can relate to. I’ve had students tell me ‘Mr so and so doesn’t understand what my life is like because he’s white’ or ‘you only become a head teacher if you’re white’ it’s very sad. Our pupils need to no longer see their race as something that is holding them back, but instead have examples of success in front of them of people who look exactly like them.

  3. Such a great and important article, thank you bringing this to people’s attention – definitely needs discussing more in schools.

    Although, as a science/astronomy teacher, I am shocked to think that anyone could teach astronomy without focussing on the foundation and development of the subject by Ancient Chinese and Muslim astronomers! Fortunately it is in the new specification, hopefully, teachers give it the time it needs when delivering.

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