I get asked a lot about representation, and a lot of my work starts with a call to represent the global curriculum more authentically. Yes, include lots of people from around the world in your work. No, we haven’t finished. We risk falling into a trap here.Yes, include lots of people from around the world in your work. No, we haven't finished. We risk falling into a trap here. Click To Tweet
Decolonisation is not just the inclusion of black and brown faces in our textbooks and posters. Imperialism and its legacy lie in all of our minds. This process may feel like a slap in the face, but it’s most likely correct that if you were raised in the west (global north), you have undergone a process where you have been told and shown repeatedly that particular groups are more successful than others.
While I applaud the inclusion of actors of colour in the media, we have to dig deeper. Growing up the few melanated people on our TV screens were the ‘savages’ in Tarzan, but Pran, that’s changed now? Has it? Let’s think about the way black males are portrayed in the media?
Think of 5 black (main) male characters and list their common traits:
What do you notice? If you still don’t see a trend, do the same with white characters and reflect why these are not seen in black characters. If you want to challenge yourself do the same with women of colour (I’ll come back to this another day).
I read To Kill A Mockingbird at school, and it was nice to see people of colour in a book. However, the story is based on the white saviour trope. Primarily a white man fights to save a Black man, the black man doesn’t talk an awful lot through the book either, he dies anyway, but it’s okay because the white man has won the support of the community.I read To Kill A Mockingbird at school, and it was nice to see people of colour in a book. However, the story is based on the white saviour trope. Primarily a white man fights to save a Black man, the black man doesn't talk an awful… Click To Tweet
What does that insidiously say about the black men? And white men?
‘Of Mice and Men’ after talking to Remi Ryans (English specialist, friend and comrade)– Crooks in the story is the only black character, and he is subjected to barrages of racism, but he is also the only person in the story who owns books. I see a man of intelligence and courage. When do we teach or are taught through that lens?
Dahl is problematic (overt racism) is much of his work; there are other articles on this website which tackle that. Let us just concentrate on ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, Willy Wonka travels to a far land, steals resources from a ‘simple’ people (Oompa Loompas) from a savage land (with beasts, etc.) and they revere him for it?
Charles Dickens is seen as a social reformer and his work on Christmas carol is undoubtedly spurred the impetus for change, but he omits slavery from all his writing. At the same time of his book, the British were cashing in on the lives of black people in chattel slavery. What does omission say about who is of value in social justice?
My specialism is science, wherein my subject people of colour being taught? The omission says a lot. Notably, due to the mathematics being an Indian invention, the centre of Physics, Astronomy and mathematical science for centuries was centred within Islamic cultures. Architecture and medicine being at the pinnacle of the African continent, using vaccination type methods that pre-date Edward Jenner in smallpox. This process is not just about being exposed to a more authentic truth? And what do these omissions lead?
Empire is taught through a benevolent visitor lens. When the British arrived in the Indian subcontinent the share of the wold economy 24.4% was 4.2% when they left. This includes an exploitation of $45 trillion ($450000000000000000000 – that’s 19 zeros if you are counting). Did the Mau Mau revolution, the assignation of Dedan Kimathi and Jallianwala Bagh not happen? Do you even know what those events are? I was not taught in school. Yes, If you are even thinking about mentioning railways. I’m coming for you.
Democracy is taught as a European invention, erm, maybe look at north Africa and the Malian Mansa and the electing Gerbratta (apologies for the spelling, someone correct me please). That brings me to slavery; Britain ended slavery? Erm, Britain wasn’t even the first country in Europe to do so, or the second. The ending of slavery is often seen as a benevolent act by William Wilberforce, leading parliament to the emancipation? Erm, the slave revolutions and violent insurrections didn’t play a part at all? I could go on all day.Britain wasn't even the first country in Europe to do so, or the second. The ending of slavery is often seen as a benevolent act by William Wilberforce, leading parliament to the emancipation? Erm, the slave revolutions and violent… Click To Tweet
What impact do all of these omissions and reframing of history have? Think about the associations that come to mind when you think about oppressed groups and those when you do the same for the privileged.
There is always work to be done on ourselves because if we don’t, we propagate the same damaging rhetoric we always have.