This is a guest blog from Gemma Clark.
The recent events at the USA capitol, should not come as a shock to anyone. This situation has been brewing for a very long time. Donald Trump up until the last few days, was expertly dog-whistling his ‘proud boys’ via Twitter while branding the Black Lives Matter movement ‘a symbol of hate’. He is a president who has spent his entire time in office, creating division and fanning the flames of hatred. It is all too easy for us in the UK to be shocked at this ‘American’ racism problem and look away from our country’s deeply embedded racism.
In September, the dance troupe Diversity’s performance on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ triggered over 24,000 complaints to Ofcom. The group’s Ashley Banjo stated, ‘I feel anxious and worried saying something like black lives matter’ ‘I looked at George Floyd, and I saw my dad’. The diversity members used their art to express how many young BAME people in the UK are feeling but are unable to say. When people talk about racism, they are shut down and met with hostility by offended white people who ‘aren’t racist’.
One of Britain’s Got Talent’ judges, Alesha Dixon later wore a gold BLM necklace on the show in what was widely interpreted as a show of solidarity with Diversity. Ofcom received nearly 2000 complaints about Dixon’s chain. If we need evidence that we too have a racism problem, these complaints provide us with one example. Black Lives Matter should not be seen as remotely controversial. Anyone who is now interjecting with ‘all lives matter’ is showing willful ignorance at best. You would have to have been living under a rock to miss the fact that black Americans are murdered disproportionately by the police. The meaning of ‘Black Lives Matter’ is very well known and understood.
Worryingly, last year the equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said that white privilege should not be taught ‘as fact’ and that opposing views should be represented and given parity of esteem. Badenoch further stated that openly supporting Black Lives Matter amounts to a failure to be politically neutral. Why would this be the case? Most of us know deep down that the answer is in case white people’s feelings are hurt. In case teachers receive complaints from parents. If people go to the trouble of complaining to Ofcom about a woman of colour’s necklace, they will complain about a teacher. If only more people were as horrified at the idea of being racist as they are of being called racist. As a profession, teachers need to be less afraid of complaints. School leaders must support teachers and stand by our professional judgments when discussing racism with our young people; Our young people who live with systemic racism need and deserve our allyship.
In fact, I would argue that white educators have a responsibility to challenge the vilification of the BLM movement. The difference in the police’s response to the white terrorists who stormed the Capitol compared to their response to the BLM protestors was staggering. The white people in MAGA hats were not tear-gassed, nor were they shot at indiscriminately. There were no reports of white journalists being thrown into the back of police vans without explanation.
The majority of teachers in the UK are white. Antiracist work’s responsibility must not fall on BAME teachers’ shoulders who are in more vulnerable positions than us through living in a systemically racist society. Are we fulfilling our obligations? Are we having these discussions at school? Are we challenging colleagues who say, ‘All lives matter’? Are we challenging our friends and relatives who say this? Are we challenging people when we venture into the cesspit that is comments sections online?
We are the professionals who can assess what level of discussion is appropriate for our students. We are the experts, and we must have confidence. Furthermore, we should have some faith in our student’s ability to become educated about the realities of systemic racism. To quote the educator and philosopher, Paolo Freire:
“The educator has the duty of not being neutral”."The educator has the duty of not being neutral". Click To Tweet