So, you’ve blacked out your profile picture, you believe in equality, and you even attended Black Lives Matter protests. What was the point?
When at a dinner party, a person from the dominant group tells a racist joke.
“An Asian person arrives at a huge event educational charity … and we all thought it was the takeaway delivery man …”
A member of the BAME community points out:
“Excuse me; you understand that is incredibly racist”
At this point, what is the reaction of the room? Who is ostracised and well is supported?
“He is a good person.”
“He didn’t mean any harm.”
“Look at him in this photo with people of colour.”
“Why do you have to take everything to heart”
“Why did you ruin the party?”
“Not everything is about race.”
What has any of the above got to do with the prices of bread?
“He is a good person.” – Good people can uphold white supremacy.
“He didn’t mean any harm.” – Intentions means nothing when melanated bodies are dying as a result of our racist system.
“Look at him in this photo with people of colour.” -If a person murders someone being a character witness to the member of the victims’ family supports the act of murder.
Silence is violence. We live in a system that leads to a quantifiable trauma route to early death (Yes, I have just spent months researching and writing about this – yes, the book will be out soon). Doing nothing leaves us all there.
Support, shockingly, puts you in same the bracket as the perpetrator of violence.
Whether laughing, staying silent or attacking those brave enough to make change at the dinner table or in the cesspool of social media. Live your lives the way you want but understand that we see you. No, those of us of colour feel your actions.
This is essentially white solidarity. If a racist attack occurs, all I ask is for people to judge it on the actions and violence that have been committed.
Before I get back to the chapter – I would like people to reflect on those responses. This person dares to make us all better; as a victim of the system, who are we to question their voice or motives.
The Tutsi genocide of Rwanda, the Bosnian, Cambodian genocides and the Holocaust can be taught in the same manner and the way timetables may be taught.
Learn, rinse and repeat.
-Between 800’000 and one million people lost their lives in the Tutsi genocide of Rwanda.
-Between 800’000 and one million people lost their lives in the Tutsi genocide of Rwanda.
-Between 800’000 and one million people lost their lives in the Tutsi genocide of Rwanda.
This emphasis on knowledge existing in a vacuum may herald great exam results, but I ask, is that our aim? To raise our students to be able to pass examinations, is that it? Where is the ‘I’m here to make a difference’ war cry from our vocation? Learning the numbers, the location and times of these events may be enough for our students to wave around a piece of paper that grants them entry into academic and professional spaces, but what are they learning?
When the aim of teaching is solely to pass knowledge, the meaning gets lost in the meleê, the teacher and student lose the ability to contextualise the whole, to learn what is there to consume, engage and enjoy.
I’d argue that the rote transmission of written facts is more than bland if it dulls the voices in the survivors’ literature and silences the messages of never again. This part of our role trains our young people to accept, assimilate and replicate within a concrete structure. It’s high time we chip away at that structure. The cost is too great.
Let’s look at teaching as a process from the above example to:
If we as a profession do not foster thoughts and feelings around something as poignant as mass murder, we fail our young people. Yes, between 800’000 and one million people lost their lives in the Tutsi genocide of Rwanda. Yes, most of the dead were Tutsis, the Hutus committed the violence, and yes, this was sparked by their President’s death.
Is this the level we want students to consume, empathise and engage? What is the end goal?
When Belgian colonialists arrive in the early 20th century, they produced identity cards that demarcated Tutsis from Hutus. These people share the same culture, language and land, although there are claims that the minority Tutsi are generally taller, thinner and have fairer skin. Let me repeat fairer skinned.
The white colonialists saw the Tutsis as superior and, as a result, built a two-tier society which, as a result, lead to the community subjugating the Hutu majority. Tensions rose until a boiling point of violence where 20000+ Tutsi were slaughtered, and many sought refuge in the neighbouring countries. The Europeans left three years later, in 1962, and the Hutus realised power as the majority.
In the 1990s, Tutsi rebels renewed attacked on the Hutu government, and the then Hutu presidents plane was shot down. What followed was a Hutu led extermination, a 30000 strong militia hacked their way through the Tutsi populace.
In the above, I may be teaching you some new facts. The superiority of lighter skin usually comes as a surprise, but this is still me taking the knowledge in my brain that I have a relationship with and conveying it to you as cold hard facts. How do I foster an environment for you to build your meaning around it?
All knowledge is socially constructed. Even if teachers believe that they are passing on an objective fact to their students; They wrap their reality around your construct anyway.
School may create learning environments that promote empathy, but where is the consuming and engagement with content?
What do we want students to take away from the content? That these are the facts and to connect with the horrors and ensure it never happens again?
The context here is everything. Knowing the Belgian state used the white supremacist construct is one thing and understanding why segregation is helpful to a colonising power is another. This understanding is what educators should seek. This is the world we all strive to inhabit.
This society is created by intertwining knowledge, skills, and feeling around a broad range of experiences (and the curricula) that build a defensive and offensive fortress and build bridges.
Disclaimer: The above based on a hugely simplified version of an incredibly complex situation. That further adds to the point too.
I am not a fan of colonialism; surprisingly, genocide, subjugation, and pillage are not accolades that we British should be proud of. The enduring damage of colonialism and chattel slavery is more serious, entrenched, and even more rooted than the apparent physical violence.
“In the colonial context, the settler only ends his work of breaking in the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man’s values.”
Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth)
The colony of Australia is an excellent overt example of how European dominance starts in observational dissonance. When colonisers arrived at the continent’s shores, they were met by people who were ‘alien’ to their eyes and their understanding; through a manner of deficit evaluation, these people were deemed uncivilised. Imagine, they were judged to ‘surely die out soon’. Never mind the fact that the Native peoples of this land had survived millennia while their own ‘civilised populaces’ saw their forts rise and fall like stone jack in the boxes.
When compared to the invading forces, the indigenous peoples may not have kept written records in the same way, cultivated the land for animals and harvested grain. For all of these reasons and that they had dark, melanated skin, they were relegated to being on the lowest rung of human ‘racial’ groups*.
*The ladder doesn’t exist, nor does race (they are both socially constructed).
Well, my countrymen certainly tried their best to expedite these people into extinction through their weaponised diseases, militia, but worst of all, through a slower, more enduring and damaging form of cultural genocide.
If we look at the residential school’s system, the indigenous people of North America and Australia existed until 1996 (YES). Native children removed and were sent to the fields and to work in servitude (yes, this sounds a lot like slavery) as this type of docile work was suited to these people.
The legacy of that trauma is easily forgotten by the descendants of those white invaders and tyrants. Before you get all twisted over the word tyrant, I want you to remember that Australian policy was to breed the native out of ‘half castes’ people. Tyrannical seems like too kind of a word. That sort of intergenerational trauma has an impact on the pre-birth, social environments, genetics and biopsychology of the people (For more of this, you’ll have to wait for the book).
However, I do not believe this trauma is the most effective tool of the oppressor creed. The process of taking children away from their parents severed a link to the birthright of their heritage. These policies and procedures implemented the modus operandi of colonisers by banning languages and cultural expressions such as the forbidding Capoeira in Brasil coupled with the exclusion of scholarship, literature, dance, and art. The aim is to destroy all that makes those people those people.
A form of this still exists in our collective ideology. We start with the use of ‘home languages’. Suppose a child chooses to speak in their native tongue to a peer; that is their right. A person of authority denigrating that act is akin to the same severing of those links. I am often told that students’ should speak English because their teachers cannot understand what is being said.
This is about censorship, not understanding?
Do we also move to ban whispering or children talking privately? If teachers are concerned with the possible seditious use of a language, they cannot interpret that is the fault at the source. Teachers should aim to learn their pupils’ languages if they want to know what is being said or continue to uphold those same structures. Expecting teachers to learn all the world languages is being ridiculous. Well, how different is that to expect a child to constantly and exclusively use an additional language.
I shouldn’t have to justify through reasons why the censoring of language is problematic, but here we are:
Speaking in a additional language is exhausting.
Sharing language is part of kinship and a fundamental part of shared culture.
Some concepts do not translate across.
That leads me to this interaction.
Is it okay to use your (office) phone I need to call my nan. It’s an emergency.
Was that Kiswahili?
her eyes break eye contact and are fixed firmly on the ground. After a few With a force of will, she lifts her head and says,
“Yeah, my family is Ugandan. The language is completely useless, though”
I remember the forlorn look in her eyes. My student felt that she had to justify the worth of and the existence of her first language. The language that she dreams and thinks in, solely speaks to her grandparents and is part of her very being.
“Hongera, nina kiswahili baya, nilikua Zanzibar, habari za asubui?”
These are the moments that change lives. My student felt seen, no felt heard and valued, as did I. I spent that evening speaking to my father in our dialect…
If we don’t value our language. Then who will listen to us.
I was an adult realising that he had been trained to value English and cultural at to the detriment of my native and diaspora cultural. A lifetime of indoctrination leading to internalised hate. This is damaging, immoral and breaks the Public Sector Equalities Duty 2010.
A guest blog from Dr Muna Abdi. Whose work if you aren’t following please do. Her amazing website is here.
Decolonising education involves the diversification of literature and modes of assessment and the questioning and critiquing of taken for granted ideologies that underpin how & why privilege some pieces of knowledge over others.
We are unpacking and unlearning the embedded principles and practices underpinning our education through the early years, primary & secondary.
What was I taught? What was I able to read? What was I able to question? How was I assessed?
These are the essential questions we must ask at all education levels, but particularly in those formative years. Decolonising the curriculum in schools requires us to ask honest questions about who the curriculum is designed for and who it is designed to exclude.
It does not mean removing Shakespeare, and it does not solely imply including texts from writers of colour. It asks us to look at our reading lists across subject areas, question what is missing, and critique what is there. What messages does the curriculum send to children about the stories, histories, pieces of knowledge and bodies that are visible, normalised and valued?
What message does it send to ALL children? Both those who see themselves represented and those who do not:
Do our subject areas offer insights into diverse international, national and local perspectives?
Do we teach Black history as an addition to the history curriculum or BHM instead of being embedded as part of it?
Do you teach Black history from an African American perspective, ignoring the Black British experience?
When you teach about WW1 & WW2, do you share the experiences/ stories of those that lived in British colonies that came to fight for Britain?
Do you teach about Empire?
In science, do we only focus on White European scientists and ignore the ground-breaking contributions from people of colour?
Do you name the role of science in legitimising systemic racism?
In Music, art, RE and all subject areas, are children able to bring their experiences into the room, not only as part of classroom discussions but also as formative contributions valued and used as part of their assessments?
Yes, the national curriculum is always politically driven and, in its current state, extremely narrow. Systemic change is needed, but change within the classroom can start now. There are spaces within the curriculum; Spaces for learning communities to be creative.
Decolonisation is a process, not a result, and all I ask is that we take a look at the curriculum we have and do what is within our power to challenge and change. It’s not easy, but equity never comes with ease.
Teachers Should Understand the Vitriol Against Meghan Markle, Here is Why:
There has been much speculation and online discussion regarding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s resignation from royal duties and their move to America. But far from being mere tabloid fodder, Meghan Markle’s treatment shines a light on the covert racism and misogyny that plagues the U.K. Here is what teachers should understand in this situation.
Despite some very blatant examples of racism (such as a podcaster with over half a million followers posting a meme of the Sussex’s child as a monkey), many commentators argue that there have been no examples of racism in the mainstream media. However, when you compare Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle’s newspaper coverage doing the same (innocuous) things, Kate receives favourable coverage while Meghan gets criticism. Coded racial slurs such as ‘uppity’ (a word used by white slave owners to describe slaves who got ideas above their stations) or ‘exotic’ have been used to describe Markle in the media. Teachers (especially white teachers) must realise that most racists don’t have swastika tattoos, and most people will never admit to being racist. Racism is often something subtle and challenging to ‘prove’. If we have pupils in our care who confide in us that they feel targeted because of their race, we must not ask them to ‘prove’ their experience. This just further gaslights the young person when what they need is our support, our allyship and for us to believe them.
What happens in the celebrity world is a reflection of our broader society and culture. The ‘Framing Britney Spears’ documentary has highlighted the misogyny of the mass media. There is a thirst for derogatory stories and unflattering photographs of young women. As a slim and conventionally attractive woman, there is little mileage in attacking Meghan’s physical appearance, so what the media do to women like her attacked her character with stereotypical, sexist insinuations. She is portrayed as a diva, an ‘angry black woman, a dangerous master of manipulation, who has alienated poor, helpless Harry from his family. Girls and women often suffer from racism, compounded with sexism.
Meghan Markle’s experience in the U.K is an extreme case as she is an actor who married into the British Monarchy. However, there are schoolgirls, who look like Meghan who will recognise this very British brand of racism and sexism from their own life experiences, and may not yet have acquired the vocabulary needed to describe what is happening. Black girls may be called ‘angry’, ‘too loud’, ‘too much, and we may even have our own subconscious biases to examine and reflect on how we perceive some girls. The media’s ability to send us subliminal messages about certain kinds of people is compelling. Are we paying attention to how girls from ethnic minority groups in our schools are spoken to and spoken about? Are we listening to these girls? Are we having conversations with pupils about implicit bias and stereotypes? Are our classrooms environments where it is safe for girls to speak out?
Many excellent antiracist social media platforms can be a great source of information for teachers. The Instagram account @everydayracism_ recently posted a sobering message “Do not underestimate how the treatment of Meghan Markle is a major trigger for Black and Brown women right now. It replicates our existence in a white supremacist society and acts as a stark reminder that our acceptance is based on a set of conditions – don’t challenge, don’t defend yourself, don’t disrupt the system, or this is what you’ll get”.
Since writing this initial piece, the Oprah Winfrey interview has aired in the U.K. Meghan and Harry disclosed some horrific racist abuse that both Meghan and even their child were subject to by a royal family member. Despite this, the right-wing media propaganda against the Sussexes has continued, and Piers Morgan declared that he does not believe Meghan’s struggles with suicidal thoughts. Having finally encountered some consequences (due to his sinister obsession with a woman who rejected him), Piers is now framing himself as the victim, who bravely exercised his right to ‘free speech. This culture of white male bullying behaviour is something that teachers need to be paying attention to. We need to ensure that our students understand exactly what free speech is, i.e., the government’s right to criticise. Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Free speech does not stop hate speech from being illegal and punishable. We are not ‘free’ to bully and target anyone we like and then cry ‘free speech!
It is, above all, necessary for teachers to be aware that what has happened to Meghan Markle has not occurred in a vacuum, it has happened here in our society, and many of our girls are Meghan Markle.
We are proud to be able to use this platform to give Kate Williams a voice in this guest blog.
“My daughter’s innocence was slipping through my fingers: how it felt when my profession destroyed my daughter”
It has been an intense week for the Williams family, and I feel utterly exhausted, but I wanted to write this to my colleagues in education. I have had many interesting conversations this week; following my first ever Twitter posts! After a discussion with Pran Patel, I wanted to share some of my feelings about what happened.
This barrister has raised the profile of our cause (ending Afro hair discrimination in UK schools). It has called into question the merits of our case and has dragged my daughter’s character and racial identity into the public domain (again). I read this powerful legal blog which helped me understand why I felt uncomfortable about what this man had said.
When Ruby was going to University in September 2020, my Mum said that the way I was talking reminded her of the Abba song; Slipping Through My Fingers. I listened to it repeatedly, sobbing in private at the grief of no longer living with the person who has changed my life the most. When Ruby came into existence, my whole life changed. Who thinks about what it will be like to become a mother? Not many of us fully understand how our entire identity, dreams and worldview will shift. It has been the most beautiful adventure of my life, and I look forward to the years to come now they are nearly grown. I’m sure most parents are heartbroken when their children fly the nest, but my life and well-being have become very entwined with her during these last few difficult years due to the trauma she faced and the challenges we have endured family. It probably isn’t healthy, but it was a survival reaction to an impossible situation. We shared our story in Hair Power: Me and My Afro (part 3) and it was starting to feel like we could put some of our pain behind us. Then this Tweet suddenly thrust us back into the pain we have endured.
Hackney rallied round in support, as they had done privately throughout the ordeal. Those at the Hackney Citizens acted as couples’ therapy; allowing Lenny and I spend over 3 hours pouring out the pain we had carried for longer than three years. They did a series of stories, detailing the hoops and barriers we faced in our battle; so I won’t go into all the painful details here but if you are interested: 13th, 20th27th. They also covered Ruby’s work with World Afro Day and documented Hackney’s support. Hackney Gazette also covered widely, and they celebrated Ruby and Lenny as Black History Makers for Black History Month.
It wasn’t an easy decision to go public with Ruby’s story; it felt like throwing your child to the mercy of the public. Ruby wanted people to know what her school had done, and she knew the risks involved. Previously, we were in a confidentiality contract with the EHRC. It was challenging to remain patient as we faced delay after delay in resolving our situation.
I kept hearing from everyone; ‘unprecedented’, and I grew to dislike this word!
The cost to our mental health was high, and we all became shadows of our former selves. It was a complicated legal situation made much worse by the school, ignoring almost everything that came their way. This included GPs and a Clinical Psychologist detailing Ruby’s deterioration due to this hair policy. Her previous Headteacher, our community members, Pastor, Local Politicians, MP, LEA, DFE, Ofsted, Diocese, Social Services, Teachers and Governors from the school and many Legal Professionals all reached out to the Chair of Governors and Executive Headteacher. They informed them of the errors of their ways, not just in terms of their actions, but also in refusing to face the situation they had created.
We are still shocked by many things, but when the school ignored court proceeding for the year (2018-19), this was one of the worst times. Our lives were in limbo, and as a result, Ruby was denied her chance for a fresh start as she began her A-Levels in Haringey. We were then at the mercy of court delays and complicated default procedures. It was all extremely exhausting for everyone, but most of all, Ruby of course. The stress, trauma and uncertainty remained in her life for a further 18 months, overshadowing any positive impact her new college tried to have.
The school ignored requests for minutes to meetings we had been at, did not hand over her pupil file or Governing body minutes about the appearance policy and ignored FOIA requests. They also ignored pleas to correct official attendance records (yes, they had her marked as attending when she was actually at home). They ignored requests for a Governor complaints panel for a whole year (2016-17) and only arranged one when the DFE forced them. When procedures finally made it to witness statements being prepared, many were littered with untruths and assumptions. Their behaviour, in my opinion, was entirely unprofessional; including the language they used in official correspondence and newsletters. Most shocking of all, they have now spent more than £10,000 of the school’s budget to send legal letters to newspapers who had accurately reported our story (the £10000 was found from an FOIA request I made through ‘Whatdotheyknow’ as of August 2020).
As teachers; we have a massive responsibility to our pupils, and we will help shape their lives. Our job is not only to educate them; but also to nurture them, to enhance their lives and to help them fulfil their potential. The barriers and sledgehammers that Black and Mixed-race pupils face in our education system are criminal, by which I mean illegal. I was a naïve white mother when I entered teacher training (2007), and I can remember learning about the extra money schools received at the time, to try and close the attainment gap between ethnic groups. I thought about my children and questioned how their lives might be more challenging due to their race. As parents; we have done our utmost to give them the best start in life, so when this wrecking ball hit my child in 2016, it was a colossal shock.
My husband was angry, but he did not suffer the extreme shock and distress that I did. We have spent time unpicking our different reactions and have concluded it was because we have grown up in differing worlds. He has lived his entire life, knowing that the system is stacked against him. On the other hand, I have lived my life, pretty much achieving whatever I set my sights on and being held back by nothing. It was a huge shock when the school refused to hear my voice, and I had a taste of what it is to be ignored, marginalised, discredited and gaslighted.
As a previous parent governor, I believe in ‘parents as partners’. I remember my husband being Santa one year at her Nursery school, and this little Black boy was beside himself with excitement because he could see the red, gold and green string vest peeping out through the costume! “Santa has the same vest as me!”, he said, and I learned there and then the importance of representation. We ensured our children went to a school with a teacher body which was as representative as possible. My husband became a parent Governor in their primary school. We all volunteered in their education, Nana included! I volunteered in their Primary school, and her Nursery headteacher encouraged me to apply for teacher training and was my reference. I know that you become less involved once they start secondary school. We would always show respect and partnership with their teachers and had three blissfully happy years. I honestly thought this was just a colossal mistake and when I pointed it out to them, they would apologise to Ruby and change the policy, which would be the end of it. One of the first teachers I spoke to told me that the head would “never back down” and they recommended that I changed Ruby’s hair! “CHANGE IT TO WHAT?” I replied.
I’m digressing and ranting as the disbelief and disappointment is still overwhelming and has resurfaced again this week. I watched last weekend as many legal professionals defended my daughter’s reputation. I had people messaging me and asking how they could help. The barrister’s chambers have been incredibly supportive, and I believe this man will face the consequences. My central reflection today is; where was the outrage from my profession last year? Where were/are the other school leaders? Why weren’t my colleagues held accountable for their unprofessional, unethical, illegal and immoral behaviour towards a pupil and her family? How are they all still in post? How is a dysfunctional (in my opinion) governing body continued to be chaired by the person who mismanaged this whole situation so spectacularly? Why isn’t my profession astonished that this school have now entered into a legally binding agreement with EHRC (as described in their film), to ensure they don’t accidentally discriminate against a child with Afro hair again. Please also remember we live in HACKNEY! How is this not enshrined in Education Law? I feel let down by the broader world of education, who failed to keep my child safe and failed to enact any consequences for the people who caused her so much damage.
After going public, we have been contacted by many families who have faced this in UK schools. A support group has emerged organically from these conversations. It includes the families of most UK cases shared in the media and many other families, some of whom are still suffering at their schools’ hands. We organise this group, in association with World Afro Day. In this safe space; we support parents in pain, share information about procedures and law, signpost when we need to, help each other with writing letters, next step planning, and tips for supporting our traumatised children. It is a fantastic group and has helped me and my husband heal and make sense of what we have experienced. Pain into Power, Power into Progress, Progress into Protection!
Another big way I have aided my healing was to join forces with World Afro Day. I enjoy being part of their team and being useful. I endeavour work in the background as a white ally, white mother and teacher. They are a great free resource for schools and families and are now working with five teaching unions. The NEU included a feature article in their Jan/Feb edition of ‘educate’ and it features Ruby’s story. World Afro Day shares teaching resources, research, help and guidance. Look out for our new 2021 competition for pupils (to be announced shortly).
As a family, we’ve partnered up with No More Exclusions. We joined with our specialist experience, but I have become a general member as I feel so passionately about their work, valuing our children as equals and protecting their right to an education. One solicitor told me that Ruby was a victim of an illegal exclusion, although it was never called that at the time. I have had a taste of what it is like for your child to be rejected, ejected and damaged. Still, I am aware that some families experience this for much more than two years and with catastrophic educational outcomes. Schools have a duty of care to all pupils, but they do not always live up to that responsibility. As educators, we all share in that shame and have a collective responsibility to improve the situation. 2021 is an enforced ‘reboot’, so when we return to ‘normal’, we can have a fresh start and eliminate the institutional racism that children face.
Ruby is part of the new Halo Collective and featured in their BBC launch video. We love how this was born from a group of young people and their own experiences regarding their hair in school. Please look at the Halo Code and consider your school signing up. They also have lots of great information on their website.
So, where do these ramblings leave us? As a mother, I plead with my colleagues to NEVER discipline a child because of their Afro hair. It is Children’s Mental Health Week (at the time of writing), the psychological and physical damage that this type of racial trauma causes to young people, and possibly their futures, his vast and far-reaching. Schools should never be the perpetrators of harm to children’s mental health.
As a teacher, I beg our profession to resolve this issue in their schools and sign up for World Afro Day, Big Hair Assembly. Please also consider adopting the new Halo Code for schools too. As teachers, we are called to be brave and whistle blow where a child’s welfare is at risk. Many well-meaning teachers supported Ruby in secret; they whispered words of comfort in her ear; they spoke to me on the street and even cried with me! It was damaging to experience these contradictory and conflicting behaviours from the educators who all had a duty of care. This deeply confusing situation will take years for Ruby to unravel, the knowledge that any of her teachers could have stood up and protected her has left us all with profound sadness.
As a citizen and campaigner, I ask that you support national efforts to create legal change in this area. We can all support making the Equality Act 2010 more specific about Afro hair by signing these two petitions by fellow campaigners. The links are highlighted in this Dove campaign, in which they have used Ruby’s story. Some of us are also pushing, along with a few MPs, for Afro hair discrimination in schools to be outlawed in Education Law, not just Equality Law.
Anyway, I will leave it there, but please let me know if you want more details.
Thank you for taking the time to read my first ever blog!
Edit: Since the time of writing, Mr Holbrook’s Chambers have expelled him, and our magnificent daughter has decided to speak about this herself; Ruby shares on Twitter.
Mother, Teacher, Ally and Campaigner.
The copyrights and responsibilities of the words above belong to Kate Williams.
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:
In episode two, Sarif and Pran invite Maire Cervenak from New Jersey (USA) to contribute on the ‘rise of ‘Karens”.
We delve into questions like:
What is a ‘Karen’? Is the term Racist? Sexist? Classist? What are ‘White Women’s Tears’? How does it relate to privilege, intersectionality and society today? And finally, as antiracists, how do we battle its impact?