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In March 2019 the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reported that racial abuse and bullying of children had risen by a fifth since 2015.

Further findings reveal that school staff regularly report incidents of racist bullying. And yet, as Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the university of Birmingham aptly stated, “schools no longer have a legal obligation to ensure that equality based on race is addressed, nor are they required to record racist bullying.”

This is not only a sad reflection of the government’s attitude towards the ill treatment of  Afro Caribbean , Asian, and other ethnic minority children, but leads one to ask the following question;

‘If there’s zero tolerance on bullying in schools, then why does racism seem to be acceptable?’.

Both have the potential to cause significant psychological harm to a child – fear, negative self-worth, lack of confidence, paranoia, and even self-hate / harm; terribly depleting conditions that can adversely affect an individual for years, if not decades. There is nothing worse than a child believing she is inferior or worthless because of the colour of her skin.

I recall walking to town on a half day during my first few weeks at boarding school in Cheltenham in 1985. The driver of a car stopped parallel to me and shouted, “Oi, N…..! Go back to your country!”.

I was horrified and literally feared for my life. Not only did I avoid going into town for several weeks, but I became so conscious of looking different to most other people that I developed a paranoia. From that moment, life was all about survival; get myself through the next five years, regardless of whatever came my way. Which inadvertently meant turning a blind eye to all racial slurs or jokes, laughing along and pretending to be onside, so to speak.

Although racism is unacceptable in any age, one can at least consign that of the eighties to ignorance – “does everyone in Africa live in mud huts?” etc etc.

This is why I’m staggered by the number of letters sent to Heads of both state and private schools by pupils complaining about a lack of understanding, empathy and protection with regards to racism in their institutions. Letters illustrating countless examples of racist behaviour by fellow students, as well as the unconscious racism of teachers. It seems not much has changed since my time.

However, the aim of this article is not to point fingers or pin blame, but to offer solutions, in order for us to have a truly loving, kind, and inclusive society.

If there’s one thing we should all have learned during the Covid 19 pandemic, it is the importance of a loving and supportive community; being kind to one another, no matter race, colour, or creed.

There are three components that need to be addressed.

1. The curriculum

2. Teachers

3. Parents

Curriculum


In my previous article, titled, ‘How to Create a Better Future for Our Children’, I emphasised the need to change the curriculum, so that subjects like History are taught from both sides, as against merely teaching children about the British Empire from a British point of view. Children must be taught black history in order to appreciate the origins and makings of the British Empire. Not for Britain to be shamed in any way, but so that they understand both sides of the equation. Indeed, with regards to the slave trade, one could argue that black tribal leaders who sold their own people were as much to blame as the European slave traders.

The objectives are threefold.

1. Knowledge – so that children know and understand the whole truth.

2. Forgiveness – it is important for black and Asian children to know the truth so that they can make the decision to forgive and love from an early age. Anger and bitterness comes as a result of not being taught the truth in the first place.
Furthermore, it is important for white children to understand how the British Empire was created, so as to recognise the reality that white is not in any way superior to black or brown.

3. Love – by understanding and forgiving one another’s history, black, brown, and white children stand a better chance of fostering a future of love, tolerance, kindness, and equality.

The inevitable consequences of the present curriculum are;

– The white child grows up thinking she’s superior to black and brown children; spends most of her life subconsciously looking down on black and brown people, and as a result inadvertently becomes a cog in the wheel of an inbuilt system of racial inequality and bias.

– The black/ brown child grows up believing she’s inferior to white people, and finds herself forever using every ounce of energy to simply survive.

Teachers

The following statement in a recent letter from an alumni of a secondary school in Hertfordshire sums up the importance of addressing the problem of many teachers’ ignorance and indifference with regards to racism in schools, with many preferring to turn a blind eye and stay silent.

‘I believe white teachers have neither the language nor the understanding to educate white students about race. The societal position is one of silence.’
Just as teachers needed to be educated and trained with regards to eradicating bullying in all its various guises, they also need to be educated and trained in order to effectively stamp out racism in classrooms and playgrounds. The trainings should also be designed to change teachers’ mindsets.  

All children need role models, and in my view one of the biggest challenges we have today is an acute lack of black teachers. According to official government figures in 2018, just 13% of state schoolteachers are black or from other ethnic minorities. When one considers the fact that at least 27% of students are black or from other ethnic minorities, one can clearly see a huge imbalance. It is most likely far worse in private schools. If we want a truly diverse society then this is something that urgently needs to be addressed. Both state and private schools need to consciously make more effort to promote and cultivate racial diversity in their recruitment process.   

Parents

There are some wonderful schools that recognise the importance of tackling racism at an early age. Indeed, several months ago, one such school, Camps Hill, Stevenage, invited me to run sessions on racial discrimination for all their pupils. What really impressed me was that an after school forum was organised for the parents, and I was able to tell them what I taught their children.

Schools should regularly hold racial discrimination forums for parents, with the underlying message being, ‘we’re creating a better future for all our children’.

My fervent hope is that more Head Teachers have the heart, courage, and foresight to effectively tackle racist discrimination and bias, be it unconscious or otherwise.

Education should always be driven by a desire to inspire children to be the very best they can be, so that every one of them can play their role in positively impacting society. 

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