Voices against Racism. What can we do to help?

by | Mar 17, 2022

From my early days of teaching, it’s been a struggle to switch off entirely from the responsibilities of the job, even when there’s an opportunity for some much-appreciated downtime. TV is often my go-to choice of mindless entertainment. However, many a time, I’ve been unintentionally hauled right back into the relentless quest for excellence in education, either through a well-timed documentary or even some school-based fictional drama.

Nothing’s changed! Now, I can’t even watch a simple TV programme, far removed from the demands of a classroom or school office, without seeing something in it that’s going to be useful for learning or LifeWise.

I was watching an episode of Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild and reveling in the bravery of a couple, and their children, who left the city to become farmers on a clifftop field in Cornwall. Explaining why they moved, Ben quoted the most shocking statistic – young black men are nine times more likely than the general population to be stopped and searched in the city! The family were of mixed race, and the mother explained that the drastic move was as much to protect her boys as it was in their desire to live the off-grid dream. A thought immediately struck me, as I then recalled an ITV news report I had seen not even a year ago about three young adults growing up with racism in Cornwall, described as one of the whitest places in the UK. How might she be assured that those boys will fare any better in the most South Westerly county of the UK, where 98.2% of the population is white?

What was strange was the fact that I’d paused while drafting this blog about the International Day for Racial Discrimination, only to have one aspect of the reality of racism thrust right back into my South Westerly, ‘privileged’ living space! I’d been thinking about this blog from an international perspective and preparing to give guidance about how to join in the annually recognised day on the 21st March. However,  this synchronistic message made me stop and reflect and think. This day may be sanctioned at global international levels, but it has to be actioned at personal, individual local levels to have the most significant impact. This year’s theme is ‘Voices for Action Against Racism’ with the message to encourage people everywhere – yes, including in Cornwall – to strengthen and consolidate their voices against racism, to mobilise against all forms and manifestations of racial discrimination and injustice, and to ensure a safe environment for those who speak up.

The history of the UN day’s introduction is based on the high profile events of the day when police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws” in 1960. Since 1979, the General Assembly has staged a week of solidarity with people still struggling against racism and racial discrimination, beginning on 21 March. We have witnessed the dismantling of the apartheid system, the abolition of racist laws and practices in many countries, and the establishment and consolidation of an international framework for fighting racism, guided by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Yet, despite this convention nearing universal ratification – with the obligations placed on States, tasking them with eradicating discrimination in public and private spheres – at the county and city level, still too many individuals, communities and societies suffer the injustices and stigma of racism. Yzella, one of those young Cornish adults, recalls, “I remember when my grandparents took me to London for the first time when I was little, and they asked me what my favourite part of the trip was, and I said to them that I wasn’t the only brown person. My favourite part about going to London was that I didn’t stand out.”

The United Nations General Assembly reiterates that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and have the potential to contribute constructively to the development and well-being of their societies. In its most recent resolution, the General Assembly also emphasised that any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous and must be rejected, together with theories that attempt to determine the existence of separate human races. Since its foundation, the United Nations has been concerned with this issue, and the prohibition of racial discrimination is enshrined in all core international human rights instruments. The principle of equality also requires States to adopt special measures to eliminate conditions that cause or help to perpetuate racial discrimination.

But I think the principle of equality mainly requires each individual to adopt the desire to strengthen and consolidate voices against racism. So, whether your school is in a multiculturally diverse city or the tiniest mono-cultural village location, we can each play a part in eliminating conditions that perpetuate racial discrimination.

What can we do?
1. Recognise Your Own Unconscious Bias and Challenge It

Your unconscious bias is far more pervasive than conscious prejudice, and it’s often wildly at odds with my actual conscious values. I’ve been in numerous situations where an innocuous comment or stray provocation can unearth some shocking unconscious attitudes and beliefs. When I think about them, I realise they’re rooted somewhere in some long-ago school inspired doctrine which, at the time, I didn’t question. As a person, never mind as a teacher, it is vital to do some self-reflection to ask yourself, ‘what do you think when something on TV makes you stereotype or sense your own discriminatory view?’ And then think of yourself in school…who do you call on in the staffroom or classroom?  Who irks or irritates you? Which pupil gets into trouble the most?  Is that really a reflection of the behavior? And if you are geographically far removed from diversity, think how essential it is to edge away from your unconscious biases to represent more than one dominant, or comfortable culture in your daily interactions.

2. Be Prepared to Engage in Some Unlearning
Those Cornish pupils spoke so eloquently about feeling underrepresented – hardly surprising when even in most recent history, a white majority dictates both the curriculum and social policy. Every change starts with communication and conversation. The shift in perspective will only come when those voices are heard and when schools introduce the stories, news and history that have never before been addressed. I don’t believe any kind of ‘ism’ is spawned in inbred hatred, and certainly not in our children, but it festers in misdirected learning and a lack of empathy and understanding. Only in our schools can we tackle that lack of understanding by presenting multiple perspectives, lifting the myopic lens of the mono-culture and unlearning some of the inaccurate historical contexts that we were taught.

3. Make Sure the Curriculum and School is Inclusive
When I first worked in international education settings, my colleagues were predominantly white, whilst the pupils represented were from widely diverse cultural, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. Imagine how it impacted the BAME students when they did not see themselves reflected in the school’s adult community. I had the honour of working with some awesome enlightened leaders who set about changing that by widening the recruitment pool. They also ensured that BAME students were celebrated and reflected in the student body and the school administration team. And they certainly addressed racism and discrimination through the curriculum by encouraging the teaching of more controversial subjects from multiple perspectives, including those that reflect the ‘real world’. Regardless of geographical location, if we genuinely want to change the narrative, all children’s voices in every county in the country must be encouraged to mobilise against all forms and manifestations of racial discrimination and injustice.

Oh! And if you need some TV downtime, please watch the BAFTA award-winning documentary called ‘The School That Tried To End Racism.’ It really does help its students to uncover and eradicate some of those hidden racial biases, exploring how this can affect us all and giving excellent direction regarding what we can do to tackle it.

If you’re looking for primary resources to support open discussion within your school around the subject of racism, understanding other cultures, diversity and inclusion, take a look at LifeWise. You can explore our resources for free for 14 days. If you’d like to speak to one of the team, we’re available on live chat right now to help.

Julie Chudleigh

About the Author

Julie continues to build on her relentless quest for innovative and impactful pedagogy and is motivated by growing knowledge of neuroscience and its impact on ways of learning. After 30 years in both the UK and schools around the globe, supporting inclusive, diverse learners and mentoring PGCE student teachers as a Headteacher, advisor and consultant, we’re absolutely thrilled to have Julie onboard.

She wholeheartedly supports the LifeWise mission to positively prepare children for life. Julie has been involved in opening trauma informed schools, classroom design and creating communication friendly spaces, growing student numbers, raising attainment. She is also a published author but ask her what her greatest accomplishments include and she’ll tell you the success of students thirty years down the line!

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