The current global Black Lives Matter movement is different this time around. People are listening to the cries of so many people across the globe, experiences are being heard, and people are understanding. But we’re still glancing over a key issue that so many of us young people in the UK still face: racism within schools.
You can ask any student of an ethnic minority if they have experiences or examples of racism at their schools, and I’m sure they will have a story to tell. Even if it’s not them personally, it’ll be somebody that they know. Our schools are therefore failing their students.
They’re failing us in two ways, in the classroom, and out in the playground.
We’re being failed in the classroom because the current British curriculum fails to acknowledge the rich depth of history of race relations that we see in the UK today. Schools currently only focus on the dehumanising aspects of black history, such as slavery, ignoring the UK Civil Rights movement, or the truth about the British Empire, topics that are so vital in understanding and deconstructing racism within our society. The lack of education within the walls of our classrooms allows the breeding of ignorance and racism amongst our peers.
This lack of education is reflected in the playgrounds too. Racial slurs are hurled around constantly without students understanding the history and derogatory connotations behind the words. These slurs are linked to a much wider and deeper historical background, one that we need to change. In the words of Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, they reflect the ‘idea of inferiority disguised as a word’. But often those using these profanities don’t actually understand the meaning behind them, because the education is missing. We saw this reflected in 2017, when the number of exclusions due to racism increased by 21% since 2013 to 4,590 exclusions. However, it’s no longer enough for schools to punish their students after a racist incident, schools need to be actively anti-racist every day.
So, I guess the big question we all have now as young people, is what can we do? We’re always told that that we have loud voices but not the potential to actually enforce change, but this is far from the truth.
I recently wrote to my school, listing the racial experiences of myself and 40 other students, giving them ways that they can help to change the injustices within the education system. I gave four options, including assemblies and diversifying the current curriculum. I also got such a positive response from so many current and ex-students who wanted to help make a difference and get involved. And I honestly believe that this is the way that young people can drive the change. We need to start having these awkward conversations within our places of study and work. We need to be asking vital questions; what is your policy on racism and when was it last updated? What support do you have in place to help your staff or students that are exposed to racism? What support do you have for those that experience racism but are too scared to report it? These questions are so important to ask, and we need to be holding our schools and educational institutions to account. Reform is seriously needed within our education system. Racism towards anybody is horrific, but aimed at our young people, our students under the age of 18 is extremely exhausting and traumatising.
Enough is enough.
So, as a message to all young people reading this, now is the time for change, it’s time for you all to come together, get involved and demand a better future for us all. Think about writing letters to your schools and call them out on racism found within and beyond the classrooms. Ask them what their current policy towards racism is, and when the last time they actually held a talk or assembly on diversity, racism and equality actually was. Talk to your family members and start having awkward and difficult conversations with one another. Most importantly, educate yourselves and others.
The only way that we will see change is if we use the power of education.