End racism in UK private schools
End racism in UK private schools
To Our Educators,
This week has been tough. As a community we are grieving for our murdered brothers and sisters and for the state of the world.
Yet in the midst of our mourning, we have also been forced to think about our own experiences of racism here in the UK, so many of which took place within the hallowed halls of your institutions during our formative years and are still taking place as we speak.
What’s upsetting is that we are the lucky ones, members of our community across the pond are being killed in the streets not to mention those here at home, being wrongly imprisoned, spat at whilst carrying out essential work and attacked in public.
Whilst we were all privileged enough to attend these schools, there is no amount of privilege that can shield one from racism. Often clearly in the minority, the racism we are subjected to is complex yet severe, the impacts of which have stayed with many of us long after leaving.
It is precisely these sorts of attitudes and behaviours which, when left unchecked, can lead to tragedies. Racism is dangerous at every level, and at every level it contributes to a society in which the murder of unarmed black people is possible.
Racism is a rampant issue spanning the British educational landscape, but in a country where two thirds of the cabinet attended private school along with 65% of supreme court judges and 26% of FTSE 100 chief executives, independent schools have a clear responsibility to produce balanced unbiased individuals. Although the domination of these professions by independent school alumni is itself an inequality that needs to be addressed, we cannot deny its reality. Your schools produce some of the most powerful people in the world.
Now more than ever, we cannot afford for these powerful individuals to operate with prejudice and yet such prejudices are so often harboured within your institutions.
Our experiences range from the covert and insidious:
To the overt and terrifying:
“There was one occasion where a girl dressed up as a black character and painted her body brown
(essentially black face)”
“continuously having my name mispronounced, people doing "African accents", making jokes about the one black teacher that I ever had (who was a supply for 2 weeks) being my uncle and the air of "casual racism" that was seen as very acceptable throughout all of my time at school,”
“Bananas outside my locker. Constant use of the n-word. Being told to go back to my own country. Jokes about segregation from teachers. Disproportionate punishments, and disregard for the actions of other students towards me.”
“near the end of the first year in a rugby sevens tournament, I was called the N word and told to pick up my banana peels. This was hurtful and I reported to teachers who promised they would take it up. However it was only when I took to social media and told people to repost that my school took hold of the situation but still I received warnings from teachers that it was an inappropriate use of social media.”
“being called a ‘fat n***er’ by a member of the school”
Black people have been given ‘the
burden of proof’, which means that if they cannot prove racism then it is dismissed’.
This has led to a culture in many British private schools, where racist attitudes are the norm, allowed to fester unchecked and unchallenged.
So what can you do to make this better? We have a few suggestions:
1. Introduce unconscious bias training as standard for all staff as well as providing workshops for students across year groups
2. Talk to your black students about their experiences , take the time to understand what they are going through and listen to their recommendations
3. Hire a workforce that accurately represents your communities. We ask for all schools to review their hiring process and commit to becoming equal opportunity employers.
4. Ensure access to BME councillors for students
5. Adopt a clear racial code of conduct, with appropriate punishments included. Commit to following through with these punishments when required.
6. A tangible commitment to diversifying curriculum
Above all, we are asking you to stand up for your black students, listen to them, respect them and value them. Growing up is hard enough without carrying the burden of racism throughout your school career.
For the black students still in your care - ensure they feel welcome in the places which for many are second homes. For your black alumni, using your sizable endowments to contribute to movements such as ‘The NAACP legal defense fund’ or The Amos Bursary might go some way towards an apology for their experiences.
For the world, prioritise cultivating environments of acceptance and understanding, producing adults who aren't simply not racist, but anti-racist.
Your Black Students (past and present) and their friends and allies
(This open letter has been shared in the Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/racism-black-students-schools-george-floyd-death-protests-coronavirus-a9542441.html