We need to talk about race and racism… preferably in the classroom

We need to talk about race and racism… preferably in the classroom

 

Why these ever-important discussions about race and racism should be taking place in schools across the UK. 

Nowadays, there exists this notion that race and racism are unavoidable topics of conversation that are applied to almost every aspect of daily life. No subject, be that sport, business, entertainment, or politics is free from its uncomfortable and disruptive grasp. What makes the topic so controversial and frustrating for some is that it feels at odds with the idea of a diverse and post-racial Britain. But that is exactly the point: The United Kingdom is NOT a post-racial society. Although, the commission on race and ethnic disparities recently released a report in which it stated that it “no longer see[s] a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities” (Commision on Race and Ethinic Disparities , 2021), many people do not feel that way. This is the reason why these conversations on race are so important, for how can we have a cohesive, multicultural society when part of it feels deliberately excluded. These conversations are crucial, however, there is a place for these discussions, and I believe that is the classroom. Here is why: 

 

Firstly, I am a firm believer that racism and xenophobia is caused by ignorance. People often fear the ‘other’ and are wary of that which they are unaccustomed to. So, what better place to educate yourself on matters of race, customs, and beliefs, than a place of learning like a school? There is an argument that primary school children are too young to be concerned about complicated issues such as racism. Furthermore, these issues do not affect them as they are in effect ‘colour-blind’ at that young age. Yet, this is simply not the case as the YMCA’s Young and Black report found that 95% of young black people have heard and witnessed racist behaviour and language at school (YMCA, 2020). Additionally, children are aware of racial differences and often ask questions to those around them for explanation for these differences. Kate Mills, an education worker from the charity Show Racism the Red Card explains, 

“From a young age, they take in the world around them and begin to form a worldview, and parents and carers have a huge role to play in shaping it” (The schoolrun, 2021).

Thus, primary school children should be taught about cultural differences, race, and racism in schools through the school trips to mosques and churches, books with diverse main characters, and lessons on historical events that deal with race and racism such as the apartheid and the Atlantic slave trade (The schoolrun, 2021). By starting at this age, children can begin to answer some of their burning questions on race and will be less ignorant on these matters.

Secondly, schools are arguably the best environment for these discussions to take place. Currently, many conversations occur in environments where they really should not. Social media is often the arena where these discussions happen, and these dialogues almost always descend into arguments. Such complicated and emotionally charged conversations must take place in an environment where they can be spoken about with care and caution, where the individuals involved feel safe. A school is one such place, designed to encourage debate, learning and acceptance. Schools are the optimal location for these conversations as they “provide safe spaces for these conversations to happen” (The Children’s Society, 2020). Race and racism are not easy subjects. They force everyone to look introspectively, confront their own biases, and hear the experiences of others. For that to be done successfully, the environment must be both nurturing and educational and schools fit that description.

So, if the goal is a post-racial society, Britain must have conversations about race and racism within its borders. As a society, we can longer view racism as a vile thing of the past or something that happens elsewhere but never here on these fine shores. We must confront the reality that racism is prevalent in our society even if it is not so overt as it appears in other countries. Furthermore, for these conversations to be effective, they must not take place in unregulated and often unfriendly spaces like social media but in schools. Young British people must be educated on cultural difference and bias if that dream of a post-racial society is to ever be realised. 

Works Cited

Commision on Race and Ethinic Disparities , 2021. Independent report: Foreword, introduction, and full recommendations. [Online]
Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-report-of-the-commission-on-race-and-ethnic-disparities/foreword-introduction-and-full-recommendations
[Accessed 25 May 2021].

The Children’s Society, 2020. Schools: more than a drop-off point. [Online]
Available at: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/blogs/importance-of-schools#:~:text=Schools%20not%20only%20save%20parents,the%20supervision%20of%20trusted%20adults.
[Accessed 25 May 2021].

The schoolrun, 2021. Teaching primary school children about racism. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theschoolrun.com/teaching-kids-about-racism
[Accessed 25 May 2021].

YMCA, 2020. Young, discriminated, and Black: the true colour of institutional racism in the UK. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ymca.org.uk/press-statements/young-discriminated-and-black
[Accessed 25 May 2021].

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