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How a Racist Education Produces a Racist Culture
Article in Times Educational Supplement by Steve Chalke
The tragic death – the killing – of George Floyd, along with the events and debate that have filled the weeks since, have highlighted again the ongoing and deep-rooted structural racism, injustice and inequality that plague our society.
The toppling of effigies erected to men who grew rich through the trafficking of Black human beings has delighted some and horrified others. However, as historian David Olusoga commented, after the statue of 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, was torn from its city centre plinth in Bristol and thrown into the harbour, “this was not an attack on history. This is history.”
You may believe that a statue to a man who traded in human flesh being pulled from the pedestal on which a previous generation had placed it was a criminal attack. You may believe that it was an act of liberation. In my view, it was probably both in exactly the same moment. However, what is clear is that lasting change has to be more than symbolic; it must become systemic. Therefore, the real question, is how do we turn this moment into a movement; a movement that serves as the harbinger of genuine transformation?
Education - engine of social change
Racism is the complex system of privilege and legacy, advantage and disadvantage, power and poverty. It is explicit and implicit. It is conscious and unconscious. It is the air that we breathe. It impacts us all from birth. As Layla Saad puts it in her book 'Me and White Supremacy', ‘White supremacy is a system [we all] have been born into…[but] I invite you to…work to dismantle it within yourself and the world’.
I believe that education can be the engine of social and cultural change we long for. I believe that education can be the most potent driver towards equity and true opportunity. But, if that’s true, the question becomes, how will we all work together – Black, Brown and White – to use this moment to harness its power to break rather than reinforce the cycle of institutional inequality?
Racism thrives in the company of silence
We need a new approach: a new approach to the curriculum, to pedagogy, to leadership and to leadership training, so:
· How do we ‘out’ the systems that create racial oppression within education?
· How do we build an educational culture where no one is discriminated against, or disadvantaged, because of the colour of their skin, their ethnicity or their nationally?
· How do we create diversity in leader recruitment in the education system?
· How do we empower and enable African, Caribbean, Asian and all minority ethnic students to aspire to the highest levels of leadership in society?
· How do we create room for an open and honest conversation, with room to hear one another – especially those of us of African, Caribbean, Asian and other minority heritages?
· How do celebrate Black excellence?
Racism thrives best in the company of silence. But, I believe that together, we have the platform and the power to help build a society whose hallmark is equality.