The systemic racism in UK schools

I grew up in a very small and predominantly white area of Nottinghamshire, a place where racism was rarely ever spoken about or acknowledged. Many people in this area are ignorant in the sense that if racism is not directly affecting them then they can just ignore it, and they steer clear of having those conversations to avoid feeling uncomfortable. I recognise my enormous privilege and I know I need to use my voice to help raise the voices’ of those who constantly have to fight for it.

Coming from that predominantly white area, I can honestly say that throughout my entire education experience, from nursery through to sixth form, I was able to count the number of black people I knew on one hand. I know now how great of a privilege that was, to never understand what it would have felt like for those black children coming into a school where no one looked like them.

Throughout that same education, no one was ever taught about the atrocities executed by the British Empire. There is currently only one module available in the UK teaching black history – the civil rights movement in the US. There is nothing on the current curriculum about the racism that was, and still is, heavily resonant in the UK. I could not name one British civil rights activist – this is due to both the lack of accurate education about our country’s history as well as my own lack of self-education. Why aren’t black children being able to be educated on their own history?

Antonia, a 17-year-old student says: “After a lesson at school where Britain and its Empire was glorified … it took four years for me to go and find a book which accurately articulated the impact that colonisation has had on this country”.

Why didn’t my schools give talks and discussions about racism or black history? I had multiple talks on topics such as women in STEM jobs, mental health issues, LGBTQ+, and anti-bullying – why then, despite it being created over 50 years ago, was I never taught about Black History Month at any point? These schools, like many schools across the UK, had so many opportunities to provide us with the knowledge of black history and racism that would enable white Brits to form anti-racist ideologies at an early age.

Why weren’t our schools teaching the next generation how to fight racism? Why weren’t our schools educating us on black history in the UK the same way they taught us about white history? Why weren’t our schools educating us on the systemic racism within the workplaces and the fact that when white Brits grow up they have a significantly higher chance of getting the role that my fellow black pupil also applied for? It is because, as Reni Eddo-Lodge said in her novel ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, “Britain is still profoundly uncomfortable with race and difference”.

Our generation have had to self-educate. Having respect for one another, Britain’s black history, and how to be anti-racist should all be taught from a young age. By having these issues on the UK’s curriculum it will instil those anti-racist ideas in future generations.

To those arguing ‘this is not our problem, why are you protesting in England’ – racism is present throughout the entire globe and white people are responsible for helping to correct this. It should not be the responsibility of black people to correct something they did not even start.

I was never given a talk in school about what happened to Mark Duggan – in fact, if I hadn’t have watched the news at the time, and relied solely on the community around me, I don’t think I would even know who he was. Police brutality is very much present in the UK, we are just not told about it.

The UK is not innocent. White British people have just assumed that it is because of the lack of education we received on Britain’s role in the global oppression of black people. The slavery that happened in this country is never spoken about, the only lessons we had on civil rights movements were those of the US, not the UK. We need to stop mis-educating people.

Jasmine Botchey wrote ‘There is a bout of historical amnesia that permeates the English national curriculum, particularly concerning fundamental parts of black British history … Knowledge of the Black civil rights movement in Britain is incredibly fundamental. It aids in the understanding of why British institutions, legislation and structures are shaped in the way they are. Drawing on figures and groups, who campaigned for racial equality, can help us today when considering what we can do to build and reshape our system’.

A youth-led campaign, Fill in the Blanks, have demanded the teaching of British colonial history be compulsory for all students in the UK. They argue that ‘by implementing this curriculum change, British society will have a chance to take accountability for the atrocities performed by, and in the name of, the Empire and ensure they can be avoided as Britain forms its post-Brexit identity.’

It is our responsibility to amplify the voices of our black brothers and sisters because they are still not being heard. It is time to change how we teach the next generation, because even though I was able to realise my privilege and am continually educating myself to be anti-racist, many people in my area never did. It is our responsibility to educate people on their white privilege, to educate people on how to be anti-racist and to hold others accountable. No matter how uncomfortable the conversation or the aftermath is, educating people on how our own country played and plays a part in racism, and educating people on how they can help break down that systemic racism is essential.

“You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in” – Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Petitions to sign to help this issue:

  • https://www.change.org/p/department-of-education-battle-racism-by-updating-reading-lists-at-gcse?source_location=petitions_browse
  • https://www.change.org/p/boris-johnson-make-black-history-month-compulsory-to-the-educational-curriculum-in-the-uk?source_location=topic_page
  • https://www.change.org/p/gavin-williamson-mp-teach-british-children-about-the-realities-of-british-imperialism-and-colonialism
  • https://www.change.org/p/secretary-of-state-education-anti-racism-education-to-be-compulsory-in-u-k-schools-c27ddfe2-0ae9-4d7f-b168-f23ef32200f8
  • https://www.change.org/p/petition-for-anti-racism-curriculum-to-be-taught-in-schools
  • https://www.change.org/p/the-scottish-government-teach-black-history-in-scottish-schools
  • @theblackcurriculum [Instagram]
  • @fillintheblanks [Instagram]

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Lauren Bramwell