Neutrality is not enough…

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor” -Desmond Tutu-

Like many, I was appalled to hear of the ordeal that “child Q” (a black 15-year-old girl) was subjected to when she was taken out of an exam to be stripped searched at her London school in 2020 by two police officers. This was done without an appropriate adult present and without her parents’ knowledge or consent. She was treated in the most dehumanising and criminalising way due to being wrongly suspected of being in possession of cannabis and was failed by multiple adults in positions of responsibility in a number of ways.

Referring to her as “Child Q” feels that it further reduces her to another statistic, a case study of another young black person let down by a system in which she is meant to feel safe, nurtured and protected. I keep thinking about the neutrality of the members of school staff; the teacher who called the police in the first instance, the teachers who stood outside the room whilst the strip search took place and senior leadership who presumably were made aware that this incident had taken place and took no disciplinary action. Would the school usually escalate such a situation by calling the police on a child who they themselves had already searched for drugs without finding anything? Did they think to challenge the police officers when they took her into the medical room without an appropriate adult? Could they hear child Q being instructed to expose her intimate body parts and still think the police search sounded appropriate? Did anyone consider calling child Q’s Mum? If not, how? Seeking parental consent for minors is the basics of working with children and young people. Did someone persuade the teachers that the police were supposedly following protocol? I hope at the very least they wanted to intervene but did not know how. Perhaps they were overruled by someone more senior? Had they been on a tokenistic anti-racism or safeguarding training that they didn’t think to apply in real life situations? Did they think about how traumatic and inappropriate this incident was for child Q for the two years before the media got hold of the story? Did they genuinely expect child Q to re-engage with her exam when she was sent back there once the strip search was completed?… I could go on and hopefully my train of thought highlights the how racism is systemic and entrenched at different levels.

Without going into more detail about my thoughts and feelings about this situation, it made me even more compelled to think about what we, as educators and parents of children from all ethnic backgrounds should be doing more to support and safeguard young people. Young people and teachers from all ethnic minority backgrounds need to be guided to understand systemic racism and how it manifests in everyday life and should be taught how to promote the allyship of white peers. Whilst we live in a racialised society, young people from ethnic minority backgrounds need compassion and support to navigate systemic racism and thrive in spite of it.

How to be a proactively anti-racist educator:

  • Encourage your educational setting to audit and invest in their resources to be more diverse and representative (books, toys, multi -cultural crayons etc )
  • Support your setting to review their curriculum. E.g. consider how and when is black history taught, are authors from ethnic minority backgrounds on reading lists/library collections
  • Arrange for staff to have training to acknowledge and understand their biases/privilege and how it could impact their teaching and student perceptions and student wellbeing
  • Support and actively involve/seek advice and training packages from anti-racist educational leaders /organisations, such as The Black Curriculum and Everyday Racism
  • Educational settings should review their Senior Leadership, governing bodies and staff cohort and proactively recruit people from ethnic minority backgrounds
  • Celebrate differences within the school community by “seeing colour” throughout the year
  • Encourage staff to talk about race and (lack of) representation with pupils openly (e.g. “All of the characters in this book are white. Did anyone else notice that too?”). Staff may need support and training to be able to do this effectively.
  • Support staff to think about how they can challenge colleagues/children who make racist or stereotypical remarks or jokes. There should be a protocol in place for managing and recording these incidences with consequences for perpetrators and emotional support for whistle-blowers.
  • Support staff to develop/update a specific anti-racism policy and long-term anti-racism action plan to be included in school improvement plan

How to be an anti-racist family/parent

  • Research and learn about racism and black/Asian history for yourself. Do not rely on people from ethnic minority backgrounds to educate you on this.
  • Challenge family members/friends who make racist remarks/jokes. It can be useful to have some stock phrases or scripts in mind that you can use as these occur, as it can be hard to know how to respond in the heat of the moment. E.g. “Would you mind explaining why this is funny? I don’t find that funny, it’s actually racist.”
  • Teach your children to “see colour,” celebrate people’s differences and learn about different cultures with your children.
  • We all have biases. Reflect for yourself and with your children what yours are and acknowledge your own areas of privilege.
  • Read books/blogs/newspaper articles/TV shows by authors from diverse backgrounds and featuring characters from diverse backgrounds.
  • Research (in age-appropriate ways) with your children organisations and individuals who are actively challenging racism or seeking positive change.

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