Britain’s education system is a breeding ground in which the norms and values of White privilege are reinforced and reproduced through the ethnocentric curriculum. In this piece, I will examine and draw parallels between my interactions and facts/figures referenced from the book that sparked my metamorphosis as a Black male in Britain – ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire” – along with an incident that proved particularly striking.
“Black boys are 3 times more likely to be expelled from school than their White counterparts”, a statistic that is widely and historically known but rarely contextualized. This statistic led me to draw a parallel with my own experience of being sent on a “6 weeks placement” for getting in a fight, whilst my White counterpart went unpunished even though I wasn’t the aggressor, facts of the matter which were dismissed with ease.
I was by no means the perfect student, but you can see how easy it is to be racialised and socialised to be an ‘angry Black man’ from the young age of 13/14. It left me questioning “why was I the only one punished?” and “why wasn’t he punished for throwing the first punch?” – questions that played over and over in my head like a sequence with every teacher I interacted with, with no doubts in my mind that they were biased towards me as I was just an ‘angry Black boy’ who they can’t help but expel.
“Black boy tied to a lamppost and whipped at school’s mock slave auction run by White teenagers” an incident that occured in March 2018. It was widely reported that a group of seven White teenagers in Bath were accused of chaining their fellow pupil to a lamppost, whipping him with sticks and calling him extreme racist names, symbolic of the slave trade. The board of governors refused to expel three of the White pupils responsible, they were suspended and are now back at school – alongside the victim. This further epitomises that White privilege is still the most fundamental asset to have in English schools (reflecting the wider society).
This allowed me to draw another distinct/ intertwined parallel between my experiences of gaslighting and the experience of that Black boy who was tied to a lamppost. “Stop playing the race card, Manny!”, ” I would never be racist…”, ” I have Black cousins, nephews, Stepdad…”, “I don’t see colour!” All responses to dialogue from teachers and students alike in an attempt to gaslight situations/conversation involving race. Has anyone ever thought race isn’t a card to be played? Anyone ever thought maybe, just maybe we are all humans and prone to bias, most especially teachers who are placed on a pedestal above racism? Anyone ever thought that I want you to see colour, as not seeing colour is essentially seeing through me?
It is institutionally impossible for above a certain percentage of Black students to get top-grades at school, as it is cited in a Warwick University investigation into teacher bias. For every 3 White British pupils entered for a higher tier, only two Black pupils were entered – this figure still holds when gender, free school meals, material deprivation and single-parent households are accounted for. They also found that teacher’s assessments under-estimate the academic potential of Black students. Again, trying to find a parallelled me to look around to find that I was the only Black boy in my year at sixth form out of 100+ pupils, and this led me to ponder why this was the case. My observations led me to the conclusion that ‘Black boys’ – a term which characterised our years of secondary school, not our actual names – fell victim to the violence of low expectation from teachers who expect them to fail or just about pass, or from students who expect them to be the class clown.
Consequently, at the risk of this sounding like a diatribe, there is some self-accountability that can be placed on BAME students falsely accusing teachers/students of racism, but again, this links back to the lack of education on the complexity that is racism. A favourite quote of mine explains it best:
Fundamentally, until the education system offers solutions like a new/revised national curriculum that reflects the diversity of Britain, an eradication of the ‘stale, male, and pale’ attitude when looking at teaching staff, implementation of new policies that ensure teacher training days aren’t just an extra day off school for pupils, but rather a thorough education on the intricacies of how to deal with a diverse class, eradication/reduction of teacher ignorance/labelling, and harsh punishments for racism within schools. We will continue to read stories of pupils being tied to lampposts in mock slave auctions, or experiences of being “the only [Black] one” in classes, sixth-form, events etc.
Stay blessed people and remember: a racist system’s worst nightmare is truly educated POC!
Keep reading and let history be your teacher.
- Emmanuel Solomon