The structural inequalities faced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have been deepened by a decade of austerity. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and, following yet further deaths of African Americans through police brutality, the #BlackLivesMatter movement (#BLM) is demanding racial justice through protests across the globe. The BERA Race, Ethnicity and Education (REE) community has an opportunity and a responsibility to provide evidence, advice and assistance to all stakeholders in education to help them navigate and contribute to this conversation.
For this reason we invited contributions to a special series of the BERA Blog, edited by the convenors of REE, that addresses the #BLM movement and issues of racial justice in the UK and beyond. We aim for this to be a diverse collection that encompasses subjects such as decolonising education, employing a more diverse workforce, inclusion in decision-making bodies across the education sector, making racial equality part of the curriculum, and more.
We start the blog series with Parise Carmichael-Murphy’s ‘#BlackLivesMatter in education: How can a hashtag help us understand exclusion inequalities in English schools?’, in which she discusses how hashtags on social media have been used to make visible racial injustice, historical inequalities and marginalisation faced by the Black communities. She recognises that BlackLivesMatter has evolved and is no longer a single-issue problem as interpreted and targeted through policy interventions. Policies often miss the intersectional nature of manifestations of inequality, leading Parise to explore what the inequalities in our schools are, and why and how these inequalities are sustained through historical oppression and marginalisation of Caribbean pupils in the UK.
Matthew Barnard’s blog post ‘Cultural capital in non-White majority schools: A critical exploration of cultural ethos and pedagogy’ is of particular relevance in the light of the global BlackLivesMatter movement, linking closely to Parise’s questions and focussing on the reproduction of cultural capital to control the narrative using a Bourdieusian lens. There are ongoing conversations about how to decolonise the school curriculum, and a backlash against highly visible symbols of oppression such as statues that celebrate slave traders in non-White majority schools. This again raises questions about the impact on the non-White student’s identity and belonging or not belonging in the power or structure of social space, where they are not visible in the national narrative.
Susan Davis continues with this theme in her blog post ‘Supporting quiet, shy or anxious Black, Asian and minority ethnic children with English as an additional language in the early years’, in which she states that the education system perpetuates disadvantage and a number of factors embed inequity into the system. She shares her findings from a six-week programme, Special Me Time, aimed at supporting quiet children to vocalise their feelings, to access classroom opportunities, and to communicate and develop friendships in an early years setting. She highlights the need for educators to be aware of learners’ needs and support them accordingly at the start of their educational journey.
Anne Hudson, in her blog post ‘Beyond Britishness: Learning to become agents of change’, draws upon her doctoral research on how effective citizenship education and history teaching can provide opportunities to revisit identity and develop agency and activism in our students, and for teachers to equip students with the skills and tools to become agents of change.
Student activism is also evident in ‘Can employers and schools harness employer engagement to improve diversity and inclusion?’, in which Alice Amegah moves the conversation from one of rhetoric to action. She introduces the reader to the notion of employer engagement in education as a diversity and inclusion intervention in education to promote equality. This concept of employer engagement in education can be harnessed to challenge stereotypes and encourage young people to look at different career pathways, raising students’ aspirations as they plan their transitions out of compulsory education and on to further or higher education, employment or training.
Continuing the theme of decolonising the curriculum through pedagogy, Manjinder Jagdev discusses the importance of embedding the historical and cross-cultural roots of mathematics among PGCE teacher students in her article, ‘Anti-racist mathematics teacher education’. Manjinder shares the steps that need to be taken to support a more anti-racist curriculum, from increasing the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) teaching workforce to considering our teaching pedagogy in the classroom.
However, in ‘The uncomfortable and destabilising realities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students on an initial teacher education course’, Anna Olsson-Rost, Yvonne Sinclair and Diane Warner focus on an initial teacher education institution in the north west of England and the experiences of BAME student teachers. The authors discuss the neoliberal discourse authorised to be taught by the government and its agencies, in which anti-racism is not on the agenda and BAME student teachers are taught through a deficit lens, in a course in which they are not represented or cannot see themselves. This is in addition to the discrimination they face trying to complete their teaching education course and then enter the teaching profession.
This blog series ends with ‘BlackLivesMatter: Black female professionals’ experiences in the workplace’, in which Louise Appiah situates her blog post in the context of #BlackLivesMatter and the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the TV series The School That Tried to End Racism. Political activist and media platforms have pushed the inequalities they face to the forefront as Black professionals in the teaching profession and how they navigate their settings. Louise uses excerpts from her master’s dissertation to discuss the different types of discrimination, the psychological impact of these experiences on Black female professionals and the coping strategies they deploy to deal with the racial trauma. The quotes shared are powerful illustrations of how far we have yet to travel, and the importance of representation, agency and leadership.
What anti-racism might look like remains to be seen, but the conversation is underway in UK institutions through the Black Curriculum, and in Scotland, where all 19 higher education institutions and 25 of the 26 further education colleges have endorsed a declaration on anti-racism in response to the EHRC report on racism in universities.