Donna Burkert portrait

Written by Donna Burkert

Primary school teacher living and working in Essex.

There is an inherent danger in judging others before we know them, in excluding before understanding, in condemning before listening, and yet it happens all the time.  

It wasn’t until the Laurence Fox scandal hit the headlines that I really became aware of the title ‘white privilege’.  A title that Toria Bono recently discussed in her podcast ‘Tiny Voice Talks’ when talking with Shuaib Khan.  A title, that like Toria, I have to own.  

I am white privileged and I have realised this means that, although I try to use diversity, equity and inclusion in all that I do, I may not always be truly aware of the wider picture.  

It is only through listening to experiences and questioning my own actions that I can begin to understand how to become more diverse, more inclusive, to bring more equity to my classroom and the way I conduct my life.

It was whilst attending a #BrewEdEssex event in June 2019 that I heard Pran Patel speak.  Pran was talking about descriptions, judgement and social equity in a way that I had never considered before.  He addressed bias, privilege and the damages of the ethno-centric curricula. His words made me stop and reassess what I was teaching in my class.  

Pran talked about the need for children to see role models of their own culture, background or religion and so I set about ensuring that I had examples from across the world, throughout history and today, to represent the broad spectrum of difference within my own class, the impact was immeasurable.  It opened up discussions between children who were now questioning moments in history that had specific impact on their lives today.

It was whilst listening to podcasts of Desert Island Discs that I was given a tiny insight into the lives of Bernadine Evaristo, Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University and Booker Prize winner for her novel: Girl, Woman, Other; and Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE – A Trinidadian-British broadcaster, writer and politician, that I learned of the struggles that they and their parents faced, the lack of equity, the lack of inclusion felt.  

Sue Perkins: An hour or so with David Harewood – the first black actor to play Othello at the National Theatre and David Tennant does a podcast with George Takei – Star Trek icon, similarly opened my eyes to the struggles so often felt by others that I was simply not aware of.

I reflect back to the focus of Toria Bono in her podcast with Shuaib Khan where she accepts the title of ‘white privilege’ with the acknowledgement that she cannot change that this is what she is, but that we can develop our understanding with the constant need to question and push for diversity, equity and inclusion.  That by continuing to have conversations with a broad range of people we can all gain a better understanding of others that will influence our decisions and actions.  

The conversations I have with my own three sons about the effects of sexism in order for them to have some understanding of the barriers often faced by women are as important as the discussions I have with the children in my class about their own struggles, my colleagues and the wider communities that I am part of through Twitter and other forums.  I am aware that I need to have continued discussions with a broad spectrum of people, beyond my immediate circle, to ensure that I am being as diverse and inclusive as I can be.  

I need to accept that I may not always term my questions correctly but that the only way to learn about the constraints that restrict me, and others, is to ask the questions; and to break down the barriers that hold us back from being truly diverse within our own practice.

It is only through widening our circle, through talking and really hearing what others’ are saying, in taking action where needed, that we will truly begin to move forward.