Darren Crosdale portrait

Written by Darren Crosdale

English and Media Studies-trained teacher, currently working in a large Liverpool comprehensive

This date will mark a year to the day of George Floyd’s murder. I use the word ‘murder’ deliberately because, despite the arguments that lawyers will no doubt make to the contrary, the world possesses clear, video evidence that it was murder, plain and simple. 

 

I still have not seen the clip. I never will. To watch such imagery is, to my mind, self-flagellation. I do not engage in that torture and warn my family – especially my social media-addicted daughter – to think very carefully about the emotional toll such images can have on our psyche. 

 

As the above date approaches, you can rest assured there will be blogs and vlogs and articles and news items asking how the world has “changed”. How that 8 minute and 46 second horror short and the resulting worldwide protests “changed” many aspects of society, including education. Like most teachers, I firmly believe in the power of education and I will definitely be curious about how the education world has “changed” following George Floyd’s murder. Up and down the UK, family, friends, colleagues and associates have responded to the Black Lives Matter movement with renewed vigour: change the curriculum; review the policies; train the teachers. 

 

But as Frederick Douglass, the former slave turned writer and public speaker said: “Power does not concede without a demand.” I am not, at all, the only person who feels that the demands of racism are being placed on the shoulders of the victims. Such bitter irony. The stereotypes that we as thinking and evolving societies ought to have defeated centuries ago, remain: lower intelligence, higher physicality, unworthy histories. The list is, of course, longer and more subtle than this. 

 

As an eternal optimist, I focus on the notion of things getting better in schools. I have to believe this. However, as an eternal optimist with a good memory, I recall that we have been here before. We have collectively focussed on “changing” our racist societies and racist institutions and racist individuals’ attitudes before. The whole country has been engaged in the discussion of diversity and inclusion and breaking barriers and moving forward more times than I care to count in my own lifetime. 

 

The UK broached the topic of change after Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993 and the McPherson Report, four years later, made the term “institutional racism”, more mainstream. I worked in the Merseyside school that Anthony Walker, murdered in a racist attack in 2005, used to attend. People often forget that his White killers attended the school, alongside this wonderful young man. The Department for Children, Schools and Families examined the issue of Black educational attainment in 2007. Alexander Paul, an 18 year-old student from south London, gave a powerful presentation about being stopped and searched at the 2014 Conservative Party Conference. David Lammy, MP, in 2017 reviewed how ethnic minorities fared when they came into contact with the criminal justice system. I am not even going to discuss the coronavirus. The UK, a country that likes to boast about its multi-cultural status, ended up with one of the highest per capita death rates in 2020, and ethnic minorities were over-represented in these numbers as were the poor and public-facing workers.    

 

Schools are especially busy as I write, early October, 2020. Most schools are engaged in some form of analysis: reviewing data, auditing curricula, employing speakers to deliver staff training. Will all these efforts to change the UK’s complicated attitude towards Black people in the education system yield results, however? There are still those on Twitter who struggle to link police brutality in the US with education in the UK (and, of course, fail to recognise this, in itself, is highly ironic.). So what if GCSE students, in 2020, do not study texts written by Black writers? So what if students do not learn the dual nature of Churchill? Wartime hero but also responsible for allowing three million Bengalis to starve. So what if students have no idea of the fuss surrounding Edward Colston’s statue being tossed into Bristol harbour.

 

What will schools be like by May 25th 2021? Will the government recognise that for all the past reviews and examinations of race, deep divisions and inequalities remain? Will the councils creating Task Forces to examine racial issues in their towns and cities create lasting change? Will enough school-based staff have had the necessary and uncomfortable conversations around race? Robin DiAngelo, in her best seller ‘White Fragility’ explains that middle-aged, middle-class white women are most likely to cry if their racial view of the world is challenged in any way. Will enough of these tears be transmuted into new ways of thinking and challenging the status quo?

 

The answers to these questions remain to be seen. We know our government has been remarkably quiet about the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests threw a much-needed light on our society and its continuing struggles with race – mostly because the education system has never properly learned to discuss our troubled history in an honest and guilt-free manner. 

 

I watched BBC presenter Daniel Henry’s inspirational documentary ‘Fighting the Power: Britain after George Floyd’ (directed by Eddie Hutton-Mills) and wondered about the young Black women who, with their passion and social media savvy, organised huge marches in lockdown London during the summer of 2020. Will they be disappointed in a year’s time? Will they have noticed any changes? Will prime minister Johnson’s racial disparity review (led by a controversial Munira Mirza who is not quite sure if institutional racisms exists) have reported back by then? Who knows?   

 

What I do know is that for the children in school at the moment – all children, not just the Black ones – carrying on as if huge protests about race never happened, as if things do not need a good shaking and sorting, as if their teachers do not need to learn about all types of inequality, is not an acceptable option.

 

Darren Crosdale

www.blackteachersanecdotes.co.uk

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