Moves still needed to end discrimination

August 6, 2020

Image by moritz320 from Pixabay

Aya Pfeufer explores systemic racism and how it can be put in check

After the death of George Floyd, the global Black Lives Matter protests and the videos of prominent black commentators like Akala and Trevor Noah discussing racism towards black people, I have taken a step back to ask myself questions of racism. Questions I did not really look at before, tackling how white people in both Britain and America have benefited from slavery, at the expense of black people.

I have decided to focus on racial inequality in the education sector, as I am a student myself and have a passion for learning.

I started by reading about black people’s experiences with racism and came across a book called ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’ by Akala, a biracial British man, born in the 80s, who is an author, rapper, activist and poet. He discusses topics such as race and education.

Perhaps, subconsciously or otherwise, the teacher put Akala in a special needs group, to limit and restrict him from progressing

According to Akala, he was the only mixed-race boy in his class, and one of the smartest. His teacher may have not known how to deal with a black boy who was enthusiastic for learning. This may not have matched his teacher’s beliefs. She may have been annoyed by this.

In one section of his book Akala described how he was placed in a ‘special needs group’ for children who are not native English speakers, yet he was reading books beyond his age and his mum was British herself. English is his mother tongue, not his second language. Perhaps, subconsciously or otherwise, the teacher put him in a special needs group to limit and restrict Akala from progressing.

The teacher had a responsibility, and should have encouraged and supported her student, instead of abusing her position of power.

At 16, Akala got “100% on his English exam”, and in 2006, he was voted the best Hip-Pop Act at the MOBO Awards. He has been written about on the ‘Powerlist of the 100 most influential Black British people in the UK’. He is a very articulate man and artist that has moved me.

At the time, it was not very common to have an outspoken, mixed-race pupil. His teacher may have felt confused which led her to carry out an irrational act.

Subtle acts of discouragement are present in schools, and sometimes it can be damaging and even crush a student’s self-esteem

Similarly, Michelle Obama was discouraged from applying to Princeton University by a college counsellor who said she was not ‘Princeton material’. The counsellor may have said this because she felt that Obama was ‘too ambitious’ or ‘too self-driven’. Michelle Obama is inspiring as she does not let barriers prevent her from believing in herself and she knows her strengths. Despite the negativity, she applied to Princeton and got in!

Subtle acts of discouragement are present in schools, and sometimes it can be damaging and even crush a student’s self-esteem.

As part of the UK Education System, teachers predict grades for students, and what they may achieve. In some cases, grade predictions could be biased or inaccurate, especially towards BAME students. For example, according to research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, black students received the lowest predicted A Level grade accuracy (at 39%) from their teachers in comparison with the white pupils who received the highest (at 53%).

In addition, new analysis from the House of Commons library shows black pupils are disproportionately hit with fixed-term exclusions in England – by as much as three times in some places.

This is blamed in part on what many see as unnecessary reasons such as their hairstyle or because of simply kissing their teeth which may just be a way to express yourself. It does not mean the student is intentionally trying to be aggressive. In some school policies your hairstyle may have to be a certain way, that is considered ‘presentable’ and ‘appropriate’. But these are subjective terms.

I think that these polices are not inclusive to all students. What hair texture and style do these policies apply to?

Across the many sources I looked at, a lot of them described what white supremacy and privilege is

I don’t fully understand why black students are more likely to be excluded or expelled but I think it links back to racial stereotypes and prejudices. They may be perceived as more of a ‘trouble-maker’ or a disruption to a class environment, but what teachers need and must realise is that not all black students behave in the same way.

There could be several factors contributing to these statistics, which could just be the system as a whole or may be because of possible racial preconceptions and stereotypes from teachers.

I wondered why this is the case, and realised this is what can be termed institutional racism. I found out this is a form of racial discrimination in society.

I questioned why there is institutional racism. Across the many sources I looked at, many described what white supremacy and privilege is, and that some forms of systemic racism have been a way to maintain this.

In many ways, institutional racism has been engrained in our society, since the days of slavery. There are repercussions, as it still affects black people today, and may intentionally set barriers for them.

An example of extreme racism is the beliefs of white supremacists. They believe that they are superior to black people. In some cases they may sustain their ideology through oppression, threats and intimidation. I discovered an extreme case of this. In 1892, Thomas Moss, an African-American businessman and two other black employees were lynched by white mobs.

It would be beneficial to educate children, of all ethnicities, at a young age, about racism

This was because Moss owned a successful grocery shop called the People’s Grocery. This was perceived as a threat to the white community and a white grocery owner nearby. The supremacists also felt very jealous of the black people’s success, and shot at the black men before they were lynched.

These acts of violence may have been a tool of intimidation against other black people from trying to better themselves. The supremacists may have felt undermined. The success of the People’s Grocery contradicted their beliefs.

To sum up, we need first to acknowledge and understand systemic racism, and how it affects people; we need to question what has caused racial inequality, segregation and discrimination in the first place.

I also think it would be beneficial to educate children, of all ethnicities, and from a young age, about racism and there needs to be an emphasis on having more open discussions and spreading awareness of structural racism and white privilege, and why these biased systems have been set up.

We should question why there are potential stereotypes, perceptions and associations with people of colour, and how the media and wider cultural aspects could be linked with this issue.