This article is reposted from the Hopster website. At Hopster we fight against racism of all forms. We’ve collaborated with The Black Curriculum to explain the positive impact of representation for kids of all backgrounds.
Imagine for a minute. You live in a world where your school, the media, the news, films, and general information you received about the world showed what the renowned Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls ‘a single story’. That when you did see or hear about people that looked like you or shared your cultural and historical background it was depicted in a negative context or as inferior – what would the impact be?
The impact of a non-representative curriculum
Self-esteem is directly linked to the associations you make with who you are and the world around you. In the White Doll Black Doll experiment, children as young as five associated being bad with being black, showing the impact of misrepresentation and negative associations at a young age.
School is a microcosm of the world we live in. Approximately 13% of the UK population is from an ethnic minority background. The curriculum creates a picture in a child’s head as to how the world works and gives them the skills and tools they need to operate in that world. If you had to fix a water pipe but you didn’t have a wrench, you would be missing a key tool to do the job. That is what happens when all parts of all humanity are not represented in the curriculum.
Accurate representation isn’t just a problem for race. For example, half the population identifies as female, and gender stereotypes on screen can have a similar negative impact on girls and boys in how they perceive their roles in the world.
What would a representative curriculum look like?
Representation can simply mean presenting the facts and painting an accurate picture of the diversity of people involved in historical events.
We can compare the stories of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. Mary was born in Jamaica in 1805, she travelled at her own expense to the battlefields during the Crimean War (1853-6) and nursed sick and wounded British troops. She was awarded four medals for her work and she died in London in 1881. But does her name and image conjure as easily to the mind as Florence Nightingale?
Another example is the Second World War, where there were over 8,000 servicemen and women from the Caribbean. Thousands of volunteers from West Africa and the Caribbean joined the Royal Air Force. In total, over 200,000 people from Britain’s colonies lost their lives.
It is not only young people of African and Caribbean heritage who suffer from not learning about black history. If all young people learn about the cultural identity of their peers they can begin to challenge racist stereotypes and build social cohesion.
About The Black Curriculum The Black Curriculum is a social enterprise aiming to provide a sense of belonging and identity to young people across the UK. They provide resources and run workshops for children and teachers to learn about black British history. They believe that by teaching full and accurate histories we will tackle racism and discrimination in the future, giving the children of today the knowledge and tools they need to engage with people from diverse cultures. This blog post was written by Aishnine Benjamin, Educator with The Black Curriculum.
In light of the police murder of George Floyd in the USA and the resulting protests, upset and anger in the UK, some people have expressed confusion to me about why black people here in the UK are protesting. The simple answer is that the issues in the USA are happening here, a disproportionate number of black people have died in police custody in the UK and structural racism continues to affect black people. If you don’t know what to do here is some information to address your knowledge gaps.
For white people
First step. Read the short essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, that visualises a physical representation of privilege. Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism, written by a white woman in the USA captures a discussion that is often missing, about what is ‘whiteness’? For white people who often don’t see themselves in racial terms.
There are some quick reads that summarise for a UK audience, how a poor understanding of the history of race and what racism really is, has created our current structurally racist systems. Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish), Akala’s Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, Renni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (with accompanying About Race podcast) and White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society by Kalwant Bhopal, exploring the subtleties of modern-day racism, in the UK and USA.
In the UK we have black intellectual powerhouses who have written on these topics for decades. Paul Gilroy’s There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation, will teach you about often forgotten moments in recent history – with examples of how racist ideology has shaped our social understanding. Stuart Hall was a sociologist and pioneer in the field of cultural studies whose work explored the concept of Britishness. The Stuart Hall Project film by John Akofrah captures his life and theories. For the wider colonial perspective; Franz fanon’s Black Skin White Masks and Walter Rodney’s How Europe Under-Developed Africa. Peter Fryer (a white man) wrote Black People in the British Empire, a fantastic introduction to empire and racism, connecting British history across the continents of Africa, Asia and the white settlements e.g. Australia and New Zealand.
If you like real life stories, the book Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain presents interviews of people’s first-hand experiences in the UK from the 1940s to the end of the twentieth century. And Sam Selvon’s novel The Lonely Londoners captures the voice of post-war Caribbean migrants in London.
David Olusoga’s book Black and British a Forgotten History and the tv series Black and British a Forgotten History is due to be rebroadcast on the BBC in June 2020.
And where would you buy all these books? Support Black book shops and publishers such as the iconic Beacon Books in Finsbury Park, London and many more that are listed here.
If you aren’t a fan of reading books. Watch some videos. A Class Divided, where Jane Elliot, a teacher in the USA in the 1960s divided the children in her all white class into blue eyes and brown eyes, the experiment teaching the children about the absurdity of racial divide led to Jane becoming a ground-breaking activist and repeating the experiment across the world where with communities and organisations with racial divides.
Go a on a black history walk or tour (after lockdown!). See the black British history on the streets you walk every day. Black History Walks on London streets, Nadia Denton gives tours of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London with an African focus, the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool and Bristol museums information on the black history of Bristol. Support the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, preserving the national black British cultural heritage.
Explore the British Black List, an online platform which celebrates African & Caribbean creative professionals. The website Black History Month 365 is a good source of information across all areas; history, news, events etc and #BHM365 because black history is 365 days a year not just one month.
In the UK we have some established race equality think tanks. The Institute of Race Relations, publishes the excellent Race and Class journal, and a newsletter on anti-racism and social justice activities in the UK and Europe that you can sign-up to – sobering reading on racist attacks that continue daily. The Runnymede Trust and the Race Equality Foundation publish research on racial inequality in the UK. If you just want stats and data the UK government website Ethnicity Facts and Figures is comprehensive.
Educating our children
Black British history is British history. If it isn’t in the curriculum the next generation are at a disadvantage and risk repeating the ignorance that has led to our current situation. A book that summarises the situation in the UK is Tell it Like it is: How our Schools Fail Black Children, edited by Brian Richardson and a video that captures the impact of a white mainstream media and narrative that perpetuates stereotypes is the White Doll Black Doll experiment by Kenneth B Clark and Maime P Clark. This experiment has been recreated globally with similar outcomes, including in the UK.
The Black Curriculum organisation, founded by Lavinya Stennett, have resources and run workshops for children to learn about black British history. The book The History of the African and Caribbean Communities in Britian by Hakim Adi is a simple book that primary school age children can revisit.
Buy books and toys that show the true diversity of the world we live in. This is book love sells multicultural books for children.
Call to action
Finally – if you are a leader of people in any capacity and you are yet to be convinced about the positive benefits of working with, or engaging with diverse people read Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed. Diversity isn’t a fun to have it’s a must have.
I am the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion lead at the Nursing and Midwifery Council so I have to give a nod to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minorities here in the UK and our healthcare workers summarised by my colleague Emma Lawrence. The review by Public Health England solidified what we already knew and experts in race discrimination in healthcare already expressed some thinking about the causes. Roger Kline’s blog noted the lack of risk assessments for ethnic minority healthcare workers with underlying health conditions. Yvonne Coghill’s blogsuggests that the disproportionate impact of the Coronavirus on ethnic minorities is linked to them being more likely to be in frontline roles.
Please suggest more resources, links and learning.
Windrush, hostile environment and the ‘mother-country’. Why organisations must actively manage diversity and inclusion
The stories behind the ‘Windrush scandal’ came to light in the mainstream media in 2018. The Home Office have identified 164 people who had been deported or put in detention since 2002, but the full numbers affected could be thousands. The actions taken by the Home Office that led to several individuals losing their jobs, homes and sense of British nationality, were essentially illegal and have recently been labelled as institutionally racist.
The Windrush Lessons Learned Review, published on the 19 March 2020, into the Windrush scandal suggests that in the Home Office there was an “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”.
The ‘mother country’
The reason why this group of individuals should never have been treated in this way has been explained by the fact that they had a right to be in the UK. The Immigration Act 1971 gave them the right to live in the UK, but they were not given them any documents to confirm this.
In the corporate world, there is term, ‘corporate knowledge’. A person who has worked for a company for so long that they remember the major projects, restructures, change initiatives, the good leaders and the bad decisions of the past, is said to have corporate knowledge. This person can be the difficult ‘nay-sayer’ when new ideas are floated, but at the same time, they can be a great asset to an organisation, preventing the repetition of ineffective change. Corporate knowledge can also be held in good filing systems and documentation.
For a nation, corporate knowledge is held in its history books, history curricula in education and it is asserted in the way that the media and government communicate what has gone before and what is important now. Which brings me to my point, does anyone remember the ‘mother-country’?
It seems that some people in the UK can reflect on the British empire with nostalgia for a time when the British dominated the world. Often forgetting that domination of the world and the ‘great British Empire’ were built on the enslavement of Africans, and the colonisation of many countries. The Caribbean today is considered by most to be a collection of exotic paradise islands; palm trees, sun, sea and sand – with smiley natives. The only reason that there are black people in the Caribbean at all is due to the European navies enslaving Africans and transporting them there. In the Caribbean now, the languages spoken and the names of towns will tell you which European countries controlled that island at some point. For example, Barbados is the only island that remained in English control for the entire colonial time and therefore has no Spanish or French language or references.
And so, what of the ‘mother country’. The Windrush story starts with the boat that arrives at Tilbury docks in 1948 with the media, government and public response to this. But what about the story from the Caribbean perspective.
“We didn’t see England as a separate entity. For example, in my convent school we spent a lot of time knitting little bits of wool for people during the war, you know, the poor. We didn’t see there was any difference between Grenada and England. “There’ll always be and England and England shall be free” used to be one of our school songs. Empire Day was a big day in Grenada. So it was all part and parcel of what we were about, being part of England.”
This is one story of many. The people in the British colonies in the Caribbean knew nothing other than being part of the empire and looking up to the ‘mother country’. Independence from the UK happened relatively recently from 1962-1983. And this group of immigrants have a particularly unique relationship to Britain. One that almost everyone seems uncomfortable to really address. The complexities of the situation were explained expertly by David Lammy in the speech he made in the House of Commons on the 23 April 2018:
‘The Windrush story does not begin in 1948; the Windrush story begins in the 17th century, when British slave traders stole 12 million Africans from their homes, took them to the Caribbean and sold them into slavery to work on plantations. The wealth of this country was built on the backs of the ancestors of the Windrush generation. We are here today because you were there.
My ancestors were British subjects, but they were not British subjects because they came to Britain. They were British subjects because Britain came to them, took them across the Atlantic, colonised them, sold them into slavery, profited from their labour and made them British subjects. That is why I am here, and it is why the Windrush generation are here.
There is no British history without the history of the empire. As the late, great Stuart Hall put it: “I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea.”’
This is a unique relationship that has never been formally acknowledged, neither has there been an apology, either for what has been taken from Africa, or for the ongoing repercussions on the people who were enslaved and their descendants. Yet, many of their descendants are now in the mother country, and several have been subjected to a hostile and racist environment. Racism defined as less favourable treatment on the basis of race. Race defined legally as colour, nationality, national or ethnic origin.
Tackling inequality at an organisational level
So, what is the answer to this conundrum? What would have stopped this from happening? Quite simple really. People should be competent to do their jobs, and if you work in the Home Office and make decisions about policy then your job competence should include some knowledge of the nationalities that you make decisions about and their relationship to the UK now as you know it and in the past. If structured diversity and inclusion practices were in place in the Home Office this scandal would not have happened.
Diversity and inclusion should not only be seen as a fun and inclusive thing to do, it is fun and inclusive but there is a lot more to it. Instead, see discrimination in an organisation as a disease that has no cure but can be controlled with multiple interventions. In this situation the aims are simply legal compliance and fairness, which has to go beyond a tick box exercise to really shake the core of an organisation, to dismantle the structures that have racism sewn into them.
The fact is that there is incompatibility between the rhetoric of ‘hostile environment’ and the law, which gave this group the right to live in the UK as citizens, and this incompatibility must be confronted. The first step to do this is to agree a definition of what is actually wrong. Bring the history into the board room, let the policy and decision makers discuss British Empire and its impact on current UK societal structures, give them the space to question if those policy decisions are actually legally compliant with the law, or are they based on the politics of today.
Three of the tools in the diversity and inclusion box that would have led to different outcomes:
But the ground work has to be done. If we aren’t all agreed on what is the issue is then there will be no change. If the leaders don’t fundamentally agree to the report finding that the problem was “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation” there can be no effective interventions. For example, if there is generic equality and diversity training without some focus on teaching people about what race is i.e. critical race theory, then the policy makers will not be able to interrogate their actions with some understanding of if their decisions are based on legitimate aims or dangerous rhetoric.
The future of dynamic diversity and inclusion intervention is tackling the issues with a complex awareness of the history of and irrationality of discrimination.
 Windrush Lessons Learned Review: Independent review by Wendy Williams; Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 19 March 2020
 Phillips, M & Phillips, T; Windrush: The irresistible rise of multi-racial Britain; (Harper Collins, London, 1998) P13.
 Windrush Lessons Learned Review: Independent review by Wendy Williams; Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 19 March 2020
There is a wealth of information online, many organisations working hard to raise awareness of the lived experiences of those that aren’t counted as part of the mainstream. It is important that we use the resources that they produce to support our diversity and inclusion work. Evidence forms the bedrock for diversity and inclusion business cases and generally just helps us understand difference better.
Below are some key reports, websites and blogs that can inform you.
If you have more recommendations for useful or interesting sources of data and information about diverse groups, please suggest them below.