School Safe Spaces?

In the last few days a video of a young Syrian boy being attacked and bullied has gone viral. Whilst there has been lots of media coverage, there has been little if any attempt to recognise this as a part of a continuing trend of Black, Brown, poor, Muslim and migrant children being attacked whilst they are in school and that this trend reflects society as a whole.   

It points to a concern about popular and visible hatred of the ‘Other’ that transcends society from social media to the streets. It would be ludicrous not to associate these manifestations of racism with that perpetuated by the powerful: politicians and the media, and its larger manifestations in Brexit, Trumpism, and racist migration policies that take on a particular character within the context of the current Hostile Environment policy and the Windrush scandal. All of the above have populated and reinvigorated a new wave of nationalism and patriotism that has incubated a far-right narrative and sentiment.

The likes of the EDL, Britain First, FLA, DFLA, and specific individuals like Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage who are being seen as messianic, have received mainstream coverage and a range of platforms, as well as financial backing and more from neoliberal society bent on dividing the masses whilst they continue to line their pockets.   The White British student who attacked the Syrian boy has been said to have previously posted Britain First messages on his Facebook account. In the video, the Syrian boy who was attacked is seen with his arm in a cast because his arm was broken in a previous attack. His sister whose video has also come to light has been attacked in the same school with attempts made to remove her headscarf.

There are many, many other reports of other students from migrant backgrounds, as well as from Black and Brown people born in Britain, being attacked including some that have been reported directly to the Racial Justice Network.   Police have stepped in to do their job and the schools will attempt to do theirs in co-operating but is that enough? What is the responsibility of everyone else? It’s impossible to ignore the snowball effect this has on young people or anyone on the receiving end of racism; students attacked and those who witness it face threats to their mental wellbeing and academic achievement and are put at risk of having to deal with great trauma, often alone.

Often when a child reports a racist incident, they are made responsible for it, told to ignore it and/or that it isn’t that bad. Again, leaving that child alone to cope. The impact no doubt extends to families, loved ones and communities that want to see their children do well and be treated with respect and common courtesy. Too often, though, parents from Black, Brown and migrant communities are not heard by the schools or local authorities who fail to keep the spaces safe for children who, in the case of those who have fled from particularly difficult situations (like Syria), may be particularly vulnerable to the risk of re-traumatising events.   

What is clear is that schools as centres of learning are not doing enough, the councils and education departments are not doing enough and the police as law-enforcers are not doing enough, being ill-equipped in handling issues of race and racism. Black and Brown teachers are also coping with the rise of racism in schools. The continuous portrayal of the UK as ‘post-racial’, the denial of racism and slashing of budgets to organisations that deal with race equity (not equality and diversity) means there is great discomfort in talking about race, so ideas on how to deal with it are very superficial and surface-level.   

Individuals observing the very aggressive and explicit forms of racism might be able to distinguish themselves from the perpetrator, but racism is far more insidious than this. What we see in the video is a consequence of a racist society in which many actors play their part.

We need to recognise racisms that are institutional, microaggressive, non-verbal and take on any number of forms.   The Racial Justice Network based in West Yorkshire, engages with individuals and organisations to end racial injustice and address legacies of colonialism through organising, informing and training. Recent video on five ways to disrupt racism reminds of the need to be anti-racist, as it is not enough to be non-racist. We stand by the family and many more who are facing similar attacks in the region and around the country and would also suggest well wishers and decision makers increase funding for organisations, groups who are experts in doing deep-rooted systemic change work around race to increase their capacity to support schools, hospitals, places of work so communities can see we are all in this together.

As depicted in a schools could do better article by one of our trustees, we would also suggest curriculums must be adjusted to add British history that explains Britain’s relationship to its former colonies, and consider how this relates to current issues and particularly the reasons why people continue to migrate. This might then engender compassion and humanity rather than fear and hatred of migrants.

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