A British Nigerian mother wrote to several councillors after becoming concerned about the approach to anti-racism training being adopted by Brighton and Hove City Council.
Despite contacting councillors last November, Bola Anike said: “I have not heard back from any of you.”
She contacted councillors because she was concerned about training for teachers based on “critical race theory” and urged them to adopt a colour-blind approach.
In a deputation to the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, read in her absence today (Monday 7 March), she said: “This is a universalist approach rooted in the classic liberal tradition of equality before the law.
“It is an approach that promotes and emphasises the content of a person’s character over and above the colour of their skin or any other immutable trait.
“A commitment to colour blindness is not a denial that racism exists or that there remains important work to be done to reduce and combat discrimination.
“The tendency to propagate so called ‘anti-racist’ beliefs that centre on racial difference over anti-racist beliefs emphasising common humanity is at odds with the values of many black and minority ethnic parents.
“Teaching our children that they must focus on things they cannot control over and above things they can is, in my view, a recipe for despair.
“If our schools propagate what many of us regard as an unbalanced and harmful approach to identity and race then, at the very least, in the interest of fairness and equality, they must ensure the promotion of liberal alternative approaches as well.
“I am aware of other black parents who desperately want this unifying approach to how race and anti-racism are taught by this council.
“I believe, as do many other parents I know, that an undue partisan and biased focus on skin colour doesn’t help us.
“Let the message be one of unity – we are all humans together. There is so much we have in common. So together let’s make a future defined by what unites us rather than what divides us.”
A rival deputation in the name of Catherine Fisher, and read in her absence, said: “On behalf of parents and carers from across the city, we want to express our support for the anti-racist education strategy currently under development.
“We are proud that Brighton and Hove is taking a lead in this important and long-overdue area.
“Recent events, whether racist abuse at the Euros, ongoing allegations of racism in the Met Police and the racism many of our children witness while online, while out and about and indeed while at school, all illustrate just how needed it is.
“We are disappointed at the attacks being made on the strategy, locally and in the national media, many of which do not accurately represent the strategy and seem intended to provoke opposition.
“We have been sorry to see local councillors sharing inaccurate articles on social media. And we are saddened that this scaremongering has meant our schools have received abusive messages.
“Brighton and Hove’s anti-racist education strategy is about creating an education system and a society where everyone feels safe and equal.
“We understand that it has been developed with people affected by racism and addresses the urgent need to tackle issues that have historically led to inequalities for people of colour.
“We agree with the 80 per cent of teachers recently surveyed in a YouGov poll who think that introducing more culturally diverse, representational topics is equally enriching and vital for white as well as ethnic minority students.
“It is important that all children have the opportunity to learn about black and ethnic minority achievement, giving them a more accurate and rounded world view.
“Some of the opponents to having this strategy argue for the current ‘colour-blind approach’ in schools that seems to advocate ignoring race and racism, making it somehow taboo to talk about difference or acknowledge the diverse histories and experiences of individuals and groups in society and our schools.
“The criticism from some newspapers, politicians and indeed some parents illustrates exactly why we need to get better at talking about race and racism.
“We can’t tackle racism by pretending it doesn’t exist. All moves toward greater equality meet with resistance. This strategy is no different.
“We urge you to continue to develop and implement the strategy in order that all our children feel valued at school and in society – and are supported to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to thrive in modern multicultural Britain and our interconnected world.”
Councillor Hannah Clare thanked Bola Anike for recommending a video, Only Human, promoted by campaign group Don’t Divide Us. She said: “Thank you for bringing this video, first developed in 2006, to the attention of councillors.
“Unlike the training being developed by the council for staff, this is a resource aimed at pupils.
“Before using with pupils, individual schools should review any potential resources to ensure they are line with the values and ethos of their setting and meet the learning and development needs of pupils and students.
“As a local authority we can review resources to ensure they support the principles and values of the anti-racist education strategy, and are educationally sound, before signposting them for use in schools.
“While this particular resource has its strengths, feedback from educators in schools and local authority advisers means there are elements which as a council we would not endorse. “Unfortunately, there are parts of this resource which are not considered to support safe practice.
“For example, it includes a re-enactment of a serious racist incident which could be traumatising to pupils in primary schools.
“The apparent message in the video, that racism is only acts of individual unkindness, does not recognise or explain the lived experience of our black and ethnic minority populations who experience different and worse outcomes to their white counterparts in so many areas of life.
“Ultimately, it is up to schools what they choose to use as resources for pupils and I believe this video has already been disseminated in the city but for these reasons the council will not be signposting schools to this resource.”
Councillor Clare responded to the second deputation, saying: “Thank you for such positive feedback. I’m really glad that, as a group of parents, you welcome the work we are doing. Sadly, this work is ever more necessary.
“We’re very fortunate to live in a thriving, multicultural city with the undoubted benefits that brings. Sadly, we also live in a society where racism exists and we know our young people suffer racism in educational settings.
“Our ‘safe and well at school’ survey this year highlighted that 55 per cent of young people have witnessed racism in school.
“I spoke to a former teacher last week who described to me as leaving his role due to constant racist incidents, including monkey noises being made in the corridor and in his classroom.
“I thank you for bringing to our attention, too, the surveys that highlight teachers want more support in introducing cultural diversity in the curriculum.
“I don’t have direct experience of racism because I am a white woman from Essex. But my experience is that I was able to not be aware of the colour of my skin or where I’m from growing up – while peers who were from other ethnic backgrounds were hyper-aware of it.
“They were made to feel aware of it by the actions of others who behaved differently towards them because of the colour of their skin.
“This is why educating young people about race, its history and its issues is so important. But to achieve this, everyone, including teachers and education staff, must feel confident and supported in speaking about it.
“I agree with you wholeheartedly that we can’t tackle racism by pretending it doesn’t exist.
“We want education settings where every child can learn and thrive, where everyone feels safe and equal and where we all have a strong sense of identity and belonging.”
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