Despondent, helpless, and ashamed. Three words that describe how I felt after the horrific death of George Floyd, 25 May 2020. I spent the next week absorbing every resource I could find – documentaries, articles, books – in an attempt to educate myself about institutional structures that are permeated by racism, that I had been so ignorant to. I started to question: why, in my fourteen years of education, have I never been taught about this before? After researching extensively both the UK’s national curriculum, and the curriculum taught by my former High School (situated in Surrey), I was not surprised to discover that they were predominantly Eurocentric and white in origin. Then it hit me: not once have I ever been taught by a black teacher. A sense of disbelief, a desire for this not to be true, filled me. How could I have accepted this to be ‘normal’ for so many years? And so, at 2 a.m., fuelled by anger and a large dose of caffeine, I embarked upon writing an open letter to my former headteacher demanding the implementation of a new Black Curriculum.
I found this process strangely cathartic. As someone who is proud of their mixed-race heritage, I began to remember instances when I had encountered racism within school. Being teased, at age seven, for having black hair by my very blonde classmates. The fear of my friends’ parents at the prospect of having to send their white children to the local, predominantly Asian, secondary school; and, their realisation that I belonged to the very ethnic group they feared – ‘don’t worry, we don’t mean you’. Whilst I truly loved my time at school– a privilege in itself – my personal experiences have made me realise that the omission of a diverse curriculum, and a multicultural environment, can directly harm the identity and self-esteem of BAME students.
Addressing this within my letter, I sought to highlight topics that ought to be included within the school curriculum in order to end racism within educational structures. This included the need to focus on issues such as: black art history; the effects of politics and the legal system on black people; impacts of regeneration and gentrification. Alongside this, I included a wide-ranging list of potential literary texts, history topics, and other suggestions that could be implemented to improve the current syllabus. I realised, however, that this cannot be achieved without teachers who have a comprehensive understanding of these topics. Unfortunately, recruitment of black teachers within Surrey is a difficult task – whether we like it or not, Surrey is demographically predominantly white. Teacher training, therefore, is necessary to accomplish these changes; organisations, like The Black Curriculum, are already providing training workshops to ensure that Black history is taught sensibly and with respect. As I reminded my headteacher, the task to end racism within education is not as difficult as our government would have us think.
I put on my campaign-manager-hat and took to social media in order to gain as many signatures from fellow alumni and current students as possible. For the first time, I grasped just how essential social media is in influencing progression within society – especially during a global pandemic – and within twenty-four hours, we had gained over two-hundred signatures. To see so many sharing the petition, and joining in on the excitement, gave me hope that this had the potential to create change.
After sending out the letter, I waited anxiously for responses. Those I received from my former teachers, individuals who I will be eternally grateful for, demonstrated a shared desire and urgency for progression. Many teachers found my suggestions to be eye opening, and have taken them into careful consideration; I have also been asked to help design new lesson plans for history classes. This is progress. On top of this, I have received a response from the Academy Trust to which the school belongs; they recognise the need to ‘de-Surrey’ the curriculum, and are seeking input from diversity experts to ensure that necessary changes are made. This will not only see progress within my former school, but all fourteen schools that are a part of the Academy. Unfortunately, I am yet to receive a full response from my former headteacher; however, I am hopeful that one will come.
My campaign may not have brought about colossal change, but it certainly made an impact. It succeeded in opening the eyes of many who have the power to influence change within their own institutions and organisations.
But so much more needs to be done. I urge you: write to your former schools, write to your MPs, and to your current professors. Demand change, for when it comes, and it will, it will stem from the grassroots: us.