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Race Equality & Awareness: Blog 5

Isadora discusses the findings of their newest report about racism in the Welsh education system and touches on the difference between not being racist and being anti-racist.

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Isadora Sinha, Black and Minority Ethnic Officer

Previously, I explored how ethnic minorities within Wales are treated and highlighted the findings of a critical peer-led research report by Race Alliance Wales (RAW) and their executive summary. In this post, I want to discuss the findings of their newest report about racism in the Welsh education system; their executive summary is an excellent read. I also want to touch on the difference between not being racist and being anti-racist as we need to be anti-racist now more than ever.  

RAW Findings in Welsh Education 

Experiences in Education 

The report found that racism starts early in primary school with direct racial slurs and othering from peers which can be traumatic for young people of colour (PoC) and worsens in secondary school where the racism becomes more complex and is delivered with intent and malice. A ray of hope is that experiences of racism decreased when progressing to sixth form and university though was still present, sometimes in more subtle forms. This pattern matches my experience of racism in school (in England) followed by university in Wales. 

Teacher Responses 

There was an overwhelming amount of Welsh PoC who felt the response of teachers and schools to racism was poor. The teachers appear to lack knowledge of racism, its nuances and how to effectively deal with related situations. Some teachers go beyond clueless and have voiced racial bias and even in extreme cases used racial slurs against students. I can certainly relate to this having been called “blackie” repeatedly on a school trip by a staff member’s spouse. I later found out that the events were never put on the record and no mention of that racism was ever reported. The teacher on duty at the time did his best to contain his anger and got the offending person to stop but the hurt had been caused and I had no real recourse. If I were white, I would not have been called racial names on that school trip; it seems that even a peaceful trip cannot be expected by a PoC student unlike white students. The reporting system within schools and universities are not trusted, and from my experience of incidents going unreported or not well dealt with, it is clear to see why this is the case. This results in students not reporting racism and internalising their struggles which is not healthy nor fair.  

Representation 

PoC students found they lacked representation within education and even within the curriculum; we are taught a colonial “white-washed” version of history which often diminishes or ignores PoC contributions to the UK. I was shocked that people in the UK are not taught about some of the atrocities committed by the British. Personally, as someone of Bengali heritage, it was upsetting to see people had no idea about the British causing the artificial famine in Bengal of 1943, which was a genocide that killed millions. There was also the largest forced mass migration in history caused by the British partitioning India which ripped apart families, killed millions and left millions more with nothing, having to forever leave behind their: ancestral lands, possessions, wealth and home. There needs to be increased accurate representation within the curriculum of the contributions of ethnic minorities to the UK and acknowledge what the UK has done (both good and bad) to the native countries of UK ethnic minorities.  

Anti-Racism 

Workshops delivered to schools around anti-racism has been of help to PoC students, which is a positive finding that shows there can and will be improvement for the experiences of young PoC. The difference between not being racist and being anti-racist is huge; institutions must be anti-racist if they went to effectively support their students against racism.  

Lack of Diverse Workforce 

The lack of representation in the curriculum is further worsened by the lack of ethnic diversity of the teaching staff in Wales which was noted at every stage of Education in Wales from primary to university. This often means PoC students are not able to disclose or discuss racism as it is a “touchy subject” for white staff leaving students feeling alone and misunderstood.  Efforts made by schools to increase diversity was perceived often as “superficial, one offs, and tokenistic”.  

Long Term Impact of Racism 

The long-term impact of racism is far reaching and often played down. It can severely impact the mental health of young PoC and affect them well into their adult life with one of the main effects being issues with their confidence and self-esteem. After experiencing years of racism, especially from my partner’s family, I needed counselling as I became anxious, and my self-esteem was low. As racism seems to be part of everyday life of PoC in Wales, many young PoC have “expressed a degree of acceptance and inevitability over experiencing racism throughout their lives, internalising their feelings”. Imagine the mental toll PoC have for us to have to “accept” that we will be discriminated against for the rest of our lives. It is heart-breaking and draining. Even to effect change, PoC need to recount and relive their incidents of racism to discuss and implement future actions which can be traumatic. As your BME Officer, I have recounted and discussed very painful memories of racism I have experienced; this process that PoC are asked to go through for the betterment of our future is exhausting. Therefore, the report posits that the onus should not be on young PoC to constantly prove and explain their experiences. Another core long term issue faced is issues with self-identity. For example, I rejected by a lot of my Indian heritage during my teens as I wanted to “fit in” and “avoid” racism – of course that did not work and the only person who lost out was me. Young PoC also can change their career aspirations due to their experiences of racism or “they will avoid certain careers where they anticipate too much exposure to racism”. For a young PoC to have to factor in how much racism they will receive and for that to limit their career paths is nothing short of oppression. “There was also a sad sense of expecting racism to happen, and to have accepted that they will need to ‘work three times as hard’ in order to succeed and compete with white counterparts.” This resonates with me a lot; growing up in the UK, it was evident that my ethnicity meant that I would have more barriers put in front of me and so would have to work harder to achieve the same goals as my white peers. This is a lot of pressure on young PoC which negatively impacts long term mental health.  

Living as a PoC in Welsh Education 

The conclusion of the report was a gloomy one, and one which I have seen reflected in my own life. “At worst, young people experience direct racism, mixed with microaggressions so they question the validity of their experiences, with racialised communities continually represented as less than/other to white people. At best, young people experience microaggressions through racist ‘banter’ and accept casual racism as just part of everyday life.” 

Do you relate to this? 

Some of you reading this may not be very aware of these issues and some of you may have experienced these issues yourself. Do not be afraid to reach out to me if you want to talk about any of this. This can be a sensitive topic, so I ask everyone to be patient if someone is trying to open up about any of the issues spoken about.  

Email: BMEOfficer@cardiff.ac.uk  

Facebook: Isadora Sinha SU 

Twitter: @BMEofficerCSU 

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