At the end of March, The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report, led by Dr Tony Sewell, was published. Before going any further, we should remember that as an education team here, we are a small group of white people. Our lived experiences are not the same as those of Black and Brown people, whose own experiences will not all be the same, and our observations on the Sewell Report come from a place of standing together in anti-racism with colleagues in the education sector and the wider community.
Lady Doreen Lawrence, who has spent the many years since the racist murder of her son, Stephen, campaigning against structural racism, said in response to the report: They [the report authors] are not in touch with reality basically. That’s what it boils down to. When you are privileged you do not have those experiences.
So those who sit behind this report [saying] that racism doesn’t exist or it no longer exists need to speak to the young boys who are stopped and searched constantly on the street.
She also pointed to the power within this report to take away the voices of Black and Brown people who speak out when they experience racism:
I think if you were to speak to somebody whose employer speaks to them in a certain way, where do you go with that now? If a person is up for promotion and has been denied that, where does he go with that now?
As we read through even the early pages of the report, we were distressed to see language and phrases that serve only to perpetuate the narrative of white privilege: language and phrases that feel as though they are stuck in the past, but that are all too present in the discourse of 2021. And because of this report the very real danger is that they will continue to be present, shaping dialogue and offering excuses and references for those who make our policies and lead our institutions.
We were dismayed by the way the report pushes to shift the focus away from race and racism:
Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism. Too often ‘racism’ is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined. (p.9)
This shifting of the narrative away from race and racism is continued, including in the section on education (p.59). In the same way that Doreen Lawrence highlights the way the report impacts those experiencing the effects of structural racism in the workplace, so it equally gives the power to deny the voices of families whose children experience structural racism at school.
As reflective educators, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, to move beyond the report writers and policy makers. We need to look honestly and directly at our own settings and classrooms, at the language we use, the curriculum we offer, how we reach out to and connect with families, and how we make sure all children see themselves reflected back in the resources, environments and experiences we create for them.
If you are looking for resources to help you begin, or continue with, your anti-racism journey, particularly at this moment in the face of the Sewell Report, you can visit the Tapestry Education Conference: Reflecting on Anti-Racism in the Early Years page. Here you will find a recording of the live event with Liz Pemberton, Shaddai Tembo, and Faith Chow, as well as the presentations by Faith and Shaddai to download.