While the Tories deny racism, school students walk out to #DecoloniseEducation
Two reports have recently emerged trying to whitewash the Tories of blame and deny the racism that is endemic within capitalist society. On 30 March, the Met Police investigated themselves, only to find that they had “acted appropriately” when forcibly clamping on vigils to Sarah Everard and other victims of gender-based violence. More recently, alarm has come from the release of the government’s Race Commission report.
Already, the so-called independence of this report has been completely exposed. Original arrangements for it had been conducted by Boris Johnson’s senior advisor Munira Mirza, with the eventual product being commissioned by Tony Sewell – a CEO of a charity who just so happens to be friends with Johnson, accepting the Tory line on racism (it basically doesn’t exist!)
It is no surprise why choices so seemingly random and disconnected were made by Johnson in putting the report together. Both Mirza and Swell have a long record of commentary absolving the government and police of blame for systemic racism in Britain, with some of it branching out into overt denialism and apologism. Does Johnson really think it is appropriate for an official report into racism to have been organised by a woman who penned articles on far-right websites with headlines like “The myth of institutional racism” (2019) and “Stop pandering to muslims” (2007)?
Sewell’s own past writing has centred on his claim that, rather than systemic racism and discrimination, the main problem facing black communities is “absent fathers”. This mirrors a long history of tropes insinuating that BAME people themselves are to blame for the conditions they are faced in society – a particularly ironic thing to say when we consider
Johnson himself is an absent father to a still-unknown number of children!
Through rigging, cherry-picking data and lying about which academics contributed to the report, the resulting 258 pages conclude that Britain is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”. Those who complain about racism today are the real ones to blame for refusing to recognise that Britain serves as “a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world”, showing “reluctance to ackonwledge that the UK had become open and fairer”.
A central method of the report is also in centring the discussion about racism solely on the attitudes of individual white people towards race, focussing on data suggesting that blatant racist attitudes are less in favour among White British people than they were in previous decades. Even if this is true, it doesn’t take much to demonstrate this is missing the point. More than anything, this is the Tories attempting to divert blame from themselves. If racism is solely an ‘individual’ issue rather than systemic, Johnson no longer has to concern himself with disproportionate gaps in outcome for BAME people in education, health and police harrassment, which the report reduces to “culture”.
Nobody in the #BlackLivesMatter movement was really asking for this report. What was being demanded was concrete action on what we knew already existed!
Rather than waiting on a government report to let us know whether or not racism is real, hundreds of young and working class people took to the streets in last year’s wave of BLM protest, which lifted the lid on the legacy of colonialism and imperialism in Britain while highlighting existing injustices. Parallels currently can also be made to the continued protests against the Tories’ draconian Police and Crime Bill, which threatens to severely restrict the democratic right to protest. While campaigners in Bristol last year tore down the statue to slave trader Edward Colston, this year they are up against police violence which has been seriously misrepresented in the capitalist media.
It is ironic how, in the same week that the Tories try to place a lid on discussions about racism through this report, protests erupted at Pimlico Academy in South London, where students staged walkouts chanting “we want change!” over the shocking scale of discrimination in the school. The Academy’s headteacher Daniel Smith had incurred the disgust of students by banning the afro hairstyle, along with ‘colourful’ hijabs. In this context, the move to fly the Union Flag in the school yard was perceived by students as an underhanded attack on them.
The demands of the students in their schoolyard occupation have been inspirational. Hundreds of students of all ethnicities stood together to demand not just a reversal of the school’s decision, but also for a thorough revision of the school curriculum to no longer simply reflect a history of European kings and queens.
The action has already had an impact, with the headteacher apparently promising to stand down. The National Education Union, which represents the interests of education workers and teachers, have made arrangements to ballot for strike action over their own grievances. This demonstrates powerful opportunities to bring these struggles together, of students and education workers united in their demands!
Where next for BLM in education?
We need to make sure that a new explosion of protest takes place, demonstrating that #BlackLivesMatter and demanding an end to violence against women and gender non-comforming people, which the capitalist system breeds.
Preparations for this should be made with education unions in all schools, colleges and universities preparing for action in solidarity wherever students are protesting to expose oppression, whether that be racism, or around discussions on rape culture, which has gained increased prominence in recent weeks.
We need to make sure that all waves of protest like this not only demonstrate existing inequality, but force through lasting changes. This is why action committees and mass assemblies of students, supportive parents and teaching unions should be formed in all places of education to ensure that necessary changes to the curriculum take place. Our education should reflect who we are now, as well as informing young people about our rich history of anti-racist and workers struggle, led by a multi-racial working class.
How do we force this? One way should be through preparation for a national student strike against racism and sexism. Where student action is taking place, connections should be made with teachers’ unions and other unions and campaign groups, first for regional and London-wide action before branching out further.
It is only by connecting our struggles, finding ground to unite and challenging victim-blaming and elite power that we can win real change. Ultimately, we need to challenge the rotten capitalist system – a system which thrives on continued division between oppressed people and workers. Capitalism can’t meet our needs; it must go!
Come to our national launch of Socialist Feminist Alternative – “Stamp Out Sexism and Racism: At school, at work, on the street” – Friday April 16 @ 7pm.