My open letter to Educators,
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some topics and some names really cause unease for people here in Britain. Privilege, racism, Xenophobia, Islamophobia and also Black Lives Matter. Amidst a global pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, I do believe Educators across the country are having a real ‘I’m not racist, I have a black neighbour’ moment. This is a moment of real reflection on our role as Teachers, and the privileges and platforms we occupy. It’s uncomfortable, I know. But if you can’t tackle these uncomfortable topics with fellow professionals, you sadly never will.
You see, I’m from the streets. May be not Harlem or Brixton, but I still faced the wave of trials and tribulations. As an angry BAME youth, I firmly placed my faith in the education system. It was my only real legitimate route off these streets. I invested into the system, worked twice as hard and like many BAME people, I scrapped and clawed for every opportunity. So, now as a Teacher, why can’t my fellow professionals unite around me? I know my faith was never misplaced but why won’t they share their platform with me? Why won’t they engage in sensitive debates? Edu-celebs, with huge social media following have made a personal choice to remain silent on the current state of affairs in the United States. We’re always told as children that if we haven’t got anything nice to say, not to say anything at all. Silence can be golden, it’s often the moral standard we all should aspire for. Yet when lives are being lost, the world is on its knees and you choose silence, with no real validation, silence isn’t the virtue.
At the very core, this is a human being. Nobody deserves to die the way he did. The last thing we should lose, in a life full of loses and grief is our compassion and empathy. RIP George Floyd.
It feels like the use of my platform in debates has become a topic within itself as well as a defence mechanism to justify silences. You see, every platform we have is like a dining table. There are enough seats but not everyone at the table can something to eat. Big personalities can dictate, discussions get blocked out by those with big statuses or louder voices/echoes. Everyone wants to share but not everyone wants to care. And there also those who just want to throw food.
Since I published my article entitled Nothing New, I have connected with some incredible people. They believe in the power of unity and solidarity. However, on the flip side I have also seen unsavoury and classless bickering, validation and yes, ‘I can’t be racist, I have a Black neighbour’ sentiment across various platforms too. I have muted, unfollowed, blocked and responded to many but it became consuming, tiring and trying to get others to reflect on their own biases, I suppose I have to confront my own first. I am very disappointed that a number of high-profile Educators have gone mute on Black Lives Matter and as such as I understand freedom of speech, our moral obligation to our BAME colleagues and students should take precedence. Yesterday I saw a Tweet from a teacher who was calling for someone to consider the privileges and act in sensitivity. This toxic cliquey Edutwitter culture of ‘they are my friends; I will support them even if they are wrong’ really boiled over. It was disappointing. People are angry, disappointed and very hurt. Watching suffering from afar, a vantage point of comfort and detachment, with no intention of consoling those in pain, that is simply a question of one’s own empathy and compassion, or lack of it.
The three main justifications I have read for this silence, I will highlight in this article. This is not an exhaustive list but a method to confront a difficult topic in the hope to prolong dialogue.
1. I’m tired, I’ve been teaching all day – We all are. Putting it bluntly, we are all absolutely exhausted with 2020 and the uncertainty it has brought about. From Brexit, to COVID19 to everything. Every teacher is tired, and the expectations of virtual teaching have definitely perpetuated the teacher workload crisis. We 2020 has felt like a complete write off and I can fully appreciate the strain it has caused on us all. But I am also tired of racism and all other forms of discrimination. I am tired of political leaders endorsing Nazis and Police Officers killing unarmed Black people. I am tired of the deafening silence on the treatment of Palestinians, Kashmiri Muslims and every other genocide that is going on in the world. I am tired of being lied too and gaslighted, as well as being told how to feel. With the current climate, is being tired an excuse? What is Martin Luther King Jr was too tired to deliver his famous I have a dream speech? As Teachers, ‘tired’ is somewhat of an accepted and banal part of our existence but tired doesn’t mean turning a blind eye. Tired doesn’t mean we lose our sense of humanity, our willingness to do the right thing or moral obligation to help others. If you are tired, just imagine how the family of George Floyd have felt over the past ten days.
2. I don’t know how to confront it – So, what are you doing to face it the next time it happens? Because, as history will tell us, it will happen again. There have been and will continue to be many more George Floyd’s. Racism is one of those things, until it’s experienced, we tend to have an arrogant view. The number of times I have had to confront racism in the classroom is unimaginable but my own experience of it places me in a somewhat privileged position to challenge it. Racism is the elephant in the room and the Black Lives Matter movement, much like the murder of Stephen Lawrence, it awakens this elephant. We are being asked to answer difficult personal questions and confront personal biases. It is very uneasy, but this can become a real moment of reflection for teachers. The number of teachers who are now working on embedding BAME literature, historical figures and confronting structural inequalities in their classroom settings is absolutely incredible. We can only confront a problem by actually acknowledging there is a problem in the first place. Therefore, it is nothing short of shameful for those who won’t admit there is a problem. Yet, I don’t know what is more dangerous for victims of racism; those who fail to acknowledge its existence or those who are silently complicit with it’s existence. We must read more, talk more, share more and love more. Confronting racism is not a disjointed individual effort, it a collective range of actions to systematically remove biases from our social institutions. Many are also concerned about the notion of ‘selective silencing’. That it is hypocritical to wade in on the current debate without any previous condemnation of injustice. Honest advice, start now. The first stand is always the most difficult, but start now.
3. It is not my place to speak – When did we ever surrender the moral oligation to call out injustice? My shock and anger at those with enormous platforms have nothing to do with resentment but I do resent the misuse of a platform. We will be judged, not by the number of followers, assess them on how they use this platform whilst the entire world is on its knees. As a White male or female, why isn’t it your place to speak? Take race out the equation for a second, are you human? Do you not have compassion or empathy? How did you feel watching that Police Office suffocating George Floyd? What were your reactions to Schindler’s List or the Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas? The ability to ‘switch off’ our emotional capacity as the plight of others is absolutely disturbing. This forms a dangerous form of tunnel vision where we begin to value the lives of some but not all. It is always your place to speak. I remember full well in Year 10 I was badly beaten up by a gang of racists, literally a stone throw from my school. My teacher, who happened to be White was the first to intervene, he threw himself in harms way and shielded me from these attackers. When I later asked him, ‘Sir, why did you help me?’. He replied, ‘You’d do the same for me’. That moment made still sits on my heart till this day. It wasn’t Mr. Pearson’s’ place to step in, but he made it his place. We should all make it our place to fight injustice of all kinds. I am dumfounded how anyone can work in profession centred on the principles of social justice but then detach themselves so glad-handily during a discussion on racism. As Alison Kriel put it, “Racism is everyone’s business”.
Leslie Dwight really conceptualised how I was feeling yesterday. Thank you.
Despite the awful abuse, gaslighting and racism that many teachers have encountered over the past few weeks, I still have faith in the system. But this faith BAME teachers, parents and students place in the system must now be reciprocated through dialogue and change. Black Lives Matter cannot be another ‘I’m not racist, I have a Black neighbour’. BAME folks are angry but this anger isn’t at White people, it is at a systematic culture of bias, hostility and racism. With platform comes privilege and with privilege comes a platform, thus equates to complicity.
Finally, to my fellow Educators. Those of you who have been defensive, blasé with your responses, refusing to engage with the discussion or looking to justify your silence, I truly hope this reaches you in time. We need to read, discuss, collaborate as opposed to using our platforms to justify selective silencing through nonchalant responses and justifications. Both of which implicitly help validate the sub/conscious biases, privileges, emotional distancing and the ‘intellectual’ veneer given to racists, bigots and ignoramuses. Malcolm X once said, “Racism is like a Cadillac; they make a new model every year.” Selective silencing and emotional distancing adds to this new model.
The world is on its knees and you choose silence. Innocent people are dying, and you decide it’s too uncomfortable to use your platform. For Educators and those with a platform, I sincerely hope you can find it within yourself to place value on the lives of others, acknowledge their plight and proactively use influence in the right way. Black Lives Matter and until they matter, no lives matter. My late Grandad taught me, that in order to deal with problems in the world, we must rectify ourselves first. I now know exactly what he meant. Thank you, Dad. X
Thank you for reading,