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December
03
2020

Towards anti-racism for a fairer Scotland

Even with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the growing popularity of diversity projects seeking to decolonise the curriculum, there still tends to be a reticence in some spaces to use the term 'anti-racism'. Back in February 2019, my friend Hashim and I noticed this reticence in Scottish schools, so we decided to form The Anti-Racist Educator, an online learning platform run by a Scottish collective of educators of colour working towards an equitable education system free from racial injustice and critically engaged with issues of identity, privilege and power.

When Khadija Mohammed and I interviewed Professor Zeus Leonardo for The Anti-Racist Educator podcast, he reminded us that anti-racism is a pledge, a mindset and an on-going project. There are several misconceptions that cause people to reject anti-racism: from believing racism is only what 'bad' people do, racism not being a problem in Scotland, to firmly identifying as 'non-racist'. Zeus Leonardo notes the common 'non-racist alibi' in which a person points out the things they do (eg take part in a campaign) or identify with (eg progressive values) to prove that they can’t be racist. Arguably, we were all taught to be non-judgemental and to treat others with equal respect, so it’s easy to think we simply can’t be racist.

However, individuals can be both 'racist' and 'non-racist' because 'racist' is more than a label attached to an ill-intentioned or ignorant person, despite what news headlines like to tell us. 'Racist' can be a thought, a behaviour, an implicit bias, an accidental microaggression, a discriminatory procedure and an unintended outcome. Better still, 'racist' is not a matter of individuals; it is a matter of the systems that allow racism to persist unchecked. Such a system allowed a black man, Sheku Bayoh, to die under police custody in Kirkcaldy and, five years later, still nobody has been held accountable. In our latest podcast episode on Critical Race Theory, Professor David Gillborn reminds us that, ultimately, racism is an operation of power.

We named our collective The Anti-Racist Educator, not The Non-Racist Educator, because being non-racist will never be enough. Anti-racism covers much more than a person’s intentions and it is much more than a moral judgement. It requires humility and an active desire to learn as we recognise that racism exists in Scottish education and that, even though we might not always understand it, we commit to doing everything we can to uncover it and disrupt it. Anti-racism is a pledge to do everything in our power to reduce instances of racism wherever we see it, be it in ourselves or in the world around us. With this pledge, we start to deal with our discomforts as we realise that we too have potential moments of racism, even as we are fully invested in anti-racism.

Once we come to terms with the project of anti-racism, we then realise that anti-racist education does not come in a toolkit, a set of lesson plans, a diversity workshop or any box-ticking exercise. Racism took centuries of colonialism to build and it won’t be dismantled overnight. Nevertheless, if we collectively commit to anti-racism, there is reason to hope for a fairer Scotland for all. Anti-racism will look different for each one of us depending on our identities and roles in education, but, as a general guide, it could be said that anti-racism means:

  • Recognising what racism is (its roots, its mechanisms and its many tools)
  • Searching for ways to tackle the racism we discover (in our thoughts, behaviours, curriculum, policies, outcomes, spheres of influence, etc)
  • Committing to life-long learning
  • Developing an individual mindset
  • Dismantling something that is systemic (racism is deeply ingrained in the structures of society, so it’s important not to lose sight of its systemic nature)
  • An ongoing process AND an outcome (we won’t reach our goals of racial justice unless we work on improving our continuous practice of anti-racism).

To support you on your anti-racism journey, at The Anti-Racist Educator we have a developed a range of online resources to inspire and empower practitioners across Scotland:

Biography

Mélina Valdelièvre is a secondary school teacher of English in Glasgow and she is the co-founder of The Anti-Racist Educator. Mélina received a scholarship to research racial dialogue in education in the USA and she received a distinction for her MEd focusing on anti-racist education in Scottish education policy. As a trade union activist, Mélina is a member of the STUC Black Workers’ Committee and she sits on the Scottish Government working group for Teaching in a Diverse Scotland. As a board member of the Scottish Association for Minority Ethnic Educators, Mélina also supports teachers by co-facilitating its Leadership and Mentoring programme endorsed by Education Scotland.

You can follow The Anti-Racist Educator collective on Twitter @AntiRacistEd