Tack­ling racism in schools

Greater aware­ness re­quired, start­ing at home and with the roles played by par­ents

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION - WIL­LIAM GUMEDE Wil­liam Gumede is the ex­ec­u­tive chair­per­son of the Democ­racy Works Foun­da­tion (www. democ­ra­cy­works­foun­da­tion.org); and au­thor of South Africa in BRICS (Tafel­berg).

THE im­pact of racism on black chil­dren in schools re­sults in trauma, health prob­lems and learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties for the vic­tims.

A re­port in the US that looked at 121 dif­fer­ent pub­lished re­search re­ports on the im­pact of racism, con­ducted over decades, showed that racism led to “wear and tear” on the bod­ies of chil­dren over time, caus­ing de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and phys­i­cal health prob­lems such as gas­troin­testi­nal prob­lems, heart dis­ease and ner­vous con­di­tions.

“It’s pretty con­sis­tent and strong, this link be­tween racism and poor phys­i­cal health as well as men­tal health,” says Mon­nica Wil­liams, a well-known African-Amer­i­can clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist.

Get­ting con­stant mes­sages that they are not good enough re­sults in many blacks hav­ing “re­duced self-es­teem and in­ter­nalised ha­tred”, says Wil­liams.

Kim Dulaney, a pro­fes­sor of African-Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Chicago State Univer­sity, de­scribed the im­pact of racism as: “It’s liv­ing in a state of con­stant trauma. In the black com­mu­nity, it feels like war on your black body just be­cause some­one fears the stereo­types they have of black peo­ple in their imag­i­na­tion. Trauma is dif­fer­ent from stress. Trauma is an emo­tional wound that can cause phys­i­cal changes in a per­son. The im­pact of trauma can be sub­stan­tial and can have last­ing dam­age to psy­cho­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment in youth.”

Up­pala Chan­drasek­era, the di­rec­tor of pub­lic pol­icy at the Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion, says for many whites it may ap­pear that a black per­son is “hav­ing a very dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­ac­tion” to racist in­ci­dents di­rected at them.

Chan­drasek­era says black peo­ple are told “to move on”, taught “to rise above it”. Oth­ers say blacks must build a pos­i­tive iden­tity around black­ness. Chan­drasek­era said “peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence a mo­ment of racism ‘put it away in a box’. How­ever, “the next time they ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing sim­i­lar, they might not just re­act to that sin­gle com­ment, but to all the other ones they have al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced through­out their life­time.”

Racism could come in the form of vi­o­lent as­sault, abuse or the quiet forms, such as white priv­i­lege, which is con­scious or un­con­scious stereo­typ­ing of white peo­ple as in­her­ently com­pe­tent be­cause they are white, and black­ness, which is see­ing black peo­ple as bad be­cause they are black.

Columbia Univer­sity did an eightyear re­search study on the sub­tle forms of racism, which in­clude be­hav­iours, state­ments and views that may ap­pear harm­less to a white per­son, whether a teacher or man­ager, but which are de­mean­ing to a black adult or child.

The re­search study re­ported ver­bal and non-ver­bal dis­crim­i­na­tory ac­tions that de­mean a per­son’s ra­cial her­itage or iden­tity. For ex­am­ple, a white per­son ask­ing a black per­son how they got a job, im­ply­ing the per­son may have got the job un­fairly through af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion.

Or a white per­son ask­ing a black per­son where he or she was born, if they ap­pear com­pe­tent or ed­u­cated, im­ply­ing they can­not be black South Africans by virtue of their com­pe­tence. Or the fa­mil­iar, your English is good, im­ply­ing that black peo­ple by na­ture can­not speak English.

At a school level, it could be ex­pect­ing black teach­ers to do more to “prove” they are com­pe­tent, or to be more ed­u­cated than a white teacher to be able to do a sim­i­lar job.

Or it could be a white teacher or par­ent im­ply­ing it’s eas­ier for a white child to learn Afrikaans, than say isiZulu – con­sciously or un­con­sciously giv­ing more re­sources to teach say Afrikaans than to teach say isiZulu.

The prob­lem is that it is not easy to get peo­ple to recog­nise they are prej­u­diced. The Columbia Univer­sity re­search de­scribed the phe­nom­e­non as “on a con­scious level they (prej­u­diced in­di­vid­u­als) see them­selves as fairminded in­di­vid­u­als who would never con­sciously dis­crim­i­nate”, “they are gen­uinely not aware of their bi­ases”, and “their self-im­age of be­ing ‘a good moral hu­man be­ing’ is as­sailed if they re­alise and ac­knowl­edge that they pos­sess bi­ased thoughts, at­ti­tudes and feel­ings that harm peo­ple of colour”.

Racism in schools could be overt, sub­tle or un­con­scious. But it can be in­sti­tu­tional – built into the struc­tures, poli­cies and cul­ture of a school.

In some cases black chil­dren could be marked down by teach­ers who are un­con­sciously stereo­typ­ing them. Teach­ers could un­con­sciously have low ex­pec­ta­tions of black pupils, and there­fore spend less time with them and as­sess them with less con­sid­er­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, black pupils be­ing over­looked for an­swer­ing ques­tions, harsher rep­ri­mands for black pupils and ver­bal ag­gres­sion from teach­ers for blacks com­pared with whites.

A black child ques­tion­ing an is­sue could be called dis­rup­tive, whereas a white child ques­tion­ing an is­sue is seen as in­quis­i­tive.

An ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sion look­ing at racism at schools in the UK found that in­ad­e­quate lev­els of pos­i­tive teacher at­ten­tion to black pupils, un­fair be­hav­iour man­age­ment of black pupils com­pared with whites, and schools dis­miss­ing black parental in­put had taken their toll on black pupils’ over­all school per­for­mance.

In the UK gov­ern­ment study, one re­port found that: “When it is white boys, it is a ‘group’, but when it is black boys, it is a ‘gang’.”

Teach­ers need train­ing in not con­sciously or un­con­sciously stereo­typ­ing, dis­crim­i­nat­ing against or hav­ing cul­tural bi­ases or ra­cial gen­er­al­i­sa­tions in­flu­ence their teach­ing. There has to be a di­ver­sity in the teacher make-up of schools.

Schools must have trans­par­ent pro­ce­dures for pupils to re­port racism by teach­ers – and pro­tec­tion for pupils who re­port such racism.

Racist teach­ers in the sys­tem should not be pro­tected. Tra­di­tion­ally white schools should also show­case black achieve­ment, he­roes and role models.

Les­sons should show­case more racially in­clu­sive case stud­ies. “White” school tra­di­tions should be­come more cul­tur­ally in­clu­sive.

How should black par­ents help their chil­dren be­come re­silient in a world that is racially prej­u­diced?

Black par­ents have to be more in­volved in school com­mu­nity life. Black par­ents should early on ex­plain to their chil­dren that sadly, ra­cial prej­u­dices ex­ist. Chil­dren should be taught to chal­lenge ra­cial stereo­typ­ing and prej­u­dice. Chil­dren should also be taught em­pa­thy, kind­ness and con­sid­er­a­tion for oth­ers, what­ever their colour, re­li­gion or race.

Chil­dren should be taught to value, cel­e­brate and ap­pre­ci­ate ra­cial di­ver­sity.

But chil­dren should also be en­cour­aged to make friends across the ra­cial, re­li­gious and colour di­vide.

Par­ents of all races, in­clud­ing black ones, should ditch their own ra­cial, eth­nic and cul­tural stereo­types.

Jill Sut­tie from Berke­ley Univer­sity showed how chil­dren who are ex­posed through read­ing, films and events to more pos­i­tive images of icons from dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups prac­tice less neg­a­tive eth­nic stereo­typ­ing.

Par­ents must en­cour­age friend­ship, en­gage­ment and in­ter­ac­tion across the ra­cial di­vide, which will help re­duce race prej­u­dice. This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in South Africa, where ra­cial groups are still so­cially seg­re­gated in spite of the end of for­mal apartheid.

The psy­chol­o­gist Rodolfo Men­doza-Den­ton ar­gues that par­ents must also try to es­tab­lish so­cial net­works and friend­ships across dif­fer­ent back­grounds, based on shared in­ter­ests.

Chil­dren learn bi­ases in their homes. White par­ents should talk to their chil­dren about the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on blacks of racism. White par­ents should in their homes be alert to the prej­u­di­cial mes­sages, whether un­con­scious or not, that they are send­ing out about black peo­ple.

White par­ents in their homes must show their chil­dren how to re­spond with­out prej­u­dice to peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent to them. There has to be less de­fen­sive­ness about racism, greater ac­knowl­edge­ment of its im­pact on blacks and more open­ness to tackle the is­sue among white South Africans – as well as an ac­knowl­edge­ment by blacks that not all whites are racists.

Racism in schools can be overt, sub­tle or un­con­scious. But it can also be in­sti­tu­tional – built into the poli­cies and cul­ture of the school

African News Agency (ANA)

A STUDY has found that racism in schools has a neg­a­tive im­pact on pupils’ health. | PHILL MAGAKOE

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.