It’s been a surreal two weeks. It began with what I thought would be a fairly straight forward, and innocuous, question, when I asked my children, “How was school today?” I wasn’t really expecting the answer they gave, nor did I want to believe it at first.
“Really?” I thought, “Is this really happening in a primary school?”
As they narrated the incident of racism, in which a group of 7 and 8-year-olds had taunted them for the colour of their skin, I knew deep down this was the first moment of humiliation, and of self-doubt, that my children would face as a minority within a predominantly white society. I also realised the conversation of race, racism, white supremacy and whiteness would be one that was needed sooner than I had initially thought.
My first port of call was to inform the Head, who was appalled with what I told her. She informed me this had never happened before (or at least she had not previously been told of any such incident), and launched an internal investigation. The children came home the next day and told me she had spoken to them individually, presumably to corroborate the story. There is one other Asian child in the school, and one brown-skinned teacher, both of whom were targets for the abuse. A day later the kids broke up for the Easter holidays, and at the moment, the matter is on hold until school resumes in a week’s time.
I put out a tweet to the local MP, Marion Fellows, but she ignored it. However, a local reporter picked up the tweet and followed up with a call and article in the local paper. I put out a second tweet, which the the MP ignored again, although an SNP candidate did acknowledge and share her concern. This all came a few months after the local council had passed two separate motions aimed at eliminating “racial injustice and discrimination.” While that is promising, and I firmly believe education plays an integral role, at present, it feels laboriously slow, and I have reservations about what “decolonising the curriculum” actually means.
My reservations are due to the systemic and deep-rooted culture of racism that defines Britain today. We all know racism is something our parents, and grandparents experienced, when they arrived in this country. It is something my generation faced, too, at some level, whether in school, college, university, the workplace or in general public space. If it wasn’t overt racism, then it was discreet – the stare, the second look, the micro-aggressions. Every single generation of Sikhs, and indeed other Panjabis and ethnic minorities who have migrated to the UK, and white settler colonial states, have faced the ordeal of racism. For Sikhs, the onset of racism in the West is well established, going back a century, to the experience of the Ghadars.
We are constantly told, through the media and structures of modernity, that things are different now. Britain, and indeed the West, is “modern”, “progressive”, “liberal”, “pluralistic”, “multicultural”, “diverse”, – the list goes on. Yet, here we stand, in 21st century “post-colonial” Britain, where white children, in primary schools, not only see colour but instinctively believe it to be a sign of inferiority, or weakness, in comparison to white, and thus use it to humiliate and assert their superiority over brown skins. The denial of institutional racism is also presented by the government, as we saw with the recent Race Report.
While the episode at the children’s school was the first, to my knowledge, for my daughter, it was the second moment of humiliation for my son, who last year was ridiculed for his dastaar. At the time they had called it a “silly hat”. Back then, I had a conversation with him about the incident and reassured him of his uniqueness, of his direct lineage to the brave and powerful souls of his Sikh heritage in Panjab. I also introduced the broader topic of racism, but following the latest incident, I have taken a more proactive approach.
I shared a post last week about a book that has helped me understand the inextricable link between racism and the order of establishment. The book is called “White Fragility“, by author Robin Diangelo. Building on the work of individuals like Professor J. Kehaulani Kauanui (“Racism is a structure, not an event“), and Charles Mills (“white supremacy is the “unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today”), as well as the invaluable works of W. E. B. Du Bois and James Baldwin, the author begins by marking out the difference between racism, and discrimination/prejudice by mapping out the systemic nature of racism. This in my view needs to be at the nucleus of any attempt to “decolonise the curriculum” taken by British schools.
The author then works through various frameworks that uphold racial inequality, focusing on the US. However, the work is applicable to any colonial settler nation, and of course, the mother country. I could quote a whole flurry of paragraphs that resonated with, but if I were to choose one, it would be the following:
“Racism is a system… The system of racism begins with ideology, which refers to the big ideas that are reinforced throughout society. From birth, we are conditioned into accepting and not questioning these ideas… Racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society. It is not limited to a single act or person”.
Her chapters on “White Fragility“, are particularly refreshing, partially because she is a white woman, but more importantly because in my view, it is the kind of radical and unapologetic approach needed if we are to tackle this problem. It is the approach, that I, as a Sikh parent, have chosen to take, in the same way we educate our children about the insidious nature of Indian State oppression that Sikh bodies and minds have endured for decades.
This book, alongside the works of Prof. Kehinde Andrews, in particular, ought to be an essential part of your household reading. Why? Because our children are not going to learn this in school, nor will they learn it from any Youtuber or game they play, which is problematic, because as persons of colour, irrespective of whether you “see colour” or not, they will face racism at some point or another.
It is really on us, as parents, as uncles and aunts, as a community, to educate ourselves and be informed so that we can stand against racism, and in particular stand in solidarity with other persons of colour who endure the wrath of racism.
Ranveer Singh is a father of four, an author and activist from the UK. As co-founder of the National Sikh Youth Federation (NSYF), he is engaged in grassroots work within the UK Sikh community. By profession, he is a public sector worker, currently contracted within the Legal team of Scotland’s largest public Inquiry. Ranveer can be found on Twitter and Instagram.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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