As you might see from my Instagram feed (link is at the bottom of the page if you don’t follow me), I shared my views at the weekend on comments made about the Birth to 5 Matters guidance from a senior Conservative MP. These comments troubled me deeply. However the more I’ve thought about it, something began to trouble me more and that is that the combination of these comments discrediting anti-racism as a tool to support the journey to equity and how this and the Race and Ethnic Disparities report released at the end of March are part of a wider trend. They go hand in hand.
In the report, there are so many problems. It is problematic from beginning to end. I could go on forever highlighting each individual problem but for the purpose of this post here are a few just from the beginning of the report:
- The report groups certain ethnic groups together – it says it does this because some ethnic groups with their own identities are “…not large enough for their own category…” in the report. Who decides this? Who decides that a group of people do not have the right to be acknowledged for who they are using all of their identity markers? Problem.
- The report contains multiple examples of ‘whataboutism’ which we witness regularly in everyday life and social media, with one section clearly stating “…we are acutely aware that the door may be only half-open to some, including the White working class.” This is the instant response when race is mentioned and is steeped in white fragility. Problem.
- “…the banning of White authors…will (not) help to broaden young minds.” So does this mean that authors who perpetuate harmful racist stereotypes and whose books are littered with racist tropes should be provided to children anyway? Is it really saying that these authors broaden young minds? Do these not further embed harmful stereotypes? Problem.
- The statistics included in the education section are angled towards defending the performance of White British children in comparison to other ethnic groups. Now I completely understand you can manipulate statistics to create an image best suiting your narrative, however, how, in a report on Race and Ethnic Disparities is the headline statistic the performance of White children. It seems to me that it is written with the target audience of White people suffering from White fragility. Problem.
- The report decided it should “…examine the extent individuals and communities could help themselves through their own agency, rather than wait for invisible external forces to assemble to do the job…” I think this is possibly the line that hit me the most, and there’s A LOT to choose from! Just think about that, even just for a second. Do you genuinely believe that it could be your own fault if you are part of an oppressed or marginalised group? Problem.
I could carry on with this forever.
The report also states that “…geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have a more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism.” The socio-economic status of a family, for example, has been, for many many years impacted by the institutional racism they have experienced which has affected everything from their educational and job opportunities to their ability to get a loan from the bank for starting up their own business.
All of these notions being given validation via a government-commissioned report is dangerous. It provides people with an excuse to ignore racism when they see it or to not believe victims. It seeks to downplay the lived experiences of millions of people in the UK.
It seeks to shift blame to the very people whose lives are being impacted by racism and thus onto their children whose life chances are impacted too.
This is where it links back to Early Years. I have previously commented over my Instagram on the reaction to the ‘Inclusive practice and equalities’ section in Birth to 5 Matters from some media outlets (namely, The Telegraph, The Times and Daily Mail amongst others) and the outspoken comments made by Robert Halfon MP who, whether we like it or not has influence in the sector in his role as Chair of the Education Select Committee.
In the ‘Inclusive practice and equalities’ section of Birth to 5 Matters it says the following when talking about race:
‘Talking about race is a first step in countering racism. It is a mistaken assumption that treating all people in the same way and ignoring differences in race is a sufficient response to racism. This approach simply allows the continuation of bias in society which disadvantages people from black and minoritised groups. Instead of a colour-blind approach to race, more proactive anti-racism is needed.’
‘Practitioner training is an important step toward opening dialogue and developing understanding about white privilege, systemic racism, and how racism affects children and families in early years settings. It is also time to challenge the widespread notion that “children do not see race” and are colour blind to difference. When adults are silent about race, children’s racial prejudice and misconceptions can be maintained or reinforced. Encouraging dialogue and conversation about difference can evoke children’s strong sense of fairness and break down false assumptions about everyone being able to succeed on their merits, so that children recognise racist behaviours and develop anti- racist views.’
In response Robert Halfon said, “This is just unacceptable. This dogma and doctrine is totally out of place. We have all got to combat racism but this is the absolute wrong way to go about it, and insults white working-class people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
‘The whole purpose of children learning is to learn, not for some kind of political Soviet indoctrination session.’
Such rhetoric by both Robert and Department for Education, which has distanced itself completely from the Birth to 5 Matters guidance, is attempting to create a ‘us vs them’ culture, unlike Nancy Stewart, the project lead for Birth to 5 Matters who said in response, ‘we should be creating a culture of ‘we’ not ‘us vs them.’
Robert’s comments are just one example of where the problem lies in our sector. Teaching children the truth about the society in which they are living is not politicising education. It is preparing children for the road ahead. It is giving them the tools required to navigate the road and dig it up and relay it should they choose. Furthermore, the ‘whataboutism’ displayed by him is once again dangerous and works to discredit the lived experiences of millions of people. I could go on further about what we teach our children. The distorted view of history that is taught based upon only the perceived positives from colonialism and the British Empire. It could be argued that this in itself is a ‘political indoctrination session’, this however is a whole other topic for another day!
Now, for this quote from Nelson Mandela. It is true. No one is born a racist. No one is born treating people differently based upon the colour of their skin or their background, culture or religion. This is learnt. This is taught. A child learns this through their experiences whether this is at home, at nursery, at the park. These experiences, these conversations impact a child’s awareness and understanding of race, what this means, the role it plays in their lives and the lives of everyone they encounter.
In Early Years we are often the first formal educational experience a child and their families will have, it is on us. It has to be. We have to teach children to be anti-racist. Equity has to be achieved by providing fairness whilst treating everyone differently depending on their need, not because of any protected characteristic. (In case you aren’t aware the protected characteristics by law are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.)
We CAN all make a difference to the lives of our children and their families. We MUST all make a difference.
Education is key. Education has to be focus.
But not just the education of our children. But the education of our colleagues, our parents, our family and our friends.
Whatever Robert Halfon or anyone else says, we know what matters. It is our responsibility to do more. To do better.
INSPIRE the change.
LEAD the change.
BE the change.
I am going to end it here because otherwise as I could talk about this forever. I feel passionately about this. I am unapologetic about this.
P.s. There are some absolutely amazing people over on social media doing some incredible work on anti-racism in Early Years and more generally as well. Some of these will be linked on my recommendations page in the coming weeks, but for now, I will signpost you to some further reading around this particular topic.
- Liz Pemberton aka @theblacknurserymanager over on Instagram (you MUST give her a follow if you don’t already) – has written a powerful piece in response to this report. https://thatnurserylife.com/content/liz-pemberton-in-response-to-the-commission-on-race-and-ethnic-disparities-report
- Linked in at the end of the above article is also a response from Sam Green the CEO and founder of https://thatnurserylife.com. They are doing some brilliant work in the sector too and have worked with Liz to develop and launch an Anti-Racism Pack for your settings which is definitely worth checking out!
- ‘Wish we knew what to say…talking with children about race’ by Dr Pragya Agarwal is an absolute MUST to support you begin on that journey of discussing race with young children. https://www.waterstones.com/book/wish-we-knew-what-to-say/dr-pragya-agarwal/9780349702056