This is something that has always been important to me. However, as a white woman, I have always known that no matter how much research I do, I will never be able to understand how it is to be black. I felt that if I were to address it, especially in a room full of young black people, I was too ‘privileged’ to really understand the severity. I wanted to learn, I wanted to understand, but I was so aware that I was treading on such a sensitive topic, I was afraid. Then I realised, if I am afraid to talk about it, then what the fuck must the black community be feeling like?! They have to live it. It is their reality. Then I realised I could use my privilege and talk about it. Everyone needs to be talking about it.
I currently work in a predominantly black school. That does not mean that this doesn’t apply to teachers who work in white schools, because they need the conversations just as much as my school. I was brought up in a predominantly white school and I don’t remember learning about the Black Lives Matter movement. I remember learning about the slave trade, but probably more from watching movies with my parents rather than through the education system. I grew up kind of shielded. My parents are the best. Literally unmatchable. As great parents they wanted to shield me. They didn’t tell me negative things about the world until I was going to encounter it. For example, I didn’t learn about paedophiles and ‘white van men’ until I started going places on my own. I am someone who is lucky to have been brought up with the conversation, “If you are in trouble. Go to the police. Always tell them the truth. They will help you”. I always felt calm around officers. I never knew that children my age were getting a different talk. I learnt about racism from home. My parents would tell me that racism is wrong, it is nasty, and we are no different from other people. I was never blind to racism but I was blind to the severity of it. The black people that I had around me growing up were never treated differently by our peers so I never thought about how prevalent racism still is. This is why it is so important to educate predominantly white schools.
Now, please bear with me. I am still trying to better my approach with this so if you have any ideas, please get in contact!
We need to be examples to our white students of how we stand with our black brothers and sisters.
How to address the Black Lives Matter movement within the classroom/home learning:
1. Address it. The first and possibly the most important. Address it. No matter what school you are in, no matter what students you teach, you need to address it. Your black students need to know you are on side. You not addressing it will only make them angrier and make them feel more alone. If you, like me, work in a predominantly black school, but a lot of the teachers are white, the students will naturally feel like we are not on their side. We need to make it clear that we are on their side and support them. You also need to teach your white students how to speak about the topic informatively and sensitively. We need to be examples to our white students of how we stand with our black brothers and sisters.
2. Freedom of Speech. Allow the students to have freedom of speech. Allow them to speak to you about any concerns they have or maybe they want to talk to you about their culture and experiences. Do not tell them how to ‘properly’ express themselves. A white person telling a black person how to express themselves about the BLM movement won’t go down well.
3. Include it in lessons. Adapt your lessons to celebrate the movement. You don’t even have to change it much! Before the death of George Floyd, I sent homework to my year nine students for them to come up with character profiles for their own play. A lot of students submitted work after the death of George Floyd. Their characters were all diverse in ethnicity, some of their personality traits were, ‘supporter of the black lives matter movement’. It means a lot to them. Allow them to use your space as a safe space. Let them explore it.
4. Provide ways for the students to express themselves. I said in point two, not to tell them how to express themselves, this is giving them a variety of options without forcing them to partake. A lot of young people may struggle with ways to express themselves. They are naturally angry, and they have every right to be! You want to channel that anger in a positive way of raising awareness. We have planned to do a showcase within the school to allow students to express their cultures. It can be through a presentation, dance, song, monologue, art piece - whatever they best see fit! This gives a chance for them to celebrate themselves and have others celebrate with them!
5. Be someone they can trust. Right now in the world, there are a lot of authority figures that black people are unable to trust. A lot of authority figures who have failed that black community. We cannot fail them. Listen to them. Learn from them. Be open with them. Cry with them. Stand with them.