For years, government officials and assorted experts have emphasised the problem of racism in education. Even as British society has become palpably less racist, more and more policy, advice and guidance has descended on schools. There has been much focus on both the spectre of racist playground incidents and the low attainment of black pupils. And, in recent years, such official interference has actually worked to re-instate racial thinking.
Last week, the Runnymede Trust – a key player in the rise of official anti-racism – and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) published a report claiming to reveal ‘the impact of racism on BME teachers’. The report focuses on black and Asian NUT members, nine per cent of whom (1,027) responded to a questionnaire. Fifteen of them then attended three focus groups. According to the report’s findings, black and Asian teachers are being given ‘stereotypical tasks’ to do, like running Black History Month events or ‘challenging behaviour’ classes.
Naturally, teachers want to be recognised for their subject knowledge and their skills. Being asked to do certain tasks just because you’re black or Asian is incredibly patronising and limiting. But the suggestion that this amounts to racism is absurd. In fact, this is what happens when you make identity central to education and anti-racism campaigning. For decades, Runnymede, along with many other groups, teaching unions and academics, elevated the importance of black identity. The experiences of black teachers today is the direct consequence of this.
Anti-racist campaigns in the past sought to overcome the confines of race and identity. But over the past few decades groups like Runnymede have tried to turn back the clock. In the name of tackling inequality, anti-racist groups have championed the training up of more black teachers, purely because they were deemed more capable of working with and inspiring black students. This has fostered a climate in which teachers, and their responsibilities, have begun to be divided along racial lines.
That black and Asian teachers are being pigeonholed is concerning. But this is the result not of racism, but official anti-racism – by education policy driven by identity politics. Anti-racist campaigners today are so obsessed with finding ‘hidden signs’ of racism that they’ve blinded themselves to what’s really going on. Surely, this should be a moment to pause and re-think.