White liberals are failing black kids

Katharine Birbalsingh joins Brendan O’Neill to discuss education and the new racism.

Topics Brexit Politics UK

Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of the Michaela Community School, joins spiked’s editor for the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. They discuss the failure of progressive education, the politics of racial victimhood, and the need for national identity.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Christopher Tyson

3rd September 2019 at 7:58 pm

Brilliant stuff. I was just thinking how much Katharine Birbalsingh reminds me of a younger version of my aunt who taught for many years including in a tough East London comprehensive, and also ran a teacher training college back home in Guyana. In the Times on Saturday Trevor Phillips did reference the Guyanese spirit and he did mention Katharine, I only made the connection when she mentioner her Guyanese father (he also mentioned Gina Miller hmm). It’s becoming my catchphrase but it is dialectical. Back in the sixties there was a convergence of black consciousness, anti-colonialism, anti-apartheid, American Civil Rights, and the experiences of West Indians in the UK. In the UK the different islands buried their differences and prejudices and class differences too. The middle class West Indians and students found that they faced the same problems as their working class compatriots and often lived in the same areas. The Guyanese that I knew were proud and confident and education was a big thing with them. We thought that Jamaicans were a bit rough, but over time a lot of inter-island difference mattered less, and Jamaicans were always good in a scrap, you wanted them on your side. The dominance of what I call the ‘black ideology’ has resulted a nuance being lost, I’ve noticed that in the UK ‘black’ has shifted away from West Indian, increasingly it is African, Nigerian mainly and Ghanaian. But there are people from all over Africa. My dad was from St Kitts so I was always aware that the West Indies was more than one place. The writer Andrea Levy died recently, I remember when her book small island came out I thought ‘great a Caribbean book not about Jamaica’ for us Jamaica is not a small island, but it was about Jamaica. It is difficultly to talk about cultural differences between black people without coming across as chauvinistic, but I think that the ‘black ideology’ which may have begun with a radical political purpose has itself become oppressive.

Danny Rees

3rd September 2019 at 12:05 am

So if white liberals are failing black kids who is helping them?

White conservatives?

Ven Oods

3rd September 2019 at 4:30 pm

I’m betting you know the answer to that one.

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 8:43 pm

I disagree with Katharine about reparations for slavery. Every time that I put on the BBC news over the weekend it was scrolling about “Germany sincerely apologises for the invasion of Poland 80 years ago.” Most Germans were not even born back then so they can hardly be held to be “collectively responsible” for what ppl did back then? 80 years is a long time ago and the British state is still trying to squeeze some “moral authority” out of it. By the same token, most of us can glimpse at a glance that what is good for the goose is good for the gander and that what goes around comes around. If Germans today must do penance and pay up for the German state of yesteryear and for what it did then it is perfectly congruent that the British state and the British must pay up for what the British state did b/f we were even born. That is how reason works, what goes around comes around. The wipe out of entire continents under British invasion, America and Australia. So PAY UP BS, and shut your mouth. The BS has its “foundational myth” of WWII that “justifies” everything that it has done since, but just remember, principles are principles and that what goes around comes around.

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 9:30 pm

The British state is complete nonsense and I thoroughly regret that I was born into this society at all. (Not saying that there were not worse outcomes but still…)

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 11:13 pm

sp iked are obviously pushing in the opposite direction. They get to kill us and we get to kill them?


Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 11:25 pm

You will leave Ireland and you will leave Scotland – and Wales.

Winston Stanley

3rd September 2019 at 12:59 pm

Obviously that turned into a HUMEROUS thread to be taken with a packet of salt.

Bill Hamilton

5th September 2019 at 11:50 am

Dont let the door bang your arse on your way out!

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 9:49 pm

Give them song to dance to.


Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 10:20 pm

“And truly persecuted/ as our heroes of 16 were executed”


Ven Oods

3rd September 2019 at 4:45 pm

The German govt may apologise on behalf of all Germans (willy-nilly) but I hadn’t thought that reparations were on offer.

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 6:59 pm

The idea that you can make half the country immigrant, far more in some areas, b/c you have a low birth rate and you want more workers, and expect them to pretend to be English is completely arrogant and entirely stupid. Why do you think that you are to tell ppl who they ought be?

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 7:06 pm

* “Why do you think” = “who do you think” but it works either way.

Amelia Cantor

2nd September 2019 at 10:16 am

Another day, another coconut on the Brendan O’Neill show. Birbalsingh does not represent BAME communities, as a briefess of looks at political preference and voting intentions by race will show, but her failure to represent the authentic BAME perspective precisely why O’Neill has her on his show.

Danny Rees

2nd September 2019 at 10:28 am


Toni Pereira

2nd September 2019 at 12:29 pm

It’s One O’Clock,you numnuts!

Amelia Cantor

3rd September 2019 at 10:25 am

It’s “numbnut”, you numnut.

Stephanie Bates

2nd September 2019 at 11:50 pm

LOL, your dictatorial comment sums up beautifully what Ms Birbalsingh is dealing with and the very racism that she fights against.

Amelia Cantor

3rd September 2019 at 10:24 am

LOL, your dictatorial comment sums up beautifully what Ms Birbalsingh is dealing with and the very racism that she fights against.

Some simple questions for you, Stephanie:

1. Who do BAME communities overwhelmingly vote for in the UK?
2. Who do BAME communities overwhelmingly vote for in the US?
3. What party do Diane Abbott and David Lammy belong to?
4. What party do Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez belong to?
5. How much success have the Revolutionary Communist Party / Spiked had in persuaded BAME communities to abandon “identity politics” and embrace the cause of “free speech”?

You won’t answer, I’m sure, but your stupidity and ignorance will be obvious either way. If I’m racist, so are Diane Abbott, David Lammy, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the parties to which they belong, and the BAME voters who overwhelmingly support those parties.

JeanClawed Brexit

3rd September 2019 at 11:34 am

“the authentic BAME perspective”


As dictated by the Popular Front of Amelia Cantor by any chance ?

Ven Oods

3rd September 2019 at 4:37 pm

I sometimes wonder if he/she pronounces BAME as ‘barmy’.

Amelia Cantor

4th September 2019 at 10:39 am

No, as presented by BAME communities to the Labour party in the UK and the Democratic party in the US. If BAME communities didn’t feel that their perspective was accepted and incorporated into policy by those parties, they wouldn’t vote for them. Nor would high-achieving BAME folk like Diane Abbott and Ilhan Omar be so prominent in those parties and (unlike the coconutes Sajid Javid and Priti Patel) be celebrated by ordinary BAME folk.

But don’t let reality get between you and your rightard fantasies.

Bill Hamilton

5th September 2019 at 11:46 am

Are you suggesting that our Chinese communities and British middle class asians vote for the labour party? Many are involved in the kind of small businesses that Labour seek to destroy as they seek to destroy wealth creators and the petit bourgeoisie. BAME is an artificial construct for extreme student left wing agitators who promote fashionable victimhood.

Amelia Cantor

5th September 2019 at 11:56 am

BAME is an artificial construct for extreme student left wing agitators who promote fashionable victimhood.

The Jamaican community, Pakistani community, the Bangladeshi community, the Somali community and all other communities like them vote overwhelmingly for the Labour party. Fact. These communities do not believe in victimhood. They believe in justice, fairness and an end to hate. That is why they vote Labour.

Jim Lawrie

2nd September 2019 at 12:50 am

First of all Ms Birbalsingh, hat off to you, your staff and supporters.

I’d like to ask, if, by age 15 or so, self-discipline and the discipline of the task in hand start to take over and make the teaching more the challenge for your staff?

Also, is there a dress code for your staff? The academic gown was de rigueur at the school I attended. When some new teachers, in the late 70’s, turned up not wearing it, we were very scornful of them, to put it mildly. To put it bluntly, we asked among ourselves “who the eff do they think they are, not wearing their batman cloaks, when the old boys still do?”
To teach them a lesson, we coated their desks and chairs with appropriately coloured chalk dust, which, unlike the dry cleaning bill for their fancy threads, would have cost nothing to shake off had they been correctly attired. Right little disciplinarians we were.

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 12:31 am

The point about discipline in schools is fair enough, but moving beyond that point…

I will not call it corny Tory rubbish b/c most conservatives are not that naive.

Not sure that Katharine understands British society or the British particularly well if she thinks that the British are “bound together” by the monarchy or by singing “god save the queen” and “I pledge to thee my country.” Frankly the British do not stand around doing that and it would be considered frankly laughable. It is sad that Katharine is forcing kids to adopt behavior that, far from helping them to “integrate”, actually would make them odd and laughable. It is a frankly silly policy. If she wants to help the kids then she should urge them never to do anything so silly, to develop self-awareness, an awareness of how other people are likely to see them, and to avoid clownish, stereotypical and completely unrealistic behaviour. It would be interesting to hear from old pupils about how they feel about that imposed superficial nationalism, whether they now find it thoroughly embarrassing and even traumatic to recall. Adults can be very cruel, unintentionally, with some of the stupid and embarrassing things that they make kids do. It is not clear why some adults seem to lose all sense of adult perspective when it comes to kids. Would she seriously go around singing nationalistic hymns in public and expect not to be considered a complete idiot? So why make kids do it at school? Kids are not complete idiots and they should not be forced to act like them by adults.

And then there is the idea that Londoners are “bound together” in their everyday life by “national feeling”. Seriously what alternate reality is that? Does Katharine have zero experience of London or does she just pay zero attention to what is going on around her? Around 40% of kids born in UK are of an immigrant background and that figure is far higher in London. Only half of the London population is native white British and far fewer among the younger generations. Londoners as a whole have zero interest in “British national feeling”, they are “bound together”, if at all, by their proximity, their shared experience and lives and not by external symbols of “nationhood” or by “national feeling”. It is like Katharine confuses some picturesque story of the Raj and thinks that is normal British behaviour. It just feels like she is not very perceptive of her environment. People in urban environments in particular do not need to be “bound together” at all, let alone by the imposition of some superficial “national” construct. They can have their own cultures and their own identities and still have families, frends, colleagues and communities. They do not have to be “the same” in order to live pleasant successful lives. Londoners accept that they are diverse, of varied cultures and identities, they accept and respect that. They do not need to be “bound together”. And that is fine.

Oh yes, and kids should be allowed to support whatever countries they want in the world cup. This is supposed to be a free country and kids should be allowed to develop their own sense of identity and belonging. They do not have to see themselves as “British” or to be “loyal” to the British State or to this country. That is all for them to decide for themselves. They may decide that they do not even like the British State or this society and that is perfectly fine. Or they may be able to compartmentalise the society from the state and to accept the one without much regard to the latter, and again that is fine. Adults are not cut out figures to be “socialised” into some cut out identity and neither should kids be treated like that or as if their role in adult society is to be some conformist, cut out, state loyal action figure. Neither adults nor kids are dollies to be dressed up and made to play tea parties. Their role in adult society is to be free, autonomous persons with free and sensitive control over their own culture, identity and destiny. It is like Katharine lives in some alternate reality and she thinks that the school is her dress up dolly party.

Frankly I think that the TP is embarrassing itself by applauding that bizarre nonsense. That is surely not the image that they wish to convey of themselves. It would be the most ridiculous stereotype.

Amin Readh

2nd September 2019 at 5:24 am

Did you bother listening to her?

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 5:36 am

Did you?

Amin Readh

2nd September 2019 at 3:32 pm

@ Winston Stanley

Yes. She said some daft things and often oversimplifies the left but basically agree with her over schooling and education. And this nonsense about the other side being racist is just that, nonsense.

What about you?

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 5:01 pm

OK, you “basically agree” with her, whereas I took specific points to task, that is how adults act, get over it.

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 5:48 pm

“and they’ll see through you in an instant”

I am perfectly happy for them to do that. You fancy that you can “see right through me” (ok…), so why should they not be free to do that? The important thing is that they get to develop their own sense of the world as it appears to them and concerns them. That is surely all that a teacher could reasonably ask?

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 5:49 pm

Obviously @ Jim.

Jim Lawrie

2nd September 2019 at 3:25 pm

You are not moving beyond discipline, you are dismissing it, and with it, her achievements. Then you lay into her like all her detractors.

You do not understand the importance of common purpose and togetherness in the classroom.

Suck up to children in a classroom by being Mr Cool, right on, do what you want, wear what you want and they’ll see through you in an instant. Then you will understand how the absence of discipline and the absence of an adult affects the learning and teaching process.

There is room for one adult in the classroom – the teacher. That is exactly how children need it to be. When it is like that, they love it and they learn.

Winston Stanley

2nd September 2019 at 4:59 pm

Steady on there, Jim and glance back at my first sentence. The rest was specific points. I may dis/agree with some of what she said but that does not mean that I dis/agree with everything. Each point needs to be evaluated on a non-partisan basis.

Danny Rees

3rd September 2019 at 12:05 am

Isn’t it the case teachers are too afraid so discipline kids in case they get done for racism?

Thomas Blunt

8th September 2019 at 1:54 am

She teaches kids the national anthem to try and imbibe a common identity amongst people from widely different backgrounds. The idea being that when those kids grow up and meet people from other cultures in the country they were born in they don’t just retreat back into their cultural group and silo themselves. Hopefully people can find common ground between them through things like love of institutions (the monarchy) as part of a shared past or ideas such as a common national identity. It might sound great in theory to have this purely free country where people are left alone to hate the country they live in and despise its institutions, but the reality is that when that happens the institutions will quickly fall apart and individual freedoms will quickly disappear. Your freedom is guaranteed by the order the state, make no mistake about that.

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