In the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd, racism is back on the table globally. In South Africa, school learners and alumni have given voice to their stories of racism in our country’s elite schools under the hashtag You Silence We Amplify.
Some of these schools have worked hard to distance themselves from racism by issuing statements and putting out social media posts. This is all very well if it isn’t an exercise in restoring reputations. If it is, then it is a crass response that undermines real transformation. If it is just one part of a comprehensive response to systemic racism in schools, then good and well. The best responses that I have seen come from schools that have vulnerably, authentically and comprehensively grasped the nettle and begun a journey of genuine introspection and deep transformation.
The racism issue can seem absolutely overwhelming to most of us, especially when we are running institutions or organisations that have always purported to be bastions of non-racialism. How do you effectively and honestly deal with horrific revelations to the contrary in schools, from learners and alumni? For many it is a massive wake up call to the fact that systemic and even overt racism is still alive and well, and that no organisation is exempt.
If you are a school principal or indeed the leader of any organisation wanting to start the work of anti-racism, here is a process that you may wish to use:
- Conduct a thorough needs analysis involving learners, teachers, support staff, parents and the broader community of the school, including alumni. This is an exercise in deep, empathetic listening to the many voices that have been silent for a long time. It is to understand the depth and breadth of the issue of racism in the school ecosystem, and to begin a new conversation on the topic.
- Produce a detailed report with findings regarding overt and systemic racism in the school.
- Constitute a transformation committee tasked with, in the first instance, responding to these findings with restorative measures that will be taken, timelines and accountability along with an indication of measures of resolution.
- Hold a series of anti-racism workshops for leadership first, reporting back on the findings and conscientizing individuals into the work and language of anti-racism.
- Addition of said anti-racism content into the school curriculum.
- Ongoing (I suggest a minimum of 3 years) anti-racism work to be done with all teachers, support staff, parents and other community members. Everyone in the school ecosystem should be involved.
We have a massive opportunity to keep racism on the table and to deal it a fateful blow.
Now is the time.