Diversity and anti-racism should be at every level of our education system
4 min read
The current curriculum too often eliminates or misrepresents the contributions of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in Britain. Children should learn from our past to ensure tragedies like the Windrush scandal never happen again.
Today we celebrate Windrush Day and the enduring contribution of a truly remarkable generation to our country.
Yet, the story of the Windrush generation in rebuilding our country from the ravages of the Second World War and establishing the foundations of the National Health Service is all too easily painted with starry-eyed sentimentality. What makes the Windrush story so remarkable and so humbling is the contribution made to our country in the face of intolerable racism.
When the arrivals searched for homes, they were greeted with signs proudly declaring “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish”. They were denied jobs and opportunities by colour bars. They were attacked, humiliated, and discriminated against by fellow citizens. Politicians from all sides reacted with suspicion and hostility at the Caribbean arrivals and this hostility grew with time, as two decades later Enoch Powell delivered his infamous “rivers of blood” speech.
However, such racism was not confined to the right: on the day HMT Empire Windrush docked eleven Labour MPs wrote to Prime Minister Attlee demanding controls on immigration for fear that “an influx of coloured people domiciled here is likely to impair the harmony, strength, and cohesion of our people.”
This is the un-sanitised story we must teach our children as we look to diversify the curriculum
The unfolding of the Windrush scandal in 2018 showed such institutionalised racism and discrimination aimed at Caribbean Britons was far from consigned to the past. Changing legislation meant the Windrush generation were ‘illegalised’ and became targets of Conservative’s hostile environment policies. Law-abiding, often pension-aged, men and women who had spent most of their lives in Britain were now being sacked from their jobs, evicted from their homes, denied critical NHS treatment, detained and in some cases deported.
As the scandal unfolded, I was serving as Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister and saw first-hand the pain this institutionalised persecution caused thousands of innocent men and women. Despite being four years on from the scandal, thousands remain uncompensated by the Home Office, and many, including Manchester resident Rupert Everett, died without apology or compensation.
It does the Windrush generation an injustice to reduce their story to one of sentimental celebration – the Windrush generation were far from welcome, but they came and built new lives in Britain in spite of this hostility.
This is the un-sanitised story we must teach our children as we look to diversify the curriculum. I firmly believe that education holds the key to raising a new, truly anti-racist generation of young people. Diversifying the school curriculum means teaching young people all the stories of the past: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The current curriculum too often eliminates or misrepresents the contributions of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in Britain. We gloss over colonialism and depict racism as a historical artefact, rather than a current and lived reality. In so doing, we fail our young people.
Following the eruption of global Black Lives Matter protests last summer, I partnered with The Black Curriculum to develop a Diverse Curriculum Charter to enable schools in Manchester Gorton to embed diversity and inclusivity in their curriculum.
The enthusiasm and drive from local schools to engage in this has been particularly uplifting. However, we should be under no illusion: without government action to embed diversity and anti-racism at every level of our education system, there will always be children who miss out on learning about the wonderful richness of our society.
Sadly, I very much doubt this will be the government to introduce such important reforms, given their recent denial of institutionalised racism in the widely criticised Sewell Report.
However as vice-chair of the APPG for Race Equality in Education, I hope we can start to bring politicians from all political persuasions together to put diversity and inclusion at the heart of our curriculum.
It is often said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. So, let us ensure our children learn from our past and ensure tragedies like the Windrush scandal can never happen again.
Afzal Khan is the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton.
If you would like to engage with the work of the APPG for Race Equality in Education, please follow the group on Twitter or Instagram @appg_reie, or email the Chief Coordinator, L’myah Sherae at email@example.com.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.