It’s Time Bristol Stopped Whitesplaining and Invited Everyone Along

At the start of September, BBC Inside Out West, reported the news that of all the working teachers in Bristol’s secondary schools, just 26 of them are black. That is 1.9 per cent of the 1300 teachers in the city.

Assistant principal at City Academy, Aisha Thomas, confronted the principle of the school Jon Angell, to ask difficult questions. These included finding out what City Academy was doing to recruit from BAME backgrounds. And, perhaps more pertinently, if he was the right person to target black people into teaching whilst coming from a white middle class background.

The story prompted the usual negativity, racism and whitesplaining within local news social media comments. These included the typical – how headteachers should only recruit the best teacher for the job and if black people want to be teachers, they should just train like everyone else.

But this misses the points: Just how accessible is the training in the first place? Why is the aspiration missing? And why is it that changes only come because white people get involved?

Being based in St Judes in the Lawrence Hill ward of Bristol, City Academy is one of our local schools – 0.8 miles. I’m old enough to remember it as the old St George School long before it became the first school in the country to become an academy.

The surrounding areas – including the ward we live in are not affluent. They are not aspirational. They are deprived and some parts are full of hardship. It’s no coincidence they are also the ones that are home to people from a BAME background.

According to statistics from Bristol City Council’s Key Facts for 2017/18, a third of all Bristol pupils (16,700 children) were considered to be disadvantaged. This included over half of the children in Filwood (52 per cent) Lawrence Hill (56 per cent) with only Hartcliffe and Withywood having more at (61 per cent).

Bristol also has many areas in the most deprived 10 per cent in England, including 6 in the most deprived 1 per cent. Again, the greatest levels of deprivation are in Hartcliffe and Withywood, Filwood and our Lawrence Hill.

Council statistics also shows that there are at least 91 main languages spoken in the city. Figures also show that Lawrence Hill ward has the highest proportion of people not born in the UK – 37 per cent of the total city population

The graphic below shows what the main languages are spoken in Bristol, other than English.

Bristol Languages

Of those whose main language is not English, 3.7 per cent can speak English very well, 3.4 per cent can speak it well, 1.3 per cent cannot speak English well and 0.2 per cent cannot speak English at all.

As a white person, racial inequality in the city is glaringly obvious. It’s a hugely diverse city but one of the most racially segregated in the country. We shouldn’t need the Runnymede Trust to tell us this.

In the summer, our family attended an event created by a marketing team – I’m being deliberately vague – which targeted Bristol families and ours fell into that demographic.

When arriving at the event, I was surprised to find that again, we had appeared to have arrived on White Day. The long queue of families was 99 per cent white. I can’t understand how in Bristol this marketing mistake could have happened. My children attend two diverse inner city schools with people of all religions, races and backgrounds. Where were they? Yet here we were again on White Day.

I felt the problem on this occasion fell in the invitation. The same invitation was handed out to every family. And this is where people would believe that’s an equal opportunity. But equality and equity are not the same things. Sometimes you need to treat people more favourably to give them the same advantages.

We live within the Somalian community. They tend to keep themselves to themselves. If they have read what people say about them on local media Facebook comments, I’m not surprised. But they don’t have to be impenetrable. My anecdata suggests that there is likely to be some language barrier here. An invitation created by white middle class people in a white middle class environment is unlikely to reach people in segregated communities, some of whom in my experience don’t speak English.

I would never claim to speak for any community other than my own, that of a white single parent  family living in a deprived area with family members affected by disability. But knowing the disadvantages we face, it angers me that disadvantages exists for other members of the community as well. The blasé way people from predominantly white areas of the city whitesplain on Bristol social media pages is arrogant and embarrassing.

Inclusion is the job of everyone. Every business, school, organisation, charity and local council. If you have organised any kind of event and the attendees queuing up look as if they have turned up on White Day, it’s time to change your marketing to access all areas of Bristol.

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