With it being Black History Month in the UK, it’s that time of year when schools pretend to care about black history for a week before returning to their ethnocentric education. It’s that ironic month where pupils sit in school assemblies where they watch videos about how a lack of representation in school subjects can affect pupils of color before going to their history lessons where they’ll learn about the Tudor period for the fifth time in their school career. It’s that contradictory time of the year where schools chastise their students for not knowing the names of black writers or artists before sending them to their English lesson where they’ll be taught Shakespeare for the fiftieth time.
Overall, in my school’s attempt to shove all of black history into one measly assembly, I came to a realization that, although I attend an extremely diverse school in London, I have only ever learned about white people throughout my whole 13 years of education. Like mine, the majority of most student’s education in Western countries is waterlogged with white stories, white history, white people. How are we expected to become enriched and educated people by the end of High School when we never learn any history that isn’t British and we never read any books that aren’t Shakespearean plays?
Here’s the short answer: we don’t. Instead of culturally enriching students, the education system places white stories on a pedestal (and even adapts them to make some figures in history seem more heroic), consequently further perpetuating this notion of white supremacy on young people, which will inevitably damage young people of colour.
Let’s play Devil’s advocate for a bit and explore why so many schools decide to fixate so heavily on white people. Specifically, in the British Education system, teachers love to use exam boards as a scapegoat and claim that there’s a lack of non-white topics to pick from, but one Google search will disprove that.
In GCSE History, there’s a chance to learn about ‘Middle Eastern Relations’ and ‘Mao’s China’, so why does almost every student end up studying the ‘Cold War’ and ‘Elizabethan Period’ instead. In A-Level English Literature, there’s an option to learn and read about the ‘Immigrant Experience’, but instead, schools consistently opt for their pupils to learn about white women in literature using nature to write about their sex lives. So, although exam boards have a limited amount of non-white options, schools should actively try to pick those options and help make feel young people of color represented in a world that’s so against them.
As a second generation immigrant and a person of color, it feels insulting that non-white stories are silenced and seen as unnecessary to learn about. This whole debacle simultaneously sparks anger, because I’m tired of learning about white people. I’m tired of having to do my own research about my own culture and history just so schools can have an excuse to continue to ignore it or treat it as inferior to white history and culture. Quite frankly, the education system, in general, needs to do more to make the education less ethnocentric for not only their pupils of color, but also so white pupils can learn more about cultures they wouldn’t likely experience outside of lessons and become more receptive to said cultures.
In conclusion, with the combination of white teachers wanting to remain in the confines of the white culture they’re so accustomed to teaching and the lack of opposition against this narrative, it’s evident why this level of ethnocentric education has gone on this long. However, it’s high time that young students begin to learn the stories that are so often ignored and the cultures that are seen as inferior in the education system. It’s time we shift this outdated white supremacist narrative that white stories are more worth being told by pressuring our teachers to reach out of their comfort zones and pick modules that explore non-white cultures and stories.