Racist Name Calling in Schools

This article describes  a school which caters for children with moderate learning difficulties in the south of England. There are about 150 pupils, aged 7-16 yrs and 2 of them are Black.

One of the pupils at the school, John* aged 10 years, starts coming home from school extremely upset, not wanting to go to school and not feeling good about himself. He is black and is being called racist names. He tells his mother what is happening but has not felt able to tell anyone at school. His mother, Susan*, speaks to the class teacher and the class teacher says that they may call him 'chocolate drop' and she's sure they don't mean to upset him.Those weren't the words he told Susan about, but are still unacceptable, and she asks for something to be done to stop the name calling.

The situation doesn't improve and Susan phones and asks to speak to the headmaster. He is busy and does not return her call or several more that she makes. Eventually the deputy head phones and says that she has been asked to speak to Susan who explains what is happening and also that she has been told by John’s school taxi driver that the school secretary had said there weren't many foreigners like John in the school. He is British born but is seen as a foreigner because of the colour of his skin.

John still does not feel good about himself and does not want to go to school. He is unable to tell any of the teachers how upset he is because he knows they will not understand. Susan is asked to make an appointment to see the head to discuss her concerns. She lives in a different county from where the school is and phones the LEA to ask if they have a Multicultural Services Department. They don't but give the name and phone number. of someone who may be able to help. When she contacts this person she’s told that all schools have a book for recording racist incidents and advised Susan to make an appointment to see the head.

Before doing that Susan speaks to one of the the parents at the school and also a school parent governor to tell them what has been happening and to find out their reaction. As there seems to be a complete lack of awareness and understanding she decides to try and make contact with parents of black children who lived in the same county as the 'special school', and who attend mainstream schools. She wants to find out how other schools were dealing with racism. One parent she spoke to gave her the name and phone number of Anna*, a Black mother who happened to live near the school John attended. Susan spoke to Anna several times on the phone and was invited, with her family, to Anna's home. It was a helpful meeting enjoyed by all and Anna offered to accompany Susan when she went to meet with the head. Susan made an appointment at a time to suit all and told the school secretary that she would be taking someone along with her.

At the meeting she tells the head teacher about the racist name calling and of her concern that it is not being dealt with.He tells her that they do not have a problem in the school. He refuses to listen to what Susan has to say and verbally attacks her. He accuses her of making appointments and not keeping them (untrue) and calls the secretary into the office to confirm what he has been saying. She is unable to do this so he decides to call a teacher in and wants her to confirm that they do not have a problem in the school. Anna, who had earlier been told by the head to be quiet and listen, spoke up and said 'we have come in peace'. She talked about her children's experiences of racism in schools and how that had affected them, the prejudice she faced and the work she was doing which sometimes included working with children in schools. The head did then listen to her and after a while he apologised and made excuses for his behaviour. He accepted what he had been told about the name calling and asked what he could do to help. He was told that it was a serious matter and should be dealt with as such. He was keen to show that serious matters were his responsibilty and children would have to report to him.

Susan had to leave to collect a younger child but Anna stayed and was shown around the school. She saw John in his classroom and spoke to him in a way that made him aware she was there for him. When he got home from school that day he seemed like a different child from the previous weeks. He was calm, happy, relaxed and feeling good about himself. He wanted to go to school again!

Initially it was only the head who dealt with the name calling and he was not always there. Susan continued to ask that all incidents be dealt with at the time and that all staff take responsibility for doing it. It took quite a long time for this to happen but eventually it did.

Six years later when he was sixteen John moved on to do a continuing education course at a college in the same county as the school. He became very angry at the racist remarks made to him there, which one student continued with despite requests from John to stop. Susan phoned the college and spoke to one of the tutors about it. He said that he was very surprised as they ‘didn't usually have that there, they didn't have a problem because they didn't have many black students there’. 

That was in 1995 yet today there are some parents still being given similar ‘reassurances’...........

*names have been changed

This was taken from the 
People in Harmony News Letter Issue 12 April 1996

http://www.pih.org.uk/    email:  info@pih.org.uk

Editor's comments:

Verbal bullying has been found to be more traumatic and have longer lasting effects that any other type. The scars on the outside heal quicker that the pain of humiliation and rejection that a bullied child can carry with them for the rest of their life. Damage to a child's self-esteem and self-confidence are scars you cannot see...

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