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I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusion of late. Mainly because it’s my job, but also because daughter three has been having problems again at school and because, of course, of Brexit – in particular the latest queue jumping comments from Theresa May. I forwarded an article on why such comments are so hurtful to my partner, who is Catalan and has worked in this country for over 20 years. I thought he would be angry, as I am. He said it made him want to cry.
Back to daughter three. She has moved to a local school. Being mixed race, she is very much in a minority and she feels it. Who wouldn’t? She had racist comments at primary school as well as other forms of bullying. It has led to an underlying anxiety and panic attacks. We’ve sought counselling because that anxiety continues. But I confess that I am slightly dubious about counselling, outside of practical tips on managing panic attacks, because it treats the person being counselled as the problem and I am worried it makes daughter three feel like some kind of mental health case. The problem is definitely not daughter three. The problem is the to coin a phrase ‘hostile environment’ she finds herself in where other kids can tell her to her face “no one likes you because you are black”, “white boys don’t like black girls”, where the n-word is used by white students to black students, where a black teacher is laughed at for her curly hair…
Of course, those kids are a minority themselves, albeit a vocal one, and some kids do tend to pick on anyone who is different. We went to an anti-bullying workshop in the summer and all the kids there had been bullied because of some kind of difference – being academic, being ginger, being quiet…There are many, many ways to be different. Being a woman in an all or mostly male workplace, for instance.Tackling that requires daily monitoring and proactive attempts to promote the value of all kinds of diversity. For children, it requires parents to be good role models and to encourage empathy and understanding of others, to understand that unkindness takes many forms and that everyday actions – sly looks, staring, mocking, shunning, etc – have a cumulative effect, to treat others as you would like to be treated – all the things that we talk about with respect to best practice at work.
The teachers at daughter three’s school have responded well, although they are overstretched. I reported one incident where a girl told daughter three to go kill herself. That is being dealt with. But it is not one incident. It is a much bigger problem and it is enabled by the kind of atmosphere we live in these days which seems to make it okay to be nasty to outsiders to protect our sense of ‘community’. When daughter three was at primary school there was a poster in the car park which was part of a campaign against travellers. I rang up about it since schools are not supposed to be political. I was initially told “this is a community school. We have to reflect the community’s views”. I replied that I was a member of the community and it certainly did not reflect my views. What is a community in any event? Is a community just one point of view or does it embrace different ideas? Who gets to decide what the community view is?