Rachel Akili, Workforce Development Manager

Why I’m glad TV is teaching my children…

Growing up as a young girl on the fringes of Salford and Manchester, there were very few black people in my local area.

There were many Asians but actually, apart from me and my siblings, there were no black people in my school.

Name calling and fighting were the order of the day and that seemed right. We were in the minority and as the history we learnt at school taught us, we were an oppressed people who had to fight for our right or accept our situation as subordinates. That is what I learnt, from the slave trade to US segregation laws and apartheid.

Outside of school, we met other black people through our parents, in the church we attended (3 times a week, but that’s another story) who were first generation immigrants so we really didn’t relate to them.

The only real representation of young black people I saw on TV fell into 2 camps:

  1. ‘The American Greats’ of the sports & entertainment industry or
  2. the hoodlums and villains featured on Crimewatch, being chased on ‘The Bill’ or getting their comeuppance from James Bond or Steven Segal.

I, like a lot of other people I know, are a little salty about this. We also cannot deny that the media is our main source of information and the biggest influencer, it has a massive part to play in shaping how I feel about me.

How can I believe myself to be inherently good when every depiction of people like me is downtrodden or bad?

The Black people I see on TV are on benefits, from broken homes and undertaking some criminal activity. And if I don’t identify with the dysfunctional and negative role models I see, am I not more likely to become isolated?

This is exactly what we are seeing in our society; studies show that BAME communities have higher incidents of mental health problems and are more likely to have poor outcomes from treatment and consequently disengage from mainstream society.

I believe a lot of this comes from experiences starting from school, social status, and sense of personal identity.

Luckily I believe the rise of social media means that we can now see more positive representation of people of colour, from fashion bloggers to political icons and social entrepreneurs.

There has also been a positive shift of black representation in mainstream media, an issue that has been long overdue for me and members of my community.

We now have programmes and films starring people of colour. The importance and depth of feeling around this was exemplified by 85 nominations and 37 awards won by the ground-breaking true story of 3 young black female engineers in ‘Hidden Figures’.

The controversy that Star Wars’ first black Stormtrooper created in the media and more notably, the outpouring of praise and critical acclaim that Black Panther created in Black communities in the UK and US for being the first Hollywood movie to have an predominantly black cast.

My son alerted me to the movie and his excitement and he insisted that the whole extended family to go to the opening show. To me, this was an affirmation of his desire to be represented.

For the first time, he asked me about my parentage and his lineage, he wanted to know if his bloodline was full of people as strong and resourceful as the people of Wakanda. I was amazed!

What I have found is that whilst the media has started to improve its representation of black people, there is little done within our education system to create a balanced, accurate or positive social and historical understanding about Africa that the 3 million people of the African diaspora in England can relate to (Source ONS 2011).

Only 4% of children’s books in 2017 featured a BAME character and how many of them filter into mainstream schools?

Black History Month

In the UK, the achievements of People of Colour is usually celebrated throughout the month of October and in cities like Manchester, London and Birmingham that are multicultural; much is made of this in order to ensure that young people develop confidence and aspire to reach beyond their circumstances which typically is part of a working or underclass.

Our education system would be the only other means outside of the media that would ensure that children outside of big cities learn about the rich tapestry of their history beyond the transatlantic slave trade, apartheid and Martin Luther King – all of which describe black history from a position of weakness and victimisation.

Without much effort, children could be encouraged by learning about the fertility of the land which is not only agriculturally rich but also abundant in copper, iron, gold and diamonds.

Stories, plays and activities could be weaved around the variety of empires and trades that have existed throughout Africa to give Black children a sense of pride and benefits equality with their white counterparts. There are so many accomplished black people from the world of politics, medicine, business, engineering and the arts.

Even though a petition with over 25,000 signatures went to parliament requesting Black history be a part of mainstream curriculum, it failed.

As a parent I have often been warned about television educating my children in the place of an adult… but on this important and vital topic, I believe it’s Media 1 – 0 Education.

Rachel Akili, Workforce Development Manager

Jeremy Corbyn 100x100Jeremy Corbyn says schools should teach children about colonialism, slavery and the legacy of the British empire, and give greater weight to the “immense contribution” black Britons have made.

Whilst visiting Bristol today, the Labour leader will unveil plans for an Emancipation Educational Trust, which would educate future generations about the impact of slavery.

In response a Department for Education spokesperson said:

The current National Curriculum already offers schools the chance to cover significant figures and events in black history, inside and outside of the United Kingdom.

In addition, within the subject of Citizenship at key stage 4, pupils should be taught about the diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the UK and the need for mutual respect and understanding.

We expect all schools to teach a broad and balanced curriculum, learning about different cultures and how they have shaped national and international events, which includes black history.

The National Curriculum provides a number of opportunities to focus on black history by learning about Rosa Parks, Mary Seacole and the impact on society of the migration of people to, from and within the British Isles.

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