Our minds have been heavy with thoughts over these last few weeks since the death of George Floyd, the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, and the blog on Anti-Racism in Early Years. Those thoughts have unravelled in all sorts of different ways and we now see, hear, and understand things we have somehow managed to spend a lifetime not knowing.
Yet they have been happening right in front of us, and we now cannot un-see them. We now notice white privilege existing everywhere and we also notice racism, inequality, and injustice not just in the world but within our sector.
So, we write this not to shame, or to say we now know best or better, or demand you agree with our every word, nor are we judging others who are yet to wake up and understand. Let us be clear, we write this as white women who hope we can in some small way reach the ears and minds of other white educators and encourage safe space conversations and to elevate the work of black people and non-white people of colour in our sector so that we can fight for a better future for all of our children and leave the world a little better than when we found it.
“I am here to get it right – not be right! To get it right, I have to listen and learn.” Brené Brown.
The one thing that we keep coming back to over and over again is our children. The babies, toddlers and children we love, nurture, take care of and teach today, will be leading and guiding the country in years to come and what do we want for their future? More of the same? We feel strongly that we do not.
What do you envisage for the future of the children in our care? Do you see how opportunities may come easier for white children and do you take time to understand the unique experiences our children of colour may face? Do you tune-in to those early acts of oppression, or do you catch yourself when you are the oppressor? If you are feeling uncomfortable wondering why we are separating children because of the colour of the skin because you do not see colour, then you must realise that you are part of the problem. If you read this and think, ‘but what about white children’s adversity?’ – We thought this at times, and we realised that working towards reducing one inequality does not erase or diminish another inequality. It raises the voice for all. As white women spending our lifetime so far choosing not to see colour, we too have been part of the problem.
We cannot pretend we do not see colour in the earliest years when children have to live the rest of the lives in a world that does see colour and will treat them differently because of the colour of their skin.
If we do not see colour we cannot understand and celebrate black boy joy or encourage and motivate black girl magic. If we do not see colour or recognise ethnicity, we cannot understand other cultures and acknowledge family customs, traditions, ways of speaking, eating, and playing all vastly different from our own whiteness.
Let us talk about the ways in which the world does see colour and how, when grown, our children’s lives will be affected because of the colour of their skin:
- black women are five times more likely to die during childbirth than white women
- The little black boys you look after today go on to schools where they are three times more likely to be excluded from school than white boys
- When it comes to jobs BAME applicants have to send 80% more applications in order to get a response than white people even when using identical CV’s
- Those little black boys you care for today grow into big black men, when do they suddenly go from cute to scary? Because they are eight times more likely to be stopped by police than white people and the police are five times more likely to use force on black people than they are white people
- Black people are twice as likely to die in police custody in Britain
- People from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background are up to twice as likely to die from Covid-19
Children should be able to attend schools and settings lead and be managed by adults who look like them, talk like them and act like them – but they do not. What message does this send, but more importantly what damage does this do?
It is time to see colour and see it so vividly we care as much about understanding anti-racist pedagogy and unravelling and dismantling systemic and institutionalised racism as we do about the update of a statutory document proposing a change to early learning goals.
If you are white, chances are you will always be part of the majority and not the minority. That means we always belong because everyone around us mostly looks like us, we see ourselves represented in film, books, magazines and jobs roles, we never know what it is like to not belong or thought of as other, but as Mary Wright Edelman stated “Children cannot be what they cannot see in the world”, yet only 4% of all the children’s books published in the UK in 2017 featured a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) character.
“When we introduce diverse images and artefacts into our settings, we not only represent cultures and people (other than white ones) which gives children of colour the opportunity to ‘see’ themselves and their cultures but we also importantly bring the world into our settings, particularly in predominantly monocultural ones. In this way all children ‘see’ that there are differences and learn this is the natural way of things. The images, artefacts etc. will promote questions and discussion which, when skillfully handled by practitioners with anti-discriminatory pedagogies, will promote anti-discriminatory thinking in the children we work with in a natural way. This, of course, applies to all differences, not just ethnicity!” Anne Gladstone, 2020.
The world we live in and the early years sector that we occupy has been created by systems that benefit us as white people and we are failing if we do not hold up a mirror and look at what needs to be acknowledged and see that it can be done better. If children cannot see themselves represented in the world how can they really belong in the world?
“When you are figuring out the world, being able to see yourself in books, as well as people who don’t look like you, is really important. It means you see your story as valid, and it can contribute to who you imagine yourself to be – and a kid should be able to imagine themselves as anyone in the world. These mirrors are so important. “Nikesh Shukla
Everywhere we look, we see that we are currently living in a nation and world of disadvantage and the impact of this on ALL children is devastating. Children of colour, however, are at an even bigger disadvantage than their white counterparts. This is evidenced within our own sector because we are failing at representation in all sorts of organisations and networks, from Ofsted, to professional bodies and networks charities, from magazines, books, professional development & training events, to expert panels, speakers, and even within leadership and management roles within our own settings and schools.
We cannot allow our early years world that is made up of a workforce as diverse as the children and families we care for to be represented only by white men and women. People of colour within our workforce must be able to see themselves represented within educational and professional line-ups, panels, and events, if we start to look for it, we will see, it is not there! And once you truly see this, you cannot un-see it, and it comes with a great level of discomfort and fragility. We need to hear from people of colour within our sector because we will have different, new, and exciting things we can learn.
“There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant.” Nicole Martins of Indiana University
We cannot blame our failings to ensure our events, line-ups, workplaces, and professional and organisational bodies do not have a diverse representation because there is a lack of diversity within the sector. That is simply not true, and in reality, is a convenient excuse to not question a deeper issue with our workforce infrastructure. Our sector is colourful, but the colour doesn’t rise to the top, and we see the clear lack of opportunities for growth in the visual line-ups of conferences, trustee boards and professional bodies. Speak to people of colour and be prepared to listen to how their experience is different from yours.
What we are discussing here may be uncomfortable and heavy to understand, as Peggy McIntosh stated back in 1988, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”. Ultimately even though we believe our words and actions not to be racist, we are all guilty of being unconsciously biased and the systems we uphold and blindly conform to are racist and discriminate not just people of colour, but children of colour and it is time as a sector to dismantle those systems and fight for all children and their futures in this world.
“The work of anti-racism is becoming a better human to other humans. You have the capacity to be a better human – would you accept that invitation?” (Austin Channing Brown, 2020)
We can make a start at being better humans by doing our part to make a change in the representation of events, line ups and spaces that represent our sector. We can start by acknowledging our uncomfortableness and start within ourselves and making our actions accountable.
“Being held accountable for racism and feeling shame is not the same thing as being shamed”. Brené Brown.
Written by Kate Moxley and Kerry Payne @eyfs4me
References & further reading
‘Alarming’ study reveals only 4% of children’s books feature a BAME character | The Bookseller
View this post on Instagram
You Dont have to ask to share anything I post – thats what social media is for. Draw your own conclusions from these I guess. The formula that allows 100s of people to lose their lives in a tower block in the same constituency that houses some of the most expensive real estate in the world just miles away. Rip 🕊 Been strange to read 100s of delusional comments from people who think access to resources in this country are equal (The same resources or lack thereof that lead to paths of crime and poverty).. But i wont be responding to them anymore for my own mental health. “Cherry picking” stats is apparently easy yet no one seems to be able to do the same to prove otherwise apart from the fact there are some rich black athletes and entertainers now lol
— nomorewanels (@nomorewanels) June 16, 2020