Justice Williams MBE says she fears her son won’t get an equal chance to excel because of bias against boys of color. She is far from alone
A black campaigning city mum has told how she is quitting the UK amid fears her young son will face ‘ingrained racism’ at secondary school and in the community.
Justice Williams, a business coach for women, brands experts, and entrepreneur, is to leave for the island of St Kitts this summer, believing her 10-year-old son will likely face ‘unconscious bias’, be subject to stereotyping, and will face a lack of black teacher role models if the family stays here.
Another black parent, businessman and activist Tru Powell has also taken to social media to claim his primary school-age sons were called the n-word by other young children.
“He cried himself to sleep,” he writes of his eight-year-old son after one incident. “He told me he didn’t want to be black.
They are just some of the experiences shared by black parents in Birmingham and the Black Country who have come together to form a support network to positively address concerns around race.
The group, already 100-strong after just two weeks, is now working up plans to create a Saturday school and mentor scheme for black kids in Birmingham, with a determination to celebrate their amazing young people, said one of its organizers, Kadi Wilson, music, arts and marketing professional.
Isaiah, ten, and his little sister Amariah, three(Image: Justice Williams)
Justice, 40, who was awarded an MBE in 2009 for her work with young people, says her professional insight and conversations with other parents whose children are already in the secondary system leave her in no doubt that racism “is still alive and kicking”.
“I do not want my son Isaiah to go to secondary education here,” said the Harborne mum.
“I worry about the stereotyping of black boys and how that impacts how they are treated in school.
“There is a marked lack of representation of black teachers and people who understand their experiences, and that has an impact on young people’s aspirations.
“I want to stay and fight to make things better but I have to also prioritize my children.
“We are bombarded in the media with images of young black boys with knives and in gangs, and society has ingrained that idea that black boys are trouble. Even when they are just hanging out with their friends they are perceived as a threat.”
She added: “Young people’s aspirations are limited as a result, they have to constantly overcome that unconscious bias.”
Justice said her own son’s primary schooling had been in a good, diverse school with no obvious issues of racism. But she was conscious his positive experience was not shared by all boys of color.
“I would never want my son to be afraid, or not to be afforded opportunities, because of his skin color and I believe that will be better achieved somewhere else, not here,” she said.
Locally, she said she was concerned too about a loss of youth activities and lack of youth workers, with high rates of children living in poverty.
“Too many young children are on the streets, with nowhere much to go. It does not matter how talented or aspirational they are, if they live in the inner city they still face big barriers,” she said.
Campaigning dad Tru Powell raised his frustration online about the traumatic impact of racist slurs.
A dad of four, he took to Twitter and Facebook to catalog experiences involving his eight and ten-year-old sons.
He writes how one incident left his youngest in tears and unable to sleep after he was called the n-word and was played a shocking racist music track during an online gaming session – the incident overheard by his father.
He also described a moment when his eight-year-old told him he had been blocked from using a school toilet by a pupil who told him he was not welcome ‘because he was black’.
He said he did not believe the incidents, reported to the school at the time earlier this year, resulted in disciplinary action against any children involved.
He pressed for all schools to treat reports of hate language of this sort on a par with any other kind of serious behavior – or risk silencing children who grow up believing that speaking out will get them nowhere.
Tru, a Black Lives Matter campaigner, and entrepreneur said every school should be anti-racist, not merely by producing an equality policy, but by adopting a positive anti-racist stance that permeates school life, including recruitment.
“Some teachers adultify black children and struggle to see them as victims, therefore their trauma and experiences are not treated like that of a child’.
He also believes a lack of black or Asian teaching staff in a diverse school is a warning sign about its commitment to equality – referring to a primary school where half the children were Black or Asian but all of the teaching staff were white. He alleges that when he raised this in school it was highlighted that the school had a black cook.
What is Black Lives Matter?
Founded in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of shooting and killing Trayvon Martin on the grounds of self-defense, Black Lives Matter has spent years protesting and demonstrating against racism and inequality.
Although it has origins in the US, Black Lives Matter has become an international movement with supporters across the world holding protests and demonstrations in a variety of countries including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Powell said he was moved to speak up following Stephen Lawrence Day, marking the anniversary of the racist murder of the London schoolboy on April 22, 1993.
In a recent survey by the YMCA, published in October 2020, 95% of young black children said they had witnessed racist language at school. Almost half (49%) said they believed racism was the biggest barrier to academic attainment.
Seven out of 10 young black people in the UK have also felt under pressure to change their hair in order to appear more professional in school or at work, according to the research by YMCA among young people of black and mixed ethnicity.
Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England & Wales, said: “It is shameful that young Black people growing up in the UK continue to do so within a society that engulfs them with racist language and discriminatory attitudes.
“For too long we have allowed systems to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to what has been taking place right in front of our faces.
“Bias and barriers chip away at and ultimately shape the life experiences of young Black people in the UK, putting them at a significant disadvantage.
“To improve the lives and experiences of young Black people in a meaningful way, systems embedded within institutions must be reviewed and changed.”
Experiences like those cited by Mr. Powell are sadly not rare, said Kadi Wilson, who helped set up the support group for black parents in Birmingham.
Kadi, who has two children and fosters two more, together aged 11 months to ten years, said the group grew out of conversations between black parents worried that their sons especially were getting a raw deal.
“It is a solution focussed group – we share experiences but we want positive action to result,” Kadi said.
“Many parents relay examples of their children as young as seven being called the n-word by other kids, and there is a sense that some teachers do not fully appreciate the traumatic impact of such a toxic word on children and families.
“Things have improved in many ways in education, but this is still the kind of language used at primary age. It is baffling that children are learning these words at such a young age.”
The group, set up two weeks ago, was concerned with the impact of youth violence in the city.
“We circulated a link to urged parents to come together and talk about the issues facing our children and young people to try to find some solutions to bring about change,” said Kadi.
Teachers, social workers, youth workers, health workers, and independent business entrepreneurs from all walks of life are among the group, who are now drawing up plans to set up a Saturday school and mentorship program.
Anyone wanting to join the group, or who is interested in discussing funding or sponsorship opportunities, can contact Kadi by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Said Kadi: “We see that black boys are unfairly portrayed as being linked to gang culture, higher rates of expulsion, higher rates of stop and search, and there is a general bias against them. This affects how children are perceived and that shapes how they feel about themselves.
“Someone like Tru has a platform to share his concerns about his own children’s experiences but we hear from other parents that their children are going through the same thing.
“We have children aged seven and eight being called the n-word still. It is getting better but this is the type of language some children are using at primary schools.
“It is traumatizing for the children and distressing for parents, yet it sometimes feels to parents that schools are not attentive to that trauma and expect children to brush it off. It is not enough.”
She said parents were also keen to ensure black children were supported in understanding their heritage, to be proud of being black, and to see people looking like them in positions of influence.
Black History Month was a welcome addition to the school curriculum, but should be part of history teaching all year round, she said.
“We do not teach black history in schools beyond slavery and the civil rights movement, we do not celebrate black mentors and high achievers as much as we should, and that all adds to how black children see themselves.
“A Saturday school would help address this gap.”
She also supported calls for more black teachers in schools with black children. “There is clear evidence that representation matters and makes a real, positive difference,” she said.
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