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Imagine for a minute. You live in a world where your school, the media, the news, films, and general information you received about the world showed what the renowned Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls ‘a single story’. That when you did see or hear about people that looked like you or shared your cultural and historical background it was depicted in a negative context or as inferior – what would the impact be?
Self-esteem is directly linked to the associations you make with who you are and the world around you. In the White Doll Black Doll experiment, children as young as five associated being bad with being black, showing the impact of misrepresentation and negative associations at a young age.
School is a microcosm of the world we live in. Approximately 13% of the UK population is from an ethnic minority background. The curriculum creates a picture in a child’s head as to how the world works and gives them the skills and tools they need to operate in that world. If you had to fix a water pipe but you didn’t have a wrench, you would be missing a key tool to do the job. That is what happens when all parts of all humanity are not represented in the curriculum.
Accurate representation isn’t just a problem for race. For example, half the population identifies as female, and gender stereotypes on screen can have a similar negative impact on girls and boys in how they perceive their roles in the world.
Representation can simply mean presenting the facts and painting an accurate picture of the diversity of people involved in historical events.
We can compare the stories of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. Mary was born in Jamaica in 1805, she travelled at her own expense to the battlefields during the Crimean War (1853-6) and nursed sick and wounded British troops. She was awarded four medals for her work and she died in London in 1881. But does her name and image conjure as easily to the mind as Florence Nightingale?
Another example is the Second World War, where there were over 8,000 servicemen and women from the Caribbean. Thousands of volunteers from West Africa and the Caribbean joined the Royal Air Force. In total, over 200,000 people from Britain’s colonies lost their lives.
It is not only young people of African and Caribbean heritage who suffer from not learning about black history. If all young people learn about the cultural identity of their peers they can begin to challenge racist stereotypes and build social cohesion.
The Black Curriculum is a social enterprise aiming to provide a sense of belonging and identity to young people across the UK. They provide resources and run workshops for children and teachers to learn about black British history. They believe that by teaching full and accurate histories we will tackle racism and discrimination in the future, giving the children of today the knowledge and tools they need to engage with people from diverse cultures. This blog post was written by Aishnine Benjamin, Educator with The Black Curriculum.