I’m well aware that wading in to this debate means I may need to head for the hills after pressing the publish button.
If you haven’t been on Twitter recently because you are that rare breed of teacher who actually switches off during the summer holidays, or indeed, traverses an entire career without feeling the need to add a personal commentary, then you will need a break down of the latest Twitterstorm. To save all of us some time, I’m going to personal commentary my way through the steps because why not?
1. It starts innocuously enough with @RogersHistory creating a list of Twitter educators to follow.
Classic mistake. You’re never going to please everyone, especially when your list is inevitably limited by your own networks and personal interactions. The anatomy of a list is complex and dictated by personal values and beliefs. The problem comes when someone is deemed to be of especial standing within the Twitter community; this may be determined by number of followers, frequency of tweeting, edu-appearances at conferences and frequency of banter. Here it seems that with great tweeting comes great responsibility – ergo (no, I can’t believe I am ergoing either) they have to make a conscious effort to include people of colour.
2. Someone notices that there are few BAME educators on the list
This is undeniably true. While it would be lovely if everyone in the Twitter education community could make a concerted effort to amplify the extremely impressive voices of BAME educators, we are not in that place yet. I can see that arguments like this may go some way in making people more conscious of the need to expand their personal networks. Or they might not. Either way, while it might appear to be a social responsibility to be inclusive, you cannot force someone to do that. Moreover, you can’t shame them into doing so.
As much as it’s entirely reductive to move this argument into the realm of numbers, but let’s look at stats. I believe there are 118 slots on Tom’s list. Of the 118, there are 6 identifiable people of colour. That’s 5%. If the stats on BAME nationally indicate a 13% population, then yes, Tom’s list is sub-optimal. I would like there to be more BAME people recognised, but I also know that this isn’t an objective list based on a universal knowledge of educators. It’s Tom’s list, based on the spectrum of his awareness.
3. People on the list and various others thank him for the list.
Well this is nice for them and I’m pleased they are getting some recognition. They seem to have been caught up in a kerfuffle not of their own making. Cue awkward thanks and a tactical ignoring of the debate, in most cases. Incidentally, that’s a dignified way to respond. Some might say they could get involved by suggesting someone they admire who may be BAME, but to be honest, they are just enjoying their holiday and didn’t know they would be at the centre of some sort of angry vortex.
4. A debate begins as to whether Tom should have included more BAME folk. Some people say that he should and some people say they don’t see why because he hasn’t included the tardigrades left on the moon recently.
Polarised debate is futile. Debates based on inclusion, race and diversity are problematic because they inevitably tap into hurt. Hurt because a belief has been challenged, and often proxy-hurt for a person that is being challenged on something they have done unintentionally. When people respond from a place of hurt, defensiveness ensues. It is never helped by cheerleaders who say, yeah, I think he should have included more left handed people, or people from Bolton because they never get recognised. That’s ignorant. It is ignorant of the narratives around race and exclusion. If you ever feel the need to make a joke about how more people with third nipples should have been included, just don’t.
5. The words ‘white supremacist’ are uttered and things start to get uncomfortable.
This is where it all goes to hell. If someone is called a white supremacist and they don’t believe themselves to be one, that’s going to sting. After all, they believe they would never behave in a way that could be construed as racist – meaning they would never punch someone in the face because of their race, or consciously discriminate against someone because they wear a burka.
However, I’m not going to stand on a bucket and shout “white fragility!”at them. Why not? Because not everyone in this debate has enough understanding of those two terms to debate them with any kind of sensitivity and nuance. People hear ‘white supremacy’ and see KKK hoods and violence. They don’t see the sociological aspects of the term because they may not have studied it, or discussed the structural aspects of it. It’s a blunt instrument to those who are not fortunate enough to have engaged in the detail. They don’t engage in the conversation enough to understand unconscious bias, and their own role in perpetuating that.
This might make me sound like the suffragist element of the inclusivity movement here, if you forgive the cross-metaphor. However, I’m not claiming that softly softly is better, I’m pointing out that the duty of educators is to educate, and that might mean explaining in more useful terms what a list that is BAME light might imply. Language matters. When you wield it like a weapon, don’t be surprised if people arm themselves and/or run away. The term forces people into a corner. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to come back from that.
6. Some people start compiling lists of BAME educators in an attempt to balance things round.
Thank you, folks. Carry on. Good job.
7. Some people insist that this is identity politics and that the only people complaining are ones who were left off the list.
I’m eye-rolling. What are you adding to the debate here? BAME people and advocates are not sitting at home waiting to be put on someone’s list. They are not saying ‘mate, put me on your list. It would make week 4 of my holiday 100% more palatable’. That’s not the point of this whole argument. The upset is caused by a genuine belief that BAME educators have been left off the list. Don’t make it personal.
Those who claim this is all identity politics, well, yes it is. That is also a nuanced debate and can’t be had during a shouting match held entirely in tweets. It’s also a massively unhelpful and unproductive addition because it doesn’t challenge thought or give people the inclination to ask questions.
8. The flame is reignited every time someone notices the argument and there is upset all round.
Stop fuelling the fire. That means I should probably stop too. Mostly because I’ve written this on a very long car journey to St Austell, much to the chagrin of the driver. We are here now.
Can we all shake hands now and go back to hating on people who are decorating their classrooms in the summer holidays?