Tagged: race

Don’t Tuck In Your Labels

I am the woman that always has a clothes label sticking out somewhere.  In any given day, some kindly person will reach behind me and tuck it in.  And I, without fail, will apologise for that label and the fact that someone had to decide what to do with me.

You see, clothes labels are really useful things.  They tell you what to do with the item.  How to take care of it – how to fix the item if it is damaged in some way.  It stays there as a reminder that the item needs to be nurtured.  Lots of us become irritated by them – how many times have we cut the label out because we can’t forget it is there – perhaps it’s rubbing against our skin, making us feel uncomfortable.  I do it all the time with the vain hope that people will not have to fix me up and make me presentable.

I have made many jokes over the years at various conference about winning the competition on how many labels I have.  We categorise people in so many different ways and I have seen it as a laughing matter.  So when I was thinking about my labels, I decided to create a pie chart of the make up of me.  Mostly just in case my Maths teacher is watching – my Maths GCSE started with 30 mins of me panicking because I had forgotten how to draw a pie chart.  

So if you want to see what my clothes label says – this is me.  


Pie Chart of Me copy

It took a long time to decide how much of me I could allocate to the different labels.  I am a woman.  Quite considerably so, according the number here.  I am also equally Asian.  It gets harder when I have to decide just how much of me is on the LBGT spectrum.  I define as bisexual and have been in a relationship with a woman for a long time.  All of these categories I have become comfortable with – while I know they present me with challenges, I have spent my life getting to know them.

I have come to know myself as a Gryffindor too.  This is not in jest.  I will not have anyone disagree.  I’ve taken the test.

It is my last label that is more recent and perhaps the one I struggle with the most.  I learned not long ago that I have hearing loss in both ears and it is more pronounced in my left ear.  I will be wearing a hearing aid soon to help me function in loud spaces, to help me understand what people are saying when I can’t see their faces.

I mean, I know I’m a woman and can’t lift heavy things or be in charge of a boardroom.  I know that I am Asian and therefore should probably be teaching Science and not English.  I know that I am bisexual and this means I am greedy/just not willing to admit I am gay.  

But I was not prepared to be disabled, albeit in a small way.  In some ways I have to confront here my own misgivings about having a hearing impairment in a profession that is built on listening to children in order to teach them.  I sat in a car park and cried.  Because this female, Asian, bi person didn’t want another label – especially one that could literally mean people think I cannot do my job.  How many glass ceilings for me?

It has taken time to adjust to it.  It chafed.  I could feel it rubbing.  But I have left it there because it gives people another way to know me.

Some people will say: if we take away all labels, we can just be people.  I absolutely agree.  I want to be able to teach without any of those.  At the risk of sounding like a below the line Daily Mail commentator, stop going on about your labels – it creates the victim complex.  It’s not important to the way you teach, so just shut up and get on with it.  Identity politics creates resentment. I resent you and your labels.

I don’t think any of us walk around with our labels on our sleeves.  If teaching is a profession in which your authentic self is required for children and adults alike to connect and know you, if it a profession in which people are the centre then I do not want to lie, either overtly or by omission.  

The average 18-44 year old lies twice a day.  I am sure that you are sitting there thinking – well that’s low.  I can smash that statistic by 9am in the morning on any given school day.  But the lies I tell because I have to are now starting to grate.  

There are things I can’t say, choose not to say, places I won’t ever visit with my partner – and it is exhausting making  all of those decisions about who I can be when I am simultaneously juggling the demands of the curriculum, behaviour, marking, meetings, paperwork.  Wouldn’t it just be easier for me and more real for the students if I didn’t have to think about my pronouns so carefully?  Or worry about who is going to see me with my partner in the local area?  

authentic copy

I spoke recently about the curriculum and how having diverse voices delivering content doesn’t take away from what we teach our students – when we teach the Ramayana or about Malian women’s contributions to local industry, we are not saying do not teach about Wordsworth or Dickens.  Perhaps as a female, Asian, bisexual, disabled Gryffindor, I can enrich rather than detract.  Hiring me, allowing me to be free within a role, means a better education.  Not because I am better.  But because I can bring my knowledge and still teach yours really quite well.  There is enough oxygen for all of our stories, told with pride. Authenticity in teachers allows students to understand humanity in all of its guises.  We actively prevent learning when we lie, when we omit.  

complicit copy

I have seen this quotation many times and it occurs to me that I no longer see it as being about other people.  I see it as being about myself and about all of us that walk in different shoes.  My silence about about me is collusion.  I am colluding with the oppressor.  It is unjust that I should be quiet, tuck in my labels to make everyone else feel comfortable, staff, students, parents alike.  In remaining silent and not celebrating or sharing all of me as I am, I am complicit.  

How can any of these things happen when we are silent?

social justice copy

I am not asking anyone to stand up and shout from the rooftops about their sexuality, disability, gender or heritage.  But I am asking you to stand, metaphorically speaking.  And speak about your truths without fear.  And perhaps, when you feel brave enough because you have a room full of people willing to support you – to act, in the way that makes you feel that you are authentic.

So, if you see me again and my labels are sticking out.  Maybe don’t tuck them in.

Closing keynote: Diverse Educators Conference, 6th January 2018 

clothes label


Why Did You Come Into Teaching?

In 1848 a religious advice pamphlet observed: “Some boys laugh at poor cripples when they see them in the street. Sometimes we meet a man with only one eye, or one arm, or one leg, or who has a humpback. How ought we to feel when we see them? We ought to pity them.”

Historic England, The Daily Life of Disabled People in Victorian England

Why did you come into teaching?  I’m guessing this is a question that teachers across the country will be asking themselves whilst clutching at the last of the Christmas chocolates and knocking back the last of the Christmas wine.  Indeed, I’m sitting here, eyeing the half-completed pile of marking, making optimistic plans to eat less and exercise more, regretting that last tub of Heroes and wondering where the hell my school shoes are – and I know this week, I will ask myself that question at 5.45 every morning…and possibly for the next three months at least.  I have a sneaking suspicion that I will be less and less grateful to be employed as the week wears on.

But it is an important question.  When we rock up to the university/training training programme, new folder and notepaper in hand, ready to learn about Vygotsky and Freire, we have all chosen to do so in the knowledge that the old adage about teaching is just not true.  At least I hope we realise that ‘if you can’t, teach’ is an insidious misrepresentation of the worst kind.  Some of us absolutely love our subjects and want to be employed using the knowledge we have gained in our education.  Some of us do it because teaching is a craft to be mastered. Some of us because it is the least altruistic profession, in the same way giving a birthday gift might not really about the joy of giving to another person; it is simply the desire to feel that warm glow that says ‘I’m a good person’.  To borrow a phrase I am rapidly coming to dislike, teaching might be for some folk a Jedi-level ‘virtue signal’.

So why do I do it?

I was once fresh-faced and enthusiastic, I thought I wanted to teach because I loved my subject and I wanted others to love it too.  But it turns out that wasn’t entirely it.  So here it is, on a blustery Sunday evening. The reason why I do it.

When I started teaching, I was given a Year 7 English class.  They were also my tutor group.  In that entirely mixed ability class, I met Vikesh* and I realised that I had absolutely no understanding as to how to teach him anything.  Vikesh had been born with microcephaly; alongside having a distinctively small cranial cavity, he had the cognitive ability of a six year old boy.  On top of that, he didn’t speak English.  It was a lucky coincidence that we spoke the same home language and Vikesh didn’t judge me for having a six year old’s linguistic ability in Gujerati. I panicked. I became frustrated.  What was I supposed to do with this boy?  I had thirty other students and I wanted to teach.  I couldn’t because he couldn’t learn like the others.

You’ll be reading this thinking that he should have been in a special school.  I agree.  But he wasn’t.  He was there, with me in that classroom and I had to do something.  My LSA – one of the best people I have ever met – embarked on a programme that meant that he would have some meaningful education.  We learned letters.  We learned sounds.  We learned verbal communication.  We played cricket in the aisle of the classroom when he achieved something small.  The other students didn’t get any less of my time.  It’s just that Vikesh got me in the blank spaces in my lesson when the others were scribbling away furiously.  It as the most tired I had ever been in my life but I was finding something.  In the midst of the madness of learning how to teach, I learned why I teach.

Because Vikesh – like so many students with additional needs – didn’t choose to be there.  Society put him there. There was no provision for a child of his needs within a reasonable distance from his home and his parents knew he had to learn to be around people.  I’m pretty certain that as much as he learned the basics, the children around him learned just as much about humanity and acceptance.  He wasn’t to be pitied.  He was a member of our community.  And just like society is legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to be compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act, I was obliged to make reasonable adjustments to my teaching.  The discussion about what constitutes ‘reasonable adjustment’ is a valid one and it needs to be had.  But exclusion on the grounds of special education need is much more problematic.

When we separate the act of teaching from its intended or unintended effects, we ignore that fact that whether we like it or not – for whatever reason we came into teaching in the first place – we change someone’s world.  And we can either show the love and acceptance that comes with that, or we can move people into boxes.  To teach is to change someone’s world, in a million ways, in a million moments.

If I believed that Vikesh should have been in a special school, or that Jenn* (blind, autistic, impaired mobility) or Henry* (a descendant of Dickens with Aspergers) should have a school for themselves, I would worry about the line.  Where is the line in separating out students with additional needs?  Who stays in a mainstream school?  Vikesh is an extreme case, but if we start to categorise who we can and can’t teach, that way trouble lies.

This brings me to the other reason.  The fundamental belief that teachers, not politicians, are the engineers of society they want to live in.  I don’t want to live in a society that places people in neat little boxes so that I can get on with it.  By believing that teaching is more that a knowledge-delivery system, we subscribe to William Temple‘s school of thought:

‘Are you going to treat a man as he is or as he might be? Morality requires that you should treat him as he might be, as he has it in him to become…Raising what he is to what he might be is the work of education.’

As I put in the years at inner-city schools, I came to know that exclusion in any form is wrong – either in segregation according to educational need or as a method of managing behaviour. And the statistics on exclusion and SEN make for horrible reading.  The brilliant and well-informed blog, Ed Yourself, points out:

The single biggest reason for permanent exclusion from school is “persistent disruptive behaviour” and two thirds of pupils who are permanently excluded have some degree of special educational needs, with 1 in 10 having a statement.

Let’s throw race into the mix just to see what happens when we start to see children as categories and not people…

Combine some of the greatest risk-factors for exclusion and you have this: a black boy, with SEN and claiming free school meals is 168 times more likely to be permanently excluded than a white girl with no additional needs, who does not claim free school meals (Institute of Race Relations).

Add to that the fact that exclusions are on the rise in academies and free schools due to a lack of legislative clarity on the mandate to use alternative provision in educational establishments that are guided by their funding agreement and not the Education Act – we have a bigger problem than we think in how we deal with students who do not fit the ideal.

Add that to the study that outlines the correlation between permanent exclusion and crime and you have a problem that exists not in the classroom, disrupting your teaching of a poetry anthology, but in your streets, in your prisons, in your morgues.

I don’t have the answers to the challenges of teaching students with all sorts of different needs because I don’t think there are any hard and fast answers.  What I do know is that these children – the dyslexic, the dyspraxic, the rich, the poor, the able and not so able – are in our care.  And we have a duty to make sure that we make reasonable adjustments to ensure that they achieve their potential.  Because that is what changes worlds.

When I get up tomorrow, as hard as it might be to prop my eyelids open with the burnt-oust matchsticks of a great Christmas, I will remember that my job is to teach. And that ‘teaching’ means more that being in the room, delivering content.

Speak to me in a week and you may find less fighting spirit in me, but for now, before I go and find those shoes, this is it.





Are We Wiping Away Identities? Schools, Integration and Britishness

I haven’t been to a Diwali Festival since I was very young.  I grew up in Leicester, the daughter of a goldsmith who plied his trade on what is still known as The Golden Mile and every year, the Diwali lights would be switched on along that mile.  We would close up the shop once it was dark and weave through the crowds, eating street food and seeing familiar faces. It was a riot of colour with blue, red, yellow, orange light bulbs lining the road as far as the eye could see. For a moment, standing in Trafalgar Square this afternoon at the Diwali Festival, I closed my eyes and I could have been right there – with the same the music and the same dancing –  with my family celebrating a festival that is fundamentally about the triumph of good over evil.

I will admit that one of the standing jokes about me whenever I mention my heritage is: “Are you Asian?”  The joke stems from the fact that I have, over the years, become a not-very-Asian Asian.  I haven’t set foot in a temple since my early childhood, I haven’t learned to write my home language, I haven’t kept up with developing my Gujarati language skills.  I can’t really tell you the meaning of feast days or fast days.  I struggle to remember the stories of my childhood and my heritage.  I have made a life out of rejecting my own culture.

It is only now, at this age, that the real impact of this has hit home.  My grandfather passed away two weeks ago and I didn’t go the funeral.  While I know deep down there were many reasons for this, one reason stands out and points at me. I knew I would find it hard to communicate with people in the language they know and I don’t. I know today that one of the things that is most tragic about this wholesale movement away from my past is the growing gap between me and members of my family – particularly the older generation.  I have chosen at some point along the line to deny myself the language that would connect us.  In forgetting the words, I have forgotten them.  This is something I can now never rectify.

But it is a choice, right?  I chose to be this version of myself.  Why did I choose to be someone who is so far removed from my family in language, dress and stories? What made me move to a more pronounceable version of my name?  The question reminds me of a brilliant quote by the actress Uzoamaka Aduba who plays ‘Crazy Eyes’ in the Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black.  She recounts a conversation with her mother about her name

“So anyway, in grade school, because my last name started with an A, I was the first in roll call, and nobody ever knew how to pronounce it. So I went home and asked my mother if I could be called Zoe. I remember she was cooking, and in her Nigerian accent she said, “Why?” I said, “Nobody can pronounce it.” Without missing a beat, she said, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

The word ‘integration’ has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  My own family used it to describe what they did, arriving here in the 1970s, working, learning English, wearing western clothes.  All things they thought differentiated them from other refugees.  See, even we used the word to praise or punish, to segregate.  That’s how ingrained it was – this idea that to fit in, you had to slough off the things that made you you.  You had to wear borrowed robes.

This week, as part of BBC3’s series on racism in the UK and around the world, I heard the word used again and it stung.  A spokesperson for Britain First said that he didn’t mind the Hindus and the Sikhs, because they had integrated into British society.  He was, of course, referring to these groups in opposition to the Islamic community – one that he perceived to be a threat.  I heard it again when on social media, people applauded Nadiya Begum for being a fabulous model of a Muslim woman in Britain.  One that had integrated, despite wearing a headscarf.  Her headscarf, in fact, has become a national debate.  Can a Muslim woman truly ‘integrate’ while she is wearing one?

And it made me think about what it was that made me erase parts of my identity.  I wanted to integrate.  I wanted to be the person whom the rest of society considered to be ‘good’.  I made the teaching of English my job – and the question is there to be asked: did I do this out of an unconscious desire to present myself as the most English I could be?

I teach in schools where you will meet the most diverse, most multicultural students.  What messages are they getting about their identity?  When English teachers were told to teach Wordsworth instead of Poetry from Different Cultures, what messages did that send to teenagers?  I am responsible for instilling a sense of cultural capital.  Whose culture?  When we talk about Fundamental British Values, whose values?  When I heard a colleague saying once that the Year 10 girls can’t do that dance at Open Evening because the music is Afrobeats and that sends the ‘wrong message’ to prospective parents and then a week later, they’ve been replaced with a violinist, what is that?  When I was told that steel pans were being put away to be replaced by a string quartet, I knew what that meant.  It was too black for a school who wanted to attract a middle class and implicitly white child.

And who can blame a school for trying, right? It’s a market place and the increased commercialisation of education means that schools fight to attract what they perceive to be the most successful students.  That child who will drive up results in inner-city schools.  But in those anecdotes, I hear that’s a very specific type of child.

In there somewhere is a seed of shame.  It makes people of diverse backgrounds feel that their stories are somehow less valid.  It makes young Asian girls, who want to fit in, give up something that is a vitally important part of their fabric.  The colour and joy of Diwali lights in an October dusk.

The Minority Game: A BME Teacher’s Daily Life

I filled in a form recently that asked me for my ethnic background for the purposes of research; scanning the options, I was surprised that there were fewer options than I was used to seeing.  For the ‘Asian’ category, I had to choose between ‘Indian’, ‘Pakistani’, ‘Bangladeshi’ and ‘Other’.  Considering I approach most tasks as if they are a test I have to pass, I hovered over the boxes, thinking I could probably answer this seemingly innocuous question by a process of elimination.  Ten minutes later I switched off my laptop in what can only be described as a huff. I was extraordinarily put out that a simple form had triggered in me an entirely unexpected crisis in identity.

Many years ago, in my formative years, I settled on being an ‘ethnic minority’ and would have ticked the conveniently neutral and all-encompassing ‘British Asian’ box.  But this form, this meddlesome piece of foolishness, was only allowing me to define as three things I am not or as ‘Other’.  Anyone with an English degree will understand the connotations of the word ‘Other’ and even if you don’t have an English degree, you can probably work out that the concept of ‘the Other’ does not carry with it the warm and fuzzies.  I wish I had the time to outline the many reasons why using countries to define ethnicity is, at best, terribly naive, and at worst, downright lazy. Sociological discourse on race, culture and ethnicity deserves more time than I have ever given to it and Mr Ballard is far better equipped than I to explain here.

“Go on then, angry brown person,” I hear you say, whilst wondering whether it is socially acceptable to call me brown. “How do you define yourself?”   I would define as British East African Asian.  And clearly, there isn’t a box for that on said form.  And now, I’m no longer an ‘ethnic minority’.  I’m BME.

When did I become an acronym?  Does it carry with it any special privileges, like tea with the Queen? Do I get to put the letters after my name?

Anyway, the form was a minor inconvenience and eventually I conceded defeat and ticked the ‘Other’.  There was no room to define any further.  But it did make me realise how many times in my life, I am made to feel ‘Other’, even in the relatively liberal sector that is education.

The Lazy (and Irritating) Assumption

Let’s imagine it has been a long week at a new school.  Let’s also imagine that the nicest thing in the world, after a day of teaching in a non-air-conditioned room, would be going to the pub and having an ice-cold beer and you are waiting for someone, anyone to say the immortal phrase: “Swift half, Miss?” whilst make the universal gesture for drinking an alcoholic beverage.  In this scenario, if your skin tone could be euphemistically defined as ‘olive-hued’ or ‘like milky coffee’, you might have to face the fact that your new colleagues don’t know whether they should ask you to the local.  Because, in the entire Asian diaspora as far as I am aware, only one religion (and I italicise pointedly as religion is not the same as race) expressly forbids the consumption of alcohol.  But, you know, brown equals probably Muslim, right?  Because there’s no possibly that I could be any of the other Asian religions, right?

What I should do in this scenario is just politely explain that I am a lapsed Hindu who drinks and has tattoos, but then someone always asks you to explain Hare Krishnas (see below – Pointless: The Exotic Edition).  I can’t help with that, sorry.  I don’t get it either.  Add this to kids asking you whether you are the sister of the other Asian teacher, whether you require Halal or Kosher (I know!) meals and you might get what I mean about a world of confusion.

The Actually A Little Bit Racist Assumption

Staying with assumptions, even though I’m exhausted just explaining this to you, I’m not easily offended and the situation above – whilst being mildly irritating – is actually just people’s faltering attempt not to offend, so I get it and thank you for trying.  What I can’t be down with are assumptions that are based on stereotypes.

It’s never a good start when you walk into a school reception for a senior leadership interview and you are asked if you are the Science supply teacher, when the non-BME woman in front of you sails into the interview holding-pen after receiving what feels like a deferential bow.  Why do people a) assume I teach Science, Maths or ICT and b) present themselves as being impressed when I say I teach English?  I know there are a large number of medical professionals and Science, Maths and ICT teachers who are of the Asian persuasion, however, it could be construed that people believe the ability to educate young people about language and literature must be confined to the ethnically British.  This is when I usually want to point out that I come from a culture that spawned Indo-European languages. Language and literature are an intrinsic part of my culture.

But of course, I haven’t pointed it out in this scenario.  Not when students assume the same, not even when a new acquaintance actually says: “I would never have guessed that you were an English teacher.”  At the risk of sounding like a teenager: what does that even mean? Is it that I am not wearing dangy enough earrings?  Should I be carrying my dog-eared copy of Anna Karenina?

Pointless: The BME Edition and ‘Other’ Games

I am not, nor have I ever been, a nominated expert in all things ethnic.  There is a lot of crossover here with The Lazy (and Irritating) Assumption.  On a daily basis, I am asked questions about people from ethnic backgrounds, about Asian religions and culture that I genuinely can’t answer.  The fact that I can’t answer the questions does not stop the curious from asking, I have learned this from bitter experience. And the questions can be extraordinarily obscure.  What’s the name of that Asian woman, who did that thing?  How many sections does the the Indian Holy Text have?  What do Muslim women do when they (insert overly intimate detail here)? Who was that God who defeated that other God?  Why are your Gods blue? What are the rules about that subgroup of that Asian country eating that particular food?  

This the game I like to to call Pointless: The BME Edition and it’s a game I never win.  There is a lot of playing games as a BME educator – another one I like to to play is Odd One Out.  Try walking into a paid for training session on Ofsted, breathless and later than everyone else, and realising that NO ONE LOOKS LIKE ME.  And the only chair is in the middle of the room, wedged between people with too much stuff.  Incidentally, the Ofsted training has a lot in common with the last Ben Howard concert I went to.  Both overly long and dull, both provide opportunities for rounds of ‘Spot the BME Person’.

I am facing the distinct possibility that I have worn you out with what appears to be my jaded and sarcastic approach to being a BME teacher.  The truth is: I am worn out.  The fact that there are not that many Asian women in senior leadership in teaching means that the ones who are here have to work harder to build cultural, ethnic and racial understanding.  But we field a range of assumptions on a daily basis and it is wearying having to constantly explain your identity.

To avoid this just sounding like a rant built on frustration, I’d like to challenge you to consider your assumptions when you meet someone who could be defined as a BME teacher.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions about them, but know that they do not represent the whole BME experience.  Consider whether your questions and actions are loaded with assumptions about racial, cultural and ethnic identity.

It’s a small thing that makes a huge difference to someone’s daily experience.  And I’m thanking you in advance, in the way that teachers do.  Sorry about that.

Segregated Schools: Racism Starts Early

Is 2012 the year that racism makes its name?  It’s hard to ignore the fact that sports headlines have been less focused on, well, actual sport than the prejudicial antics of a few well known players.  Whatever our opinions of John Terry and Luis Suarez, it seems that racism is not dead.  The sad fact is that many school teachers could have told you this a long time ago.

In every school I’ve worked in, I have been startled and disappointed by the racial segregation that occurs on a daily basis in our canteens and playgrounds.  I’m not even talking about what David Levin, the vice-chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference commented on last year when he stated that society was “sleepwalking towards Johannesburg” as schools became monocultural institutions serving small and distinct communities.  Even in schools that cannot be designated as being populated by one particular racial group, the keen observer of teenagers will notice that they group together in factions of single cultures.  The Asian students will befriend the Asian students, the Turkish will remain with the Turkish, the White with the White and the Black with the Black.

This need for grouping along cultural or racial lines is not new either.  I remember attending a state comprehensive in Leicester and I am ashamed to admit that even though there were students from different backgrounds (very few, as it served a predominantly Asian area and therefore was made up of mostly Asian students), it did not occur to me to mix with those who were different to me.  That happened later.  Not at my sixth form college, mind you.  I still tell colleagues and friends of the mini-apartheid that existed at this institution.  In class, we mixed; in the canteen, one side was white, the other side brown and ne’er the twain did meet.  It was only at university that I discovered friends from different backgrounds and started to consider what integration and what cultural inter-mixing really meant.

While there have been very few incidents of open racism in the schools I have worked in, I cannot help but wonder what this means for a society that is again starting to realise that race and class are as divisive as they have always been.  This week, a fascinating TV documentary, Making Bradford British, will deal with the uncomfortable truth of our segregation.  Like in our schools, Bradford is a city that contains lots of different ethnic groups who, on the surface, accept each others’ presence, but make no effort to understand each other.  Our canteens are the starting line for this kind of social division.  It begins in teenage years and it extends throughout lives.

There is a distinct difference between physical proximity to other cultures and actually understanding them.  What is it that we need to do in schools to ensure that children grow up with an acute understanding of someone else’s religion, culture, race, background?  The simple answer to this is to make Religious Education a fundamental, almost sacrosanct, part of the curriculum.  I believe that this subject goes part of the way in addressing lack of basic knowledge about religion, but it does not necessarily deal with race and culture.  Learning about the 5Ks of Sikhism does not mean that people from different cultures truly understand each other.

The Guardian article on Making Bradford British cites a publican called Audrey.  Her statement – “I have lived in Bradford for more than 30 years and I have never been invited by an Asian to have Sunday lunch or a cup of tea,” – is hideously revealing.  Firstly because Sunday lunch or cups of tea are culturally specific to her and secondly because she inadvertently identifies the problem.  Our students are educated together, in seating plans that mean that they sit next to and work with other students from different cultures, but they don’t go round for dinner, or attend weddings together, or celebrate religious festivals together.  Many students’ cultural experience is made up a thin veneer of multiculturalism – easily peeled away when they no longer even have to sit next to that person because their life choices mean that they’ve segregated for good.

Is it too uncomfortable to point out to our students that this is the case?  Do we allow them to divide along racial lines because that is our own experience – the way it has always been and the way it will continue to be for generations to come?  It would take a brave soul to begin, in an educational context, to tackle what most are too afraid to admit.  Racism, for most of us, is something that footballers experience – it is Stephen Lawrence eighteen years ago, it is pictures from South Africa, or the American Deep South.  We don’t look at our playgrounds closely enough, because then we might see that racial misunderstanding and the perpetual mystery that surrounds ‘other’ cultures begins very early.