This series is a platform for black authors to share personal accounts about their life experiences in research and academia, as well as reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement, the current state of affairs and where we go from here.
This is the second part of the blog 'Sankofa– learning from the past for a better future' by Dr Judith Bruce-Golding. Dr Bruce-Golding has a background in working across all educational key stages, including mainstream and secondary special education, mainly with excluded children and young people and disabled students.
You can read the first part of the blog here.
As a teacher with an IT background, I can see how powerful social media has become. The filming of some events does not need any commentary to make sense of what is going on. After watching the distressing filming of George Floyd's death, I saw the deep structural foundations and the power dynamics of racism in clear daylight. Seeing the Black Lives Matter movement and its global impact has been inspiring and empowering with people from all backgrounds coming out to call for change and more importantly action. Although this has been wonderful and unifying to see, the next stage would be about the practical application of understanding how and why these deep structural and destructive organisational practices continue to be present in the modern-day. I think this is where the real challenge lies, and as an educator, encouraging dialogue about past and current experiences, and future research about what the new normal should look like would be a valuable opportunity for all educators and researchers to pursue at this time. In the 1950s Clennan King was jailed and admitted to an asylum for two weeks when he went to sign on to the University of Mississippi Graduate Programme. Two physicians concluded that insanity was at the heart of his condition in thinking that a black man could apply to this university. His brother, who was a civil rights lawyer secured his release two weeks later. However, this did not deter Clennan for wanting to change the white supremacist structures. He went on to become the first black man to run for the US presidency. Clennan experienced an unsettled life journey, and his entanglement with the law system was a regular occurrence. This story is one man's experience, only 70 years ago. How many more black people have a similar story to tell and have suffered the effects of mental illness because of not being accepted and shown equal respect and treatment. When considering what change means, the uncovering and dismantling of the real issues need to be at the heart of the matter.
"...the next stage would be about the practical application of understanding how and why these deep structural and destructive organisational practices continue to be present in the modern-day."
Education should prepare young people for adulthood by allowing them to be socially, emotionally, and academically equipped to deal with life's challenges while enabling social mobility and personal growth. From my life journey, I understand that to experience and understand disadvantage can, in many cases, allow you to connect to the hardship of others. This connection can be valuable in identifying solutions and knowing the potential challenges that could face a person from a disadvantaged background in the education and work system. For those who have not experienced such disadvantage, it would be a strengthening endeavour to seek to understand the experiences and differences of others to make such connections and to support change. For now, I am learning to become my own champion, and I understand the importance of learning through mistakes in understanding myself and others. In remembering my parents, Clennan's journey and the influential work of many that have come before me, never giving up on change is crucial as I stand on their shoulders.
"From my life journey, I understand that to experience and understand disadvantage can, in many cases, allow you to connect to the hardship of others."
As a child born in England, I look at my own experience that is parallel to my parents, I would say that the racism is still the same, but different, maybe more refined, and the feelings experienced from racism are shared. My parents have been and will always be continued examples of inspiration and resilience. This time is a significant turning point in history. We see shocking examples of leadership which has been supported and endorsed within the media and institutions on which we rely. Unempathetic, authoritarian and disconnected leaders seem to be represented on the world stage, while on the ground level inequity and social disadvantage continue.
As a post-doctorate researcher and educator, I am excited about the future of research. Research that documents the human experience should result in the deepening of practice and understanding. I hope that more research will help us to understand the differences and experiences of others. Within the school system, I would expect that leading educational bodies take those steps in reviewing policies in parallel with what is happening in the classroom and society. Continued CPD training for Teachers focusing on their position (background, thoughts, and attitude towards race) could be away in acknowledging and keeping an account of removing negative bias from the classroom, which should be a safe space.
I see how vital it is to appreciate how precious our backgrounds are and how our placement in society can inform us on what is known and what needs to be understood to connect and support different communities. I would say that this time is a calling for researchers to continue to shine a spotlight on global, local and generational inequities that appear to be pre-determined for disadvantaged communities. My vocation is in education, and I will not stop asking those questions which may leave some feeling uncomfortable. Marginalised groups need to be seen, supported, and respected along with an end to concepts of colour-blindness. My ending thoughts bring me to how the dismantling of hundreds of years of destructive thinking practices and processes can be changed, and my answer is slowly and with much-needed patience with continued accountability along with a thorough and systematic approach.
Dr Judith Bruce-Golding is a postdoctoral researcher in Education and Leadership. She has a background in working across all educational key stages, including mainstream and secondary special education, mainly with excluded children and young people and disabled students. She completed her doctorate while working as the Lead ICT Teacher at a Pupil Referral Unit in England. Judith is a Youth Mental Health First Aid Trainer and has interests in Leadership and Education, Special Education and Psychology.