Black History Month is a lesson for everyone

Education Vice Convener Councillor Alison Dickie writes in today's Edinburgh Evening News about the need for change.

You could have heard a pin drop.  The young black man, there to tell his story, looked up from his speech notes and commented on the sea of white faces of the 63 councillors who sat before him.  ‘That doesn’t sit well with me’, he said.

I say it shouldn’t sit well with any of us!

At August’s Full Council meeting, young people from Intercultural Youth Scotland, came to share their experiences of racism in our schools, and to push for progress around support and representation for Black, African and Ethnic Minority (BAME) young people.  But you know that saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’?  Well, the snapshot he took of those white faces, is one message that needs to change.

October is Black History Month, and an opportunity to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of African, Asian and Caribbean individuals and communities here in our beautifully diverse Edinburgh. It’s also an opportunity to look with honest eyes at some of the issues, and to act so that BAME young people can feel equally valued, celebrated and included.

Earlier this week, we discussed the first of our ‘Promoting Equality’ reports at our Education, Children and Families Committee, and once again we enjoyed excellent contributions from the young people who came along to share their experiences. The report, which was unanimously approved by councillors, includes action to address the concerns raised by BAME young people in Edinburgh and I have asked for an update on progress to come back to us by the end of the year.

Our schools are driving equality already, from rights respecting accreditation and cultural proficiency training for staff to a pilot project at St John’s RC Primary School to engage with parents from minority faith groups.  This, and the overall aim of a culturally inclusive curriculum that seeks to embed the lived experience and histories of all of our communities. 

Look through those honest eyes though, and genuinely listen to our young people, and we know it’s not consistent and there’s much that needs to change.

Take another snapshot, this time of BAME representation across our school and youthwork staff, and the message is again not good.  Whilst 28% of our pupils come from ethnic minority backgrounds, only 2% of our teachers and 3.4% of our PSAs do, and there is one Community and Lifelong Learning Officer.  In response, a working group will now agree actions to grow the diversity of role models in our workforce.

Racism is addressed in the separate ‘Bullying and Prejudice’ report, and work is now underway to explore the high racist incidents recorded in comparison to other categories, as well as concerns about under-reporting. Partnership work with specialist agencies will also continue to empower young people to speak up about discrimination.

Wider concerns include lower wellbeing and attainment, and in addition to our wider Edinburgh Learns strategy, consideration of mandatory training and focussed evaluation will be taken forward to better support.

Core to all progress though is placing BAME young people with lived experience at the heart of all decision making.  Trust them to take the lead and shape the next snapshot.

Published: October 11th 2019