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Being Black in a British School Today

Being black is bold. Being black is powerful, but being black also makes you noticeable. Being black in a whitewashed world is often overbearing because you stand out in the crowd: all eyes are on you. 

Now that’s me examining and experiencing what it sometimes feels like to be black in wider society. In many situations as a black person you can find yourself in spaces where there are few of you in number. Not only are you reminded that you are a minority group in the UK, but you’re also forced to feel less important because you are often the minority within most institutions that you step into: all eyes are on you. 

Being black in a British school today 

Being black is pressure. Being black is feeling the need to defend yourself. Being black is learning how to protect yourself against potential challenges, but being black also makes you noticeable. I’m in school and I’m already carrying the overbearing pressure of being black in a whitewashed world. Now I’m in a space where people have the ability to judge me from the way I look, dress, speak, walk, laugh, frown, before making a decision on “what type of black person” I could be. 

My teachers and peers have already figured me out in their own way, but at least they have conversed with me and had the time to change certain stereotypes they had of me. The same can’t be said for the school-based police officer. To an officer, there is a chance that I’m not who I say I am. I am their institutionalised perspective. I am a statistic. I am a black person that fits the description of…a suspect? 

That additional pressure is overwhelming. It is a deeply frustrating feeling like you are already criminalised without even committing a ‘crime’. That is a burden that some students of colour feel in a British school today. 

Since working on the ‘No Police in Schools’ campaign with Kids of Colour. I’ve read and heard too many stories of young black kids coming into contact with police officers in school and the general peak in anxiety that they have sharing that space with an officer. Having attended a school with a police officer, I can only resonate with most of the experiences that young people have gone through. You don’t even necessarily have to have actual engagement or contact with a school-based police officer (SBPO) to feel uncomfortable. The presence and knowledge of them being around is enough to send your emotions through the roof. Yes it may sound dramatic to some, but words cannot express how real that feeling of uncertainty and unease is.

Why should we be resisting? 

Policing was a systematic response by the British colonial administrators when they were faced with armed insurrection from countries they wanted to conquer and rule. The policing that we have today is only a manifestation of colonial policing however it still serves the very similar purpose that it once did during the 1800s. Policing as we know it today still has the power to control, segregate and dehumanize anyone that does not fit the default (that default being a white British person from a ‘traditional’ nuclear family home). 

With the knowledge that the origins of policing stemmed from oppressing people of colour, it should encourage people to see the flaws that exist within policing, especially as the actions and intentions of the police are very much similar to those during colonialism. Very simply, people should resist having police in schools because it does not provide a safe and welcoming space for both kids of colour and students from working class backgrounds, needless to say the combination of both – a working class person of colour – because we continue to be subject to oppressive policing tactics.

Ambitions for Education 

The No Police in Schools campaign is the start of the resistance but what will really drive this campaign forward is the community and schools knowing that they have the power to say no and resist implementations. Thus far, Greater Manchester Police stated that officers will not be imposed upon schools, it will be a choice. This has left the campaign encouraged to spread this information across schools and the community to join efforts in refusing to have police officers brought into their local schools. 

School should be a place of learning and growing. Young people should feel that they have a safe space to explore and better themselves mentally, physically, socially and emotionally. School should be a space where young people that may already face challenges within their society can safely detach and not have to worry about being under surveillance.

An ambitious education would be schools using alternative agencies to support their students rather than turning to police to do the job of a counsellor, therapist, teacher or mentor. Regardless of what name a SBPO bears (police have discussed whether changing the name would be a good compromise), or what costume they wear, a police officer will always be a police officer and their job is to police ‘crime’.

Let kids be kids and invest in people that make it their life’s work to support and guide those that need it. Stop funding the police to be quasi members of staff in schools.

By Project Officer Lisa, Kids of Colour

About the authors

“Kids of Colour was founded in 2018 and became a community interest company in 2019. We work to inform society on the diverse experiences belonging to young people of colour and challenge the racialised, dehumanising narratives that uphold negative stereotypes. We create spaces for young people of colour to come together and explore race, identity and culture and support them to challenge the racism they face.

We also create opportunities for the public to learn from young people, encouraging young and adult allies to reflect on the individual and systemic changes needed in society that they must be a part of implementing. Keep an eye on our social media for upcoming events and workshops.”

You can find out more about how you can get involved with Kids of Colour via their website.

Learn more about the No Police in Schools Campaign led by Kids of Colour and the Northern Police Monitoring Project

You can also contact Kids of Colour via:

With thanks to Lisa, Roxy and all at Kids of Colour for their work on this piece.

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