Race in Schools – Why Being a White Ally isn't Enough


This blog comes from racial equity consultant, trainer and founder of MA Education Consultancy, Dr Muna Abdi.

What I have found over the last few months; in the wake of the George Floyd murder and BLM campaigns, is a surge in organisations wanting to ‘have the conversation’, about allyship.
There seems to be a willingness now to ‘hear out’ black people’s experiences and ‘do better’ to support them, and this is great, but it is only a fraction of the work that needs to be done.
For structural and systemic change to happen, white colleagues and institutional leads need to carry the burden of racism. They need to openly and honestly unpack what it means to be white, to have white privilege, to work within a system of whiteness. For white people to truly do antiracist work and to be effective allies, they have to look at their own encounters with the system.
Racism is not a black problem, but more often than not it is PoC who carry the burden of both enduring systems of oppression and trying to educate those that actively benefit from these systems.  Antiracism work cannot and should not be the sole responsibility of PoC, this work requires active allies to work in solidarity with us and to carry this burden of responsibility. A black person should not have to tell you of your own privileges.
Allyship is a lifelong process and a commitment to building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability. It is not self-defined work and efforts must be recognised by those you are seeking to ally with.
Just as antiracism is a verb, allyship is too. It is dependent not on who we are but on what we choose to do, in every space and in every interaction. Someone who is committed to doing anti-racist work cannot guarantee that they will always make antiracist choices in the spaces and interactions they find themselves in. This is a human endeavour, we all fall in this work, we make mistakes and at times may be complicit in systems that oppress others. This is why the work requires a willingness to own our mistakes, to de-centre ourselves and resolve to change our actions, as many times as necessary… This work is never complete, as we learn more, the onus falls on us to do better.
A white ally MUST also be an antiracist. They have the responsibility of not only unpacking their own whiteness and privilege to dismantle systems designed to give them advantage, but to also actively support and co-conspire with those whom the systems work against. This isn’t about doing navel gazing work. It is about understanding how racist systems have been designed to hold you and I apart. I cannot display my trauma for you in order for you to see the impact of racism, because if you have no awareness of your own positioning, you will only look at me through racist eyes.
One of the most common mistakes white allies make is to fall back into the habit of centring privileged perspectives. An example of this may be a PoC sharing an experience of racism in the workplace that you cannot as an ally, through your lived experience, recognise.
If you then seek to use motivated reasoning to offer other ways to interpret an encounter (e.g. perhaps he didn’t mean it like…etc.), however well-meaning this may be, it often results in gas lighting the PoC, invalidating their experience and centring a privileged perspective . Take a moment to think about whether you have ever done to this a colleague… or perhaps to a student. Without a constant awareness of the traits of White fragility, these habits will continue to re-emerge.
The key to doing meaningful antiracist and allyship work well is to constantly be in a state of learning, to EXPECT discomfort, to LISTEN, to REFLECT and to ACT. There is no Allyship without action.
Here are some tips/suggestions to help you start and stay the course:
1) Join an antiracist reading group that consists of both PoC and White people- have those conversations together in a way that is guided. (Note that power dynamics are still at play in these spaces, so there are some principles to consider- see my blog on White privilege)
2) Do the work. Try not to request reading lists, resources, guidance etc from PoC and expect it for free. This is labour (even/ especially if it is from lived experience) and takes time and energy. Reflect on how this is a practice of entitlement and privilege.
3) Actively listen. Deeply and actively listen when people share their experiences and fight the urge to offer solutions or offer unwarranted help.
4) Don’t wait for the right time to act. It is a privilege to make this choice. Time and need for allyship will be apparent without you searching for it. Those moments are not artificial… and in those moments you WILL have a choice to make, whether you feel ready or not.
5) Work through and with your discomfort, no matter what, SHOW UP… remember that trust, consistency and accountability are the things you have promised to those you have commited to ally with.

Through the Black Lives Matter Movement racial equality and social justice have now been firmly placed back on the agenda and schools must be at the forefront as agents for change.
Black children and black teachers need to know that in the UK education system their lives really do matter and see this evidenced as part of their lived daily reality. Headteachers and Senior School Leaders have a key role to play in making this happen.
Together, you shape the culture, the vision, the ethos for your school. Together, you determine in practice what racial equality and social justice look like. And together, you must decide the leadership that is needed for these times.
This is a courageous path that you will have to travel, because it will require you to explore issues of identity and integrity and what they truly mean in the context of your own school settings. It will require you to have difficult conversations and face uncomfortable truths.
Yet it is these sorts of conversations which truly define leadership and are fundamental to growth and positive change. What’s more, it’s only by leaning into the uncomfortable spaces and finding with help and support that something new, something better can be brought to life.
That’s why we have now developed our new ‘Race, identity and School Leadership’ Programme to provide a safe spaces for reflection and discussion for School Leaders to explore the implications of recent events and begin to unpick implications for themselves and their schools.
The programme will provide spaces for School Leaders to explore:
– Identify key principles of racial equality and social justice and what best practice looks like in individual school contexts
– Question and reflect on the prevailing narratives that have shaped the discourse on race, identity, education and the achievement of Black pupils
– Use a narrative enquiry framework to identify how to create personal and organisational narratives that support the achievement of Black pupils
– Equip Senior School Leaders with the  necessary psychological and emotional tools for engaging in difficult conversations about race
– Increase leaders own sense of personal agency and ability to act as an agent of change

Find out More


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