Exposing racism at elite schools

Racism infects all levels and areas of society. Our institutions, a lot more often than not, struggle with racism, whether it be overt or covert. As the world finally begins to take new steps towards acknowledging racism’s comfortability within the police force and judicial systems, it is time to start paying overdue attention to it within schools, the centre of a person’s formative and educational experience. But why is it that, compared to state schools, racism casually takes centre stage within elite schools? Why is racism in these schools so much more brazen and expected?

When speaking about elite schools, one’s mind associates the concept with private schools, boarding schools, and perhaps grammar schools. These types of schools are removed from the standard comprehensive school in their admission criteria. They either place importance on a child’s familial wealth or their personal intellect. These schools, and society, have created a narrative of ‘if you are more capable than your peers, or if your parents are wealthier than their peers, then you are worthy of a superior education’. 

With this educational superiority complex comes the societal superiority that we all experience in some form or another

However, with this educational superiority complex comes the societal superiority that we all experience in some form or another. The superiority creates a separation of individuals: this separation breeds discrimination, and discrimination mutates into bigotry.

There are many reasons for why racism is so shamelessly present in elite schools. The root of all of these reasons seems to be wealth disparities between white people and BAME people. The ethnicity pay gap in this country, and across the globe, is a contributing factor. Recently released government data shows that, in 2018, the average hourly wage for a white British employee was £11.90, while the average hourly wage for a black employee was £10.80. That’s a £1.10 difference. If these wages were applied to an eight-hour work day, it would be an £8.80 difference, which is an hour’s pay for some workers. 

The ethnicity pay gap contributes to making private education a less diverse arena than state-funded educational institutions

If white people are generally wealthier than their BAME counterparts, then they have a better foundation for securing places in schools for their children. The ethnicity pay gap contributes to making private education a less diverse arena than state-funded educational institutions. If a school lacks diversity, both in its student body and teaching staff, then the school community fails to effectively learn and respect how we each differ from each other, whether it be through race, gender, religion or sexuality. 

In order to determine just how prevalent racism is within elite schools, The Boar Features conducted a survey asking those who attended these schools, regardless of their race, to share their opinions and experiences. The majority of the responses told the same story. Regardless of whether it is rampant or subtle, racism within elite schools is present and hard at work. 

The survey provided interesting, and seemingly unbiased, data as exactly half of the responses were from people who identified as white, and the other half were submitted by those who identified as BAME. In the survey, participants were asked to rate the extent of racism in their schools on a scale of one (where racism was essentially non-existent) to five (where it was indisputably present). 85% gave a rating that was above one. The people who gave the lowest rating were all white and couldn’t recall any racism in their schools in any form. 

It is important to note that it was only white people who considered racism to not be a pressing issue within their schools. Because the responses to the survey were submitted by such a broad selection of people from different ethnic backgrounds, it is interesting, but far from surprising, that the only people who had no indirect or direct experiences with racism were white. The other responses recorded witnessing racism in some form at the very least, even if it wasn’t a personal experience.

One student recalled falling victim to racist slurs and chants while the teachers did nothing to intervene

The notion of being unaware of racism in a school is magnified if the teaching staff itself has issues with diversity. One student recalled falling victim to racist slurs and chants while the teachers did nothing to intervene. Her experience parallels other students’ recollections of teachers permitting and protecting the violent views of racist students, while inflicting their own microaggressions onto black students. Being stigmatised by fellow students is hard enough, but watching their behaviour be condoned adds another layer to an already complex struggle.

Diversity isn’t only needed among students: it should be visible amongst the teaching body. A diverse teaching staff would be more likely to pinpoint and deconstruct the harmful views that ignorant students hold. A teacher who in no way can relate or empathise with a student’s struggle is more likely to turn a blind eye. 

However, even though there is evidence that diversity is the key to moving forward, the survey results being submitted from a mixture of people from different ethnic backgrounds suggests that diversity of the student body isn’t the main contributing factor to racism. 

Three students from the same school recalled a discriminatory haircut rule that only ever affected black students. However, one of them acknowledges that their school was also incredibly diverse in its student body. As important as diversity is, it isn’t a cure to racism. Elite schools can welcome a mix of ethnic groups, but if something as foundational as the school rules has hints and notions of discriminatory intent, then the problem will only grow. 

But why does racism find itself so well established and involuntarily documented in elite schools? The superiority complex and culture of elite schools isn’t stifled by the general political opinions within these institutions, but rather amplified. Elite schools are, by association and action, right-wing institutions. Typically, their very existence goes against broad left-wing morals and this is reflected in their operation. The atmosphere within the schools are generally pro-Conservative more than they are pro-Labour. Elite schools offer a nurturing environment for the children of right-wing parents to learn similar values. In a Britain where Boris Johnson’s racist history is common knowledge, yet he was still voted in, it shouldn’t be surprising that racism, whether it be casual or violent, is present in right-wing institutions like elite schools. 

Elite schools are built on the equality and equity that capitalism offers and these schools are more likely to be dominated, populated and run by those who align themselves with the right-wing and its accompanying conservative attitudes

Arguments are made that race, elite schooling and politics shouldn’t be considered closely connected, but denying the fact that they are is naïve. Elite schools are built on the lack of equality and equity that capitalism offers and these schools are more likely to be dominated, populated and run by those who align themselves with the right-wing and its accompanying conservative attitudes. Being racist isn’t a right-wing attitude but being progressive generally isn’t either. The clashing of a right-wing culture and a need for racial progression has merely created a stagnation that continues today. 

A complete overhaul of elite schools is needed and, ironically, education is the answer. In the survey, 75% said their schools did not do enough to try and squash racism. Those who voted that they did make an effort cited initiatives like Black History Month events and scholarships for poorer students who were often ethnic minorities. However, there is a clear overwhelming failure. If these schools had made enough of an effort, those who answered the survey would have considered racism to not be an issue in their schools.

One student revealed that prior to coming to university, and having been in private education for seven years, they had been taught nothing related to black history

One student revealed that prior to coming to university, and having been in private education for seven years, they had been taught nothing related to black history. This student is black, and he knew nothing about the history of his own race. If the curriculum remains as whitewashed as it currently is, then it will only create further stagnation as minority students are forced to face a sense of forced historical inferiority.  

Nobody is born with bigoted sentiments, they are conditioned. Racism is a taught aggression. Parents, teachers and the media all play a role in the knowledge that they feed children. Whether it be a parent with strong anti-immigration views, a teacher making racially insensitive comments, or the media reinforcing dangerous stereotypes, the information that pupils consume forms and alters their worldviews. 

All of these influences are only magnified in elite schools because of the added culture of superiority, privilege and entitlement. The most powerful change anyone can make in aid of ending racism, both in elite schools and any other institution, is individual action and education. 

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