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Image: surreyschools.ca

The Surrey School District speaks out against anti-Black racism. What’s next?

By:
Jasleen Bains (@jasleen.bainss)

Over the past few weeks, discussions about racism, specifically anti-Black racism have increased in volume and intensity. These public conversations have transcended into multiple sectors of society, including the education system.

The Surrey School Board released a statement standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, stating that “racism has no place in our society.” This post came after pressure from students to speak out against anti-black racism.

This response from Surrey Schools contrasts the silence displayed by the City of Surrey, despite receiving an influx of comments and concerns underneath its Instagram post, which speaks to the City’s strength through its diversity. To date, the post continues to be the sole public attempt to address racism through an official municipal channel. Here, there was no acknowledgement of the systemic racism that continues to take place within Surrey, or any mention of the actions the City plans to take in order to combat anti-black racism within its own organization.

As we all work to do better and unpack the multiple ways we can support Black lives, this response is disappointing. Many Surrey residents, businesses, and organizations voiced their concerns over the lack of action taken by the City of Surrey. This statement is even more disappointing when you consider the amount of resources the City has access to. From engaging in dialogue with internal staff, to hiring external equity, diversity, and inclusion consultants who work in the Lower Mainland, there are multiple ways the City of Surrey can take tangible steps to prove that it truly cares.      

When it comes to Surrey Schools, the inclusion of the hashtag #Blacklivesmatter in its statement highlights an awareness of anti-Black racism. However, solidarity should not and cannot end at a single post.

In addition to the statement released by Surrey Schools, Guildford Park Secondary in Surrey, decided to release its own statement to students, where they’ve committed to training teachers on anti-racist practices, creating a framework for anti-racist education, and reassessing the school structure.

Similar to the City of Surrey, the Surrey School District has access to a variety of resources it can utilize to uphold the safety of Black students and teachers. This is vital, considering our school system has been complicit in perpetuating systemic racism. This includes the criminalization and marginalization of Black students and teachers.  

Michael Musherure, a secondary school teacher in Surrey was the victim of multiple anti-Black hate crimes while teaching in Surrey, including an instance in 2011 at Semiahmoo Secondary, where he was threatened to be shot by a student. In this case, there was no immediate action taken by administrators. These types of racist incidents have been ongoing within Surrey schools and continue to take place without adequate oversight.

For many Black students, schools are where they first experience harm and psychological violence.

This is why it is important for Surrey Schools to wake up and be actively anti-racist, from continuously training and re-training its staff about racial justice, to advocating for the implementation of Black Canadian history into the provincial curriculum.

The City of Surrey is home to the largest Black population in British Columbia, yet the material taught within Surrey Schools as well as most B.C schools does not reflect the history of Black Canadians.  

This reveals a gap in the content that is chosen to be taught to students in B.C schools.

Currently, teachers can decide to teach Black history as a content option, but it isn’t mandatory, so it often gets dropped. This lack of knowledge is dangerous, as it perpetuates the notion that there is no and has never been any instances of anti-Black racism in Surrey or in Canada broadly, when this is not true.

According to British Columbia’s Education Minster Rob Fleming, the province is committed to working with organizations such as the B.C. Black History Association to add Black history to the province’s school curriculum.

This change is necessary to follow through the commitment of centering Black voices within our education system.  

As someone who went through the K-12 school system in Surrey, I was not consistently taught about the history of Black Canadians or about racial justice and its impact on our society. These conversations need to start at a young age if we want to fight the subtle and overt ways in which racism shows up within schools.    

Social justice shouldn’t simply be an elective course a student can take, it needs to be embedded within every feature of our education. As alumni, parents, and community members we all have a part to play in reimaging what a safe and equitable school system can look like.  

We must continue to pressure our MLA’s, local councilors, and school trustees to centre Black voices in our education system.

Do not stay silent.

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