Nationally, 14.3% of teachers are from minority ethnic groups (DfE, 2020). Statistically, fewer minoritized teachers are teaching in Bristol schools than white teachers: 9% of teaching staff and 15% teaching assistants are from ‘non-white
minority ethnic backgrounds’ (DfE 2019). Elahi, Finney and Lymperopoulou, (2017) identify low numbers of minoritized teachers in Bristol schools and there is an emerging local media narrative of fewer minoritized teachers (BBC, 2018) than nationally.
The population of Bristol is 463,400 people and it is the largest South West city, one of the ten ‘Core Cities’ in Great Britain. The white population is estimated as 84%, with 45 religions, 187 countries of birth and 91 main languages spoken (Bristol
City Council, 2020).
Bristol became a focal point after the removal of the statue of Edward Colston in summer 2020. Bristol enters critical stages in its history by accepting and owning up to the ways it has benefited from its legacies
of exploitation of human labour and its leading role in a mass genocide of thousands of human beings, further impacting on the oppression and disempowerment of generations of communities. The protest has prompted the removal of the name Colston from various
venues and elicited statements of intent including, The Merchant Venturers, Colston’s former company, and responses from local schools about their contribution to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Arguably, the event is a ‘big bang’ happening,
ripping off a plaster in order for Bristol to begin to question and talk about (rather than ignore) supremacist interpretations of its history.
The protest can be interpreted as an act of interest convergence (Bell, 1987): both removing
the glorification of a slave-trader whilst simultaneously dismantling and jettisoning shameful evidence of white supremacist history. Thompson Dorsey & Chambers (2014) further problematise interest convergence, demonstrating a patten in legal contexts
that following convergence (C) is C-D-R (pronounced Cedar): divergence (D) and finally imperialistic reclamation (R), from Harris’ property functions of whiteness (1993). This suggests temporary convergence will likely be followed by divergence then
#BLM events will likely impact on the ways race is understood and talked about in Bristol schools. Renewed agency for anti-racism with senior teams publicly considering impacts of race may deepen. Senior leadership teams may seek
to understand existing situations and institutions might already be developing discourse about whiteness. Counter stories may have been reflected upon and voiced. There has to be a shift in the ways we talk about race – that not only do we recognise
that our structures disadvantage groups and that structures have to rebalance contextually, but also that discrimination will continue until white people learn to talk about their whiteness and act to change systems that benefit white people first. It seems
an ironic act of white supremacy that the dismantling of whiteness through the #BLM movement relies on white people in positions of authority to act.
However, signs of divergence are already visible, including local Bristol counter protests around monuments
considered ‘white property’ (Harris, 1993) and death threats targeting Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees. Whilst protests reignite agency they do not provide institutional processes or support emotional investment that Matias (2016), Swanson and
Welton (2019) postulate is necessary to sustain, dismantle and counter whiteness. Without such direct processes, Frankenberg (1993) argues, for some white people anti-racism becomes an ‘act of compassion’ (p.6), optional and not intrinsically linked
to identity. It remains relevant therefore for schools to develop processes and examine to what extent senior leadership teams interconnect whiteness to role enactment.
There is an opportunity to change but the change must be deeper than a curriculum
change or an optional half day inset training on #BLM. The summer’s events erupted because there has been such a lack of discourse about whiteness and its impact on everyday situations. We must find ways of talking about the cause of racism – why
do white people consciously and unconsciously enact racism? Unless we are on the lookout for how and why this happens, we cannot evolve. I have argued in the past this root and branch paradigm shift is similar to the duty of care shown to safeguarding after
the murders of so many children that could have been prevented. It changed how and who walked into school buildings, it changed when we safeguarded and with whom. It changed our school processes. If we want to talk about race, we need processes to do so.