What we can learn from the Sewell racism report
David Olusoga rightly inveighs against aspects of historical illiteracy in the Sewell report (The poisonously patronising Sewell report is historically illiterate, 2 April). But it is wrong to imply that the “politics and passions of the young” are some wondrous Damascene revelation felt only by millennials. In my youth, we were every bit as passionate. I went on my first anti-racism march 50 years ago. As a pale, male and now stale human being, I have had close friends from every ethnicity all my life, and so have most of the white people I know.
And though our education on these issues may indeed have been what Olusoga condemns as “Wilberforce-centric”, it was nevertheless morally admirable and effective so that, even in the 1960s, most schoolchildren believed that slavery was an obscenity on a par with the Holocaust, that colonialism had a dubious legacy and that the empire was a jingoistic joke.
• Re the race report, let’s not throw out the baby (ie a clutch of quite workable and progressive recommendations) when we ditch the rather unpalatable bathwater (ie the questionable, sometimes offensive, language and rationale).
Clearly the centuries-long barbaric enslavement and trade in African people by European nations has its own nuanced story of resistance, rebellion, reinvention, resilience and reformation. But this can only be told alongside the honest and painful examination of industrial-scale kidnap, people trafficking, torture, terror, child abuse, brutalisation, rape and murder – and the legacy of all of that, economically, socially, culturally and institutionally, on the society (and disparities) we see today.
African Health Policy Network
• David Olusoga is right to condemn the Sewell report’s ill-informed interpretation of decolonising the curriculum as the banning of white authors. Just as disturbing is the recommendation to adopt a UK-centric focus in school education. Having criticised “token expressions of Black achievement”, the report suggests an example that is so tokenistic it is almost laughable: a dictionary of “British” words of Indian origin. Teaching this without context reduces India and its people, languages and cultures to the status of exotic curiosities. A truly decolonised English language curriculum might look at the multiplicity of Englishes spoken in different parts of the UK and the world. It could examine how language has been used to exclude and to disempower. The Sewell report itself, with its denial of institutional racism, provides a prime example of this phenomenon.
Rachel Stone and Sylvia Ashton
Authors, An A-Z of Creative Teaching in Higher Education
• Rather than trying to discard useful concepts such as “structural racism”, perhaps, given most of the cabinet got a leg up from private education, they might consider the idea of “structural elitism” useful. Also, their disregard for ministerial codes and transparent procurement and recruitment practices could alert them to “structural cronyism”. And perhaps a combination of the two concepts could result in “structural incompetence”.
• The Sewell report, in its denials, confirms the existence of institutional racism. It’s so ingrained that the government’s handpicked authors fail to recognise it.
Dr Jon Orrell