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We should give no quarter to those seeking to divide us

Teachers are at the centre of our communities and so are well-placed to fend off racism where they see it, says ALEX KENNY

TODAY’S demonstration comes at a critical time in the development of politics in this country. Having spent much of the summer in rearguard counter-mobilisations against the DFLA, we now have an opportunity to come together and send a very clear message that we are united in our determination to defeat racism and fascism.

I have spoken on behalf of the National Education Union at a number of events over the summer and have started my contributions by paraphrasing Pastor Niemoller.

They came for Jewish people,

They came for black people,

They came for Asian people,

And now they are coming for Muslim people. 

I did this for two reasons. First to make the point that these people are all the same — they are our friends, our neighbours and our work colleagues, we live among them and work with them and we make no distinction in how we see them.

The second reason was to make the point that, when the racists have mobilised, our movement has banded together and defeated them through mass mobilisations and building in the community. We beat them at Cable Street in 1936, we beat them in Lewisham and elsewhere in the 1970s and we beat them in the 1990s when they put on suits and tried to be “respectable.”

Now they are back, wearing suits and boots and we can beat them again, but we have to be vigilant and we have to scale up. 

We have to combine mass mobilisations with strong community campaigns that challenge the divisions which racism and fascism play on and perpetuate and with real answers to the issues which they manipulate — issues of unemployment, inadequate housing and underfunded and overstretched public services. 

Victory on the streets in 1936 was both preceded and followed by patient work within the community that resulted in the erosion of the fascists’ base of support among sections of the working class in the East End. 

The NEU is a union representing education professionals and its members see and feel the effects of racism every day — from the increased fear they may witness among young people to the discrimination or stereotyping experienced by students and colleagues in their school or college. 

And there are many ways in which we can challenge these things. Schools are at the centre of communities and, therefore, we as a union are well placed to take the fight against racism into the community.

For anti-racist teachers, maintaining a vigilance over the curriculum and resources is vital, particularly following Michael Gove’s rewriting of subjects like English and history. 

Some of our members recently noticed the following piece of stereotyping in a textbook for a new sociology GCSE. “In Caribbean families, the fathers are largely absent and women assume the most responsibility in childrearing. 

“When men and women live together it is usually cohabitating or common law relationships that reproduce the traditional patriarchal division of labour.” 

By organising a quick social media storm aimed at the publisher we were able to get the book withdrawn and reviewed — a good example of a bit of social media activism to good effect.

But we also challenge racism and fascism through our daily work.

The aims of our union define education as “a critical and creative process, which enables learners to understand and contribute to wider society and the world in which they live and to change it for the better.” 

By seeking to develop our students in the broadest sense and empowering them to play a full and active role in the development of our society, we also empower them to reject racism and fascism by taking control over their own lives. 

There can be no doubt that Muslim people are facing the worst attacks at the moment, whether that is on the streets or from respectable politicians in the media who fuel these attacks.

When Boris Johnson makes his oh-so-funny comments about the niqab looking like a letterbox and when Ofsted head Amanda Spielman points the finger at young girls wearing the hijab, it has consequences. 

Their words don’t just stay on the page, in a conference or at the school gates — they give licence to the racists who want to attack and divide our communities and we end up with Muslim women being attacked in the street, as happened recently in Bethnal Green, where I work.

The DFLA doesn’t like being called racist and claims that it cannot be as Islam is not a race and this is repeated elsewhere in the media.

Let’s be clear — Muslim people are being attacked for who they are, what they wear, where they go and how they pray. This is racism and we give it a name, Islamophobia. Our job is to call it out and stand shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community.

We are at a pivotal point in the fight against racism, a point from which things can go forward or backwards. Our job is to unite and scale up so that we can take this fight into our workplaces and local communities, giving no quarter to those seeking to divide us.  

On behalf of the NEU I can pledge that, whether it is in our classrooms, our union meetings or on the streets, we will stand alongside those seeking to challenge racism and fascism so we can move forward to a better world.

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