Students at Nonsuch High School For Girls in Cheam, west of London, have launched a fight against racism in their school. Their committed protests have included an 800-strong demonstration at the school.
Racist messages sent by a Year 11 student were published online by one student and defended by another. They included “Black people chose to be slaves” and “All lives matter”
Anise, a Year 11 student and organiser, told Socialist Worker, “Our school is incredibly diverse. The majority of students are people of colour.”
On 13 October the year group was called into an assembly by their headteacher.
“We expected to hear her stand up and denounce racism,” Anise said.
“But we didn’t get that. We were told we had to respect the racists and if we continued to exclude them, we would be punished.”
The headteacher told students to “ignore it” and “move on”, effectively defending the student’s comments.
Anise said, “A lot of students actively followed the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and expected to see it reflected in the school’s response.
“That assembly sparked so much anger within us. But that anger united us all in a way we never have been before.”
Emma, another Year 11 student, told Socialist Worker, “We were horrified that day and had to do something about it.
“We tried to send in emails of complaint. They responded by blocking all emails.”
The movement then took to social media. Emma said the school attempted to expel her for posting online to raise awareness of the issue.
Posters were also put up around the school in protest. But students had their posters torn down in front of them by teachers. But activists continued to put posters up.
“We as students were infuriated by the way the school was handling the outrageous behaviour,” Emma said.
By 15 October, students in Year 11 had called a protest for their year to show anger at the school’s handling of the situation.
They expected 200 to turn out, but 800 students from across the school attended.
Char, a student activist at Nonsuch, told Socialist Worker, “Girls spoke up about the racism they have faced, and students held signs to show their solidarity.”
Anise recalled, “Everyone collectively standing up for something we all believe in was so powerful. I’ve never seen the school working together like this.”
Emma said, “We united in love and respect and organised a peaceful protest—a chance for us to finally be recognised and heard.”
“Because the whole school was getting involved no one felt scared”, Kalida, a Year 10 student involved in the campaign, told Socialist Worker.
The day after the protest police were present at the school gates.
“We still have not been given an explanation as to why they were there”, an organiser Esme told Socialist Worker.
Former pupils have come forward with their experiences of racism at the school. And racist incidents involving members of staff have also been exposed.
Some teachers told students that “George Floyd was a petty thief and deserved to die” and the BLM movement is “rubbish”.
“My maths teacher refused to learn my name. She only called by my real name twice. Unless you had an English name she would rarely address you”, Kalida said.
“We can’t have teachers like this at a diverse school. We don’t feel safe. People with power over us are basically saying we’re worthless.”
Esme said a teacher referred to students by coordinates instead of their names. And Kalida said a maths teacher used the Greek alphabet instead.
Students say two black teachers have come out in support of their movement and some others have supported discreetly.
Anise said “the whole student body needs an apology. And after that we need to work with the school to get them to understand what they are doing is wrong.”
“But it’s not just Nonsuch,” she says.
“Any child of colour is subjected to racism their whole life. It’s become so normalised. We’re conditioned from a young age to deal with it. It’s the whole system.”
The young students from Nonsuch are showing the strength that collective action has in the battle against racism. Their determination to fight for change is a powerful display of resistance.
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