Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Some teachers and school officials have consciously or unconsciously been involved in enabling racist attitudes. Instead of being a part of the problem, we want you to be part of the solution.
This past spring and summer have served as a steep learning curve for many who have lacked knowledge about racism both in Norway and globally, and we already see hints that change might be upon us: Advertising campaigns with more diversity, promises of public action plans and people who are willing to listen and learn. Nevertheless: We have a way to go before racism in Norway is history.
It was not until the world saw an eight-minute and 46-second-long video of an adult man who was brutally deprived of his life, by a policeman, whilst screaming "I can't breathe" that many opened their eyes to the brutality surrounding racism. For many, the murder of George Floyd was an eye-opener for the reality and brutality of racism - far beyond the borders of the United States.
In Norway, however, many felt an inexplicable need to claim that racism does not exist here. But we who carry the scars of racism on our body know that the reality is different.
When the racism debate finally hit Norway, it became clear how many of us were sitting with painful and traumatic experiences that were similar in character. In contrast to the many who belong to the African-American community in the United States, racism in Norway has been something many have had to stand alone. As the only black or brown kid in the schoolyard or as the only black person in the workplace.
For Afryea Collective, it became important to do something so that others would not have the same experiences in the future. Afryea Collective was founded in February 2020 by three Norwegian-Ghanaian girls. The organization is based on three pillars: Identity, Diversity and Community. During the spring, we grew to become a larger network of strong, competent "female creators".
Through our Instagram profile, we created an anonymous survey about experiences with racism in Norway, this to gather and share the voices of a demographic that is not usually heard in the mainstream media. We were not surprised that close to 60% of the nearly 120 incidents shared with us had taken place at school. We have been brown kids in Norwegian schools and know what that might involve.
What was more discouraging was that the episodes that had left the deepest mark on those who responded were often teachers and school officials who did not take the children who were exposed to racism seriously, and whom consciously or unconsciously made possible or actively promoted racist attitudes.
These are findings supported by Osler and Lindquist's experimental survey made among teacher students. In the article' Researchers: Teachers must be able to address racism with their students' from 2018, Osler and Lindquist say that teacher-students do not get enough knowledge on how to handle racism and discrimination in the classroom.
This became our starting point for challenging the Minister of Education and the Education Director in Trondheim Municipality to create guidelines for how best to prevent and meet racism in schools and kindergartens.
It quickly became clear to us that sharing stories was not enough - we had to go from words to action. Social media is full of information on how to be anti-racist in the US and the UK, but we missed seeing concrete measures and unifying concepts of what one can actively do in Norway.
We, therefore, arranged our first Kanko-meeting where the theme was "How to become a proactive anti-racist?". Kanko-Meetings are a type of 'table talk', an interactive conversation, where we bring people together and talk about important topics, in a safe environment. During the event, we had a panel composed of panellists who themselves have first-hand experience with racism in Norway. Wise and reflective people with different backgrounds who bravely shared their thoughts and experiences. And the message from the panel was clear: "Educate yourself" and "Be a good fellow human being".
Through the stories sent to us, we see that what many are left with is what was not said, the times' teachers and others chose to be silent spectators. As Martin Luther King jr. said: «In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. »
It is not enough to be against racism, one must proactively be anti-racist. Many are already doing a lot, but we are not yet there. Many teachers and school staff have been part of the problem - now is the time to become part of the solution.
Our call is simple: Care, listen to those affected and dare to take the difficult conversations. Understandably, it may be uncomfortable, but we promise you that it is more uncomfortable to continually be reminded of not belonging than it is for you to put an end to it.
We cannot afford a society based on "us" and "them". The collective "we" must include us all. Only then will we have an inclusive and safe society. Let us all face the autumn and the new semester as good fellow human beings.