Thursday, 15 March 2018
Don't talk about the black kid in Bath who was chained to a lampost and whipped with sticks
It was a pleasure to see the documentary Being Blacker by Molly Dineen on the BBC earlier this week. It was a very straightword documentary on the life and times of Blacker Dread and the community and family he was part of in Brixton. Without trying it touched on jail, education, benefits, debt, racism, education, austerity, and the waste that callous and cruel policies result in. Blacker characterised the hardest times as these times, as 2010 - 2018, years when it is more difficult to get a job, an education, a home, a life, anything. He talked about all the circumstances of his education, of how it would be a race to get out of his grammar school in Penge and return home to Brixton without getting beaten up, and the relief he felt when finally he did get home.
I watched this in horror, thinking how that would never happen in Bath, the town I live. It's a lovely town, with nice buildings and a spa and a shop that sells historical buns. And then I saw this story on Beechen Cliff School in Bath, where in January a black boy was subjected to a 'mock slave auction' where 'at least seven white teenagers chained a fellow pupil to a lamppost and whipped him with sticks, calling him extreme racist names harking back to the slave trade.'
The mother 'was still “reeling” from shock at the apparent attitude of the school towards racism and the impact of that on the already traumatised victim.'
The boys were initially expelled from the school by the head before the governors rescinded that decision. Nobody is quite sure why. It is a puzzle. That judgement hit the Bath Chronicle this week and all hell broke loose. No, actually it didn't. Nothing much has happened. The advice given to pupils in at least three schools in Bath (including Beechen Cliff) is "Don't talk about it. Don't talk about it. Don't talk about it."
But I get the feeling not talking about it is part of the problem, especially in a town like Bath which revels in architecture built on the blood and bones of the slave trade. You think Bristol doesn't recognise the part it played in the slave trade, try and sniff even a whiff of a connection in Bath and you will find nothing. It's been wiped as clean as the Bath stone with which the city is built. Hence the don't talk about it part. But communication - about the past, about the present, about what exactly an action means and is seen to mean by all involved - including those outside the school itself, including those who took no part in it - is essential.
I saw the story on the school in the Guardian. The same edition ran the story on National Geographic's confession that it has a history of institutionalised racism.
It came with reason by John Edwin Mason which examined both the racism and the exoticisation and marginalisation of the real story. I'm not sure that National Geographic will entirely solve these problems of representation - they are problems that are endemic to photography and its very spectacle, but at least they are recognising there is a historical problem, at least they are talking about it.
Here in Bath, it is all being swept under the carpet; the racism, the history, the violence, the effect that has on individuals, the schools, the city. It's the universal response in Bath when you get a problem at a school. Don't talk about it. Don't talk about it. Don't talk about it.