BLM in Schools

Recently, tens of thousands of Australians took part in protests calling for an end to indigenous deaths in custody. These protest marches included children and teens from our schools across the Coffs Coast. This worldwide social movement has raised a variety of questions in our schools about the role of protests in our democracy, the issues surrounding the trigger points for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the ongoing issues of racial inequality throughout Australia.

In this article, I will highlight discussions that have occurred within our school community and in particular with our secondary school Goori Group. Bishop Druitt College has two Goori Groups: a primary school group with 27 Aboriginal students and a secondary school group with 28 Aboriginal students.

The secondary students were asked why they marched or why they thought others marched in the recent demonstrations. The answers were extensive and included the following concepts:

  • ongoing concerns regarding racism
  • looking for social change on the indigenous over-representation in death in custody and incarceration
  • to increase their political voice due to a feeling of social indifference
  • to create a sense of solidarity with all people of colour but particularly in creating a sense of pride within aboriginal peoples.

The students noted that while 'all lives matter' is important, it was however their responsibility to highlight the plight of the 'black lives matter' issues due to the disproportionate representation of the aboriginal peoples in prison and in the deaths in custody figures.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics report notes that 434 deaths have occurred since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and that our students were concerned that Indigenous deaths were disproportionately over-represented at all levels of the justice system. Just 2.8% of the Australian population identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, but indigenous adults are 15 times more likely to be jailed than non-indigenous citizens and juveniles are 26 times more likely to be incarcerated.

The students told stories of being 'watched' or 'followed' as they entered local shops and felt profiled with a negative stereotype of being aboriginal. They listed positive adult role models in their community and wished that the general public would reset their views on what it means to be aboriginal.

The students did however note that through the Goori Group their confidence was growing about a positive future and that through focussed and determined educational pathways they could be positive role models to other students, both indigenous and non-indigenous, into the future. The students were also excited to voice their opinion and continue to work with the school and other community groups to build upon successes in the different spheres.

I encourage schools to watch, listen and learn from this moment because there is much wisdom in our school-aged youth who wish to fight for equality, justice and they want all peoples to be respected and not judged.

Moreover, many businesses and Australian sporting codes have issued statements and made declarations that they support Black Lives Matter, that they will do more in the fight for racial justice, and be more reflective about how to best support Indigenous students and all students of colour. This moment has made it comfortable for schools to say that racism is real and that they will stand up against it, but when the lights go down, will schools do the really heavy lifting to examine school curriculum, practices and policies that often exclude Aboriginal history, life and culture? I challenge us all to be better and to make it a priority for the betterment of our Aboriginal students. Our society will be richer for the effort.

Nick Johnstone