In the first of Byline Times’ new series dedicated to giving a platform to new voices of colour, Cheryl Diane Parkinson shares her experiences of confronting structural prejudice within schools

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the collective eye is fixed on race relations in America. The oppressive systemic racism African Americans have faced for the past 400 years is exploding into the foreground through global protests and violent riots. Disillusioned and angry people are expressing age-old frustrations that echo through time. Images on television screens draw stark parallels with a divided history that most do not want to relive.

We have come a long way both in the US and the UK, but racism and inequality still have their knees firmly pressed on black necks without any sign of letting up.

As an educator, I have encountered institutional racism multiple times. A classroom display detailing “the good side of slavery”, a racist petition and the loss of jobs to inexperienced, under-qualified white counterparts are just three incidents of many.

The display contained articles written by students stating that slaves “enjoyed singing in their free time and liked going to church”. I forced a meeting with the headmistress who defended the teacher who organised the display, claiming that “he was a nice man”. All too often, the institutional racism within schools is implemented, sustained and reinforced by people who are “nice” – but how likeable they are isn’t the issue.