A primary school headteacher says he has been “overwhelmed by support” after calling on parents to help tackle structural racism.
Robbie McGrath, headteacher at Malin Bridge primary school in Hillsborough, Sheffield, wrote to parents last week after the death of George Floyd in the US on 25 May.
“It is too easy to look at America and dismiss the issues because our police officers do not carry guns,” McGrath wrote. “The root cause is the same both in the USA and UK. Our society is built upon white supremacy.”
McGrath said while the term conjured images of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis, “white supremacy is much subtler than this. In many instances it is the unidentified bias that sits within the majority of us that white people are superior to people of colour.”
He went on to urge parents to have “an honest and open conversation” with their children, so that they could “recognise the existence of white privilege”.
He told the Guardian he had received scores of emails from parents since.
“Our private WhatsApp groups have been filled with positive messages. People have shown the letter to their bosses, and to their staff.”
McGrath said he had decided to write the letter after sending an email to staff mentioning the Black Lives Matter movement and realising how few of them had heard of George Floyd. “It occurred to me that a lot of white people would be confused by what was happening in America, and the silent complicity was getting to me. I’d already done the reading and so I just drafted it. I should probably have checked with the governors, but I knew that everything I was writing was true.”
More than 600 pupils attend the outstanding-rated school. Helen Berry, whose son is in year 2, shared the letter on Facebook. She said: “I am very impressed by Mr McGrath. It’s how he’s put his words into actions. He is well respected in our community and people will listen. It inspired me to learn more and think more about my role, how we can all step up in some way.”
The impact of the letter has been felt outside the school gates, with a local pub adopting an anti-racist stance.
“I’m a 37-year-old white man who plays golf, and is a season-ticket holder for Sheffield Wednesday,” said McGrath.
“Most of my mates are of a similar background. When I sent them the letter, they said it was a hard read, and they had a tough period of reflection. But they sent it on to friends and work colleagues. One of my best friends, who is white, and had the least privileged upbringing of anyone I know, runs a pub nearby. He has sent out the letter on his Twitter feed and to his staff. He says he wants his pub to be anti-racist.”
He added: “It is accepted that there is institutional bias, across the world. If we are going to move forward, it is white people who are going to have to take the leading role because they are the ones who hold the power. There is no quick fix.
“Every day tiny white privileges, like the shampoo bottles in hotels – they’re not for black hair – build up, and create this idea of white skin as the norm.
“It is about recognising that some inequalities have been around for such a long time, that some groups benefit from them.”
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