‘Enriching’ human rights conference

By Maya Muller, 6.2

On 21 September, Bedales students had the opportunity to attend the Stand Up Free and Equal Conference, which due to COVID was held virtually in the SLT. It was not only an enriching experience, but one that provided us with transformative insight on how to not only not be racist, but to be actively anti-racist.

The conference included speakers such as Lee Lawrence, author of The Louder I Sing; artist and educator Linett Kamala; student activist Sophie Kabangu; retired headteacher and educational consultant Tom Wilson; and eight-year-old Nylah Abitimo-Jones.

Lee shared his tragic yet inspiring story on how he witnessed the almost fatal shooting of his mother in his own home by a white police officer. His moving speech stressed the importance of restorative justice, and how the road to fighting racism should include conversation and understanding rather than just objective punishment. He provided us with valuable insight on how to best communicate our unconscious biases, and how to work on re-configuring our perceptions and attitudes on race. He stated that “injustice perpetuates because there is a misunderstanding of what racism means…racism is not simply prejudice, racism is prejudice plus power”. The idea of racism being fundamentally rooted in a power imbalance is one that can be observed in his own, real life experience of having the police exploit their power over his family.

Nylah presented her powerful poem, Black, and her young age did not stop her from delivering a moving and inspiring performance. She celebrated the beauty of her own culture, as well as rejecting Eurocentric beauty standards and bringing to light the micro-aggressions of having people, for example, constantly touch her hair. It was an evocative speech that allowed us to realise that even at such a young age, she had been forced to mature to a level where she must be aware of people treating her differently for her race.

The speeches were both informative and empowering, and allowed for us as students to really immerse ourselves in the process of simply listening to the experiences of the speakers, and to learn and recognise our own privilege and biases.