“What you have done is made people from the BAME community, and I am the only one who is not white, and by adding the five words, made the one BAME person feel excluded. Having experienced racism my entire life and still do today." Cllr Marina Asvachin
“As a young girl, I was made to feel that I hated how I look and that I wished I was white.”
Sandra Sanena, 17, and her family moved to Ottery St Mary from Zimbabwe when she was eight.
Speaking at last Thursday’s full Devon County Council meeting, the King’s School student told councillors of some of the racism that she was been the victim of since she moved to England.
Alongside three other sixth form students at the school – Anoo Kakarlamudi, Lizzie Kilbride and Flo Nash- they had worked alongside Cllr Wright to put for a motion that would see the council pledge its support for the Black Lives Matter campaign and write to the Secretary of State for Education for better diversity education within schools.
Sandra said racism is ‘quite clearly there’ and people who say otherwise ‘have the privilege of not noticing it’, adding: “In May, after the death of George Floyd, I as black person saw another person from my community killed as they weren’t as valued because of their skin colour.
“And this shook me, so I decided enough was enough and something needed to be done on our home shores. It highlighted the fears I had as a black person and it is an issue here as well in America.
“I also was compared to an animal by peers and made me feel alienated by the school community. As a young girl, I was made to feel that hated how I look and that I wished I was white. These are a few of the examples of how racism is an issue in Devon and how we need to educate people of all ages.
“All we want is to educate people and start a respectful debate, so people can feel welcome. I love to call Ottery my home and I would like to see more people accepted into the community.”
Lizzie added: “This campaign started with a few teens on a Zoom call and now so well-known and well received. We need to become a more accepting and empathetic community.”
Further support came from Sue Errington, Co-ordinator at Devon Development Education, who said that people don’t understand the extent of racism, and although there is tolerance, there is a lack of understanding in relation to this
And anti-racism campaigner Tsara Smith said that everyone should be doing something to address the issue within their circle of influence. She said: “Everyone has a unique contribution to make. You (the councillors) have a significant circle of influence and can make more influence than most of us, and the actions can have a great impact.
“There is enormous support out there open to this movement, but there are those though who remain blissfully ignorant of the issues. If we want a world free from discrimination, then we need to be anti-racist.”
Speaking to her motion, Cllr Wright said that it was about listening to and acknowledges the pain and history and this country’s past, and not about changing history. She said: “Those of us in power need to acknowledge the pain and hurt caused when Britannia ruled the waves.”
After more than an hour of debate, the council agreed to two motions that aimed to address racism, provide better education, and capture the voice of the BAME community.
The first would see them work with Schools, Academies, Trusts and educationalists in Devon to explore the prospect of making changes the curriculum to include BAME experiences, contributions, and the FACTs of History, throughout the year and to support all members to continue to actively engage with all residents of Devon including BAME people and organisations.
The second would see them remind schools and other settings of how they can heighten awareness arising from the Black Lives Matters movement as an opportunity to review and publish their objectives in respect of racial equality and inclusion.
It would also see them write to the Secretary of State for Education urging him to encourage schools to capture the voice of children and young people and their responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, ensure that the school environment and curriculum allows all students to see themselves reflected and included and reflect on how they challenge historic and persisting racist ideas and to how they celebrate diversity.
But some councillors felt they had to vote against the motions – not because they don’t agree with the principle behind it – but because of an amendment that added in that the council would continue to actively engage with all residents of Devon, including BAME people and organisations, saying that it had connotations of the ‘all lives matter’ response from some far right groups to the ‘black lives matter’ movement.
Cllr Carol Whitton said: “This has the association with the all lives matter movement, and I would have been happier if it dropped the word all and simply said residents.”
Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labour group, added: “Moving from BLM motions to a “all residents of Devon” stance, is not without its challenges, seen in the potential context of the “ All Lives Matter” movement, and it could even be seen as a demonstration of how the county council does not actually properly understand the structural and systemic racism in this country
“To say that black lives matter is not to say that other lives do not; indeed, it is quite the reverse—it is to recognise that all lives do matter, and to acknowledge that BAME people are often targeted unfairly, such as disproportionate stop and search activity. Sadly human beings and our society is not yet so advanced as to have become truly color blind. This means that many people of goodwill face the hard task of recognising that these societal ills continue to exist, and that white privilege continues to exist, even though we wish it didn’t, and would not have asked for it.”
And Cllr Marina Asvachin, the only BAME member of the 60 strong council, said that the addition of the ‘all residents of Devon’ made her and her community feel excluded.
She said: “What you have done is made people from the BAME community, and I am the only one who is not white, and by adding the five words, made the one BAME person feel excluded. Having experienced racism my entire life and still do today, it is really bad.”
But Cllr Phillip Sanders said that the wording seeking to treat everyone as one community where no-one is treated differently for any reason.
He said: “There are many people in Devon who are not BAME but are discriminated against. We should support all the community and bring all the community together, and not seek one element of it and treat that element differently.
“We have to treat all people equally, whatever their status in community. We have to treat all people the same and use of the word is wonderful as reminds us we are setting up an inclusive community where we all value each other.”
Cllr John Hart, leader of the council, added: “This is not meant to split the people but talks about all the people. It aims to make it more inclusive.”
Councillors voted by 44 votes to six, with five abstentions, to support all members to continue to actively engage with all residents of Devon including BAME people and organisations, to remind Schools, Settings, DCC Babcock LDP of the Equality Act 2010, Public Equality Duties and how they can heighten awareness arising from the Black Lives Matters movement as an opportunity to review and publish their objective(s) in respect of racial equality and inclusion, and to write to the Secretary of State for Education for better diversity education within schools.