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Bowing to her woke pupils: Shame of the Benenden backtracker

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SAMANTHA Price, headteacher of Benenden School for girls, has been sitting on the naughty step. Some senior pupils at the alma mater of Princess Anne took offence when the head uttered the word ‘negro’ during a school assembly.  

She was explaining that the origins of Black History Month date back to 1926 in the United States. A ‘Negro History Month’ was initiated that year by Carter G Woodson, an African-American historian.

Price has chosen to apologise, and she has done so in these terms: ‘In hindsight I recognise that it was not necessary to use the specific word and I accept that by using this word at all I have caused offence to some pupils. Clearly, this was never my intention and I unreservedly apologise for that error.’ 

The protest at Benenden is the latest in a series of witch-hunt rebellions by advantaged pupils against what is termed ‘white privilege’.  

Pupils at Nonsuch High School for Girls in Cheam, Surrey, for example, have been praised by the ‘revolutionary socialist’ magazine Socialist Worker for ‘showing the strength that collective action has in the battle against racism. Their determination to fight for change is a powerful display of resistance’. 

Pupils at Wimbledon High (Girls Day School Trust) in London have been equally supportive of the anti-racist crusade, using their educational privilege to fight what they regard as ‘white privilege’.  

Norwegian-born and Oxford-educated Afua Hirsch, a leading anti-racist campaigner, is a former pupil of the school. Around the time she sat her A-Levels there, she recalls that tennis prodigies Venus and Serena Williams were neighbours and were black role models for her.   

Her best-selling book, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging (2018) is a must-read for anti-racism warriors; not least for ‘right-on’ privileged sixth-formers who are have discovered their anti-racist calling.  

Surprisingly, though, Hirsch seems to be no great fan of my personal black hero, Nelson Mandela. This was evident, off camera, when I did some filming with her for a Channel 4 programme entitled The Battle for British Heroes (2018).  

She seemed to believe that his perspective on race had run its course and described him as a bit of a card. I wondered if his donning of the Springbok rugby shirt – a symbol of apartheid – at the 1995 rugby World Cup final was regarded as unforgivable, rather than as the extraordinary gesture of reconciliation that it represented. 

The message that pupils need to learn, surely, is that there is no colour bar to what these days we regard as human wickedness.  

It is, sadly, one of the educational establishment’s greatest triumphs to have convinced educators and those being educated that whites and non-whites are different beyond the colour of their skin.  

Whites in particular are the perpetrators of evil. Non-whites are the victims. Contrition and penance is, therefore, required from the whites. Mandela, to his great credit, saw through the shallowness of that proposition. 

By apologising for her use of the word ‘negro’, the headmistress of Benenden has shown a lack of courage. Rather than apologising, she should be educating the protesters about anti-white bigotry.  

Kemi Badenoch, the minister for women and equalities, has made it quite clear in Parliament that teaching ‘white privilege as an uncontested fact’ is breaking the law. 

How would the protesting pupils react, I wonder, if the headteacher were to read out some xenophobic, racist and imperialistic extracts from the autobiography of the woman voted the greatest black Briton, Mary Seacole (1805-1881).  

She used the n-word without apology and was happy to use the word ‘negro’ too, but in a rather different context from that used by the headteacher of Benenden, as this extract shows: ‘With what pleasure, for instance, could one foreign to their tastes and habits dine off a roasted monkey, whose grilled head bore a strong resemblance to a negro baby’s? And yet the Indians used to bring them to us for sale, strung on a stick.’ (Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands: Penguin Classics P37 Kindle Edition. First Published 1857 with a Preface by Times journalist and Crimean War correspondent W H  Russell). 

I find Seacole’s racism to be rather shocking, but accept that it was a reflection of attitudes at the time she lived. The responsibility of a headteacher is to stand up to bigotry in whatever form it comes. Appeasement of ignorant and bigoted fanaticism is a poor example to set, especially when it may be against the law. 

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Chris McGovernhttp://www.cre.org.uk
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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