African Australian students are subjected to the n-word and racism in the classroom, according to report – ABC News

African Australian students are subjected to the n-word and racism in the classroom, according to report
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One of the worst comments Yemi Penn's daughter has been subjected to at school came on a Monday morning.
Ms Penn said a classmate asked her how it was working on the cotton fields that weekend.
More recently a boy at her school sent a message that directed the n-word at a fellow African Australian student and also made reference to slavery.
In the message, seen by the ABC, he said, "When slavery comes back, I'm buying her".
Ms Penn said her daughter was doing well at school in Year 10 and had some lovely friends, but ongoing exposure to demeaning comments had caused her to question whether she should even be alive.
"There's just this underlying painful level of racism," she said.
"She's challenged everything about herself and whether she should even still be here because of some of that."
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education said: "We're aware of this unacceptable behaviour at this particular school, which the principal is currently investigating before taking disciplinary action as required."
"Support is also being provided to those affected and all students will be reminded of the school's expectations when it comes to respect and behaviour."
Ms Penn's daughter's experience is not unique among African Australians.
The Ubuntu Project, which supports multicultural youths, asked nearly 100 African Australian students about their experiences.
Their report, released on Wednesday, shows 87 per cent of respondents felt they had been discriminated against in school.
The findings have shone a spotlight on the job-seeking experiences of dozens of African migrants in South Australia.
Ninety-one per cent of respondents said they had seen students being subjected to racism in school.
When it came to who was perpetrating the racism, 80 per cent of respondents said other students were responsible.
Sixty-seven per cent said teachers were responsible, and 21 per cent noted principals had been racist.
The report's data was based on the results of an online survey of 76 students and focus groups with a further 17 young people in Melbourne.
All of the respondents were born in Africa or had ancestors from an African country, and were either in high school or had been in high school in the past five years.
Not only does the report show African Australian students are being subjected to the use of the n-word, but also that those who raise the issue with teachers or principals meet resistance.
The word, which the ABC has chosen not the spell out in full due to its offensive nature, is strongly linked to the dehumanising treatment Africans experienced when enslaved by Europeans.
Although sometimes used within African American culture, it is considered abusive or derogatory when directed towards or used in the company of Africans or black people.
An example of a situation where students might encounter the word in class could be while Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird is being read aloud in class.
Nor Shanino, CEO of The Ubuntu Project, said one troubling finding of the survey was how little understanding teachers had about how the term could affect students with African backgrounds.
"We had many examples of students of African heritage that actually got in trouble for not saying the full word when they were reading out loud in class," he said.
"Teachers would stop them and say, 'No, you have to say the full word.'"
According to the report, when African Australian students tried to explain to school staff that the word was offensive or have the word banned at their school, many were told the word was acceptable in context and were made to feel their opposition to it was unreasonable.
From next year, the chief behaviour adviser will lead efforts to improve respectful behaviour in all schools.
African students also reported being encouraged to leave school once they were 16 or to consider vocational training, even though they were performing well.
Mr Shanino said he believes it happens because of an unconscious bias towards thinking African people are suited to certain jobs and not others.
He said this kind of treatment sent those students a signal that education was not for them.
"It's so much more damaging because it's happening in schools and coming from teachers," he said.
"They are sometimes the most influential people in your life."
Lawyer and human rights advocate Nyadol Nyuon said she and many highly trained professionals of African descent know the experience well.
She said African Australians had to either fight the assumption that they were not suited to higher education, or had to find their way back to it later in life.
In her view, it is often a function of direct racism, but also what she calls "the heartbreaking tyranny of low expectations".
"It's a very, very common experience," she said.
She started her now-distinguished academic career in a refugee camp in Kenya, where she said teachers took a different approach.
"I felt at that refugee camp, teachers had much more faith in us and what we could do than a school in Australia," she said.
The NSW Education Department says schools have zero tolerance for racism and support is being provided to the students affected by it at a Sydney school.
Yemi Penn said racism isn't discussed enough in schools and wants that changed.
"It's played such a big role in where we all are today and to avoid only talk about it when we have a really harrowing experience is remiss and irresponsible," she said.
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
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