The following statement was released by Social Justice Bermuda’s Education Team on February 3, 2022…

Educators help shape how students see and understand the world and history. We are all responsible for our intention as well as our impact, and as all educators should be aware of, language matters. Word choices and assignments have a way of perpetuating harmful beliefs, and subtly erasing lived experiences, when not chosen with consideration.

The enslavement of Africans in the Americas and Caribbean left two legacies behind: the social and economic barriers that the Black community continues to face; and the racism, lack of accountability, and feeling of superiority that infects the White community. Any lessons taught inschools on the topic of enslavement of African peoples should seek to reflect the true horrors and lasting effects as well as correct the ill-taught language which removes responsibility from the enslavers. Often it can be difficult to perceive the structures of oppression in the present, and it is through understanding the structures of oppression in the past that it is possible to sheda light on present structures of oppression.

SJB supports the global movement to decolonize the problematic language typically used in discussions of enslavement to more accurately reflect the truth, while placing the onus where it belongs without dampening the humanity of the victims. For example, language such as ‘slave holder/owner/master’ must be replaced with “enslaver”, and ‘slave’ must be replaced with ‘enslaved person’. Education about history should not be to pacify and placate the uncomfortable feelings that arise in response to uncomfortable truths. Doing so deprives learners of the necessary insights that lead to growth and change, and as a result, upholds systems of supremacy and structural racism. Rather, the purpose of education should be to build on the knowledge and progress of the activists and ancestors that came before us. It should empower the next generation to learn from past mistakes, become anti-racist, and bring about necessary change to create a just society. Anti-racist education helps students identify the structures of oppression in the past so as to identify not just the lingering consequences of such tyrany, but also to identify new forms of oppression – and to use that knowledge to realize their full humanity through confronting these structures.

SJB Education Team acknowledges that it is not the job of school children to do the dirty work of minimizing the horrors of enslavement and perpetuating these legacy lies that attempt to clear the white community of feelings of guilt and shame around race issues. Lessons on racism and its history should educate about the rise of the concept of race, as a justification for enslavement. As Ta- Nehisi Coates said, “Race is the child of racism, not the father.” If we deny ourselves the discomfort of the truth, then we deny ourselves the opportunity to grow. Truth and Reconciliation practices, at no point, suggest that truth must be downplayed for repairto take place. No assignment should suggest that any positive aspects resulted from the dehumanizing, brutalizing, and traumatizing of enslaved peoples.

In order to be authentic and ensure honest learning is taking place, educators must be clear ontheir own knowledge. They must speak to how African people’s lives were in pre-colonial Africa in contrast to the horrific middle passage, and ensuing enslavement. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” James Baldwin.

When teaching about the history of enslaved people in Bermuda and other parts of the world, we must tell the truth.

The horrors of slavery and segregation must not be white-washed. It is uncomfortable to discussthem, but it is even more uncomfortable to continue ignoring them and their legacies that continue to poison our society and relationships today. SJB is committed to confronting structures of oppression everywhere.