This is an open letter to Sweden’s preschool and school Principals, Politicians and decision makers in local Swedish Municipalities, the Ministry of Education, Educators and children’s rights champions on behalf of Afro-Swedish children, and all racialized Children.
As a visible minority in Sweden, Afro-Swedish children face Afrophobia, prejudice and discrimination from birth. As parents, we see and experience repeated patterns year after year, generation after generation and this must end now. Our children are exposed to racist language, micro-aggressions, violations of physical and personal integrity, harassment and even violence, in schools and preschools across the country. Afro-Swedish children are also doubly exposed to prejudice and discrimination from both students and the staff whose duty it is to protect them.
The latest report from the Swedish organization Friends confirms what we already know: children report that up to twenty-one percent of all bullying experienced in grades 3-6 and sixteen percent in grades 6-9 are based on ethnicity.
Our children are also negatively affected by the education system itself, when teaching materials and curriculum content convey stereotypical images of people of African descent, and when children ask their teachers about Sweden’s history regarding the slave trade and racism, and their questions are met by silence or worse ignorance.
Prejudice and discrimination based on race is expressed and experienced in various forms. , The so called ‘low-frequency’ or micro-aggressions are all too often interpreted by adults and teachers as inoffensive, but have a very negative impact on our children’s self-esteem and development. Instances can range from not being allowed to play because “you are brown as poop and your hair looks like poop sausages”, “you can never be a princess because you are brown” or “I am afraid of brown because they are cannibals ”- to more obvious aggressions between older children such as“ you are a fucking n****/ go home to dirty Africa ”,“ you are brown so you cannot be Swedish ”, or“ I will get Hitler and kill you all ”. All these examples are taken from the testimonies of our children.
The testimonies we have gathered represent just a fraction of the pain and trauma experienced. Too often children keep their experiences of racism to themselves because they feel shame or fear or simply because they are unable to articulate what they have experienced.
One of the results we have seen is that some children even refuse to go to school due to the hurt they feel and their mistrust of the school’s ability to protect them.
There is a deep-rooted notion in our society that children are innocent, unaffected by norms and cannot be racist towards each other. It is not uncommon for teachers and educators to roll their eyes, diminishing or dismissing our children’s feelings, when we turn to them for help.
All too often, these verbal and physical attacks end with the attacker being consoled and understood by the teacher as having made a joke, while the Afro-Swedish child, the victim, is left standing alone, stripped of their protection and rights.
This approach, so common in schools across Sweden, testifies to great ignorance around whiteness and the prejudiced norms which characterize our society. The problem includes a lack of tools to work consciously and preventively in schools to address violations which are rooted in racism. By turning a blind eye to prevailing power structures between students and not distinguishing between children who are at risk of being exposed and who are vulnerable, schools normalize racism.
These issues are amplified as our children grow older when harassment and aggressions between older children, which in the adult world would be classified as hate crimes, are regarded by the school as regular disagreements where both parties are equally held accountable and stand a risk to be reported to police.
Addressing these incidents with teachers and school staff can be very sensitive, particularly if they lack training in diversity, and are unaware of methods of dealing with discrimination on the grounds of race, gender or ethnicity.
All too often, the parent or carer addressing such situations with school staff has to manage the staff members’ white fragility and their emotions rather than being able to focus on the child who should be at the centre of the conversation.
The United Nations declared 2014-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, and last year the European Parliament adopted a resolution (B80212/2019) in support of the fundamental rights of all people of African descent within the EU. These international documents provide recommendations to Member States on how to deal with issues concerning children of African descent. The #BlacklivesMatter movement has also shone a light on Afrophobia and racism in schools..
We want to make sure that commitment and action remain strong even after the trends and hashtags end.
We as parents have witnessed and received testimony after testimony, report after report and plan after plan for active measures against racism and discrimination, but the violations still continue, year after year.
We see our children slowly losing faith in the idea that society exists for all on equal terms. This is unacceptable!
We parents of Afro-Swedish children demand that both preschools and elementary and high schools must address racism and discrimination. Our children have a right to go to school without prejudice and discrimination as articulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was incorporated into Swedish law this year.
We are in great numbers, we are all over Sweden and we want change now!
We demand the following measures:
1. That all school and preschool principals should recognize and ensure the right of all children to be free of Afrophobia, racism and discrimination while at school.
2. Training on race dynamics, prejudice and discrimination, how these problems manifest in schools and how to address them should be mandatory for all educational staff in schools and preschools.
3. The Government’s Children’s Rights Delegation should map racism and discrimination incidents across the nation in order to inform future initiatives. Alo, one or more organizations that represent Afro-Swedish children should be included in the Children’s Rights Delegation.
4. Requirements should be tightened for schools and preschools to comply with and use existing regulations and provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Swedish Education Act and the anti-discrimination legislation in order to counter and prevent Afrophobia, racism and discrimination. The National Agency for Education should be given the task of supporting and following up schools on this. The 2019 ”knowledge uplift” is simply not enough.
5. Teacher training at all levels from the next academic year should include compulsory modules on prejudice and racism in the past and present, from a norm-critical perspective.
6. All teaching and education materials at all levels of education should be revised and updated to ensure they are free from stereotypes and historical inaccuracies and be supplemented with norm-critical and anti-racist text and images.
NOTE: This text is an abridged version of an open letter sent to all Sweden’s preschool and school principals, politicians and decision makers in the Ministry of Education, Educators and children’s rights champions on behalf of Afro-Swedish Children before the start of the academic year 2020-2021.
SIGNED by the following
– The Afro-Swedes’ forum for justice
– Forum for parents of Afro-Swedish children
– The Afro-Swedes’ national organization
– Blacklivesmatter Sweden
– Focus Afrophobia
You can reach our secretariat on
skoluppropet [at] fabforum.se