Taika Waititi fronts anti-racism campaign aimed at teachers

4:25 pm on 13 May 2021

The Teaching Council is urging teachers to confront racism with a campaign it says some might find scary.

Taika Waititi speaks to his younger self in the campaign video.

Taika Waititi speaks to his younger self in the campaign video. Photo: Unteach Racism

It launched the Unteach Racism programme today with a video featuring film-maker Taika Waititi talking to an image of his school-age self about the racism he would encounter at school and in society.

"Forget about being accused of being a glue-sniffer, or stealing lunches, or that you're brown because you don't take baths," he says in the video.

"You've been made to feel you're not trustworthy, you're trouble, that you won't add up to much, but you'll prove them all wrong."

He finishes by saying that young people cannot get advice from their future selves so it's up to teachers to deal with racism now.

"As teachers, you've got the real life ability to make a difference for kids in the face of racism. There are so many things their benevolent and successful future selves would love to go back and unteach them but you're the ones who can choose to do that in real time, now. You have the power to unteach racism - will you?"

The campaign followed surveys of school-aged children that found racist taunts and attitudes were still a problem, and a teacher recently shared on social media how racism in a secondary school was affecting Māori students who told their teachers it was not enough to be non-racist, they needed to be anti-racist.

Council chief executive Lesley Hoskin said it was not criticising teachers or calling them racist, but it had warned that some teachers might find its campaign scary.

"Acknowledging the difficult subject and the difficult content was really about saying, look, everybody agrees it's unconscious bias coming from an adult, teachers are not intending this, you know they don't come out of bed and come to work in the morning for anything other than wanting to do the best by the kids they work with.

"But the reality is many kids tell us, and we know this is a fact, that they experience racism," she said.

Post Primary Teachers Association vice-president Chris Abercrombie said teachers dealt with racism on a regular basis and were well aware of their obligation to confront it.

"This is something that teachers have been doing, this is our bread and butter, it's not new ground for teachers," he said.

"Social science programmes will be dealing with racism or talking about racist issues, there's bullying issues and those kind of things and they're dealt with in schools."

Abercrombie said it was useful to have another tool, but the union was not happy that teachers' registration fees were being used to fund training that the government should be paying for.

The Unteach Racism campaign material said racism was a societal issue, not solely a teaching or education issue, but early childhood centres and schools could either confirm prejudice and bias or challenge it.

"Teachers all want the best for learners. Unfortunately, to help all learners succeed teachers face an extra challenge - society has already taught learners that some of them are less valued," it said.

It said teachers had a good understanding of racism existing within people, but were less familiar with how it showed up in systems and processes.

"Teachers also indicated the need for support to have conversations about racism with colleagues and with their learners," it said.

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