'People make slavery jokes' - Black student on racism in schools

Imade, 15, has spoken out about the racism she's experienced at Thorpe St Andrew School in Norwich

Imade, 15, has spoken out about the racism she's experienced at Thorpe St Andrew School in Norwich - Credit: Simon Finlay/ Submitted

A black teenager has spoken of the racism she faces every day as a person of colour in a predominantly white environment.

Imade, the 15-year-old daughter of Sprowston councillor Natasha Harpley, attends Thorpe St Andrew High.

She wants schools do more to challenge both "casual" and "in your face racism."

Natasha Harpley

Natasha Harpley says her daughter has faced indefensible racism while at school - Credit: Natasha Harpley

"Teenage boys hear the n-word in music, so they think it's okay to say it to me", she said. "It makes me feel so uncomfortable, and when I call someone out for using a racial slur, everyone makes me out to be the problem.

"I'm known as the angry black girl who's always going on about racism, who's always getting offended by racism — as if it's not legitimately a hate crime."


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Don Evans, interim CEO for the Yare Education Trust which oversees Thorpe St Andrew High, said the school "welcomes, values and celebrates diversity in all its forms".

He said the school operates a zero-tolerance approach to racism — and that any student who experiences racist abuse should report it to a staff member immediately so they can take appropriate action.

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Imade said a catalogue of incidents in her time there has made her doubtful the school "genuinely wants to address the problem".

Don Evans, who is to leave his job as assistant director in Norfolk County Council's children's serv

Don Evans is the CEO of the Yare Education Trust, and said all schools within the trust champion diversity and equality

When she first started in Year seven, she passed a group of older boys who began making monkey noises.

As she moved through year groups, she has had male classmates play whipping sounds on their phones and tell her that is what happened to her ancestors, and slavery "jokes" made outright to her face

"That's the 'in your face' racism'", she explained. "But there's also the casual stuff, like touching my hair without permission, using racial slurs in the context of songs, making comments about my skin, deliberately getting my name wrong and 'confusing' me with one of the few other black girls in my year.

"Then there's even the fact I get told I'm being 'oversensitive' or that 'boys will be boys' when I call people out for it."

She added: "Whenever I report racist incidents to the school, they either make the person write a letter of apology, or I have a one-to-one with them where I can explain why I'm angry and "help the other person understand".

"It never seems to go any further.

"We're 15 years old. It's just common sense that you shouldn't be using racial slurs. And why should I be the one helping the other person understand why racism is wrong?

"Either they themselves, or the school, should be the ones doing the educating and explaining.

"There's no excuse for ignorance."

Imade, 15, says she's sick of people pleading ignorance when they say racial slurs in school settings

Imade, 15, says she's sick of people pleading ignorance when they say racial slurs in school settings - Credit: Submitted

Imade said after the Black Lives Matter protests, the topic was raised in an ethics lesson about protest — but not on racism specifically.

"I just think people don't take it seriously", she said. "I feel at school it's brought under the same banner as 'bullying', but it isn't. It's a hate crime."

In terms of Norfolk as a whole, Imade said it was difficult never seeing anyone who looked like her.

She said: "There aren't very many black people in the school, or in Norfolk generally. 

"If I go out in town I can usually count the number of black people I encounter on my hand. Just seeing someone who looks like me makes my day."

A protester holds up a placard at the Black Lives Matter Protest at the Forum in Norwich on June 7,

A protester holds up a placard at the Black Lives Matter Protest at the Forum in Norwich on June 7, 2020. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

Norfolk police recorded 594 racial and religious hate crimes in 2020, up from 497 in 2019.

"Groups of drunk boys in Norwich have made comments in the past", Imade said. "It's a lot to have to deal with when you're only 15."

Ms Harpley said: "I've had three or four calls from the school now telling me there's been another racist incident towards my daughter."

She said a big problem was that school curriculums simply ignored "normal" black people.

"Whenever you hear about black people in history, it's always in extremes. They're either heroes or slaves."

The Department for Education has generally resisted calls to make the teaching of black history mandatory, insisting the curriculum already gives prominence to black and ethnic minority voices and experiences. 

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