I was racially abused – then my school tried to suspend me

A 17-year-old pupil in Edinburgh says she was called the “N” word and told to hang herself by fellow students.

Britney was verbally and physically attacked – but after reporting the incident to teachers, she claims she was the one who was threatened with suspension.

Her school says she was not punished and the incident was dealt with by police.

Now the teenager is calling on the local council to do more to tackle the problem and provide more help for victims.

Britney told BBC Scotland News that the incident took place during her lunch hour.

‘They said I would be suspended’

“They were attacking a friend of mine and I defended her, but then I got attacked,” she explained.

Someone in the group threw a can of juice at Britney.

She said: “They called me the N word and said things against my skin. It was really bad. I was shocked. They all launched at me. After that the teachers got involved. A teacher took me home.

“The next day they said I would be suspended.”

an image from the video of the attack
A video of the incident showed a drink being thrown at Britney followed by an attack, after which she retaliated. Image copyright: BBC

Britney says the reason the school gave for her suspension was that she was new to the school. It was only when her mother, Blessing, showed teachers a video of the incident which had been shared on social media that the suspension was removed.

But Britney says that as far as she is aware, no one was punished for the attack.

The school said that Britney was not suspended or punished at any point. They said no racial element was reported, and that the incident, which happened out of school hours, was dealt with by police.

Racism is something Britney says she has encountered since she was a young girl growing up in Austria.

She says she is now facing the same attitudes in Scotland.

Lack of confidence

She said: “When I see incidents like this I just ask myself maybe I am meant to be treated badly, like someone who is not a human – because that is what I get called pretty much all my life – a monkey, a slave, or someone who belongs in a farm and not in a school.

“Because that’s what I get told in this new school.”

Britney’s story comes ahead of the release of a new report, due to be launched at the Scottish Parliament later, which highlights the views of a small group of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) children in Scotland.

A charity which has supported the family say Britney’s experience points to a wider problem – a lack of confidence among black, Asian and ethnic minority young people in the way schools deal with racism.

Britney, Daniel and mum Blessing
Britney, brother Daniel and mum Blessing. Image copyright: BBC

Nisha Singh, from Intercultural Youth Scotland, says more thought should be given to those who are targeted by prejudice.

She said: “Think about them, if they have experienced racism, think about what support they need after they’ve experienced it. It’s not just giving them a punishment it’s actually seeing if they are ok and giving them the right support.”

By highlighting the stories of young people affected, the charity’s aim is to keep the pressure on councils to do more about racist bullying. In Edinburgh’s secondary schools, this accounts for roughly a quarter of all bullying incidents.

Campaigners have been lobbying Edinburgh City Council to do more to support victims of racism in schools.

‘There are things to change’

Councillor Alison Dickie said: “If we are going to change anything, the lived experience of BAME young people and families right across the city, we need to be very much involved in this and I am pushing for the young people to be part of this change.

“There is much yet to do and we need to honour the voice of the young people that are saying there are things to change.”

She said the council was concerned about the underreporting of incidents.

She added: “Young people are feeling not confident enough to go forward and report it and have it addressed in a way they would like to see it addressed. We would like to see the numbers go up, meaning more people are reporting it.”

Alongside revising anti-bullying procedures in schools, the council believes that encouraging staff training and diverse recruitment are practical steps towards improvement.

The hope is that pupils following in Britney’s footsteps do not share her bad experiences.

Analysis by Jamie McIvor, BBC Scotland education correspondent

To threaten to suspend a student is a very serious sanction which is normally only used in the most serious cases of indiscipline.

For example, it might happen where a student is seriously disrupting order or where it is necessary for the educational wellbeing of the other pupils.

Any suspension from school has to follow a set procedure – a school cannot informally “ban” a pupil.

If a pupil is permanently excluded, the council still has a duty to educate the child – for instance at another school or an educational unit.

In general, the number of exclusions has fallen significantly in recent years.

Tackling racism – or making sure a young person does not develop racist attitudes to begin with – is also a challenge for schools.

There are several ways of doing this.

One is to try to ensure there is a zero tolerance approach to any racist language or to ensure that children understand that certain words or phrases can be hurtful or offensive. The work can start in the early years of primary school – a child may pick up a word from an adult and not realise its meaning.

Another is to simply ensure that differences are celebrated.

When it comes to actually dealing with bullying though, it is worth remembering that ultimately bullying is bullying – no matter what the reason is.

First published 06.11.19: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-50306621

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