Jthere weren’t many expectations of me when I was in school. No one I know went to college, so I didn’t even think about it. Where I grew up, the choices seemed to be: sell drugs, work for the nearby car factory, or use sports as an escape – although a teacher also told me I was more likely to to be dead at 25 than to be a professional. footballer. When expectations are so low and you’ve been told for so many years “you can’t,” you start to believe it. And then when I was 15 I was kicked out of school, leaving without any GCSEs, just another one of disproportionately large number mixed-race and black West Indian boys to be removed from school.
I became a professional footballer, joined a non-league team when I worked as a bricklayer and eventually joined Watford in 2010, and saw the power of using my platform and taking a stand when my colleagues and I took the knee following the murder of George Floyd to support Black Lives Matter. Football was my way out, but I also wonder what I might have done if I had been encouraged to engage at school and saw myself reflected in what I was learning – and how life could have been different for all the other kids who did. t have football.
That’s why I started campaigning for schools to better represent their students, with a diverse curriculum that covers Black, Asian and minority ethnic history and experiences. Instead of being relegated to black history monthwhich seems to me to be a symbolic gesture, the history and contributions of people of color should be considered part of British history and integrated and mandated throughout the programme.
It is history that shapes our society today, and for ethnic minority children, it also shapes our identity. My memories of black history in school were learning about slavery and the civil rights movement – vitally important subjects, but when that’s all you learn it reinforces the idea that blacks were considered less than White person.
What about all the positive ways black people have contributed to society? Where are the inventors, writers, artists and leaders? I loved math and was good at it, but it never occurred to me that I could do anything with it because I didn’t get to know scientists or mathematicians who looked like me . How many people know that the traffic light was invented by the prolific black inventor, Garrett A Morgan? Something as simple as this could be so uplifting to a generation of children who might think: I could be an inventor too.
In September, Wales will make it compulsory to teach a diverse curriculum, so there is a model of how we can do this without cutting anything and at no extra cost. I would like to see the rest of the UK follow suit. I started a petitionand I have had talks with Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, but progress is slow.
Despite the outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement to mandate a more inclusive agenda, little action has been taken so far. The idea seems to make some people uncomfortable — from politicians refusing to embrace it, to the racist abuse I receive daily on social media — perhaps because exploring the history and experiences of people of color , and especially black British history, will highlight that Great Britain is not as great in every aspect as we think.
The reaction, however, does not come from the teachers. According to the YouGov study I commissioned, 80% of primary and secondary teachers surveyed believe that diverse and representative topics are vital and enriching for all students. But only 12% said they felt ’empowered’ to teach ‘optional’ subjects such as colonialism and migration, destroying the government’s argument that black history is available to be taught in the national curriculum. current.
We live in a culture of cancellation, and I think that worries teachers, most of whom are white, who are wary of saying the wrong thing (and of course, I would love to see a lot more black teachers). That’s why I love the work of organizations like The black programled by Lavinya Stennett, who visits schools and helps train teachers.
If I had known more about my heritage at school, I would have understood a lot more about myself and my family – I could have had more understanding for my grandfather, who is part of the Windrush generation who arrived in the UK and worked hard for the Royal Mail for 30 years. But I’m from a generation, like him, where people didn’t talk about it. If I had had more empathy for his experience, I would have known why he seemed miserable most of the time.
What I have seen is that teaching diverse history sparks conversation. In the documentary I made on Channel 4, students at Harris City Academy in South London, the first secondary school to enroll in The Black Curriculum teaching methods, told me it opened up a space where they could have difficult conversations. Race can be an uncomfortable topic for some people, but until we have more uncomfortable conversations, we will never be comfortable with the situation. I saw students who were engaged, who had a broad understanding of the world, who were proud of their own heritage and who felt inspired by their future. This is what I want for all children.
Troy Deeney is Birmingham FC captain and anti-racism campaigner. Troy Deeney: Where is my story? is at 10 p.m. on May 23 on Channel 4
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My teacher said I would be more likely to be dead at 25 than a footballer. What if I had listened? | Troy Deney
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