In many ways, the COVID-19 global pandemic has been a unifying experience. Together, we are facing the challenge of the biggest crisis since the second world war. To some extent, this has forged a shared identity underpinned by our common experiences. But a different perspective argues that as a result of COVID, our world is increasingly divisive with evidence of xenophobia and racism. In many ways, COVID has highlighted cultural differences and served to deepen existing prejudices. World leaders have even encouraged us to think about the virus as ‘foreign’ invader. Remember Trump’s repeated use of the term ‘Chinese Virus’? Virulent mutations of the virus are labelled UK and South African variants, and the closing of borders inevitably invokes suspicion and stigmatisation of the other. Medical journal The Lancet highlighted the issue;
“Outbreaks cause fear, and fear is a key ingredient for racism and xenophobia to thrive. The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has uncovered social and political fractures within communities, with radicalised and discriminatory responses to fear.”
Impact on BAME communities
BAME communities in the UK have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19. As if this wasn’t difficult enough for the individuals concerned, further prejudice surfaces as people speculate why. For example, some news outlets have suggested that cultural differences mean these communities do not effectively isolate or socially distance. Ill-informed views like these spur hatred, anger and confusion. And more logical explanations are overlooked. Such as, BAME communities may be more impoverished, or work in front line jobs and as such are more at risk of catching COVID.
The socio-economic repercussions of COVID will be felt long after the virus is tamed. When this latest lockdown eases, and schools, colleges and learning providers reopen, we must all play our part in addressing the inevitable divisions. Since 2014, all education settings have had a statutory responsibility to promote British Values. The values are democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. Could British Values be the framework for mending communities fractured by xenophobia and racism post-COVID?
British values have indeed been successfully implemented as a key part of many curricula. But the promotion of British values isn’t always without criticism. Ofsted Chief, Amanda Spielman, consistently advocates their promotion but has conceded that they can be ‘actively perverted’ by extremists. Could the emphasis on British Values subliminally suggest that other cultures’ values are not as important? Does a fixation on ‘Britishness’ promote suspicion towards those who are not deemed British? In post-Covid and post-Brexit Britain where tension is already high, are British Values a double-edged sword?
And importantly, where does this leave learning providers who have a statutory responsibility for promoting British Values to their learners? This is certainly an area to treat with caution, responsibility and mindful of potential consequences.