Richard Wilkinson: Roedean School’s “Anti-Discrimination” Policy and what’s wrong with it

Roedean School’s new “anti-discrimination” policy, available on its website, has ignited controversy. The policy, invoking “microaggressions” and rooted in Marxist Critical Race Theory, has raised concerns about its impact on classical education. By branding commonplace interactions as racist and prohibiting concepts like meritocracy, the policy stifles open debate. The policy’s broad language and potential for abuse have educators walking on eggshells. Critics argue it undermines true diversity and academic excellence, exemplifying the encroachment of divisive ideologies in educational institutions.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.


THE TROUBLE WITH ROEDEAN’S WOKE “ANTI-DISCRIMINATION” POLICY

By Richard Wilkinson

Roedean’s new “anti-discrimination” policy is freely available on the school’s website[1]. It provides a fascinating insight into how Marxist Critical Race Theory, imported mainly from North America, can poison an educational institution, rendering it virtually unusable by anyone who desires to teach or to receive a classical, liberal education. 

“Microaggressions”

The fundamental problem with Roedean’s policy is its explicit recognition of “microaggressions” as constituting racist conduct.[2] The term “microaggressions” was first proposed in a 2010 book written by an American psychologist named Derald Wing Sue. It refers to “commonplace verbal, behavioural or environmental slights, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative attitudes towards stigmatised or culturally marginalised groups.”[3]

So, what exactly is a “microaggression”? Roedean’s policy does not say. The University of Minnesota has published a table, based on Derald Wing Sue’s book, which provides a useful guide.[4] It indicates that the following remarks or situations would constitute “microaggressions”:

  • Asking someone where they are from or where they were born.
  • Complimenting a “person of colour” on being articulate.
  • Promoting colour-blindness or identity-blindness.
  • Promoting meritocracy, for example, by stating that the most qualified person should be given a job.
  • Promoting hard work, for example, by stating that everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.
  • An educational institution which has buildings named after white, heterosexual, upper class males commits what is referred to as an “environmental microaggression.”
  • White people who deny their racial biases also commit a “microaggression”.

The trouble here should be obvious. Not only do “microaggressions” encompass an array of statements and actions which is so broad as to be virtually undefined, but many perfectly normal, harmless and legitimate human interactions are likely to fall foul of the code. For example, by asking someone where he or she is from or was born, the inquirer usually expresses curiosity about the other person’s background. After all, we all come from somewhere and, in a multicultural society, such as South Africa, our differences should be appreciated and celebrated.

However, in a world that has been infected by the Woke mind virus, asking such questions might not be acceptable. This was recently discovered in rather brutal fashion by a royal aide at Buckingham Palace. Lady Susan Hussey politely asked a black visitor at a charity reception where she was from. The anecdote became public knowledge and hysterical press coverage caused Lady Hussey to resign from her unpaid role within 24 hours.[5]

Of course, there is value in making people aware that certain speech or conduct might inadvertently hurt other people and asking them to reflect on this reality. Furthermore, the ascription of certain stereotypes to people on the basis of their identity is rightly condemned as being unacceptable.

However, the concept of “microaggressions” goes much further than this concern and instead mandates that people and institutions adopt an explicitly Marxist worldview. It does this most notably by prohibiting the promotion of meritocracy and identity blindness. Classical liberals assert that prosperity is primarily generated through free trade and capitalism and that meritocracy and identity blindness are non-negotiable ingredients required for economic progress and individual freedom. Marxists dispute this view, arguing that virtually all Western wealth is derived from the exploitation of oppressed workers. Recent variants of Marxism hold further that meritocracy and identity blindness are myths that, if accepted, would simply preserve the unequal and unjust status quo.

This debate is worth having – but it is not a debate that is likely to happen at Roedean or at any other institution which has already ruled that the classical liberal side of the argument is “racist” and, therefore, a non-starter. What is clear is that any institution (such as Roedean) which takes this approach has accepted the foundational principles of Critical Race Theory, a pseudo-academic sub-field of Marxism that has engulfed universities (and now schools) across the English-speaking world.

“Microaggressions” are especially concerning in the context of a school. Criticising children, complimenting children, and encouraging hard work to achieve success are fundamental components of being a teacher – yet each of these actions can easily be maliciously and capriciously construed as a “microaggression”, especially if the child in question is black and the teacher white. Caiden Lang, a researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations, has written an insightful article about a school that considers encouraging hard work to be a punishable offence.[6]

And a school is not a sanitised environment. Teachers must handle classes of up to 30 children in a school of hundreds. Sometimes they will get children’s names wrong. Sometimes they need to be strict. And sometimes they make mistakes. Yet “microaggressions” provide no margin for error. How is a teacher supposed to operate in an environment where she cannot compliment Busisiwe on a well-delivered speech or correct Ayanda when she makes a grammatical error? According to the table from the University of Minnesota, a white person who so much as denies that he or she is racist is guilty of a “microaggression”.

Furthermore, Roedean was founded in 1903 by two white British women named Theresa Lawrence and Katherine Margaret Earle. This simple historical fact cannot be changed but, in the world of the Woke, recognition of these white women is likely to constitute an “environmental microaggression”. I have heard that, at the height of the Woke Uprising in June 2020, one student turned anti-racism activist launched into a diatribe during which she pointed at the portraits of the school’s Founders and declared:

“You see these white faces on the wall? We want them gone – and we want them gone now!”

​Now hold still and keep quiet whilst we punch you

Whilst the recognition and formalised inclusion in school policies of “microaggressions” is itself troubling, it is far from being the only source of concern in Roedean’s anti-discrimination policy. Carefully incorporated into the document are at least five clauses which render the document grossly unfair to anyone who has the misfortune of being subjected to an inquisition on its terms.    

The policy establishes an Unfair Discrimination Complaints Committee which consists of unspecified “volunteers from the Senior School and the Junior School.” The role of this committee is to undertake a “confidential investigation” of any complaint. The Committee tables its report after which a process of mediation is supposed to occur. If mediation fails, the accused person can be referred to the usual disciplinary structures.

The trouble with the Unfair Discrimination Complaints Committee is that the special rules under which it operates violate some basic constitutional and civil rights.

For example, clause 8.3.5 of the policy provides that:

“During the process, the identity of the Complainant may have to be revealed to certain parties, including the Respondent, only where such identity is imperative to the successful conclusion of the matter.” 

(Emphasis added)

This is reiterated in the annexure to the policy, which provides that:

“The complainant is entitled to request that her/his name is not disclosed to the respondent.”

So, the accused teacher is not entitled to know who her accuser is. The right to know and to challenge your accuser in an open inquiry is a cornerstone of civil rights. Indeed, St Stithians Girls’ College has discovered that entertaining anonymous allegations is generally not a good idea: in June 2020, a child at the school was formally accused, charged and initially found guilty of sending a WhatsApp message to an unknown friend containing an allegedly and mutually derogatory term; on appeal it was determined that the child’s guilt could not be assumed in circumstances where all the school had was a screenshot of the conversation (the authenticity of which could not be proved), produced by the head of school presumably after being submitted by an unknown complainant, and no witnesses. The former student recently instituted a multimillion Rand lawsuit against the school and some of its senior leaders.

And there are other problems with Roedean’s policy. For example, a secrecy clause, which states:

“In any matters where the School is involved, the Roedean Community understands that Roedean as an institution is also entitled to the rights to privacy afforded to it by law, including the POPI Act. As such, any disclosure of information on an ongoing investigation or incident could be in violation of the School’s rights in that regard. This includes disclosures to the media.”

The accused person is also not permitted legal representation. According to the policy:

“This complaints procedure is not a legal one and none of the parties will be assisted by lawyers.”

And then, buried in Clause 8.2.6.1 is this remarkable line:

“Cognisance of the existing prejudice in the country will be taken into account, in the light of prevailing laws.”

What does this mean? I do not know, but I very much doubt that it has been included for the benefit of white teachers.

In rhetoric horribly reminiscent of Mao’s Cultural Revolution or of Pol Pot’s Year Zero or, indeed, of the French Revolution’s Terror, the policy also “encourages Individuals to report unfair discrimination behaviour.” This is especially troubling considering the influence of diversity-and-transformation consultants at the school. In an earlier essay, I discussed how Lovelyn Nwadeyi had been hired to conduct “no-adult” workshops with girls in each of the five senior-school grades. So, children who have likely been exposed to the principles of Critical Race Theory are now encouraged to denounce their teachers as being racist. What could possibly go wrong?

To summarise: at Roedean a teacher can be accused of an open-ended list of racist conduct. Virtually anything can be declared a “microaggression” and, therefore, racist. Whether or not conduct is racist depends largely on the subjective feelings of the complainant. The accused person is not entitled to know who the accuser is, is not permitted legal representation, and is not even allowed to talk about the matter. He or she will be investigated by an unspecified committee of “volunteers”, who could very easily be hand-picked to ensure that this forum is effectively a Woke kangaroo court.

The accused teacher is effectively left gagged, blindfolded, and with her hands tied behind her back. One Roedean teacher told me how she and her colleagues now work in fear:

“There is very little actual teaching going on at the school. We don’t encourage debate or discussion. We simply teach to the book. Anything else is too risky or stressful. In any event, the white and Indian children are too scared to say anything in class.”

​The inversion of truth, justice and fairness

Importantly, the recognition of “microaggressions” means that the policy effectively disregards context, intent and objectivity. Everything turns on the subjective feelings of the victim or – more sinisterly – on what the purportedvictim claims her feelings are. I believe that the fact that the term “microaggressions” is not clearly defined in the policy is not an accident but is, in fact, by design. As Christopher Hitchens memorably wrote:

“the essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law… The true essence of dictatorship is in fact not its regularity, but its unpredictability… Those who live under it must never be able to relax, must never be quite sure if they have followed the rules correctly or not.”

Such quotations would resonate with many Roedean teachers, one of whom told me that she and her colleagues feel as though they have a Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Various teachers recited John Proctor’s celebrated outburst in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”:

​“Is the accuser always holy now?”

The Rule of Law is a founding principle of the South African Constitution. In essence, it requires that laws must be public, general, clear, prospective in their application and relatively stable.[7] Roedean’s policy flies in the face of this. It is little more than a Woke Charter: an instrument of malice designed to be wielded by cruel cowards in order to bully and control perfectly decent and innocent people.

Fortunately, there is a straightforward way to solve this problem: the policy should simply be withdrawn. Failing this, any teacher or the parents of any child at Roedean who is unfairly targeted under this policy is welcome to contact me for assistance. I will gladly take a day of leave and turn up to assist with a disciplinary hearing – and will do so without charge. If I am unable to make it, I am sure that one of my colleagues will be able to assist. If needs be, we will challenge this policy in court so that it is declared unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, Roedean’s anti-discrimination policy does serve one very useful purpose: it sets out in writing what many teachers and parents have long suspected: that South Africa’s schools have fallen under the sinister spell of Wokeness. I am highly confident that what has happened at Roedean has in fact happened at dozens of schools across the country. Whereas Roedean’s policy is explicit and publicly available, at many other schools the mischief is implicit and concealed, thus making it far more difficult to identify and eradicate.

​An “anti-discrimination” policy that promotes discrimination

Aside from the trouble presented from a disciplinary perspective, the document lays the foundations for enormous damage to be done with respect to hiring, promotions, performance evaluation, admissions and scholarship policies.

Clause 5.2.1 states that:

“No person shall be unfairly discriminated against, within the School Environment, including but not limited to:

  • ​a) acceptance procedures, advertising and selection criteria;
  • b) enrolments, and the enrolment process;
  • c) teaching and development; and
  • d) performance evaluation systems.”

(Emphasis added)

The term “discrimination” is defined in the policy as meaning:

“any unfair, unjust or prejudicial treatment, directly or indirectly, against a person.”

(Emphasis added)

The trick here is in the word “unfair”. Discrimination which is not unfair is, presumably, perfectly acceptable. What constitutes fair discrimination as opposed to unfair discrimination? This is not spelled out clearly, but the policy commits the school to adopting “positive measures”[8] that “redress the injustices of the past”[9].

And so, in an important respect, Roedean’s “anti-discrimination” policy is not actually an anti-discrimination policy at all – at least, not in that it explicitly endorses and legitimises racial discrimination against white teachers and teachers from other racial minority groups.

It was British author George Orwell who coined the expression “doublethink”. This term describes the phenomenon by which one simultaneously accepts two opposing beliefs as being true, even when doing so conflicts with reality. An “anti-discrimination” policy that endorses racial discrimination sounds ludicrous, but it is the sort of doublethink that is pervasive in ANC-EFF South Africa. After all, South Africa’s Constitution famously proclaims the virtue of “non-racialism” and yet, according to Michael Morris of the South African Institute of Race Relations, over 100 laws have been passed by the post-Apartheid Parliament which entrench racial discrimination in virtually every aspect of life.[10]

Of course, it is perfectly possible to support a model of transformation that is identity-blind and pro-poor rather than one that is racial. In fact, such a policy would make far more sense in a context such as Roedean where many girls – both black and white – are driven to school in expensive luxury vehicles. Sadly, no one at Roedean seems to have had the courage to make this argument, and so it was perhaps inevitable that the school would succumb to the warped logic of Race Marxism that has left South Africa so deeply dysfunctional, plagued by record levels of unemployment and inequality.

It is also clear that a form of pincer movement is being implemented. As is explained above, Roedean’s anti-discrimination policy makes it easy to hound white teachers out of the school. That very same policy also gives the green light to appointments being made on the basis of racial identity rather than merit. There is only one outcome that can arise from all of this: teaching standards must fall and, with it, so too will academic performance. According to one former teacher, the fall in academic standards in lower grades is already plain to see, although it will take a few years for this to reflect in Matric results.

In short, the trouble with adopting ANC-EFF policies is that, sooner or later, you will be left with ANC-EFF outcomes. Whether these outcomes are worth paying R 191,181 per year in school fees is a question that parents will have to answer. I suspect that many will answer with a resounding “no”.  

​Follow the money

This leaves us with one final and very interesting question: who was responsible for drafting Roedean’s “anti-discrimination” policy?

A source from within the school informed me that it was prepared, at least in part, by none other than Lovelyn Nwadeyi, the diversity consultant mentioned above and who features prominently in my first two essays on School Capture. Neither Roedean nor Lovelyn responded to my emails seeking confirmation of this.

It stands to reason that if you define “racism” so broadly that virtually anything can be racist then it is likely that a great deal of “racism” will be identified. And if Roedean keeps having “racism” scandals then, inevitably, the school is going to need more “anti-racism” workshops. Lo and behold, clause 4.5 of the policy requires precisely this:

“Continued education, workshops and training must take place within the Roedean Community to ensure a common understanding of the scope, objectives and basis of this policy and what it aims to achieve.”

Various other clauses in the policy also start to make sense. For example, Clause 5.2.3 sounds as if it were taken straight out of one of a workshop run by Lovelyn or her mentor Robin DiAngelo:

​“Racism is learned and can therefore be unlearned. Teachers can play a significant role in mediating the negative effect of Racism in classrooms and on school grounds. They are well placed to start conversations in pupils’ early lives and to use creative teaching strategies to disrupt rigid narratives of race.”

At least somebody stands to benefit from Roedean’s wretched “anti-discrimination” policy: sadly, not the teachers, not the parents and not the children – but, rather, the South African diversity-and-transformation consulting industry.

Read also:

Notes