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Benenden School head's apology for offence caused by word used during Black History Month assembly

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A headmistress has issued an apology for using the word Negro in an assembly during Black History Month, while aiming to show how much language has changed.

Samantha Price, headmistress at Benenden School, near Tenterden , said it was never her intention to cause any offence, but accepted some pupils were upset and 'unreservedly' apologised.

Samantha Price, headmistress at Benenden School
Samantha Price, headmistress at Benenden School

She said: “I shared with pupils the origins of Black History Month in 1926, and in so doing I referred to the name that was originally used. The original name contains an offensive word and by using this word in this context I was attempting to show how far language around black people has come since then.

"However, in hindsight I recognise it was not necessary to use the specific word and I accept that by using this word at all I have caused offence to some pupils. Clearly, this was never my intention and I unreservedly apologise for that error."

On Wikipedia the particular word, used in the assembly, is still given as part of a citation to describe Black History Month which was launched in 1926 in the states by American scholar, journalist and historian Carter G Woodson.

Ms Price said everyone at the girls' boarding school, where Princess Anne was once a pupil, had marked the importance of Black History every day during October.

She added: “In the same assembly, I introduced pupils to the debate around Black History Month and whether in 2020 society should be at a point where we should not need to devote a month to a topic because black history should be fully immersed in UK culture by now.

Benenden School is a girls boarding school. Picture: Ian Read
Benenden School is a girls boarding school. Picture: Ian Read

"To be clear, this is not a view I hold but it is one that has been a point of discussion for several years, perhaps most notably when Morgan Freeman questioned whether Black History Month was necessary because black history should be part of American history.

“This is a debate that has been ongoing for many years and is an important debate to take place.

"As an educational establishment, it is wholly appropriate for us to explore subjective topics, to introduce pupils to conflicting viewpoints and to encourage them to challenge ideas they do not agree with. Black History Month is just one example where there is a legitimate and fascinating debate to be had.

“Unfortunately it has been characterised in some quarters that I was suggesting we should not celebrate Black History Month at Benenden. This is categorically not the case and anyone suggesting this is what I said is grossly misinterpreting my words."

Ms Price added:“As a white woman I am doing my very best to ensure that BAME pupils are fully understood within our school community, without, of course, having the lived experience of being black.

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone and was the first black officer to lead white troops into battle
Walter Tull was born in Folkestone and was the first black officer to lead white troops into battle

"I am very clear that in attempting to ensure everyone who passes through our school community has equal opportunity, attention and support, we will inevitably make mistakes along the way. "Unfortunately I have made one in assembly, for which I am sorry. This will not, however, prevent us from continuing to do all we can in pursuit of this aim: it is, in my view, better to try and to occasionally get it wrong than to not try at all.

She re-iterated that Benenden welcomes girls from all ethnic backgrounds and diversity is integral to a happy school. She said staff ensure the school is fully inclusive and work and training is carried out to make sure all pupils are given equal opportunities during their studies.

October marks Black History Month in the UK. The event was first celebrated in 1987.

It is an opportunity to understand and celebrate the importance of black heritage and culture and this year greater attention has been paid to the Black Lives Matter movement, since the death of George Floyd in May 2020 in America.

In Folkestone renewed efforts have been made to honour one of Britain’s first black footballers.

A new ‘peace pitch’ has opened in memory of First World War hero Walter Tull, who was born in the town and was the first black officer to lead white troops into battle.

In his football career, he became one of the first black footballers in Britain and was only the second professional black player in the Football League.

Following a successful campaign from the National Children’s Football Alliance (NCFA), the pitch at Three Hills Sports Park, off Cheriton Road, has now been twinned with Flanders Peace Field in Mesen, Belgium, the site of the 1914 Christmas truce, where British and German troops ceased fire and played football together.

Read more: All the latest news from Ashford

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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