“Sinking into the stereotype”

Jordan’s story

3rd April 2021- Louise Cooper

Names have been changed to protect identity.

About Jordan:

Jordan is in Year 10 and attends an oversubscribed, non-selective school in an affluent area on the outskirts of Manchester. The school profile is predominantly White-British.

Jordan came to this area when he was in Year 3 from Stretford, an inner-city and ethnically diverse area of Manchester.

Jordan has a White-British mother and a mixed-race father (White- British-Jamaican). He has a younger brother who has a different father (of Ghanaian heritage).

His stepfather is currently in prison for a serious crime. Jordan’s biological father has also served time in prison and separated from Jordan’s mother before Jordan was born.

One-to-one Jordan is a charming young man, with a very good sense of humour, a cheeky persona and a disarming smile.

He is however on his final warning before a permanent exclusion, due to persistent defiance and use of violence.

Out of school, Jordan has recently been caught by the police with cannabis.

Due to social services involvement, Jordan attended school during all periods of school closure and behaved immaculately.

Jordan and I met to talk about being mixed-race, what followed was an hour-long conversation with me frantically scribbling notes. I was unsure how to present our interview, but as I looked over my notes, I could see I’d used speech marks for certain things Jordan had said. I had written them verbatim, as they captured everything Jordan was trying to say in that moment.

These now form the headings of his account.

“I felt like I belonged, as people looked like me”.

We kicked off by exploring Jordan’s heritage. I asked if he felt a connection to Jamaica. The answer was an emphatic yes, ever since he visited a few years ago on holiday. Jamaica is a “sick place” (the jury is still out as to whether the Jamaican tourist board will adopt this slogan). His mother and stepfather had taken him to Dunn’s River Falls, which is the area his paternal family originate from. Jordan loved Dunn’s River Falls and climbing the waterfall. Steel drums made him feel happy and he could see more people “like him”. I asked him what he meant by that and he clarified many of the workers in the hotel were black but paler “like him”.

“I didn’t understand, why wouldn’t they pass me the ball?”

We began to talk about Jordan’s early life and his earliest memories of being aware he was mixed-race.  This was in Year 3. Jordan loves football but noticed other children would not pass him the ball. He remembers trying to compensate by being overly generous with his own passing, but to no avail. This made Jordan feel angry and frustrated but also really confused. He just did not understand why they would not pass him the ball.

“What country was I supposed to go “back to”?”

Things came to a head, when the popular boy told Jordan to go back to his “own country”. Jordan recalls not knowing how to react, as he wasn’t sure what country they meant. Eventually this led to feelings of anger. He had not faced this issue at his previous primary school where there were lots of black and mixed-race boys. I asked if there any other mixed-race boys at his primary. “No, just an Asian kid, but he liked being on his own and why would we be mates just ‘cos we were both not white?”. I asked Jordan if he had told his teachers about this incident. “Nah, it would have made it worse, there was no point”.

“How can you get us mixed up? We look totally different…”

We took the conversation to secondary school. What has his experience been? Immediately Jordan says he gets sick of teachers getting him and his best friend (also mixed-race) confused. Jordan cannot understand this, as he is tall with short hair, and his friend is shorter with curly hair. Jordan has concluded it is because they have similar skin colour. This makes him angry.

Jordan stated he has served time in the school’s Inclusion unit for something his friend had done. Why? I asked in astonishment. “’Cos he is my mate… I’m not snitching”. He tried to jog my memory of the incident, where a boy had been punched and hurt as part of a fight. Jordan stated it was his friend that caused the injury, but he was blamed, “they got us mixed up again”. Jordan took the punishment. Noting my shocked expression, “Miss it is fine, I was there, and I was fighting too, I just didn’t throw that punch” I asked why he didn’t speak up. “What’s the point in telling a teacher?”.

“I’m sick of last chances; I’m not letting it happen”.

We talked about Jordan’s final warning. He knows he really is close to being permanently excluded and he understands why the school will have little choice if he carries on. He does not want this to happen. “When I was in Year 6, I wanted to go to a school in Stretford, but I know this school is better.” Why? “The teachers are good, and the school is strict, I need that”. Jordan is adamant he won’t let a permanent exclusion happen. I remind him statistically he fits the profile of someone who might be permanently excluded. He knows because the Headteacher told him this (in the context of not wanting Jordan to be part of those figures) and it has “stuck in my head”. Jordan knows the Headteacher and the staff who work closely with him do not want him to go. However, a look at Jordan’s behaviour log makes for worrying reading. There is a litany of defiant and aggressive (verbal and physical) behaviour towards staff and students. His last 5-day fixed-term exclusion was for a nasty (and unprovoked) assault on a fellow student after school in a local shop.

“I’ve sunk into the stereotypes”.

We talk about this “profile” he might fit. I tell him I don’t want him to go, but I fear he will do something stupid, like bring cannabis into school. He’d never do that. What if it’s still in your coat from the weekend? It could happen, a stupid mistake and you know we will have no choice. Some things are black and white (we both laugh at the accidental “pun”). Jordan is so honest, “I’ve sunk into the stereotype”. He has already been picked up by the police with cannabis on him. Why? “It’s what people expect of me.  It’s hard not to just go along with it”. Jordan says he gets stick for “acting white” because he doesn’t “rob”. Sometimes he thinks it would be easier to go along with it. He feels angry and can’t control his temper. The “slightest thing gets me angry- I can’t control it” Are you angry about racism? Yes, but other stuff too…. like my Dad.

“My Dad doesn’t want me, my stepdad is always there for my brother, he is a good dad”.

We talk about his Dad. Jordan is feeling sad about his relationship with his Dad and his hurt is palpable. He states their relationship is currently broken down after Jordan asked his Dad for some money; a request his Dad refused, and an argument ensued.  “My Dad said all I ever want is money and he didn’t want to have anything to do with me…. he didn’t even send me a Xmas card Miss.” Jordan clearly feels angry and rejected, “What kid doesn’t ask for money off their Dad?”

Jordan has lots to do with his Dad’s family and proudly shows me a picture a picture of his half-sister on his phone. “My Dad doesn’t have anything to do with her either”. Despite this, his father’s family accepts him, and he has close relationships with his Aunties and Uncles. “I ring them, go around, they have taken me on their holidays…. isn’t my sister tall for her age?”.  It is clear family means a lot to Jordan.

I asked about his Dad’s role in his life. “He split with my Mum before I was born because he didn’t want me”. He has played parts in Jordan’s life on and off since and has served time in prison.

I ask about his stepdad. Jordan immediately states he is “A much better Dad because he is always there for my little brother no matter what, he always rings him from prison”. So, he has been a father figure to you? “Yes, at first but once he had his own son, he started ignoring me and got “nasty” to my Mum”. (This is referencing the known domestic violence Jordan has witnessed. I did not pursue this)

I put it to Jordan that, on paper, his stepdad would not be considered a good role model. He had rejected Jordan, was violent and abusive to his mother and now isn’t around for his son, due to a long prison sentence for a violent crime. I pose the question “Is he just better than your Dad?”  “Yes, I suppose so.” It is clear being present as a father, is what Jordan values.

“I can’t believe he met the Queen”.

So, have you got any positive role models Jordan?

“Christy”, is he replies instantly with a smile. Christy is a youth mentor, a black man who grew up in care and now runs a youth mentoring company that works in the school.

Why Christy? “Because he came from nothing, and now he has a nice car and his own business….and he has met the Queen! Did you know that Miss? I didn’t believe him until he showed me the picture!” (Christy has an MBE)

Would Christy still be someone you admired if he was white? “Anyone who makes it gets my respect”.

“The police are out to get everyone especially people like me”.

Jordan reveals to me he has been stopped and searched by the police over 30 times. I cannot believe this and ask him if he is sure it is that many. He is adamant it is. “Miss, if there is a group…it’s always me they stop; they are out to get people “like me” My white mates get to walk on”.  He states he has been pushed up against a car by the police. I ask why he is a target.  Jordan thinks it’s because he wears designer clothes. He recalls once on the way to Trafford Centre he was stopped and searched. He has £200 cash on him and was wearing a designer coat and “man bag”. “Miss, it was my birthday money and I wanted to get new trainers. I was looking forward to it, so I’d worn my nicest stuff. They asked if I’d been robbing. What kid doesn’t get birthday money and goes to spend it? What kid doesn’t like nice clothes? It’s all I ever ask for…. money and clothes”. I point out that Jordan has been found with cannabis, so how is he helping himself? “I don’t deal it though and others don’t get searched, so they don’t get caught” is Jordan’s response.

“What do you need from us Jordan?”

Jordan struggles in school. He is often demotivated and likes to put his head on the desk. Why is this? “The work is too hard. I hate algebra… What is the point? Why is work so hard, when it’s so easy to rob a shop and get money?”

Jordan wants to be a joiner when he is older (though some scouts are watching him play football). His paternal Grandad has his own business and Jordan wants the same. He clearly admires his Grandad.

He wants to be able to talk when he feels angry. That sometimes he needs to take time-out to calm down. In Maths he says if the teacher is there 1-1, he gets it, but if left on his own, he just can’t do it at all. He likes doing practical things, likes PE.

As we were finishing up, Jordan tells me about a time he had a glass bottle thrown at him by a group who also called him a “N-word”. He had a massive lump on his head. When was this? On a Sunday at the Trafford Centre. So, you were in school the next day? Yes. Did you tell anyone what had happened?  Jordan how can we help if we don’t know stuff like that?  “What’s the point?”

Update 1st April 2021:

Since school re-opening, Jordan has had multiple behaviour referrals for refusing to attempt any work. He has been issued with a time-out card to help him manage his anger. He will shortly be put onto a Prince’s Trust programme and still sees Christy every week. He has however kept his “head down” but he still struggles to keep his cool and needs lots of pastoral support.

Jordan’s Mum found it very hard to read the blog, but is grateful as she has learnt things she did not know. She feels guilt abut her choices in life. She is very proud of Jordan for this piece of work.

Jordan’s father contacted Jordan last week via Instagram, Jordan showed me the messages.

 “I love you son and I’m sorry”

Jordan: “No, I don’t care anymore, I don’t want anything to do with you after what you said to me”

“Ok, no problem, I won’t forget that, do your own thing, good luck”

How does that make you feel Jordan? “What kind of Dad says that? Just gives up”

Recently, an unaccompanied Syrian refugee joined the school and this appeared on Jordan’s behaviour log on the last day of term from Jordan’s pastoral manager……

“I saw Jordan playing football before lunch in PE. I spoke with him during a short break, in order to tell him well done and how impressed I was with him for his work with LCR and for the way he dealt with his issue in English yesterday.

Whilst I was waiting I watched the game. The new student, XXXX, was playing. He was clearly enjoying it, laughing and smiling, and taking full part. I saw Jordan several times applaud XXXX, help him up and generally encourage him. It was great to see. MTN witnessed it also and said how he felt Jordan had become more mature in recent weeks.”

Focus questions:

  • “What’s the point?” is Jordan’s default position when we spoke about reporting racism? Why? And why from such a young age?
  • What can be put in place for a young person on the brink of a permanent exclusion?
  • Rejection is a theme in this story- How can we help young people who are rejected by peers? Parents?
  • Jordan has so much resilience in so many ways- but when it comes to schoolwork, he has very little? Why?
  • How can we stop stereotypes becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is it too late for Jordan?
  • How can we stop young people feeling so disconnected from education?
  • Some of Jordan’s behaviours are deeply unpleasant and defiant. At what stage does Jordan need to take ownership? At what stage does a school have no choice to permanently exclude to protect staff and students?

Further reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/mar/24/exclusion-rates-black-caribbean-pupils-england

Find out more about the work of Christie Spurling here:

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