By Leah Conway
Channel 4 has recently shown a two-part documentary on a multicultural state school in London, dubbed ‘The School That Tried to End Racism.’
The documentary follows a class of Year 7 pupils (11 and 12-year-olds) through a three-week programme to help students uncover and eradicate hidden racial bias.
At the beginning of their three-week programme, the children took an IAT (Implicit Association Test), which was produced by Harvard, to see what undercover biases they had.
It found out that 18 out of the 24 pupils had an unconscious racial bias in preference towards white people, 4 out of the 24 or had no bias and 2 had an unconscious racial bias in preference towards black people.
This initiative aimed to educate the children in such issues as racism, prejudice and discrimination that they usually would not understand until they were a bit older.
The initiative was the first of its kind to be tested in a UK school, and if successful, the school wants to build what they learnt into the school curriculum.
Studies observed that 11-year-olds often had no trouble making friends in different racial groups. However, the older children got, the more aware they become of ethnic differences. This awareness often leads to a type of ‘self-segregation’; they start to split up into friendship groups based on ethnicity.
Part of the experimental programme was to split the class into ‘affinity groups’, dividing the class into white and non-white and proceeding to discuss race, ethnicity and culture.
The affinity groups’ purpose was to separate the class temporarily in order to come back together in a stronger and more understanding way.
It was quite profound to watch as a pupil, Farah, a young girl of half-white, half-Sri-Lankan descent struggled to pick which room she should go into, she struggled to decide and said, “Where do I go?”
Farah continued to say, “I’m half-white and half-Sri-Lankan. I chose the ethnic minority group because I know I can’t feel comfortable in a room full of white people because I look different.”
Watching Farah’s struggle connected with me, as a multiple heritage woman, I couldn’t help but reflect and think at that age, what room would I have picked?
The affinity groups had some interesting results. It showed how the non-white group were much more comfortable and enthusiastic about discussing race and ethnicity. Alternatively, the white group were quiet and uncomfortable in their affinity group.
Their teacher asked the question, “Have you ever thought what it means to be white?” The silence from the group reflects the fact that they had never had to consider it before.
The pupils took part in several tasks and exercises throughout the three-week programme. As a result, the pupils were more comfortable and open, talking about having healthy discussions about race.
At the end of the three weeks, the pupils retook the test. The results showed that the percentage of unconscious bias in favour towards white people dropped and all the children were very close to having no bias. When hearing the results, the children all shouted and celebrated.
‘The School That Tried to End Racism’ is a powerful documentary; it draws attention to how vital proactive education and intervention is in the matter of discussing race and discrimination. We cannot leave things to chance or dismiss children as being too young to be exposed and educated about such things because otherwise, nothing will change.
The documentary is worth the watch and provokes thoughts of what we can start changing personally and locally. Will we see these sorts of interventions in Kirklees’ schools one day?
We have seen persistent race problems in Kirklees. Only a month ago, we saw a vile racist video go viral of local Huddersfield youths verbally and physically abusing a young black male.
The persistence of such stories shows that intervention and education are needed; change needs to start young.
As one of the pupils who took part stated, “If we can do it, anyone can do it.”