How to Avoid the Silence: Supporting Race Talk in Educational Psychology Practice – Part One

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By Dr Anjam Sultana, Dr Cherelle McDonald, Dr Maninder Sangar, Dr Sasha-Louise Simon and Dr Sidra Aslam

George Floyd’s murder has caused the resurgence of strong emotions of hurt, anger, and loss with recollections of racism in the UK and within our local contexts. It has taken its toll on Black educational psychologists (EPs) emotionally, physically and mentally. Many have articulated feelings synonymous with grief, burnout and anxiety. Black and ethnic minority EPs, within safe spaces, have articulated their inherent feelings of distress and disappointment as they returned to work where silence resounded. This lack of acknowledgement perpetuated the realisation that their hurt and pain; their wellbeing; their experiences of racial trauma were not worthy of recognition. Colleagues of colour want to experience empathy; a sense of belonging; and to know that their emotions are recognised and validated.

This blog is Part One, of two blogs, that aim to address this silence, firstly by defining six key concepts relevant to understanding racism in the hope it will raise awareness, educate and empower more EPs to engage in race talk within their EPSs. For each concept a variety of follow resource are recommended for you to explore.

  • What is racism?

To define racism, we must understand the concept of ‘race’. Historically, the concept of ‘race’ is rooted in the desire to classify people into distinct biological groups, typically based on their skin colour. Today, we know classifying humans into ‘races’ based on physical characteristics is crude and problematic, as we know there is greater genetic variation within ‘racial’ groups than between them. So, we understand ‘race’ as a social construct; however, a construct that continues to affect people’s lives in the form of racism. Racism refers to discrimination and prejudice against someone because of their ‘race’ and is underpinned by the belief that some ‘races’ are superior to others.

Resources: race and racism:

  • Podcast: Talking Race (2020) presented by Professor Vini Lander and Dr Daniel Kilvington: this podcast includes interviews with leading academics in the area of race and racism including Professor Kehinde Andrews and Professor David Gillborn
  • Books:
    • Saini, A., (2019) Superior: The return of race science, Harper Collins, London.
    • Rutherford, A., (2020) How to argue with a racist: history, science, race and reality, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London
  • What is institutional racism?

Institutional racism or ‘systemic racism’ refers to policies, processes or practices within an institution or organisation which discriminate against, and disadvantage Black and ethnic minority people. These practices can be unintentional and a product of thoughtlessness or racial stereotyping. In the UK, this concept was used in the 1999 Lawrence Report by Macpherson to explain the failings of the police in their investigation into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. As EPs this concept is important in considering how practices or procedures within educational settings or EPSs may be institutionally racist.

Resources: institutional racism

  • What are racial microaggressions?

Microaggressions are the incivilities that happen in everyday life, including the workplace, that are linked to an individual’s perceived racial group membership, age or gender. Racial micro-aggressions are a form of discrimination that subtly signal to individuals that they do not belong and are not welcome by highlighting a difference from the ‘majority’ group (Kandola, 2018). What makes micro-aggressive comments and acts so traumatic are their subtle and ambiguous nature, often made by well-intentioned people. Within the workplace common micro-aggressions include (but are not limited to): being ignored or interrupted by White colleagues in meetings, not given eye contact, incorrect pronunciation of names and comments based upon stereotypical judgements about an individual’s ‘perceived race’ (Weston, 2020). The accumulation of these ‘micro’ acts over time can have a detrimental impact on an individual’s psychological wellbeing.

Resources – racial microaggressions

  • What is Unconscious/Implicit Bias?

Unconscious or implicit bias (the terms are used interchangeably) refers to the attitudes and beliefs that we hold outside of our conscious awareness. Our biases develop through our experience and learning of stereotypes and associations within society. Biases affect our perception, attention, memory and actions, and they are implicit when they are outside of our explicit awareness or deliberate expression. We all have implicit biases. Implicit racial biases occur when we attach attributes to different racial groups based on stereotypes pervasive in society. The challenge of implicit racial bias is that it can lead to decision making, thinking and actions that are more/less favourable towards different groups. To address implicit bias, we firstly need to be aware that we have it and that it affects us.

To understand and address implicit racial bias is to become starkly aware of the stereotypes and associations that exist within our society, actively take steps to challenge them, and be more conscious in our decision making, thinking and actions.

Resources: implicit bias

  • Videos:
    • Implicit Bias – Concepts unwrapped: This US video (University of Texas at Austin) further explains implicit bias
    • Biased: a short extract from a Royal Society of Arts lecture delivered by Professor Jennifer Eberhardt, and introduces how implicit bias affects us all
  • Articles:
    • ‘Bias in Britain’: This series of reports from the Guardian newspaper examines implicit bias in a range of areas in UK society
  • Books:
    • Agarwal, P. (2020) Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias. London: Bloomsbury Sigma.
    • Eberhardt, J. L. (2019) Biased: The New Science of Race and Inequality. London: William Heinemann.
  • What is Aversive Racism?

Aversive racism builds on implicit racial bias, to describe the prejudice experienced when an individual outwardly professes an egalitarian view and regards themselves as non-prejudiced, yet implicitly experiences negative feelings and beliefs in relation to a racial group (Pearson, Dovidio, and Gaertner, 2009). Aversive racism is subtle and indirect, and leads to discrimination in situations where there are ambiguous social norms, as behaviours can then be rationalised as being due to factors other than race.

Resources: aversive racism

  • What is White privilege?

Coined in the 1930s by the famous Black civil rights activist William Du Bois, White privilege is a concept based on an institutional set of benefits granted to those of who, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions (Robin, 2018). White privilege can be hard to see for those who have it, as it is ascribed from birth. It encapsulates a whole host of social advantages that come with being a member of the dominant race. The concept came to further prominence when antiracism activist, Peggy McIntosh, shared her experiences as a White woman about the invisible unearned conditions she could rely on:

  • I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed
  • When I am told about our national heritage or ‘civilisation’, I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is

(p.2, McIntosh, 1988)

In her book, ‘Me and White Supremacy’, Saad (2020) encourages self-reflection to questions like:

  • In what ways do you hold White privilege? Study the list from Peggy McIntosh and reflect on your own daily life.
  • What negative experiences has your White privilege protected you from throughout your life?
  • What positive experiences has your White privilege granted you throughout your life (that Black, indigenous and people of colour do not have)?
  • What have you learned about your White privilege that makes you uncomfortable?

(p. 39, Saad, 2020)

Resources: White privilege

  • Video: illustrates the concept of White privilege: The $100 Race
  • Article: Peggy McIntosh (1988) White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack
  • Books:
    • Angelo Robin (2018) White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Boston: Beacon Press.
    • Saad Layla (2020) Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World,  London: Quercus Books

Anjam, Cherelle, Maninder, Sasha and Sidra are educational psychologists working in the West Midlands who all completed their training on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham

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