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

Beyond Books: resources to teach children and young people about racism

By Julia Howe and Anjam Sultana

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We are in a crucial time when many people feel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to learn more about the impact of racism and to teach their children about it. There have been many helpful lists of books for children produced in the last few days, for example: No reader is too young to start: anti-racist books for all children and teens. What may be less apparent is that there are a number of organisations such as charities and campaigning groups who publish educational materials about racism. This list is not intended to be complete or exhaustive but it may be helpful as a starting point if you are looking for resources to improve your own knowledge, to teach your children or to recommend to schools.

The resources here are all UK based to acknowledge that while there are commonalities in racism around the world, it also takes place within culturally specific contexts. We also recognise that the use of the term “race” is problematic and are using it here in the sense of difference being socially constructed, rather than biological. You can find the resources by clicking on the highlighted hyperlinks.

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

  • No Outsiders: while this initiative is not explicitly about racism it is designed to promote diversity, acceptance and inclusion in schools and can provide a foundation for other work. It is also one of the few initiatives that can be used with very young children through the use of picture books and stories.

Understanding the History of Race in the UK

  • Our Migration Story tells the untold history of migration to the UK since AD43, celebrating the lives and the contribution of migrants to the development of our society. The resources are presented in a range of formats and include lesson plans.
  • The Institute of Race Relations produced a series of excellent booklets in the 1980s about the history of race in Britain. These are still relevant and in print. They are presented as cartoons but are suitable for older children (secondary aged) and adults. They also publish a range of books, lesson plans and the journal Race and Class.
  • Black and British – A Forgotten History (BBC, 2016): Historian David Olusoga explores overlooked Black figures from British history. This series, and the supporting website, offer many potential resources to enrich a secondary school history curriculum.

Understanding Race and Diversity

  • Show Racism the Red Card is a charity that specialises in working with schools and young people. They produce resources about a range of inequalities including racism.
  • The Runnymede Trust is a leading independent think tank focusing on race equality. They produce a lot of academic research and also educational resources.
  • Kids of Colour is a YouTube platform for children and young people of colour to share and ‘explore their experiences of race, identity and culture and challenge the everyday institutionalized racism that shapes their lives’ in modern Britain. It offers a rich resource of videos of young people of colour sharing their experiences of racism.

We live in an information rich world and there are likely to be other helpful resources that we have missed. Please feel free to alert us and our blog readers to these through our comments box.

Julia is a tutor on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham. Anjam is a local authority educational psychologist and an honoury lecturer on the course.

 

Hard to Reach Communities or Hard to Reach Services?

By Maninder Sangar

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Statistics suggest that there is an underutilisation of mental health services by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people. As a consequence, people from minority ethnic groups are commonly constructed as being ‘hard to reach’ when it comes to accessing mental health services. This is despite the assertion that BAME groups have ‘higher rates’ of mental illness.

It is interesting to consider why this is. Is it because these groups inherently have more ‘risk factors’ for mental health problems? For me, this suggestion is deeply problematic as it is based upon the assumption that there are biological differences between people from different ‘races’. It is an essentialist, racist notion which presumes that some ethnic groups are more susceptible due to defective genes or a defective culture.

Constructions of mental health problems differ amongst communities and individuals as how we understand mental health is socially constructed. If we believe that the concept of mental distress is socially and culturally dependent then religion, culture, gender, and socio-economic factors cannot be ignored when considering help-seeking for mental health problems.

A further explanation may be that individuals from some communities are not seeking help and reach crisis point. This may happen in some communities where there can be a lack of awareness or knowledge, as well as stigma and shame attached to experiencing poor mental health.

An alternative explanation may be the level of cultural competence of mental health services in the UK. The ’identification’ and ‘diagnosis’ of problems is promoted in current practice through the medicalisation of mental distress. Hence alternative discourses around mental health may be dismissed placing particular groups at a disadvantage. This is linked with the ethnocentric nature of medical and psychological research within the domain of mental health. This is problematic for a number of reasons; firstly it ignores the social, economic, cultural backgrounds of individuals and considers groups to be homogenous. Secondly, the view of ‘normal’ functioning is based upon western notions of well-being constructed by those with the authority to decide what is ‘normal’.

So, in practice, people who view mental distress as a chemical imbalance may seek medical assistance, while people from particular cultures may construct problems with ‘mental health’ as arising from a supernatural cause or as an indication of a spiritual imbalance . With these varying constructions of mental health come a range of potential strategies to resolve distress incorporating spiritual and religious practices.

Thus discourses of mental health have implications for the ways in which particular communities are constructed and therefore the ways in which they are supported. It is vital that these discourses are deconstructed to enable multiple, complex and nuanced constructions to surface and for negative stereotypes to be challenged. Only then will we understand the mental health experiences of black and ethnic minority groups and provide more culturally fair services.

Maninder graduated from the initial training course in educational psychology at the University of Birmingham in 2018 and now works in a local authority.

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Representation Matters: Decolonising Education

By Anjam Sultana

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One of the things I am interested in as an educational psychologist, is how educational institutions influence and shape the identities of Black and minority ethnic students. What is taught in school contributes to the sense of belonging and identity that students develop. Knowledge is not neutral and what we choose to teach reflects power differences in society.

One example is the history curriculum, which has an important role to play in the stories we tell and the knowledge we produce. This in turn contributes to how learners understand the world and their place in it. This includes an understanding of what it means to be British. Recent events, such as the Windrush scandal, have highlighted who is included or excluded from “British identity” and how quickly history could be erased or forgotten.

It has been argued by many academics and activists that the curriculum in British schools, colleges and universities is too White and, therefore, not representative of our increasingly diverse student population. Over recent years, there has been a growing movement to highlight the need to “decolonise” education and this has received increasing attention: notable campaigns have included UCL’s  #WhyisMyCurriculumWhite and #RhodesMustFall. Such campaigns have argued for a move away from the Eurocentric bias in our curriculum, towards more diverse and inclusive programmes of study.

If the curriculum is to be diversified and decolonised, I believe there needs to be change at multiple levels within the British education system. A key mechamsim for this is a more representative teaching workforce. In 2015, the ‘School Workforce in England’ report highlighted the lack of Black and minority ethnic teachers in senior roles in English secondary schools. For example, it found, of the 2200 male secondary school headteachers, only four were Pakistani and of the 1400 female secondary school headteachers, only 16 were Black Caribbean. This lack of diversity in educational leadership has been found in higher education as well, and demonstrates the Whiteness of education, and arguably the knowledge produced, at multiple levels.

As well as diversifying the teaching profession, there needs to be funding and investment to diversify the curriculum. An example of this includes Our Migration Stories: a website developed by the Runnymede Trust, in collaboration with the universities of Manchester and Cambridge. This website tells the untold stories of migration to the British Isles and ‘…is dedicated to presenting the fullness and the richness of contributions made, and lives lived, by Britain’s many migrant groups’. Such resources are important in illustrating how migration has shaped the population of the British Isles and what it truly means to be British. In developing such resources to diversify and decolonise the curriculum, we should strive to teach learners to take a critical perspective that recognises that all knowledge is situated. To help Black and ethnic minority students to develop a sense of belonging, representation in education is key.

Anjam is an educational psychologist working in Dudley and an Honorary Tutor at the University of Birmingham

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