Anti-Racism Clubs: Why Every School Should Make Space for One

“We want a billboard too” they said. At an independent cinema, a group of school children from Newark Primary in Port Glasgow stood on the platform in front of the screen and pitched their ideas to the cinema manager. They wanted to create and air a film that highlighted some experiences of BAME children and make a statement about being proactive about racism. These children are part of an anti-racism club, led by teacher Katie D’Souza. She describes how they wanted to “give a voice to children of colour affected by racism and confront perpetrators with the effects of their actions on their peers; to give teachers and parents a way in to speaking about race to disrupt racism and to provide resources to help others on their antiracism journey”. A few months later, with a grant from the Scottish Government, they had created a seven-minute video using their own stories, pictures, and voices that would be watched by thousands of cinema goers during film previews. It was an incredible achievement for one small group, and when I asked Katie about her role in it, she was very adamant that the kids had led every step of the way. 

Antiracism clubs are beginning to appear in some schools across Scotland. When I first started supporting one myself, I was working in a primary school, which meant that anything we did had to be appropriate for the ages of pupils attending. I also worked in a predominantly white school, meaning that my antiracism club focussed on learning and activism rather than being a BAME safe space. Other educators worked in far more mixed schools and needed to build in more time for personal sharing; or were in a high school which changed the conversation a lot.

Being aware of context is imperative to facilitate young people engaging with social justice positively and safely.  That would be my main advice to those who were looking to set up something like an antiracism club. Katie’s advice is maybe more inspiring, as she would urge others to just get started and let the children guide you – “Let their enthusiasm and big ideas drive you”. Katie was one of those teachers in the antiracism club network that inspired me to run one in my own school. She shared with me that hers began as a pupil voice group. The children who attended said they wanted a billboard to share their message with the whole town. Katie, worried about the ambitiousness of their ideas, suggested they have a poster competition in school instead. The pupils were then adamant that they wanted to take their posters all over the town; including a hashtag, another idea from the pupils to get the community involved. They were shared out to shops, health centres, and places of worship. Katie recollects how excited pupils were to tell her when friends and relatives spotted their posters out and about.

However, they still wanted a billboard. This led to their next project, their incredible short film. When I watched this film, I was in awe of what these engaged, enthusiastic, and confident young people had created. It truly is an achievement, and I was moved when I watched it on my phone and again when I got to see it on a cinema screen.

 In comparison, my antiracism club was just in its fledgling stages and hadn’t got very far, a comparison I shouldn’t have been thinking about. Not all groups will have stories as aspirational as this – far from it. Whether they are creating films for cinemas or are just sharing their own stories in a safe space, they are equally as valuable. Antiracism clubs can vary in structure to meet the needs of the community. They are not a committee to tackle racist incidents, but an opportunity for pupils to explore and question institutional racism. Conversations can range from discussing colonialism or civil rights movements to why some people are angry that the new Little Mermaid film features a black Ariel. Social justice movements are often born out of forums for people to talk. bell hooks described early feminist groups as ‘consciousness-raising’, informal gatherings where women met to discuss their different experiences. Some antiracism clubs in more racially mixed areas function in a similar way, allowing BAME pupils to talk about their feelings. Some groups focus on learning about different forms of racism and looking at ways they could tackle it in their school. Some are a hybrid of the two models. Whatever form they take, they offer a voice and opportunity for pupils.

It can be a daunting task establishing one, and while wonderful teachers that are heralding change like Katie are invaluable, schools and local councils should be creating space for this work in any way they can and not relying on individuals – particularly BAME individuals – to be paving the way. In history, there have always been clubs and groups for adults to discuss social change, but now we live in a technological world where young people have direct access to news and movements going on and many want to feel heard and involved. Antiracism clubs, or pupil groups focussed on antiracism, are modern forms of an old concept. Not all of them will be as ambitious as Katie’s group, or as confident, but making space for children to engage with social justice helps them navigate the onslaught of media they are growing up with. It will help them question, reflect, and feel they have a democratic voice. Not all groups will be insistent on a billboard, but Katie’s group got theirs. 


You can view their film, animated by Hannah Moitt, here and access their resources blog here. More resources for teachers can access antiracism resources and support from Education Scotland here.


Comments (11)

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  1. 230910 says:

    Good, important work. Though it worries me that such strategies might merely reaffirm the differential of ‘race’ itself, which (among other concepts like ethnicity, disability, gender, et al) underpins our discriminatory behaviours.

    Perhaps strategies that deconstruct that concept, rather than leave it intact, would work better in shaping how children come to a more just understanding of themselves.

    1. WT says:

      Agree. This sort of initiative has the danger of highlighting difference when there is little need to do so, and it is difficult to gauge the effect this will have. Certainly, it could be beneficial but on the other hand it could help create problems. Anti racism events can be effective tools but they need to be targeted dealing with specific problems.

      1. 230911 says:

        Indeed! And it’s imperative that the club itself decides on which specific problem(s) its actions need to be targeted.

    2. Cathie Lloyd says:

      I know an ex-school pupil who would have found membership in such a group rather problematic for their own good reasons. `i think it needs to be handled sensitively – would definitely applaud the underlying aims though. Its not clear from my reading but hopefully kids from all backgrounds should be welcome. To be handled carefully and in an awareness of the local context.

      1. 230912 says:

        It’s essential to such groups that their membership is open and voluntary. No one can be excluded from or coerced into participation in such groups, for whatever reason, without defeating their purpose.

        1. C Rain says:

          Hello – author of article here! 🙂

          Really interesting reading all these comments and would absolutely agree with a lot of points! Can confirm membership to all anti-racism clubs I know have always been open to all, voluntary, and not forced in any way. I would also agree that it’s important to emphasis that we are equal and a community rather than highlight differences, but also BAME pupils do have different experiences and there are still lots of racist incidents in schools. I think what is wonderful here is that the pupils drove the work – very much a pupil voice enterprise.

          Lots of valid concerns though, lots of sensitivity needed and needs to be led by staff that have engaged with a lot of antiracism learning themselves.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    I have just watched the new Little Mermaid, where Ariel one of seven mermaids (mythical creatures so imperfectly observed that some kind of dolphin is mistaken for one early on) each representing on of the Seven Seas (a kind of geographic myth) so it would be really odd if they weren’t portrayed diversely. Ariel’s patch appears to be some Atlantic-Caribbean island Kingdom. The most offensive aspect to me is the Disney failure to escape its royalist propaganda, but then the story is more about parent-child relationships not political systems. Affecting to be offended by Ariel’s skin tone seems to really scrap the bottom of the barrel of racist objection.

    No doubt these anti-racism clubs have some work to do, but when might that work be done in a given school, its lessons absorbed, its activism rewarded, its facts disseminated, its values normed? What would success look like?

    1. 230911 says:

      That would very much depend on the SMART objectives the club sets itself and the criteria by which it would measure its success in achieving those objectives. It’s not something that can be universally legislated.

      At their very best, community action groups like anti-racism clubs in schools operate democratically, which means that their members themselves collectively decide the club’s goals, methods, and measures of success, rather than any ‘higher’ authority, and do so in an ‘ideal speech situation’; that is, in fora in which participants are able to evaluate each other’s assertions solely on the basis of reason and evidence in an atmosphere completely free of any non-rational ‘coercive’ influences, including both physical and psychological coercion of the type to be found in racist discourse and other discriminatory behaviours. It’s the job of the group facilitator to ensure as far as possible that such ‘ideal speech’ conditions are maximised in the group’s discourse.

      This democratic requirement is especially important in relation to action groups that come together to question and subvert discriminatory behaviours, where it’s clearly important to avoid replicating those behaviours in their own practice. The Habermasian ‘ideal speech situation’ here would be one in which no one, both within the group itself and among the wider population with which the group engages, is subject to an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power through repeated verbal and/or physical behaviour that intends to subordinate or belittle them on the basis of their skin colour (or anything else for that matter).

  3. Bradley Brady says:

    Jeez, maybe a wee bit of over thinking going on here. Possibly yards away from the docks where the spoils of empire and products of slave labour were unloaded for the empire’s second city, a group of primary school kids decide, entirely on their own initiative and refusal to be curtailed by adult caution, to disseminate their anti-racist and inclusive message to their community. What’s not to celebrate?

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