The School That Tried to End Racism airs tonight on Channel 4, showing how one South London school attempted to “end” racism by putting a class of students through a series of tasks to challenge their perceptions of race.
The two-part series, which was filmed at Glenthorne High School, sees a class of 24 students aged 11-12 tested for racial bias at the beginning and end of the course to determine whether their views have changed from the experience.
Led by experts – and inspired by similar programmes from American schools – the challenge aimed to tackle awkwardness, as these students opened up about their views on race.
So what did they learn? Here’s some of the things the young people discovered…
They have very different views on race
The students discovered that they had conflicting feelings towards race. While one student – a white, English boy – didn’t think much about race, a mixed-race girl struggled with the tasks, one of which involved having to assign good and bad words to white and minority ethnic people.
The majority had an unconscious racial bias which favoured white people (at the beginning)
After completing the first task, the students were given results to determine whether or not they had unconscious racial bias. The class were shocked to learn that 18 out of 24 students had a preference for white people, while two had a Black preference and only four students were actually neutral.
Commenting on the results, one of the pupils admitted that they often think white people have “good connotations”, which they don’t necessarily associate with minority ethnic groups, although they couldn’t explain their reasoning behind this. The results didn’t sit well with the class, with another pupil “feeling bad” about it.
The divide created tension between the students
As part of the of the experiment, the students were made to split into affinity groups – one for white students, another for Black and minority ethnic students. In these groups, they were asked to discuss their feelings about race. For the class that was filled with BAME students, this was actually a time of joy as they expressed their passion about their heritage and cultures, however, the same couldn’t be said for the other classroom.
A majority of the white students found it difficult to talk about race, with one of the students commenting that he felt “jealous” when overhearing his BAME classmates and friends having fun in the other room.
The white students struggled to describe their racial identity
The students were each asked to bring in items from their household which represented their culture. While the BAME students used the opportunity to show off their heritage, bringing in traditional dresses, food and prayer mats, the white students struggled, with the experts concluding that celebrating white heritage can sometimes be seen negatively.
All students admitted to racial insecurities
After the show and tell session, a white student confessed that it made her want to be like her ethnic peers, as she felt she didn’t have much culture to share.
Similar feelings were shared by the BAME students, with one girl admitting to not feeling “pretty” in the past, because she wasn’t white. However, as the experiment allowed her to mix with other minority ethnic students – who were more confident – she learned to appreciate and celebrate her ethnicity.
The children learned how to talk about race with one another
The experiment challenged the pupils to have a healthy discussion about race, which lead to one of the Black students telling her white peers that she didn’t want anyone to “prove” they weren’t racist, but just to be “normal”. This resulted in the pupils no longer feeling guilty about saying the words “white” and “black” and allowed for them to form friendships outside their racial group.
The minority ethnic children had already experienced racism
It became clear that the BAME students had already been victims of racism, as one student recalled a time when he was singled out for being Black.
99.9 per cent of their DNA is the same
The students were surprised to find out that their DNA is 99.9 per cent the same as each other. It allowed for the students to see that they’re not much different apart from the colour of their skin.
Race is a bigger issue than they thought
Despite feeling uneasy at first, the students came to the conclusion that race is a bigger issue that they had originally thought and something that should definitely be spoken about.
The School That Tried to End Racism is on Channel 4 on the 25th June and 2nd July at 9pm. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide.