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Last updated on 4 August 2020
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Not all school communities will be eager to talk about racism and racial justice. Find out how you can encourage resistant members of your community to engage with any anti-racism work you’re doing.

This guidance is best suited to schools with few or no BAME (Black, Asian or minority ethnic) staff or parents in their community, or where the school community is resistant to anti-racism initiatives. If there are BAME members of your community who are willing to share their perspectives on your approach to anti-racism, consider making an anti-racism working group instead.

This isn’t something you can solve quickly, so start with small steps

Improving inclusivity and making your school anti-racist is a long-term project, especially if your community is reluctant to discuss race issues, or even actively resistant to your efforts.

However, it’s better to make a start, keep pushing and learn as you go, than make no progress at all. You can be the driving force for change in your school.

Prepare to face some resistance, but don't let it put you off

Resistance might not be obvious, and could take the form of parents or staff:

  • Believing that they don't need to worry about racism, especially if there aren't a lot of BAME people in the community
  • Agreeing that racism is an issue, but that there are bigger problems to deal with
  • Thinking that there's no racism in the school community, and so tackling it would be a waste of time

Doing some reading on racism will help you find responses to these forms of resistance. Take a look at our anti-racist reading lists for staff to make a start, and share them with your reading group if you decide to make one (see below).

You might not be able to get everybody on board, so focus on those who are least resistant first

Some parents might not engage at all. For example, they might pull their children out of school on days where you've got a speaker on anti-racism coming into school.

There's not much you can do to get these members of your community on your side. So, focus your efforts on the people who are more engaged, and who you might be able to get through to first.

Your exact goals will depend on your community, but you could aim to get people thinking more about racism, what they can do to be more inclusive towards BAME people they meet, and how they can support their children's understanding of racism and equality.

Start a reading group to create support among staff

It'll be a lot easier to speak to and engage a resistant community if you've got staff on board.

There'll hopefully be members of staff in your school who want to know more about racial justice following the recent Black Lives Matter protests. With a reading group, you can encourage staff to get involved and give them an opportunity to learn more. Plus, the discussions you have can inform what you speak to your community about, and how you approach them.

Ideally, this group should include members of SLT to give it more legitimacy, and so key decision-makers in your school understand racial justice better.

It's up to you to decide how often you meet, and the books or articles you read (see our article above for some suggestions). If possible, buy books for your reading group, and try to protect time for members to read.

Figure out together how to best ease your community into thinking about racial justice

Your community might be more likely to engage with some ideas than others. For example, it might be harder for a disadvantaged white community to accept the concept of white privilege than a more affluent one.

You and your team know your community best. In your reading and discussions, think carefully about which ideas your community would be most and least likely to accept. For example, you might decide to avoid talking about Black Lives Matter straight away and instead start by focusing on the things you want to include more of (like inclusivity), rather than focus on the thing you want to get rid of (racism).

Eventually you'll want to discuss topics that your community finds uncomfortable. Take a look at our guidance on leading whole-school discussions about racism and whiteness for help.

Be clear about your approach to anti-racism with parents and staff

Some communities are only resistant to anti-racism initiatives because they don't understand their school's approach and goals. They might just need to warm to your plans.

Consider holding a workshop or open evening with parents to explain your plans to them. Or, if you want to get started before social distancing has eased, send a letter to parents and staff and post a message on your website.

Take a look at Hanover Primary School's message to parents for inspiration, but adapt your own message so that it suits your school's demographics. For example, if your school community is majority white or all white, acknowledge this in your messaging, but explain why you're adopting an anti-racism approach.

However you convey your message, try to explain:

  • The changes you're making to your school (like adapting your curriculum so it's more diverse, or introducing anonymous marking)
  • What you're trying to achieve with each change (for example, introducing anonymous marking to reduce bias against BAME pupils in your school)

Use our whole school anti-racism audit to figure out the gaps in your provision if you're unsure of where to start.

Empathise with your community to help them empathise with others

Talking about ideas like white privilege might be difficult in disadvantaged communities. There are a few ways that you can approach this issue, though:

  • Acknowledge and listen to the difficulties that your community experiences. If you do talk about white privilege, make sure you don't seem to be erasing the difficulties they face – for example, some people in your community might live in generational poverty. Don't ignore this, but you could explain that there are BAME people in the same position, with the added difficulty of being discriminated against on a daily basis
  • Draw attention to what your community has in common with others – for example, if you know that your community feels that they're ignored by politicians, you can point out that many BAME people feel the same way

Your reading will help you understand these problems in more detail, and provide you with more talking points that you can use.

Once you've started to get your community on board, consider your next steps

How much you involve your community will depend on how warm they are to your anti-racism initiatives. You might just want parents to accept your approach, so that they let their children engage with your anti-racist curriculum or external speakers.

But, if you find that staff and parents want to learn more about racism, and what they can do to combat it in their community, you could:

  • Invite more staff to your existing reading group
  • Create a new one for parents (and send them some reading to get them started)

In either case, you should focus discussions on what staff and parents can do day-to-day to help improve the experiences of BAME people around them, and how they can best support their pupils/children to do the same. You could also use these groups to help you create an action plan for your school.

BAME – a note on terminology

We use BAME (Black, Asian or minority ethnic) throughout this article as a succinct way to refer to the many ethnic minority groups in England. However, we recognise that some people are not comfortable with the term.

When talking about this topic in your school, we'd encourage you to think about what terms will work best in your own context (other widely used terms include "ethnic minorities" and "people of colour") – and note that individuals should always be referred to according to their own ethnicity, rather than grouped in this way.

Sources

Show Racism the Red Card, who spoke to us about making a reading group with staff to get started, being open with parents about your approach to anti-racism, and ways to help your community think empathetically about racial justice.

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