The recent – and ongoing – protests against racial injustice, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the United States in May 2020, have fuelled a national reckoning aimed at confronting racism in the UK and the difficult colonial history that sowed its seeds. Of the many forces that have shaped the present, racial oppression is one of the most significant – the country’s involvement in the slave trade and colonisation of countries around the globe helped it amass immense wealth and create many of the buildings and institutions that still exist today.
However, these troubling sides to the UK’s history, and their relationship to modern Britain and the racist structures that persist today, have often been left unaddressed. But, what the recent protests have shown is that there is a public desire to honestly address this history and confront the racism which it spawned. To be able to confront racism, however, we need to discuss race.
Race is one of the concepts that societies have created to sort and categorise their members – it emerged in the 1600s and 17oos as a means of justifying colonialism, the enslavement of human beings and societal divisions that placed white people above the rest. The concept of race gave rise to racism – discrimination against people on account of their perceived race – which continues to have an impact on how people are treated, and their ability to access opportunities, in the present day. Though race is a social construction, racism is real.
Race can be a difficult topic to discuss in the classroom; its challenging nature can mean that teachers shy away from broaching this important issue and from exploring the effects that race and racism have on young people and wider society. This is problematic as students need to be able to discuss race, their experiences and their perceptions, if they are to challenge racism in the world around them.