13 October 2015

“It’s racist to describe someone as black.”

“There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘coloured’”.

“Why would anyone mind being called ‘half-caste’?”

These are some of the things we have heard young people saying over the past week. And we’ve encouraged it, because it’s Black History Month and we wanted young people to have some proper, open discussions about what racism is.

We put some words on a table and asked young people what they meant, which were offensive and why. There was some confusion but, as a result, we had the opportunity to talk through some things: to explain that it’s really ok to describe a black person as black, that calling someone a gypsy “because you’re poor, or trashy in the way you dress” is not ok, that the word ‘coloured’ is inextricably linked with racial segregation.

When young people didn’t understand why ‘half-caste’ might be offensive, we showed them John Agaard’s poem.

…yu must come back tomorrow
wid de whole of yu eye
an de whole of yu ear
an de whole of yu mind.

an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story.

One boy told us that he’d heard a friend called a number of the names laid out in front of him on the table, but that it had become so commonplace at school that he thought it was acceptable.

The young people at those sessions were more than ready to have those conversations, and by giving them the chance to do so in a safe environment, we can help them to understand why labels matter, and what prejudice is so that they are less likely to carry it with them as they go through life.

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