Beyond Silence and Fear: Researching approaches to anti-racist school practice in the South West of England

In a globalised world, as communities become more diverse, teachers are required to facilitate increasingly diverse student cohorts. However, the Teacher Training Agency (2013) reports that many teachers feel under-equipped to do so. This is problematic given a rise in the number of people who admit to being racially prejudiced (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2013). Lander (2015) argues that teachers are ill-prepared and unsure about how to tackle racism; they receive very little training on race and have limited spaces for critical reflection around racism in initial teacher education. Likewise, Bhopal and Rhamie (2014) argue that lecturers on teacher training courses also lack the knowledge and confidence to support students through the process of learning about race, diversity and inclusion. Meanwhile, the issue of racism has become taboo, to the extent that many people fear to discuss the existence of race due to fears of looking racist (Leonardo, 2009). As the ability to work with diverse communities becomes ever more relevant, inability to talk about race can lead to feelings of disturbance that are difficult to articulate. Consequently, dealing with issues of racism in schools becomes challenging, when teachers do not feel they have the necessary experience and do not feel they can participate in a dialogue about things they find troubling. This presentation draws on my recent PhD research, which explores white teachers and pupils conceptualizations of race and anti-racist school practise in the predominantly white area of Devon. This area is gradually becoming more visibly diverse, in parts. Through interviews and observations of pupils’ engagement in art-based diversity projects, I found that in the context studied, approaches to racism tended towards prohibitive language and silencing discourses of colour-blindness. However, during the diversity project sessions pupils welcomed the opportunity to engage in dialogue about issues of race. I argue that silencing racist talk can help protect children from harm. However, silencing strategies can also mask racist attitudes rather than uproot and transform them. Furthermore, prohibitive strategies can silencing the dialogue necessary to work through troublesome issues of race. I explore the notion there is a need to move beyond silencing discourses to engage in dialogue about issues of race and racism. This may necessitate embracing feelings of discomfort, fear and risk that can arise through such dialogue (Shotwell, 2011), in the pursuit of developing effective anti-racist school practise.