Racism in Children's Lives: A Study of Mainly White Primary Schools

By Glenn, Robert | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Racism in Children's Lives: A Study of Mainly White Primary Schools


Glenn, Robert, The Journal of Negro Education


Racism in Children's Lives: A Study of Mainly White Primary Schools, by Barry Troyna and Richard Hatcher. London: Routledge, 1992. 216 pp. $74.95, cloth; $17.95, paper. Reviewed by Robert Glenn, Washington, D.C.*

In this book, Troyna and Hatcher provide convincing evidence that British schoolchildren, Blackl and White alike, are grappling with racism, even in predominantly White schools where few minorities are present. Noting that many adults assume children to be immune from racist motives or beliefs, this book demonstrates otherwise. It also identifies, in the children's own words, children's ideas about social and racial equality-some of which, if nurtured by school people, families, and political leaders, hold great promise for developing and supporting more just communities.

The authors of this study are both British educators. Barry Troyna has been involved in antiracist education for over 15 years as a school principal, lecturer, and teacher and in his work within the British Labour Party. He is currently a senior lecturer in education at the University of Warwick. Richard Hatcher, having also served as teacher, lecturer, and school governor (principal), is senior lecturer in educational studies at Birmingham Polytechnic.

The book begins with an overview of contemporary racial affairs in England. The authors discuss how politicians, community coalitions, and school leaders responded to several highly visible racist acts in the nation, and explain how many of these responses, though in many cases well-meaning, fell short in terms of effectiveness. The authors next review the literature on children's culture and their moral and social development. In exploring the relationships between Black and White children in British schools, they present case studies drawn from interviews with children of both groups about their experiences with racism. These studies analyze the sources of students' racism or antiracist views, their responses to racism, and the meanings and impact of racist name-calling for them.

As background, Troyna and Hatcher explain that schoolchildren often "pick on" one another. School bullies pick on their smaller, weaker victims. Older children pick on younger schoolmates and vice versa. Boys pick on girls, and girls pick on boys. Peers pick on one another. They harass. They tease. They call each other names. Some seek dominance in the group, while others seek fairness and equality. There are friendships and breakups. This is part of the culture of childhood, both as described in the research and at the three British elementary schools that are the focus of this study. However, some of the name-calling in children's search for dominance is racist in nature. Indeed, racist name-calling was the most frequent manner in which the British children who were a part of these case studies experienced racism.

The attitudes about race among the British schoolchildren in this sample were found to be influenced by their friendships and rivalries at school and in their local communities, by television stories and reports, and by parents. The authors theorize and demonstrate that these children practice their racial beliefs through their daily social interactions with other children. In turn, what the children see, hear, do, and experience in their relationships colors (no pun intended) their perceptions of race in society. Troyna and Hatcher explain that in this way children come to understand what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior toward other racial groups. As evidence of this, they present and discuss children's stories

*A former classroom teacher and school, business, and federal educational planner/analyst, the author now works on national teachers' issues.

"Blacks" in the contemporary British context refers to persons of African, Afro-Caribbean, or Pakistani heritage, or any mixture of these, who form the majority of Great Britain's Third World immigrant population. …

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