Let his memory live on.

As part of both Psychology and Sociology courses, we are required to teach prejudice and discrimination. These are usually very interesting lessons due to the wide variety of opinions that are raised. It can also lead to some interesting reactions.
Jane Elliott probably conducted one of the most interesting lessons. She told the blue eyed kids in the class that they were superior to the brown eyed people and watched friendships break down before her very eyes. She reversed the effect the next day. In a matter of minutes, she created a class of children who discriminated. I have also found unexpected powerful effects from activities I have carried out over the years, with students.

One activity involved a competition to build the highest free-standing tower out of newspaper and sellotape. This enabled me to see group interaction, social loafers (those who don’t contribute) and also to my surprise and intense shock, anger. It happened that one group had more newspaper than the rest. By the end of the activity, they were on the receiving end of nastiness from the other groups, despite the fact that they hadn’t won. It took a while to calm them down and discuss why they were so angry.
Another exercise I carried out was about labelling. I stressed beforehand that the label that each student was given, was in no way indicative of how I perceived them. I wanted them to discuss how they thought they would feel if they were given such a label, and how the others in the class would view them. Despite my briefing, the labels had an intense effect on some of the students. One, who I called Energetic, could not sit still. Another, who was labelled unintelligent, still referred to it weeks later. He told me he couldn’t answer a question because he was stupid.
It made me think how powerful labels and perceived inequalities can be.

One topic that I promised I would always include in these lessons, is the Stephen Lawrence Case. To me it is the pinnacle of discrimination and racism. The courage that it took for Mr and Mrs Lawrence to take on the police force can not be underestimated. I remember, being on the receiving end of the nasty side of the police, when I worked as a support worker with ex offenders. One of my clients had been pulled in for questioning and then sent home in the pouring rain without his shoes. Okay, the lad was a nasty piece of work, but I don’t think how the police treated him was necessary. Having driven him round to a mate’s house to borrow some shoes (the police had his only pair.) We went to the station to complain. They were far from helpful. I felt totally helpless, so I can’t imagine how Mr and Mrs Lawrence felt and have nothing but admiration for their tenacity. I watched Neville Lawrence being interviewed a few weeks ago. When he was asked if he thought the situation had improved, he basically said no. This echoes the opinion of a lot of younger people that I come across. When I ask them how they would tackle institutionalised racism, their reply is invariably – you can’t. As they so correctly point out, you can change social behaviour, but not what the person thinks.


~ by envisioningutopia on March 1, 2012.

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