severely, waking the contestant, Emily, up at three-thirty in the morning and throwing her out of the house, still in her night dress, for use of the ‘unacceptable word’ while she adamantly protested that she was ‘not a racist’.
These two incidents, and the tone of the articles they prompted suggest a sensitivity to accusations of racism and an eagerness to occupy a clear and public anti-racist position within the (predominantly white and middle class) mainstream media. However the response to the second incident also suggests that within this position there is no margin of error.
While Emily’s comment could easily be interpreted as the misjudged words of a naive young person, her severe treatment and subsequent vilification in the media appeared to send the message that, for white people, the safest option is to stay away from any discussion of race or ethnicity, that silence is preferable to the possible accusation of racism.
Within the school
Within the school students of all ethnicities do not take the safe route of silence. Instead, within friendship networks, pupils maintain a space in which the different ways ethnic groups define themselves, and are defined by others can be interrogated.
The school itself is a large, mixed sex and over-subscribed comprehensive. It is situated in a relatively affluent, leafy, North London suburb, which has a large and visible ultra orthodox Jewish population. The school itself has a very diverse intake of students, and prides itself on its multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi- lingual identity. No one group dominates ethnically, including white English. While academically average (sitting somewhere in the middle of its boroughs league tables) the school is recognised as rapidly improving with excellent ‘social, moral, spiritual and cultural development’ for pupils and on the whole morale is high among both staff and students.
Within the school, friendship networks can be seen as centrally important in identity formation. Further this informal interpersonal realm is a significant place where the social is indexed by pupils. Thus between themselves pupils are continuously attempting to sort out the complexities of what has been classified as ‘ethnicity’; nationality, religion, language, and race. As well as how these elements are entangled with prejudice.
So for example pupils discussed and debated: What makes someone a ‘more’ real Ghanaian is it having a passport, having visited there or being a citizen? Why are black people called black people when they’re not really black? Is a Chassidic woman wearing a wig the same as a Muslim women wearing a veil? Is it possible to join the BNP if you’re black?