Pupils are alert and sensitive to the way they are labelled both within the school and in wider society, for example sitting with a small group of year eights working on a play in drama class, Lisa’s (White British) answer to my question ‘what characters are you playing’ was to point to each group member and say ‘he’s a nigger’, ‘he’s a honky’ and ‘I’m a chav’.
Growing up Another way that pupils interrogate these issues is through humour. Shared humour is part of a more general process of coming together that develops through the years at school. Most pupils tell a similar story of the divisions between groups diminishing as the years progressed, and in its place a pride at the bonds shared.
For example a year thirteen (17-18 year olds) looking back on her time at school said that in younger years ‘there were just different groups, there was the big black crew, the chavs, the proper geek crew’. But ‘everyone has grown together now’. Another added that in year seven ‘it’s all the different cultures… because you’re growing up, and you’re finding out who you are and what your values are, so you’re all clashing… but eventually everyone ‘meshes together’.
The shared experience of school engenders the co-creation of a shared culture, and this is frequently identified by older pupils as one of the key evidences of having ‘grown-up’; knowing ‘who you are’ means that you can build relationships with others who in younger years you might have judged as ‘too different’.
The use of humour
That the relationships built are frequently based on the acknowledgement of difference, rather than the denial of it is exemplified by jokes that centralise and channel difference.
For example the use of humour enables a recognition of the historical relations of inequality that connect pupils of different ethnicity. In a year thirteen psychology lesson when volunteered by her classmates for a task, Shola, a Nigerian protested by quipping ‘I’m not your slave anymore’. In another lesson Muhammad, a year ten Somalian boy, asked me if I knew what FUBU, (a hip hop clothing label) stood for, I answered (correctly) ‘for u, by us’. He responded by joking ‘actually it stands for farmers used to by us’.
At other times the jokes can be a way to explore the different aspects of identity and differing expectations that stem from this. In this exchange Jerome (black British) and Ashley (white British) are joking with Amal (Somalian): Jerome : We’ve corrupted him, he’s been blazing (smoking cannabis). I don’t blaze, and he doesn’t blaze (pointing to another boy), but he’s been blazing. And we’ve got him drinking as well.