Is Racist Language Allowed to be Used by Pupils of Colour?

1. A group of pupils of colour amongst themselves call each other racist terminology?

2. A pupil of colour refers to themselves as a racist word?

3. A white pupil mimics a popular cultural reference (rap song, etc.) and directs it towards a pupil of colour.

As a class teacher and school leader, what do you do?

‘They use that word all time, they sing in their rap songs, it is not fair’ 

The above is a quote from a teacher in inner London. By the way, yes, I’m talking about the n-word (and or the p-word, etc.)

(The full article is here.)

Yes, sometimes these words are written in popular songs. On the face of it, this can seem unfair that certain people are unable to use words and another group of people are. 

Often I refer to our lens, the lens we need to use at this point is the lens of power. Those words have been used to exert real power over the ‘others’. By reclaiming those words as an ‘other’, a person of colour you claim back some of that power.

You cannot hurt me with a word I already own.

This is always the choice of the individual person of colour. We are not in a position to say to dictate people of colour (or actually anyone) what they identify as or choose to call themselves. 

Yes, I do think it can be problematic when children of colour use to employ those words, I would hope to educate pupils to make those choices.

That’s not equality. Some people can’t be barred from using language and others not. We can’t treat people differently.

Why is it different when white people use those same words? When a white person uses these words the context and the power dynamic is completely different. The legacy of that language overrides all. Yes, it may have been in a song, maybe they were just mimicking someone. It still serves to remind some of us of that legacy and that we are still labelled as different and that the ‘differents’ (the others) are still not good enough. 

I often get asked if people of colour can be labelled as racist? If a woman can be called sexist? Etc. The terminology here is important. We could use the dictionary definition verbatim, like lots of definitions this is imperfect. My personal experience and analysis of the legal definitions and charges have to lead to this pragmatic definition.

Racism is a term used to describe the systemic (and institutionalised) oppression on the basis of colour. Those lines of power flow from oppressor to oppressed. 

Calling a white person a name, even discriminating on the basis of their colour is abhorrent. I am not excusing this. This being said, this is not racism, this is an act of prejudice. The key word in the above definition is ‘systemic’. People of colour can have vitriolic hate against white people, it will not and can never systemically disadvantage them. 


People of colour could hate white people all we like. There is no abuse of systemic/power here, it will not and cannot impact on their,

  1. Overall education (Teachers thinking less of pupils of colour and A higher number of pupils of colour receiving SEMH diagnoses)
  2. Healthcare (“So do not be poor, black, old and depressed in England right now, because you’re very unlikely to get treated.” (or read the full report) and you are 4 times more likely to be sectioned if you are a black male)
  3. Interactions with the police (Stop and search and deaths in custody), etc.
  4. Job prospects. (Applications and bullying/institutionalised racism)
  5. It goes on.

See where I am going with this. A lot of the time equality is seen as the panacea for oppression, it’s really not, it’s not even a good starting point. The act of seeing everyone as equals denies that oppression existed and still exists, it simply seeks to fog the issues around power, allows implicit or malicious bias to flourish. It is simply a hegemonic tool to maintain the status quo.

Awareness and redressing of the balance through work on equity has to be the aim and end game. Like lots of these things that’s for another day.

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