The Iranians plot to

Why are we never greeted with headlines which are entitled with negative connotations around European, US or UK white folx.

The article mentions that four Iranian nationals plotted to instigate an horrific crime in the US. Now I’m not suggesting that we ignore the severity of the crime or even that we change the title of the headline.

I am, however, questioning why we rarely see headline in which UK nationals do bad things and are associated with their nationality?

Because their nationality doesn’t matter? I supposed it could be argued that in this case it does as a journalist critical of Iran was targeted… but does it? And how many times do we even acknowledge the crimes of white people in the media. I’ll write about this another time.

Why are we so quick to conflate and use the synecdoche with the good with our nation.

‘We won in the football’

But we are quick to distance and reject ourselves from the negative.

‘We benefit from the slave trade’

‘We fought two illegal wars and 500000 civilians died as a result’

This leaks into everything we do. The lesson we teach and the way we see ourselves and others in the world.

If we aren’t willing to accept as a nation we did some bad things then we aren’t ever going to see ourselves as anything other than superior to others.

Dog whistles and Gesture Politics

Funny isn’t it. Everyone’s an anti racist when it serves their agenda… Tyrone Mings accuses Priti Patel of stoking the fire – after her condemnation of racist abuse faced three black players.

‘Taking the knee’ is virtue signally, gesture politics … and then an open condemnation. The prime minister Boris Johnson as his official refuses to comment on the booing of the national team and guess what happened yesterday? condemnation was on the menu.

Sir Keir Starmer and the opposition also expressed their condemnation… while quietly reinstated an overtly Islamophobic man and the lack of action on anti blackness in his party is jarring.

Keep your words. This is straight from Machiavelli’s playbook. You summon the canines through your dog whistles calls and then when the inevitable violence occurs you blame the animals and their nature.

If you were silent and actually helped while the fire was being built. You’ll get no props when over condolences over the ashes or worse pretend you opposed the burning down all a long.

We see your hypocrisy. We keep receipts.

And Yes. We are coming for you.

Racism has come home.

The inevitable racist abuse is out in this morning, post England’s men’s footballs teams failure to win the European Championship.

Through out the tournament I saw the glorification of Raheem Sterling; who when he scored the opening goal against Germany was embraced and that it seems that the ‘boy from Brent’ is worth our adulation. Hagiography not as great as England’s white captain who score a superfluous goal later (which Sterling made).

Anyway, the dichotomy is palpable. When he expresses a deeply personal root through getting gun tattooed on his calf and stating clearly he uses his leg to shoot… he was then the ‘boy from Kingston’ (no, we are not talking about the Royal London borough here either).

Today folx will decry an overtly racist minority abuse towards those three black players. This is not the point. Individualised racism is a symptom of greater affliction. These people may be bad apples but they rise not far from the societal tree. And… that tree is rotten to the core and the soil is as toxic as it comes.

When we live a society in which people are only celebrated when contributing for the white majority, that isn’t a community it’s an abuse of power it is colonisation of achievement.

If I, Rashford, Sancho (who I can vouch for as a fine young man) or Sako in the words of Linton Kwesi Johnson were to exclaim England is a b*tch. You’d hear – “how ungrateful” “Go back to India, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, etc.” Reserved solely for us melanated folx.

I will leave you with the words of one of my former student …

We are only ever British when your win do something good, Sir. The rest of the time … we are … and you know …

She looked sullen. I had no sage words of advice or consolation. As truth was (and is) named.

It’s time we recognise that football may not have come home but racism has built its house firmly on England green and pleasant lands.

You can’t judge people by today’s standard!

Apparently this morning English Heritage have added this to their website.

“Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit…”

There is little arguing that Enid Blyton’s is problematic. The problem for me the rebuttals.

You can’t hold people to the standards of today. Everyone was racist and homophobic back then. It was acceptable.

Everyone thought that slavery was acceptable at that time.




You mean white people thought slavery was acceptable. Those who were enslaved don’t get to have a voice, do they not count as every one…

In the case of Enid Blyton. Her work was attacked at the time publishing.

Well it just sounds like more white supremacy to me.

Racialised Violence: Blink

TW: Racialised Violence.

I’m sitting a table in an independent coffee shop on Green Lanes. I’ve just order a matcha tea latte and a Paistes de Nata. Yes, I admit it this is about as middle class as it gets on this north London street.

It’s the summer the warm air circles and loops around the chair and awning. It’s a beautiful day and I’m talking to a man of south Asian heritage and white woman about my new found love for refined sugar. I know, I know. It’s was a light news day. 

I lean back in chair, slouching, no, no, let’s say a gentrified lounging movement – to the point where it starts to rock back but the waist high outer fence of the coffee garden stops me from hurtling towards the ground as my teachers always told me.

We talk our way around subjects the way the warm wind circles twixt the chair legs. Laughter and friendship were ordered with my serving of diabetes on my plate but then came a unwanted course.

A young man in his mid twenties vaults the fence walks past our table and sit opposite a couple closest to the door. He proceeds move the chair from the table like he own the land upon it was sat – he perches bow legged and points his attention towards the woman of colour. The abuse came so quickly it hardly registered. Hardly and HARDly registered. 


I’m a small child walking with my father “excuse me” we ask a mother and son as we pass on by, the child moves and his mother berate him “never move out of the way for these people they’ve taken enough”. 


I fix my gaze, sit bolt up right, clear the table in front of me and speak in soft Punjabi – “ne deki – Panga hona” (look there is trouble). I empty my pockets of my phone, shrapnel and fix my glare. 


Year 8 science class it’s Monday morning and I rocking on my stool “you’re really bright it’s a shame you’re no white you could has made something of your self”


Before the owner of the cafe arrives the man has lost interest and wanders in the street


Walking home from school a group of men jump out a van and chase us home. ‘Go home we are told we are not welcome’. 


My weight is on the balls of my feet now, my heart is racing and I’m trying to not let my facial expression betray my oath to always do the right regardless of consequence. 

He is now hassling people of colour of the street. 


I seeing our elders in our community being hassled and bullied by the police when they reach out for support. 


Pushing a random ensues and honestly it looks superifical, nothing to worry about I tell myself. A few swings and our neighbourhood racist is the victor. No one is hurt. 


I am the child who has been sidelined because his math isn’t good enough and he isn’t great with numbers… believe me it was more than good enough. 


Our racist empowered by his new found victory start to beat random brown and black people on the street. 

I’m now on my feet. 


At various points in my life I would have acted differently. At times to join the melee and at others to wipe away tears. Sometimes the only thing we can do is cry and keeping blinking those tears away.

Please remember, I am a 38 year older man with a lifetime of experience of self regulation, grounding and self awareness. I still carry those multiple events with my like a rolodex of sepia toned photographs. Even with my years of practice I still don’t own and control that legacy I was in a state of high arousal and anxiety for 3 days. Now place yourselves in the shoes of the young people and act in a manner that seeks to hold them in a place of love while they process their position in this society we have create for them.


Racial Anchoring

white and black anchor with chain at daytime

Schools have a role in all societal biases this is in part due to the cognitive anchoring bias. The order we receive information in is important for the next activity you need to find a peer, a pen and a piece of paper. 

Person 1- You have three seconds to estimate the value to the following sum:

1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8

Write your answer down in isolation.

Person 2- You have three seconds to estimate the value to the following sum:

8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1

Also, write your answer down in isolation.

In comparison, did Person 2 estimate higher than person 1? This works on the premise that an anchor is dropped on the information we receive first; in the first few seconds, you would calculate 1 x 2 x 3 (which equals 6) and then estimate the rest, or we get to 8 x 7 x 6 (which equals 336) and then estimate. This task is from the work of Kahemann and Tversky (1974), who found that people estimated the ascending sequence at 512 and descending at 2250. So the actual answer is 40320.

What’s even more interesting is that when the information we receive first is complete nonsense, we are still likely to drop anchors around it, which means that we are likely to bias regardless of the truth. Strack and Musweiler first dropped anchors by asking groups of candidates whether Mahatma Gandhi died before age 9 or after the age 140. Then both groups were asked to suggest when they thought Gandhi had died; the average age told of the first group was 50 and the second 67. Gandhi was 78 when he was assassinated. The crux of this bias is dependent on where you drop your anchors; even if the anchors are ridiculous, the order we receive them really does matters.

Great! Now we know that the anchoring bias exists, we can stop it; problem solved, we have ended discrimination in our classroom. Sorry, no, even if we know about the anchoring bias, it still plays a role! Like I said, there is work to do (Wilson et al, 1996). At this point, you may feel battered, bruised and you may even be questioning your life’s actions. Full disclosure I took a long time to get over myself. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Anchoring is a ubiquitous human response; unfortunately, as this is an implicit process, it can be highly problematic (Kahneman, 2013).

The long and short of it is simple:

What are you anchors around people of colour?

In his best-selling book, Daniel Kahnemann, Nobel Laurette thinking fast and slow details two discrete systems at work in the human brain. System 1 he describes as being automatic, quick and with no or little effort. System 2 requires attention effort that includes more complex computations. These anchors will exist the only way to ameliorate their impact is by using rational thought (system 2) in recognising and accepting their existence.

Assessment and Objectivity.

Objectively Speaking.

Before writing this blog, I googled the phrase “objectively speaking”. As expected, Google returned searches related to ‘observable facts’ and something-or-other related to being independent of emotion and perception. 

Before I go on, I’ll ask you to pause to recall the last time you encountered something that didn’t make you feel. Once you’ve done this, know this – ‘I don’t feel anything about [ ]’ is solely an inherent feeling. 

It is not possible for emotions and biases to not become involved.

I thought long and hard about a relatable example to use for the rest of this blog. Luckily, the indefatigable Pran Patel was on hand. Let’s take something we recognise as objective and break it down.

If you’re a driver, learning to drive, or use public highways anywhere within the UK – you’ll be aware of national speed limits. These range up to the national maximum of 70 miles per hour. We can objectively ‘measure’ 70mph. What is a mile was and how did it come to be? First, at the very least, we’d have to agree on the distance of a mile before this measurement of speed could take place. 

“But Sarif, we all know that a mile is” 

“Wait, what is a mile? Where did it come from?”

A mile was initially conceived as a Roman mille passus (thousand paces). But which Romans? As you may realise, Romans were not all the same height and thus could not stride the same length. 

The mille passus itself was relative to the Romans that took the said paces. Several centuries and some conversions later (furlongs, yards, feet, kilometres, etc.), we have a number for miles – relative to other measurements (5280 feet, 1760 yards, 8 furlongs, or approx 1.6km). So, we have a standardised measure rather than a measure free from perception and bias. And standardised is not a synonym for ‘objective’.

Think about the different measurements you make on a day-to-day basis. Let me make this more meaningful for you. Think about the various assessments in your classrooms. For those of you who are Key-Stage-4 teachers, you’ll arguably be making the most significant assessments for a group of adolescents in their lives. For psychologists you’ll commonly use ‘objective’ and ‘standardised’, but what is being understood by those you serve?

Moreover, how well do you understand the standardisation process of the given assessments? My point here is that there still needs to be a series of agreed principles for’ objectivity’ to exist. These agreements need (and are) to be socially constructed; Which means that compromises, interpretations, perceptions, and biases are present; Thus undermining the very notion of objectivity.

“Sarif, if objectivity isn’t objective, what does that mean for the way that we assess and measure progress?”

I fear if you’re asking this question, you may have misunderstood the point I was making. For many of us, we are so caught in the assessment and measurement process that we’re not in tune with the nature of the purpose that we initially set out to measure. 

Take the time to think about how we developed the tools to do the measurement. And, during the standardisation process, who are the groups with whom we are making comparisons? Primarily, I am encouraging you to think about the social contracts that are in place that allow us to feel contained by terms like objective. 

Suppose we accept that a lack of objectivity is the norm (because objectivity doesn’t exist). In that case, our assessments and measures are free to be more holistic by recognising features and characteristics that are otherwise are overlooked. I believe because of the assessment process and the need to measure everything; we lose some of the meaning of the ‘why’. 

So, In the main, because there is no space to account for it on the forms that we need to submit, no box to check, marked – don’t forget X is from a single-parent home. Or Y witnessed his whole village being razed to the ground.

Ask yourself, what’s stopping if you from recording the development and progress of the learners you work with within a narrative process? I’d propose that the chances are that you’ll soon understand the system’s relative parameters that stop you from doing this.

This is a guest piece from Dr Sarif Alrai

The Myth of Raising Aspirations

We need to talk about how we talk about young people.

For a sector that is supposedly dedicated to improving young people’s chances in life, we use a lot of language that stereotypes, marginalises and ultimately disempowers young people. After many years of listening to this damaging discourse disguised as inspiration, I have divested from the language of raising aspirations.

Hear me out.

The terminology of raising aspirations is everywhere in the youth and education sector. Schools recruit Assistant Heads with this as a speciality. Charity funding is predicated on the promise to raise the aspirations of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. All of this aspirations-focused intervention and activity would suggest that the reason that so many young people are struggling is in their mindset: they simply do not aspire to achieve their best possible outcome, so they don’t.

But is that really the problem?

I’ve spent enough time around young people to know that they do not lack big dreams. What young people lack is a system that is set up for them to achieve those dreams. The reality is that we live in a society that relies on some people being worse off than others. All the narrative of raising aspirations does is locate the problem (i.e. low aspirations), and thereby the culpability, with the young person. This inevitably leads to pursuing solutions (raising aspirations, building confidence, developing resilience) that completely ignore the reasons that young people’s aspirations might be low in the first place.

A young person’s marginalisation does not occur in a vacuum: they are marginalised by a system that relies on this to happen in order to maintain its survival.

If our work with our young people focuses solely on their individual progress through raising aspirations, building confidence, exposure to role models, etc., without any consideration of this systemic context, we will never run out of disadvantaged young people. Our work will never be done. In Dutch we call this dweilen met de kraan open: mopping while the tap is running, in other words, an endless and fundamentally futile endeavour.

This is not to say that individual triumph over the oppressive structure isn’t a victory – it is! It just isn’t the victory you think it is. It isn’t justice. These individual stories of success often serve to legitimise the system by proving that it is possible to “win” within it, so as to distract from the system’s inherent injustice. The oppressive structure by its very nature will always allow a few people to succeed in order to maintain its own image as a functioning, equal opportunities system that can work for everyone as long as you work hard enough, all the while ensuring a never-ending pipeline of marginalised young people.

So let’s stop talking about raising aspirations.

If all our interventions ever do is tell young people how to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps, without also acknowledging that there aren’t enough bootstraps, we are leading them to believe that it was always their problem to fix or avoid. If we don’t acknowledge the systemic nature of their experiences of disadvantage, we risk gaslighting entire generations with the message that if they’re not succeeding, it’s because they aren’t aspiring to do so.

We are complicit.

Saul Alinsky wrote about those who would go into communities marginalised by society, not to organise them to rebel and fight their way out of the mess, but to get them adjusted, so not only will they continue to live in hell; they’ll also like it. “A higher form of social treason would be difficult to conceive – yet this infamy is perpetrated in the name of charity.”*

So much of youth work is wrapped up in a discourse that actively obscures the structural causes of the problems it attempts to remedy. If as youth workers we only ever focus on helping young people overcome the challenges of marginalisation, we are part of the problem. In fact, our work would then serve to enable and legitimise the system that marginalises them. We should actively be working on preventing that marginalisation from happening in the first place. This requires locating its root causes, and dismantling the systems that routinely marginalise our young people. It also requires a radical reimagining of the world we exist in. This is not to say that the youth sector’s work can’t be meaningful. But we have to critically analyse the role that it plays within a system that will fundamentally never be changed by this work alone. We have to dream bigger. So let’s stop mopping the floors for a minute.

Let’s turn off the tap.


  • Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, 1946.

This guest piece is by Imane Maghrani, Spark Programmes Director at The Advocacy Academy.

Luther is Not Authentic Enough

TV’s Luther “doesn’t feel authentic”.

Says Miranda Wayland, the BBC creative diversity chief, points out that he has no black friends and doesn’t eat Caribbean food.

She also praised Elba for playing a “really strong, black character lead”.

I have to say I agree with her.

The Problem with Diveristy

The problem with diversification is that it seeks solely to show fair representation in our curriculum.

What is that representation worth?

The representation issue is that it doesn’t take into account what whiteness is. Before I am dragged for judging people for their melanin deficit, let me define whiteness. Whiteness is a psychosis of power; it is the need to acquiesce, coalesce and embody success which in our world is measure on this metric.

For the academically minded: Whiteness is a sociological construct that can be defined as a technology of affect which is surreptitiously taught implicitly (Leonardo 2013, Lentin 2016). Whiteness is a hegemonic ideology based on the socially constructed oppression at individual and systemic levels (Ahmed 2004).

The closer a person is to power and whiteness, the more accepted they are. Power likely flows from this source. As a result—the gatekeeper to success a persons proximity to whiteness. People of colour who espouse those values are more likely to be represented/successful, i.e. middle class, no accent, credentialed, light-skinned, Christian, etc.
The whole image of success, and therefore success itself, is perpetuated and protected by you get what you see and see what you get (Bourdieu refers to this as the habitus, click here for more).

White Supremacy in Melanated Bottles

White supremacy is contained and upheld by people of all skin tones. With recognising that we must seek to rebuild the system as fairer, our house of cards needs to be rebuilt. Simply switching white faces for melanated ones without really questioning why we reject the ‘other’ does not make the world fairer; it merely shuffles the deck.

In schools, the question to ask ‘why does success always align itself with whiteness. Why is that PoC, on the whole, are disadvantaged? Why are pupils of colour always more likely to under-assessed by their teacher? Receive harsher punitive sanctions? etc.

Yet when we look at the students who are perceived as successful, they are almost always aligned to whiteness; only white males are afforded the mantle of success without reservations of achievement the wrong way (east Asians working too hard, etc.) (Archer 2004).

Only some PoC are afforded some of the privileges of the system. Ask yourself – what do those folx have? What makes them better? If we remove the privilege and whiteness metrics, we quickly realise that racism is not about melanin but solely on this image.

Representation matters. This is a step in the right direction, a step.

Yes, the secret garden and to kill a mockingbird may include people of colour, but where are the vast number of people of colour in the hierachy. Both narratives are guilty of the same tropes of people of colour being subservient, having the need of white folx.

A novel way of looking at this issue is through a reverse lens, white folx are bestowed with the luxury of just being. An average white person in stories can live their lives and do amazing things. To be a person of colour and do the same, you have to be either magical or act as close to whiteness. Luther can not have an accent, eat different foods, wear traditional clothes, celebrate his faith openly. Well, he can, but in the real world, he would be disadvantaged as a result.

Luther was an opportunity where art could have disrupted reality.

Blackness is as worthy as whiteness; it’s time we demand this in our classrooms and our screens.

Do No Harm

I am a Brown man who has lived most of his life in the UK, and I proudly exclaim that I am a ‘teacher’. What does this mean? That I am charged with imparting knowledge from my brain into the brains of willing receivers. That is part of our wonderful profession, but I arise to a conversation around free speech in the classroom on this cold weekday morning.

Free speech is a right; This got me thinking about the power we wield. Aside from the intricacies of the argument, the crux boils down to is the right to free speech more important than the damage we wright. Should we have to take a ceremonial oath when receiving a QTS certificate? Three simple words:

“Do No Harm”

The care of our student should be a priority, actually the priority. Our actions impact their physical and mental health. The way we educate may ameliorate minoritised groups’ journey through health inequities and to early death.  Yes, premature death. (Bernard et al 2020)

What is Harm?

There are two facets to this prism of ‘Do No Harm’. The first being the present. How do we change the quality of life for those around us at this moment? What are the possible actions to improve the life chance today, and the other is how we take steps to ensure the scores of folx that follow are not held down by our legacy and by the same toxic prophecies.

What is diversity in schools? In the curriculum, workforce and narratives? Diversity includes every facet of school life. Move away from what you have included, and analyse who you are omitting.

Do your curricula include the world as it is? are 40% of the people you teach about women of colour? How many fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella? Look at the workforce who in it holds power? Who is allowed to sit and the table, speak and even speak at the table? (From the Poetry of @Hyfreelance and @thebrownhijabi)

Schools are like homes. Schools are like families and at the heart of every family is ‘belonging’. A place you are safe to be, and I believe that many organisations create a beautiful inclusion environment. Is inclusion belonging? My metric for belonging is ‘how much of your authentic self do you have to leave outside when you enter. 

Looking at yourself through the eyes of the dominant culture can cause a myriad of issues. It is our job to create belonging in our classroom in which all pupils reject this internal dissonance. Yes, include pupils but embrace them for their cultures and differences. Inclusion means that these differences are often accepted but through a hierarchy. Students are being forced to remove ceremonial religious artefacts, have their culture criticised, told their natural hair is not school uniform and their home language banned. The most significant impact on students is not the immediate sanction but the schizoid state of double consciousness this creates (W.E.B Dubois). I will return to this blog at some point and detail the harm wrought by our system, but today is not that day. Let’d all just reflect on our role.

Making Change

Where does real work start? We need to think about how We make change to our system.

Yes, impart (in part) this includes classrooms, but it also consists of the structures that we all inhabit.

Our society is based on a hierarchal system, a pyramid of people, and like a concrete architectural building, every layer depends and is held up by the layer below it being more extensive than itself. 

Success is measured in many ways, let’s look at cold hard cash. In our world, if you work harder, you will earn more money. So, to make the system fairer, we could give every person on the lower layers, double what they earn now. That would redress the balance!  Well. Remember that society is built in the shape in which it is necessary to have a fixed minimum number of people in each layer. If the monetary wealth is increased for the majority, then inflation would redress the balance and keep those people in their place. Which is the way it works. I often hear fellow teachers talk about being there for these [insert protected characteristic] students, and they are making a difference.

The Whole Picture

When looking at the whole picture:

“Teachers make no difference.”

That statement may be as controversial as it is true. While we may enable some of our students to jump into the upper strata of the pyramid’s structure but by the system’s very nature, we simultaneously hold back the same number of students back while we elevate the few.

In supporting those who are othered, we conterminously hold back more others. The solution is to move away from social mobility and towards a social justice model. Shuffling the deck of card to redress the balance doesn’t serve the layers at the bottom at all.

Do no harm, can only exist if we build a world in which the harm does not propagate. Social justice starts with the enlightenment of the practitioner, followed by the awareness of students. Adapting our aim from the transmission of knowledge to creating a generation who can critically evaluate and democratically promote and resist their interest is the step that needs to be made.