White Saviour Complex / Syndrome / Trope in Film Part 2

Activity 1

What I would like you to do is think of as many films as you can where the lead character is BAME or GM (Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic or Global Majority).











Is that more difficult than it seemed at first? Now I would like you to discount any films where the main character is aided by a white character to fulfil their narrative.

With films like ‘Django Unchained’, Django is the protagonist. However, there is an addition of a white saviour character (ironically who is named Dr King). In the trailer below note who actually speaks through most it. These additions mean that this film and many others fall victim to the ‘white saviour’ trope.

Hidden figures is based on a true story. During the film, a white man, Al Harrison, hammers down a ‘coloured only’ sign above a women’s toilet and exclaims:

‘Here at NASA, we all pee the same colour’

Al Harrison

Later in the film, he brings Katherine Johnson to the control room so that she can watch the rocket launch that she helped bring into fruition. What’s the problem, Pran? This is a good thing surely. Yes, allyship is important. The problem is that Katherine Johnson actually had to watch the launch from her desk because that great white man, Al ‘I’m pivotal to the plot’ Harrison, didn’t actually exist. Remember black people are rarely portrayed as doing amazing things without having white people there to help.

More Examples

Film White Saviour Narrative
Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom White man liberates Hindu holy relics and uses their power to defeat savage impoverished indigenous people.
Avatar White man saved the day through becoming a Na’vi, he actually ends up being more Na’vi than the original Na’vi
To Kill a Mockingbird White man represents falsely accused black man, he loses, the black man is killed by the police but all is well as the white man wins the respect of the community.
Game of Thrones White elite woman liberates the nomadic people (Dothraki horde, *sigh*) and leads them on a mission to take over the world for her.

Back to your list. I’d like you to now discount any film where the main character is bestowed with any special powers or referred to as (extremely) special. This trope is referred to as the ‘magical negro’ trope.

In the film, Django is often referred to as ‘one negro in a million’. Black (or people of colour) people in films cannot be normal people who work hard and change the world, but rather they have to be bestowed by magical powers (this is also common in computer games but this for another day).

In films such as the Green Mile and Ghost, the magical negro character has rarely anything but a fickle back story and their primary role is to serve white people.

The act of saying Django was the ‘one negro in one million’  discounts the slave revolutions which happened up and down the length of the United States of America as well as globally. How many of us are taught or are aware of the work and achievements of Zumbi dos Palmares, the last king of Quilombo dos Palmares or  Toussaint L’Ouverture in Haiti where the slave revolution overthrew French colonialism and liberated the whole country.

Some of you may be questioning the above words. However, I would like you to cast your mind to traditional stories such as Tarzan. Let’s deconstruct Tarzan; a privileged white rich middle-class male crashes into a jungle, where the boy grows up in the jungle and learns to speak to the animals. This is problematic and an example of veiled racism. The native people in the jungle have been living there for thousands of years but have not gained this power, it took a white man to do this. Also, I want you to think about how the native and indigenous people are always portrayed in these films, rarely as anything other than uncivilised savages.

If there is any doubt about white saviour in films, I would direct you all to the two most common films shown in schools I have worked in (ironically in London). Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. White teachers leave their middle-class upbringings to save those poor pupils of colour.

If there is any doubt about white saviour in films, I would direct you all to the two most common films shown in schools I have worked in (ironically in London). Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. Click To Tweet

Dangerous minds was actually a true story and the author of the original book said:

In my class, the kids were evenly mixed: black, white and Hispanic. In the movie, they made it all minority kids with a token white kid here and there. That perpetuates this myth that only minority kids are at risk, and that white kids don’t have any problems.

The climax of the film ends when Emilio is killed in a criminal gang-related subplot. But people die, Pran, crime is real. Well, let’s look at what actually happened.

‘The real Emilio joined the Marine Corps and settled down with a wife and kids.’

This whole white saviour narrative is false, maliciously false, and worse than that it’s ultimately damaging. This is indoctrinated within society. We have to recognise this first. We have to disrupt this narrative. We have to be better. As educators, it is our duty.

This whole white saviour narrative is false, maliciously false, and worse than that it's ultimately damaging. This is indoctrinated within society. We have to disrupt this narrative. We have to be better. As educators, it is our duty. Click To Tweet

In the next instalment, I discuss how white saviour can be eradicated from the implicit and explicit curriculum.


Seven Way to be a Better HeForShe Ally

By Chris Hildrew (@chrishildrew)

Originally posted here https://heforsheed.co.uk

1. Check your privilege

If you are a man, you are automatically privileged. This doesn’t mean that you don’t face challenges in your life, or that you have it easy. What it does mean is that, as a man, you have not experienced the influence of the patriarchy from a female perspective. You just haven’t. Acknowledge this. Acknowledge that women, as a group, are subject to systemic oppression through a combination of societal and cultural norms established over centuries – and men are not. Keep this clear in your mind at all times.

2. Listen

Stop talking. Listen to the women. Don’t jump in. Genuinely listen to what they are telling you. Learn from it. No, shhhh. You don’t know best. That’s mansplaining. LISTEN.

Men. Listen Stop talking. Listen to the women. Don’t jump in. Genuinely listen to what they are telling you. Learn from it. Click To Tweet

3. It’s not about you

You are not the hero of this story. She is. I know – a story with a female hero? Believe me these things can exist. They do exist. When you are an ally, don’t make it about you. Don’t expect recognition, plaudits or credit for your work as an ally. Because it’s not about you. When we take another step towards equality, everybody wins. You don’t have to.

4. Don’t use “not all men.” Don’t you dare.

It’s natural, when you’re hearing about the negative experiences women have had at the hands of the patriarchy, to muster some kind of defence of our sex. You’re not personally responsible for the oppression, for treating her badly; you didn’t assault her; you didn’t make that demeaning comment. It may be tempting to reach for the “not all men are like that…” card. Don’t. Of course not all men are like that. But some are. And she knows that. Women know that. The use of “not all men” attempts to diminish the painful, frustrating or humiliating experience that is being described. That experience happened. It should not be diminished. Help her to move on from it, to build resilience, to develop a strategy to use in similar situations in future – but don’t “not all men” her. Don’t you dare.

4. Don’t use “not all men.” Don’t you dare. It’s natural, when you’re hearing about the negative experiences women have had at the hands of the patriarchy, to muster some kind of defence of our sex. Click To Tweet

5. Amplify the contributions of women

Research shows that, in mixed groups, women get less “air time” than men (Leaper & Ayres, 2007). Men dominate conversations and discussions, both as students in school and as participants in meetings. Be aware of this, and make it your responsibility to encourage and amplify the contributions of women. During meetings, repeat and attribute positive contributions made by women: “yes, and as Sarah said…” or “that builds on what Leyla was saying earlier…” Watch out for women being interrupted, and intervene: “just let Ellen finish, please.” And check your own behaviour – are you an interrupter? Or a credit-taker?

6. Talk to other men

Discuss gender inequality with other men. Make an issue of it. Look at the published gender pay gaps of organisations, including schools and MATs, and talk about what can be done. Recruit more allies. Share the HeForShe pledge, the WomenEd book, and blogs like this. Equality is an issue for all of us.

7. Learn to apologise

You will certainly get it wrong. We all do. If someone takes offence at what you’ve said or done, you have offended them, whether you meant to or not. Don’t try and excuse yourself. Just man up and apologise – and learn from what you did wrong so you don’t make the same mistake again.


You will certainly get it wrong. We all do. If someone takes offence at what you’ve said or done, you have offended them, whether you meant to or not. Don’t try and excuse yourself. Click To Tweet

Resources which can help men be better allies:

• #LeanInTogether: https://leanin.org/together/men

• #HeForShe: https://www.heforshe.org/en

• 10% Braver Book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/toc/1526460041/

• Collaborating with Men Project from Murray Edwards College, Cambridge: https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/about/womens-voices-womens-future/collaborating-with-men

• How Men Can Become Better Allies to Women: https://hbr.org/2018/10/how-men-can-become-better-allies-to-women


“Black Teachers are leaving the Profession due to Racism”

This is an excerpt from https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahalothman/black-teachers-say-they-are-quitting-their-jobs-because-of by @HannahAlOthman. Based on research by Runnymede foundation and the NEU.

Pran Patel, a teacher, told BuzzFeed News he had experienced “a whole heap” of racist incidents in his previous teaching roles.

“It’s institutionalised, it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect in any profession, but being a teacher you’d expect it to be a little less prevalent,” Patel, who teaches in Southwark, central London, said.

He described several incidents that had taken place in previous workplaces, including standing in a group of teachers from BME backgrounds when a senior teacher walked past and said, “Are you lot taking over?”

In another incident, a pupil was being reprimanded for behaving badly by a member of staff from Zambia who Patel describes as an “amazing teacher”. The same senior leader from the previous incident told the pupil: “I can’t believe you’re behaving that badly – do you know how much we have to pay to bring these people over to teach you?”

I can't believe you're behaving that badly – do you know how much we have to pay to bring these people over to teach you? Click To Tweet

In a third incident a pupil abused a Turkish member of staff, saying, “All Turkish men are paedophiles.” But the pupil was allowed back in the classroom the next day without having to apologise to the teacher concerned. When the teacher complained to a white senior leader, he was told: “Is this how you are feeling? Or is it really happening?”

“You don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker,” Patel said, on why BME teachers don’t complain more about their treatment.

“The number of times I’ve been told I’m aggressive, when a white counterpart has been told, ‘Look at their passion.’

“I’ve been told my face doesn’t fit – they said, ‘Your results are great, you’re amazing with the kids, but your face doesn’t fit.’ I’ve been passed up for promotion.

“I know a black teacher who was told she doesn’t fit the image of a PE teacher. She was told that she had it over the candidate they picked, but she didn’t fit their stereotype of a teacher.

I know a black teacher who was told she doesn't fit the image of a PE teacher. She was told that she had it over the candidate they picked, but she didn't fit their stereotype of a teacher Click To Tweet

“We’re given pastoral roles because of our ‘skillset’, I don’t understand how that works.

“And black and minority ethnic teachers make up 7% of the workforce, but 2% of headteachers – there’s a massive inequality.

“If you’re a woman or BME you’re going to be in trouble. I’ve had conversations with members of staff who are so disillusioned with being stuck at middle-management level.

“There is a massive exodus of really amazing staff – we’re losing a lot of talent through a lack of career progression.


“I think unconscious bias is a massive, massive thing. Governors, when they’re appointing a headteacher, expect a man in his forties or fifties. When they see a young non-white woman sitting in front of them, with all the same credentials, they don’t expect that, so may be less likely to appoint them. Unconscious bias is huge.”


White Saviour Complex / Syndrome / Trope Part 1

What is the White Saviour Trope?

Social equity should come in the form of humble support from those in power,  those in power should bear in mind that they do and will continue to benefit from the same power which they may be fighting against.

Pran Patel

‘White Saviour’ comes in many forms. I will go through these in turn:

  1. White saviour through charity work. (Part 1)
  2. White saviour in film and the wider society. (Part 2)
  3. White saviour throughout the (explicitly and implicit) curriculum. (Part 3)

White Saviour through Charity Work

Activity 1

Where are the following places?

The above pictures include Canary Wharf (UK), Mumbai (India) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), I think it’s pretty difficult to differentiate. I would be surprised if these images are the ones you would normally associate with South-East Asia or East Africa. This is because we have been trained to believe (through our curricula and wider societal structures) that mass poverty and starvation are synonymous with these places.

We have also been trained to believe that poverty doesnt exist within western countries. Rarely are we shown poverty here at home, the article below took some time googling.


After working in East Africa within schools and with the community, I met an awful lot of well-meaning people who I would attribute the label of the white saviour to.

By well-meaning, I am talking about (us) westerners believing that they are there to save all the poor black people of Africa (or any other people of colour in any other part of the world). This, at the risk of alienating various people, is prevalent amongst teachers and liberals with their various social media post around this very topic. I’ll point out that this is not a dig at those individual people, this is a call to action against the system which inculcates people (us) into thinking that this is at all acceptable.

‘But I was only trying to help’

‘I gave up my summer to build a school’

My charity work cost me a lot of money’

All of the above statements have come from teachers I have met. Although the statements may all be completely true, I would first ask who benefited from those experiences. If you have photographs of you ‘helping’ people of colour and are circulating them across social media, you are propagating the myth that people of colour (especially in Africa) need white people (intervention) to save them, this means you are part of the problem. The white saviour trope appears on the racist side of the racist to anti-racist spectrum.


While living in East Africa, as some of you know my mother is East African, I met some of the richest, most affluent people I have met in my life (Note: I currently live in London). The idea that these people would need any ‘help’ from anybody is preposterous, I mean preposterous!

How do we view charity work on the global scene? The idea that rich affluent people of colour spending their gap years and giving up their summers to come and work with impoverished/children in the UK is ridiculous. Let us think this through, and ask is it really ridiculous? When we have professionals, nurses and fellow teachers, who are regularly using food banks. As well as,

‘The UN special rapporteur outlines the normalisation of food banks, rising levels of homelessness and child poverty, steep cuts to benefits and policing, and severe restrictions on legal aid.’

‘In 2017, The Joseph Rowntree reported that 1.5 million people experienced destitution, meaning they had less than £10 a day after housing costs, or they had to go without at least two essentials such as shelter, food, heat, light, clothing or toiletries during a one-month period.’

Would we ever envisage affluent black Africans building a library in our local schools because they want to help/save the white population, helping out where the UK government is unwilling to fund schools properly?

This disconnect, where black people can’t possibly support white people, can only be explained through the power structures that we have all come to accept and adopt as the norm.

This disconnect, where black people can't possibly support white people, can only be explained through the power structures that we have all come to accept and adopt as the norm. Click To Tweet

This may feel like a personal attack, this feeling is often described as feeling fragile. This is not useful in the slightest if anything we should evaluate the way we propagate this trope.

Remember even I (as a child of the 80s and 90s) was inculcated with the same structures and stereotypes through a colonised curriculum and toxic societal norms. I remember seeing black starving Africans children during the band-aid years and singing ‘feed the world’. As a teacher, things have changed, but only slightly we no longer sing ‘feed the world’ but those pictures and photos are prevalent in our assemblies and lessons.

STOP USING THEM NOW or consider simultaneously using pictures of starving children in the UK.

Activity 2

Analyse these screenshots of google searches, What do you notice about the pictures?

UK children.png
african children.png

This is wider society, these images are rife and we too have been subject to years of its toxic associations.

It is our duty to be different.


This is an excerpt from racereflections.co.uk by Guilaine Kinouani. Shared with permission, every educator who works in a school should read this.

Like most emotionally heavy writing, it needed that impulse and perhaps a little less head to get ‘on paper’. The threat of anger, sadness or hopelessness can make it difficult for words to come, and to make themselves heard. So I am getting on with it. As a young child, I watched my mother fight many battles. As a mother, I look upon her struggles with much sadness. I remember her standing in front of White female teachers, having argument after argument, about our intelligence and proposed trajectories for our studies. I will write below some of these experiences. As anecdotes, without much analysis.

When I was five my mother fought the primary school who would not allow me to start school. This is the first battle I remember. Being born in February and missing the official cut off point for admission by a week or so, the decision as to whether I could start or not; was at the discretion of the school and, while for White children starting school a little early was rarely an issue, the school took umbrage that my mother thought her child was sufficiently intellectually developed to start.

My entry was barred. A rare occurrence. My mother challenged the school. Mainly out of principle as she knew she and I were being treated differently. The school dug their heels in and, decided that the only way to prove I was sufficiently intelligent or ‘cognitively ready’, was to test my IQ. I was subjected to a battery of tests by a team of psychologists. Then, they wrote their report. The school’s own appointed psychologists had found I had a much higher ‘intelligence’ than average and was in fact advanced for my age. Reluctantly, I was allowed in.

Read the rest of article here.

Racist to Anti-Racist Spectrum in Schools

Activity One

When you hear the words ‘White Supremacist’ or ‘Racist’ which images come to mind?

Are you imagining the picture the below?


(Photo: KKK night rally in Chicago c1920, Wikimedia Commons)

A lot of people find race (actually all protected characteristics) difficult to talk about. This is (at least with race) in part due to the ‘racist bad – non-racist good’ binary.

‘I’m not a white supremacist, racists are bad people who walk around in hoods with burning crosses.’

Average Person

However, like most binary labels the ‘racist bad – non-racist good’ binary is really unhelpful. We would all be better served looking at racism as a spectrum between racist and anti-racist.

racist to antidiagram

Note: I did not say non-racist, I said anti-racist, staying non-racist leaves us on the racist side of the spectrum. Yes, being neutral makes you part of the problem. A common analogy I like to use is replacing the ‘c’ in racist with a ‘p’.

Hopefully, you are seeing the issue here; removing yourself from the equation actually doesn’t change anything. It is certainly not good enough to be a non-rapist. Every human being on this planet should be an anti-rapist. The inaction normalises the racist/rapist environment by default.

Activity Two

On this scale, place the following incidents in order of least racist to racist and then,

‘I don’t see colour, I am colour blind’.


Ostracism of the person calling out racism.

Cultural exclusions/Hair Policies

Silence while racist jokes are being said.


The ethnocentric curriculum.

‘All’ lives matter.

Anti-Immigration policies.

Hate Crimes.

We live in a post racial society.

Not shortlisting a candidate based on race/name.

Far right Neo Nazi Politics


Racism Acts
Indifference We live in a post racial society
Minimisation ‘I don’t see colour, I am colour blind’

‘All lives matter’.

Silence when racist jokes are told.

Veiled Racism Ostracism of the person calling out racism.
Discrimination Not choosing a candidate based on race
Anti-immigration policies
Incitation for Violence Far right Neo Nazi Politics
Acts of Violence Hate Crimes
Murder Genocide

All of the above incidents are racist. All of them including: ‘I don’t see colour’ and ‘staying silent while racist jokes are being said’ put you on that side of the spectrum.

f you look at the table, The bottom 3 rows (and partially the discrimination row). These rows are what is (generally) socially acceptable. Think about this and reflect; most acts of racism (that people are subjected to) are socially accepted.

Fragility Warning: The above incidents (which are all racial discrimination) may not occur in the microcosm of your experience but we know systemically they certainly do. It is important to remember what racism (or any type of oppression) is.

Racism is an epistemology (the way gather knowledge) that has been inculcated through a curriculum and societal system.

Pran Patel

We should move away from individual acts and move towards dismantling the system as a whole. This concept is difficult to grasp after we have all been taught and told that this is the way things work.

I too, promote a white supremacist agenda.

Pran Patel

I will accent the ‘we’. I too, even as a person of colour, have been educated through ethno-centric curricula and subject to the same societal norms. I too am prone to the same micro-aggressions and acts as everyone else.

The spectrum is a dynamic scale where people will move regularly. Remember that the natural tendency is to fall towards the racist end of the spectrum; to move the other way takes work.

Becoming more of an Anti Racist.

When I first thought about being an anti-racist and which actions encompass this; it took longer than the above list. This exercise process was a great tool to bring clarity to my thinking. Interesting that even as an activist this was difficult. What are the elements of anti-racism? I conclude these range from Awareness to Allyship and finally to becoming an Accomplice.


This is primarily around the recognition that pupils and staff of colour will have a different experience when compared to white people in your organisation, no matter what other characteristics they have.

In schools, this is around the teaching pupils and staff about the systemic power structures and the simple fact they exist.


Systemic racism is very real. We must end it. To do this I will amplify the voices of people of colour, without raising my own profile of taking that very space.

In schools, I advocate starting with the curricula you teach, this is not including people of colour, this is teaching pupils a truer more accurate narrative of history and the achievements in our humanity.

You should be analysing your behaviour and sanctions logs, to see if you or your teachers have let racial bias into their day to day practice. A great example is the defiance sanction and the perception of tone. Concentrate on the words that are said as opposed to ‘tone’. As we know perception can impact on reality (See You are Biased) as well as a comparison of pupil achievement against pupil attainment, teacher assessment versus external examination.

Talent management; with people of colour. Are you letting leadership profiles impact on your appointments and recruitment decision? We know that leaders are more prone to bias (a future piece is being written, be sure to look out for it).


This is the aim. Where people advocate and use their privilege to amplify the people of colour without the limelight and to sacrifice. Elements of this will be around teaching pupils to empower themselves to redress the balance.

The Plan

Complete the following resource with your teams. This should give you a better idea about what racism is, then add the above 3 titles to your action plans and work out how you get there.

The Racist to Anti Racist Spectrum



That Poll: A 1st Class Degree Vs Struggles at School


On Friday 7thJune, I posted the above question. Contentious, yes, cantankerous probably? What is the correct answer?  Well, there isn’t one. The question is relatively balanced, it was pointed out that teacher B had more characters than teacher A. I guessed that as academia is linked to educationalism within the axis of privilege (between credentialed and non-literate) teacher B should have more words. Not scientific in the slightest, but interesting none the less.


This question was posted with completely objective intent. I should point out that this came from MT about a psychologist from linkED in. I have been asked if this is an attempt to attack TeachFirst, I can assure you it is not. As far as I understand the TeachFirst criteria is 2:1 and above.

I should point out that I am not in favour of either teacher A or B, as either facet is meaningless without context. I would also argue I have no skin in the game, as I could also fit into either/both boxes.

Over 135 replies. 30+ people explicitly mentioned them being either teacher A or B or both in these replies. Humans form personal constructs that inform their understanding of the world and the environment. This means that the same thing can elicit a different response from different people. An example of this could be Ross’s dog patch (@RossMcGill),


I see an amazingly happy and bouncy puppy where other people may see a vicious and scary animal. The same dog two different perceptions, neither of these options can be said to be correct or to be incorrect, as all human construct meaning personally. This work comes from personal construct theory (George Kelly 1950) can be formed through 2 entities which are similar to each other and different from the third.

Where do these constructs come from? Is it from behaviourism (through positive and negative reinforcements)? From the psychoanalysis (the interaction between en conscious and the unconscious elements of the mind). George Kelly posits that these personal constructs are responsible and take control of their acquisition and interpretation of knowledge, we are active in our epistemology.

Through these constructs, we form a lens at which we see and interpret our environment. This is how racism, sexism, etc. are constructed, but that is for another blog and another day. Where the question posed was simply a hypothetical thought experiment with fictional teachers A and B, people through their own lens related it to their own experience. ‘I am Teacher A’, ‘I was both’. This act of putting yourself in the shoes of the hypothetical teacher (either A or B) made you agree with one side or vehemently deny the other. Where is the rational objectivity in these decisions?

Which I suppose does little harm in a twitter poll scenario. However, when recruiting or even in working with children do we let this creep in? Do we show affinity to those who have similar traits and experiences as us? Do we judge teacher’s lessons on our own experiences? Do we treat children and their reactions based on putting yourself in their shoes and letting our own experiences guide your decision?

If we look at this in behaviourist terms. We have to ask the question of propagation, is this propagated through the cognitive confirmation bias, the personal construct may set us up to look for a certain trait and then we look for it.  When we inevitably find it’s this confirms the original construct and reinforces it. (Further information on Cognitive Bias))

Meaning structures are understood and developed through reflection. Mezirow states that “reflection involves a critique of assumptions to determine whether the belief, often acquired through cultural assimilation in childhood, remains functional for us as adults”

(Mezirow, 1991)

George Kelly in his theory postulated that humans are in control of these constructs, these constructs may happen real time but also happen later. This would be like looking at something afresh later and seeing thing differently (you have decided to use another construct).

The good news is that Kelly and other psychologists have proposed we have a choice in both of these scenarios, the choice to use different personal constructs at the time or later. With respect to the behaviourist approach, we have the choice to replace the association and reinforcement by using techniques to ameliorate your actions.

‘You are Biased’. Accept that.

I’m not Bias – What is Categorisation?

Looking at the 3 pictures below, which person is darkest?

black white am darker.png

Look again








One more time.

black white am darker

Now let’s take away the features.


‘I am colour blind, I don’t see colour, I see and treat all people as human beings’

Aside from the ableist language. The above statements are inaccurate, yes, I know your eyes see the varying frequencies of light but obviously I mean the processing of people you observe by your brain.

Holguin et al 2000 took a racially ambiguous face (one that could fit various racial types from photofit software) and assigned traditional Latinx / black hairstyles. Then groups of latinx and black candidates were presented with a multitude of various photos and ask if they recognised/remembered the faces, there was a correlation between the Latinx and black candidates and the rate of recognising the face which they perceived to be one of their ‘in group’. This shows that people are more likely to recognise those who look like them.


Dr Eberhardt’s team from Stanford looked at MRI scans of white people’s brains when shown different faces. When shown the same white face the resulting brain activity dims, this makes sense your brain is processing the mass of cognitive input from all of your senses, your brain is trying to be more efficient, it works through the analogy of it has seen this before it doesn’t need to process it with the same effort as I did before, this is process called suppression.

What is fascinating is that when shown a multitude and variety of black faces the MRI scans showed similar results, your brain goes through the ‘I’ve seen this before I know what this is’ no matter how different the faces are. Your brain is not wasting its cognitive processing power on people of colour because it has seen them before and placed them in a category. Black faces and consequently, black people have been categorised.

What is Categorisation?

This is not the result of a diseased mind (this ode to another ableist call out (thank you to Danny Baker for highlighting)) which is not the result of a racist thinking or a racist mindset. It’s how the human brain works. That is okay. Yes, it’s okay to have biases.

I refer to bias as a habit of the mind. Your brain skips to conclusions because it’s easier, more efficient and this is an evolutionary necessity. Cognitive processing capacity is a finite and precious resource, evolution has designed our brains to use it sparingly.

How many of us check the road, stop, look (both ways) and listen when the traffic lights have turned red and signalled us to cross? It’s a given that red lights mean stop for cars.

Snakes signal fear, to most people (apologies to the herpetologists I have just ‘othered’ you). Seeing a snake, means to me, move and move quickly. This may be as a seen as an irrational act; my brain could act more rationally and try to remember the book I read as a child and remember that red on black … means … black on red … and now I’m dead.

With this mind, what associations do you think that we all form with people of colour?

  • People of colour (particularly women of colour) are not featured in blockbuster films. (As shown in this blog from Serdar Ferit @SerdarFerit) 
  • Black Caribbean boys with SEND are excluded 168 times than a white girl without SEND. (Report)
  • People of colour are vastly unrepresented in our school curriculum. (Blog)
  • Black Caribbean boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with SEMH needs. (BBC article)
  • Black men are over 3 times more likely to be sectioned under the mental health act.Number of detentions under the Mental Health Act per 100,000 people, by broad ethnic group (standardised rates)
  • Pupils of colour are regularly under assessed when compared external terminal. (Blog)


  • One in seven prisoners is a British Muslim, compared to one in twenty-five in the wider population. (BBC Article)
  • Reporting of terrorists (Article)
  • Etc. Seriously I could go on all day.

Prototyping and Leadership Categorisation.

Categorisation comes from the brain’s attempt to be more efficient by grouping information together, creating a prototype is the first stage in that process. The brain assigns certain attributes to the typical role. For example, Firefighters are male, nurses are female, Doctors are male etc.

Leadership categorisation theory in which individuals will be evaluated as most effective when they are perceived to have prototypical characteristics of leadership Comparing a person to the (leadership) prototype is a recognition based process and this can influence perception (Lord and Maher 1991).

Leadership prototypes are formed when 1. When repeatedly people learn which characteristics are central among leaders and 2. The converse when they repeatedly learn which characteristics are NOT leaders. (Rosch 1978)

It is worth noting that this leadership prototype is impacted on by

  1. Gender
  2. Culture
  3. Politics
  4. Race

Rosette et al (2008)

Empirical data

In summary, people’s brains form categories of what leaders look like and this can change the way we perceive people, this is based on repeatedly seeing leaders with those attributes and repeatedly seeing non-leaders with those attributes. What your brain thinks a good leader looks like can influence your perception of the leader regardless of their actions.

Rosette et al Participants (all at undergraduates and with a racial mix) are were asked to read a newspaper story about an interview with either a leader or a non-leader from a business, the racial composition was manipulated (either 50% or 20% white).

Here if the candidate was being influenced by their leadership prototype then the expected result would that the leaders would be presumed to white regardless of the racial make-up of the company. Even if whites were in the minority of the workforce they would still be more likely to be leaders as opposed to non-leaders.

Racism Composition Leader Identified as white Non -Leader Identified as white
No Information 72% 56%

This shows that white people are much more likely to be thought of as the standard and there is a greater effect when talking about leaders.

What Happened When they told Candidates the Racial Make-up of the Company?

Racism Composition Leader Non – Leader
50% 82% 63%
Racism Composition Leader Non – Leader
20% 50% 37.5%

White people were more likely to be assumed to be leaders than employees in all settings. Now let’s consider what this actually means when the candidate is told that the company is 50% or 20% white, the likelihood of the assumption that the leader is white considerably higher, over (or equal to) 30% higher than the base rate itself. There was no significant dependency when considering the candidates own ethnicity, this means that this is ingrained across all of society, all races and genders.

In Today’s Society who do we see as Leaders in Education? Who do we not see as Leaders in Education?

BAME colleagues make 10% of the workforce and less than 3% of headteachers. When an interviewer and chair of governors see a candidate are they comparing them to the prototype of a good leader? Is this a possible explanation of the deficit in the role?

Racism from negative racial stereotypes (aversive racism) was found to consistently impact through bias against people of colour and favour white people in non-leadership and leadership roles (Aberson & Ettlin, 2004).

What Impact does this have in the Classroom?

Remember that class/group of pupils you disliked? Where you were worried about the behaviour? Generally, you found that the behaviour is worse. There are 2 different facets to this. Let’s start with talking about the cognitive bias, confirmation bias, this is means once an association has been made people will look for the same confirmation and reject information to the contrary.

Ross McGill Morrison (@teachertoolkit describes confirmation bias in his blog on cognitive biases)

There are many other types of bias I could have chosen, but confirmation bias is vital for all teachers to know, particularly those using social media. This is when an individual focuses on information that only confirms their existing preconceptions. An example:

“We listened to what teachers said. Most of them said that there was no problem.”

Or an example, when a teacher presents an idea to a school leader: “I’d like to use virtual reality in my classroom.”

School leader: “Ooh, I’m not sure this will work well with our behaviour policy.”

When we tend to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s perceptions. This is an irrational decision to be able to estimate correctly what is happening.

The other cognitive bias is to do with the day to day expectations we already know that teacher judge pupils of colour lower than where they are (Blog), what we expect from pupils has an impact on their actual performance. These are called the Pygmalion and Gollum effect.

Which can be summed up as

Gollum: Expecting pupils to be more confrontational actually increases the chances of them behave more confrontational.

Rosenthal or Pygmalion: Expecting a child to do well, actually increases the chances that they will do well.

  1. Associations are made.
  2. Expectation through Pygmalion and Gollum effect causes these behaviours to exist or to do be noticed more frequently.
  3. This reinforces the original association through confirmation bias (looking to confirm your association).
  4. Go to step 2 and repeat.

How do we interrupt the cycle? That’s for another blog, but it’s coming. There is much work to do.


Brössel, P. Rev.Phil.Psych. (2017) 8: 721. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-017-0359-y





Eberhardt J (2019) The New Science of Race and Inequality Biased. London: Penguin Random House UK.

The First Sunday of Every Month. Clear The Air UK Twitter Meet @ClearTheAirUK

clear the air uk

Clear The Air UK is designed to be a safe space where educators can discuss elements of race inequity and activism in redressing the balance. 

#ClearTheAirUK is a group of educators (curated by Pran Patel @MrPranPatel and Kay Sidebottom @KaySocLearn) who believe:

  • Community, learning and dialogue are essential to our personal and professional development
  • We have the power and responsibility to lay the foundations necessary to create a more just and equitable society
  • Education is a vehicle for social change, for social justice.

As a part of #ClearTheAir we:

  • Engage in public discourse because it allows us to live our values out loud
  • Invite others into the conversation and hold them lovingly accountable
  • Understand that we are on a lifelong journey and are committed to taking any steps that move us forward

This involves a monthly twitter chat (on the first Sunday of the month 7:30 GMT) with the hashtag #ClearTheAirUK. We are sistered with the amazing US movement #ClearTheAir @ClearTheAirEDU

Our first book is the very British experience of race and class. Native: Race and Class in the ruins of Empire. Offered here for a discounted price (Thanks to School Books Direct).

Akala black

Our next chat is planned for Sunday 9th 7:30pm. Don’t worry if you can’t discuss live time, we will be slow chatting all month.

We would love for you to join in and join our movement.

Together we are stronger.

In conjunction with School Books Direct.


An extract from Chapter 2 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/may/26/akala-grew-up-embarrassed-mother-white.

One day in 1988, at the age of five, I returned home from school upset. My mum tried to work out why but I was reluctant to tell her. After some coaxing, I told her that a boy in the playground had called me a particularly nasty name. As I was about to spill the beans, a strange thing occurred. I said, “Mum, the white boy… ” and trailed off before I could complete the sentence. A profound realisation hit me. With a hint of terror and accusation, I said, “But you’re white, aren’t you, Mummy?”

Before this, my mum was just my mum, a flawless superhero, as any loving parent is in a five-year-old’s eyes. I sensed that something about that image was changing in the moment, something we could never take back. I wanted to un-ask the question. My mother’s expression was halfway between shock and resignation: she’d known this day would come, but the directness of the question still took her aback.

She thought for a moment and then, using one of her brilliant if unintentional psychological masterstrokes, replied something to the effect of: “Yes, I’m white, but I’m German and they’re English.” It didn’t matter that my mum was not really German – she was born in Germany but brought up in Hong Kong – or that I was technically English: my mum had created a safety valve for me, so that I could feel comfortable reporting racist abuse to her without having to worry that I was hurting her feelings. Even at five, I knew instinctively that whiteness, like all systems of power, preferred not to be interrogated.

I told my mum that the boy had called me a

She thought for a moment and then, using one of her brilliant if unintentional psychological masterstrokes, replied something to the effect of: “Yes, I’m white, but I’m German and they’re English.” It didn’t matter that my mum was not really German – she was born in Germany but brought up in Hong Kong – or that I was technically English: my mum had created a safety valve for me, so that I could feel comfortable reporting racist abuse to her without having to worry that I was hurting her feelings. Even at five, I knew instinctively that whiteness, like all systems of power, preferred not to be interrogated.

I told my mum that the boy had called me a “Chinese black nigger bastard”. I felt naughty even saying the words. My mum must have had to resist the urge to laugh before the anger set in. What a combination of words! We had to give the lad – or more probably his parents – 10/10 for originality.

From that day, my relationship with my mother was not just that of mother and son, but of a white mother to a black son. Race had intervened and now marked our actions and attitudes, coloured our conversations and heightened the usual conflicts, mapping on to them the loss and suffering of the black world at the hands of “whitey” – and the strange mix of guilt, fear and superiority that a great many white people feel as a result, but rarely talk about. It did not matter that my mother’s family was poor by British standards, that they had their own history of horrendous institutional abuse, or even that she was half Scottish: race overrode those nuances.

Education was not particularly encouraged in my mother’s household when she was growing up, and certainly not for girls. Her father was an ignorant, violent, unapologetically racist man. He was also conditioned by the class and gender relationships of his day, so when my mother got the highest grades of her siblings – she had three brothers – he told her she must have cheated. When her teacher encouraged her to go to university, her response was to laugh uncomfortably and say, “No, sir, that’s for posh people.”

However, she made friends with the only black family where she grew up – the family of Uncle Offs, the man who would become my godfather. Uncle Offs’ own father was a university-educated schoolteacher in his native Guyana, and it was expected that his children would get a good education. My mum was encouraged by the family to attend university, and so she did, pursuing a degree in Caribbean history. Her induction into a radical, anti-colonial black politics fundamentally shaped the way she raised her children.

Now race had made itself known to us, my mum did not hold back: my siblings and I would watch films about the civil rights struggle, slavery and apartheid. She gave me a box of tapes of Malcolm X speeches for my 10th birthday. She did everything she could to make sure I “knew myself”.

Yet for all her education and political activity, she was still white; she could never really “get it”. She could never reach her black son in the way other black people could, and we both became painfully aware of this. As I grew into a young man, our conversations became tinged with racial difference and I became embarrassed by her whiteness, drifting deeper into a half-digested black nationalist politics refracted to me through hip-hop and a couple of books I’d half-read.

I saw the pain and uncertainty in her face as I became a teenager and then a black man, her fears for and of my body; the 6ft-tall adult, the scowling brown face that had once been a naive, smiling five-year-old who didn’t yet know that his mother was not a “sister”, but the oppressor.

For a long time, race threatened to wreck our relationship, combined with the stresses of being poor and the more mundane familial resentments; but we survived and, after many, many struggles, flourished.

By the time I realised my mum was white, she knew only too well. She had been called “nigger lover” enough times; she had watched my dad fight the National Front and assorted bigots almost daily, while her own father had disowned her for “getting with a nigger”. People she had grown up with walked past her when she pushed our prams; others refused to believe we were really her children in the culture of the time.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I started to really think about what whiteness means. I questioned how Celts, Saxons, Corsicans and Nordic people had all come to be defined as “white”. “Whiteness is a metaphor for power,” James Baldwin tells us. “Money whitens,” say the Brazilians. South Africans can be found calling rich black people “white man”, and they mean this as a compliment. Or, as Frantz Fanon tells us, “You are rich because you are white, because you are white you are rich.”

The mental and emotional benefits of whiteness are why my grandad – working class, a soldier who had been tortured in battle, an uneducated alcoholic with few serious accomplishments – could still say, “Well, at least I am not a nigger” as often as he did. What did my grandfather understand about whiteness that so many pretend they cannot?

And it’s also why, though my mum was far from rich and had a great many sufferings of her own, she still shared a degree of racial discomfort when faced with the questioning eyes of her five-year-old son. But she sought and led him to answers, and did her best to rise to the challenge

Extracted from Natives, Race And Class In The Ruins Of The Empire, by Akala, published by Two Roads at £16.99.




What is Privilege?

Racism is not about people of colour, sexism is not about women, homophobia is not about gay people, transphobia is not about the trans community, etc. I could solve the world’s equity issues instantly if I could convince white, cis, hetero, men to give up their power and give it to the people who deserve it.

Pran Patel

Privilege is an advantage; actually, it’s more the lack of disadvantage endowed for having characteristics and/or traits.

Have a go, see how many facets you feel that you may or may not be oppressed through.


Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

1. Race (White privilege)

2. Sexuality (Hetero privilege)

3. Gender ascription (Cis privilege)

4. Gender (Male privilege)

5. Colour (lighter privilege)

6. Class (middle-class privilege)

7. Language (Native English speaking)

8. Credentialed /Non-literate (Education privilege)

9. Religious affiliation.

10. Etc

This diagram gives even more examples.

Privilege is the concept that you are given an advantage for having the perceived above traits. This is akin to walking down the street and people slipping money into your pockets. Zeus Leonardo (further reading at the bottom) goes a step further and questions where that extra money actually comes from. 

You may think that this is a little unfair as people did not choose the colour of their skin, gender, etc. I agree, lamenting over this what people are born with is futile. However, we should all remember that we are not only afforded these privileges but we are involved in the same privileges being taken from the oppressed.

We should look at privilege as a zero-sum game. This means we are afforded opportunities because other people are disadvantaged. As a result by simply existing in a privileged group, you are complicit in the oppression of others. This is uncomfortable, being knowingly or unknowingly complicit the result is the same. I am not writing this to elicit guilt but action a means that it’s our responsibility to redress the balance.


I have met hundreds of well-meaning people who have often suggested and attempted to create a hierarchy of the different types of oppression. For example:

‘Black men are more oppressed than white women.’

If your vision is live in a fair equitable society (or to end oppression), I would direct you this quote by Audre Lorde,

“I am not free while any women is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” 

Audre Lorde

Compartmentalising and then pitting characteristics directly against each other is not just pointless, it’s divisive. The aim here should be to level the playing field for everyone. After all, all oppression is *intersectional*.

What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality can be made extremely complex. Put simply, everyone’s journey is made up of different lines of oppression and privilege these intersect to describe the greater picture. For example; yes, on one hand, I am a person of colour, but on the other, I am also a cis hetero man which makes my journey very different from the journey of a trans, gay, woman of colour (and distinctly different from black/indigenous experience). This complexity is sometimes used as a fogging technique, it is so complicated there is nothing we can do about it.

The term was originally coined in this paper, 30 years ago, by Kimberle Crenshaw.

She echos my above sentiments when asked:

Q: You originally coined the term intersectionality to describe bias and violence against black women, but it’s become more widely used—for LGBTQ issues, among others. Is that a misunderstanding of intersectionality?

Crenshaw: Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.

Some people look to intersectionality as a grand theory of everything, but that’s not my intention. If someone is trying to think about how to explain to the courts why they should not dismiss a case made by black women, just because the employer did hire blacks who were men and women who were white, well, that’s what the tool was designed to do. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, it’s not like you have to use this concept.

The other issue is that intersectionality can get used as a blanket term to mean, “Well, it’s complicated.” Sometimes, “It’s complicated” is an excuse not to do anything.

Flipping the narrative, oppression depends on a lot of different characteristics and traits and understanding that must include recognition of intersectionality.

Privilege, in exactly the same way, is also intersectional.  I did not earn the advantages or power that come with being able-bodied, cis, heterosexual, male. However, I certainly do benefit from them. Their shackles may be very different from my own but they are shackles none the less. So, as a man, it is my duty to support women in their systemic struggle, as a cis man it’s my responsibility to support trans women, etc. 

This is redressing the balance; giving back power to the people who deserve it.

Warning: Checking your Privilege.

As privilege can only flow along the veins as power. From men to women, from white to black, etc.

When someone asks you to examine your power or to ‘check your privilege’ your response should be to tell that person you need to reflect and you’ll return with a response. Then you have real work to do. Analyse your own actions. Remember your analysis must include the contextual historic legacy of power/colonialism.

Well-meaning people often fall into the trap of lecturing/dictating the oppressed. Remember you are in guest in a world you cannot understand or experience. All actions should come with the recognition of privilege first and foremost.

How does this impact in the Classroom and Schools?

When I have worked with schools, on decolonisation of the curriculum, I have used the 3 c’s model and privilege falls into all 3.

1. Challenge

2. Content

3. Certify

 Which will flow into the ‘content’ of their curriculum. Then finally to certify. Certifying, ask us as educators to empower our pupils to challenge (respectfully and democratically) the world and power structures in society around them.


Where ‘challenge’ is equipping teachers/teaching staff to confront the hierarchy of power within their classroom by interrogating their own lens.

character ed

As educators do we teach an awareness of the societal power structure in our lessons? Do we give all pupils a fair representation of the world we live in? If that isn’t reason enough in January 2019  implicit/explicit character education curriculum was including into the OfSTED framework.

Schools will not be rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ in Personal Development without evidence of building character

Personally, I find it hard to see, how the virtues below can achieve without the recognition of societal power.


As educators, have we considered the content of the curriculum? I have written about decolonising the curriculum here. More than that have we, as educators, ever considered the philosophy of education and ontology/epistemology we propagate?


Yes, that sounds complicated. When teaching maths in primary school and we ask pupils to measure objects, do we teach pupils that in certain realms there are definite answers, absolute truths (positivism in the natural sciences) and in all others, the answers are dependent on who you are (postpositivism).


No matter what you think about the content of the above stories. The educators of these pupils should take a bow. It is the job of educators to empower our young people to make the world a better place for their generation and the generations that come after them. Teaching pupils about power is the first step in this endeavour. For this to happen this must be incorporated into the day to day of a school and this is every educator responsibility.


Zeus Leonardo (2004) The Color of Supremacy: Beyond the discourse of ‘white privilege’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36:2, 137-152, DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2004.00057.x





Diagram credit: https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/139052/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false

Photo credit: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/22/male-privilege-entitlement-101/