Black Spatial Agency Matters: The Rise of Black Geographies By Malaika Laing-Grant

There is an unequivocal push to shed light on the deepening racial divides that continue to underpin the Black experience in the 21st Century. Black liberation movements around the world, from the bustling streets of London to the southeastern coasts of Jamaica, have brought the importance of blackness to the fore. Not only as a tool for understanding the Black identity, but also as a theoretical framework from which to view our emancipatory commitment to social justice, liberation and reconstruction.

From analyses of diaspora to the entangled processes of the transatlantic slavery, colonialism and modernity- Black thought has long been concerned with questions of race, place, and power. Yet, it’s plausible to suggest that these developments, which span centuries and continents, have been systematically excluded from more traditional notions of geography.

Within the past five years, however, Black Geographies as a discipline and epistemology has gained increasing institutional clout, with thanks to the tenacity and ingenuity of Black scholars to carve out institutional spaces for Black intellectual production. But, what exactly is meant by Black Geographies? 

“Black Geographies’ is diasporic in its foundation through centuries of race projects of displacement, concealment, and marginalization that seek to render the Black body as “ungeographic” (McKittrick, 2006)

As a critical nascent body of scholarship, Black Geographies pinpoints Black spatial agency and the intersections between race, the state, and the dynamic distributions of power present in society. From the transatlantic slave trade to the lack of racial integration of Black and white families with similar class affiliations, to the mass incarceration of Black people, Black Geographies examines Black spatial experiences, including how Black life is reproduced in the wake of gentrification and redevelopment. In doing so, Black Geographies exposes the rich processes of Black socio-cultural and spatial reproduction to resist the confines of slavery, underdevelopment, and traditional human geographies.

Importantly, Black Geographies is not just for geographers. Amongst other schools of thought Black Geographies can also provide a foundation of understanding for the various means of organising political movements to both undermine systems of oppression, and efforts to positively contribute to the communal well-being of Black communities; as opposed to the individuality and exclusivity of our current Western world. Indeed, the scholarship of Black Geographies transcends boundaries outside of formal geography.

As the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps the globe, renewed efforts to address the ongoing injustices of racism and inequality further challenges the formal canon of disciplinary geography that we seem to value so much. We have reached a critical moment, and it is now time to re-examine our complicity in racial processes, evaluate the processes and frameworks that address issues of racial inequality, and reengage the scholarship of Black Geographies as a body of scholarship. This new body of thought must add to our understanding of the ways that race and place are inextricably linked.

Written by Malaika Laing-GrantBLAM’s Volunteer Blog editor

Malaika is a professional with over five years’ practical experience in the international development space, providing comprehensive programmatic support to drive programme success in areas such as youth and politics, social and economic development, education and capacity building. She is a strong believer in the power of the Black community, Malaika is also committed to education as a form of Black empowerment to dismantle cycles of oppression and systems of social injustice


McKittrick, K. (2006). Demonic grounds: Black women and the cartographies of struggle. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press


Why was the ‘Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent’ (OWAAD) important?

The distinction between Black feminism and white feminism has long been established, due to the triple burden facing many Black women of race, class and gender. Black feminists have and continue to, highlight the differences in their experiences and issues they are confronted with. On the key issues of family, patriarchy and reproduction,

Black women have distinctly different realities to that of their white middle class counter parts, that often centre the feminist movement.[1] Black women are consistently confronted with racism, resistance and further oppression which white feminism has undermined and silenced. It was in acknowledgment of this that OWAAD was formed in 1978.[2]OWAAD functioned as an umbrella organisation, bringing together various groups of women with divergent interests and focuses.[3] OWAAD had a prominent impact on the women’s liberation movements in Britain, by placing the experiences of Black and Asian women on the liberation agenda. Attracting over 300 women to its first national conference, OWAAD successfully prompted the establishment of Black women’s groups across London.

The ‘Brixton’s Black Women’s Group’ opened in London as the first Black Women’s Centre and Asian and African – Caribbean women founded the ‘Southall Black Sisters’ in North West London.[4] As well as its undeniable influence, OWAAD contributed to several campaigns for the progression of the black experience in the United Kingdom. OWAAD joined the campaign to scrap the SUS laws, which gave the police the powers of stop and search without any cause and was disproportionately used against young Black men.[5] The impact of OWAAD and its initiatives are undeniably powerful and revolutionary. As Stella Dadzie (co-founder of OWAAD) emphasised, OWAAD worked to ‘show people sisterhood in operation’.[6] Not only did OWAAD take on the responsibility of upholding the Black-british community, they also established a legacy of justice and perseverance that remains a fundamental pillar of Black British History.

[1]British Library, ‘Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project’, 3rd June 2011 <https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/stella-dadzie-owaad> last accessed 6/12/2019

[2] Ibid

[3] Bethany Warner, ‘The Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent: constructing a collective identity’, 2016 <http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/history/documents/dissertations/Bethany_Warner2016.pdf > last accessed 6/12/2019

[4] Tess Gayhart, ‘Beyond the SS Empire Windrush: London’s Black History in the Archives’, 9thMay 2016

<https://blogs.kcl.ac.uk/kingshistory/category/teaching/> last accessed 6/12/2019

[5] Sophia Siddiqui,’ Still at the Heart of the race, Thirty years on’, 6th September 2018 < http://www.irr.org.uk/news/still-the-heart-of-the-race-thirty-years-on/> last accessed 6/12/2019

[6] Ibid(1)

By Isabelle Ehiorobo

Racialised Cultural capital

What is cultural capital?

Cultural capital is a sociological term coined by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron in 1977. They used it to explain the difference in performance and academic achievement in children based on their experiences. It is the social and cultural advantage that some have, and the access to opportunities that that advantage then gives.

The issue is, typically when we speak about cultural capital, it’s usually very specific cultures and experiences that are being heralded. Going to the theatre, opera or ballet; visiting museums and galleries; reading certain literature or listening to certain genres of music (usually classical). The capital is being built on a certain type of culture.

It is important to note that class also has a big part to play in conversations around cultural capital. However, even within the conversations around class, Black people are still often at a bigger disadvantage than their white counterparts. For example, despite being middle-class, Black people can often be excluded and othered in the spaces mentioned above. Ballet is a typically middle-class, white arena and so even if a Black family has the means to send their child to a top ballet school, that child can still face racism (covert or overt), be overlooked for opportunities and eventually want to remove themselves from that experience.

In a school setting, children who have access to certain experiences and opportunities are then perceived as more intelligent, thus being positively labelled by teachers. Although schools are supposed to be safe spaces for all children to have equal opportunities, that is often not the case. Expensive school trips abroad, extracurricular language clubs that only offer certain languages, music lessons (typically violin) – can exclude children from certain backgrounds.

Let’s take ‘fine’ dining for example. The above is a picture of how a table should be set. If you don’t know which fork should be used at which point during a 5-course meal, then you’re likely to be deemed as ‘common’ or unintelligent. However, this is a necessity in certain cultures’ cuisines. There are plenty of cuisines around the world that believe that eating with your hands is the epitome of fine dining. However, in the Western world, that would be heavily looked down upon.

Racialised cultural capital

It is important that we celebrate and acknowledge activities that are specific to the Black experience, things that we do that can serve to promote our cultural capital. 


Music is a big part of life for many communities in Africa, the Caribbean and throughout the diaspora. Whilst some cultures highly regard the violin or the trumpet, we can choose today to celebrate the steel pan. Originating in Trinidad (& Antigua), the steel pan has become synonymous with Caribbean music and culture. Pannists are highly skilled musicians, taking time to learn and perfect their craft

The arts;

We could give a thousand examples of the arts but we’re going to focus on Trinidad’s Moko Jumbie, also known as Stilt Walkers. The history of Moko Jumbie is rich and beautiful.

It is an art form that can take years for a person to master, and there will be many falls throughout those years! 


Gele is a head tie worn primarily by women in Nigeria and West Africa. It emanated from the Yoruba culture and is usually worn for special occasions such as weddings and big birthdays. 

It’s not everyone that can tie Gele well. It is a serious skill and so women will usually hire someone to come and tie Gele for everyone attending the celebration.

We’ve given 3 examples of things that can contribute to a Black person’s cultural capital. It is important that children are exposed to experiences that they can relate to. As great as classical music and traditional theatre can be, they are not always welcoming spaces for Black people. Rather than trying to conform to what the mainstream says is high culture, why not redefine that?

A short guide to school exclusions

By Aqsa

In England, updated statutory guidance on exclusions from schools took effect in September 2022. This guidance complements the “Behavior in schools” guidance, which offers details and recommendations for managing student behaviour. The exclusion guidance provides information and support to a wide range of school and  educational professionals, including: headteachers, governing boards, local authorities (LAs), academy trusts, independent review panel (IRP) members, SEND experts, social workers, and Virtual School Heads (VSHs).

What does this new schools exclusion guidance outline?

  1. Reasons for exclusion:  This guidance sets out that when it comes to suspensions and permanent school exclusions, the reasons for handing an exclusion to a pupil can only be made for disciplinary matters, such as serious misbehaviour or repeated breaches of the school’s behaviour policy.  Headteachers are expected to exercise professional judgement and consider individual circumstances in every case. Also, reasons for exclusion need to be clearly communicated via a formal process. Paragraph 18 of the guidance states that: ‘Each disciplinary suspension and permanent exclusion must be confirmed to the parents in writing with notice of the reasons for the suspension or permanent exclusion.’
  2. Processes for exclusion:  When considering an exclusion, schools must follow a fair and transparent procedure that includes holding a formal process for arranging alternative education or care, having a formal process for notifying parents of exclusions, and more. The guidance contains information on how children on suspension or permanent exclusion can be included in the exclusion process, taking into account their age and capacity to understand.
  3. Alternatives to exclusion: Schools must consider alternative measures before proceeding to exclude a pupil, this could include alternative provision. The guidance provides advice and details on particular types of alternatives which limit suspensions and permanent exclusions – managed moves and offsite directions. This guidance sets out how schools can monitor and oversee alternative provisions, and work in partnership with alternative provision providers to ensure continued and smooth support is offered to pupils offline and also through the use of online pathways.
  4. Length of exclusion: The length of a fixed term exclusion cannot exceed 45 days in a single school term. There was discussion prior to this guidance publication, on whether this would be changed, but now it remains unchanged. 
  5. Reviewing exclusions: Schools must review exclusions regularly and provide support to pupils and families during the exclusion period, including organising plans to support the learning of an excluded pupil. Schools must operate in compliance with the SEND guidance of 2020 and the Equality Act of 2010. 
  6. Right to appeal: Pupils and their parent/guardians have the right to appeal exclusions via the school’s internal appeals process and also through an independent appeal’s panel.
  7. Reintegration: Schools must support the reintegration of permanently excluded pupils, either through alternative provision or by facilitating transfers to another school ( known as managed moves)
  8.  Permanent exclusions: New guidance emphasises that while headteachers are supported in safeguarding their school communities, permanent exclusions should be used as a last resort.

What has changed since publication of previous guidance?

  1. Alternatives to exclusion: There has been a greater emphasis on alternatives to exclusion, such as managed moves and off-site directions. There has been consideration of how SEND pupils can be supported. 
  2. Permanent exclusion: There has been an increased focus on preventing the number of permanent exclusions and ensuring that they are used as a last resort. Schools must provide clear evidence to support any permanent exclusion and must follow a fair and transparent process of informing relevant staff and parents, offering internal right of review, appeal and 
  3. Reintegration: There is a greater emphasis on supporting the reintegration of permanently excluded students into education, either through alternative provision or by facilitating their transfer to another school. Schools must also provide support to families during the exclusion period and support in the plan and monitoring of a reintegration strategy.
  4. Right of appeal: The guidance has been updated to clarify the right of appeal for students and their families, including the process for appealing a permanent exclusion.
  5. Mental health and well-being: The guidance now includes a focus on the mental health and wellbeing of students, including the importance of considering this when making decisions about exclusion and support during the exclusion itself. 

These changes to the guidance reflect the importance of ensuring that exclusions are used as a last resort. They also reflect the increasing recognition of the impact that exclusion can have on a student’s mental health and wellbeing.

For more information on school exclusions and the work we do, visit us here

The Importance of Racial Wellness in Schools

By Michelle

Racial trauma can be described as the mental and emotional impacts that a person experiences as a result of exposure to racism. This exposure may be direct, for example by being on the receiving end of racist insults or frequent microaggressions, or more ‘indirect’ such as hearing distressing news about a racist incident or witnessing a video on social media. Racial trauma can be experienced in systems and institutions. In schools and other educational institutions, young people can have experiences that contribute to racial trauma. 

School policies about dress and behaviour may target Black students. They can serve as a way for schools to police their hair, the way they talk, the language or actions they use to express themselves, and punish them for it. In addition to school policies, interactions between school staff and peers also contribute to racial trauma. Racist peer-on-peer bullying, microaggressions from school staff and classmates, and hearing racist language all contribute to racial trauma. A study published by the youth charity YMCA revealed that 95% of young Black people had heard racist language at school. In a focus group conducted as part of their study, young Black people revealed they expected to hear racist sentiments and experience racism because they were Black.

In schools alone, the restriction, punishment and policing of Black students that is enforced via policies, alongside microaggressions, bullying, and racist sentiments heard by Black students when they interact with their wider school community greatly contributes to their racial trauma. When it is considered the amount of time young Black people spend in the education system, the need to actively undo the trauma they face becomes extremely urgent. 

Racial wellness is essential as it works to undo the harm that is caused by racial trauma. For children, racial wellness is particularly important as it equips them with the practices, techniques, and confidence needed to work through racial trauma from now, in their childhood, to their later lives. It is extremely important to be aware of racial trauma in young Black people, its effects and how to cope with these effects. Symptoms of racial trauma are extremely similar to symptoms of other mental health difficulties. They can include and are not limited to:

  • Anxiety 
  • Sadness and depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling as though you need to be constantly alert/on guard

Racial wellness in schools is vital for the wellbeing of all students, but it is crucial for Black students who are affected by racism and who are susceptible to racial trauma. Schools can actively encourage racial wellness and incorporate it into wider school culture by creating (and maintaining) an environment which allows Black students to feel listened to, cared for, taken seriously, and one which allows them to be safe expressing themselves and sharing their experiences. Generally, schools will need to review and amend (or even completely remove) their existing policies that negatively impact or police Black students, as well as giving training to staff, providing specific wellbeing services to students, and ultimately transforming school culture to be one which truly does not condone racism or discrimination on any level.

For training, schools can also partner with organisations like BLAM who can provide school staff with appropriate training programmes and workshops to provide insight into what constitutes racial trauma, for example. We also provide workshops for students to help them to cope with racial trauma, encourage and teach them about racial wellness, and affirm the identities of Black students. Schools are also encouraged to provide services such as counselling with a racial and cultural focus, in order for students experiencing racial trauma to work through it in a safe and supportive environment. 

The conversation on the existence of racial wellness in schools is one that is crucial for the safety and wellbeing of Black students. It is important that this conversation does not end at being a conversation, but that it develops into actions and behaviours. Young people spend a significant portion of their lives in schools. Schools, for a lot of them, act as one of their first instances of interacting with a wide range of individuals and also acts as one of their first introductions to a community outside of their family network. Therefore, it is important to ensure that while young people are in the care of schools, they are being looked after, affirmed, taken seriously, and prevented from experiencing harm.

Mythology in Africa and the Diaspora

By Michelle

Africa is home to more than a thousand languages, and cultures. It’s no surprise to learn that a continent full of varied geography, a multitude of languages, and so many vibrant cultures has equally varied and vibrant myths. African mythology is full of interesting folklore, networks of unique gods, and colourful creatures and characters. The same can be said for mythology in the diaspora – everywhere from the Caribbean, to South America and the US, elements and aspects of African mythology play key roles in their own mythology.

The mythology of Africa and the diaspora is sustained by oral tradition and oral history, an important part of many African cultures. Oral tradition can be described as passing down ideas and cultural material through speech. These cultural materials can be anything from ideas, knowledge, history, or folktales and myths. Oral tradition in Africa and the diaspora helps to keep their mythology (and by default their history) alive. 

In fact, oral tradition is so crucial to African cultures that an entire profession exists for it. A griot (pronounced gree-oh) is a professional storyteller and historian. Griots originate from West Africa within groups such as Makinde, Hausa, Dagomba, and more. The role of a griot is a highly respected one. They share myths, legends, stories, fables, songs, and history with members of their communities and help keep the histories of their communities alive, since those people will in turn share it with others, particularly their descendants. 

Cultures of storytelling are not only a form of entertainment or a way for communities to connect with their history, but the stories being told – myths and fables – are also more than that. They are a means of sharing and explaining cultural practices, and they show us what values and beliefs cultures have. Myths can be described as old traditional tales usually involving gods and other creatures that are used to explain natural phenomena and events, like sunsets or rain. Fables can be described as stories that have animals as main characters that usually are written to promote a value or moral – they are usually aimed at children.

African myths and fables are also an insight into philosophies, and a way to share and promote values like kindness, consideration, and honesty to children. In fact, one of the easiest ways to expose a child to their culture and teach them about their heritage is to share myths, tales and similar stories from their country or countries of origin! A good example of such tales are Anansi Stories. These are fables and myths originating from Akan Ghanaians involving a trickster spider-god, that we will explore further in this blog. 

African mythology tends to have recurring themes and elements that make it unique to other myths. One theme which is seen in several African cultures, from Nigerian Yoruba culture, to Ghanaian Akan culture and Fon culture in Benin, is the theme of twins and twinship. Twinship is used to explain natural pairings, such as the moon and sun, or day and night. Some cultures such as Yoruba culture and Akan culture celebrate twins, with Akan culture believing they are sacred and Yoruba culture believing that twins can bring wealth, favour, and good fortune. Twins are believed to be protected by Sango, the god of thunder and an Orisha in Yoruba traditional religion.

Interestingly, Yoruba people are responsible for the highest rate of twin birth in the world!

We also find themes of death, the creation of the world, the existence of gods and mythical creatures who influence humanity and human life. A notable theme we find in African mythology is the presence of a trickster character. This character is usually a god, or in some cases a messenger of the gods. Trickster characters are crafty and are always trying to get out of completing tasks or taking shortcuts. They enjoy causing chaos and often operate to serve their own interests. Arguably, a popular example of a trickster character is Anansi the spider-god, originating from Akan mythology. Anansi is usually depicted as a spider (likely because that is a direct translation of his name in the Ghanaian language of Twi) but he is also the god of stories, sharing stories of the gods, existence, and more with humans on earth.

Anansi, his myth, and lore were brought to the diaspora during the Transatlantic Slave Trade by enslaved Africans from Ghana. Anansi stories are still popular stories that continue to be passed down to generations, teaching children the importance of telling the truth, being considerate, and warning against shortcuts. His myth can be found in Caribbean countries such as Jamaica. Another trickster god that can be found in the diaspora as a result of the Slave Trade is Papa Legba, from Benin. His lore is still present in Haiti, brought over by enslaved Africans from Benin. 

It’s important to note that although these gods feature in mythology, they are actually deities that are still worshipped today in Africa and the diaspora. Papa Legba for example is a revered figure known as an Iwa of Haitian Vodou as well as Creole African American Voodoo culture. He is regarded as the intermediary between humans and the other Iwa. He is also worshipped in Benin, where he originates.

Mythical creatures in Africa and the diaspora that feature in this mythology are numerous. From the elusive and anti-social magical dwarves of West and Central-West Africa, cunning witches, to mysterious mermaids across the diaspora. Mythical creatures are deserving of their own piece to explore their behaviours, lore, and relationships with those who believe they exist. They are not confined to the continent. In the Caribbean, creatures such as jumbies and duppies scare humans and wreak havoc in their lives. In St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, there is Papa Bois (whose name comes from French patois, meaning “Father Wood”) who is the half-goat half-man protector of the plants and animals in the forest.

Mythology in Africa and the diaspora is full of a wide range of colourful characters, careful elements,  interesting creatures, and powerful gods who are used to not only explain humanity and our existence, but behaviours, natural phenomena, but also help us to understand philosophies of communities, preserve our cultures, and promote values that are crucial to communities such as consideration, kindness, and honesty. 

Self-Care for Black children

By Michelle

Do you remember the last time you did something nice for yourself? If you have had a long week dealing with the bits of life that stress you out, make you anxious and make you tired, how do you try to recover from that?

Lately, self-care and its importance for adults has been encouraged and widely spoken about for its contribution to our wellbeing. It has been shared in its many forms – a mini spa-day, a nice meal, even spending time reading a good book. It is being accepted now that self-care is an important part of maintaining your well-being and helping your mental health. It is now becoming more accepted to set aside time in your routines for yourself.

Self-care refers to things that we do to look after ourselves and our mental health, and things we do to maintain our wellbeing. As important as it is for adults, it’s equally essential for children. Practising self-care is an essential life skill that helps child development. This essential life skill takes on a whole new level of importance when taught to Black children. As important as self-care is for everyone, it is particularly important for Black people, and Black children who are the focus of this blog post.

Self-care for children may provoke questions about why children would need self care, what children would need the rest and downtime for, and what from. When you consider that Black children are likely to experience situations that contribute to racial trauma, such as micro aggressions from classmates and teachers alike, it can be easier to understand that they need healthy outlets to process the moods and feelings that can arise as a result of that. Feelings of hurt, sadness, insecurity, and anxiety to name a few can be seen in Black children who experience racism. 

Self-care for Black children is essential, because it helps to equip them to navigate distressing situations and care for themselves in spite of those circumstances. When self-care becomes an established part of their routine, and they recognise that they have a toolkit of activities that can help them while they are facing some difficulties, they will be better equipped to face these incidents. Adults are a crucial part of introducing self-care to the Black children in their lives. They ultimately influence their reactions, exposure, and attitude to self-care, so it is important that this is done with care, empathy, and patience.

Self-care activities for younger Black children (primary-aged)

  1. Cooking a traditional food with an adult. 

This activity serves as a way for Black children to develop their abilities in one of the most crucial life skills, a way for them to connect with their heritage, and as a bonding activity between child and adult. Teaching children to cook helps them to care for themselves and this is a skill they will carry into adulthood. 

When cooking these traditional foods from their culture with children, adults should be sure to give them age-appropriate tasks and encouragement. Adults should also give instructions backed up with explanations, so children will be more likely to remember steps! Cooking sometimes is associated with stress and speed, so adults are encouraged to be patient and go at a pace that children will be comfortable with. 

  1. Doing a group physical activity with others. 

Physical activity is another useful way of dealing with a wide range of emotions that children experience – from restlessness, anxiety, sadness, and even excitement. Physical activity also helps to improve sleep quality, lift moods, and acts as a healthy outlet for emotions such as anger and sadness that children may be uncomfortable dealing with. It also greatly contributes to their self-confidence, self-esteem, and how they perceive themselves. Examples of physical activities that can be done with others include football, yoga, dance, and basketball. 

  1. Watching cartoons with Black characters

This self-care activity can be enjoyed by everyone, children and adults alike! Watching cartoons with Black characters who are shown in a positive and uplifting light will help to affirm the identities of young Black children, since they will see positive representations of people who look like them. Positive representation in media that children consume contributes to their development and self-esteem. This, paired with the fact that cartoons are a great way for children to have some downtime, makes this an easy and effective self-care activity.

Self-care activities for older Black children (secondary-aged)

  1. Journalling

Journaling is a great tool which can help us to process our emotions, as well as provide an outlet for our thoughts and feelings. For Black children, journalling can be a great way to express themselves in an honest manner and share their feelings. This can help them to process situations that may have been unpleasant or distressing, such as exposure to microaggressions, and celebrate joy and gratitude. Journaling can also go a long way in improving their writing and communication skills, as well as their ability to express themselves. A short paragraph is a good starting point.

Journal prompts that focus on reflection and expression can be useful. Examples of journal prompts are: “What is your favourite memory, and why is this special to you?” “What is one thing you really like about yourself?”

We also have a resource that you can access, drop us an email at youthracialwellness@blamuk.org

2) Doing a group physical activity with others. 

Physical activity is another useful way of dealing with a wide range of emotions that children experience – from restlessness, anxiety, sadness, and even excitement. Physical activity also helps to improve sleep quality, lift moods, and acts as a healthy outlet for emotions such as anger and sadness that children may be uncomfortable dealing with. It also greatly contributes to their self-confidence, self-esteem, and how they perceive themselves. Examples of physical activities that can be done with others include football, yoga, dance, and basketball. 

3) Reflecting 

Reflecting can be done in journaling, but can also be done with trusted adults in conversation. Adults should actively create an environment where the Black children in their lives feel comfortable sharing their feelings, thoughts, and questions with them. This can be done by encouraging them to talk about their feelings, when they are happy or when they are upset. In addition to this, asking them questions about how they feel, encouraging them to give details, and even going a step further brainstorming healthy ways to make them feel better is a good way to allow Black children to get comfortable sharing their feelings and processing their emotions. 

Which self care activities will you encourage the Black children in your life to try? 

How schools can celebrate the UN Decade for people of African descent

The UN Decade for People of African Descent is a decade which encourages the international community to recognise that people of African descent represent a distinct group who have human rights that must be promoted, protected, and preserved. It is scheduled to span the period of 2015 – 2024. People of African descent is a broad group, with around 200 million people in the Americas alone self-identifying as being of African descent. 

The key themes for the decade are: 

  1. Recognition. People of African descent have the right to equality and non-discrimination, therefore all obstacles that prevent their equal enjoyment of all human rights – economic, social, cultural, civil and political – should be removed. 
  1. Justice. People of African descent deserve the adoption and establishment of tailored policies that contribute to their opportunity, access, representation or any other means to reducing disparities they otherwise experience. 
  1. Development. Recognition that measures are needed that target the improvement of education, employment, health, and housing of people of African descent. Recognition of poverty being both a cause and consequence, and the introduction or strengthening of national programmes to reduce social inequalities.

The decade also has main objectives, which are the promotion of respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people of African descent; promotion of a greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies; adoption and strengthening of frameworks with regional, national, and international scopes. 

Schools can celebrate the decade for people of African descent in a variety of ways which will promote curiosity and understanding, and educate pupils on the importance of the recognition of people of African descent as a group which must have its human rights upheld. Suggestions are outlined below, ranging from the celebration of cultures of people of African descent.

  1. Celebrations of heritage.

This will serve as an inclusive event celebration whereby students (and staff) can wear their traditional clothes or ‘costumes’ of their heritage to school. Schools are not confined to ‘national costumes’, as these may prove difficult to source. Students can be encouraged to bring something which represents their heritage (such as a figurine, a photo, etc.) and should prepare to explain what it is to their peers. Schools can decide the programme of the day, but BLAM suggests the celebration occurs on a day in which it would be possible for classes/year groups to engage with each other about their heritage, an assembly can be arranged which focuses on people of African descent, and similar programmes. This can occur at any point of the year, but schools may decide to celebrate this on 24th October, which is recognised as United Nations Day, and will be in UK Black History month. BLAM suggests this celebration should occur outside of Black History Month, and that schools committed to the inclusion of people of African descent should consider making this an annual celebration.

  1. The integration of Black history into curriculums.

Schools incorporating diverse Black history into learning and education outside of Black History Month will help to increase the knowledge of Black history and reverse negative narratives. Working with community organisations to ensure that Black histories and positive narratives are celebrated all year round, and are not confined to one month in the year. The recognition that Black history is rich and diverse is necessary for people of African descent’s own recognition. 

  1. Re-examining and abolishing policies which disproportionately affect people of African descent.

Schools should examine existing policies ranging from behaviour to dress code, which negatively and disproportionately affect people of African descent. Policing the hairstyles, behaviour, language, and dress of Black pupils must be examined as it links directly with the key theme of Justice and Recognition in this dedicated decade. The removal of policies which ban the use of Black languages such as Pidgin, Patois, or Black British English (sometimes called Multicultural London English) directly limit the expression of young people of African descent, and must be removed in line with this.

The above are suggestions that schools can implement to celebrate the UN Decade for People of African Descent. This is not an exhaustive list of suggestions, but they may serve as a starting point for schools which wish to uphold the human rights of the pupils of African descent, and ensure their involvement, representation, and recognition.

The Children’s Commissioner’s review on strip search in the UK does not go far enough

The Children’s Commissioner’s review on strip search in the UK does not go far enough

Despite the review discovering and highlighting that strip search powers are being used in an unlawful, racially discriminatory and harmful way :

  1. More than half (52%) of strip searches were conducted without an Appropriate Adult present
  2. 14 strip searches were conducted in police vehicles or schools. While the location of strip searches was not recorded in 45% of cases, additional potentially inappropriate locations for searches included private businesses, takeaway outlets, and amusement parks;
  3. 1% of strip searches were conducted within public view;6% of strip searches were conducted with at least one officer of a different gender than
  4. Black children are 11 times more likely to be strip-searched in England and Wales than white peers

The review fails to call for the complete overhaul and removal of the strip searching of children. The review also failed to consider the effects of racial trauma from these police encounters. It also fails to look at how the UK’s cannabis policy via the war of drugs policy that operates as a war against our communities is a factor in this.

The report confirms all that BLAM UK and other community abolitionist groups have been saying. Policing has no place in our society and most importantly no place in our schools or around our children and young people. We as community groups and community workers have called for the complete end of the use of strip searches on children.

One thing we can be sure of is that strip search as a practice still remains in place and thus we as the community must find alternative ways to reduce and challenge the harm our young people face under the racially weaponised, state sexual assault tool known as strip search. Lawyers at Black Protest Legal Support have created this useful radical community-forced guide on the Police Power of Strip Search in the UK. Please find the published tool here.

We must also call out the educational space as a site of insitutionalised Anti-Blackness, as we had in our caseload a young Black girl that was subject to a strip search for allegedly concealing a vape. No vape was found on this young person and we successfully challenged the school. Robyn Maynard in Policing Black Lives reminds us  “Black students are not only treated as if they are inferior, but they are also frequently treated as if they are a threat inside of education settings. The presence of Black children and youth remains unwelcome and undesirable in many public schools, and their movements are closely monitored and subject to correction.” Teachers must also be held to account for their complicity with police and in allowing strip searches to take place on school premises. 

A Radical Community Guide to Police Child Strip Search law in UK


Strip search is a inherently violent police power that has rightfully received recent criticism in the media and from our communities due to distressing accounts of children being strip searched in an unlawful, racially discriminatory and oppressive manner, like the case of Child Q. 

The law empowers the police to strip search people in certain circumstances, where the police considers it “necessary” to do so.

Strip search powers are being used disproportionately by the police on Black adults and children. This document was created to help inform you of your rights and the laws the police should follow when carrying out  strip searches. It also explains what you can do if you have been strip searched or if you witness one. The law on strip searching is generally quite disturbingly broad and hard to follow, but within this document we have aimed to make it easier for you to know the protections in place that  you should know about.

However, even when the police follow the correct law and procedure, strip searches are still a form of state violence used against racialised communities and fundamentally traumatic for those subjected to them. Information on where you may look for community support and solidarity is also provided below. 

What is a strip search? 

The law states that a strip search is a search where you take off more than your outer clothing. Outer clothing is your  jackets, shoes and socks. A search that just requires you to remove outer coat, jacket or gloves,  is not a strip search. Under section 60 ( please see below) they can require you to remove an item that hides  your identity like a balaclava or skii mask.  

Strip searches can be embarrassing, humiliating and demeaning experiences. 

A Strip Search can in some cases  involve the exposure of your private parts ( Breast ( female) , Penis, Vagina and Anus). 

Strip searches that expose your intimate body parts can only be carried out if you are at a private place like a police station or in a private area- a police van is not a private area.

When does the law allow the police to strip search a person? 

Strip searches can be done in two situations.

Firstly, they can form part of a stop and search. 

The police can only carry out a stop and search if they have a ‘reasonable and genuine suspicion’ that they will find something illegal on you, or something that could be used to commit a crime. This means that not only must the officer have a genuine belief themselves that they will find something illegal on you, but the average person must think their belief is reasonable.

The police should tell you their name and police station, what they are searching for, give specific reasons as to why they suspect you in particular and inform you of your rights to request a record of the search. 

If there is a section 60 order in place, which allows the police to search you without a reasonable suspicion, then they must say this order is in place before carrying out the search. A plain-clothed officer must show you their warrant card before trying to search you.

Secondly, strip searches can be carried out if you are in police custody at a police station. Strip searches in the police station must be authorised by the custody officer. 

A strip search is not the automatic next step to a standard search where nothing is found. 

Strip searches can only be conducted where, for example, the police have a reasonable and genuine suspicion that they will find hidden items on you that are illegal, or hidden items which you will use to harm yourself or any other person, and they consider it necessary to strip search you to find out. 

The police must ensure they ask you to hand over anything you have on you first before strip searching you. The police should consider if alternative options, other than strip searching you, are available. They must only remove the extent of clothing necessary to address their suspicion.

The police cannot carry out a strip search just because you have a past criminal record or you match a vague description (including racial) of the person they are looking for. 

The strip search can not be done through racial profiling. This is when an officer relies on stereotypes based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, rather than objective evidence or individual behaviour, to subject people to stops, strip searches, detailed searches, identity checks and investigations, or for deciding that an individual is taking part in criminal activity. Racial profiling results in discriminatory decision-making and it is against the law.

Unfortunately, we know all too well that the police often conduct searches in a discriminatory way. You are able to challenge this by asking for specific reasons for why YOU are being searched and making a record of the reasons the police give you. See below on resisting an unlawful search.

Where can a strip search take place? 

Strip searches that expose your private parts must be carried out in a private, designated area (such as a police station or police tent) and must not be in public view of anyone who does not need to be there. A police vehicle is generally not a suitable area, especially not for strip searches that expose your private parts.

If the strip search does not exposure your private parts (e.g. the removal of your t-shirt ) it can be carried out in a Police van by an officer of the same sex. It still must be ​​out of public view. These types of searches are also known as More Through Searches. 

Will I be searched by someone of the same gender as me? 

The law says that strip searches must be carried out by someone of the same “sex” as you. There should not be anyone of the opposite sex present unless you have specifically requested that an appropriate adult of the opposite sex be present or you request that you want a person from the opposite sex there. 

If you are gender non-conforming, non-binary or transgender, you can request to be searched by an officer of the same gender as you. If you have a Gender Recognition Certificate, the police must respect the gender that is stated on that certificate.

Unfortunately, the police do have powers to “assess” what gender they think you are if they don’t believe you, or you don’t tell them which gender you wish to be treated as. This means that there can be a risk of the police misgendering you. However, if you tell the police which gender you want to be treated as, they must write your request down. If the police misgender you, ask for their written record of the search.

What can happen during a strip search? 

Strip searches should be carried out with dignity and sensitivity, and all reasonable efforts should be taken to minimise your embarrassment. The strip search should be done in a way that allows you to have as much clothing on as possible at any one time. It should be done in stages, so at no point should you ever be completely naked. If your top half is being searched then the bottom half of your clothing should remain on. You should be able to put any clothes straight back on once the area has been searched. 

The strip search should end as quickly as possible. You should be allowed to put all your clothing back on as soon as the search is complete. 

If the strip search involves the exposure of your private parts, there must be two people present other than the person being strip searched. 

If the police believe it is necessaryto assist them with the strip search, they may require the person being strip searched to hold their arms in the air or to stand with their legs apart and bend forward so a visual examination may be made of the genital and anal areas. 

There should not be direct physical contact with your body parts during the strip search. Police should only touch or move pieces of your clothing (within reason to assist with the search). If police find any item, they must request that you had it over without contact. If you refuse, they may use reasonable force to seize it. If the item is in a body orifice other than your mouth, and you refuse to hand it over, the police’s removal of the item from your orifice would constitute an intimate search and they need your consent to carry out an intimate search. 

What is an intimate search?

Intimate searches are examinations of a person’s body orifices, other than the mouth (e.g. the anus or vagina). They are very intrusive and a risk to health. They can only take place if an officer of Inspector rank or above have reason to believe you have concealed something in your orifice that you might use to cause physical injury, or a Class A drug you intend to supply, and an intimate search is the only way to remove the item. 

Where the police believe you have concealed something in your orifice that you may use to cause physical injury, the intimate search can only take place in a police station or medical premises.  It must be carried out by medical professionals unless an inspectordecides it is not practicable to do so, in which case an officer is allowed to conduct the intimate search where necessary as a last resort. 

Where the police believe you have concealed a Class A drug in your orifice, the intimate search must be carried out by a medical professional in medical premises. It can only be carried out with your written consent, but you must be warned that refusing without good cause may harm your case if it comes to trial. 

Can the police remove religious clothing?

If the police want to remove an item of religious clothing, such as a hijab, a tam or a turban, that must happen in a private place. You can also ask that this is only done in the presence of a police officer of the same “sex” as you.

What if I have a disability?

The police have a duty not to discriminate or treat you badly because of your disability. Tell the police if there is anything that you would be uncomfortable with or unable to do during a search.

If you have a visual, hearing or speech impairment, inform the police. They should make sure you understand the information they give you about the search and that you are able to communicate with them.

What if I don’t speak English?

The police should arrange for you to have an interpreter.

What if I am not feeling well or am on my period?

If you are feeling unwell or are menstruating, inform the police. Remember that you should have someone the same “sex” as you conducting the search. 

The guidance on police powers (The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or “PACE”) does not have a specific guidance on periods but you should raise this with the officers searching you so they are aware. 

There is a strong argument that strip searching you whilst on your period would form degrading treatment that would breach your human rights as it is a sensitive time when you are vulnerable. If the police insist on carrying out a search they should provide reasons for this.

What if I need medical attention?

If you need medical attention, inform the police. They should find medical attention for you. If you think you need to see a doctor urgently, ask the police to find you a doctor or to call an ambulance.

What if I am a vulnerable person?

If you are a person who is vulnerable or has a mental disorder or is menatlly vulnerable , an Appropriate Adult mustbe with you when you are being strip searched.

An Appropriate Adult can be a relative, guardian or another person responsible for your care or custody. Alternatively they can be someone experienced in working with people with mental ill-health or vulnerability. They cannot be a police officer or employed by the police. They should be the same “sex” as you, unless you specifically request an Appropriate Adult of the opposite sex.

You do not have to provide anything to prove your vulnerability or mental disorder to the police. If the police have any suspicion or are told that you are mentally disordered or mentally vulnerable then you must be treated like you are. 

The police should be sensitive to the communication needs of a vulnerable person. 

What if I’m under 18?

If you are under 18 years old, you are considered a child or young person, and you do not have to provide anything to prove to the police that you are a child. If the police are unsure if you are a child, or are told that you are a child, then they must treat you as one.

You must be strip searched in the presence of an ‘Appropriate Adult.’ An Appropriate Adult might be your parent or guardian, but could also be a social worker, carer, youth worker or a volunteer as long as they are over the age of 18. They cannot be a police officer or someone employed by the police. 

The Appropriate Adult should be the same “sex” as you, unless you specifically request an Appropriate Adult of the opposite sex. If they are present for the strip search, then there should be only one other person present. 

The police should be sensitive to your communication needs as a child. They must keep your best interests in mind.

If you are under 14, the Appropriate Adult must be present for a strip search that is an intimate search (of orifices other than the mouth), and they must consent to the strip search. 

If you are aged 14-18, both your consent and the consent of your Appropriate Adult is first needed. If you are aged 14 – 18 the strip search can be carried out without an Appropriate Adult but only where you say that you don’t want them present, in front of the Appropriate Adult and the Appropriate Adult agrees. A record needs to be made of the young person’s decision and signed by the Appropriate Adult. 

When can a strip search go ahead without an Appropriate Adult for a child / young person / vulnerable person?

The only exception to the need for an Appropriate Adult is in urgent cases, where the child/young person/vulnerable person is a risk of harm to themselves or others. This is a high threshold and rare scenario. 

Even if the police believe a case is so urgent that they should go ahead without an Appropriate Adult present, the courts have said they must try to secure an Appropriate Adult first and explore ways which will allow them to wait for an Appropriate Adult to arrive while keeping the child safe.

Is race a factor in me being strip searched?

It should not be. However, we know that the rights of Black children are not as protected as they should be. We know that racism is a key reason why this happens. 

A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner confirmed that 58% of boys who were strip searched in London by the Met police during 2018 – 2020 were Black. In 2018 this figure was as high as 75%. 

A study has found that of all boys strip searched without an Appropriate Adult present, 57% were Black, and, in 2018, Black boys represented two thirds of strip searches conducted without an Appropriate Adult

Statistics from the same study show 5 per cent of strip search carried out on all children were on girls, there was no racial breakdown but we are positive that the data set will show a disparity in how Black girls are strip searched in line with Child Q’s experience and a disparity in the amount of Black girls subject to being strip searched.

Can the police use force to strip search me? 

You can be detained for the purposes of a search and strip search, and reasonable force can be used by the police to carry it out. However, the police should try to get you to cooperate first.

Can I refuse or resist a strip search? 

If the police believe they have lawful grounds for a strip search, they are unlikely to let you refuse it. 

If you refuse a lawful strip search, officers can use reasonable force to carry it out. They may also have grounds to arrest you.

You have the right to resist an unlawful strip search. If you resist a strip search that turns out to be unlawful, force may still be used against you by the police at the time of the strip search and you may be arrested for resisting. This is often a traumatic experience and it can sometimes be difficult to prove later in court that the search was unlawful. However you may later have an argument that the search was unlawful, therefore the arrest was unlawful, that you have not committed an offence as a result and that you have been assaulted. Suggestions on where to seek legal advice are in the final section of this document. 

What can I do during a strip search?

Take a note of the officer’s unique badge number (this is how you can identify the officer in the future). The number is placed on their shoulder pads. [Add photo]

You can record the police searching you. 

You can record a voice note of the interaction.

If you feel able and safe to do so as we understand interactions with the police can be very harmful and intimidating you can let the police know they have not followed the law and correct them during your search.

It is also okay to not say anything at all and just keep a mental note of what has happened and what was done wrong by the police to later tell to your support system or a lawyer if you wish to make an action against the police claim. 

What can I do if I see someone else being strip searched?

If you see a strip search taking place in a public place (which includes an alleyway), you may wish to film the incident on your phone, especially if you know the person being strip searched. The footage might be useful to them in the future. 

Try to get permission from the person being strip searched first and you should always take care to respect the person’s dignity. Try to focus the recording on the police and what they are doing in order to respect that person’s privacy. You should not share the video with anyone else but the person, and delete it if the person wants you to. 

If you know the person being strip searched, and you know that they are a child / vulnerable / have any other needs, you can try to communicate that to the police.

What can you do after a strip search?

You can ask for a note of the search from the officer that searched you. 

You can request the details of your search from police within three months for a general stop and search. For a section 60 stop and search you can request a slip from the police for up to a year.(But please note that you will not be provided with a search record on personal request from the police, if the search follows an arrest)

As soon as a strip search has happened, when you feel able to, try to write a detailed account of the following:

Where it took place.

What time it happened.

What was said to you by the officers before the search.

The reasons given for a strip search.

Whether they gave you an opportunity to hand items over voluntarily.

How you felt during the strip search.

The race and gender of the officers that searched you.

If they asked your age and if they asked about any mental health vulnerabilities you have.

Whether your wishes were respected.

Whether they followed any procedures for young people or the mentally vulnerable. 

If you email yourself your account of the strip search, either handwritten or typed, that will create an electronic timestamp proving that you made it when your memory was fresh. 

Where to get help? 

We understand that Strip Search is a form of state violence that can impact your wellbeing. It can cause feelings of stress and anxiety that fall under a specific type of trauma called racial trauma.  

Robyn Maynard in ‘Policing Black Lives’ notes that “The ongoing control of Black people practised by the police — has a huge impact on the psychological well-being of Black communities. It must be seen, and addressed, as a form of state violence.” Even profiling and [strip searches] that do not result in arrest is itself harmful: the American Psychological Association has found that it can cause post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related disorders.” 

Researchers in the UK at the SynergiCollaborativeCentrehave also found compelling evidence that shows that racism is a form of stressor, both in its more overt forms and as micro-aggressions, where there is no major incident but there is an awareness of being treated and responded to in a less than fair way, feared, avoided or disadvantaged on the basis of race. These subtle influences can result in pessimism, and difficulties adjusting and recovering from trauma, and there is a growing and convincing body of evidence that psychosis and depression, substance misuse and anger are more likely in those exposed to racism. More explicit verbally hurtful comments about appearance or physical attacks, due to hostility towards a specific race, also cause emotional distress, and lead to mental illnesses – in part because of the direct threat to identity and status, but also because physical and verbal violence lead to injury and post-traumatic stress.’

The organisation Y-Stop have created an app that you can keep on your phone, which lets you record a stop and search and make a complaint.

For any support around racial trauma please contact the following organisations:

https://www.blackmindsmatteruk.com/enquiry-about-therapy– Free Black therapist online 

https://racereflections.co.uk/contact-2/ (Paid services) 

Racial Trauma Therapist – https://mabadilikotherapy.com (Paid services) 

Racial Trauma Counsellor- https://www.lylasplace.cc (Paid services) 

BLAM UK Zuri Therapy workshops – Free Racial Wellness sessions – https://blamuk.org/zuri-therapy-racial-wellness/

For community support please contact the following Organisations:



The Monitoring Group 

Kids of Colour



How to hold the police to account:

An unlawful strip search will constitute an assault. It may also violate the right to private life under the European Convention on Human Rights and, depending on its level of severity, the right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment under the ECHR. 

A complaint can be made to the police, which will be dealt with internally by the police itself. You can do this by going to the police station and asking to see the on-call duty officer; dialling 101, or on the Met Police website.

If you think you may have a legal case against the police we suggest you contact the following law firms first to assist you with your complaint:

  • Just 4 Kids Law 0203 174 2279
  • Saunders Law 020 7632 4300
  • MTC Solicitors 020 7624 4300
  • Hodge Jones Allen 0808 274 5606
  • Bindmans 020 7833 4433
  • Birnberg Pierce and Partners 020 7911 0166
  • Bhatt Murphy 020 7729 1115

Finally, there is a campaign to end strip search of children, which you can check out here: https://www.endstripsearch.co.uk/ 

This document was drafted by a Lawyers from Black Protest Legal Support UK

18 August 2022

Black Publishing Britain

By Michelle

Black British authors are severely underrepresented within UK publishing. This lack of representation is felt amongst publishing in general, but also within the reception of prestigious British literary prizes, such as the Booker prize, the Walter Scott prize, and more. 

An analysis by The Guardian of the racial diversity of nominees for the 8 leading literary prizes between 1996 and 2020 showed interesting findings. The prizes examined were: the Booker prize, Women’s prize for fiction, Folio prize, Orwell book prize, Baillie Gifford, International Dylan Thomas prize, Carnegie medal and Costa book awards (which include the Costa first novel award, Costa novel award, Costa biography award, Costa poetry award and Costa children’s award).

This analysis showed that Black authors made up 6% of shortlisted authors for the UK’s top literary prizes in the past 25 years. Over the same 25-year period, Black Britons made up 3.1% of shortlisted nominees. Between 1996 and 2020, there were 1,357 entries, of which 82 were Black authors (7.1%). In the years 1996, 2001, 2002, and 2009 there were no Black authors shortlisted across any of the prizes. This shows that disparities remain between prizes, with some awards announcing more diverse shortlists than others. 

Even Black British authors who are celebrated have received less recognition within the industry. Between 1996 and 2017, Malorie Blackman, author of the young adult novel series ‘Noughts & Crosses’, was the only Black author shortlisted for the Canergie medal out of 150 authors. Between 2018 and 2021, having made an effort to increase racial diversity, Black authors made up 37.5% of shortlisted nominees for top literary prizes. Yet, the Carnegie medal to this day, 85 years down the line, has still not managed to be awarded to a Black British writer.

It can be observed that there has been a gradual increase in the racial diversity of nominees, and this is as a result of pressures for literary prizes to diversify their nominees and address their racial inequalities. The Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020 also drew attention to the lack of diversity and representation of Black British authors within the publishing industry. After the protests in June 2020, Bernardine Evaristo and Reni Eddo-Lodge became the first Black British women to top the UK’s fiction and nonfiction paperback charts. 

When Bernardine Evaristo became aware that she was the first and only Black British woman to top Britain’s non-fiction book bestseller chart she tweeted that she could not help but be dismayed at the tragic circumstances in which this achievement came about – the killing of Goerge Floyd,. She went on to state in her tweet that this was ultimately a horrible indictment of the publishing industry. That same year of 2020 saw the Booker Prize announce its most racially diverse shortlist to date. Bernadine Evaristo became the first black British writer to win the award, which she shared with Margaret Atwood.

The Black Writers’ Guild (BWG), a then newly formed association of Black authors within the UK, comprising over 200 published writers, including literary figures and bestselling authors, wrote an open letter expressing concerns that British publishers were “raising awareness of racial inequality without significantly addressing their own”. The letter was published on 15th June 2020, and was addressed to leading publishing companies in the UK, urging them to tackle the industry’s systemic inequalities and the ‘chronic’ under-representation of Black authors, commissioners, and senior decision-makers. The letter can be found here.

The children’s publishing industry is no better, with only a handful of Black British authors being published between 2007 and 2017. Benjamin Zephaniah, a Black British author assigned to students and member of the Black Writers’ Guild, shared some sentiments surrounding his work when he was at the beginning of his career: “I had publishers saying, ‘We don’t publish [B]lack and Rastafarian poetry. We don’t know what to do with it’”. This reveals that publishing companies are unaware not only of the importance of Black poetry, they may also deem it to be ‘unprofitable’ and may even be unsure how to market it and give it the exposure that other non-Black publications receive. These sentiments that Benjamin Zephaniah revealed that he heard are not uncommon.

In delving into the racist and exclusionary UK publishing and literary prize industry we are aiming to highlight and emphasise that superficial engagement with Black British authorship is not simply enough. The reality is that there are numerous Black British writers who have not been or will never be published because the UK publishing industry is biassed, and discriminatory against Black authors. Black British authors are not represented, their work is not engaged with, and they do not receive the same amount of campaigning and recognition for their work.

It is not enough for the UK publishing industry to be superficially more representative of Black British and non-white writers, it also must address its systemic barriers that result in racial inequalities. It must see racial diversity at all levels, from published writers, to nominees, to senior decision makers, as expressed in the BWG’s open letter. Black British literary talent is rich and plentiful, and their stories must be heard.

The Youth Racial Wellbeing Initiative

By Dominique

School teaches us many subjects, but did anyone ever teach you how to deal with racism? It’s a strange concept; how do you teach a child about racism? Most adults don’t know how much about racism, let alone know how to teach a very serious, mature topic to a Year 4 child! But if our children are experiencing racism from primary school ages, how can we measure and support their mental health? Acknowledging racism and its harmful effects is the first step.

Racism may be an ‘adult’ topic, but the reality is, that discrimination starts early. Children can recognise racial differences from 6 months old, and can start internalising racial bias as early as two. Racism is a learned behaviour, taken up through observation of how adults interact with each other (and what they say behind closed doors). Despite laws and regulations in place, many Black British children still face racial discrimination, both in and out of the classroom. And as is the nature of children, they are very impressionable, learning how to think, speak, and act, based on what the people around them think, say, and act. This tool for children’s development is a double-edged sword; racial bias and other forms of discrimination are quickly absorbed, and can be internalised, or even replicated. This makes unhappy, underdeveloped, and traumatised children, who may go on to distribute the same trauma to their peers, and later, maybe their own children.

At BLAM UK, we aim to support, improve and raise the racial esteem and racial identity of Black children by teaching racially affirming narratives about themselves and people that look like them. Racial trauma has only recently been acknowledged as a global threat to health, and through our Racial Wellbeing Initiative, we have been able to support and safeguard the mental well-being of children around the United Kingdom. Our Racial Wellbeing Workshops give Black children an open space for group discussion to connect and support one another by processing their reactions, experiences, and feelings about Black Joy, and also any forms of racial stress and trauma. Co-delivered by Humanistic Integrative Counsellor and BACP accredited mental health practitioner, Bankole Jaiyeoba, the workshops were delivered to Primary and Secondary Schools around London, covering themes of Black joy, racial trauma and its effects, and how to process negative racial bias to help prevent internalised racism, following BLAM UK’s stance on utilising transformative, healing justice to combat racial bias.

We found that school children often understand the concept of racism, and that it is wrong and hurtful, but do not understand what race, or heritage, ethnicity, or nationality is, nor understand how our brains and bodies react to racism. If we don’t fully understand how racial identity shapes our behaviours and interactions with other people, how can we ever change them for the better? Clearly defining definitions of identity, race, and discrimination builds the structure for navigating racial bias; we introduced this to our pupils through word association games. These help our brains to engage with the content by offloading  information from our schema, or working brain, by writing down our immediate thoughts, and also can reveal our subconscious thoughts as well. It also got the pupils comfortable with sharing their thoughts, no matter how random they might be! I also found that most of the participants’ understanding of mental health was limited only to bad mental health; the idea that you only need to take care of your mental health when it’s bad, which is when you go and see a doctor. We wanted to challenge this idea; just like your physical health, your mental health will naturally fluctuate, and you must take preventative, ongoing care of your mental health, the same way you take ongoing care of your body through exercise, healthy eating, cleanliness etc. Mental health should be spoken about all the time, not just when it’s gotten bad, to help break the stigma around mental illness, and promote mindfulness and other forms of transformative self-care. 

Racism can be overt, such as slur-calling, open discrimination, or covert, such as micro-agressions, implicit biases, and subtle commentary. It can be very uncomfortable to challenge racial bias, and it can be hard for a child to be able to articulate to another person why the interaction was racially biassed, or to articulate the impact that has had on their feelings. Our workshops were a safe space for Black children to talk about their racial experiences, and despite articulating your feelings being a challenge, the conversation would not stop flowing. Black British children from ages 7-18 all had an experience, opinion, or answer to share, with the most common theme being they felt that school didn’t care about tackling racism. Some children even found that whilst they felt uncomfortable, they didn’t realise what happened was racist until they had reflected on the situation, highlighting the difficulties of addressing racial bias, particularly in school with white elders in positions of power. In our workshops, we covered understanding what race, racial trauma, and wellbeing all are to ensure everyone has the same level of understanding. We also covered similar lived experiences, practising how to recognise and articulate emotions and racial bias and its traumatic effects, as well as techniques, skills and advice we can use to protect our mental health and safeguard our racial wellbeing.

Stress, in all its various forms affects us individually, but regardless of our emotional reaction to stress, it affects our brains chemically the exact same way. The amygdala in the brain controls hormones, specifically hormones that trigger our ‘flight, fight, or freeze reaction’. When exposed to stress, such as conflict, or public speaking, or roller coasters, or first dates, the amygdala in our brains fires, causing a waterfall cascade of different hormones, such as adrenaline, that make butterflies in our stomachs, sweaty palms, nausea, trouble thinking etc. Some people may become angry and upset, raise their voice, or withdraw, hide, and cry, or maybe completely shut down, and become unreactive. Even if the stress isn’t direct (for example, if you see a racist social media comment, if you read something tragic in the news, etc.) our brains can still have that chemical reaction, which affects our bodies and minds. Often, we are unaware that our brains produce these chemicals, and it’s only when we see the emotional reaction to the stress that we even acknowledge the stressor to begin with. For school-children, the brain is still developing and learning how to cope with stressors and build resilience. For myself, I found it important to explain the why behind our brains chemical reactions and its effects on our behaviour to help foster an understanding of why we feel or react in certain ways. A solid understanding of our identities, bodies, and wellbeing is the first step to implementing change and supporting our good mental health.. When the body is in the flight, fight, or freeze response, the primary way to cease the amygdala producing stress hormones is to regulate your breathing, allowing blood (carrying oxygen, stress hormones, lactic acid) to regulate back to normal levels. As discussions around race and trauma can be triggering for some people, we utilised the 4-2-6 breathing technique to regulate our autonomous functions before leaving the classroom. 

Some of our Year 6 participants already had an advanced understanding of emotional management, and had their own stress management strategies, such as counting to 10, fidget tools, slow breathing, and even a quick game of football, to trick the brain into thinking the threat has passed. For the students that had difficulty identifying their emotions and stressors, we practised a grounding technique to help increase mindfulness and bodily awareness; the Body Scan exercise calls attention to each part of the body, bringing awareness to tension held within the muscles and joints, as well as grounding one into the present moment, helping prevent escalating feelings and calming the mind. This also helped some students become aware of their fight-flight-or-freeze response and its effects on their bodies, calling attention to when stress is building without their realisation.

Testimonial from Mr King, Henry Fawcett Primary School-

“I feel the workshop went really well and that the students benefited from the knowledge they gained! The mental health [sections] of the  workshop were very useful and helped the student[s] to understand the science behind controlling your emotions and what can happen if you let your emotions get the better of you. It gave the children a platform to express any concerns they may have about race or mental health in an appropriate non judgemental environment. ​”

Just like other subjects, tackling racial conflict and trauma, and maintaining positive mental wellbeing requires practice. Self-care may sound easy- take a bubble bath, exercise, treat yourself! But actually, controlling your emotional output and safeguarding your esteem is incredibly difficult; the institutionalisation of racism can make one feel isolated, othered, and is incredibly straining on your brain, increasing your cognitive load and contributing to burnout. This is even harder for children and young adults, whose prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls decision making) isn’t fully developed. Practising talking about difficult topics sets our children up for navigating these conversations in their future, as well as gets them to reflect on their past interactions with racial bias. 

Trauma affects us all in different ways, often in ways we don’t notice, and the practice of mindfulness, particularly acknowledging your mental and physical reactions to stress, helps us develop resilience, as well as establish boundaries to safeguard our mental health. Many of our participants said that they relied on talking to a friend or family member to help them destress, and that ranting or sharing their experiences with someone made them feel better about the situation, and helped them to move on. I found that the atmosphere of the workshops fostered a safe space to allow sharing to happen between the participants, and once one person shared their experience, they encouraged another person to share theirs. I found the workshops ending with a few still-interested pupils lingering to continue speaking their truth, excited to have a community ready to listen and empathise with them, and happy to have their feelings and experiences validated. Nearly every workshop had each pupil in agreement; that their schools did not take racism seriously. 

In addition to learning how to identify our racial identities and biases, we also need to learn how to practise safeguarding our racial identities and mental health. A strong understanding of racial identity and mental health, leads to a strong sense of self and a strong sense of self leads to confidence and high racial esteem. Sense of self is a combination of images and words we associate with ourselves, and if the words we think about ourselves are negative, they will in turn negatively affect the image we have of ourselves. Likewise, feeding ourselves positive words and images will positively impact our self-image.Good mental health means being confident, safe, and secure, as well as being resilient to the stressors of life. Building a strong sense of self gives a firm foundation for building up confidence, which in turn, will improve mental health. Joyful self-expression of your identity can be done internally, or externally. Internal joy comes from the mental principles that enable good mental health, such as world-view, imagination/ambition, and inner conflicts/fear. External joy comes from the physical principles, or situations, that can impact mental health, such as instant gratification, exercise, physiological needs, career, and relationships. The external joys are often focused upon more heavily, as these things teach us how to problem-solve, to recognise and fulfil our needs and desires, and how to take action. However, external expressions of joy only indirectly impact your wellbeing, whereas, internal expressions of joy directly influences your wellbeing through teaching us how to recognise and process emotion. Emotions are a way for our subconscious to communicate with our conscious mind, and being present and in tune with all our emotions allows us to directly impact our wellbeing.  expresses our internal joy. In addition, there is also Black Joy, or cultural and ethnic expressions of Joy, that strengthens our self-image and redefines our relationship with our race, as well as other people’s.

In the context of discrimination, the simple act of authenticity and cultural expression is radical self-care. Our workshops also highlighted that experimenting, testing, and trying different ways of joy expression and self-care is going to have the greatest impact; as you grow and your situation changes, so will your coping mechanisms, so we must continue to practise being self-aware and strengthening our self-image in order to maintain our good mental health. The Body-Scan and 4-2-6 breathing techniques were a huge hit, with one student commenting “it was easy to do and made me feel better, but it’s hard to remember to stay mindful”. This idea was echoed by a few other participants; that mindfulness is a simple, easy thing to do, but it is hard to get our brains to turn off and to remain mindful.

The acts required to take care of one’s wellness is an ongoing, developing process that evolves with our personalities. Childhood is a fundamental developmental period to begin this process of emotional regulation, building self-esteem and creating resilient individuals well-equipped to not only successfully navigate stressors such as racism, but also for social progression and transformative justice. In addition to being able to navigate through racism when it’s happening to us, we also need to be able to navigate through the trauma racism leaves behind. The exploration and expression of Black Joy that inspires, celebrates, and uplifts Black culture, is a form of Radical Self-care. Racial wellbeing is a conscious effort to promote cultural expression and self acceptance to equip us with the tools we need to tackle racism. By reinforcing the positive associations and joys of Black culture,  we also promote positive self-image and self-affirming cultural expression of identity, as well as actively reject white supremacist ideology.

Finally, we spent the last part of the workshops focusing on the BLAM UK values of Transformative Justice (TJ), a framework approach for responding to violence, harm, and abuse (i.e. racism) without creating more violence and/or reducing the violence. TJ is achieved without reliance on the state interventions such as school exclusions or the foster care system, not dissimilar to the ethos of the Black Panther Party. TJ also promotes preventative measures against violence, such as accountability, resilience, self-identity, healing, and community. The students came up with their own examples of TJ with the prompt “An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind”, which was a fantastic opportunity for healing by allowing the students to reflect and verbalise the resolution they desired in their own life experiences, as well as recognise how to address conflict without inflicting more harm.  As an accompaniment to the Racial Wellness Workshops, we distributed our Racial Wellness Creative Booklets, designed to promote Black joy and positive Black representations of art, language, and practical resources to help build racial esteem. These workbooks help facilitate the continuation of learning after the workshops, such as affirmations of Black Joy, exploring the origins and validity of Black British English (BBE), journaling techniques, ‘Pod Mapping’ to identify your community and support system, and more.

One of our partner schools, Charter East Dulwich, engaged in the programme multiple times, and have left testimonials to their experience:

“ [In] This workshop I learnt a lot, it was packed full with info. I learnt how to accept who I am for who I am, accept my race, my feelings and my emotions. If I had an opportunity to do it again I would.”
“I think this boosts a lot of people’s confidence”
“It was great and should happen more”
“It was very good, I’ve never experienced a workshop like this, thank you”

Case Study 1

“Tyler” is a self-confessed introvert, and usually keeps to himself and his small circle of friends. In the Racial Wellbeing Workshop, Tyler started to speak up and share his experiences and thoughts. He had never spoken up about his racial experiences, or really, any emotional experience, preferring to express himself through his writing, but in the safe space of the workshop, Tyler saw that the younger children weren’t sure what to say. He spoke about how teachers would call him and his other dark-skinned friends ‘gangs’ or ‘criminals’ when they were gathered together, and how the school tried to stop more than 5 Black children travelling together. He spoke about his low confidence, and how no one ever called dark-skinned, quiet, slender built men ‘handsome’, or ‘pretty’, instead of just ‘dark’, and how all these experiences made him feel.  The others in his group all nodded and agreed with him; he verbalised the shared feelings of the group, and he also spoke about how he built his confidence back up again. Tyler was a big champion of mental health, particularly Black men’s health, and urged the whole room to keep talking.

Venting, sharing, talking, all help us process and verbalise our feelings, offloading the brain and clearing the mind, as well as helps us regain perspective. Tyler spoke very fondly of his friends (the aforementioned ‘gang’) and how sharing experiences with other Black men helped prevent him internalising the racially-biased opinions of others. Most notably, Tyler said that he would have loved to have a Racial Wellbeing session earlier in his schooling, and whilst the school has made great changes to tackling racism since he began KS3, more can still be done.”

Case Study 2

“Jackson” was roped into his Sixth Form duties, asked by his teacher to attend and support BLAM UK’s Racial Wellbeing Workshop. Jackson said he had never been to therapy, and the only people he has really spoken to about mental health or racial wellbeing, was his friends and one Black teacher. Jackson told us about an incident at school where a teacher made a remark about his racial group and intelligence, which made him feel uncomfortable. Not wanting to escalate the situation, or get in trouble by ‘talking back’ to a teacher, Jackson had left the situation . It wasn’t until Jackson had spoken about the situation to a Black teacher that he realised the other teacher had said something racist. Jackson then went on to point out that often, Black children aren’t able to properly articulate and address racial bias and confront it, either because they are too young to be able to process the confrontation and verbalise their pain, or because they are scared of making the situation worse, and being labelled ‘angry’, ‘aggressive’, or ‘over-emotional’.

Understanding how the brain reacts to environmental stressors, producing adrenaline and other stress hormones automatically without our control, helped Jackson understand his reaction to his previous racially traumatic situation, and he reflected on how he would deal with it now that he is older. He said he would do a very similar thing, and go to talk to a trusted person about it, as he recognised that processing trauma requires us to talk about our experiences, or write them down. He said he felt like he could hold his own in that situation now, and to question the teacher about what their comment really means. Most importantly, he said he feels more resilient, and that even if the teacher didn’t recognise their own racial biases, he could confidently disregard their ignorance, and safeguard his racial wellbeing to avoid internalising racism.

If you are interested in learning more about the project or would like to order the wellness booklets, please email youthracialwellness@blamuk.org