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Working Towards an Anti-Racist Practice (as a White Practitioner)

“Being antiracist results from a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life. In the absence of making antiracist choices, we (un)consciously uphold aspects of white supremacy, white-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society. Being racist or antiracist is not about who you are; it is about what you do.”

– National Museum of African-American History and Culture*


The Black Lives Matter movement has momentum right now. That momentum is built on decades of anti-racist activism and work by Black people.

Racism and specifically anti-Black racism is being talked about more widely than I can ever remember as a white 28-year-old living in Edinburgh, Scotland. This means a lot of, primarily White people, learning a lot very quickly, becoming more politicised and wanting to take action. What is going to hit home soon for people who’ve maybe been less involved in any kind of activism or work around dismantling the deeply embedded prejudices and structural inequalities around us… is that Activism is hard going. It is tiring and the work is never done and what’s more the energy this work takes can feel wildly disproportionate to the time you spend doing it. This only becomes magnified if you are directly affected by those issues at hand.

Everyone has their own limits and abilities and when that is recognised it becomes a strength of any movement. Looking at your own abilities, limits and strengths is key to figuring out how you’re going to make your activism sustainable. Because that’s what we need. When it comes to anti-racism the people who need to be doing the most work are white people which means we need to look at our day to day lives and figure out how we can make anti-racism a consistent part of it.

For me, my practice as Play Radical is a big part of my day to day life and will continue to be. It’s my work, my passion and takes up a large part of my time and energy. So how do I embed anti-racism into it in a long-term way? Here’s the plan I’ve put together:

  1. Talk about race when I do training

I provide training on autism, autistic access and inclusive play. I currently mention race in all of these but, I need to be more informed and explicit. For example in autism training I will talk about how Black autistic people are commonly not diagnosed or often misdiagnosed and how this then affects whether they access the support they might need. But I don’t give enough space to acknowledge or talk this and the many other ways being a person of colour affects a person’s experience of being disabled and/or autistic.  Being the ‘expert’ in this context as the person delivering training it’s easy to decide I don’t know enough to talk more explicitly or make more space for something. There is a two-part solution for this; 1. Learn more, 2. Practice what I preach- forget about experts, lean into any discomfort around the idea of being wrong or not doing something perfectly and make that space regardless.

2. Offer free training to Black-led grassroots and non-government funded organisations.

This ones pretty straightforward. I will be working on a way to formalise this as an offer and figuring out what my capacity is for providing this.

3. Challenge racism in my day to day practice

This applies to both the adults I come into contact with and the children and young people. As well as potentially supporting adults who work with those children. I think it’s worth mentioning that this is something I’ve had to do a lot in the five years I’ve been working with children and young people in Edinburgh and surrounding areas. It something I’ve done with varying degrees of effectiveness and need to continue to work on. At its most complicated in my work this means addressing racism when its displayed as part of behaviours linked to emotional distress; when a child in a state of meltdown uses racial slurs for example. I’ve worked with young white people in the past who’ve done this, where it forms part of a behaviour pattern linked to distress, anger and overload. It is essential to address this and work on it with the young person. It can’t be dismissed as just a given part of ‘challenging behaviour’. That’s not to say it’s not dealt with appropriately and sensitively- it needs to be part of a holistic approach to helping a child manage behaviour and emotions. But it can’t be ignored or dismissed. In my experience this is a long-term ongoing conversation with the young person.

4. Read/research/share work by Black practitioners

This means not assuming that work by Black practitioners, be that research, artwork, blogs etc are not there just because I don’t know about them. It means seeking out that work, paying for that work and using whatever platform I have to share it.

———–

So that’s what I’m working with right now, it’s by no means a perfect plan and is something that I will need to consistently come back to, reflect upon and adjust. But I wanted to share it to encourage and support other people who want to do better, or more but aren’t sure how. Whatever roles you have in life, wherever you live, whatever work you might do there will be away to integrate active anti-racism into your life.

To my fellow playworkers, artists, community workers and educators what can you do to embed anti-racism in your practice? Are you feeling stumped? Confused? Helpless? Drop me an email and we can talk it through. I also very much welcome any feedback and suggestions you might have on what I’ve shared here.


“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” 

– Ijeoma Oluo**


The image featured in this article is from Jen White Johnson who can be found here https://jenwhitejohnson.com/ and @jtknoxroxs on instagram and twitter.

*from the ‘Talking about Race’ resource at  https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/being-antiracist

** learn more about Ijeoma Oluo here http://www.ijeomaoluo.com/writing

Play Diary: Cups

Stackable re-usable paper or plastic cups are a favourite of mine to introduce into a space. They’re recognisable but novel; especially in large numbers or unexpected contexts. They’d be easy to dismiss but offer up endless possibilities. This play diary is made up of observations from various sessions where I’ve bought cups into the space. They vary from big groups on a school playground to small groups in a classroom to one to one sessions in all sorts of settings with all sorts of children and young people.

First there comes towers. Not always, but often. Build up knock down build up knock down.

For some that’s a perfect formula, they continue in one way until they’re done, alone or in groups, this might take two minutes it might take forty-five. For others the first tower is just launch point.

Build up knock down.

There are always more ways to build a tower. There are always more ways to knock it down. There’s every way you can get from one point to another and then there are ways that don’t care for those two points at all.

Photo shows a 17 storey high circular cup tower in a large gym hall. It is made up of clear plastic cups. On the ground behind the tower lies a stuffed toy shark and several small red cups.

Sam keeps reminding herself to breathe and talking about how she can’t believe how much fun she’s having as she aims her tower for the ceiling.

Jamie doesn’t seek to build high, he builds wide; not towers but apartments and a public transport system.

Ethan doesn’t see a cup at all, he sees a new material to work with and fetches some scissors.

Jake is an all-powerful Crusher of Cups. We build a ‘crushing zone’ so his flavour of destruction can exist alongside his peers’ less permanent versions.

Zoe says she “knows what we’re meant to do!” but she soon forgets the “meants” of it all and lays on the ground looking at the sky through a cup telescope.

Cass is just not that interested at present.

Lou fills a cup with water, drops some bouncy balls in and spends the next ten minutes trying to seal it up. Eventually there is so much blue masking tape involved you can’t see the water or the balls. They’re pretty happy with their creation.

Finley creates a very complicated game, with very complicated rules which she explains excitedly at length.

For Rishi I’m his collaborator and competitor interchangeably; I hand him cups as he stands precariously on his tiptoes to build or I work to stack up cups quicker than he can knock them over.

Eagan holds up a stack and slowly s l o w l y lets one at a time fall through his hands onto the floor. He’s delighted by his level of control and the slow rhythmic drop.

How many cups can you balance on your body at once? What’s the sound of 100 cups falling in an empty hall?  Did you know if you have enough cups in one stack you can wiggle them about like some kind of cup-worm?

To me cups are the perfect example of how, when it comes to creating opportunities for play, there is no such thing as ‘too simple’ or ‘not enough’. Also, in a push, they can actually be useful for drinking from!