THE authors have set out, in their own words, to write a book “as close as possible to a conversation”. Neither author makes any claim to have special expertise, and both express reservations and a hesitation about being too prescriptive. You could, indeed, imagine discussing the issues that they have raised, in the context that they would prefer: “a heart-to-heart with a good friend over coffee”.
Loretta Andrews and Ruth Hill met at ante-natal classes. Becoming parents has led directly to this book, as they came together to discuss how best to bring up their children in an anti-racist way. They have set out to be truthful, up to date, and write in terms that are “jargon-free”. Their goal is to take away the fear that some children and, indeed, some adults may have, of coming across as stupid. They want to be seen as trusted friends.
The reader should not be misled. For example, when Andrews expresses her wish to be described as “brown”, you can conclude that, although the aspiration might be to have a friendly chat, the difficult questions about race are not going to be avoided. Indeed, the language, history, and politics of race, especially when talking to children, are confronted head on. Terminology is a good example. The debate about the “correct” term to be used leads to the conclusion that “people of colour” will be the option chosen for this book. The possible caveats might include asking “people of colour” how they themselves would wish to be described.
Once the writers turn to history, the discussion has a harder edge. Hill is middle-class and white. Like many teachers, she is comfortable explaining the history of sexual discrimination and its unacceptable face today. I guess that she would say much the same in relation to homophobia. When it comes to racial discrimination, however, she feels on much less secure ground, unsure of the history of centuries of inequality.
The anti-racist journey has not yet reached a destination. History and the “duty of memory” are an integral part of the curriculum. There is plenty of material in this book to facilitate a discussion in lessons, or maybe at home, about the slave trade, its abolition, royal involvement, the part played by the Church and its murky links with colonialism. David Olusoga, Professor of History at Manchester University, is quoted: “If you don’t want Nigerians in the UK, all you need to do is go back to the 19th century and persuade the Victorians not to invade Nigeria.” That’s not a bad place to start.
Dennis Richards is a former head of St Aidan’s C of E High School, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Talking to Children about Race: Your guide for raising anti-racist kids
Loretta Andrews and Ruth Hill
Church Times Bookshop £11.69