Britishness, Identity and Belonging

The post-Brexit referendum period has witnessed the growth of English nationalism, spikes in hate crime, allegations of institutional racism in the Home Office following the Windrush scandal, and accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Terror attacks in London and Manchester have undermined public confidence feeding widespread anti- Muslim sentiments, and wars of the last two decades have also led to populism and “great again” nationalism (Houtum and Lacy, 2017).

Against this background Edge Hill colleagues, Dr Francis Farrell, Dr Shereen Shaw, and Professor Vini Lander sought to find out what young people think about being citizens of the UK. They collected data from young people from four secondary schools and two youth groups in the region. Each shared their views on British identity, race, religion and education; their stories and real-life dilemmas, ‘lived up close’.

Our findings showed:

•  For the BAME young people, racism is a painful daily reality and can take a variety of forms including social media bullying campaigns and verbal abuse.

• Young people want more anti-racist education.

• Young people want to learn about each other’s communities, culture and religions through experience by attending exchange visits and schools linking events.

• Young people want to talk about politics and want more political education.

• Young people want open honest debate and ‘truth’.

• There is no consensus on what Britishness means and for some it is a racialised concept that can be used to divide people.

• Young people want knowledgeable teachers who are well trained, committed and get the facts right about different faiths, so they aren’t misrepresented.

In the next phase of the study, we will turn these observations and recommendations into action; working in partnership with them, their schools and youth groups, to form an anti- racist educational network.

Our aim is to facilitate

• Experiential learning, so students can learn about culture, religion and lifestyle through encounter and dialogue

• Young peoples’ civics events; roundtables which allow for the open honest debate, particularly centred on questions of race, identity and religion

And to create

• Curricula, models of learning and teaching and resources that address issues of citizenship, race and identity in post referendum Britain.

Our findings, and our previous work on teachers’ views of the requirement to promote fundamental British values, have enabled us to shed some light on the dilemmas, hopes and aspirations of practitioners and young people in this crucial juncture. In this way, in partnership with the young people and their communities, there is possibility of a more liberating world view that sets down a challenge to all ideologies, improves understanding and eliminates hate.

Dr Francis Farrell is Senior Lecturer Secondary and Further Education (Religious Education) at Edge Hill University.

Dr Shereen Shaw is Further Education and Training Programme Leader (Acting) & Lecturer in Further Education and Training at Edge Hill University.

Professor Vini Lander is Professor of Race and Education and Director of the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.

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