How to be a better ally to your students: black allies

Black students and teachers share their experiences of racism in school and offer tips for safeguarding students.

Notes by film-maker and diversity inclusion facilitator Dr Mena Fombo (with film-maker Michael Jenkins and Assistant Principal & Diversity and Inclusion education consultant, Aisha Thomas).

The tips:

Acknowledge racism exists

Assistant Principal & Diversity and Inclusion education consultant, Aisha Thomas, states the importance of protecting young people from racism and safeguarding being everyone’s responsibility. She emphasises the need for teachers to acknowledge that racism exists and to take quick action when students report racist incidents.

Knowledge is powerful

‘I felt really disgusted about how they handled it. I felt like they didn’t care at all.’
(Secondary school pupil)

Students that were interviewed for the film felt that any use of the ‘N’ word was an act of racism but that in their experience, schools acted to ‘protect’ the person who used the word rather than support the students who had been the victim of racism. Encouraging learning opportunities for users of racist language is a positive step, but teachers can also help by recognising the impact on students’ mental health when they don’t feel heard, supported or that action is being taken. It’s essential to be confident in our knowledge and understanding of racist language in order to manage incidents effectively.


'We grow up believing that our voices aren’t worthy of being heard, and that our struggles aren’t what people want to hear.'
(Secondary school pupil)

Students also felt they wanted teachers to offer more opportunities for them to share the problems they faced in school, particularly around racism. They felt if teachers understood them better, they would be able take more informed action when these incidents occur.

Representation matters

Students interviewed spoke passionately about wanting more historical contexts. Aisha states that representation matters and that the curriculum is full of opportunities to balance out learning. As she says: ‘When you talk to children about slavery, you’re also going to talk to them about Mansa Musa and African kingdoms’ - because many black students feel they are not represented within the school curriculum, and on the occasions when they are - such as Black History Month - it can feel negative, Americanised, or just centred on the Transatlantic Slave Trade or Windrush.

Take action

Aisha emphasises it’s important to take quick action when students report racist incidents, taking their concerns seriously and recognising the impact on them.

Mixed heritage allies
South Asian allies