How to be a better ally to your students: mixed heritage allies

Issues of identity and heritage are explained by students and teachers seeking a more inclusive classroom experience.

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 my heritage

‘People think I’m one or the other. They don’t understand that the two make me.’
(Secondary school pupil)

Students speak about the need for teachers to ‘acknowledge their heritage’ and recognise that not all mixed heritage students are the same. We need to ensure we don’t presume young people’s heritage or allow students to.

Understand language is limiting

SENCO and Deputy Mental Health Leader, Lana Crosby, states: ‘People from mixed heritage backgrounds may be a number of different nationalities and ethnicities’ and so using terms like BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) is limiting and can misrepresent young people when referring to their identity. The term BAME assumes one homogenous group and negates acknowledging and celebrating difference. In the first instance teachers could ask students what their preference is when their identity needs to be referred to, recognising that there is no one correct term.


'Stop saying that we’re threatening!'
(Secondary school pupil)

One of the most common complaints from black and mixed heritage (black and any other group) students interviewed was about the language used to describe them. They shared being labelled as ‘aggressive’, ‘intimidating’, or ‘threatening’, and that these terms were based on reasons such as ‘standing in big groups’, ‘dressing a certain way’ or even ‘when being passionate about something’. We should recognise that these labels are negative, deeply rooted in history, and can cause immediate distrust amongst students and staff.

Knowledge is power

Lana explains that young people may still be trying to understand their identity - figuring out where they fit - so not to expect students to have all the answers; but equally that teachers should do their own learning so that they are better equipped to support a student on their journey of discovery. There should also be a recognition that as young people grow older - especially around the teenage years - they may change how they wish to be referred to.

A subject that students wanted to highlight was the reaction of teachers to pupils who say ‘All Lives Matter’ in response to the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’. As an ally you can affirm that BLM is not saying black lives matter more than any others – but that they should matter as much as any others. When people respond to ‘Black Lives Matter’ with ‘All Lives Matter’ it is belittling legitimate concerns regarding racial injustice.

Representation matters

Lana explains that representation ‘makes a big difference: it increases your sense of belonging…it increases your sense of inclusiveness within that learning environment.’

Take action

It’s important to acknowledge that race is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 and to recognise that racist incidents must be acted upon with urgency, in the same way that other discriminatory acts are. As Lana says, racism is illegal: ‘…when you see it, stop it.’

Black allies
South Asian allies