Events of the last year, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, and also the racist treatment of East Asians over the COVID-19 pandemic, have brought the importance of race to the forefront, and hopefully, it's here to stay.
Not only did the events last year highlight police brutality but bringing these issues to the forefront also shone a light on the injustices displayed in all systems.
We contacted several of the schools that we work with and asked if they would be interested in us incorporating specific lessons on racial identity into our ‘Esteem project.’ They were all very keen and so this term, Esther, our Schools Work Coordinator, has been hard at work running focus groups with young people to ascertain exactly what they want and where they feel they need the most support.
Why is there a need to consider racial and ethnic identities in relationships and sex education (RSE), one might ask?
Well, race and someone's ethnic background are inextricably linked to their identity. Race and ethnic background not only affect how young people view relationships and sex but also how they and their families respond to RSE.
Of course, most importantly, how educators ensure openness and understanding when engaging with young people from diverse backgrounds is critical to our work being successful, and so how we teach our educators is also being revised so that we purposefully cover all this in our RSE training.
Taking race and ethnicity into consideration is not clear-cut and requires a nuanced approach from professional RSE educators and caregivers. For instance, it's very easy to fall into the trap of having preconceptions of how certain groups view relationships and sex and allow these to distort how RSE is approached, but it's important that prejudice and pre-conceptions are broken down on both sides of the fence.
At acet UK, we have been actively and continuously improving our relationships and sex education, since we started 33 years ago, but there’s always room for improvement. As RSE educators, we need to understand that 'one size does NOT fit all' and be aware of our own biases (even if unconscious), so as not to prevent any young person from finding their place of belonging within the RSE space.
That's why we're revisiting our resources and approaches, making even more adjustments, so that they fully meet the needs of the diverse communities we engage with.
We're factoring in how race and ethnicity can impact a person's perception of relationships, sex, and education: for instance, someone’s cultural context can be disregarded within a eurocentric culture and certain groups could be marginalised from mainstream RSE.
Our culture impacts our views on all aspects of relationships and sex, including the place of sex within a relationship, family ascendancy, arranged marriage, gender roles, inter-racial dating, and monogamy.
A young person’s self-esteem and self-image can also be influenced by the beauty standards and stereotypes from their own culture, and the fetishisation of certain races. Opinions on contraception should also play a big part in our conversation, as well as superstitions and other beliefs linked to racial and ethnic groups.
We're proud that many of the resources we use already include multi-racial imagery, but we know that we can always do more. For instance, when speaking about STIs or genitals, we use diagrams and pictures that are representative of the young people we're educating, not just standard black and white line drawings, that whilst easy to understand and annotate, actually bear little resemblance to the real thing.
Diversifying RSE won't happen overnight, but we're continuing on our journey and continue learning along the way!
What young people in the focus groups had to say
"I am a young black person and I deserve to live in a better world. People need to learn about what it feels like to judge someone based on their skin or the country they come from."
"Nobody is born racist, they learn it. So, they need to learn not to be."
"The lessons will help people not be bullied because they are different. People always make fun of me because I have an accent, but their parents have an accent too. They need to be educated that I am a person just like them. We really need this project."
"Migrant families suffer so much abuse, Esther, I watched people abuse my parents just because they are from a different country and their skin is different. We need a better world. I want to be a part of this project to change things. We need to educate teachers as well because people were horrible and even beat me up in primary school and the teachers never understood the way racism hurt me."
“Black history month isn’t enough, like it’s not even taken proper seriously, it’s just a poster and an event. We need to change that, because I don’t like that.”
"There is a lack of opportunity yet black people always rise and I like that sort of thing! To rise when they don’t want us to. But we need to teach our history, because if people knew there was more to black people than slavery it would help maybe. There might be more opportunities for us in the world."