A Cosmopolitan Classroom and Mixed-Race Identity: Challenges and Proposals for Change

It is a fallacy to believe that any school system is equitable and fair. As state institutions, schools reflect the society in which they exist. The picture Karis Campion and Remi Joseph-Salisbury paint in Bringing Black Mixed-Race Pupils into Focus in British Schooling (2022) shines a harsh light on the challenges mixed-race students face in British schools. While this is a rapidly growing population, there is yet to be an in-depth study of their lives and the effect of schools on those lives (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022). Their research sets out to chronicle the experiences of mixed-race students as recorded in three separate collections of qualitative interviews from 2013 – 2018 with 71 mixed-race people.

Campion and Joseph-Salisbury (2022) focus on mixed-race students. There is a limited amount of research in relation to this growing population of students across the British schooling systems. As classrooms become more diverse, they call for a more nuanced view of mixed-race students that focuses on their needs and experiences. Mixed-race students are often racialized as Black students. However, as Campion and Joseph-Salisbury stress, their experiences of racism and prejudice differ and remain underexamined.

Their findings are troubling. For them, the British system continues to put Black/White mixed-race and Black students at a considerable disadvantage. Especially by the time Black and mixed-race students reach the secondary school system, they face overt racism and prejudice from three sources – their peers, their teachers, and the curriculum (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022).

Mixed-race students face prejudice from all sides. In some cases, Black/White mixed-race students are wrongly associated with a wider racial population that includes Asians and Pakistanis. This leads to incidents of name-calling that wound and further alienate mixed-race students. In other instances, they are set apart from Black students who have difficulty understanding they have a White and a Black parent leading them to be labelled in derogatory terms like ‘zebra’ (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022, p. 75).

The prejudice these students face also comes from their teachers who have little or no training or understanding on how to work with mixed-race or Black students. Comments like “in this country, we dot our i’s” are a particularly hurtful example of the racism exhibited by teachers (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022, p. 79).

The prejudice of their peers and teachers is degrading and demoralizing for these students, and such racism also extends to the curriculum. For me, this seems the worst – here racism is embedded and sustained by the state through the curriculum that all students are subjected to. The curriculum continues to celebrate a White “British” mindset that has little to do with mixed-race and Black students.

Consequently, Black and mixed-race students are invisible in the curriculum. They are not included in what is called “fundamental British values” (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022, p. 80). In an earlier article, Joseph-Salisbury (2017) focuses on the unique impact of the history curriculum in Black Mixed-race Male Experiences of the UK Secondary School Curriculum. The teaching of the standardized history curriculum, for him, brushes out any mention of mixed-race or Black people apart from the abolishment of slavery in 19th century England.

The combined effect of systemic racism in the curriculum, teacher indifference and ignorance combined with peer antipathy results in lower grades and higher levels of suspension and expulsion for Black and mixed-race students (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022). Lower teacher expectations and overall dissatisfaction with the curriculum paints a very glum picture of school life for these students. 

This research introduces the problems faced by mixed-race students. Campion and Joseph-Salisbury (2022) outline that there are differences in the experiences of Black and mixed-race students and more research needs to be done to get a complete picture of their lived experiences. Mixed-race students face prejudice from both White and Black students. Students also talk about the inability of their peers to fathom interracial relationships (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022). This reminds us of the ongoing systemic barriers; there is little written here that suggests an overall solution. Consequently, more qualitative research is needed.

As mentioned earlier, Joseph-Salisbury writes about the impact of a Eurocentric history curriculum, especially on Black and mixed-race students. In the British curriculum – (there is no differentiation offered here; Scottish? Welsh? English?) these students simply do not exist. What does this do to the student whose story is not told? How can they possibly combat the sense of inferiority that comes from not being in the picture? 

Joseph-Salisbury offers some ideas on curriculum modification by featuring mixed-race role models like Malcolm X and Bob Marley. However, I am not convinced that these insertions go beyond token offerings in a curriculum that ultimately supports White hegemony.

Moving away from the study of mixed-race role models, Joseph-Salisbury proposes a different solution. He refers to Black Saturday Schools as a way to supplement what students are missing in the regular curriculum (Joseph-Salisbury, 2017). This is one solution to the White hegemonic curriculum that all his interview subjects agree does not serve Black and mixed-race students. Consider, Jake, one of his participants:

As long as Black schools would take into account the needs of mixed kids, then yeah, I think that’s the future for us. Mainstream isn’t working. While responses and proposed interventions were varied among participants, the underlying dissatisfaction with the current curriculum was unanimous. (Joseph-Salisbury, 2017 p. 458)

Black Saturday Schools are part of the 50-year-old Black Supplementary School Movement in Great Britain.  This is one response to the racist nature of the regular British school system. In some ways, these schools sound similar to the language schools run by both English public-school boards here in Ottawa. Language schools in areas like Somerset West cater to Chinese and Vietnamese students offering instruction unavailable in local community schools. While the British schools have less support than their Canadian counterparts, there is real interest in studying this movement to better understand how these schools could be a solution to a problem that is plaguing British schools (Andrews, 2016). Black Supplementary Schools do offer the possibility of building resilience in Black and mixed-race youth. This additional training can support students in their efforts to succeed in a public schooling system that was and is designed for White communities only (2017).  Joseph-Salisbury & Andrews continue that Black Supplementary Schools must find ways to recognize Black mixed-race students within the curriculum.

When Black British children faced endemic racism, Saturday school was a necessity.

While the Black Saturday Schools offer an avenue for reform in Great Britain, Dunn, Spaulding, & Love, (2021) suggest that in the United States the time for reform is over, that the White, Eurocentric school system must be destroyed and worked over to better reflect the lives of Black Students. For example, they state:

Educational reform has never been enough; thus, now is the time for abolition. It’s imperative that we tear down the corrosive, racist and inhumane practices and policies to rebuild our educational system to value the multiplicity of our students and diverse communities. (p. 215)

Bettina Love, the founder of the Abolitionist Teaching Network in the United States, has written extensively on the need for a new type of teaching for Black, Brown, and Indigenous students. She advocates for a new pedagogy that teaches these students to thrive, not just survive (Wall, 2021).  Love and others are using the disruptions caused by Covid to propose a new system of education for racialized students. First, a critical consciousness needs to be developed so that students can recognize the racist nature of the current school system. Second, schools need to move away from indoctrination towards a system of critical analysis that empowers students. Finally, racist policies, practices and educators need to be called out and sidelined (Love et al, 2021). While this might seem much more radical than the Supplementary School Movement, the goals are similar. In both cases, there is a call for new institutions and new spaces that supplant White supremacist institutions that are incapable of providing an equitable education to racialized students.  Both decry the inability of their school systems to develop an inclusive, non-racist curriculum.

An excellent panel discussion on Abolitionist Teaching including Bettina Love

Kendi (2019) supports this desire for something different and more equitable in his research about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States. For Kendi (2019) HBCUs reflect the reality in America where Black Americans “live in majority-Black neighborhoods, work in majority-Black sites of employment, organize in majority-Black associations” (p. 171). The establishment of new systems that empower racialized students recognizes that there is no real mainstream world or school system. There are instead multiple real worlds and perspectives that need to be respected.

Campion and Joseph-Salisbury have revealed a world that is unjust and inequitable. They offer important research into the lives of mixed-race students and how they sometimes intersect with the world of Black children. The story is nuanced and complex. While this book chapter presents a problem with vague solutions, it builds on research that calls out the negative impact of curriculum that marginalizes these students.


While Joseph-Salisbury and others propose the Supplementary Schools to enhance White schools that are resistant to change, others like Love and Kendi advocate instead for spaces apart from the White Eurocentric school culture. It is a powerful argument and a logical extension to Joseph-Salisbury and Campion’s reform-minded proposals. The world of the mixed-race student differs in important ways from that of Black students; the nature of racism and prejudice is unique and no study of the multiracial cosmopolitan classroom is complete without careful study of the challenges that make up the daily lives of this rapidly growing ethnic group.

A final word from Remi Joseph-Salisbury speaking about racial microaggressions in higher education

References

Andrews. (2016). The problem of political blackness: lessons from the Black Supplementary School Movement. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39(11), 2060–2078. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2015.1131314

Campion, K. and Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2021). Bringing Black Mixed-Race Pupils into Focus in British Schooling In Schecter, S. & James, C. (Eds.),

Critical Approaches Toward a Cosmopolitan Education (p. 69-85). Routledge.

Dunn, Chisholm, A., Spaulding, E., & Love, B. L. (2021). A Radical Doctrine: Abolitionist Education in Hard Times. Educational Studies (Ames), 57(3), 211–223. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131946.2021.1892684

Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2017). Black Mixed-race Male Experiences of the UK Secondary School Curriculum. The Journal of Negro Education, 86(4), 449–462. https://doi.org/10.7709/jnegroeducation.86.4.0449

Joseph-Salisbury, & Andrews, K. (2017). Locating black mixed-raced males in the black supplementary school movement. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 20(6), 752–765. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2016.1248838

Kendi. (2019). How to be an Antiracist (First edition.). One World.

Love, & Muhammad, G. E. (2020). What do we have to lose: toward disruption, agitation, and abolition in Black education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 33(7), 695–697. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2020.1753257

Wall. (2021). Review of Love’s We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. The Professional Educator, 45(1), 1–4. https://doi.org/10.47038/tpe.45.01.02