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Responding to racism


Group 2 – non subject-specific activities


a class of pupils from 14 to 18


  • To deepen understanding about cultural differences and institutional racism
  • To develop skills for democratic participation, communication and co-operation
  • To promote responsibility, justice and solidarity


120 minutes


  • Large sheets of paper or flipchart paper and markers
  • 4 volunteers to present a role-play
  • Role cards
  • Critical incident card
  • Guidelines for facilitators
  • Copies of the school’s policy and guidelines on racial incidents; enough to share one between two
  • Copies of the handout “Some practical points for consideration”, or write the points up on a large sheet of paper
  • Paper and pens



  • Review the critical incident and if necessary adapt it to your own situation.
  • Choose four volunteers and ask them to prepare a very short role play based on the critical incident to present to the rest of the group.
  • Make 5 copies of the critical incident scene card (one per role player and one for the facilitator).
  • Make a copy of the guidelines for the facilitator.


This activity is in two parts: part 1 is a review of what we understand by the term racism; part 2 involves drafting a policy for dealing with racist incidents in your school, club or organisation.

Part 1. A review: what do we understand by the term racism?

Begin the activity with a brainstorm on “racism”.

Racist incidents and potential intercultural misunderstandings happen every day. Go on to brainstorm what kinds of everyday incidents and behaviour people identify as being racist.

Ask for four volunteers to act out the role play. Give them the role cards and copies of the critical incident and give them 15 minutes to prepare.

Explain that everyone else is an observer. Hand out paper and pens and explain that they will be watching three short scenes. There will be short breaks in between for the observers to write down key words which summarise their response.

Ask the volunteers to act out the role play.

At the end, conduct a short debriefing of people’s comments:

  • What did people write down in the first break? What led participants to their conclusions?
  • What did people write down in the second break? What led them to those conclusions?
  • What did people realise at the end? What assumptions had they been making?

Go on to discuss what people thought the teachers, Gyula’s father and the head teacher could – or should – have done to ensure a just outcome?

Part 2. Drafting a policy for dealing with racist incidents

Explain that the objective of this part of the activity is to develop guidelines on how racist incidents should be dealt with and to draft a policy for the school.

Carry out a short brainstorming activity of the different groups of people in the school, for example pupils/students, teachers, a head teacher, cleaning staff, librarians, school bus drivers and supervisory staff, for instance, playground supervisors.

Next, ask the participants to divide into small groups of four or five people to consider the duties and responsibilities of the different members of the school with respect to racist incidents. Give the groups 30 minutes for their discussions and to prepare a report with key points on flipchart paper.

Ask participants to come back into plenary to report on their work. The facilitator should make a summary of the points on flip chart or on a board.

Ask the participants to review the policies or guidelines that already exist in their school. What needs to be updated?

Now encourage participants to work on developing the policy. Get each small group to work on one aspect (step or measure). For example: if a general school statement about racism and discrimination is needed, then one group should be in charge of writing it. Groups should also discuss ways to present their results in plenary, for example, using not only their writing but also images, collages and body sculptures to better convey their feelings.

In plenary, ask the groups to report their results and discuss how to implement their ideas.


Begin with a review of the activity itself and which human rights are at stake, and then go on to talk about what people learned and what they should do next.

Examples of questions you could ask:

  • How prevalent is racism in your school and in society at large?
  • Do you know of any racist incidents that have happened in your school or community?
  • Are any groups targeted more often than others? Which? Why? Were the same groups targeted twenty or fifty years ago?
  • How are Roma treated in your country and in other countries in Europe?
  • What sorts of stereotypes do you have of Roma people? Where do these stereotypes come from? How can they be challenged?
  • Which human rights are at stake in the critical incident?
  • Have the participants’ ideas of what constitutes a racist incident changed as a result of doing the activity? How? Elicit examples.
  • Whose responsibility is it to ensure that racist incidents do not happen in your school or organisation?
  • Having a policy on dealing with racist incidents is important, but would it not be better not to need it in the first place? What can and should be done to address the causes of racist behaviour, both in school and in society at large?


Be aware of the background of the members of the group and adapt the activity accordingly. People will be more engaged if you deal with issues that are real for the group. On the other hand, you need to be prepared for the emotions that may be brought out as a result. It is important to pay attention to the feelings of those participants who feel that they themselves have been discriminated against at school.

Brainstorming is a classic way to start an activity, but you could liven things up and be provocative by telling a racist joke.

Consider choosing one that pokes fun at a group which is not represented in your class or youth group. In every country there are traditions of jokes about other nationals. You could start off the discussion by asking the group to share one or two.

You could then go on to talk about the dividing line between racist and non-racist jokes. For instance, are jokes about Roma or Jews nationalistic or racist? This could lead you on to the definition of a racist joke and of a racist incident (see below in “definition of racism”).

At part 1 step 5, you may prefer to use the Forum Theatre or Image Theatre technique.

At part 1 step 6, you may find that participants get very emotional. This may be reflected in the notes that participants take at the end of each scene and it may make it difficult to retrace the process. It may work better if you keep it concrete and focus on what the actors should do.

It may be that at the end of part 2 step 4 the conclusions are not sufficiently focused for the participants to use them for the next step. In this case, you may wish to use the handout, “Some practical points for consideration” and encourage groups to develop the first four steps.

Definition of racism

Racism, in general terms, consists of conduct or words or practices which advantage or disadvantage people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. Its more subtle forms are as damaging as its overt form.

Institutionalised racism can be defined as the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amounts to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages people from ethnic minorities. Racist incidents and harassment can take place in any institution, regardless of the numbers of pupils from different ethnic backgrounds within it.

A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person. For instance:

Physical harassment: comprises the more obvious examples of violent attacks or physical intimidation of both children and adults from minority groups, as well as incidents of “minor” intimidation which may be cumulative in effect.

Verbal harassment: name calling directed at those from minority groups and any ridicule of a person’s background or culture (e.g. music, dress or diet) may be the most obvious examples. There may be other forms of verbal abuse, which are less obvious, involving teachers, pupils or other adults, such as off-the-cuff remarks of a racist nature, which cause offence.

Non co-operation and disrespect: refusal to co-operate with or show respect to minority pupils, students, teachers, trainers, youth leaders and others by people in the school/education community may constitute a racist incident if there is evidence of racist motivation or if the “victim” perceives racism to be a motive. Disrespect can also be inadvertent, for example if a teacher or trainer shows ignorance of a pupil’s cultural practices in a way that makes the victim feel harassed or uncomfortable.

Other incidents: racist jokes and use of racist vocabulary, the wearing of racist insignia, badges, T-shirts, etc., racist graffiti, the distribution of racist literature or posters, the presence of racist or fascist organisations in or around the school community, or stereotyping by adults which could lead to discrimination.

Many racist incidents will be of a less obvious type. Such insidious actions which occur are often the most difficult to detect and deal with. Many racist incidents involving pupils or students will not occur in the presence of teachers or adults. It is therefore important that schools develop strategies to ensure that all members of the school community are sensitive to, and take responsibility for, reporting and dealing with incidents.

Further information about racism, anti gypsyism and romaphobia can be found in the Discrimination and Intolerance section of chapter 5.


Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People, Council of Europe:


Responding to racism handouts

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