Just as our discourses and communicative actions never mean only one thing, it would be foolish to attribute everyday antiracism to all forms of ethnolinguistic crossing and stylisation.The speech acts I’ve described emerged through sensitive negotiations about the significance of ethnicity situated in long-term friendship and neighbourhood co-residence, but the commercial marketisation of ethnic forms, products and symbols as commodities, life-style options and art-objects gives rise to very different dynamics,(7) and in some cases, racism is the most striking feature.(8) Even so, there is plenty of evidence that practices like the ones I have described occur in a lot of other urban British settings,(9) and there are good grounds for seeing small acts like these as significant contributions to the emergence of what Stuart Hall calls ‘new ethnicities’ founded in “a new cultural politics which engages rather than suppresses difference… [These ethnicities are not] doomed to survive, as Englishness was, only by marginalising, dispossessing, displacing and forgetting other ethnicities, [but are instead…] predicated on difference and diversity” (1988:2).
For teachers and youth workers, there seems to be at least threeimplications:
- The assumption in a lot of British educational discourse that harmonious race relations at school depend on the influence of teachers is obviously wrong.Aggression and hostility are not the only ways in which children and adolescents respond to ethnic difference when left to their own devices.
- Equally, it would be a mistake to assume that interethnic respect can only be expressed in the kind of polite and cooperative conduct prized in class (even though this can make a very valuable contribution).The jokes, nonsense, gossip, rowdiness, games and fashions that youngsters enjoy when they're let out from the mainly serious and often boring business of lessons can also serve as important sites sustaining anti-racism.
- But just as plainly, teachers themselves often understand very well the cultural dynamics of the environments where they live and work, and can be highly adept not just at turning a deaf ear to the kinds of non-official talk that can oil inter-ethnic peer relations, but also actively supporting it in jokes and banter.And to turn this understanding into more systematic curriculum interventions, they might do well to follow my informants’ strategy of siting their adventures into ethnic difference in moments and spaces where the norms and constraints of everyday life are partially suspended, exploiting drama, literature and music as frameworks in which students can move back from ordinary reality, reworking it and exploring the alternatives.
Back, L. 2003 'X amount of Sat Sri Akal!’: Apache Indian, reggae music and intermezzo culture.In Harris & Rampton (eds) 328-345
Cutler, C. 2003.Yorkville crossing: White teens, hip hop and African American English.In Harris & Rampton (eds) 314-327.
Gilroy, P. 1987. There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack.London: Hutchinson
Hall, S. 1988. 'New ethnicities', in ICA Documents 7, pp. 27-31
Halstead, M. 1988.Education, Justice and Cultural Diversity: An Examination of the Honeyford Affair 1984-85.Lewes: Falmer Press.
Harris, R. & B. Rampton (eds) 2003.The Language, Ethnicity and Race Reader.London: Routledge.
Hewitt, R. 1986. White Talk Black Talk.Cambridge: CUP
Hill, J. 2003.Mock Spanish, covert racism, and the (leaky) boundary between public and private sphere.In Harris & Rampton (ed) 199-210
Opie, I. & P. Opie, P. (1959) The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren.Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.
Rampton, B.  2004 Crossing: Language & Ethnicity among Adolescents. 2nd Edition..Manchester: St Jerome Press
Sutton-Smith, B. (1982) 'A performance theory of peer relations', in Borman, K. (ed.) The Social Life of Children in a Changing Society.NorwoodNJ: Ablex, pp. 65-77
King's College London