Developing Anti-Racist Practice

Racism pervades every aspect of life in Scotland:

  • Despite having equivalent qualifications, Black, Asian and minority ethnic Scots are more likely to be unemployed or in low paid work than their white counterparts.
  • People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to live in poverty.
  • Women from Black and minority ethnic communities in Scotland are 7 times more likely to die in childbirth than other ethnic groups.
  • About one third of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in Scotland report experiences of racial discrimination.
  • In 2014-15 there were 3,785 charges relating to racist hate crime in Scotland, the equivalent of 72 hate crimes per week. Racially motivated hate crime remains the most commonly reported type of hate crime in Scotland.

In 1989, on our own doorstep in Cowgate, racist youths murdered Somalian student Axmed Abuukar Sheekh. Sheekh and a Somalian friend were attacked by a gang of ten white men connected to the National Front,

“..screaming racist abuse, the thugs repeatedly punched, kicked and stabbed the two students on the head, arms and body.”

His friend was hospitalised. Sheekh died of stab wounds.

Almost 30 years later, in May 2018, Shabaz Ali a Syrian refugee, was stabbed repeatedly by four white men and women in a racist attack in Upper Gilmore Place, Edinburgh.

“We ran away from war in Syria, I do not want to die here. This country is not safe for me.” Shabaz said.

It is critical that we scrutinise our early years practice within this context. Does our practice, as a nursery, reinforce and perpetuate racism?

The Black Lives Matter campaign has forced us to focus on racism within the early years and to recognise that it is not enough to state that we are not racist. We must acknowledge and understand the many ways in which racism experienced by all people of colour affects our practice and commit ourselves to developing, with children and our whole community – an environment, culture and practice which is pro-actively anti-racist.

To this end, we have embarked upon an ongoing process of learning and action primarily, but not exclusively, facilitated through a regular reading and discussion group. Some of the resources that have informed our learning so far are included in the drop box at the bottom of the page…. please let us know of any other resources you think we should draw upon.

Many questions have already been generated:

  • Why does our team of practitioners not include any person of colour? How can we become more accessible to practitioners of colour?
  • Why are most families and children who use our nursery white? How can we become more accessible to children and families of colour?
  • How do children and families of colour experience our nursery? What changes in our practice would support them to feel that their needs are more effectively met?
  • What policy changes do we need to make to effectively uphold the rights of children and families of colour?
  • Do our resources reflect and value the lives of children of colour?
  • Do children of colour feel ‘known’ by us? Do we understand their experiences and value their identity? Does our approach to documenting children’s lives within the setting reflect their needs as children of colour?
  • How well do we understand and respond to the experiences of different children of colour? For example, are we sensitive and responsive to the different experiences of Black girls and Black boys? How does racism intersect with transphobia? What is it like to be a child of colour with a disability?
  • How can we apply our learning to support children experiencing other forms of discrimination based, for example, on nationality, gender, gender identity, (dis)ability?
  • How can we better recognise the cultural differences between white children and how would this support anti-racist practice?

This is not an academic exercise, the value of our learning lies in the extent to which it changes our practice. Recently we have taken some small, but we hope significant actions:

  • Our children’s library is now overflowing with books that encourage conversations about race and racism, which reflect the realities and celebrate the lives of children of many races and colours.
  • We have established a partnership with two nurseries in Accra, Ghana, and one in Edinburgh to explore the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, initially focusing on gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. As both countries have strong traditions in textiles (Tartan/Tweed and Kente cloth) we will begin by sharing and exploring clothing, fabrics, accessories, and their associations. This partnership has forced staff to look inwards at the culture of our learning community and the extent to which it perpetuates Eurocentric points of view, ‘whiteness’ and colonialism. Although nurseries in Accra are currently closed to children, our children have been able to engage in weekly zoom sessions with our Ghanaian colleagues, to have virtual tours of their communities and to exchange messages and photos. Our hope is that staff and children in Ghana and Scotland will learn together about the beauty, reality and challenges of life in our different nations. We hope that it will support us to find practical and meaningful ways of talking about race with our children, challenge negative perceptions and strengthen mutual care and respect.
  • We have made changes to the ‘welcome’ documentation given to new families, providing space for parents to share adverse experiences including exclusion based on race, gender, gender identity, disability, language, religion and how this might impact on their child’s needs.

This is the beginning of an ongoing and profound conversation within our nursery, a conversation which will lead to further changes in our practice.

We ask our community to engage in this conversation and to hold us accountable. Is our nursery a place where children of colour are known, respected, and supported to flourish? What changes do we need to make in order to do better? Does our practice reinforce and perpetuate racism? What changes must we make in order to be more effectively anti-racist?

1 Scottish Parliaments Equal Opportunities Committee 2016
2 Scottish Government 2020 3
4 Meer, N 2016 ‘Self reported discrimination in Scotland in N. Meer (ed) Scotland and Race Equality: Directions in Policy and Identity: London: Runnymede Trust, 11-15
5 Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service 2019 ‘Hate Crime in Scotland’, 2018-19.
6 Weir, Racist Violence: advice and support services for Black students in Lothian Region Edinburgh 1990 7

Materials Discussed

Thursday, 23 July 2020:

MacIntosh, Peggy. 1989. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” Available here:

BBC. “Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister?” 2016. Documentary. Available here:

Kendi, Ibram X. 2020. “Anti-Racist Baby” Kokila.

Thursday, 20 August 2020:

Bliss, Eula. “Talking About Whiteness” Podcast. 2017. Podcast. Available here:

DiAngelo, Robin. 2015. “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism” Available here:

The Guardian. DiAngelo, Robin “How ‘White Fragility’ Reinforces Racism. 2020. YouTube clip.Available here:

Thursday, 24 September 2020:

Watkins, Light. “For White People Asking What to do About Racism.” 2020. Available here:

Abdul, Abiodun. 2020 “Scottish Racism in Policing” Available here:

Abdul, Abiodun. 2020 “Scottish Racism in Football” Available here:

Jordan, Ijumma. “A lesson in Humility: Diving into Anti-Racist Early Education Practices and Policies.” Podcast. Available here:

Dr. Escayg, Kerry-Ann. “How can we Work Towards Social Change?” Podcast. 2019. Available here:

Thursday, 15 October 2020:

Ishizuka, Kate and Stephens Ramón. 2019. “The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss’s Children’s Books” Available here: