'Boys are racist and sexist out of class'

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The Independent Online

Boys express "politically correct" views about race in class but they are likely to start telling racist jokes when their teachers' backs are turned, a recent study has found.

Boys express "politically correct" views about race in class but they are likely to start telling racist jokes when their teachers' backs are turned, a recent study has found.

When they were interviewed by researchers, boys at four London schools said that they were against racism and thought that people of all races were equal. In the playground and the street, however, whites were being called called "honkeys" and blacks "niggers".

Fred, a white pupil, told the researchers that there was no racism at his school, only "mucking about". He said: "Just like they would say to me 'you honkey' or something, I'd say 'shut up stupid black'. Just like a joke."

Abdul, an Asian boy, observed that "everyone gets cussed in school" and considered it "part of life".

Mike O'Donnell. of the University of Westminster and Sue Sharpe of London University's Institute of Education, questioned about 250 boys using questionnaires and interviews.

All were at schools with strong anti-racist and anti-sexist policies which promoted the idea that race should never be the subject of jokes.

But the researchers discovered that "racist humour and chat were part of the background noise of the boys' lives - even in school, once out of reach of official surveillance".

They argue that "the danger of racist banter is that it can fairly easily turn into more serious insults and even pave the way to physical violence and lasting ill-feeling".

Once away from their teachers, a minority of boys reported conflict between white and black pupils. An Indian pupil told the researchers: "Asians tend to fight Asians. Hindus will say something about Muslims and their religion - how their babies have certain parts of their private parts taken off. And the Muslims will say 'oh, you Hindus worship monkeys'."

None of the boys, who included whites, Africans, Afro-Caribbeans and Asians, felt that their teachers were racist, but about three-quarters said there was racism in school.

The gap between official and unofficial attitudes to women was equally marked. Most of the boys said they were prepared to share housework and thought that masculine behaviour should have a sensitive side. Three-quarters agreed that men should be sensitive and few supported the view that "real men don't cry".

But "mixed-up man", the study says, is more common than "new man". The researchers noted that many talked of "letting" their wives go out to work and that jokes about "a woman's place is in the home" may well have been a way of saying the unsayable. Nearly four out of 10 boys believed men were naturally aggressive, and macho attitudes persist, the researchers say.

They argue that formal regulations and proselytising about anti-racism and anti-sexism simply turn boys off.

Instead, teachers and parents need to provide role models. Fathers are particularly important in setting their sons a good example.

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