As a young teacher in a multicultural school in West London, with a reasonably serious level of interracial conflict among the children, I was asked to deliver a programme of anti-racist education to 13 year old children. As with much of the material that was produced at the time, it was well meaning and good intentioned, but ultimately a little patronising and slightly cringe-worthy. The material only came into its own when matters deviated from the prepared lesson plan and into uncharted territory.
It was during one of these sessions that the concept of Englishness that the English hold so dear was illustrated to me. The material provided was a fairly asinine attempt to dispel stereotyping. There were five illustrated figures and five jobs – the task was to match the figure to the job. Clues were in the illustrations about which jobs the figures held, while all of the jobs were highly associated with racial stereotypes. The task meandered along, with me giving heavy hints of what to look for to correctly associate the job and the figure. Problems arose when it came to an illustration of a middle aged asian woman in traditional dress carrying a briefcase. The correct answer, which was by this time the only one left – was “a sales executive”. This matching was robustly challenged by one of the white boys in the group.