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What is Race?

What is Race? Who are Racists? Why Does Skin Colour Matter? And Other Big Questions

Published: 23 Jul 2020

Paperback / softback, 48 pages

Recommended for age 9+

By Claire Heuchan and Nikesh Shukla

Published by Hachette Children's Group

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An important and timely book on race and racism, encouraging children to think for themselves about the issues involved. Talk about race is often discouraged, but this book aims to bring everyone into the conversation. It explores the history of race and society, giving context to how racist attitudes come into being.

It looks at belonging and identity, the damaging effects of stereotyping and the benefits of positive representation. The authors talk sensitively about how to identify and challenge racism, and how to protect against and stop racist behaviour. Aimed at young people aged 10 and upwards.

Tagged anti-racism , social issues and social justice

Reviewed by Laura Ovenden

What is Race? Who Are Racists? What Does Skin Colour Matter? And Other Big Questions

What is Race? is a slim non-fiction collection of explanations and recounts concerning race and racism written by Claire Heuchan and Nikesh Shukla. It is part of a bold series called And other big questions aimed at children. The book is colourful and appealing, and it makes good use of subheadings, images and text boxes to guide the reader. It also provides a useful glossary and further reading.

The volume powerfully interleaves questions such as What is Race?, Who Are Racists? and Why Does Skin Colour Matter? with historical overviews such as ‘Race and Racism in History’, ‘The Murder of Stephen Lawrence’ and ‘Race and Representation’. Towards the end, it turns to action: ‘How Can You Challenge Racism?’ and ‘Unlearning Racism’. The overarching effect of this structure is incredibly powerful. It is informative, empathetic and provocative. It educates the reader, makes them walk in the shoes of others and it encourages action. Several of the ‘My Experience’ contributions will stop you in your tracks, as they should.

At first, I was trying to decide whether this would be suitable for Key Stage Two as well as secondary but then I realised I wanted to recommend that EVERY teacher reads this book, reflects on its content and then draws out sections for debate in class or smaller groups. One of the ‘My Experience’ sections could lead to a thoughtful, empathetic and empowering discussion without much intervention needed. In contrast, a section like ‘Race and Representation’ would allow teachers and children alike to critically reassess the books that have shaped them or discuss which characters and plot lines are less frequently told. Here I am thinking of how the wonderful series Voices by Scholastic with Now or Never by Bali Rai, Son of the Circus by E. L. Norry or Diver’s Daughter by Patrice Lawrence starts to fill this gap.  As I hope I have shown What is Race? is an essential book for every educational setting. 

I have taught English for over 20 years in tertiary, secondary and now primary settings. I am an English Lead and works in two primary schools in West Yorkshire. I also run an Open University Reading for Pleasure Teachers group in Halifax. I am an Elklan tutor and an Evidence Lead in Education with Aspirer Research School.

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