Jane, a 19 year old White student teacher on her first teaching practice, will set the scene. She is working in a reception class at a medium sized primary school on a large council estate in a provincial city.

The racism thing is very hard here because it’s such a white area, so it doesn’t come up naturally to celebrate Diwali or anything because you’ve got no children in your class that tell you about it at newstime …

… I felt up to now I haven’t trusted the class enough to … be able to take in a story book that say had African children in it. I’m not entirely sure what their reaction would be and I want to get more settled in and perhaps discuss it with the classteacher first … I think they’d all sort of shout out ‘Oh they’re Black!’

We have a bookclub on a Tuesday … The parents and children are supposed to choose a book together, take it home, read it for a week and bring it back. That’s quite interesting because the children either just pick the book up or the mums sort of push them into which to choose. There’s one lovely story about an African boy called Jafta which no-one ever takes, nobody has borrowed it, which is quite interesting. So I think they’re probably quite prejudiced already but I’ve not felt confident enough to start doing anything, because I don’t want to start something which I can’t carry on. If I was going to bring it in, just raise the issues one week and be gone again … It’s got to be constant, not brainwashing, but constant ideas. You only become aware of things if you’re constantly seeing examples.

So it’s the tricky situation of being aware but not being totally sure of how to overcome it, for me personally …

I’m not sure what they’d come up with and I’d be very scared if I did start reading a story and they started shouting insults at the pictures and I said ‘No, don’t do that’ and they said ‘Why?’, I’m not sure I’d know what to say … it’s not worth doing something halfheartedly 1 .

What Jane has expressed so well in these extracts is the power of racism among the youngest infant children as well as the feeling, commonly expressed by those teachers who do perceive racism, of powerlessness to counteract it.