Descovering and de-constructing prejudice with teenagers

Stereotypes and prejudices are everywhere. The same word “pre-judice” means that we judge and label someone before knowing her/him. If a prejudice is shared and widespread among a group of people or, in a bigger scale, inside a society it becomes discrimination.

We live in a society ruled by the fear of the “others” where clichés and stereotypes are often the first step to racism. That’s why in order to fight prejudices and fear the most important thing to do is talking with people and informing people. And this is even more essential when we think about new generations, especially teenagers.

As volunteer I’ve carried out – together with other 6 volunteers – many workshops inside secondary schools in Venice. My organization work to promote an anti-racist culture in many ways and the work that we do inside the school is probably the most important activity that we realize.

We’ve met students from 10 different school aged from 14 to 19 and we’ve talked about prejudices, discrimination and migration.

Our workshop are made of three different sessions . During the first one we face the topic of “discrimination” trying to touch the real life of teenagers. “Have you ever been discriminated?”; “Why have you been discriminated?”. We try to let them find out how discrimination affects our lives and how prejudices are “comfortable” and “monotonous” because labeling people is the fastest way to solve a problem and to put the blame on somebody else.

Then – in the following two sessions – we talk deeper about racial, ethnic and religious discriminations analyzing the situation in Italy and in Venice.

We realize two different “paths”: the first one focused on the “history of racism” and the second one focused on the “mass-media racism”.

In the historical session we show information (texts, pictures, videos) about the different kind of “hunting” during the human history against black people, Roma, Jewish, women, disabled, homosexuals and we show the similarity between the racism against Italian immigrants in America in 19th and 20th century and the racism against immigrants that arrive nowadays in Italy.

In the other sessions we focus on the languages used by mass-media (newspapers, internet, TV, advertisement) talking about the “construction of the enemy” through words and images; at the same time, we show the connection among “institutional” racism, “popular” racism and mass-media racism explaining how these three elements are often related and are part of a larger system that wants to use migrants and ethnic minorities (like Roma) as scapegoats.

During our session we also give a lot of space to do interactive and theatrical activities with youngsters. One of these are “nei panni di” (if I were in your shoes) in which participants should try to get into the shoes of some disadvantaged people (asylum seekers, orphans, economical migrants, etc.) imagining what they can do or they cannot do in their daily life (using internet, going out with friends, studying, renting a room,…). Another activity asks them to create a group that will become “the community” and the rest of the class should try to get into that community (as a migrant does when comes in a new country or as a student does when she comes in a new school) persuading one member of the community to welcome her/him (e.g. showing her/his abilities or her/his needs). Another activity is representing with the body concept like power, welcome, safty, …

This experience is realy interesting becouse youngsters react in different ways but at the end they are never the same as at the beginning…

certainty and security

first of all, thank you for the work you do: it’s really for the benefit of all of us. you’ve just made me think of a couple of things through your mission. 1. it’s very difficult to get people to picture life for others and adjust their own feelings and behaviour accordingly, i think. 2. i think it’s down to widespread fear of uncertainty and insecurity: we generally want to live in the comfort of what we know and find familiar. i think this has to be challenged and softened through other experiences. diversity, novelty and immigration are such advantages to modern society precisely because they do this. the fact that you illustrate this and emphasise it to young people is truly commendable.

Ηello Ester,

I really like

Ηello Ester,

I really like your initiative and I find it very interesting and helpful. I believe that racism is something that grows with fear, ignorance and during the childhood age. So you are doing something that could help!

I have some questions:

your workshops is an once time gathering or it s something more permenant (to each school)?

do you have any examples from this experience that show that prejudice exists even in this early age? Is it smt driven from the family?

How children react at the end? How are they changed?

What do you mean by mass media racism? you mean the vocabulary they use when reffering to immigrants or minorities?

Have you or any other people from the project faced discrimination or racistic experiences? I think that personal stories could really touch people and specially children.

some months ago, another Edgeryder, Gyula wrote this mission report about Roma racism in schools. I think you should give it a read and get in contact with him!