Two Year 12 students used the ‘downtime’ supplied by COVID lockdowns to create an anti-racism kit designed to help high school students combat discrimination in their schools and local communities. CHARLOTTE BARKLA reports.
During last year’s lockdowns, Australian high school students Jinyoung (Jin) Kim and Sabina Patawaran set up a Google doc to share their ideas on anti-racism strategies.
“Sabina and I had been involved in grassroots anti-racism activities through various organisations. It struck us how there was a lot of talk about how we should do something about anti-racism, but it was difficult for individuals to know the action they could take,” says Jin, who is now 19 and studying at Stanford University. “We also noticed that a lot of anti-racism resources seemed to be copy-pasted from the United States.”
Wanting to create something more actionable and relevant to an Australian setting, they went on to turn their collected ideas into a 50-page resource containing tangible strategies for high school students to help reduce racism in their schools and local communities.
“We decided the most relevant settings were self, schools and society,” says Jin. “We wrote up strategies in each of these areas, consulting many external resources, talking with academics, grassroots workers and organisers, and drawing from our personal experiences.”
After posting the resource on their social media accounts, the pair was pleasantly surprised by the response.
“It turned out that people found it useful, so we thought we’d try turning it into something even more accessible. We reached out to a bunch of organisations, asking for support, whether advertising, spreading the word about the kit, or trying to turn it into something more aesthetic with graphic design.”
Their proactiveness paid off, with the anti-racism training and consulting company HUE supporting the pair through a grant to hire a professional web designer and graphic designer. The resulting Australian High School Anti-Racism Kit has become a sleek, easy-to-use digital resource, providing strategies and guides to combatting racism.
“Anti-racism is the new way of thinking about racism,” explains Jin. “It’s not just about stopping interpersonal racism, like racial slurs. It’s about breaking down the systemic way racism exists in our society, through supporting mental health services, making the criminal justice system less punitive, and making sure education is fair and accessible.”
Within the ‘schools’ section of the toolkit, strategies include running discussions, speaking at assembly and organising anti-racism leadership events – some of which Jin and Sabina undertook at their own schools.
“For example, I ran an anti-racism leadership event in Year 12, where we invited captains and leaders from surrounding schools, along with guest speakers and organisations in the anti-racism and multiculturalism space,” says Jin. “Both Sabina and I also spoke about anti-racism at our school assemblies. Initially, my peers were pretty closed to the idea of anti-racism, but I think it provoked very necessary conversation.”
“I think it’s really important to try to make students of colour feel like they’re being heard and represented in the classroom.”
Jin says he has a unique perspective on racism, having lived between South Korea and Australia during his childhood. “In South Korea, I have all the privilege,” says Jin. “I’m in the majority, and I have all the social and political power. Nobody’s going to come up to me and say anything rude or racist.
“In Australia, though, I’m a person of colour. And even though as an Asian man I didn’t face a huge amount of racism, it does happen. Those experiences made me hyper-aware of the role that race plays in society.”
Despite these experiences, Jin believes that conversations about racism should focus on forgiveness. “It’s not about someone doing the wrong thing, and being a bad person,” he says. “I have probably said and done racist things in the past, and I will probably do some racist things in the future. I think that’s inevitable, and something we need to constantly forgive as we go. It’s about learning and moving forward.”
While the resource is targeted at high school students, Jin and Sabina say teachers play an important role.
“I think it’s really important to try to make students of colour feel like they’re being heard and represented in the classroom,” says Jin. “For example, teachers could initiate classroom discussions on anti-racism, or they could create a slot in assembly for someone to speak about anti-racism.
“Teachers could also incorporate five-minute explanations about internalised racism in their lessons, and strategies on how we can unlearn that. Opening discussions on racism, not just shushing it in the classroom, would be incredibly empowering.”
“Someone who had experienced racism in high school wrote to us and said, ‘Thank you for developing the most exciting thing I’ve seen in a long time’.
While the kit offers many strategies and actions for young people, it suggests the key to achieving tangible change is to focus on one or two small, realistic steps at a time. The toolkit also discusses the importance of “becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable”.
“Anti-racism is often thought of as very divisive or political, and I’m not going to say ‘no’ to that,” says Jin. “It’s divisive because some people haven’t ever confronted the idea of racism seriously. It’s absolutely political in the same way that a lot of things we teach in schools are political. But the conclusion of that shouldn’t be to avoid it. It should be to delve in further.”
Feedback on the kit, relaunched in September 2021, has been overwhelmingly positive. The pair spoke at the Wheeler Centre in March, and a book is in the works. But it’s the personal stories that make it all worthwhile, says Jin.
“Someone who had experienced racism in high school wrote to us and said, ‘Thank you for developing the most exciting thing I’ve seen in a long time’. It was such a great message to receive.”
So, how did two teenagers manage to create this resource during lockdown, while also completing Year 12 and dealing with the pandemic?
“We didn’t have to catch the bus to school or hang out with friends or play sports,” Jin explains. “None of that happened, so there was time left. We made use of that time.”
Access the Australian High School Anti-Racism Kit at antiracismkit.com.au.