Notes on: YMCA Youth Advisory Group (2020) Young and Black. The Young Black Experience of Institutional Racism in the UK.

Dave Harris

[Uncritical testimony based with bits of tactical support from some official statistics

]The investigation was codesigned with the Youth Advisory Group from YMCA and looked at how young black people experienced 'institutional and systemic racism' in education, employment, crime, health and finance and ends with recommendations on how to address racial inequality. It combines qualitative and quantitative data, using focus groups and a survey as well as pre-existing data. Focus groups were co-facilitated by the youth advisory group and took place online. They had 5 to 10 young black people in each group aged between 16 and 30. The survey had a sample size of 557 black and mixed ethnicity young people, 16 to 30. Further workshops were held with the youth advisory group.

Institutions refers to 'major social systems or structures which organise the primary social practices, roles and relationships within a culture' like education, health services, the police and employment. [Based on an article in the Journal of Economic Issues] Black people are those who identify with demographics 'black African, black British, Black Caribbean, mixed white and black African and mixed white and black Caribbean'. institutional/systemic racism is 'the way the institution or the organisation may systematically or repeatedly treat, or tend to treat, people differently because of their race. So in effect we are not talking about the individuals within the service who may be unconscious as to the nature of what they are doing, but it is the net effect of what they do' [based on McPherson]

The key findings are:

1. 95% of young black people report that they have 'heard and witnessed the use of racist language at school; 78% reported hearing and witnessing racist language in the workplace. [An unknown percentage] said that they expect to experience racism because of the colour of their skin.'.
2. 70% of young black people have felt the need to change their hair to be "more professional" at work or schools. Policies or implicit standards at schools or workplaces risk causing cultural erasure for young black people if they feel prevented from being their authentic selves.
3. 49% of young black people feel that racism is the biggest barrier to attaining success in school … 50% say the biggest barrier is teacher perceptions of them — e.g. being seen as "too aggressive".
4. 54% of young black people feel bias or prejudice at the recruitment stage (e.g. their names on CVs) is the main barrier to going into employment. 50%… Feel that the lack of diversity was a barrier to gaining employment… 52% feel it is because of a lack of diversity in leadership.
5. 64% of young black people worry about being treated unfairly by the police… 54% do not trust the police to act without prejudice and discrimination. 55% of young black people worry about being falsely accused of a crime.
6. 27 of young black people report a lack of trust in the NHS… Felt that health professionals invalidate their need for mental health support as a result of the racism they encounter [not sure I understand that one].
7. 41% of young black people a tribute housing instabilities to the lack of employment or unstable employment. They felt that their ability to get a job was linked to their financial stability that this was hindered by employer bias and experiences at the job centre '(6 --8).


95% witnessed or heard racist language [not defined though]. 75% claimed it was of a higher frequency. There were gender differences. 51% of males report this occurring 'all the time', but only 4% of females (10). They reported experiences of white students telling them that '"black skin is not desirable"' [is that all?] In the presence of teachers, and reported derogatory names. It could be disguised as a joke and could be subtle racism where people joked about stereotypes. Addressing racism is difficult because racist language was commonplace. Sometimes it was both explicit and implicit. Policies on reporting were not sufficient.

Teacher-student interaction was a major aspect and often featured negative perceptions — 50% saw perceptions as a barrier. They are often seen as the class clown or as an underachiever, less capable and intelligent and aggressive. Teachers were surprised when they did succeed or saw that as a rare. Despite academic attainment they were placed in the lower ability groups and that affected the GCSE tier into which they could be entered. They felt disempowered by teachers. They were more likely to be expelled — 'which is mirrored in national data… Black Caribbean pupils were around three times as likely to be permanently excluded than white British pupils (0.29% compared with 0.1% respectively and around twice as likely to receive a fixed period exclusion (10%) compared with white British pupils (5%)'. Young black people 'felt that this higher exclusion rate could be linked to false perceptions teachers have of them'. They felt that 'the stereotypical views that are potentially held by some teachers of young black people could be a barrier to their academic attainment' [very cautious, and quite rightly so] (13) [the chart on page 14 also points to a lack of role models (44%) lack of curriculum diversity (43%), challenges at home, identified by 33% and language barriers, 26%]

49% said they felt they had had to change their hair to be seen as more professional. 82% of young black university students also stated this. Because of this they sometimes felt uncomfortable. They had experienced teachers suggesting that black Afro hair is "untidy" and "needs to be brushed" and saw these policies as "just another form of racism" by 'not being inclusive'. They also felt the same about standards of appropriate presentation. Sometimes they were publicly made an example of (15]

[The summary really lays it on!] 'It was inferred that policies guiding appropriate presentation are tailored towards Western ideals, creating barriers for young black people to be themselves or comfortable in themselves at school… Young black people feel judged and scrutinised because of their natural [?] appearance… This… Has also in cases been internalised by young black people… [They] felt that teachers label them as "unintelligent" and "aggressive" [and] this results in more young black people being excluded'

Recommendations follow — everything should be reviewed 'through the lens of race and ethnicity' to ensure that policies are inclusive especially where it relates to image and presentation. Antiracist education be embedded, that black writers and academics be incorporated in the national curriculum to provide 'inspirational academic role models', and that school leaders 'provide unconscious bias training for all staff at all levels'.

The workplace

[Same sort of stuff] 86% heard or witnessed racist language, 65% of a higher frequency, a lot fewer young women, lots of surprise that they been promoted or that they should be grateful, not feeling supported the usual feeling of explicit and implicit prejudice, complaints about lack of diversity, feeling that they had to be exceptional to get on, worrying that they did not align with stereotypes about black people, feeling uncomfortable. 47% felt they needed to change their name [!] The summary again lays it on and talks about systemic racism in employments, while recommending review of recruitment practices, work events that celebrate diversity, blind CV selection, mentoring and development schemes, zero tolerance racial discrimination and, inevitably, unconscious bias training.


Black people experience the highest rates of arrests, being charged and prosecuted. 55% were worried about being falsely accused, and reported a general perception that black people were seen as criminal and delinquents [as with most of the other specific comments, these arose in the focus groups]. There was a lack of trust — 29% had trust in the police or legal system [no comparisons with white youth?]  Many felt the police were lazy [white people too] UK government figures are used in support again, for example that 'black people are almost 10 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched' [nationwide?]  (29). The summary suggests that there is little being done to build trust, and the recommendations include monitoring the use of things like stop and search, engaging with outreach programs, funding youth services, unconscious bias training, better data on stop and search.


27% said they distrust the NHS and worry about being mis-diagnosed. Apparently they know about a handbook on clinical signs appearing on black skin and are also aware of increased risks of death. They [all of them?] 'Referenced the finding that black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women' (33) they reported 'individual and shared experiences of racism' and again this is supported by official data, although on adults from an Indian background compared with adults from a black background. While they are there, they shared 'instances of police brutality circulated on social media which… 'Resulted in them feeling drained and anxious' (34). The summary quotes data showing that black adults were more likely to have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The sample in the focus group felt that black patients were more likely to be seen as aggressive. They shared experiences where their request for pain medication was ignored and said this stemmed from 'false beliefs and inaccurate assumptions about black people' and quoted 'historical examples of enslaved black people undergoing operations without the use of anaesthetic' (35).

The summary again lays it on thick by saying that 'in the focus group, the main message outlined by young people was that racism made them feel like they were going "crazy", especially when strangers would make comments about them in public or stare in intimidating ways' (36) they 'shared the damaging effects that racism has on their mental health… Paranoia, mental exhaustion and mild depression… They over- thought daily activities and found themselves questioning whether their friends were laughing at them with them'. [don't we all?] Again previous research conducted by the Mental Health foundation is cited in support, especially showing that black women were more likely to have experienced a common mental disorder, and black men more likely to have experienced a psychotic disorder.

Racism has damaging effects, young people have shared that 'especially with the increased social media circulation of the brutality faced by black people across the world' and this has effects like feeling mentally drained and having heightened emotions like paranoia and anxiety. The focus group felt that GPs often invalidated or downplayed their need to receive mental health support. They felt that staff working in health services could contribute to poor mental health because they were not understanding and might hold unconscious bias, and this could contribute to the number of black patients sectioned and detained. They also 'responded' to the statistic that black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth. Recommendations included more research, review into the experiences of black people, specially targeted public health messages, new training for medical students, cultural competence training, better funding for mental health. [do something to counter social media?]


41% saw lack of employment as one of the main reasons for housing instability [not the biggest reason though -- see below]. 43% thought that 'the need for black families to receive additional finance from the state is due to unconscious biases of employers' (40). One problem is the inability to save a rental deposit, and the lack of family support to do so. 58% of survey respondents said that they or their family had received welfare benefits, and black families were the second most likely to receive income -related benefits second only to Bangladeshi families. Issues with the benefit system was the main reason that housing instability exists. The focus group identified condescending attitudes at the job centre and racism: 'young black people [sic] felt that "racism fuels a cycle of survival, and as a young black person, you learn to survive in a society that is not built to accommodate your existence"' [surely referring to America or places where they don't have welfare states?]

[The actual chart says that 55% attribute housing instability to the high cost of housing, only 41% to unstable employment, another 41% to lack of employment]

The summary says that young black people experience increased financial hardship and cannot establish themselves independently. 'Racism experienced within employment has a co-lateral effect on other areas of life, primarily affecting finance and housing stability' (42). Recommendations include developing financial education, reviewing housing instability within black communities, and unconscious bias training for job centre staff.

Overall the report found that young black people do experience racism in school and work, do feel the need to change society in order to be accepted, do feel racial stereotypes 'could negatively impact their academic attainment', feel that employer prejudice affects their chances of getting a job, do not trust the police, distrust health services, and 'feel they face financial instability because society is exclusive and prejudiced' (44) [just below this it is hardened into a statement that 'young black people experience prejudice and bias' and this does place them at a disadvantage and that this report goes some way 'to evidence' that they experience institutional racism. They end with a quote from a focus group — institutional racism feels like being attacked from all directions from everything, in all areas.