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Racial Literacy / Racial Consciousness

Racial literacy, also known as racial consciousness, refers to an individual’s deeper awareness and understanding of race. With racial literacy comes the tools and vocabulary to discuss more complex ideas about race and a growing understanding of how racism operates in its multiple forms.

Racial illiteracy – i.e. racial unconsciousness – is very common in the West where people are taught from a very young age that everybody is equal, race does not matter and if everybody adopts a colour-blind lens (stops seeing race), then racism will disappear. Racial illiteracy is hugely problematic as we begin to realise the disastrous impacts of implicit (unintentional) racism and institutional racism propagated by the state and those with most power.


Anybody can be racially illiterate, regardless of race. In an attempt to defend racist rhetoric, it is common to hear people say that their one “black friend” said there wasn’t any racism in Scotland, or that they didn’t mind others using the n-word, or that a brown taxi driver said it was OK to say “P*ki.” To all of those statements, we must ask ourselves – were all those people of colour racially conscious? Do they have an understanding of the insidious operations of racism that make it seem non-existent aside from the occasional outbreak of hate crime incidents? Do they have a critical understanding of the historical violence associated with racial slurs that are still uttered from the lips of aggressive white terrorists? Have those people started questioning the racism that they too will have undoubtedly internalised as a result of socialisation in a racialised world? And anyway, who gave them the licence to speak on behalf of an entire racial group?


Racial literacy involves adopting a more nuanced understanding of race; it takes time to develop and it is a life-long project. Learning more about structural racism, Critical Race Theory and white fragility are great places to start. Listening to marginalised voices of colour is crucial. Taking time to explore The Anti-Racist Educator platform – notably the Blog and the Glossary – should equally ensure an increase in racial consciousness in a Scottish context.  

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