Why use peer group
education for the campaign "all different - all
10 Points on why to use peer group education
in a campaign against racism and intolerance
1. Peer group education fights racism,
xenophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance
by means familiar to youth
Racial prejudice is strongly
connected to group identity and group behaviour. It
has much to do with how the individual perceives himself
or herself as a member of a distinctive social and
ethnic group in relation to other groups. At the same
time, adolescence is a crucial moment in life development
, a time when individual identity is formed. The loosening
of family ties can give way to various options of
group identity. Ethnicity as a clearly distinctive
identity may become extremely important in this phase
Peer group education takes its strength
from unfolding the leadership potential of individual
young people in the and relies on in-group values
of youth. It transmits its message through these channels
which play an important part in adolescence.
2. Each young person knows discrimination
from his or her own experience
Racism and xenophobia is -
amongst other things - a reflection of power structures:
the powerful discriminate against the powerless.
The same can be said for 'adultism'.
By this term we describe the system prevailing in
most modern societies which gives more status and
respect to acts and opinions of adults as compared
to the acts and decisions of the youth. Children and
youngsters generally are told and taught that they
have to wait until adulthood to be fully respected.
Since young people have much less power than adults
do, they are discriminated against. Thus, young people
all know somehow what discrimination feels like. Not
being taken seriously, having their legitimate wishes
denied because you are a child actually is everyone's
first experience of discrimination in our society
(for further reference see: Miller, 1979; van den
Broeck, 1993; Jungk/Muellert 1989).
Later in life young people form peer groups and
gain strength through this new group identity. Strong
peer groups and strong peer group behaviour is an
answer to the power gap between young people and adults.
In the power struggle among - socially or ethnically
- different groups of young people, peer groups and
their values play an important role. If racist, xenophobic
or anti-semitic ideas and intolerant behaviour prevail
peer groups can form a vehicle for these ideas (in-group
against out-groups). It is especially important to
break these patterns and to substitute them with non-racist
values and attitudes and the ability to welcome diversity.
Peer group education would seem the system-inherent
educational means for that.
3. Peer group education can create
empowerment and a pride in leadership
Racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and intolerance
in general have their source in feelings of powerlessness
and suffered mistreatment. 'Human beings have to
be mistreated systematically before they will mistreat
others' (National Coalition Building Institute,
Ultra-nationalist and racist, anti-semitic and xenophobic
movements come in right here by manipulating the feelings
of inferiority resulting from such mistreatment. They
offer a seemingly superior identity based on violence
and the oppression of others.
Peer group education empowers young people to take
action and form leadership. It gives pride to what
young people can achieve. These positive feelings
make it easier to look at past 'hurts' sources of
4. Shared feelings open the way
to welcoming diversity
Discrimination represents a form
of group oppression. Groups of human beings are labelled
as "dirty", "useless", "dangerous",
"greedy" , "violent" - without
considering the character of individual members of
a certain group. The victim, however, is hurt as a
single 'individual' and suffers from the discrimination
'individually'. The pain of discrimination is expressed
in shame and often enough, is turned into violent
rage which aims at covering the shame.
By sharing experiences of mistreatment
and the sorrow about it amongst peers, the shame can
be shared and will eventually fade away. Individual
identity and group identity are both strengthened
A feeling of positive pride in one's
own identity arises and can free the way to accept
the other one's pride in his or her own and different
identity. Understanding oneself leads to understanding
others. Diversity can therefore become a positive
value in life.
"Black and white youth share common
experiences and problems, like unemployment, schooling
or homelessness. Instead of alliances there are often
divisions and scapegoating. The attempt to discover
racial and ethnic themes within the fabric of local
urban life promises to be a slow and hesitant process
but one which offers the possibility of creating alliances."
(Ritchie/Marken, 1986, page 17).
5. Peer group education against
racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism substitutes old
group values by new ones
Racist and intolerant behaviour often forms
a contagious behavioural pattern within a group of
youth - and the same is valid of other forms of oppression
such as sexism, discrimination against people with
disabilities etc. Nobody in the group dares speak
out and stand up against a racist group leader or
a racist group. Thus the climate is slowly poisoned.
Peer group leaders create new role models which
can set new values for the group and positive standards
which can also become attractive for other groups
members as well.
6. Peer group education against
racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance
can create a snowball effect among a wider group
Racism and other forms of
intolerance easily have a contagious effect on a group
environment and can poison the atmosphere. Successful
and attractive experiences of peer group education
programmes, are soon shared with others in the group
and can form a counter-movement. Successful action
can also win over any adults who first may have been
reluctant to join in.
7. Peer group education against
racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance
keeps ideals alive
Young people who have had the chance to grow
up without suffering heavy mistreatment can be full
of idealism and love for the world and for human beings
of all kinds. They have not yet been ultimately conditioned
by greed, competition and chauvinism which is inherent
in our social system. Their intuition tells them when
wrong is done and when discrimination is happening.
Peer group action against racism presents a chance
which enables young people not to loose these ideals
but rather to recognize them as a common bond for
changing the world. An "adultist" attitude
(see above under 2.) would tell them that they will
soon have to give up their ideals and adapt to the
"realities of life". Peer group action against
racism tells them that they are right in their perception
of the world as it could be and empowers them to make
ideals become true.
This empowerment can have an impact on other aspects
of their lives which are not necessarily directly
connected to the original issue.
8. Success motivates and leads to
further successful action
Positive individual and group
experiences and successful leadership give courage
to go further. If a peer group could solve a minor
racial dispute, in the youth club for example, through
a common effort and peer group trained skills, this
can create a positive impetus.
Peer group education gives opportunities
for learning and training skills through organizing
an anti-racist event, writing letters to the newspaper,
speaking in public, leading a workshop etc. By passing
on training skills, to deal with on smaller racist
incidents capabilities will grow to handle more difficult
problems such as inter-group conflicts, or violence.
Group dynamics among the peers are of much importance.
Team building can help to change whole institutions
in a slow but on-going process. It might lead from
a first crisis intervention to crisis prevention by
changing attitudes and the general atmosphere within
the peer group and the institution involved.
9. Self-confident youth challenge
the adults' world
Racist and xenophobic attitudes
and disparities in the treatment of ethnic, religious
or sexual minority groups might form a part of the
structure of the school or youth organization that
wants to launch a peer group education project against
The reluctance of institutions to
a) generally start anti-racist programs and b) start
a peer education programme, may be encountered. Underlying
fears to make necessary institutional changes, and
the question of authority are often cited as reasons.
By freeing creative forces in young people, peer group
programmes against racism can challenge certain racist
attitudes, the power structures and ethnic disparities
within the system. It is young people's enthusiasm
and the obvious turn for the better which can break
through these institutional barriers.
"Establishing anti-racist work
will depend to some extent on how far youth work is
prepared to suffer the discomfort of recognizing both
its own racism and its failure to develop a significant
response to racism of its white clients."
(Ritchie/Marken, 1986, page 7).
10. Peer group education can change
the home environment of youth
Youth engaged in peer group
programmes against racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism
and intolerance will come home with new ideas of how
the world could be. They will probably confront their
parents with these values, or let them know about
their new contacts with ethnically different groups.
This could stir some tension but can ultimately lead
to a shift in attitudes in their family. When parents
see that their children are happier and more fulfilled
they may let go some of their own prejudicial ideas.
The snowball effect can incite new anti-racist activities
in the home environment or neighbourhood.
You may wish to investigate the wider
discussion on Discrimination and Xenophobia contained
in Compass, for more reasons and thematic areas for
using peer education.