Will You Judge a Book by its Cover?

“Are young people misunderstood and stereotyped? How often do you do it without even realising?”, asks Olivia as she introduces this film made by a group of 8 articulate black South London teenagers.

Young people feel that society has the wrong idea about them so this impressive group of young people, from Knights Youth Centre in Clapham Park, decided to reclaim the narrative. They created this 12-minute film to expose how society sees them and how wrong it is.

What did they do?

This film was a collaborative project between We Rise, Knights Youth Centre and Footwork created in response to the themes that came out of the round table film ‘Our Future’

Their challenge was to research, design, script, film and create a short film in a week that would give them a platform to show how misjudged young people often are. They wanted to make an appealing, fun film to highlight the misunderstanding and stereotypes that society has about young people of colour.

They contrasted views of the public based on a photo of them in their everyday clothes with what they are really like.

What did they discover?

Asking members of the public to judge their ages, they were consistently estimated as much higher as they are. The impact of this on how they are treated in public is significant. The “adultification” of black children has been recently raised as a major concern by former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield.

Shown pictures of AJ, members of the public said he looked like a “road man” and they saw him in a bad light because of the way he was “posing” and “looking”. They thought he was 17 or 18. In fact, AJ is only 13. He says “it means I have to act much older than I am if they think I’m much older than I am. But still I have this 13-year-old mentality.”

“I’m not really a road man or anything, I’m a good child”, AJ

How did this make them feel?

Shown pictures of Nadil people said he looked like a “lazy unemployed guy” and “probably an immigrant”. They estimated him to be 23. In fact, Nadil is 16. Nadil said, “they are just guessing”.

Commenting on a picture of Olivia, aged 14, people said she looked “on road, selling drugs, bad breeds, trouble”.

Jamie, aged 16, said, “I feel quite misunderstood. People are judging me on the road now and it just isn’t me. Being associated with teen mums really surprised me. I’m still in education and trying to be financially stable for my children before I even think about having them. I’m completely lost for words.”

“I’ve always known these stereotypes exist, this just highlights it a bit more for me”, Eden, aged 15.

What do young people want?

These young people feel that they are not understood. They are trying to build their lives in spite of society’s negative perceptions but they would like to be seen for who they really are.

“We shouldn’t have to change. It’s not really our fault” says Eden. “The older generations are the ones to blame for certain stereotypes,” says Olivia. “We need to just keep on doing what we’re doing as we’re doing nothing wrong. It’s just society’s perceptions”, says Eden.

“We’re kind of experimenting with how we look and how we feel - we shouldn’t really be judged on how we look as that might change over time”.

“I’d like young people to be perceived equally so race and gender is not an issue”, Olivia.

“Will you judge a book by its cover” is a collaboration between We Rise and Knights Youth Centre, funded by Footwork. This piece follows on from their previous short film “Our Future”, produced as part of the London Festival of Architecture.