While British educational researchers have given considerable attention to issues of racism, little attention has been given to how pupils themselves perceive differential teacher treatment and how such views relate to pupils' claims of teacher racism and racial discrimination. This article employs ethnographic data gathered from one English and two Flemish (Belgian) secondary schools to investigate pupils' perceptions of teachers' differential treatment of pupils. All schools were multi-ethnic in character and located in inner-city areas. The analysis of the data suggests that three ideal types of pupils were perceived as legitimate recipients of a less or more favourable teacher treatment: the ill, stragglers and deviants. This study illustrates how pupils' claims about teacher racism and racial discrimination relate to conflicts between particular pupils and their teachers over the appropriateness of their status as ill, stragglers or deviants and related role expectations. The final section discusses implications of this study for future research on processes of racism and racial discrimination in educational settings.