Yesterday I watched a programme on BBC TV called Panorama. It showed horrendous incidents of racial abuse at football matched in the Ukraine. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Young men, standing on the terraces, making the Nazi salute and shouting racist abuse to the black footballers playing the match. This, in 2012?
Incidents of racial abuse and violence have started to escalate, even on my own patch, the West Country. Just this month, two kids aged 11 and 15 were convicted of racially abusing and assaulting a female black teacher at their school. In the past five years, there have been thousands of racist incidents in schools. Statistics show that across the UK in total, 87,915 cases were recorded by the local authorities. They included verbal and physical attacks.
Schools have the power to deal with racism, so the Department of Education say. Yet it still goes on and the effect on staff is often devastating. The last Labour government made it obligatory for schools to monitor and report any incidents of racial abuse to their local county council. But our coalition government decided, in their wisdom to do away with this, so now schools do not have to keep records of racist incidents.
‘We urge our members to go beyond recording, reporting and compliance, to really focus on the culture and ethos of the school and its community to tackle incidents of racial abuse head on. It’s hugely disappointing to hear the figure of 88,000 recorded racist incidents in our schools,’ said NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby .
I am grossly offended by racism. It is a heinous crime and should never be tolerated. Yet how many of us would stand up and defend someone if we saw them being racially abused? We tend, in this age of knives and other weapons like dogs, to turn away.
‘There is no room in civilised, modern society for racism. Schools have tough powers to crackdown on abusive and badly behaved pupils – as well as clear responsibility to teach tolerance and respect for others. Heads and teachers are professional enough never to be complacent in dealing with this issue – parents and pupils expect them to remain vigilant and step in to prevent it whenever it occurs,’ said a spokesman from the Department of Education.
Perhaps we need more and different types of teaching programmes to help kids understand what racism is and what it can lead to? Drama is a good way to do that. I have created two projects to raise awareness of racism. I wrote a play called NICE PEOPLE. It was commissioned by an enlightened county council and toured schools and community venues. Discussion after the performances were always illuminating. I remember one middle-class woman, well-heeled and well-spoken, standing up and in an angry voice , declaring: ‘ It’s all very well, but we don’t get many of them down here, do we?’ She was referring to black or Asian incomers to the region. I suppose she had a point. In those days, ignorance was bliss. It may have been bliss but it certainly wasn’t an excuse for her attitude which, as she continued to express her views, was racist. However, had she been confronted with this, she would, I am sure, have been horrified. NICE PEOPLE became a DVD film and is used by police forces, who sadly, seem to have always had issues with racism.
I was then commissioned by the Crown Prosecution Service to write a play about racism in the Judiciary. What! I hear you say? Racist judges and magistrates? Never? The play was commissioned to raise awareness. It was performed at a conference. Again, there was a discussion after the show, that illustrated how even in the Judiciary, there was much to learn about the issues.
In writing these projects I also learned a great deal. How you can inadvertently say something that could be misconstrued as being racist and how you can say something racist and find that it is ignored by everyone else, except the person it is directed to. I learned that we have to monitor our thoughts as well as our words, because racist thoughts lead to racist words and actions.
Xenophobia is the fear of people who are different from us. There are elements of Xenophobia in racism. If we harbour a deep fear of anyone who is different, then it can manifest itself in a racially motivated attack, either verbal or physical. People sometimes need to feel superior to others. One way of doing this, is to racially abuse someone else. It makes you feel better than them.
There is another point to mention here. Groups, like those on the football terraces, use racism to dominate other groups. Racism can also enable regimes to socially, politically and economically dominate their fellow man. It can rationalise the hierarchical domination of one group over another, based on heritage, ethnicity and colour and gives perceived advantages to the dominant group.
The most hateful use of racism is when a government uses it as an excuse to systematically oppress human rights. This is happening as I write this, all over the world. But in the green garden estates and rolling hills of the West Country, it is often ignorance of values, cultures and religions that inspire racism. There are historic patterns of discrimination and prejudice that manifest as racism all too easily.
The UK once had Colonies. The historic hostilities that happened in those places that were part of our empire, have also contributed to modern racism, for there is an echo; a memory of times past, out there. The slave trade in the UK ended comparatively a short time ago, in 1833, when the Abolition of Salvery Act came into being.
There does seem to be a fear of sharing power with other groups. In the UK we currently have a coalition government, so we are doing our best to share the power! But we also have an immigration policy that is under review. We have laws and immigration policies that may in future prevent immigration of certain Peoples and cultures. Could that be construed as racism? It will be a difficult question to resolve.
I only know that when I come across any abuse I have to stand up and make a noise about it.