- Registration time
- Last login
- Online time
- 0 Hour
- Reading permission
Blatant racism among school-going children in UK|
Retro chic and nostalgia are so much a part of our zeitgeist that last year the government thought it too would try it out for size. The resulting "Go home" ad campaign has now morphed into a resounding wish that migrants should not turn up at all.
Always able to see through the dissembling of adults, the young have seemingly imbibed the true nature of these debates to particularly cruel effect. This week the children's charity ChildLine announced that last year more than 1,400 children reported experiencing racist bullying and sought its counselling services as a result. It is a 69% jump from the previous year.
The head of the charity, Sue Minto, said: "There's so much more of a focus in the news at the moment about immigrants … it's a real discussion topic and children aren't immune to the conversations that happen around them … Some children are being told, even if they're UK born, to pack your bags and go back where you belong."
Young people with limited English or even a foreign accent are labelled "freshies", Muslims "bombers" and "terrorists", Somalis "pirates".
I could go on as this is something I have noted in all the schools I have taught in both in the north of England and London. Yet it is not solely white children who perform such racist acts. Walk into any multicultural school in our large cities and you will find that black and brown students will readily take part in racist bullying against each other.
In my time I have heard African-Caribbean and African students ridicule the other's facial features to the extreme, reducing themselves to foreheads, lips and noses, all in a manner that would make 19th-century physiognomists proud. At one particular school, Bengali children were routinely told that they "smell of fish" by their Pakistani peers.
It is clear that schools are not dealing with the problem effectively. ChildLine reports that the majority of children discussing racist abuse also talked of teachers who were either ineffective or simply ignored what they had been told. As a teacher, I cannot feign surprise. For many, racism appears only in a white/black dynamic.
That it is complex and can operate within a multicultural context is not considered. Patently racist remarks are chalked up as examples of childish name-calling. Individual institutions must look at their own policies and procedures while identifying how they can help staff to better manage such incidents.
So too teacher-training providers, who will need to approach discrimination with a little more rigour. As a trainee teacher I was only required to write a trite statement saying how committed to equal opportunities I was (as if even the most proudly committed BNP card carrier would do otherwise).
Ticking a box isn't enough to prove that you will teach without prejudice, much less deal with complicated incidents of intra-racism. I call it complicated because racism is always about power. Some will read this and want to see it as vindication for all of the times they have cited the existence of reverse racism.
Let me be clear: often when this phrase is used I think it shows the user's ignorance of what racism is and how it operates. Racism is never just about the individual act; always implicated are the historical, cultural and institutional realities that uphold it and allow it to exist.
I have heard black children abuse their darker peers by mimicking the white South African pronunciation of the word black with "blick".
They do so because they intimately understand that our society does not value blackness and are keen to appear as above what is considered the absolute nadir of this racial hierarchy. It is an example of the internalised racism that is an awful and prosaic feature of our lives.
We too are products of this society and are not born immune to its incessant messages. Internalised racism, as with sexism, is something we must unlearn.
ChildLine's report coincides with research published this week on the positive effects a diverse friendship group can have on young people's experience of ethnic discrimination.
What is clear is that unlearning racism is difficult if we exist in segregated communities. The study, by psychologists at Goldsmiths University, focused on the experiences of south Asian pupils in London, the group most likely to experience racist bullying.
It concludes that: "An increase in the number [and quality] of cross-ethnic friendships helps protect psychological wellbeing from the consequences of perceived ethnic discrimination and strengthens resilience of ethnic minority children."
However much young people are able to moderate their negative experiences of racism, it remains the case that it really shouldn't be a fact of their lives. The structural racism that allows it to continue must be held to account and resisted.
This article originally appeared in The Guardian.