Youngsters Are Being Demonised For Their Differences - So How Can The Focus Be On Educational Attainment?

29/09/2016 11:28

Over the past ten years, Show Racism the Red Card have engaged with
over 100,000 young people. However, in the last two years they have witnessed an increase in racist attitudes and negative stereotyping. 

A few months ago I was at their annual school competition. I saw the importance of their anti-racism work at a grass roots level - it was an emotional day seeing entries sent from pupils across Wales determined to fight prejudice. It was proof that attitudes towards race are formed at a young age. Whilst schools cannot control what children hear at home, they must be safe spaces for all children, not just the privileged few.

Work needs to be done to assist schools in effectively challenging a climate that allows racist language and behavior to prevail. With education devolved to Wales, there is a real opportunity to tackle these issues and create a tangible policy agenda for schools, so that the prospects for change are real.

For good reason much of the activism around racism and schooling has focused on levelling the attainment gap for certain ethnic minority groups. There have been some successes in this approach. However, policymakers have consistently ignored the structural problems of institutional racism in the delivery of schooling, to the extent that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities accept it as the norm.

This is the uncomfortable reality. It's 2016 and racism remains a stain on our society here in Wales. Can you tell me why school children continue to be singled out by their religion and ethnicity as I was when I was in school over 17 years ago?

Every day we allow this to go on in our schools, we are scaring a new generation.

Education must provide an inclusive curriculum that teaches students respect for other cultures. Schools that provide this education stifle the climate which allows racist language and behavior to perpetuate. Education which encourages respect at its core must be a priority for the Welsh Government.

Racist language and behavior in schools mirror the power relations of wider society. The language of race is too often expressed in terms of tolerance rather than acceptance. A Welsh Labour MP has said "Colored people- run takeways" no doubt to pander to the UKIP vote. There has been no accountability from his own party.

What message is this sending to young people?

The Show Racism the Red Card report highlights that 97% of young people have heard damaging comments about Muslims with themes of fear, terrorism, killing, bombing and ISIS. In the last twelve months alone, one in five teachers have responded to or reported Islamophobic incidents in schools in Wales.

In these uncertain post-Brexit times, 65% of teachers did not feel confident or trained to support a victim of racist bullying. It's bad enough that there is a problem of this size, even more worrying that a majority of teachers feel ill equipped to confront it. The effects of being a victim of racism are devastating, affecting educational achievement and inflicting emotional damage.

Below are some responses from teachers in Wales to the question Have you or a colleague observed racial discrimination in the last 12 months? 

-Following the Brexit vote. Bangladeshi student asked if he "had a

-Black pupil called the N word.

- Year 8 students harassing student from Brazil with racist slurs and taunts. 

- A pupil upset that others were making fun of his accent and mimicking it. 

-A welsh pupil calling a Syrian girl isis repeatedly. 

- A child told that nobody wanted to play with her because of the color of her skin. 

The results speak for themselves. The reality is we have a problem in our schools.  

94 % of upper Key Stage 2 pupils state racism occurs between young people in their school because of differences in skin colour, religion and nationality. If youngsters are being demonised for their differences, how can the focus ever be on educational attainment?

Unless you have experienced race hate you will never fully understand the damage it can cause.  Recently, just hours after getting home from the EU Referendum count, I was targeted by racists through social media and was told,
'pack your bags and go home, we voted to get people like you out." It was followed up with "if a pig is born in a stable it does not make it a horse- leave." 
I found myself in a friend's living room telling police officers about the racist abuse I'd received. Her 16-year-old daughter was asking questions like: "Does mum have to sell the business now because they don't want us here?" and: "They keep talking about it in school, where will we go?"  

Post Brexit, Wales feels different. Have we forgotten the race riots in Oldham and Brixton. If we don't act to teach our youngsters that we are stronger in our diversity, we run a real risk of not learning the lessons of our history. 

In 2016 Ethnic minorities continue to be under represented in positions where they can influence change.  Without influence communities have no voice.

In Wales, there is a lack of teachers from Ethnic Minorities. We must encourage youngsters from these communities to consider teaching as an aspirational career, and give them the opportunities and support needed to fulfil their potential.
Our elected representatives need to demonstrate to the community that they are serious about tacking race inequality.

We can work together to ensure young people grow up without viewing each other with suspicion. We must not neglect our duty to protect and inspire the young people of Wales.