So it is now more important than ever to open a dialogue about these issues with children, as Steve Goodsell from charity Show Racism The Red Card told HuffPost UK.
“When acts of violence are on your doorstep that’s when people really wake up and think oh my goodness we need to do something,” he said.
“We need to make our children feel safe at the very least.”
“Most kids have heard of hate crime but don’t know what it is - or how to report it,” Goodsell added.
“And it’s not just the kids, at one school we had an Asian teacher disclose that she had been a victim for years, but had never had the courage to tell anyone. The abuse had become normalised for her.
“This is common for children too, they just take the abuse and try to move on. We show them that it is not acceptable and tell them what to do.”
Goodsell is a Show Racism The Red Card manager for the southern region. The charity has teams that go into schools across Britain, but Goodsell and his team work primarily in parts of London, Essex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
“The bulk of our work is helping young people aged between seven and 15 understand issues around racism and other forms of discrimination,” Goodsell explained.
“We employ sessional educators whom we train to a very high standard.
“Not everyone can do the job, as you have to have great empathy with the young people and be able to create a safe space for them to express their views and opinions.
“We also challenge their views, to encourage them to think critically about things they read in the media, - particularly social media - and the things they hear their parents and older siblings say.
“Hate crime is something we make a priority for discussion.”
Every year the charity delivers anti-racism workshops to more than 20,000 schoolchildren.
HuffPost UK spoke to Goodsell as he attended a day-long session with Year 9 pupils at Manningtree High School in Essex.
The session begins with an introductory assembly in which pupils are shown an informative film providing an introduction to the subject of racism, followed by a talk in which the sessional educators explain some of the things they’ll be discussing.
“This sets the tone for the day,” said Goodsell. “It’s very much a case of we’re not going to preach to you, we’re not going to tell you how to think.
“We’re going to create a space where you can tell us what you think about these issues and an opportunity for you to ask questions - which young people don’t often get the opportunity to do.”
Then follows a series of workshops focusing on topics such as identity, anti-Muslim hatred, anti-immigrant sentiment, racism towards black and other minority groups and anti-gypsyism, as well as topical discussions about what pupils have seen in the news and a fun physical activity to break up the discussions of “heavy” topics.
At Manningtree the physical activity was delivered by a community coach from Colchester United football team.
“Today at Manningtree we talked about what’s going on locally in their town and what’s happened recently in London and Manchester,” Goodsell explained.
“The Manchester attack has had a huge impact on them because it affected young people coming out of a concert. Something they may have done themselves, or are hoping to do.
“The young people are openly questioning the different ways the media described the Finsbury Park attacker compared to those involved in other recent attacks. They say that some media outlets portray all Muslims as potentially having extremist views, whereas the Finsbury Park attacker was called a ‘lone wolf’.
“They’re quite clued up about why it’s important to question things they are reading, but they’re not quite so sure about questioning their parents and grandparents, who they see as believing some of the things they read.”
I learnt that racism is a serious offence and it can affect anyone.Molly Carmichael, 14.
Goodsell has found that gaining a greater understanding of the law around racism and why it is important to challenge prejudice, can make children feel happier in themselves.
“We talk about things that happen in school, such as people making statements about ‘all black people’,” he said.
“We talk about name calling and we ask them how they would feel if it happened to them.
“Then we show them the continuum of where things can lead to. How damaging behaviour that some people might think is ‘low level’, can be.
“We use the example of a Barcelona football player who was going to walk off the pitch because of racist name calling from the stands. We ask the young people to put themselves in his position and think about what they would have done.
“They talk about whether they should stay on the pitch or leave, when that would mean letting people down. Should they challenge the behaviour?
“We always put them in the position of the person who is being abused simply because there is something ‘different’ about them.
“We ask ‘how would you feel?’ Everyone is different from everyone else in some ways, so how would you feel if someone were to be nasty to you or say bad things to you, just because of your ‘difference’, whatever that may be.
“Ultimately we leave them with the thought that if it is happening to you, then you must either challenge it - if you feel safe to - or you must tell someone in authority, such as a teacher, parents or even the police.
“For would-be-perpetrators, which of course there will be some in that group as well, we’re leaving them with the message that it’s not acceptable to be abusive - or even to think about being abusive - to someone just because they are different to you.
“Then we go through the continuum of racism: from hate, to where it can lead to with murder.
“We show them a short film about an 18-year-old boy called Anthony Walker who was murdered in Merseyside on his way home from school. We talk about how this is what racism can lead to - he lost his life purely because some people didn’t like him because of his skin colour.”
I think the session was very good because the educator opened lots of topics up by asking questions and making it easy to talk to about any subject and be comfortable.Ruby Hammond, 14.
The pupils are given the opportunity to pose questions, openly or anonymously in a section called ‘Burning Questions’.
During this session the children at Manningtree expressed a lot of the same fears and uncertainties around issues of race as Goodsell said his team have seen exhibited by children across the country.
“One of the fears is that if they express their views they might be accused of being racist,” explained Goodsell. “You would be amazed at how few children are comfortable describing someone’s skin colour.
“They will sometimes think it is more acceptable to use a racial slur than to use the actual word that describes the colour of someone’s skin.”
“So today one of the educators called Francis asked the students to describe him. He is six foot six, used to play professional football and he’s black, but none of the young people wanted to bring up his skin colour.
“In one of the groups they felt it was reasonably acceptable to use the n-word. They didn’t understand the connotations behind that word, because they hear it in music and popular culture.
“There was also one young person who was using the p-word to describe people of a different skin colour.
“They didn’t mean to use it as a derogatory term, they were simply trying to be descriptive and had no idea of that word’s history and why it is so offensive.”
I learnt that it is completely unacceptable to discriminate against any race. The lady that taught us was great. She got every student to listen just by using her own personal enthusiasm.Georgie Fairburn, 14.
Politics is also a source of great worry for the young people Goodsell has encountered.
“They’re fearful about some of the decisions being made by politicians and leaders,” he explained. “Donald Trump comes up regularly wherever we go, as does Brexit.
“Some of the young people who have come here from another country with their parents are fearful as to whether they’re going to be deported because of Brexit. There’s a lot of uncertainty.
“We just try to help them break it down into bite-size chunks so they can gain a greater understanding of what’s really going on and can see through alarming headlines.
“We ask them whether they think it is likely that people are actually going to be deported today or tomorrow. And the answer is quite clearly no, not in that time scale.
“Then we talk about how most of the changes brought about by Brexit will happen over the long term and although none of us really know what will happen in the future, it is not something for them to worry about in the immediate future - their friend is not suddenly going to have to go back to Poland.
“Aligned to that, lots of the children have other worries about immigration. They’ll say: ‘My dad says that Polish people take our jobs’.
“We listen to them, then say: ‘Oh ok, well how many of you know of someone who has actually lost their job to someone from another country?’
“I don’t think we’ve ever come across someone who has said: ’Well yeah my dad actually has.'
“We treat them as adults and and ask ‘what do you think?’ rather than us telling them what to think.
“We find that by listening to them and by talking it through with them, it does allay their fears.”
I liked that if we wanted to ask a question but didn’t want to be known for it we could write it anonymously using post-it notes.Shannon Moran-Hignett, 14.
Dawn Cox, a teacher who attended the sessions with her Year 9 tutor group said she can’t stress strongly enough how crucial discussions of this nature are for her pupils.
She said: “In school we deal with racism in subjects such as PSHE and RE, but this has such an immediate positive effect on them because they’re not being talked to by teachers, but by people who have come in and who can talk to them on a level.
“It gives them a chance to discuss things they might not want to bring up with teachers, and it has definitely started them questioning things, which is so important.”
Cox added that before the sessions some pupils may have had misconceptions about the type of person who could be a racist or an extremist, and this has opened their eyes.
“The session touched on the fact extremism does not belong to a certain race or religion, and actually right wing extremism - which in this area is maybe a bit more prevalent - is part of that too,” she said.
“It’s really important they understand that any form of discrimination is wrong and you can’t associate that with just certain types of people.”
Cox said she would recommend Show Racism The Red Card sessions to other schools and Allison Morgan, Key Stage 4 PSHE and focus day co-ordinator at Manningtree High School agrees, although she caveats this by saying that shrinking school budgets mean that funding these sessions can be a major hurdle.
“These sessions are vital for schools such as ours but funding cuts have meant that many such events have had to be cancelled,” said Morgan.
“The media is often concerned with what they perceive as a lack of social understanding that young people leaving school have today.
“Teaching professionals are excellent at providing academic learning but they can find running sessions on social issues such as these very difficult as they are often outside of their own personal experiences as well as their professional training.
“It is wonderful that groups such as Show Racism The Red Card are able to get help to fund the sessions but continuing being able to find the funding is vital.
“I hope that any businesses or individuals concerned about raising our future generations as knowledgeable, considerate and tolerant young adults will look at organisations that, at no cost to the schools, come to remote areas so that those young people have access to the wider world in which they will move into.”
Goodsell added: “Funding is an issue for all charities and we are no exception. Budgets are being cut at a time when the work we and others do is vitally important.
“Its is no exaggeration to state that the country is extremely volatile at this time. We talk to children about the terrorist attacks by IS supporters and members of the Far Right. Very often our work is helping them to be safe and to reassure them that they will be ok.
“I’ve been really impressed by the views and opinions held by many of the young people here at Manningtree.
“They’ve been very intelligent, thoughtful and caring and that gives me hope that we have generations of young people growing up who have very positive views, they just need to be encouraged to voice them in a safe way, and that’s why teaching them how to challenge and report prejudice when they encounter it is so vital.”